Today's post is another chapter in my memoir in progress. I am discovering the hazards of blogging an unfinished manuscript. I may be repeating myself as chapters come together as a cohesive body and stories need to shift around a bit. If you're following the blog, please excuse any repetition along the way.
If after reading this post you feel called to work on releasing your repressed emotions, some options to consider at Art•Body•Soul are a Dalian Method workshop or private session, a self-healing techniques class series, or a Painting Out Loud workshop or class series.
Thank you for taking the time to read today!
After the day of the funeral, I closed my heart and stored Belle and my grief in a box high up on a shelf somewhere. For 30 years I pretended that the pain and Belle were not a part of me. She rarely entered my thoughts, and I was not aware of the grief that I was carrying around inside of me.
At some point in the course of those 30 years I had a dream in which Belle and I were seated on the side of a hill, talking. There were open brown paper grocery bags all over the hill with enough weight in them to keep them in place. Belle used to put pieces of chicken and seasoned flour in a paper bag and shake it to coat the chicken before frying. I’m not sure about the significance of the bags in my dream, except they were like the one’s Belle used. The heart of the dream was my astonishment at discovering that Belle was alive.
“I didn’t know that you were alive. Mom and Daddy told me that you’d died,” I exclaimed. “I mean, I thought you were dead all this time.”
“My darling, I’ve been here all along,” Belle reassured me.
“If I’d known, I would have visited you.” I insisted. “I just can’t believe that you’re here and that I could have been with you all these years. You have to know that I would have visited”
“I’m happy to see you, sweetheart.”
I was elated to see Belle, too, despite my distress of learning that I’d been ignoring her for years.
Aside from that dream I had few thoughts of Belle. I had just moved on with my life without ever grieving until the end of my second week at Omega Institute. I was at the point in my five-week retreat that I no longer doubted the importance of being on a spiritual journey and was excited about all the new experiences opening up for me.
Ecstatic chant weekend
The weekend Ecstatic Chant festival unfolding was filled with beautiful, inspiring music, and I joined in the call-and-response songs in the unfamiliar holy language of Sanskrit with a group of 500 strangers and beautifully voiced leaders.
The first evening I sat in the back of the main hall, on the end of a row next to a gentleman named Mike. We had the same mistaken notion that a quick escape from chanting might be in order and became friends that evening over coffee between musical sets.
On Saturday morning I went to the main hall by myself to enjoy the music and met up with Mike in the afternoon for canoeing on the lake and more chanting for the balance of the day and evening. The chant was continuous around the clock to raise the vibration of the planet.
During one of the performances a musician looked out to the audience. "I would ask that you close your eyes at this time. Take a breath and go inside.” After a brief pause, he continued, “Who in your life has loved you unconditionally?"
My two children.
He posed a second question. "Who in your life have you loved unconditionally?"
As it was occurring to me that my answers should perhaps be different, Belle descended before me in the chair she always sat in when she babysat for us in the evenings. Her image was clear and profound. The memory of Belle and her love and the joy of being with her washed through me, and gratitude filled my heart to overflowing.
When leaving the chant that evening, Mike’s romantic intentions became clear. An awkward goodnight on the path sent me scampering up the hill in a fluster. Romance was not on my spiritual retreat agenda.
The next morning before sunrise there was a Kundalini Sadhana exercise service in the sanctuary to clear the mind and the body to serve the soul. It was grueling, and afterwards I lie alone in the sanctuary staring at the ceiling. Snatum Kaur and her band wandered in and began to softly sing and play music. It must have been a practice session for them and a solo performance for me. As her voice penetrated my heart, I began to grieve the loss of Belle and the trauma of her death and the injustice of not being allowed to attend her funeral. This was apparently the opening of the floodgate from which the unfelt emotion of my life would pour for the coming year.
This experience began a journey for me of self-discovery that would continue for the rest of my life. The grief was sometimes overwhelming, but it also felt good to finally cry. What happened simultaneously was the sense that my spirit was rising within me or returning to me. I had a skip in my step and delight in my heart that had not been there before. By suppressing my sorrow and avoiding pain, I was also covering up my true essence, which is joy.
letter to belle
In the days that followed, many painful repressed memories surfaced, and I called a trusted advisor and spiritual guide, Maryann Russell, who suggested that I write a letter to Belle in three parts—what Belle meant to me as a little girl, what she meant to me at the time of her death, and what she meant to me at the time that I wrote the letter.
The first two parts of the letter are recounted in “Making Peace with Family Stores,” where I share my early memories of Belle and what she meant to me as a child. In that blog post I also write about the circumstances of her death and the impact it had on me as a teenager. Part three begins with the present-day feelings that I was having that day at Omega when I wrote this letter.
I don't know if I ever told you how much I loved you and how wonderful and loving I thought you were. I was proud of you, too, for being a Mother in your church. I owe you a debt of gratitude for all that you gave me. I thank God and my mother for bringing you into our lives. Without you I might not have been able to love my children the way that I have. I might have had a bitter or more judgmental side. I think that you taught me kindness and to have compassion for everyone.
I feel like I set you aside for many years—more than I'd like to think about now. When I get home, I'd like to find a photograph of you to keep in a prominent place so that I can talk to you and remember you and thank you for all you have meant to me. I don't want your memory to fade from my heart ever again. What a gift it has been to see you sitting in your chair in the den again. I suppose that you had a piece of candy in your purse for me too. You had such an amazing way about you.
I would give anything for some more time with you at the kitchen table. The thought of being together again in a future lifetime is a pleasant one. It brings me peace to think that we will see each other again. Until that time, you will be with me in my heart and in all the positive energy that I put into the world.
I love you, Belle,
Writing this letter was a powerful experience. I don't think that I had ever cried so hard before in my life or since. It felt like my jaw and throat on my right side might literally separate. Interestingly, I had often noticed in śavāsana that there was a tightness in my jaw present. After writing my letter to Belle, it was no longer there. The repressed emotion that was trapped there causing the tightness and discomfort had been released.
Trapped emotions are stored in our bodies as energy and can cause physical pain and emotional and spiritual suffering. I have had other tangible experiences of releasing trapped emotions that I share in “The Bodyguards” and “Making Peace with Family Stories.”
brush from the local five and dime. I already had crayons from the Omega bookstore and drawing paper that I had brought from home.
With all the tools in hand I selected a colorful leaf from a small pile which I’d collected on morning walks. My fascination with the surrounding colors in nature made the leaf an obvious choice for my first abstraction.
As the painting process began, I found it difficult to work with the poster paints because the colors were not rich enough to accurately portray the splendid colors of the fall leaf and I was limited to having only one brush. Color was exploding inside me though, and I was called to play with it. I was able to achieve greater depth in the colors by layering and a more interesting surface by using crayon to create a different mark or line.
Color Arising is a petite painting of 8” x 9 1/2” that grew out of my heart as it began to open on my journey at Omega. We have a choice to open to our life experiences or block them and build barriers within ourselves. It only takes a few courageous steps in the right direction to feel the support of the Universe behind you.
Click below to begin exploring the options at Art•Body•Soul for releasing repressed emotions.
Madeleine Newkirk, Artist, Spiritual Junkie, Dalian Method and Art Process Facilitator.