Light into a Forest

Dr Jo Trelfa,Director, Iron Mill College, Exeter, UK

Dr Laura R Chapman,Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, Beaver College of Health Sciences, Appalachian State University, USA

Here, Jo Trelfa and Laura Chapman, two participants in the CPN workshop Contemplating the spaces in between: transforming meaning from experience through writing reflect on the experience of taking part – on the process of poetic transcription and their learning from it. If you have not read the original blog by Dr Mike Wride I recommend you do before reading on.

Thank you both authors for contributing and developing our understanding in this way.

Jo’s Reflection

Layers of Complexity

There are always layers of complexity when asked to share a ‘meaningful learning experience’.  The first is I, in this case, as learner, am in control: I know the experience, how it started and ended and what has happened since.  The second is that I report on that; which links to the third matter, that I do this (and know this in advance) for the context and particular audience, a performance, if you will.  Indeed, such matters have been the focus of my own research and publishing inquiries, specifically, how to reclaim and redefine the practices of reflective practice as authentic learning experiences.

To that end one of the themes in my work is to focus on reflection ‘in’ rather than ‘on’. 

So as a member of Mike’s workshop I didn’t follow the instructions per se; instead I focused on how I was feeling right then and there.  Thus, I didn’t have a start, end, or learning to recount, but I was curious to see if there was learning that would arise, learning that I didn’t know at the point of sharing. 

Here, and in my comments to Mike afterwards, I was interested not in the liminal space the activity offered but the liminoid

Entering the Liminoid

A brief explanation.  Turner writes of the experience of liminal activities as merely returning the participant to status quo, hence the activity being “a distorted mirror-image, mask, or cloak for structural activity” (Turner, 1974).  It is a description that chimes with Rancière’s (1987/1991: 7) critique of the approach to teaching and learning whereby educators “cunningly erect[ing] obstacle courses” that students have to learn how to, and must, navigate: they perform ‘learning’ according to the instructor’s (and institutional) concepts and requirements.  In contrast, liminoid experiences and activities go somewhere else, an “independent and critical source” of “creative activity” (Turner, 1974:65), or, for Rancière, a “forest with openings and clearings that the teacher themselves has not discovered” (1987/1991:7).

A Forest of Possibilities

This said, Mike’s guidance was important: it meant I was not blindly wandering about a forest of possibilities only to merely walk in to trees!  At the same time, it gave me the landscape to engage in a way that was meaningful to me, i.e. that I could engage in the way I chose without feeling to do so was unruly and troublesome, this being relevant to liminoid activities and experience within a (formal) educative setting.

I wrote:

I sit with the whole weight of my laptop on my neck and shoulders. It hurts.  The pain carries down my left arm; it’s as if there is a pressure band around the top of my arm, like my blood pressure is being measured all the time.  My left hand has pins and needles.  The pain in my neck is sharp, only just on the bearable side of unbearable.

I have been sitting here with the whole weight of my laptop on my neck and shoulders for a year.  No meaningful breaks or time off.  Staring in to a screen, into a screen divided into smaller screens, into documents, pages, websites, and tapping. 

On the plus, my tapping has speeded up – and I have completed my PhD – and I have got a new job – and I have completed very important projects and tasks – and I have supported my daughter to take part in her lectures – and in the end I brought a dog so at least I got to put the laptop down from time to time and go outside.  But still I sit here with the whole weight of my laptop on my neck and shoulders.

Jo’s initial written reflection

Following a process of reading and reflection on my words and engaging in poetic transcription Laura produced a response poem called ‘The Whole Weight’.

The Whole Weight

I sit with the whole wait: pain carries, pins and needles sharp

Only just on the bearable side of unbearable 

The whole weight for a year; no meaningful break

Staring, a screen divided

On the plus: speeded up, completed my PhD, new job, supported my daughter

But still, the whole weight.

A transcribed poem by Laura based on Jo’s reflection

Shining a torch

Laura’s created poem back to me was the ‘twist’, the difference between liminal and liminoid.  Firstly, to have my sharing received by Laura was striking.  The guidance not to add words meant that my poem sharing was deeply met and not changed, although, of course, Laura’s highlighting of what she saw as key within it alters it, requiring, as that does, her lens of what matters and not necessarily mine.  But crucially as she still worked with my words, the experience on receiving her poem-version back to me was one of a torch shining a beam into the forest, illuminating particular – and surprising – aspects: another ‘torch’ might illuminate other parts, but this would still act as light in to my own experience. 

To illustrate, in the poem-version back to me Laura includes ‘supported my daughter’, whereas I had been more taken up with the effect on me as employee.  Her ‘torch light’ in to that element of my experience prompted me to feel grateful for Covid home-working – more time with my daughter who had recently started university away from home!  So, rather than return me to what was my already-known work angst and exhaustion, the liminoid nature of the activity prompted me to experience the gifts of the year as well.  It was an unexpected torch light!

Laura’s Reflection

Illuminating Experience

Jo’s observation of my shining a torch onto her experience highlights the value of this exercise in an educational sense (to me, anyway). The “stumbling around” experience that Jo sought in the liminoid has such value. Indeed, personal meaning-making is a goal of contemplative pedagogy. As the observer/interpreter in this experience (and as an educator in the classroom), I had an opportunity to illuminate Jo’s experience, revealing a different, perhaps wider, bird’s-eye, third-person perspective. Such a perspective is difficult to perceive when one is in the middle of a forest, “stumbling around”. With both perspectives, Jo (or any learner) has an opportunity to see how the third-person outside view jives with her first-person inside experience. This opportunity is invaluable, especially when the meaning that a learner constructs needs to be conveyed/explained to another; the future clinicians I train must be able to do this. 


Rancière J. (trans. Ross, K.) (1987/1991) The ignorant schoolmaster: five lessons in intellectual emancipation. Stanford, USA: Stanford University Press

Turner, V. (1974). Liminal to liminoid, in play, flow, and ritual: An essay in comparative symbology. Rice Institute Pamphlet-Rice University Studies, 60(3).

One thought on “Light into a Forest

  1. I really like this. I could imagine myself there as you described it. I particularly like how what could be quite a downbeat reflective piece became such a powerful and visceral poem ‘shining a light’ on what truly matters. I could feel the aches in my own shoulders and spine as I sat at the laptop reading it!


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