Articles by Sue

Begin Again

Costa Rica

As we set out for our writing and yoga retreat in Costa Rica this year, the excitement began before we even left Toronto. As we found each other in the check-in line at Pearson International Airport, we squealed and hugged, and jumped up and down with the pleasure of meeting friends with whom we had not written for a year or more.

Over the usual wait at the gate and the five hour flight and the van ride to Hatillo, we caught up. One of the questions I always ask at the beginning of a retreat is, “How’s your writing going?”

I ask because I am genuinely curious. But I also ask because I am gauging what the temperature of the workshop will be on the first morning. Where are all these writers at, both as a group and individually?

This trip I got a range of answers that included:

“Life’s been crazy! I haven’t been writing at all.”

“I’m so rusty – I’m afraid there’s not going to be anything in my pen.”

And from the new participant who had never “written” before and who didn’t consider herself “a writer” a frank, “I don’t know what I’m doing on this trip!”

That first morning, as class was beginning, one of the writers showed me the brand new journal she had bought for the retreat – a gorgeous, tooled-leather, hard cover book. She turned to the first blank page and looked up at me with pretend terror on her face. “I don’t know if I can write anything,” she confessed. “I’ve forgotten how to do this.”

I had my own anxieties on this trip; mine were about yoga. It had been 6 months since I was last on the mat and 10 months since I’d done yoga for more than a single day at a time. Lately my body had been feeling very stiff and out of shape. Continue reading

A Journey of Holistic Intimacy

writing together in place and time

By Susan Lynn Reynolds
Article in IntMagazine

This article appeared in the International Lifestyle magazine in Summer 2014. But the subject of the article is the benefits as a writer and simply as a human being of traveling and writing together, so with the announcement of our upcoming writing/yoga workshop in Ireland, I thought it was worth adding here.
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This beautiful world is full of luscious, and even holistic, experiences – all you have to do is flip through the pages of this magazine to be convinced of that. Travelling and “retreating” in groups is everywhere: bus tours, cruises, golf holidays, photography groups, painting groups, yoga and meditation groups.

So why writing? And why in a group? Aren’t writers supposed to be scratching away alone in a garret somewhere?

Three words: Intimacy. Meaning. Affirmation.

Travelling together tends to promote intimacy no matter what the format. You can’t help regard another human being with more affection after you’ve seen them before their first coffee of the day.

But when we know we are in a safe space and we write together – stories from our lives, or poems, essays, or fiction – we tell things in a different way than our everyday, anecdotal voice. Continue reading

Growing As A Writer – Safety AND Craft

The AWA Method of Writing

“Whether your purpose for writing is artistic expression, communication with friends and family, the healing of the inner life, or achieving public recognition for your art – the foundation is the same: the claiming of yourself as an artist/writer and the strengthening of your writing voice through practice, study, and helpful response from other writers.”
Pat Schneider Writing Alone and With Others

Chicago Training 400

I have just returned from Chicago where, once again, I had the privilege of helping with the training of a group of brand new AWA facilitators.

“What is AWA?” you may ask (as so many writers do when I trot out those letters.)

AWA stands for Amherst Writers and Artists, and their philosophy is a simple one: every person is a writer, and every writer deserves a safe environment in which to experiment, learn, and develop craft. The AWA method, which is fully described in founder Pat Schneider’s book Writing Alone and With Others (Oxford University Press, 2003, and available at www.patschneider.com), provides just such an environment. Continue reading

Writer Heal Thyself:  My Shame Confession

Abstract Woman
I have been meaning to send out this notice about what’s coming up in the next few months for the last 60 days – ever since we got home from Italy.  Every day when I get up I promise myself that I am going to get it out TODAY.  And then the work I have promised to other people somehow jostles itself to the front of the line, and by evening I think, “Oh well, I’ll do it tomorrow.”

What is it about many writers (and self-employed business people) that makes it so difficult to put ourselves first? (at least some of the time)  What makes it so difficult to get to our own writing, or to promote ourselves?

In a word?  Anxiety – probably the least acknowledged and most prevalent human emotion.

I know so many of my colleagues who, like me, support others in achieving their goals, but rarely get around to sending out their own work to contests, or to finish their books.  I’m one of the worst examples of this. Case in point: months ago someone who heard my poetry feature at the ArtBar suggested I query my poetry manuscript to a prestigious literary publisher here in Canada.  After much hemming and hawing, and months of delay, I did so. Continue reading

Radical Restoration for your Artistic Body and Soul

First published in “SURFACING” – the Arts magazine for Durham Region

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABy Susan Lynn Reynolds

When I was first hired to be the writing teacher for a combined yoga and writing retreat three years ago, (and every year since) it seemed like a dream come true. Go south for two weeks in the middle of winter to spend my time doing yoga, enjoying the southwestern coastal area of Costa Rica, and facilitating a writing group every day? Where do I sign up!

It proved to be far better even than I’d imagined. First of all, it turned out that the yoga teacher, Esana Lotfy, teaches yoga the same way I facilitate writing groups. For both of us, effective practice for all participants starts with loving kindness and compassion. It’s crucial that participants not “should” themselves in their process, whether it be beating up on themselves because they think they “should” be more flexible, or whether they think they “should” write differently, more grammatically or somehow just “better” than they do.

“Shoulding” all over oneself is the first step toward injury in yoga, or toward a really bad case of writer’s block. Continue reading

Sue Reynolds’ TED Talk: “Writing Our Way Out of Trouble”

 

The fantastic Stouffville TEDx Team: Dr. Jane Philpott, Eileen Nicolle, and Julie Weiss asked me to be part of this year’s TEDx Stouffville, along with 5 other fantastic presenters. The video editing team has worked their magic, and the result can be seen below.

To see the other inspiring talks from that day, please go to the TEDxStouffville website and click on the individual presenter’s names.

Avoiding Depression by Telling Your Story

First published in “Best of Life – Sept. 2007” To obtain a PDF copy of the published version of this article, click HERE.

by Susan Lynn Reynolds

One of the gifts of becoming older is the wealth of experience and memories from all the years leading up to the present moment. These can be the gift that keeps on giving, however, if you choose to consciously interact with the past.

Statistics of seniors suggest that as many as 20 percent have some form of depression. Many older adults do not seek formal help for depression for a variety of reasons. Help, however, is within their grasp on an informal basis.

Studies with older adults exploring the benefits of “life review” and “reminiscence” were reviewed recently and it was found that a process of life review was as effective as antidepressants or formal psychotherapy in treating older adults with depression. Those who were mildly depressed felt better after a minimum of six sessions of life review; those who were more severely depressed had even more startling improvements. Other studies have explored the benefits of expressive writing in coping with depression and these also have produced significant results.

What all this suggests is that taking the time to consciously engage with and express your personal history is a worthwhile pastime, whether you do it verbally or in a task like writing your memoirs. Doing this allows the individual to integrate, reorganize and resolve past experiences. If you choose to engage with the process in written form, it is also possible to produce a lasting document to leave for other generations. Continue reading

Leaving a Legacy: writing down memories

Click HERE for a PDF of the published article.

The bulge in the aging population has definitely triggered an interest in family history, evident in the increased number of people exploring Geneology, and focusing on writing Memoirs.

Allyson Latta, who teaches memoir writing, says, “A lot of people come to my classes because their parents are aging – there may be a health problem or loss of memory, and my students want to capture their parents’ stories before they’re gone. I always tell them, ‘That’s great. But there’s an irony to that – we never realize that we should be writing things down until something like a parent’s illness triggers it. But the truth is that you should be starting now with your own memoirs, while your memories are intact.’”

Laura Suchan, is an instructor for Trent University in Oral History. She says, “I teach my students that our families are a part of history. We’re taught in public school about public history and social history and sometimes we get the ideas that history is all about politicians and important men. I give my students assignments to get out and interview people and get their stories down on paper. It’s so great when you see the students grasp the idea that personal story is history too – regular people also experienced history and contributed to it.” Continue reading

Living in the Body – Writing from the Senses

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Showing Not Telling – how the Body Knows

Writers studying their craft have it hammered into them: “Show don’t tell.” Showing through sensuous detail is the most effective method for engaging a reader and drawing him or her into a story. The showing creates an individualized picture that lives in the reader’s body; creates an experience that enlivens and enriches every encounter on the page. And it does this through the power of sensuous detail – what can be seen, certainly, and most books focus on vision as the primary (and sometimes sole) sensory input. But powerful fiction also incorporates hearing, touch, taste and smell (the most oft neglected sense in writing).

Using sensuous detail to show the story is not only for the reader, however. This is also the most powerful way to draw the writer into the creative act and the world that he or she is creating.

In the beginning of Anna Karenina, Tolstoy decrees that “All happy families resemble one another; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Telling versus showing is much the same – when stories are “told” they sound like every other similar story, but those that are “shown” leave an individualized and indelible imprint on the reader’s imagination through conjuring up sensory perceptions in the reader’s brain. Continue reading

Expression Helps Banish Depression

by Susan Lynn Reynolds

This article was originally published in Live It magazine in May 2006.

In the mid 1980s, James Pennebaker, a professor in Texas, made a curious discovery.
In a research experiment, he asked one group of students to write about a traumatic event in their lives. Students in the other group were assigned a superficial topic to write about. Both groups wrote for 20 minutes a day for four days. The work was anonymous and confidential. Pennebaker then tracked the physical health of the students through the next four months.

The group that had written about significant traumas in their lives made 43 per cent fewer visits to the doctor. Since those first experiments, Pennebaker and other researchers have continued to expand and deepen the research into the therapeutic value of writing. The results show that writing about emotional topics is associated with enhancement of the functioning of the immune system, lower blood pressure, better lung function among asthma patients, lower pain and disease severity among patients with arthritis, higher white blood cell counts among AIDS patients, and less sleep disruption among patients with metastatic cancers, to name a few of the studies that have been conducted.

Moving from the realm of physical health to mental health, writing about emotional issues has also been found to be helpful in a wide variety of mental disorders, particularly depression.

Researchers and clinicians alike are excited by the robust findings associated with emotional writing, but they are puzzled as to the cause. The original research came about because of research into the effects of having endured traumatic life events such as death of spouses, natural disasters, sexual abuse, divorce, physical abuse, or involvement in the Holocaust. Continue reading

Tips for Doing Expressive Writing

    Write for at least four days, for a minimum of 20 minutes per day. If you find as you come to the end of your 20 minutes that you want to keep going, by all means do so. However, extra time devoted to writing one day cannot replace any part of the requisite 20 minutes the next day.

    You can write about the same event on all four days, or you can write about different experiences. Whatever you choose to write about should be something that you have found to be personally disturbing to you.

    Write without stopping. Once you have put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, write continuously.

    Don’t worry about spelling, grammar, or punctuation.

    Acknowledge your emotions openly. Allow yourself to feel and label all the emotions, both positive and negative, associated with the event. Express yourself openly and honestly — you are not writing an intellectual essay here, you are putting your heart and soul on the page. Continue reading

Buddhism – Peace in Every Breath

This article was originally published in the online magazine “Timeless Spirit” in January 2004.

Buddhism is a philosophy, not a religion, and a philosophy is all about examining the nature of reality. At the heart of Buddhism is the enlightenment that transformed Gautama into the Buddha: his realizations about the nature of suffering.

Buddhism states that life is difficult, flawed and imperfect. There are parts of life that we would all change if we could. From something as minor as an argument with my partner, finding the cream for my coffee has gone sour, or that the light has turned red as I’m rushing to get to my destination, to something as major as a life-threatening illness; every day I am confronted with parts of life I wish were other than they are. But it is not those imperfect pieces of every day that make life difficult. It is the craving that they be other than imperfect that makes them so unbearable, that thrust me into a state of agitation and misery. Because I crave satisfaction, I end up spending much of my time dissatisfied. Continue reading