Prior to embarking on a cross-Atlantic painting journey this fall, I wrote myself a letter.
It was a letter I needed to write; a letter that no one ever needed to read.
It expressed my fears, acknowledged my shame, and brought tears to my eyes both as a I wrote it, and each and every time I read it thereafter.
This trip, you see, was a lifelong dream of mine. A chance to say yes in a way I’ve never said yes before, and a way to step past the fear, shame, and guilt that has so often plagued me in my painting, in my business, and in my life.
Little did I know, this letter would change not just my outcome of the trip, but the outcome for the other ladies journeying with me.
At our very first gathering upon arriving in Limoux, a small, picturesque city in Southern France, our leader, artist and teacher Lori Putnam, asked us a simple question:
Why are you here?
One might expect answers like, “I want to learn more about painting” or “I’ve always wanted to travel to France.” Perfectly fine reasons. But this crowd? This crowd immediately opened up.
Ladies shared the motivations behind saying yes to this trip, with many of us nodding along, happy to be on this journey with others who understood. Then came my turn. I took a deep breath, and shared that I was here on a personal journey -- a journey to break the chains of shame and guilt and let go of the weight they bore on me.
I heard a resounding “me, too” from so many ladies at the table. Uncharacteristically, I asked them if they’d like to join me a few days later, at a ceremony I’d crafted prior to arriving. The answer? Yet another yes.
Speaking your truth
The ceremony I’d designed included traveling to a special place: the Dove of Minerve, a carved stone representing the crusades of the early 1200s where many Cathar women were burned alive. I would take a lock I’d brought and lock it to the fence there, leaving my heaviness in a place where many others left theirs.
This wasn’t any old lock. It was heavy; tarnished; beautiful. It was a lock I sought out for quite some time prior to my trip -- the perfect representation of the heavy, somewhat tarnished, yet oddly beautiful experiences I was looking to leave behind.
The day of the ceremony, we arrived at the fence, I took the letter out, and I spoke it.
My words represented my journey -- they showed gratitude for the darkness; said thank you for what it has taught me along the way.
I acknowledged the hold that shame and guilt had had on me for decades, and voluntarily (and adamantly) released it.
I had never imagined reading this letter out loud. When I did, I stepped outside my body, in sudden observance of the angels surrounding me.
I was a messenger. I am a messenger. We are all messengers.
Showing gratitude for the darkness lets me fully embrace the light. There is new and true healing in my art now that I can completely let that light in.
Artists, by nature, are healers. Yet it’s not until we let go of the darkness and experience feelings of lightness, courage, and freedom -- through our words; our painting; our gratitude -- that we can help others express themselves, too.
I left things -- intangibles -- behind in the town of Minerve that were holding me back, keeping me down. Letting go of the shame and guilt I’ve known nearly my entire existence has left me feeling lighter; ready to take flight and soar higher than ever before. And ready to help others do the same.
Letting go opens up a world of possibilities of what we can do; where we can go. We just have to be ready.
I am ready. We are all ready.