Today's post is another chapter from the memoir that I am currently writing.
During the opening circle in our Painting Out Loud classes and workshops, we occasionally include a shamanic journey such as the one described in this chapter.
Come and experience something out of the ordinary!
My participation in a five-day intensive art workshop was bringing up old insecurities that I thought had been shed at least a year before. I had a sense of not belonging and was uncomfortable, resisting and hating myself, and avoiding the group. Retreats often held an element like this for me and encompassed the flip side of the coin as well. Oddly, it was both of these opposing aspects that compelled me forward from retreat to retreat in my journey of self-discovery.
During the workshop, artist Alex Gray lead us on a journey using a guided visualization and shamanic drumming. His instructions were to travel in our minds to a lower realm, to meet a guide and receive a message. We were all seated on meditation cushions and in a mindful, relaxed state when the journey began. My mind was playing around with me at first. I was having a great deal of difficulty attempting to travel to a lower realm. I tried to enter it by descending through a hole in a familiar tree but found that my feet had their brakes on, gripping the sides of the hole, refusing to allow entry. It became ridiculous to me since it was only an exercise of the imagination. In order to move forward, I went in search of another way to enter the lower realm. Mentally scanning my surroundings, I scurried around looking for a hole, a ditch or a manhole cover. Ew, nothing was working until I wound up at the doors of a familiar storm cellar in Beedeville, Arkansas.
My grandfather was a successful businessman, and his company owned a lodge where he loved to entertain. He had a gift with people, was very welcoming and attentive, and loved to laugh. In the summers, our family had memorable trips to his lodge, one of my favorite places on earth, my Tara. Being there and being around my grandfather were positive experiences for me as a child.
I entered the storm cellar with a little trepidation, thinking there might be snakes or spiders down there. Our lodge was the snakiest place I'd ever been. On and around the lake there were huge snakes basking on driftwood, hiding under overturned fishing boats, and making their way through the brush and along the drive. We somehow managed to cohabit on the land with them without incident. Once I was standing inside the storm cellar, memories of my childhood came flooding back to me, Crush Orange and Nehi Grape soda, the always full candy jar on the kitchen bar, and the wonderful family meals at the long wooden table in the main lodge. Jug fishing and boat rides with my grandfather were the best parts of the trips. Granddaddy went to a lot of trouble to make sure everyone had a great time, holding contests for who caught the first fish, who caught the biggest fish, and who caught the most fish. He made sure everyone won a prize and held an awards ceremony at dinner on the last night. Awash in happy memories, what struck me while standing in the storm cellar that day was how much he loved me and how much time he spent with me when we were fortunate enough to be together.
Suddenly, a thought occurred to me. I am supposed to be meeting a guide down here.
"So, Granddaddy,” I asked, “if you were here, what would you say?"
The answer came loud and clear. "It is okay to spend the money."
Hearing his voice brought me out of my nostalgia. And, the message—it was the last thing I expected to hear while reminiscing about my childhood years. I questioned my grandfather’s declaration. "Maybe that is what I wanted to hear."
My grandfather gifted me and my sisters with his life savings. His wealth and generosity has given me the freedom to live my life as I choose without having to provide for myself or my children. Nevertheless, it has been a complicated gift for me to receive and I have struggled with money and finances.
The experience with my grandfather in the storm shelter was a significant turning point for me in my endeavor to find a healthier relationship with money. Even though I had money, I worried about it and at times believed that it was a curse to have inherited it. It seemed to impact all of my relationships, mostly with men, and it allowed me to underachieve. I hadn’t accepted full ownership and responsibility of the money and struggled with guilt and fear around spending and survival.
Some of my attitudes about money were inherited from my father who grew up in the years following the Great Depression. He is conservative in his spending and investing and as trustee of my estate, had oversight of my inheritance. Aware of his watchful eye I was sheepish with the management of my funds, tried to hide my financial transactions from my father, and felt shame for not living in the way that he had chosen to live based on his beliefs and experiences. I was sneaking around and lying to my dad and blaming my behavior on him because I wanted his approval.
My scarcity mentality didn’t align with the way that I was spending or with the abundance that my grandfather gave me. Hearing from him that it was okay to spend the money began to loosen something up and reconcile the disharmony within me. I know that the money, my behavior, and choices are my responsibility, and I am grateful to my grandfather for his message, his love, his time, and his resources.
During the shamanic journey, my grandfather reassured me that I had not spoken for him, and that he loved me and wanted me to have his gift free and clear, and that it was mine to spend. I was powerfully moved by this encounter in my grandfather’s presence. As the visualization drew to an end, we returned to our stations to paint based on our experience. With emotion welling up inside, a walk around campus was a better option for me. I headed to the lake and connected with nature for a while before going back to the studio, where I painted this piece which I later titled A Grandfather's Joy.
A Grandfather's Joy
became more judgmental and ornerier. Painting the bobbers helped me to further connect with the wonderful memories of my childhood and the playful spirit of my grandfather. I think the painting captures the fun and life in my grandfather that I remember when visiting him at the lodge.
We are excited to offer facilitated painting experiences to the Memphis community. We hope that you will come paint with us some time soon as a part of your journey of self-exploration.
Madeleine Newkirk, Artist, Spiritual Junkie, Dalian Method and Art Process Facilitator.