Saturday, July 13, 2013

Stephanie Dowrick teaches writing in Kyoto

WRITING IN KYOTO, 24 October - 2 November 2013
Is there something special about Kyoto that you have chosen it for your writing retreat?
How is a writing retreat different from, say, a spiritual retreat...or a guided travel experience?

Stephanie Dowrick & William Suganda in Kyoto

Those questions are two I am often asked - and they are easily answered. Kyoto has been described by many as the world's "most exquisite small city" and it is indeed a gem. Not only is it clean, safe, accessible and vastly rich in temples, shrines, glorious gardens (and quite wonderful, affordable authentic restaurants), it also has an exceptionally strong aesthetic. Everywhere you look there is natural and created beauty to be found, often in ways that can appear to Western eyes unusually restrained and disciplined, yet that adds to the depth, even the excitement of what one is seeing. 

In a city that itself trains the eye to see more carefully, perhaps more mindfully, it is easily possible to discover a new and newly satisfying depth of focus. It is this that will influence most writers and would-be writers (and this is a course for writers at all levels, with partners also welcome). I am confident that "deep looking" is a glorious experience in and of itself, and that it also colours or flavours every individual's writing in ways that are liberating and far from uniform.

Writing is, after all, an outward expression of inward experiences. The writer may be describing external "scenes" or experiences - real or imagined - but what emerges through words is what each individual writer has made and is making of those experiences. It's almost a circular movement: from what one takes in, then gives out. "Taking in" in a city as artistically supportive as Kyoto is can be exhilarating. An example of this comes in the haiku classes that are always part of our Japan journeys. In a very few lines, the writers capture - and release - a moment. It is, though, a moment with resonances that chime both forwards and backwards.

I have made the bold claim that I can teach virtually anyone who is willing creative journal writing. I'd say the same of haiku. And participants' pleasure in their own and others' haiku and other more familiar forms of writing is one of the greatest rewards for me of Kyoto teaching.  We are also supported by the immense knowledge that long-time Kyoto resident Mark Hovane shares on our beautiful morning in temple gardens, followed by an exquisite traditional temple lunch in a private dining room. Mark's passionate, engaged teaching also adds to our capacity to "see" and therefore to write more sensually and with greater personal reward.

Combining my writing teaching also with William's gentle, knowledgeable guidance around the city itself, and its treasures, means that participants are tremendously stimulated, but also quickly form a feeling of collegiality and community which is at least half the fun of the retreat. And we want this to be a trip that brings great pleasure: pleasure in personal discoveries, in discovery of the city and the good company of other writers and would-be writers, and far greater fluency and pleasure in writing itself, at whatever stage of experience someone has reached.

A writing retreat does differ in many ways from a spiritual retreat. It is more sociable, more extroverted, and the external discoveries are as great as the inner ones. I love both kinds of experiences and feel immensely privileged that my teaching at Mana Retreat Centre, Coromandel, New Zealand, and in Kyoto, Japan, are delightful in such different ways. Most people coming on a writing retreat have the desire to express themselves in words, and to discover what words can give them. A spiritual retreat is much more of a "retreat" from everyday concerns, with as few distractions as possible, in order to store up treasures and insights inwardly. I would add though that with the Tai Chi that William so beautifully  leads, our emphasis on Kyoto's most sublime temples, shrines and timeless gardens, as well as the meditative practices that I love to teach and share, we are certainly offering something intrinsically meaningful, inclusive and spiritually refreshing. That makes this trip quite distinct from "sight seeing" and brings lasting depth and value.

Most people will feel instinctively which kind of experience is right for them at a particular time. And I am no longer amazed how the right group inevitably evolves, often creating friendships and connections that may last a lifetime. 

For details of the 2013 WRITING IN KYOTO journey, and a beautifully detailed and illustrated pdf. please contact 
Our numbers are strictly limited. A single room supplement is available. Participants can meet us in Kyoto from anywhere in the world.

Dr Stephanie Dowrick is co-host of the Universal Heart Book Club, an immensely experienced writing teacher, a former publisher, and author of more than a dozen major books, including Creative Journal Writing, Forgiveness and Other Acts of Love, Seeking the Sacred, The Universal Heart, and In the Company of Rilke.

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