The Firebird (2004 article) – a response to the aftermath of terrorism

The Eiffel Tower from Pont Neuf, October 2015

The Eiffel Tower from Pont Neuf, October 2015

As daylight spreads over the scenes of yesterday evening’s unspeakably horrific series of terrorist attacks in Paris, people all over the world struggle to find a response in their own minds and hearts. I’ve seen varied reactions on social media in the past several hours. Most of my friends and acquaintances have answered with a combination of deep compassion, bafflement, and helplessness. Some people have used these recent events to blame religion in general for everything that’s broken in this world. Others have expressed fear and anxiety about traveling in Europe. Luckily, the Parisians themselves have responded beautifully, including rather famously opening their doors to anyone caught out in the open. The residents of my favourite city are strong and committed to one another in the way New Yorkers were in 2001.

The question on many people’s minds is, “What can I do to change anything?”

Eleven years ago, while engaged as solo horn in the Flemish Radio Orchestra (now the Brussels Philharmonic,) we went on tour to Spain right after the atrocious attacks in Madrid. I visited Atocha Station, the site of the bombings, and had a powerful spiritual experience there that taught me something new about healing and transformation. My article on this ran in the German Reiki Magazin. You can read it here. I am including here the original English text. Though my article uses many Buddhist symbols and concepts, I think the feeling behind it is universal. Since writing this, I completed my Reiki master training with Don Alexander in 2006. Mastery is, however, a lifelong journey, and in reality we are all beginners, all the time.

“What can I do to change anything?” Here was my response back then. Perhaps it will resonate with you now.


The Firebird (2004)S1110031

An experience in the aftermath of the Madrid bombings

In March, my orchestra, the Flemish Radio Orchestra, was invited to perform two concerts in Spain, the last of the two at the Auditorio Nacional in Madrid on March 17. We were quite excited at the prospect of a few days in the sun away from the bleak Belgian late winter drizzle. On the program was Stravinsky’s incomparable Firebird Suite, one of my favorite pieces, and I also looked forward to celebrating my birthday in Madrid.

A couple of days before our departure, I turned on the news and learned that Madrid had been the target of terrorist attacks, with heavy losses of life. I, along with the rest of my orchestra, was heartbroken and also extremely anxious about traveling to Spain, not knowing what to expect, not knowing if it would be safe to go, wondering whether it was appropriate to play a concert in Madrid under those circumstances. I thought about it for a long time and realized that the best response to terror and destruction would be an affirmation of life. Music could bring healing into a place of pain, and I thought, who knows, maybe I could do something with Reiki there that would also help. At the time I had no real idea of what that might be.

At the concert, we began with a moment of silence to show our solidarity with those who had lost their lives and those still living who were injured or grieving, and then we launched into our program. The Firebird is mythologically linked to the Phoenix, who explodes in flame and then rises, reborn, from its own ashes. There is a beautiful passage for the solo horn (my part) at the beginning of the finale that represents this rising: slowly, gently, yet full of power. The melody builds and bursts into a glorious coda. After the concert, I felt the clear need to visit one of the sites of the bomb attacks the next day, to try and make sense of what lies beneath the surface of such destruction, to just be there and find a way to offer healing. If it were not possible to offer healing to the souls who had died there, then at least I could bring healing to my own pain and confusion about this attack. I was motivated by a desire to see, understand, to know, to heal. I hoped that I would know what to do when I arrived.

When I walked over to the front of the Atocha station where some of the worst damage had been, I was greeted by a fence separating the street from massive piles of rubble, twisted metal, construction equipment already clearing away some of the debris. The fence was plastered with poems, photographs of victims, banners and messages from around the world, candles lining the sidewalk – much the same as what I saw at the site of the World Trade Center bombings in New York a few years ago.

This was the external view. Beyond this, I could sense panic, grief, confusion, unrest. The sound of the construction equipment faded in my ears into screams. I stood glued to the spot for about half an hour, fascinated, horrified, just breathing, centering, being there. I opened myself to whatever was there in that moment. It was not the presence of evil but of something else.

As I opened my heart and body, the pain I was sensing so palpably around me came to the inside of me. I became a bowl into which the pain, violence, suffering, rage, and also memory was being poured. And I began to burn.

As I turned away from the scene to go to the botanical gardens for some peace, the pain I felt inside my gut echoed all the pain and loss I had ever known on a personal level, but it was as if I grew much larger to contain the feelings I felt at that moment. It was no longer personal but a great force. I began to burn with the flames of wrath, but it was not wrath at those who had perpetrated the attacks. The rage was a white-hot flashing of light, which burned away something of my individual self as I became a vessel for the collective suffering. In that time, I was both myself and not me – I was something beyond the borders of my identity. Deep wrath and deep compassion, both burning in my breast with a terrible intensity.

A few hundred meters away were the Royal Botanical Gardens of Madrid, and it was here that I walked to be in nature. Underneath my sunglasses, a part of me was weeping. I wandered through the nearly deserted gardens, just being with all that was going on inside me, and eventually came to a beautiful, strong tree (the sign said its native home was in the Himalayas.) I placed both my hands on the trunk of this tree and began very quietly to chant the Kotodama of one of the Reiki symbols. For several minutes I remained like this, and the black sticky heaviness of the suffering in the vessel I had become began to transform. At the still center of the pain was a brilliant point of light, even ecstasy, which spread rapidly to all within the vessel. The pain did not vanish, it was more that at the heart of the pain lay something sacred and holy. Gradually I released the tree and was released from the contents of the vessel, left with a profound sense of peace and gratitude.

The sun shone brightly, and all around me were signs of early spring – bright green leaves, tender new shoots and blossoms. The first bees of the season were gathering pollen. I marveled at how death and life could exist so vibrantly side by side, and at this point I saw a bumblebee on the ground crawling near the base of another tree. I stopped to watch it for a few moments. He was obviously having difficulty moving, struggling towards a twig on the ground. As he reached this twig, he moved one of his legs and then stopped moving altogether. With his death came a wave of understanding and gratitude. It was in the keen awareness of death that I experienced most vividly the power and unspeakable beauty of life.

Having trained for my first and second Reiki degrees in the Takata tradition, I believed that Reiki was this force that flowed gently through myself and all things, bringing light and healing, like a clear stream of water. I learned that my conceptions were rather tame in light of the way I was used in Madrid. Breathing the darkness and suffering into myself, containing and burning it all within, there the healing occurred.

Fudo Myoo is at the very heart of these aspects of Reiki practice, as I have learned from Don Alexander. His rage is inextricably entwined with his utmost compassion. We experience Fudo Myoo as Karma or the world, particularly in its painful aspects.  Through truly living, seeing, working courageously through the most painful experiences of life, we are shown the highest love.

Upon returning home, I was browsing through a book on Japanese painting I had kept from my Japanese art history couse at university, when I found a portrait of Fudo Myoo. His face and bearing had their usual ferocious aspect, and he was surrounded with flames. Yet there was something special about the form of these flames, and as I read the description of the painting, I discovered that they were actually painted in the form of garudas, or the Japanese version of the firebird. After all that I experienced during our orchestra tour with the piece of that same name, I shouldn’t have been surprised.



Fudo Myoo is known in Japan and in other eastern cultures as one of the “5 wrathful kings,” the guardians of the wisdom of Buddha.  Fudo is the central figure of these five – he is also known as the Immovable One.  He sits on a rock with a sword in his right hand and a rope in the other.  He is not the teacher of the Dharma or the Way, is not a meditative Buddha, but is rather the teacher of Karma, of life, of the action of living.  The sword he uses to cut through our illusions about life, and the rope he uses to catch demons, or our nightmares and terrors that come from living.  When we understand his wisdom and message, we can become one with his essence ourselves and be purified through the fire in which he himself sits, one with the cleansing flames. Fudo Myoo is also a shamanistic figure and represents the point of union between Buddhism and shamanism.  He is the patron deity of the martial arts.

Kotodamas are like mantras, but they consist of mostly the vowel sounds of a particular mantra and are especially powerful when used in meditation (or prayer, as I sometimes think of it.)

The garuda is a sort of Phoenix, the holy bird that symbolizes spiritual purification. It heals through consuming poisons and evils and transforming them inside its own body.  It is often associated with Fudo Myoo and is also seen as an aspect of that essence.

The creativity pas-de-deux

  People who have dedicated their lives to the arts, or simply devoted themselves to making their lives a work of art, know well the feeling of reaching out towards inspiration, towards excellence. This yearning for that undefinable something has an ill-tempered neighbor, Mr. Frustration. He wears many masks: the composition that dies half-written because “I can’t make it come out on paper like it is in my head.” The comparison to another player – “I’ll never sound like her.” The fear of irrelevance – “Nobody wants to read this kind of story anyway. Why bother?” The conditional taskmaster – “If only you had worked harder, sacrificed more, then you might have made it.” And so many others. What a soul-sucking, time-wasting masquerade. Anyone who has done the cha-cha with the demon of perfectionism as often as I have knows the drill. It’s always the wrong tempo, and you always step on his toes. Get off that dance floor, friends. Now.
I recently listened to the marvelous audio book version of Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book, Big Magic, a gorgeous meditation on creativity and allowing yourself to “make stuff,” even if it isn’t perfect. Even if you know it hasn’t a prayer of being perfect. Just Make The Stuff. It’s what we were born to do. And it’s fun. In her book, Gilbert challenges the belief in an indifferent or even hostile universe. If you love nature, she says, and yet believe nature doesn’t care about your existence, then how can you ever enter into a relationship with it? Why not believe that the love can flow in both directions? This is equally true for creativity. If the essence of the soul is creative, how can the universe not reflect that principle? 
I believe this is just as true for the interpretive artist as well as for the painter, composer, choreographer, chef, or novelist. An image that has come to me recently while playing my horn is that of each note loving me back as much as I love each note. It’s a different quality of music-making. We all know both performance versions when we hear them, the technically flawless presentation that leaves us cold, and the one that has love and passion. That second one reaches beyond itself, beyond the interpreter, and makes us feel those things too. Furthermore, I believe that the concertos, symphonies, songs WANT to be played beautifully. Imagine the pieces themselves blushing and going all shivery when a musician opens up to receive them! Throw them a great party, and they will want to come back and hang out and dance on the tables.
The beautiful things are out there waiting to be made, and so it is up to us to reach out for them with open arms, an open mind, an open heart. Music-making in this way is so incredibly rewarding. Indeed, it becomes its own reward. You will of course do your best to prepare with attention and discipline, and nothing can replace all the hard work. But you see, that’s not the same as being hard on yourself. You reach out for the music, for just the right voice or phrase…what if it’s reaching out towards you at the same time? That means you only have half the distance to cover.
I am reminded of that perennial quote by Joseph Campbell, “Follow your bliss.” What’s important to know is that our bliss is also skipping along half a step behind us, waiting for us to turn around and bump into it. When you approach your life’s work in this manner, you honor yourself, and you honor the source of that creativity. Now that’s one dance I don’t want to miss!

Happy Red Quinoa, Fennel, and Strawberry Salad

Early June is the apotheosis of the strawberry in this part of Europe – you can hardly turn around twice without spying them in the markets, peeking out behind garden fences, even growing wild in the forest. (Few things in this world taste better than wild strawberries plucked on a hike in the woods.) Inspired by this juicy bounty, (and feeling hungry for lunch,) I created this lovely lukewarm salad featuring the crunchiness of red quinoa, the crisp and soothing touch of fennel, and the aforementioned berry-infused glory. Besides providing a satisfying lunch before a long rehearsal in the opera pit  – next stop, Puccini’s Madame Butterfly – this would be a pretty addition to an early summer picnic spread.


3/4 cup red quinoa

1 1/2 cups water

1 medium fennel bulb, chopped

7-10 ripe strawberries, tops removed, quartered

1 little pot goat’s or soy yogurt, unflavored 

juice and zest of 1/2 lemon

1/8 cup sunflower oil

salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste 


Directions: Cook the quinoa in the rice cooker, then let cool. In the meantime, prepare strawberries and fennel. 


When the quinoa has reached room temperature, toss together remaining ingredients and season to taste. 


Use a few extra strawberries as garnish… 


This recipe, besides being delicious, is also gluten-free, appropriate for the later stages of the Candida diet, and vegan if you use soy yoghurt. 

In the meantime, my husband prepared his own lunch, his Käsespätzle :-) 


Vegan Refried Black Beans in my Luxembourg Kitchen

image4Luxembourg, my adopted home, is a crossroads for many culinary traditions, but Mexican cuisine isn’t among them. My husband is a San Antonio native as well as a gifted Tex-Mex cook (you’ll also rarely find a better Käsespätzle or Züri geschnetzeltes than the ones he can put together.) So we often get a “hankering” for the bold, sensual tastes of the American Southwest. Without the proper ingredients, especially chiles, whipping up the perfect mole enchiladas can be a nightmarish task. For years, we’ve stuffed packages of dried ancho, guajillo, cascabel, morita, chipotle, adobo, and others into boots and rolled-up shirts in our luggage on the way back to Europe. Sometimes we forget until time to put that particular pair of shoes on again and feel the mysterious, disconcerting crunch of capsicums between our toes…

Nowadays, you can find tortillas in the shops, even a gluten-free version, as well as salsa (mediocre,) seasonings (worse than mediocre,) and even canned refried beans (ick.) A couple days ago, I tried my hand at creating a tasty, vegan incarnation of refried beans. I was very pleased with the results and am happy to share my recipe with you here. This should be especially helpful to my European readers, as I have kept the number of chiles involved to a minimum. As usual, I’ve done my best to find organic ingredients where possible. This recipe is lactose-, gluten-, sugar-, and yeast-free, and yes, it’s vegan unless you are dying for some butter to fry the beans.

You can also start out with a jar or can of black beans rather than dried, but where’s the fun in that?

Old World Refried Black Beans


400 grams (14 oz) black beans, dried

Yeast-free vegetable stock, or make your own from scratch

2 cloves rose garlic, finely chopped

1 tablespoon cumin seeds

a pinch of fresh or dried sage (I dehydrate our sage from the garden)

12-15 piquin chiles or equivalent, dried (don’t be afraid to use the seeds as well)

chili flakes, to taste

a few shakes of ground chipotle peppers

a pinch of cinnamon

1 tsp. coriander seeds

salt to taste

olive oil

zest and juice of 1 lime


Pour boiling water over the dried black beans, enough to cover them plus a couple centimetres, and leave to soak overnight. The next morning, drain and rinse the beans, pour new boiling water over them, and leave for at least an hour (all morning is ideal.) Drain and rinse again since they are stubborn, then cook for about an hour in the vegetable stock on medium-low heat, covered.

In the meantime, grind up the cumin seeds, dried sage, all chiles, cinnamon, and salt together with a mortar and pestle.

When the beans are finished cooking, remove most of the liquid, holding in reserve. Dump the beans in your food processor, add a bit of the broth and a few glugs of olive oil, and whir until you get that telltale refried bean consistency. Add more liquid and olive oil as necessary.image1

In a large saucepan or wok, heat up more olive oil on medium heat (or butter, if you prefer) then sauté the garlic for a minute, then add the ground spice mixture and sauté another couple of minutes. Add the bean purée and mix thoroughly. Cook about 10 minutes more, stirring frequently to keep your mixture from sticking to the bottom of the pan.

Add lime zest and juice to the beans, then adjust seasonings to taste. You now have a delicious, basic refried bean paste for whatever dish you are preparing.image5 Kerry’s portion turned into chalupas compuestas (grilled tortillas, beans, gouda with cumin, cilantro, salsa;)image6mine sat atop a bed of whole-grain rice with lambs-ear lettuce, cherry tomatoes, cilantro,and salsa. image7

¡Buen provecho! 

Vegan Almond Butter Hummus, or painting with a restricted palate

IMG_5227This afternoon, 10 (mostly) Americans gathered at our friend’s 300-year-old farmhouse in Lorraine to celebrate Easter the traditional way: consuming copious quantities of home-cooked food together. We had a couple vegetarians in our midst and based our feast on vegan delicacies, if you don’t count the marvellous braised lamb prepared by our host.

I’ve been on a restricted diet for the past nine weeks. The purpose is to restore the skewed balance in my intestinal flora, as well as to cure recurring, painful oral infections (a horn player’s nightmare!) My inspiration for taking this on was the well-researched, humorous, first-hand account penned by a favourite author of mine, Cash Peters. His book on tackling Candida albicans overgrowth was a revelation to me and explained many other health issues I’d dealt with over the years. His blog is at least as fun as mine and is worth perusing, while you’re at it! Several doctor’s and nutritionist’s appointments, tests, and treatments of various sorts later (note to self: don’t mention colonic irrigation in a blog with a recipe,) I’ve settled into a rhythm of different foods, supplements, and the inevitable emotional/spiritual changes and vulnerability that come from willingness to heal.

You’d think we all want to be healthy and whole all the time, and in theory, we do. The problem is, we get so used to our imbalances and pain that the work involved in transformation feels like an uncrossable chasm. Insane, no? I tend to treasure my convictions anyway (such as, I’m already a healthy eater – what could diet have to do with any of my problems?) so it takes some doing to change course. As it turned out, I’m missing an antibody that protects the mucous membranes along with having a yeast intolerance, combining to muck up the works. Stress definitely plays a role. Did I mention that I play horn for a living?

It has been a hard regimen, I won’t lie. Maddeningly frustrating, sometimes, since food is one of the main ways we commune with others in social situations. Nine weeks in, though, my symptoms have disappeared, I’ve lost 6 kilos without trying, and my energy is good and steady. I’m slowly re-introducing foods banned on the Candida diet (hello, Rioja and potatoes! Berries and bananas, you’re next, my old friends!) Cooking has proven a challenge. We often make parallel meals, or mine serves as a side dish for my husband. Despite the restrictions, I’ve come up with some gorgeous new additions to the repertoire. You’d be surprised how a narrowed list of allowed foods can spark your creativity. Here’s my vegan almond hummus that proved a massive hit at Easter lunch today.

Since recipes don’t usually read as “a glob of this and some bits of that,” I’ve done my best to provide proportions for you. Feel free to play around with them according to taste.


-250 g (about 8 oz.) cooked chickpeas, drained

-1/2 cup almond butter, either blanched or natural. I used blanched today.

-1/4 cup yoghurt (soy for vegan hummus, also excellent with Greek-style or goat’s milk yoghurt)

-2-3 cloves raw garlic

-a few healthy glugs of extra virgin olive oil

-juice of 1-1 1/2 lemons, to taste

-1 heaping teaspoon ground cumin

-Himalaya salt to taste

-sweet or smoked paprika for garnish

Add all ingredients except paprika to your food processor (mine is a sturdy Magimix that would break your foot if you dropped it!) and blend until smooth, adding additional olive oil if needed for consistency. Add salt to taste.

Pour into decorative dish and garnish with drizzled olive oil and paprika. Plop in a sprig of parsley if you’re feeling frisky. Enjoy with raw veggies, rice cakes, or whatever takes your fancy.

The secret to a healing or detoxifying diet is to focus on and be grateful for what you CAN eat, rather than bemoaning what you give up. Come to think of it, that’s true in pretty much any area of life, isn’t it?


Thoughts on perfection vs. excellence and the American Horn Quartet’s final year

For months now, I keep telling myself that it’s time to jumpstart this blog again after a hiatus of over a year, as the sheer act of bringing reflections and thoughts to (virtual) paper has always been a joy. Each time, the impulse died with the internal dialogue, “Too much has happened to write down” and, my all-time favourite murderer of creativity,”If you are going to write something, it needs to be spectacular.” (Read: perfect.) Perfectionism is dangerous game the ego plays to prevent us from giving birth to any creative endeavour. As a performer, I relearn every day the delicate skill of knowing when to let go and let a performance happen. The moments we divest ourselves of the need to steer the outcome are those where magic and miracles can happen. Yes, careful and considered preparation are a requisite for this letting go – it’s a balancing act. The fulcrum is different for each person and every situation, but what remains constant is the triumph of enthusiasm over anxiety, put simply, love over fear. I like the idea of striving for excellence rather than perfection. It’s just as much work, but without the automatic “doomed to fail” label attached. And it’s a hell of a lot more fun.

So…now to plunge in and share with you what’s on my mind today!

The American Horn Quartet, one of the greatest joys and blessings in my life these past several years, will give its last concert next August in Los Angeles at the International Horn Symposium. Due to a schedule conflict between orchestra and tour obligations, the AHQ has just completed a US tour without me. I was quite heartbroken at first not to be able to participate in what is the last major American tour of the quartet, as well as one I had the main share of organizing. Okay, I’m still sad about it. But 1) my part has been in the more than capable hands of Karl Pituch of the Detroit Symphony orchestra, for many years our go-to sub anytime we need reinforcements in North America. And 2) the reason I remained in Europe was to rehearse with the OPL for an upcoming tour including one of my favourite things to play, the 3rd horn part of Mendelssohn’s Scottish Symphony with my extremely talented colleagues. So, back to the AHQ. A lot of people have asked why we are throwing in the towel while still at the top of our game. That’s an answer unto itself, really – we would like to leave a legacy of fantastic concerts and conscientious artistry and go out before we outstay our welcome. It’s also become more difficult for all four of us to free ourselves from other (job) obligations at the same time. The quartet has been around for 30 years; I have had the pleasure of the last six. Once we pass the torch, I’m not sure what will take its place – certainly Kerry and I will resume the Virtuoso Horn Duo, put on hold as our priority went to the quartet, and I hope the Ni Ensemble will get going again. Aside from that, the extra time not spent answering and writing hundreds of emails organizing tours will go to other projects. I honestly have no idea what I’ll be doing in 5 years, and that’s okay. But I will miss the AHQ dearly. The four of us bring out the best in one another musically – I call it the Turbo button. When the music kicks into high gear, the combination of laser-like concentration and the power of the music feels like a clear, sharp wind, leaving no room for distracting thoughts. So even though the repertoire we play can be devilishly difficult, my mind is rarely more peaceful than in the middle of a performance. I truly feel emptied out, in the best possible way, after a recital.

Earlier I was talking about perfectionism, about knowing when to put in the nitpicky work and when to surrender to the flow. In our rehearsals, we sometimes go into ridiculous, microscopic detail, even on pieces we have performed dozens of times. The alchemical transformation comes about as a result of the absolute trust we have in each other on stage. Even if clams happen (for my non-musician friends and readers, that’s what we call the occasional splats that happen to every horn player!) or if a passage doesn’t come off the way we did it in the practice room, that trust remains. Recently, in London at the International Horn Society symposium, someone’s cell phone went off in the audience just as we had started the finale, throwing us off our rhythm, and we had to start the movement over. It’s the first time that had ever happened during my tenure with the quartet. But so what! We knew that we could sink straight back into the flow of the piece because of that trust. Also, we have fun.

We have a new CD coming out called En-COR! – yes, it’s a pun, and yes, the whole CD is made up of our favourite encore pieces. Release date should be the middle of December, just in time for Christmas stockings. We used the Kickstarter program to fund the project, with well over 100 supporters. Once it’s available (Albany Records,) I will share links to find it. During the recording sessions, the microphones were close to us, so the listener has the feeling of being right there. You can hear us breathing, hear our valves clicking, feel the organic current of the music. Our Grammy-award winning producer, Gregg Squires, did a brilliant job in capturing a very “live” feel. With two and a half days to record 20 pieces, the principle of knowing when to move on becomes pretty important.

Preparing to take our final bow...

Preparing to take our final bow…

Hey, blog written! Now I just have to press “send.” How hard can it be? :-)

Out of the Closet


Every September in Luxembourg, local residents find a large, orange transparent sack shoved through the mailbox (or sometimes, dumped unceremoniously on the ground somewhere in the vicinity of the front door.)  This is the time to go through closets, locate items we no longer wear and wish to donate to charity, and pack them into the bag for pickup, usually scheduled for the first day of autumn.  Whether this is coincidence or deliberate seasonal gesture, the timing is fortuitous.

In our neighborhood we also have a giant orange container for the same purpose, next to the bins for recycled glass and paper, perched outside our local Portuguese greengrocer’s shop.  On the afternoon the orange bag arrived (this year, still clinging stubbornly by one corner to the mailbox), I got excited.  My natural impulse to give things away and to clear space kicked in with a sort of frenzy, and soon I was happily laying waste to my closet and chest of drawers.  Once I started, I didn’t want to wait the two weeks until pickup of the sacks, so I ended up taking 4 bags down to the corner container.  Clothes I hadn’t worn in a really long time.  Clothes given to me that I had kept just to be nice.  Clothes I wasn’t sure why I bought in the first place.  Clothes hanging under other clothes, forgotten.  Clothes I imagined someone else would take pleasure wearing.  Clothes that didn’t quite fit my body, or my personality, but that had continued taking up space, “just in case.”   A few holdouts from the 90’s that had survived several such purges and changes of residence gave me pause, but sometimes it’s simply time to let go and move on.  (Apparently, I was fond of leopard prints in the 90’s…)

Cleaning out a closet isn’t such a big deal, really.  Making space in my head, in my heart, my spirit – that’s another thing.  What in my life have I been carrying around that I haven’t needed for years but haven’t released?  What burdens have I taken on from my family, friends, colleagues, society in general, and never examined?  What do I hold onto from the past that no longer serves me, but stays in my psyche, “just in case?” 

Releasing old baggage and destructive behavior patterns is as easy – or torturous – as we allow it to be.  My Reiki teacher, Don Alexander, often spoke of resistance, of the many ways we hold onto the familiar just because we know it and are afraid of who we are without it.  Even, and sometimes especially, the pain.  Why do we identify with our limits, physical or intellectual?  Why do we let the old tapes in our heads tell us what we cannot accomplish, why we cannot be free?  Don teaches his students a wonderful meditation about this.  After centering and finding a calm place inside, you slowly strip off, one by one, all your physical layers.  Who are you without your hair and skin?  Who are you without your muscle?  Without your eyes and ears?  Without your soft organs, your blood?  You continue this until you are down to your very bones.  The idea is to pare everything down to its most essential, its basic components. 

Who am I without my horn playing?  Who am I without my need to make people feel comfortable and happy?  Without my anxieties and desires?  Without my intellect?  Without my taste in literature, my ability to cook, my health, my marriage, family, senses, thoughts, emotions, even without my name? 

Obviously, we don’t throw everything away.  (I still have clothes in my closet!) But if we take a moment now and then to look deeply at the things we carry, to discover what is essential and what is not, and to release just a little of what burdens us, we can breathe so much more freely.  I’m still working on it, that balance between resistance and release, but the releasing part gets easier with practice.

Oh, and by the way, if you ever see me decked out in leopard prints again, send me home to do another closet purge, please.