This week I performed for the first time in a large group since the COVID shutdown in March 2020. It was exhilarating to feel the sound around me and feel the intensity of dozens of individuals working together towards a common goal. Also this week I dug into some tangos and cuban melodies with my heart on my sleeve. As I return to more frequent in person concerts after what ended up being the largest break in my performing career due to COVID cancellations, I am able to begin to integrate the powerful lessons from the past 16 months.
In 2020 cancelled concerts meant losing a sense of meaning in my life, and lots of free time to ponder. My dreams were filled with images of my cello or bow broken or rotting, anxious dreams where I was asked to go on stage but couldn’t find my cello or I had not practiced. As I moved through the grieving process with as much trust and presence as I could to the feelings of loss, I oscillated between sadness and long moments or even days of deep surrender into presence into the simple act of being. I allowed myself to enter into a grief process that stretched back through much of my life, where music had filled a space where human love was absent, to take a look at the shadow of my music making and any attachment that did not come from love. I worked to reclaim a belonging to myself beyond all external striving and identity as a musician.
I was deeply moved by the calls for racial healing, but responded in the way that felt more powerful and centered in my own experience rather than the external prompts for social justice that felt often scripted and intellectual. I searched into my own direct ancestry and discovered a revolutionary war soldier who had himself burned Haudenosaunnee corn fields and villages in the very area of New York where I had grown up. I wanted to hold energetic space to release whatever pain had brought him to these lands, or powerlessness and trauma that carrying out these acts as a foot soldier must have created in my lineage. And I wanted to offer reparations in a small way for the indigenous community harmed. Exploring this history with an open and courageous heart brought me to a place of deep compassion in all directions, including forgiveness for those in my own life who have harmed me and self forgiveness for how my own pain might have harmed others. I reached back to my distant ancestors who lived in harmony with the land in Ireland, or by the Rhine, and surrendered into a sense of my own indigenous lineage before Roman soldiers or other conquering forces broke these thousands of years of wisdom and earth medicine. I had lots of support from others as well as skills from shamanism and Buddhism to hold this work. As a result of this process, I felt an energy of light radiate back through my lineage and forward into the future, and this soldier relinquish grief and move on. This cycle culminated in video recording of the Frank Bridge Sonata with pianist Barbara Lysakowski, offered as a thank you for our fundraiser, and a cellomedicine zoom concert from my living room, virtually hosted by Dreamhive in NYC. The money raised was gifted to the Schagticoke First Nations Land Reclaimation Project. A tremendous thank you to Sachem Hawkstorm and Louisa Harpriya for holding space for this work. And many others too numerous to mention.
On April 1st 2021 our beloved poodle family member Alfie died suddenly from complications from Addison’s disease and medical error at only five years old. The pain of this loss was sharp and intense but uncomplicated. I played cello for him as he took his last breath. I stayed present to my heartbreak, to my resistance and fear of death and loss, I stayed present to my desire to hold onto the past. In that space I discovered a timeless and endless core of love at the heart of all of life beyond death, beyond form, and I bathed in this divine love. And I gave myself permission to have my human desires, my individual joys and to fight for what matters most to me. The balance of will and surrender, trust and power, individual and collective, are amazing facets of human dance. I have begun to identify myself not as a musician, or dog mama, or teacher or life coach, but a consciousness explorer, someone committed to holding in love and joy the full experience of our humanity. But looking back, this is nothing new. I have just remembered.
I will not say this time was easy, but I have a sustained an honest gratitude for the circumstances and my confrontation with loss on so many levels. I feel a renewed trust in whatever comes towards me in my life, and the wisdom to greet it with an open heart. I fully released music and even wondered if I would leave performing behind entirely for another career. While I maintained my base level of skill by practicing, I really questioned if my heart and the world was asking me to fully let go of this offering. In this space of surrender my music became a prayer for my ancestors, a conversation with the ocean, the trees and the roses in my garden. I felt held in such love with this animate community. I wrote poetry and my own music, poured over books, podcasts and articles around sacred ceremony, myth, transformation, plant healing, shamanism, etc. Our life then exploded into play and sweetness with a new puppy we named Jasper. I found myself surrounded by love from healers and priestesses, soul friends, my husband and family, and I felt truly capable of receiving this love. In this loving space my capacity to hold compassion for others expanded beyond the concert hall and into life coaching work and creating ceremony.
Now that concerts have returned and I have emerged from the cauldron of transformation I find I have woven a new life that is more balanced and nurturing at the roots. The bright blossoms of performances are supported by quiet space holding for others on their own journeys of awakening, and I feel supported by a community of folks who share my passion for nature. As I played this week I found a new level of passion, courage and power in my voice. I can honestly say I have never been more capable of joy and able to share my heart. Thank you COVID times for the lessons of trust and surrender, and for nourishing me to the core. Most importantly, thank you for teaching me to surrender to the truth of love that is truly all around us, in nature, in humans, in our own hearts. I hope that I continue to learn to trust the process of death and loss as merely a gateway to rebirth, and approach my own death, when it comes, with surrender.
The gift of loss lies in the potential to reveal the core of love, beyond attachment or the trappings of obligation. Loss cuts through the illusion of self, waking us up to all that truly matters: to celebrate the magic of life with an open and courageous heart, and greet death with trust and surrender.