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Interview with Rosa

This informal interview was conducted between Rosa Glenn Reilly, Founder and Director of Spectrum Center, and Max Regan, teacher, editor and Co-Founder of the Spectrum Writer’s Guild. They spoke on March 31st, 2021, the last day of Spectrum Center’s last lease.


Tell me how Spectrum Center began.


The idea began when I was ending my time as a staff member of a consciousness growth center called The Natale Institute (TNI). It was 1986 and we were a more spiritual version of some of the groups at the time that were more confrontational and results oriented.  It was a crazy time of breaking norms and taking risks.

So, in the next two years, I left TNI, started my own private practice, and Tom (Reilly) and I moved in together. And it just wouldn’t leave me, this idea. I mean, the whole vision wouldn’t leave me, the name wouldn’t leave me. Spectrum Center.


Do you remember where the name came from?


It came from the fact that this thing, this Center was not about dogma, it was not about “a way,” it was about inclusion of all roads to spiritual and personal growth. And so it was Spectrum, as in full Spectrum, of course. And it was just persistent. We had a lot of centers in Houston then and they all mostly had “a way,” which implied other ways were less important. My curiosity was bigger than one way and I thought there might be others who wanted that kind of wide open personal exploration.

The first wellness center opened in Montrose and I made friends with the couple who ran it. The wife and I would get together for tea every few months and she kept hearing me talk about this idea for a Center. Finally, probably because she was sick and tired of hearing about it, she asked what was in my way of doing it. I told her that I couldn’t find a place I could afford. She asked what I could afford and I said, $500 a month. Then she challenged me. If I find it, you have to open it. And I agreed.  She called me two months later and I heard her voice happily shouting, I found it!

It was the whole upstairs floor of an old house right down the street from her wellness center. It was just a beautiful, big house and a total wreck inside. The deal was, we would have the upstairs for $500 a month. And the upstairs had a huge living room that would make a perfect workshop room. A huge kitchen, perfect for people to gather on breaks. And then down a hallway, there was a big bathroom and four large bedrooms that could be offices. All this with windows all around and big Texas live oaks sheltering us.

And it was a wreck. It was a complete wreck.

The beautiful oak floors were painted black, the walls were a glossy purple and red, and half the rooms had nasty, stained, yellow shag carpet. Oh, and holes in the plaster walls everywhere!  With electrical wires hanging out of almost every hole.

They said I could get it for $500 “as is”.  That meant any repairs were ours to do.

So Tom and our friend, Larry Patton, looked at the house and said they could do it. Both were unemployed at the time, one a trial attorney and the other a PR exec.  Not exactly handymen ready to paint walls, pull up carpet, refinish floors, repair holes, replace light fixtures and do plumbing!

All I could see was the vision. I was totally blinded by the vision. And the fact that I was the only one making any money didn’t dampen the vision. We were going to do this! We ate a lot of baked potatoes that year. I signed the lease outside on the hood of the realtor’s car because she was afraid if I looked inside one more time, I’d never sign the lease. We actually ended up renting the rest of the house in less than a year.


What strikes me so strongly is that the very first incarnation of Spectrum Center was actually a house. It wasn’t an office building, but literally a home.


Yes, and because it was a two-story house with trees all around, that became the model for every Center after that. I never moved the Center anywhere that was higher than two stories. And we always had to have trees around us.


You kept that feeling of it being a home and a refuge, like you were in someone’s home.


Absolutely! And in two lease spaces I had all the fluorescent lights taken out.

I wanted all the offices to look like little living rooms, because I felt that helped people feel safer in therapy rather than a more sterile office. At that time, typical therapist offices looked more like business offices, of course now it seems to be normal to have a softer, more inviting look.


Sounds like the boys had a lot of work to do.


Oh my God. It was overwhelming! They were in way over their heads. But damn if they didn’t get infected by the vision, too!  So we put it out into our community of friends, what we were doing, and asked for volunteers to come help. And they did! Bringing their teenagers and spouses and friends who had tools and had the know-how that we lacked.

The first thing we did was pull this big group together one weekend, about 35 people, and we started at ground level, literally. We cleaned the yard because it was overgrown and wild and we tore out the nasty carpet. Suddenly we could see the house!  And someone brought plants for the flowerbeds and geraniums for the front porch. The house started smiling, I swear I could see her smile.

And then we started working on the upstairs. I got a call from a center that was closing. They said I understand you’re opening a center, we have chairs. Do you need chairs?  Yes! Bring them over or we’ll come get them. Yes!  I didn’t care what they looked like, they were free. And so we got 35 sturdy, stackable plastic chairs. And they were fine. They were a beige color so we thought most anything could go with them.

And then a friend, a contractor friend, actually the father of someone I knew, called and said, I’ve got carpet left over from a job. Do you want carpet?  Absolutely, I wanted carpet! I figured, if the carpet was way off, we could paint the chairs. But it was perfect. It was a tweedy office grade carpet that goes with anything and would wear well, so it was fine.

Then the friend of that contractor called, Hey, I’m a friend of so-and-so and so-and-so, we’ve got paint left over. If it’s not the color you want, I can get it mixed for you into the color you need. But it’s good, high-quality paint. I said yes! He brings it over, and it was a perfect match to the colors we already had. So it was all of these little magical things that kept encouraging us and leading the way.

Then, only three weeks before the open house, all the electricity goes out. It just goes out. We get an electrician over for an analysis and quote. He checks it out, comes back looking sheepish because we sure didn’t look like we had extra money hanging around. He tells us that we’re sitting inside a fire hazard and everything has to be rewired, the whole house. And he shows us behind the plaster walls all this ancient knob-and-tube wiring with sections that are clearly broken and badly worn.

Larry and Tom and I were upstairs sitting on the floor in shock. The electrician had just left, and we were totally silent which was rare for us. We’re three weeks before the open house, invitations had been sent and there was no internet to do a quick cancellation. We didn’t have the money for the job and a loan was not an option.

Now friends were always dropping by to see how things were going. They’d drop off some treasure we might need or a meal or lend a hand. That day our friend Don Reynolds dropped by. He was the editor of an airline magazine. He was dapper. The word was created just for him. He always wore the perfectly pressed three-piece suit and the perfect white shirt with monogrammed cuff links. He was in his early 40s, trim and prematurely gray which only made him look more dapper and handsome.

So that day Don comes bounding up the stairs. He had helped when we cleared the yard and lent a hand here and there. Another friend swept up in the vision!

Hey, he said, I’m just checking to see how you’re doing and how it’s coming along. He took one look at us and immediately asked What’s wrong?  So I began to tell him our sad tale about the wiring and the open house just weeks away and how maybe this wasn’t going to happen after all. Then I noticed he had stopped listening and was looking around while taking off his jacket and rolling up his sleeves and he says, So, you ready to get started?  All three of us looked at him and said, What do you mean, get started. Where?  That’s when he tells us that he’s a licensed electrician!

He explained that in high school, in order for his father to pay for college, all his sons had to learn a trade. We could do whatever trade we wanted, but we had to have a trade, and we had to keep up our license or he wouldn’t pay for college. That was the deal. My dad was always very straight about it. So Don picked being an electrician and he kept his license in honor of his Dad.

He walked in on the day we needed him, just an hour after the electrician had announced the bad news. There was that magic again. Tom and Larry were his humble helpers. He took off from work and rewired the entire house in time for the open house. I’m grateful to this day.

It was that kind of magic at every turn. And it continued when I met Jim Parkhill. We had outgrown the house and had to move. I spotted our next building driving down Westheimer. I saw these big, beautiful live oaks all around this simple two-story office building, just gorgeous. And I saw a for lease sign and thought, That’s it. I discovered the IRS had taken the whole second floor of that building and trashed it, totally trashed it. Jim’s job was to lease that second floor.

Again, the place was a wreck which didn’t faze  me at all. It felt just like the first time I saw the Montrose house.  And so I talked to him about what I was looking for. He listened, sizing me up and figuring out how much space we needed. I told him I need a large classroom. And, actually, that I’d love to have two.  And how many offices?  I had four offices rented in the previous house. so I told him I wanted eight offices. and that I wanted every office to have windows. And so, fine, he says, I think I can make that work for you. So this is going to be about 5,800 square feet, and there will be some buildout expenses. Do you already have people to fill the offices?  I only had four people. So I said, No, but I can get them!

Then he tells me what the rent will be and my eyes get really big as I started falling off a cliff because this was our next home, I was sure, and I didn’t know how we were going to meet the rent. I did the numbers real quick;, if all eight offices were filled and what I would have to charge for them. I took a breath and I said, Yeah, that’ll work. And he said, Ok, I need a profit and loss statement from you.

I completely went blank. That’s when Jim looked at me very closely and asked if I had ever done a P&L? And I said, I don’t think so. I can still see him, shaking his head as he reached into a file cabinet, pulled out a piece of paper, scratched off all identifying information and said, It needs to look like this.  I returned a P&L to him two days later and prayed to God that no one would look too closely at my bank account.  And that was the beginning of a very long friendship. He also got us four months free rent, so by the time we started actually paying the rent, I had all eight offices filled.

We often talk and laugh about that day. He has told me, In my heart of hearts, I knew you were going to do it, I knew you were going to be successful. All you needed was a chance.  I’m forever grateful for that man!!

We were in that building 12 years. At one point the management got really bad, so we left and went down the street to Post Oak Place. We downsized a little bit. Great management and the owner was a truly nice guy. I talked him into putting a water fountain in the front of the building. I persuaded him that it would bring prosperity to us all. Good Feng Shui! I had signed a 10-year lease and wanted us all to prosper.

In the beginning of the third year, he invited me to lunch and took me to a very fancy, expensive restaurant, explaining that he had something important to tell me. I promised you 10 years of stability. I told you I wasn’t going to sell the building because this was going to be my grandson’s college education and I could guarantee you 10 years. And now I have to break that promise. He’d gotten an offer he couldn’t refuse. Prosperity had arrived for him in a big way. And to my surprise he wrote me and the other tenants generous checks for breaking our leases.  He gave the fountain full credit for the money he made.

So we moved back to the original building on Westheimer because management had changed for the better.  Ultimately, that building was torn down and we moved over to the Preserve on West Loop.

Again, floor to ceiling windows, surrounded by trees, and every office decorated like someone’s living room. More amazing experiences and amazing people. Every time we needed help painting, scraping walls, moving furniture, the Spectrum community showed up. Every time. All along the way there was synchronicity, a deep generosity and a feeling of home.

This Covid year when we had to close our group room and were no longer able to pay all our rent each month, the community once more came through. The donations covered our shortfall so we could recover, and we were able to meet our commitment to the end of the lease term. I always tear up when I talk about the love and heart that came pouring in.


I know that every time you moved and had to paint a new set of walls you all wrote words onto the walls before they got painted. How did that start?


It started in the house, the original house. The idea came to me and felt right and became a tradition. We just went room by room and wrote what we wanted to happen in that room. What was the feeling we wanted people to experience in that room? What were the blessings that we wanted to happen in that room? We wrote words, prayers, names, phrases, poems, blessings. And we did that in every Center before we painted.

We also invited the workmen doing our buildouts to add words and blessings to the walls once we explained what we were doing. I asked them to picture their families coming to heal themselves of their troubles and what would they want them to feel when they walked in.  I remember one young man who wrote a poem in Spanish. I forgot what the poem was, but another man translated it for us and it was perfectly in the spirit of Spectrum.


So those blessings are underneath the paint on every wall that ever became Spectrum Center?


Yes. And I hope the people who have come to the Center for therapy or for an event or to dance or do yoga or to work out the issues with their families or to study writing or art or collage, I hope they have felt those blessings, even though they didn’t see the words or know they were there.

So many people have said, from the very beginning in the house in Montrose, that the Center feels good as soon as you enter. And for me, that was always because we had set the tone and the intention, and it was there in the walls, it was there on the ground beneath our feet.


What would you say is the biggest thing that Spectrum has given you?


The word that comes to mind is home. It’s been home even more than my residential homes have been. It has held everything I’ve ever asked it to hold. Poetry and grief, loss and celebration, and joy, so much joy.

Many people don’t know this or forget, but I am an immigrant to this country and when I left my homeland when I was six, I lost my family – my aunts and uncles, my cousins, my grandparents. We didn’t have email and cell phones. We had letters, and I couldn’t write or read yet, so they were lost to me. I had only my mother and my sister in a very strange land where people spoke in a language I didn’t understand. I was an outsider, a foreigner. That experience has shaped me to be inclusive, to create homes, to welcome strangers and not fear new experiences. I know what it is to be pushed away and I know what it is to be welcomed.


What is the biggest thing you’re going to miss about it?


I will miss walking down the halls and talking to my fellow practitioners. I’ll miss visiting in the kitchen with people who have come to a class and catching up with their lives. I suspect I’ll continue to create homes and communities, but Spectrum Center is complete. I was always its employee and grateful to be that. The vision would not leave me. I never felt that it was a vision that I really truly created. It was a vision I followed. The vision came through me from somewhere else, from Source into creation, and I served it and now it has let me go, released me.


If you could take any part of what the physical entity of Spectrum has been all these years and carry it with you into a new set of offerings for the community, even if they were virtual or event based, what would you want to carry over?


It’s more a feeling, it has to do with the heart of it. Spectrum has always had a beating heart. It’s always been a refuge for people – practitioners, clients, students. It’s been a place of safety for most people. Safe to explore parts of themselves that haven’t been easy to explore, artistic parts of themselves, emotional parts of themselves, spiritual parts of themselves, even entrepreneurial parts.  Many practitioners have incubated their dreams at Spectrum and moved on to create other centers in Houston based around their visions. And one of the things that I’ve loved the most is introducing people to good teachers and practitioners, showcasing other people and their work and the messages and ideas that they bring. That I would like to continue in some way.


And if you could thank the community that has made Spectrum up all these years, those thousands of people, what would you thank them for?


I would thank them for their courage, their curiosity. I would thank them for bringing their search for spirit and healing and their search for themselves to this Center, within those walls. That’s what I found most people brought, and they impacted each other with the genuineness of their search for themselves, for some sense of belonging in the world and for belonging to themselves.

We’ve seen it in the writing community – the bravery of people writing and then reading what they’ve written and opening their hearts. And those who came to us to study expressive dance, my God. For them to get on the dance floor and move, taking that risk to be seen. Such incredible bravery in the search for themselves and their sense of authenticity in the world.

As far as teachers, I had a knack for recognizing good ones, often just starting. What they needed was a place to bring their skills and knowledge and expand into their next step as teachers. I met you (Max) in your tiny living room with people crowded in, sitting on anything available and on the floor, to attend your class and I knew I had to invite you to come to Houston. And here you are with a global community of writing students honing their craft as writers and publishing books.

Many of the teachers who came from other parts of the country had to be seriously talked into coming to Houston since it was considered a backwater for spirituality and consciousness.

It only took one trip for them to fall in love with the city and the people. Two of the original founders of the Hakomi Institute, which grew to global prominence, Devi Records and Phil Del Prince, returned for years, surprised at their genuine connection to Houston. I was always grateful that teachers trusted me to pull together a group of people for them to present their work.

In the late 80s I talked Shakti Gawain into coming and much to her surprise, we filled hotel ballrooms with students. She is the one who suggested I bring in Gabrielle Roth and her 5Rhythm expressive dance work. What an inspiring, brilliant woman.

Gabrielle had gone underground for 10 years, because the demands of her fame were painful. And when she decided she was going to teach again, Houston as a backwater was the perfect semi-invisible place to start back. Shakti told me, Trust me, you have to bring her because she won’t be available for long. Everyone will want her. So I booked her sight unseen and got 98 people in that room to dance with somebody they had never heard of for an entire weekend. And most had never danced like that EVER. Me included!

I couldn’t even tell them what she was going to do. I just basically called each person and said, Let’s do thisI’ve no idea what we’re doing, but we’re going to dance for an entire weekend. How bad can that be and I think we’re going to love it. And we did. We all did.

She came to Houston several times over five years and we built a 5Rhythm community that danced every Sunday for twelve years. We called it Sweat Your Prayers. It was our church. Sweat Your Prayers started in Houston and I’m proud of that. It still happens across the world, led by Gabrielle’s students.


It all began with that very first house and that very first group room and that very first set of offices and all those willing hands and donations and synchronicities and people who showed up to make something bigger than just themselves.

I also feel like there aren’t many businesses or holistic healing arts centers like yours.  I just don’t know that there are that many places in the country that have that exact combination of factors and that steady leadership and that defined heart. I feel like what you’ve made is extraordinarily rare, not just extraordinarily successful.


I don’t know because I don’t know what to compare it to, but through the years I have gotten similar feedback from people. I know that one of the things that I was guided by is the principal that the buck stopped here, with me. That I couldn’t share the leadership, I couldn’t share the decisions. That’s not always a good model but it was clear, and it seemed to work.


It was brave for somebody who’d never done that before, for you to step into that space. You had a lot of faith that it would work out.


Yes. But the vision was coming to me through all those years. I was trusting the vision, and it wasn’t an ego thing because it wasn’t coming from me.


If somebody else wanted to start a center, a similar organization with a similar feel, what’s the biggest piece of advice you would give them?


The first thing would be a question:  Why do you want to do this? I would encourage them to make sure that they’re aligned with a bigger purpose than themselves. And if, in their first three sentences, the word “I” is used more than four times, they’re in trouble. It is all about “other.” It is about serving others, at least for the kind of Center that Spectrum has been.


What’s the one thing you’ve always wanted to be asked about Spectrum that you don’t get asked?


The question that comes up is “What did I have to give up to do it?”


And what did you have to give up to do it?


It has to do with surrender. I had to learn how to surrender. I had to learn humility. I had to give up a lot of ego. For all those years I had to give up what I can now have, a more personal dream that just has to do with me. It doesn’t have to do with community, it doesn’t have to do necessarily with taking care of others, although that’s so ingrained in me that it will always continue in some way. It’s like I can turn more fully toward myself now. I have been serving others, and joyfully so, happily so. But in order to do that, truly do that, I have had to set myself aside. And now I don’t have to do that anymore.


You spent all these years teaching thousands of people that it was okay to put themselves first and their needs and their ideas, teaching them to belong to themselves, which is what every aspect of Spectrum seems like it has served. And it seems like now you are inviting yourself to step into those shoes that you’ve asked other people to step into from the very beginning.

It’s very brave to come home to yourself at the end of the day, and to be proud of everything that you have created and how rare and how successful it’s been. And I just hope you can feel how many lives have been shifted and changed because of that original vision 33 years ago that you were smart enough not to oppose, that you got out of the way of and let it work its magic in you. On behalf of all of us— practitioners, family, teachers, students and clients—thank you.

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