I arrived at Wiston Lodge in the borders in the evening, and before our first session, decided to go for a short walk. It was on this walk that I found what would be a catalyst for much of my insights over the coming week. Feeling thoughtful and moving through the woodland I came across an area behind a wooden gate with a small metal bell, called “The Path of the Little People”. Intrigued, I wandered around these paths seeing small woodland animals made out of natural materials, and little fairy doors at the base of tree trunks. Through the trees I noticed metal objects and when stepping closer, I realised they were musical instruments, in the middle of the woodland. I was immediately consumed by a childlike glee. Slightly self-consciously I looked around me to see if anyone else was around. I picked up the little mallets on the first of these instruments and began to play. I played single notes, sweeps of notes, and melodies all adding to the birdsong that was around me. I was loving creating this music that seemed to arrive from nowhere. I tried out all the different instruments, metal, wooden with a whole variety of different pitches, I was having a very authentic, playful experience.

I felt like I wanted more time explore, so the next day I took my flute to “The Path of the Little People”. Even the sound of the flute case opening within this very unusual setting sounded strange. When I picked up my flute it felt cold in my hands and I began to play low quiet notes. I started playing in an awkward way, as though I was hiding from listening to myself. I then reconnected to my body scanning through my feet, belly, and shoulders, sensing the flute being held in my hands, and began to really listen. Chiffchaffs, wrens, blackbirds all adding their morning song, and then suddenly, something fell away within me and I communicated back short sprinkles of notes. Then, longer more elaborate phrases. Listening and playing, listening and playing, adding occasional notes on the woodland xylophones, feeling creatively free.

The professional classical musician, the inner critic, the judgement was there, but I decided to accept it and play. "That sound wasn't right”, “That wasn't in time”, “You'd be better playing that higher” all blocking myself from being the musician in that moment that I wanted to be. After half an hour my playing came to a natural close, I packed away and moved through the woodland back towards the group for our next session keeping this special secret experience with me.

I felt like I'd allowed myself to open, to reconnect back to what was really important for me. Later that day I really surprised myself by beginning to write a poem in my retreat journal about no longer trying to be me, no longer actively trying to be the person I should be, this imagined person on a pedestal, but just was me allowing myself to be me. Even as I write this blog about this experience I notice myself becoming increasingly emotional. A deeply important process, still unfolding. Bringing to mind Mary Oliver’s wonderful line “let the soft animal of your body, love what it loves.”

The following day I took my flute up again to the woods this time the process felt slightly easier. I started to walk while playing, this freeing up my body. Suddenly I noticed a bird song sound very agitated, if not angry. Perhaps I was in his territory, perhaps this was aimed at another bird, but I decided to respond. My reply was angry, forceful and harsh, not the nice round rich sound I had been trained to produce. This turned into fury. A ball of energy in the whole of my torso starting in my gut moving up through into my chest and out through the flute, I hadn't felt so embodied while playing music for a very long time. It felt raw, creative, fresh and exciting and I realised in that moment that this ball of energy was the musician I wanted to be, this was the musician I struggled to let out regularly. Not only struggled to show to the world, but struggled to show to myself. This agitated encounter subsided, and once again I packed away. Walking this time with a very live sensation of being elated that I had been so connected, and yet burningly furious at myself for not connecting to that more regularly. I felt so naked, vulnerable and stripped back of my protective shields.

The next day I invited others to join me in this experience in the trees. As I walked around the woods I saw people from our retreat emerging from all around the woodland, coming to join by listening and taking part using the woodland percussion. A concert experience of a very different kind. This one, everyone could be audience and performer.

I needed to be courageous, to be vulnerable, to then listen to what needed to come out. Another retreat participant touchingly wrote in a poem "She had music in her soul, I held mine within a stone.”

I had forgotten I had music in my soul. I'd forgotten that I am a creative person whose wish is to express themselves authentically. In my efforts to be a "successful” musician I had somehow lost contact with this.

  When on my retreat I listened, gave space and permission to myself to soften and be open enough to truly connect to something new and fresh. I was no longer filling my time with things that I'd convinced myself needed to be done, so I allowed myself freedom to be that creative person who was there all along.

Letting Go

What if you let go of trying to be you.
Trying altogether and just was.
Be vulnerable, be opinionated,
Caring, energetic, over ambitious

Nothing that you are not, nothing that you would
Like to be.
My open self as itself.
Not a present of vibrant red when blue is blue.

Pause. Feel. Take Breath.
What could you allow to happen if you
Let go
Of trying to be you
And just

Lee Holland