A retreat on the art and technique of journal writing was held this past weekend at the Mercy Center in Madison, CT. Led by Deanna Chvatal, MA, LMFT, the workshop provided many more benefits besides learning about journaling.

The retreat has been held for 15 years now, and although newcomers are warmly welcomed into the group, many of the participants have attended most or all of those 15 years, creating a closely knit group that has supported each other through many life stages. Ms. Chvatal leads the group with gentleness and openness, instilling an atmosphere of trust and growth. Her natural leadership style fosters an environment of nourishment and healing - for the body, mind and soul. She encourages each person to listen to their body and their spirit, and to use the time in this safe and special place to explore whatever and wherever their needs will bring them.

Ms. Chvatal believes that journaling can be a valuable tool in exploring those needs and thoughts. "How do I know what I think," she says, "until I see what I say. " (EM foster)

Carrie Kent has attended the retreat for each of the last 15 years. As she writes in her blog (, "I've found that these weekends always have a way of taking on a life of their own, regardless of what you go there thinking it will be," Mrs. Kent writes. "It was exactly what I needed."

"The beauty of these weekends," she continues, "is that whatever comes up for you, you are surrounded by loving, caring, tender, supportive women who don't try to fix or change what the weekend presents. We're all there to validate and honor each other's stories and by doing that, at least for me, regardless of what happens while i'm there, I leave knowing without a doubt that it's all going to be okay."

Ms. Chvatal launches the retreat by asking participants a number of questions geared to provoke thoughts, feelings and insights, to discover dreams and desires, to explore new ideas. "What fills my soul with passion?" she asks the group. "What is meaningful, challenging and joyful to me?" And, "What would I do with my life if I wasn't afraid of falling or looking foolish?" Ms. Chvatal presents the idea that a life of real joy is attainable, and asks the group to look at what that life feels like and how to get there. She follows these questions with an exercise of a 15-minute free-flow, uncensored journaling session. She then asks the participants to re-read what they've written, looking for patterns - creating "Aha Moments" for many.

This process and art of provoking thought and discovering the Aha Moments in life is Ms. Chvatal's own approach in leading groups. Her company is called "Aha Tales", and she uses her unique method to create insight spur growth. "My process is designed to help individuals become aware of the Aha Moments in their life stories." she says. "Using the awareness of these moments, we are able to explore options for change and healing."

Although the retreat does cover specifics of different journaling techniques and offers opportunities to practice them, it's clear that Ms. Chvatal's intent is to open up the energy flow within each participant, allowing them to explore opportunities for growth and change. This journal becomes the tool for reflection and clarification, but it is the alignment of energy that leads to the Aha Moments she is encouraging each person to find. In this particular retreat, to assist in this process, Ms. Chvatal used three meditations: The Ribbon Breath (Meditation Healing), Moving Into Grace (Meridian Meditations), and The Elevator Ride (John Edwards). At several points during the retreats, she asks the group to take the time to settle their energy flow and gain focus and clarity. It is this type of change and growth that Ms. Chvatal's practice has worked to create - a lifetime of Aha Moments.

The retreat was held and the Mercy Center at Madison, which is a conference and retreat center for human development, sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy. The Center's mission is to offer programs that strive to enhance the quality of life and relationships in a changing world.

Ms. Chavtal has been conducting workshops at the Mercy Center for 30 years. She runs half-day, full day and weekend workshops, covering various mind/body topics, including:

- Communications
- Discovering your gifts
- Parenting
- Relaxation/stress reductions
- Transforming your world

In addition to her work as owner of Aha Tales, Ms. Chvatal has a Masters Degree and is licensed in Marriage & Family Therapy, practicing out of offices in West Hartford, CT. She also has a Bachelor of Science Degree and 5th Year in Elementary Education, and is a Clinical Member of AAMFT.

[Re-produced with the permission of June Hyjek.]