The Cloak Room

Noticing that the man I mentioned yesterday died so soon after my visit I got curious about the effectivity of the cloak room metaphor.

I remember I was called to the bed of a dying woman. When I arrived she was breathing about once per minute. I didn’t know that a person could breathe so little and still be alive. Her daughter and her son in law were there. I asked if it were appropriate to speak a prayer, to which they said “Yes”. After telling the dying woman that her daughter and son in law were there, who I was and what I was going to do I put my hand on her arm and spoke a prayer. Then I said to her: “I would like to tell you something, Mrs. S. I imagine there’s a door. When it will be the right time for you, you can go through that door. Next to the door there’s a cloak room. There’s someone who can have an eye on your things so they’re safe. It’s a special wardrobe. You can had in anything that’s a burden to you.
If you’re afraid – take it off. You don’t need any fear over there.
If you’re sad – hand it in. For what? You don’t have any use for that now.
If you bear a grudge or haven’t forgiven someone – hang it on the big wardrobe.
If you feel obliged to anything – take it off.
If you think you need to stay – there’s nothing you need to! If you want, give it to the one who’s standing there for guarding it.
If you think there’s still something left to do or that there’s anything missing – hand it in to the one who will guard it for you.
If there’s anything unpleasant in your body – give it to him as well.
If there’s any problem with breathing – give it to him as well.
If there’s anything else you would like to give to him – hand in anything that you don’t need any more.
Give him anything that has become a burden for you. Take it off. You don’t need it any more. And when you notice that it’s time for you, go through the door.” I finished with a blessing.
During the prayer the breath frequency of the woman had gon up to about six breaths per minutes, and thus it stayed for a while. Her daughter and son-in-law were observing her breath silently. The silence felt somewhat heavy for me and I had the imagination it could be the same for the dying woman. So I asked: “Can you tell me what happened so your mother got in this state?” The daughter said a few sentences. Her mother’s breath got very slow again. After five breaths there was a very tiny one. Then everything was still. (Stefan Hammel, Loslassen und leben. Impress, Mainz 2016)
I’ve used this metaphor a number of times now. Often the effect seemed to be very strong. The structure is thus: There’s door and a cloak room and an attendant next to it. You say: Whatever burdens you concerning the past: Hand it in. This can be specified as a bad conscience or anger against someone else or sadness about something that happened. Whatever burdens you concerning the future: Hand it in. This could be specified as worries about the relatives or about what comes after death. Whatever burdens you concerning the present, hand it in. This could for example be specified as a discomfort of the body (pain) or breathing problems.

La respiration agréable

Une amie m’a appelée. Elle respirait extrêmement vite et de manière agitée et ne pouvait prononcer que quelques mots à la fois. Sa voix avait un drôle de son. Elle raconta que sa fille venait d’avoir un accident de voiture avec son bébé sur le siège arrière. Le bébé n’avait rien eu mais le SAMU avait transporté sa fille à l’hôpital car ils craignaient une fracture de la base du crâne. Elle-même avait dû rester où elle était ; elle devait garder le bébé et n’arrivait pas à savoir ce qui se passait avec sa fille. J’ai alors commencé à respirer et à parler de la même façon qu’elle et au bout d’un certain temps j’ai changé de rythme et ai ralenti peu à peu ma respiration et ma façon de parler. J’ai remarqué qu’elle me suivait instinctivement dans mon comportement et qu’elle se calmait. Sa voix sonnait claire et forte et ce qu’elle racontait maintenant sonnait plus positif qu’au début de la conversation. « Je te remercie de la façon dont tu m’as parlé », ont été ses mots quand elle termina la conversation.


« Ceci est une poubelle », a déclaré Louise alors qu’elle me remettait le monstre en carton-pâte avec le museau grand ouvert. À partir de ce moment-là Fred, le monstre de la poubelle, s’est trouvé assis dans la salle de délibération en attendant de la nourriture. Au début Fred se contentait des déchets du bureau. Pourtant alimenté par des déchets mentaux de beaucoup de conversations il prenait goût à toutes ces choses dont les clients n’avaient plus besoin et qu’ils voulaient laisser dans la salle de délibération. J’ai pris l’habitude de présenter Fred aux clients. Avec le temps Fred bouffait les mots maladroits du thérapeute et les pensées lourdes des clients. Il bouffait des souvenirs accablants et des habitudes mal aimées. Une cliente envoyait ses pensées dépressives même de la maison à Fred. À la fin Fred mangeait aussi ce qui me pesait lourd. Et la nuit il pouvait … consommer tous les rêves disgracieux.

Everything Else

In a land in our time there lived a man, who read a book and found lots of wonderful stories therein. There were true and invented stories, experienced and pensive, enjoyable and painful stories. There were stories which contained stories, and such which were actually not stories. For every story he read, there occurred to him nearly five which he had either experienced or thought up himself. So the thought came to him, that a lot in the world was a story which could be healing for himself and others; he only needed to absorb the healing stories well and to forget the terrible ones immediately. Then he would learn which story he had used when and for what. So he organised his own stories which he knew, and which had become a help to himself and others, or could become so. Sometimes he noted it down when a new story came to his ears and sometimes when a helpful story occurred to him, he memorised it.

Then he saw before him in a picture the storystories of this life arranged in long shelves, as in a large pharmacy. And behind the counter there sat a man who had learnt to listen to himself and others. He was a master of his subjectspecialty. His talent was that he understood how to tell the right thing at the right time to himself and to those who visited him.


„Witch’s shot“, that’s what they call a lumbago in my country. And indeed, it is like a curse! This pain whenever I move! “It would be best not to move at all any more”, I thought. “If I just keep my arm in front of the body, pull my right shoulder up, let the left shoulder drop down, and bend a little bit forward, I can stand it.” If I were to move very cautiously, I could even go to the door. But how should I press down the handle without changing my posture? Any wrongfalse movement was causing terrible pain.

On the other hand: What was a “wrongfalse movement” in this situation? The longer I stayed in my unnatural position, trying to protect myself from the pain, the more my muscles tensed, and the worse they would ache afterwards. If my means of escape were actually my trap – what could I do?

I decided to do an experiment. Instead of trying to find a comfortable position for my body, I went into the most painful position I could stand for a prolonged time and I stayed like this. Surprisingly, my pain became less after a few minutes, and my ability to move increased. Once more I leaned back into the pain – the worst I could bear. And again the pain decreased after a while and I could move more freely. I repeated this procedure another six or eight times. The curse lost its power and turned into bliss.

Volume Control

She loved going to the disco. When her parents picked her up, they wondered each time: “How can you bear it with that noise?” But she knew: the music is only loud at the beginning. Soon the music is no longer loud. The ear adjusts the volume accordingly. In bed in the evenings she loved to listen to the radio, turned down low. Okay, her parents had forbidden it when she had school the next day, but she turned the volume down so low that even she hardly heard anything. She knew: the music is only low at the beginning. Soon, quiet is no longer quiet. She can turn the radio down many more times, and she still hears everything. The ear adjusts the volume accordingly.


Some engineers are specialized in constructing valves. They do nothing else; they just construct valves, all day long. Now someone might ask: Isn’t thisit boring, to occupy your mind with nothing but valves all day long? But actually it is a very interesting field. There are valves for air and valves for steam, and then there are some for water and some for oil. There are high- pressure valves and thermostat valves. There are regulators for monitoring the temperature of a liquid, for instance in the shower. There are valves, which activate themselves and others, which can be operated only by hand, and there are some which work both automatically and manually.

One could think that valves are a human invention, but nature also knows valves and regulators of many different kinds. We find natural valves at the entrance of the gullet and of the air tube, at the exits of the stomach and of the bladder, and at the end of the intestines. Many glands are using some kind of valve. There are the heart valves, and in the veins, there are valves to ensure that the blood flows in the right direction.

We are used to turning the heat on when we are cold, and to turning it off when we are warm. We use a control for the central heating, if we want to change the temperature of the oven. We know that we can turn off the water in the house if a pipe bursts in the winter. We are used to regulating the amount and temperature of the water in the bath tub, and to accelerating and slowing down our car. We are used to our bicycle tyres being filled with air, a kettle whistling, and a steamer cooking our meals. For all this we use valves. They serve our purposes without us having to think about them. But there is one important difference between the valves of our body and the technical ones invented by humans. If a technical valve is set in the wrong position someone must come and readjust it. The natural valves of our body and soul adjust and get set all by themselves, and they can – if necessary – independently readjust themselves at any time.

Imaginative Remedies

He was an experienced physician. “At times it happens”, he reported, “that I cannot give a medication to a patient because it is too expensive or too hard to obtain. How, may I ask, can I provide a remedy made out of lion’s milk? In some of these cases I tell the patients to write the name of the remedy on a sheet of paper, and to have a close look at it. The startling thing is: for those who follow this advice, the effect of the paper is about the same as the effect of the remedy, had it been taken.” A woman who heard this story laughed about it. She had been working for years as a nurse in the intensive care ward of a hospital, and had helped to save more than one patient’s life by giving himthem the right medication at the right time. What would have happened if she had handed himthem a sheet of paper instead, showing the name of histheir medication? Some days after this conversation, she woke up with a severe headache. She knew it was nothing serious, only this well-known pain, which a doctor had once described as being there simply for the sake of being. She knew that she did not have any pills at home. She imagined putting a glass of water next to her bed. She envisioned how she would throw a pill in the water, and how it would dissolve. She pictured herself drinking the water in little sips how the water would be absorbed by her body, and how the medication would become effective.

She fell asleep for a few minutes then woke up again and went to work. Everything was as usual. When she looked back on her day late at night, she noticed that her headache had vanished in the minutes after she had taken the imagined remedy, and that she had completely forgotten about it for the rest of the day.


“I had to remove quite a bit of your tooth. I had to drill almost down to the nerve. You seem to be brave. How could you stand all this without an injection?” “I was sitting at a lake near my holiday resort. I listened to the wind in the leaves. A car or a motorbike went by. I felt the cool air on my skin. I was sitting in the sun on a big white stone – but no, if I looked closely at it, that really was my tooth!”