Love Letters From The Labyrinth

Today was meant to be the opening day of my first solo exhibition at The Phoenix Hall in Newton Dee, Aberdeen.  It was a date written in red and underlined in my diary. It also had ridiculously happy smiley faces next to it.  But, as with so many events, this has had to be postponed and will most likely be held in 2021 now. However, I still wanted to mark the occasion so I’ve decided to offer a wee sneak-peak preview of some of my work.

The exhibition, ‘Love Letters From The Labyrinth includes oil and cold wax paintings, erasure poems and papercuts but I’ve chosen to show a small sample of the paintings for now.

‘You Choose’

I have been working with the labyrinth for almost a decade now, deepening my understanding of how it can enhance our sense of wellbeing.  It complements the work I do as a therapeutic writing facilitator beautifully and I enjoy offering workshops that combine the two.

When I began painting, something I pursue intuitively, I imagined the symbol of the labyrinth would feature heavily, but that’s not what has happened.  What features most consistently is the writing I do to record and understand the lessons to be learnt from embarking on a journey with the labyrinth.

Writing To The Self’

I have also used writing to symbolise the wisdom to be found when we walk to the centre of the labyrinth and take time to be still and listen to ourselves. I believe this wisdom exists deep within us and it’s the process of walking the labyrinth, slowing down and the stillness to be found at the centre that allows us to access what we actually already know but perhaps haven’t been paying attention to in our busy lives.  These pieces of wisdom I regard as love letters to ourselves.

Count Your Blessings

During the process of ‘going with the flow’ of my painting, I also realised that I didn’t want the writing to be readable necessarily (although some portions are here and there).  This led to the discovery of asemic writing – literally writing with no meaning that leaves the viewer to interpret the meaning for themselves.  I also wanted my use of symbolic writing to signify the lost language and knowledge of the labyrinth.  Being over 4,000 years old, we do not know where or why the first labyrinths were built.  And so we have to guess at this and trust in the relationship we have with it now. 

‘Adventure Into Thinking’

These five paintings are also a broad representation of the different ways I have been using texture to provide a sense of history – something the addition of cold wax medium to oil paint enables.  The depth and texture of the layers of these paintings is somewhat lost in digital format but I hope that what is shown here is enough to peak your interest. 

‘Listening To The Leaves’

And once I can write that new date for the exhibition in my diary, I hope this sneak-peak might have made you curious enough to come along and have a look for yourself.

If you would like to be added to my mailing list to be notified about the new date for the exhibition, please e-mail me at: elainereidwriting@btinternet.com

All images Copyright Elaine Reid 2020.

The 6th Word I Hung In The Trees



Knowing

Your words chase mine around my head,
corralling them,
nosing my hand towards my pen,
neglected of late, avoided even,
because I know, within me, it’s reach –
trust its ability to write the deepest parts of me
in a mere three minute sprint across the page.
Freed from right or wrong
it hits the sweet spot –
that cluster of words that chime with the notes
of an untold story, a new wonder, a brainstorm not yet fully realised,
diving with the grace of beings that belong,
that slip smoothly in-between currents.
 
I wouldn’t give it up for anything –
this ability to plunge.
But today, I am still not ready.

This poem follows on from the previous one I posted, Echoes which talks about the process of free writing in a group setting. This poem however is about my own personal experience of the process of free writing and my awareness of how deeply it reaches within me to allow me to process my thoughts and feelings.

I have been using this type of writing for over 10 years now and as a result it tends to dive down to the root of the issue I’m writing about very quickly. There are times however when I do not feel ready to confront the root cause of an issue – perhaps immediately after it has happened or if I’m aware it will involve an element of letting go which I’m not yet ready to do. On these occasions I find I don’t wish to use free writing because it will always tell me the truth. I find I cannot lie to myself in the midst of the flow! On these days it’s more important to be gentle with myself and to know that I will pick up the pen again when the time is right for me.

I found this a lot when I was in the initial stages of grieving for my mum. The pain was too raw to write about. And there are days now, during this pandemic, when my mood can be too low to want to confront, in black and white, the fear or the anxiety about what is happening and how events are impacting on others. On those occasions I use time in nature as my salve. But I know I will always come back to my writing again, when I am ready.

The 5th of the 23 Words I Hung In The Trees

This poem is all about the process of expressive/free writing/stream of consciousness writing that I use in my workshops as the foundation for writing exercises.

It’s an ode to the bravery and courage of all who entrust themselves to the process of ‘adventuring into’ their thoughts and feelings through writing. And it’s about how we are all on this journey together and how the discoveries we make echo that of each other whilst also being unique and personal to each individual who comes to write around the table.

When a group has been writing together for awhile I have also found that an interesting pattern of echoes emerges in their writing from time to time. Some people have similar responses to a particular prompt or it takes them to very similar memories or issues. This leads to a response of recognition in each other and reinforces trust within the group. It is nourishing to be part of and one of my priviledges as a facilitator to witness.

It is also about the power of the acceptance of tears as a healthy response to joy and pain. Part of my work with every group is to help people unlearn the impulse to apologise for their tears within the safe environment of the group. To not be ashamed to cry when they become emotional because their writing has touched something that is difficult or painful or surprising. That tears are welcome and a healthy part of the process of learning to accept and grow as a result of these discoveries.

Image and poem Copyright Elaine Reid 2020

The 4th of 23 Words I Hung In The Trees

Today’s poem links to the last poem I shared because it too reflects on the collaboration I did with choreographer Mhairi Allan. It focus on how we worked together, sharing ideas whilst also respecting eachother’s contribution individually. It was also important to work slowly and particularly so that no important thought or idea was missed or lost. This resulted in a nurturing experience for us and a body of work that resonated deeply with those that took part.

TOGETHER

We take our time

threading thoughts,

placing them particularly

so as not to impose

on the ends

of the others.

We gift one wonder at a time

into upturned palms

to roll around,

deciphering pleasures

before selecting another

in return.

We compose a sequence

then invite others

 to trace the shapes  

of our choosing,

loose and yielding,

sparkling with intent.

It isn’t lost on me that this word is an all important factor in our current health crisis. Together we are able to achieve all sorts of victories that we can not achieve alone. This was what I learned most during the Flourish project – that coming together with others created an energy impossible to generate individually. It also expanded my practice hugely. Ultimately, the collaboration produced something richer in output and reach. Creativity built upon creativity and the joy that resulted impacted positively on the wellbeing of all.

Image and poem Copyright Elaine Reid 2020

The 3rd of the 23 Words I Hung In The Trees

Here is the third of the photos and poems I want to share, this time of the word, ‘entiwne’.

Entwined

For Mhairi

Your gentle kiss on my cheek on meeting,

the weightlessness of your fingertips

upon my arm, the fine-spun notes of your voice

cradling the air between us – such gestures

grace my life.  The crispness of your attention,

the poised placement of your words

one in front of the other to reach your meaning

has moments arcing between us,

teasing out the patterns we have chanced

into something others can weave their own

narratives into. These sequences

mouthed, moved through  – a kaleidoscope

of truths – mapping out discoveries   

choreographing curiosity, stoked.

I wrote this poem for Mhairi Allan, a choreographer I collaborated with during the Flourish project. Together we created a series of three workshops entitled, Breathe which used the 23 words as a springboard for movement. From the moment I met Mhairi, I was struck by how gently she carries herself through life and as our friendship grew I came to treasure it more and more. For this reason I chose to use the sonnet form of poetry to express my love for the time we spend together.

The Sonnet was traditionally written as a love poem and followed a strict 14 line rhyming pattern of alternating pairs. The first twelve lines contain the main idea of the poem whilst the last two lines (a rhyming couplet) feature a dramatic change in thought or emotion. However, in modern versions these ideas can be changed and played with however you wish. You will see in my version that I have taken one idea and expressed it throughout without using any rhyme. This approach is an easier road to follow through the form!

You could use the 14 line format to write a poem about someone you love or whose presence you cherish in your life. Or use the word ‘entwine’ as a theme for a piece of free writing or stream of consciousness writing about someone who’s life is entwined with your own, past, present or perhaps even future.

Image and poem Copyright Elaine Reid 2020

The 2nd of the 23 Words I Hung In The Trees

So here is the second photo and accompanying poem from my book, Temenos 23 that I want to share. Yesterday I started with the word ‘question’ so it makes sense to follow it with this one next!

You could use the photo as a springboard or the idea of questions and answers as a theme for a piece of free writing or stream of consciousness writing. Or you could take a photo of something on a walk of your own today and write in response to that.

This particular form of poetry is called a Haiku which is traditionally written in response to nature. I found it particularly useful when writing in the Wild Garden for capturing ‘snapshots’ of my experience of being there, in the moment. Re-reading it today, it struck me as being particularly pertinent regarding current events.

All 23 words were originally hung in the trees in the Wild Garden at The Barn, Banchory for the Flourish project. I chose each word for its links to nature or creativity or pure therapeutic merit. These were then used as a physical word search to encourage people to explore the garden in its entirety and as inspiration for creative writing exercises.

Answer

spring blossom flutters,

birds call and answer –

earth’s trust holding on

The 1st of the 23 Words I Hung In The Trees

So here is the first photo and accompanying poem from my book, Temenos 23 that I want to share. All 23 words were originally hung in the trees in the Wild Garden at The Barn, Banchory for the Flourish project. I chose each word for its links to nature or creativity or pure therapeutic merit. These were then used as a physical word search to encourage people to explore the garden in its entirety and as inspiration for creative writing exercises.

Questions

I hang my questions in the rowan trees,

watch light glint through pinnate leaves

illuminating and dimming freely.

Letters drip golden to the ground below

trickling into passages, furrowed,

beginning the change I want to know.

My weekly weaving between silvered boughs

emboldens colour, lets perfumes arouse

fresh words to my page in the notes of my now.

I raise my eyes and smile at how

one word and a tree compose a vow

to the moment present: ripe, devout.

Poem and photograph both Copyright Elaine Reid 2020.

Finding The Balance

My last blog on 14 January ended on an upbeat note –  ‘I hope your own year has started well and that the returning light brings you increased energy and inspiration.’  And then news of the Corona Virus began spreading.  The weeks in-between then and the start of the lockdown were spent in my studio continuing to work on my art exhibition, and in my study, continuing to read and write reports for my Poetry Therapy Practitioner qualification that I am oh-so-close to finishing.  I continued to walk the labyrinth in my back garden, to play and experiment with different forms of creative expression and to spend time with friends and family.  I also went to dance classes and Zumba at my local dance centre. Since Lockdown however, so much has changed.  But then again, I am also finding that many things remain the same. 

I read the news more – consuming it at breakfast-time along with my muesli.  I want to know what’s going on not just in the UK, but world-wide.  I’m on social media more; participating in a sketchbook challenge on Facebook to keep me creatively engaged; I’m Zooming with my book group and with friends in London; I’m face-timing with my creative partner, Fen; I’m learning more about oil and cold wax medium through YouTube videos; I’m video-calling over Messenger with dear friends who want to see a friendly face rather than just hear a voice; and I’m trying to keep dancing with live videos on YouTube Live but I just haven’t found anything with a reliable connection…yet!  And it’s all amazing, technically.  But I have also found it overwhelming, personally. 

About five days into lockdown I experienced a resurgence of grief the like of which I have only experienced  in the first year after my mum’s death.  I felt overwhelmed and exhausted and weepy.  It only lasted three days and I came out of it after a long walk with my daughter by the river near our house.  But the message was clear – I was out of balance and needed to stop running away from my fear of what was going on by burying myself in social media and time spent with others.  I needed time on my own for silence, and contemplation and connection to things that don’t talk at me.  I needed time to connect to how I feel about things – I needed to hear my own thoughts.  And so I’m going back to spending more time in my studio, and in my study, and in the labyrinth.  But the biggest thing I’m doing is spending more time in nature.  And that, more than anything, is what is making me feel able to cope with the uncertainty of the current climate.  I’m making sure those around me are staying safe and I’m taking every day one at a time.

And then today, a friend posted a photograph on Facebook that stopped me in my tracks.  It’s similar to the one at the top of this post but it was her photo of the word ‘breathe’ hung on a tree in the Wild Garden at The Barn in Banchory, Aberdeenshire.  It comes from the time when I was Writer-in-Residence there leading the Flourish wellbeing project in 2017.  Such a simple thing really – one word.  But in times of anxiety and panic and pressure, that simple instruction can be so powerful.   

That photo also answered a question that has been going round in my head ever since this outbreak started, ‘How can I help?’  I think the sense of powerlessness that this situation has brought to many of us can also be overwhelming.  Especially those that are used to taking charge of a difficult situation or being the one to make things better for others.  In my therapeutic work I am used to offering ways to enable others to help themselves, but being face to face is vital for this to be wholly satisfying and effective.  I am looking forward to the time when I can get back to offering workshops in this way. 

In the meantime I have decided to do something else.  To celebrate the end of the Flourish project, I gathered together photos of the words I hung in the trees and the poem(s) I wrote in response to each in a book entitled, Temenos 23.  (A Temenos is a sacred space or temple.)  

I have decided to  share a photo and a poem for each word on my Facebook page, Elaine Reid Writing over the coming weeks until all 23 are shared.  You may not be able to congregate in the garden and participate in workshops there at present but you can view the photos, read my response and perhaps write one of your own.  You could also use it as inspiration to find something on a walk you are able to do where ever you live and write something in response to that.  I hope you find it helpful or soothing or simply a well-spent moment or two slowing down to breathe, to enjoy the photographs and to read.

I am sending my best wishes to you all. Keep safe and do whatever it is you need to do to find the balance that works for you.

2020: New Year, New Endeavours

Trying Something New: Oil and Cold Wax Painting

Happy New Year! I hope 2020 is a happy and healthy year for you and one that contains many creative adventures.

As with most years that have gone before, I sat myself down on the 1st of January to think about a set of intentions to get myself rolling with all the potential the new year brings. I began by asking myself what I wanted to achieve this year. That got me thinking about what workshops I want to offer and what training I will undertake to keep my skills fresh and flexible (more on this later). Then I asked myself what I wanted to experience this year. That got me thinking about where I want to go, who I want to collaborate with and what creative challenges I want to set myself.

This year however, the creative question has been easy to answer because I began working on two creative projects in 2019 that are still on-going. The first is a collaboration with artist, Fenneke Wolters-Sinke and the second is a solo art exhibition I have been invited to present at the Phoenix Hall in Milltimber, Aberdeen in June. I will write a separate blog post for the collaboration with Fenneke soon but for now I want to concentrate this post on my up-coming art exhibition.

I was invited back in 2018 whilst taking part in NEOS (North East Open Studios) at the same venue. Exhilarated and nervous, I have been turning over ideas and themes ever since. This has coincided with the continued ‘sorrowing time’ I have experienced since my mum died in 2018. In many ways it’s a fortunate synchronicity that I was offered a project to focus my energy on at a time when I needed an alternative to working therapeutically with others.

Autumnal Labyrinth I laid in my back garden.

As in many other emotionally difficult times, I turned to the labyrinth as a source of support and comfort and decided to lay a labyrinth in my back garden. Walking it regularly has helped me find the balance between grieving and celebrating the life I shared with my mum and I found myself wanting to focus more and more on the labyrinth – it’s known history, it’s imagined past, other people’s interpretations and ruminations about it and my own personal exploration of its meaning for me. As a result, this has become the focus for my art exhibition.

I have been experimenting with my art practice ever since, trying out new techniques and formats, looking for something that fits the nuance and the layers of meaning contained within my experience of working with the labyrinth. This experimentation has led me to painting with oils and cold wax medium – something entirely new to me. But this also feels fitting for a time of new horizons and a re-framed future. I’ve never found stepping out of my comfort zone easy but so far this has been rewarding and uplifting and fun.

I will be writing about my progress over the coming months on a regular basis – both the exhibition itself and writing for wellbeing workshops connected to it mid-year. If you would like to be kept up-to-date about the exhibition and/or workshops please contact me to be added to my mailing list at: elainereidwriting@btinternet.com

Another early experiment with Oil and Cold Wax Painting

In the meantime, I hope your own year has started well and that the returning light brings you increased energy and inspiration.

Labyrinth Walk & Writing For Wellbeing Workshop

Saturday 11th May, 2019 – 11am – 3pm at The Barn, Banchory

£45, £40 concession

This workshop with myself and fellow labyrinth facilitator Janis Wemyss, combines the wellbeing aspects of labyrinth walking with writing for the self.  We will introduce you to the history of this ancient symbol which has been in use for over 4,000 years and guide you on how to walk it, enabling you to slow down and rejuvenate your sense of wellbeing.

Labyrinths are effective tools because they offer the opportunity to take time to yourself, to go inward, to meditate, reflect, problem solve or simply be.

In the second part of the workshop, I will lead you in a writing exercise where you can reflect on your experience of walking the labyrinth more deeply.  The workshop will conclude with a group sharing of your writing in a non-judgemental, supportive group environment.

As this is a Writing For Wellbeing workshop no previous writing experience is necessary.

Refreshments included but please bring a packed lunch and a favourite notebook and pen to write with.

To book please contact The Barn: https://www.thebarnarts.co.uk/whats-on or call The Box Office on 01330 825431 Tues – Sat 12 – 4pm