Anita Moorjani: To Heaven and Back

Anita Moorjani WP.jpg

Porch Light People: Individuals who are fully themselves. They’re not influenced by “shoulds” from the culture or other people. They instead live by their inner light.moth_edited-2

Anita Moorjani is the logical person to begin my Porch Light Profile series with. What I learned from her book, Dying to Be Me, changed my life. On the surface we have little in common, but at our core we’re the same. As children, each of us was trained to put other people’s wishes before our own. We were taught to look outside ourselves for answers. Reading Anita’s book opened my eyes to the importance of self-love. As a result, I made a concerted effort to stop the negative self-talk and to trust my intuition. Yet, I wasn’t where I wanted to be. Interviewing her would be a chance to get more clarity for my journey. 

I emailed an interview request along with the premise behind my Porch Light Profiles. Surprisingly, I received a response a couple of hours later. Anita was in.

The next day when we spoke, I felt an immediate connection. For me, reading Anita’s book was akin to being lead through the door to freedom. In Dying to Be Me, she details her spontaneous healing from stage four lymphoma after a near-death experience (NDE). When she crossed over, she was informed from loved ones on the other side that it wasn’t her time. There was still work for her to do on Earth. If she stayed in Heaven she would miss out on many gifts that awaited her in the physical realm. Anita understood that when she returned to her body she would no longer have cancer. She was to go back and to live her life fearlessly. That meant to be fully herself and to love who she was unconditionally. 

“I came back knowing that just about everything that I believed or thought was a myth. It was scary to realize this whole world is built on false beliefs. I comprehended that truth is anything that is liberating and freeing, basically not fear. We were never meant to suppress who we are. Being our true selves is why we are here. Plants and flowers grow toward the sun. We grow toward our passion. We forfeit our power when we allow any religious, medical, or educational system to control us.”

Before Anita’s NDE she didn’t live by her inner light. She was disconnected from that source. She had no idea who she was. Raised in Hong Kong by Indian parents, she learned to deny her true self at an early age. She grew up pleasing people to fit in. By the time she was diagnosed with cancer, she was at an all-time low. She was so used to taking care of others, she thought, “Good. Now I have a reason to take care of myself.”

Anita assured me that if we all listened to our intuition, our lives would unfold better than we could ever imagine. In Anita’s case, writing about her NDE on an internet forum lead to renowned author, Wayne Dyer, discovering her. Through him she was given a publishing contract. After her book, Dying to Be Me, was released it quickly hit the New York Times bestseller list. It has since been translated into over 45 languages and has sold over a million copies worldwide. A full-length feature film of her memoir is now in production. Sharing what she learned in the afterlife has become her life’s work.

Anita believes that we are all born connected to an inner guidance system, but we are taught from an early age not to listen to it. “Our lives are regulated by outside rules. Because we are constantly trying to be what other people want us to be we end up not living our own lives.”

Anita’s experience in the other realm set her free from all of that. When she came back, to remain healthy all she had to do was be true to herself and follow her joy.

“I soon learned that when you live like that it doesn’t mean you no longer have any challenges. The problems you attract from following your heart are like a check and balance system. They put you back on course. Once resolved, they take you to the next level of your deepest self.”

Anita’s message is a radical one for many of us. To some extent we’ve all been indoctrinated by the cultural dos and don’ts. It’s common for women to base their course of action on outside expectations. “Am I being nice?” “Will it make them angry?” “Is it a sin?” All these questions are no longer given any credence in Anita’s world.

“Not listening to our hearts is a kind of spiritual crisis. It can lead to conditions like depression, addiction or in my case cancer. We all come here with a destiny, but many of us lose our way. Our only purpose in life is to shine our light. When we do that our highest potential unfolds before us. Loving ourselves allows life to draw in gifts and solutions that we never dreamed existed.”

At first, coming from within felt risky to me. As time went on it felt risky not to. Trading in my authentic self for other people’s “shoulds” is no longer an option. Day by day, my life confirms the truth of what Anita learned on the other side. Following my instincts instead of my fears has given me a newfound freedom. I’ve gotten to know and accept the person I was born to be. For years my heart longed to be loved for itself. Today I know that love must come from me.

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*Coming up next: Profile of author/watercolorist, Susan Branch

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

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Blessings From Heaven

 

Blessings from Heaven

Last September my friend Nancy, got in touch to tell me of the death of her beloved daughter. I was saddened to hear the details of Meghan’s passing. Nancy explained that she wanted to commission me to create the cover art for a book she was writing about Megs. She then went on to tell me of a lucid dream her brother, Charles, experienced after her daughter had passed. In it he envisioned his niece moments after her death. No longer was Megs a 35-year-old woman consumed with cancer, but a healthy nine-year-old. She bounded through the door of Chirup, their summer cottage, and raised her arms in delight as she overlooked the lake. When she realized she had crossed the threshold to the afterlife her joy couldn’t be contained. That’s the image Meghan’s mom wanted illustrated for the cover of her book, Blessings from Heaven. Nancy planned to include all the details of her brother’s heavenly encounter with his niece.

Some may dismiss Charles’s vision as a broken heart trying to heal itself, but I knew better. From what I’ve witnessed, along with sorrow, death always brings miracles. Through her uncle’s dream Meghan’s soul made sure her family knew her suffering was over and that she is free.

I accepted the commission and began gathering details for my illustration. Meghan’s mom had to find photos of her daughter as a child and of Chirup for me to work from. Getting the details of the cottage right were almost as important as getting Megs right. She had such a connection to the vacation dwelling that it was her heart’s desire to spend her final days there.

Megs circa age 9_edited-1

Megs around age nine.

I felt a little apprehensive about making the book cover. I knew what I was doing was important work and wanted it to be perfect. Nancy turned out to be a fabulous art director. When she saw my preliminary sketch, she knew I had to thin and elongate Meghan’s body. She was able to supply me with the minutest of details to make Chirup authentic. She even gave me images of wildflowers that grow in the area to incorporate into the painting. She told me that I had artistic license to place them around the cottage in abundance even though they weren’t there in actuality. The illustration was of heaven after all.

Chirup_edited-1

Chirup

The final art took months to complete. Every day that I sat down to paint, I put on the cancer bracelet that Meghan’s family wore to support her. Having it on my wrist somehow solidified the connection I felt with her. I could feel her vibrant energy. I knew she was doing what she could to help me make the cover of her mom’s book a masterpiece.

When I finally put the finishing touches on the art, I appraised all the detail in the plants around the cottage. I’d spent hours and hours painting those flowers. I found my antique flower dictionary to look up the definitions of the blooms Nancy wanted in the illustration. When I complete a portrait commission if flowers are included, I like to read the meanings behind them. The definitions always somehow tie into my subject’s personalities, struggles and gifts.

I was in awe when I read what the wildflowers Meghan’s mom chose meant:

*The orange day-lilies represent beauty. They describe Nancy’s daughter far beyond the physical.

*Daisies mean simplicity. Megs never was one for too much fuss in her attire or surroundings. She drew much comfort from nature.

*Black-Eyed-Susan’s mean justice. To Meghan’s family and friends her passing seemed so unfair, but in the tapestry of life she left in perfect timing. So many gifts will materialize that wouldn’t have if she had stayed. Megs now has the power to help her loved ones from behind the scenes in ways she never could have while on Earth.

1843 Flower Dictionary_edited-1

My 1843 flower dictionary.

*The final flowers Nancy requested are purple phlox. I got chills when I read that their definition is, ”our souls are united.” It was a clear cut message for Meghan’s family, especially for her son, Tyler. Death could never be strong enough to separate them from her love.

Discovering what the flowers I had painstaking painted symbolized gave me a new understanding of the aphorism “God is in the details.” As I closed my Victorian flower dictionary, I was reminded, once again, how Divine love is woven through everything.

When Nancy learned I’d scheduled my essay to run today, she was thrilled. You see today is her birthday. I had no idea. No one can convince either of us that this isn’t a gift to her, through me, from Meghan. Happy birthday, Nancy.

*Click here to purchase a copy of Blessings from Heaven

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

 

Fresh From Heaven

Fresh From Heaven

What I love about kids is that they come into the world already trailing the breath of the angels. – Oprah Winfrey

I am sure about something. Small children know from whence they came. They are still a part of heaven. That is why one of the easiest ways to feel the presence of the Divine is to connect with a child. When my grandson, Cameron, was around 15 months old his parents began hearing him in his crib having what sounded like a conversation with someone. I believe that angels are everywhere. Maybe Cam was sharing his thoughts with heavenly companions. Why couldn’t he be? To me it makes perfect sense.

Recently, a friend told me a story about a little girl who wanted time alone with her infant brother. Her parents were suspicious of her motives. What if she did something to harm the baby? The big sister was so persistent that her mom and dad finally decided to allow her ten minutes alone with him in his room. After they closed the door, they listened quietly. They felt chills when they heard their daughter say, “Baby tell me what heaven is like. I’m starting to forget.”

Do children come into this world bringing memories of a reality they lived before they were born? I think so. Little ones are so fresh from heaven that there hasn’t been time for them to become hypnotized about what is and isn’t possible. Sadly, over time, they become plugged into the world. What they once knew, they soon forget with the help of well meaning adults.

I just put down a book on that subject entitled Memories From Heaven by Dr. Wayne Dyer and Dee Garnes. In it are accounts from all over the world of children’s recollections of their existence before they came to Earth. When I think back, I can recall the connection my children had to the other world. When my firstborn, Rob, was two, he had “imaginary” friends he played with all the time. Today, I wonder if these were relationships that had been forged before he was born. Perhaps he outgrew them in an effort to fit in when he learned they weren’t “real.”

When my daughter, Bridget, was three, my sister Ann lost a baby late in her second trimester. She and her husband were devastated. We all were. One day, when I was overcome with grief, my little girl was having trouble understanding why I was so heartbroken. She asked, “Why are you so sad? Just because Annie’s baby is in heaven doesn’t mean he’s not her baby anymore. He’s still Annie’s baby.” The assuredness with which she said this struck me. Where I saw a loss, she knew there was none.

One of the most beautiful impressions of the afterlife I’ve ever heard came from my great-niece when she was only three. Aine is highly intelligent and so articulate I never questioned the sophistication of her account. Her grandmother, Judy, was so moved by it she wrote it down word for word: “It’s glorious and there are a lot of rainbows up there and beautiful angels.  A tall place over the sky with twinkling lights all over it, a stained glass door. You respect the lifetime you’re having rather than not liking your lifetime on Earth.  Boy, that Earth is beautiful. It’s the best place I bet.”

Heaven

I believe the veil between childhood and heaven is transparent. Of course, there is no way to prove if a young one’s description of eternity is truth or fiction. I’ve come to the conclusion that just because we can’t see something doesn’t mean it’s not real. After all, no one can actually see electricity, but we do know the benefits of acknowledging its presence. Little ones live with one foot in heaven and the other tethered to earth. I’ve learned so much from listening to them. It’s comforting to know that there are more than the ups and downs we experience on this planet. Behind the scenes, moves a loving Presence that never abandons us. Pay attention. From the mouths of babes often come reminders of that.

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

Bluebirds from Heaven

Looking back at this illustration of Ann and my son Rob, must be where my bluebird connection with her first began.

My 1984 illustration of Ann and my son Rob must be where my bluebird connection with her first began.

“I’m always looking for cosmic rhymes.” – Bono

Today is the anniversary of my younger sister Ann’s death. She died suddenly, of an undetected heart condition on October 9, 2008. It hardy seems possible that she’s been gone for seven years. When she made her transition she left a huge hole in my life. We spoke every day and spent as much time together as we could. The two youngest of unstable parents, we clung to each other growing up. Survivors of a shipwreck of a childhood, there was no one who nurtured and supported my recovery more than her.

Life without Ann was hard. It’s not that I didn’t believe she was in a better place. I just missed our daily connection. I yearned for proof that she was still near me. The summer after she left, my heart ached as I packed for my family’s annual vacation to Martha’s Vineyard. Truthfully, I didn’t much feel like going. A friend had told me about seeing a red cardinal after her father passed in times of trouble or when she missed him. She believed they were sent by her dad to let her know all was well. To give my trip a sense of purpose I asked Ann to send me a bluebird when I was there to let me know she was alright. Although they inhabit the island, I had never seen one. If a bluebird crossed my path while I was there, I decided it would be a sign that she was near.

When we arrived on the island, even its beauty couldn’t fully cheer me up. Everywhere we went my eyes scanned the trees for bluebirds without any luck. When my sister Laura brought me to her friend, folk artist Ashley Medowski’s gallery, I began to rethink the perimeters of how my bluebird would show up. On the gallery wall, with a red sold sticker on it, hung the most enchanting piece of art with a little bluebird on it. It was entitled, The Family Tree. A box with a door, made from a victorian photo album, opened up to a tree. Hanging stairs were attached to it to symbolize our assent to heaven and the rejoining of the loved ones who went before us. Laura knew how much I missed Ann and bought it for me. That gift opened me up to being flexible as to how the bluebird was going to manifest on my trip. Real or fashioned by a human hand, it didn’t matter. I accepted it as an assurance from Ann.

The Family Tree

The Family Tree

Later that week, I went to visit my friend, artist, Margot Datz. She wanted me to see an image she had painted with me in mind. Inspired by the profundity of my loss she had named it, My Blue Heart. I couldn’t believe when I saw a bluebird holding a heart in its beak at the center of its design. Margot knew about my younger sister’s death but not about my quest for bluebird signs. I’ve glossed over many coincidences in my life, but it was hard for me to believe this was just happenstance. It had to come from Ann, through Margot’s paintbrush, to me. Today the painting hangs in my studio next to my drawing table.

My Blue Heart

My Blue Heart

Me with Margo that summer.

Me with Margot that summer.

After I returned from Martha’s Vineyard, bluebirds were on my radar. It seemed like everywhere I looked I saw one and was reminded of Ann. I had let go of any hope of ever seeing a real eastern bluebird in my suburb of Chicago. Like me, no one I knew had ever seen one in our area.

That all changed Sept. 29, 2014. That day I was feeling discouraged about launching my children’s books and said a prayer for help. Not a minute later, I glanced out the window and saw what looked like an eastern bluebird! I couldn’t believe it. I went and grabbed binoculars to make sure it wasn’t just wishful thinking. Looking through them, I could clearly see a small cobalt blue bird with an orange breast eating seeds under our bird feeder. Then, as if to clarify my vision, it flew toward my window and soared away. Ann, one of my biggest supporters, had to let me know that everything was going to be all right.

Of course there is no way to prove my bluebird assurances scientifically. Some may say my sightings are a product of an overactive imagination, but I know what I know. As the years move on, I no longer yearn for Ann like I did. Over time, other relationships in my life have deepened. The hole has been filled. I am at peace. I’ve found that no matter how much faith you have there is always an adjustment period when someone you love dies. Missing their physical presence takes time to come to terms with and be healed.

“Death is just life’s next big adventure.” – J. K. Rowling

Today, I’m happy for Ann. She is still with me, behind the scenes, supporting my journey. I know she is experiencing a world my mind can’t even begin to comprehend. I wish her Godspeed on the new adventures she traverses. She never was one for sitting still.

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

The Big Picture: Perspective is Everything

The Big Picture - Version 2“I’m like the painter with his nose to the canvas, fussing over details. Gazing from a distance, the reader sees the big picture.” – Author Steven Saylor

My sister Ann passed away, without warning, on the morning of October 9, 2008. An undiagnosed heart condition, hypertrophic obstructive cardiomyopathy, took her life. How could that be? She was only 51! She all but sparkled she was so alive. Her death didn’t seem possible. Being thoroughly devoted to each other, I had no idea how I was going to live without her.

For the first ten years of our marriages, I had the luxury of Ann only living a mile from me. We got to raise our children together and see each other whenever we liked. In 1998, her husband took a job three hours south of where we lived. I felt the sting of our separation even before she moved. When what I dreaded came to pass, I was shocked that our relationship only deepened. Even though we no longer got to be with each other in person, thanks to cell phones, we were connected more than ever.

Ann and I had gotten into the habit of speaking to each other every morning and at times throughout the day, being detached from her was unfathomable to me. What would I do without her to run every aspect of my life by? There was such a hole with her gone. The minute I learned she had departed, I heard a voice say, “It’s time to stretch.” My soul knew it was a chance for me to face the world standing on my own two feet. The comfort of leaning on Ann had run its course.

After the shock of her passing lifted, the grief settled in. I went from deep sadness to despair. Worse than my loss was witnessing what her husband and children were going through. Their broken-heartedness pulled me even further into misery.

As the months moved on, slowly, slowly, I began to heal. I still remember the first day that went by where I wasn’t consumed with sorrow. As I lay in bed that night, a little pang of guilt pulled me back. Did my happiness mean I was being disloyal?  And what about Ann’s children? I began to feel what I imagined their anguish to be. I was sinking.

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances.”- William Shakespeare

And then she came to me. Ann was in the form of an angel with wings. She reached down, lifted me by the hand and deposited me on a cloud next to her. If my body didn’t literally feel the whoosh of being pulled upward, I would have thought I was dreaming. As we sat, she put her arm around me and pointed down to Earth. She told me that whenever I felt myself slipping to look at the big picture. I knew exactly what she meant. I shouldn’t let myself become absorbed in the drama on our planet. In the big picture, nothing had changed. She had never left any of her loved ones’ sides. It was time for her to move on, but nothing could keep us from her love. She indicated to me that life would be so much easier if I wore my trials like a loose garment and didn’t allow myself to become engrossed in them. When looked at from a higher perspective, the sufferings we go through don’t seem so overwhelming. Ann’s insight was a gift from one who knew me so well. It proved to be the missing link in the healing of my many of struggles. That experience marked the beginning of my acceptance of what I had considered a loss. Sometimes I still ache for the physicality of Ann being with me, but I no longer resist these feelings. I simply let them move through me. They are part of being human. When I get to the other side of them, I realize nothing has changed…..not really.

Marianne and Kate

My cousin’s Marianne and Kate modeled to help bring my vision to life.

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