Five Ways to Step into Freedom

“So often times it happens that we live our lives in chains, and we never even know we have the key ” ~ Already Gone, The Eagles

My family of origin wasn’t the healthiest. My dad, an alcoholic, was married to my mom a beautiful, spoiled woman with narcissistic tendencies. Being raised by that pair was not the optimal foundation for a healthy life. For as long as I can remember, I felt shame about who I was. But buried inside all the emotional abuse I suffered was a gift. That gift was the belief that there was something wrong with me. That conviction is what lead me to seek help. Years of unraveling through self-examination and therapy gave me so much insight. They left me knowing who I was and what I wanted, but I was still afraid to live it. My parents where no longer the key holders of my prison of living small. I was.

Many of us let outside circumstances define us and have dumbed ourselves down in an effort to keep ourselves safe. If you’re ready for more than just surviving life, below are five tips to help you to begin to move forward and live free.

1) The first step to being fully alive is the recognition that you are the one holding yourself back. This is the cornerstone for all the other steps. When you get that at a deep level, you can decide your path to freedom. Whether it’s therapy, a twelve step group or the support of good friends, use the resources that are available.

2)  There is a lot of wisdom in the phrase, “acting as if.” Visualize what it would feel and look like to not hold yourself back. In the words of Dr. Wayne Dyer, “You’ll see it when you believe it.” Then visualize a self-aware confident you throughout the day and before you go to sleep at night.

3) Practice not playing small in one area of your life at a time. One place I really held myself back was in my writing. When I made a pact to speak my truth in my blog, I did that one post at a time. I was surprised and touched that so many readers related with the real me. That helped me to extend speaking my truth in other areas of my life. The thought of living your authentic self in every aspect of your life, all at once, can be overwhelming. Baby steps feel safe and build confidence.

4) Don’t use the words like he, she, it, or they coupled with the phrase, “…made me feel a certain way.” Switch it to, “I allowed them to make me feel that way.” For example change, “She makes me feel bad about myself” to “I allowed her to make me feel bad about myself.” That comes from a place of power not victimhood. After all, we do have choices. When you live as a victim, you’re helping yourself to stay stuck.

5) Get strength from a power greater than yourself. I seriously don’t believe I could have moved past my self-defeating behaviors without that kind of help. Call it grace, or call it God, there is a force for good that can be summoned. Ask.

“The power you give others belongs to you. Take it back and take yourself where you would go.” ~ Alan Cohen

Liberating yourself is empowering but also can bring up some fear. Don’t let it turn you around. It’s just the frightened child surfacing, trying to keep you safe. Taking directions from fear may have actually kept you from harm at one time, but it’s now outlived its usefulness. To break the pattern, observe your feelings but don’t give them any credence. Simply let them pass through you. You are a grown-up now and have the right to experience life to the fullest. By holding yourself back, you deprive the world of an irreplaceable gift….you.

*Click here to sign up for email updates from my studio

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

Born Under a Dancing Star

A Star Danced

“A star danced, and under that was I born. ”

― William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing

I love children. They move through life unabashedly, celebrating exactly who they are. Try asking a kid under the age of eight, if they think they’re cute. Anytime I have, I’ve  always been answered with a resounding “yes.” Each child could barely contain their good fortune at being born. Few of us are lucky enough to carry this joy of existence into adulthood. At what point did we become blind to our exquisiteness? Perhaps this lack of vision contributed to Peter Pan’s decision to never grow up.

It’s true, we each have our own beauty and peculiarity’s. I am encouraged by the trend to love who we are, both inside and out. It’s refreshing to know that we don’t all need to fit into the same box. Moreover, we were born not to. Woven together we make up the tapestry of our perfectly, imperfect world. The contrast of our uniqueness is what gives depth and vibrancy to life. Children know what medieval artisans knew when they purposely left a mistake in their tapestry – perfection is boring. Idiosyncrasies are what make life interesting. Thank goodness, because we all have them.

Today is the perfect day to begin viewing life like a child again. Love yourself because of your flaws, not in spite of them. They may well be God’s gift to you.

My cousin’s daughter Kenna showing me what “Ta Da” looks like.

Kenna all grown up. Born under a dancing star, indeed.

Text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved.

http://www.sueshanahan.com

Gently the Snowflakes Fall…

When I am willing to step into the realm of uncertainty and ambiguity I open myself up to infinite possibilities.  – Anita Moorjani

Make plans but be loose with them. Inflexibility can block wonder from unfolding. Be willing to be surprised.

The story behind the making of the above painting illustrates this perfectly. The two little fairies are my nieces Madi and Emma. Originally, I hadn’t planned on the younger one being in the picture. At her age, I didn’t think there was any way Emma would cooperate. While photographing Madi, to her mother’s dismay, Emma jumped in to have some fun with her big sister’s skirt. Luckily, I had my camera in hand to freeze that fleeting moment. Seriously, there is no way I could have orchestrated that event. By staying out of my own way and signaling for their mother to let Emma be, I was able to capture a twinkling of joy. In my world, it doesn’t get better than that.

Trust the flow. It’s the same wave that transports snowflakes dreamily to the ground. Airy, yet with purpose. Even if a gust of wind blows them off course, they still sparkle where they land.

DSC_0293

Emma being Emma.

DSC_0255

Madi practicing her bubble blowing skills.

Emma and her big sister Maddie

Emma and Madi.

All text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved.

Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

I have spread my dreams under your feet; Tread softly because you tread on my dreams. -W. B. Yeats

Back in 2001, I took what felt like a huge risk. I sent a dummy of a children’s picture book that I’d written and illustrated to Maria Shriver. She was aware of my children’s illustrations and especially liked a portrait I had created for her friend Oprah Winfrey. Still, in all honesty, I felt beneath her. She was accomplished in every area of her life, including writing children’s books. At that time, I was struggling to find my voice as a writer and infuse life into my illustrations.

I’m sure Maria has no idea the gift that was wrapped in her response to me. Although she admitted she usually didn’t look at books that were about to be published, she made an exception with mine. She was thoughtful enough to read it with one of her little girls who loved fairy stories. In her letter to me, Maria shared her daughter’s insights about the book. Although I had a publisher interested in it at the time, I decided to switch gears and rewrite the story. Recreating all the art and implementing her daughter’s suggestions into the book was a huge task. Looking back, I am so glad I did it. Her daughter’s ideas were the beginnings of bringing my book to life.

Through the years and a few more revisions I stand on the threshold of Glory in the Morning being published. Maria’s kindness not only changed the direction of the book but it changed the trajectory of my life. She took the time to see me and believe in me and helped me to know that my dreams mattered. Her validation gave me the realization that there’s a place in the world for me and my gifts.

 Glory in the Morning is now  the subject of a Kickstarter campaign that ends Nov. 5th.Preliminary sketch for Glory in the Morning. Soon There Will Be No Me to Believe in from Glory in the Morning.My little fairy in the flesh.Page from Maria Shriver’s letter.

All text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved.

There Is Nothing Better Than Being Yourself

“Allow your body to be exactly what it’s naturally supposed to be, and embrace it.”

-Portia de Rossi from The Conversation on Lifetime TVThere Is Nothing Better Than Being Yourself

When my daughter Bridget began going to Junior High it became achingly apparent that she had entered the world of “looksism.” How she looked on the outside was now more important than her beautiful mind and gorgeous heart. My reaction to her new way of moving through the world was to illustrate the above poster.  Who decides what beautiful is anyway?

I like to think my art was the beginning of Bridget’s questioning and rejecting what the media was thrusting upon her. Today she is all grown up and secure in who she is – inside and out. She works in television as an anchor/reporter and it’s a joy to watch her confidently share her gift with the world. I want all girls to feel like that. 🙂

  * What makes us beautiful? If you have a moment share your thoughts.*Bridget helping my little dancers get ready for the photo shoot.Molly, Amy, Ali and Malina, in all their glory.A pensive Molly. I love the soulfulness in her eyes. Mo is my niece and a lovely young actress now. Soon she will be off to LA to pursue her dreams.In this shot Malina is sweetness personified

All text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved.

Every Child Is Like a Flower

Once when I was feeling less than pretty, it occurred to me, “Who told you that you aren’t beautiful?” I began to wonder, what if our differences actually are a gift? What if what’s unique about us is what makes us beautiful? When we let go of our preconceived notions, we’re free to enjoy our individuality. I am thrilled with the trend of using children with disabilities in ads. I love that the world is waking up to the truth that beauty comes in all shapes, sizes and colors.

every-child-is-like-a-flower-2-12

The illustration above is based on a photo I snapped of a friend’s daughter, Clare. Her mother needed her photographed for a calender featuring children with Down Syndrome. After adjusting the layers of netting on Clare’s party dress, I saw a longing in her mother’s eyes. Maura had the same yearning every mother has for their child. She wanted her little girl’s beauty to be appreciated. I, in turn, was smitten with Clare. Looking at the photographs from the session, compelled me to design an illustration around her. Yes, being beautiful is no longer for the chosen few.
clare-293

The real Clareclare-17

*Click here to sign up for email updates from my studio

*Click to purchase a signed print of Every Child is Like a Flower

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

Happy Spring

Spring has sprung. And with it comes hope. I see hope in the lilac blossoms. I smell hope in the freshly mowed lawn. I hear hope in the ceaseless chatter of the birds. Hope born anew surrounds me.kaley-13

The above illustration is aptly entitled Hope. It illustrates the line, “I believe spring brings out hope in all of us,”  from the book What I Believe. The little girl in it is my great-niece Kaley. She looked like a little china doll to me. I hunted for her vintage pinafore on-line and found the perfect one through a Mrs. Bird. I wanted to have her wearing something that set off her timeless beauty. After her mother dressed her, we plopped her on my kitchen table and I began snapping away with my camera. When photographing a baby for an illustration, I am always loose with my vision for it. You just never know how they will cooperate. I took about 20 shots, and then Miss Kaley was done. Something else I’ve learned about the models I work with is when they are through poising they are through. A smile can’t be coaxed out of a child who wants to move on.

Immediately after loading the shots on my computer, I knew which image I would base my art on. The way Kaley was looking down and touching her toe looked lyrical to me. The butterfly and the outdoor scenery were fabricated. What couldn’t be fabricated is the wonder on my little model’s face.

The real Kaley

The real Kaley

Below is another photo I love. I snapped it while shooting a wedding for a dear friend’s daughter. At times I think this photo begs to be put into an illustration. At  other times I think it stands fine just the way it is. I’m curious to know what you think about it. If you have a moment, leave me your thoughts.Girl with Hydrangeas

All text and images © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved.