Over the Rainbow: Your Life’s Purpose

An illustration I did for a notecard as a gift for Maria Shriver's 50th  birthday.

This illustration graced notecards I did as a gift for Maria Shriver’s 50th birthday.

“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” – Mark Twain

Everyone’s life has a calling. We all come here to fulfill a sacred duty. I am an artist. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been creating things. My aunt recalls me, at age three, playing with a handkerchief for hours. I would fold and form it into different props for my land of make-believe. Although I came here with special talents, I now know they’re not the reason for my existence. My artistic ability is woven through the fabric of my soul to support and help manifest why I was born.

What is a calling? It is different from your talents? Your gifts, personality, and brain power are all part of the intricacies of your soul, set in place to help support your life’s purpose. In the Bhagavad Gita this purpose is referred to as your dharma. It is our soul’s mission, the reason we were born. How do we find our vocation? One thing is certain, although clues may come from the outside, the concrete knowing always come from within.

For a good portion of my life, I assumed my mission was to be an artist. Didn’t the skills I brought to Earth clearly indicate that? But after reading Stephen Cope’s illuminating book, The Great Work of Your Life, I discovered that my gifts are only a finger pointing to my dharma.  He explains, “If you bring forth what is within you it will save you. If you do not it will destroy you.” Reading that set me on the path of digging deeper to uncover what I am here to fulfill. I knew I had a talent for capturing the spirit of children in my drawings and paintings.  I love the whole process. But upon further examination, I came to the conclusion that this just scratches the surface of my true lifework.

A portrait where I was able to capture my subject’s beauty and essence. Clare is a favorite  painting of mine.

A portrait where I was able to capture my subject’s beauty and essence. “Clare” is a favorite painting of mine.

In an email from singer/song writer Rodney Crowell, I found my answer, “I notice things in your work I love about Renoir’s. Seeing soft beauty in the commonplace. Heaven on Earth if you will.” That’s it! I see the allure in the ordinary and reflect it back to my subjects and the world. I do that in my writing, too. We are all here on earth with the longing to be validated. There is not a heart that doesn’t yearn to be seen and loved for itself. In a society saturated with celebrity glitz and glam, my creations celebrate the extraordinary in the ordinary.

Does everyone have a calling that includes an obvious talent? I don’t think so. My sister Ann owned a cleaning business. And no, she didn’t have a passion for cleaning. Over the years, she discovered what filled her cup was to be of service. Explaining the new found contentment in her job she told me, “I clean toilets for a living. I had to figure out a way to find meaning in that. I realized my cleaning and organizational skills were a gift to my clients. When I began focusing on helping others, everything flipped.” Ann had claimed and named her dharma. After her epiphany she couldn’t satisfy all the requests she garnered for her services.

Not in Kansas Anymore

We are all put on this planet with a mission to actualize. I suspect every heart is heavy that has a song in it that’s left unsung. With all of our culture’s frenzy it is easy to overlook our unique gifts and what they were given to help us manifest. Once we answer the call of our life’s purpose, there is no going back. We feel more alive. We go from the mundane to Technicolor. Like Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, we realize that we no longer live in the grey of Kansas but have landed in a world of living color. And along with challenges, we discover a place of truth and beauty.

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Text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved. www.sueshanahan.com

I Once Knew a Girl who Gave Up Thinking…

Metamorphosis

The mind is a complete idiot. – Dr. David R. Hawkins M.D., PhD.

I have a young friend who never ceases to amaze me. When Andrea and I first met, I took her soft-spokeness as mousy. Inside and out, she seemed pretty ordinary. It didn’t take long for me to realize behind her quiet demeanor, was a girl of fire and determination.

When Lent rolled around a few years back, Andrea’s priest told the congregation it wasn’t always necessary to give something up as a sacrifice. When preparing for Easter, he suggested that instead of depravation, Lent could be observed by taking on a practice that would be a blessing to the observer. Gathering with a group to study scripture or meditating each morning could also be a way to revere this high, holy time. And that’s when it hit Andrea, she would give up thinking for Lent.

When she first told me her idea I laughed. Give up thinking for Lent? How could that be possible? Don’t we need our thoughts to help move us through life? No, what Andrea was talking about was obsessive thinking. You know, the kind of thinking that gives you no rest. The kind of thinking that analyzes and tries to control every aspect of your life.

The last seven years had been rough for her. Pregnant at 17, she married her son’s father only to divorce him two years later because of a mental illness and drug abuse. After that, Andrea felt she had no choice but to move back home to her parents’ with their son Adrian. Living with a critical and condescending mother was less than ideal, but she needed help with her little boy. She saw no other way to keep her full-time job while working on a college degree.

Fear loomed large in Andrea’s life. She felt stuck and wondered if she would ever be able to give Adrian the life he deserved. Her ex-husband’s instability constantly disappointed them. Recently, he had checked himself into rehab, yet again, but she didn’t have much hope for a positive outcome. The gears in her brain turned around the clock with “what ifs.”

It was during this time the brilliant idea to give up thinking for Lent came to Andrea. She quickly learned she had to pay constant attention to her thoughts if she were going to be successful. In particular, her drive to work always signaled the wheels of her obsession to begin rolling. An hour later, when she pulled into the parking lot, she couldn’t even remember the route she took, her mind was so consumed. To unhook she began practicing being present by noticing her surroundings.

Andrea quickly discovered there was so much beauty in her daily drive she had never been aware of. It was spring. The flowers were blooming and everything was fresh and new. And the birds! She had never noticed the riot of their chirping. She began seeing hawks everywhere. She couldn’t believe she’d been so locked inside her mind that their majesty had gone unnoticed.

The more Andrea let go by staying in the now, the more she saw that everything she was fixated on resolved itself on its own. Maybe by relaxing her grip she was actually allowing God to work things out more quickly.

All will be revealed – not all will be figured out.– Mary Karr

I too have been held hostage by my brain. As of late, not knowing where my career as an author/illustrator is going has been weighing heavy on my mind. The publishing industry was turned upside down by the 2008 financial collapse and left me on the outside looking in. With the invention of electronic readers, the industry is now reworking itself in a way that makes sense with today’s technology. That means it’s harder than ever to get an editor to even glance at a submission. What to do? What to do? Should I continue to search for an agent, publisher or self-publish?

Lucky for me Lent is here and reminded me of Andrea and her bright idea. I took a cue from her and consciously gave up my need to analyze and force a solution. The moment I surrendered my thinking, peace washed over me and was immediately followed by the ding of an an email in my inbox. It was a note from a film company that wants to make a short documentary about my art. How cool is that? And with my mind out of the way, who knows what other miracles wil manifest in my life. That Andrea is a genius.

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Text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved. www.sueshanahan.com