PLP #1 Anita Moorjani

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

My first Porch Light Profile is about New York Times best selling author Anita Moorjani. I chose her because her book, Dying to Be Me: My Journey from Cancer, to Near Death, to True Healing, is one of the most compelling memoirs I’ve ever read. The book details the author’s spontaneous healing of stage four Hodgkin’s lymphoma after a near-death experience (NDE). As she lay comatose, her organs shutting down, she “crossed over” to an indescribable realm of love and clarity. In Heaven, she was reunited with loved ones who had passed away. From them she learned she had the choice to return to Earth. They told her if she went back, her cancer would rapidly heal. All she had to do was to live her life fearlessly. What that meant was to love herself unconditionally and be who she was moment by moment.

Reading about Anita’s spontaneous remission from cancer was awe inspiring. Even more fascinating to me was what she learned in her visit to the other side and how it played out when she came back to Earth. Before her NDE, Anita didn’t live by her inner light. In fact, she was very much disconnected from that source. Raised in Hong Kong by Indian parents, she learned to deny her true self at an early age to fit in. She had been people pleasing for so long that the first thought that came to her when she was diagnosed with cancer was, “Good, now I have a reason to take care of myself.”

In my phone conversation with Anita, she assured me that if we all listened to our inner voice and did what felt right, our lives would unfold better than we could ever imagine. In her case, sharing her NDE on an internet forum lead to her getting a publishing contract. After her book’s release, Dying to Be Me, quickly hit the New York Times bestseller list. Its has since been translated into 45 languages and has sold over one million copies worldwide. English film director and producer Ridley Scott’s company has optioned the rights to make Dying to Be Me into a full-length feature film.

Anita believes that we are all born connected to an inner guidance system but it gets conditioned out of us. We are taught from a young age to get our validation externally rather than internally. We give our power to people and cultural belief systems that dictate how we should live our lives. If we are constantly trying to be what other people want us to be, we end up not living our own life. Anita’s experience in the heavenly realm set her free from all of that. When she came back, she knew that all she had to do was to be herself and follow her joy. I wondered if living life that way means you never have problems. Anita said that you do, but the problems you attract from following your heart are like a check and balance system to put you back on course. When you resolve them, they take you to the next level of your deepest self.

When I asked Anita if we all had a calling she said, “Yes. We all come here with a destiny, but many of us lose our way.” She believes that not being true to ourselves is a kind of spiritual crisis, and that can lead to conditions like depression, addiction or even cancer, like she had. Our only purpose in life is to be who we are. When we do that, our highest potential unfolds before us. According to Anita, charting your course limits God. Getting out of the way allows life to draw in gifts and solutions that we never dreamed existed.

“We teach best what we most need to learn.” – Richard Bach

There’s good reason for my attraction to Anita’s story. I’ve struggled for years trying to promote my gifts to the world. All my chasing and pursuing has only taken me so far. Reading Dying to Be Me gave me pause to consider that perhaps I’ve been living life backwards. In writing my Porch Light Profiles, I’m trading in industry goals and marketing plans to instead come from my own center. For me, this series is important work. It’s my heart’s longing to know itself. As time goes on, I hope to confirm what Anita learned on the other side. If Porch Light Profiles really are a product of my inner light, then the stories I share will attract readers who need to hear their message. Inspired, they will turn inward and begin to listen.

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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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Rolling in Another’s Skates

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Learning to love myself means learning to love others. I’ve discovered they are both sides of the same coin. To quiet the self-berating voice in my mind, I had to stop finding fault in people. In the bible it says, “Judge not, that you may not be judged.” Growing up, I was taught that verse meant if I were critical of another than I would be judged by God (and thrown into the fires of hell). Today, I believe Christ meant that if we judged others harshly, we will do the same to ourselves. His teachings weren’t about doom and gloom but meant to help free His followers to live in joy.

It’s hard to hold someone’s behavior against them when you realize we all struggle, many of us carrying the baggage of less-than-perfect childhoods and life experiences. That’s not to say that hurtful actions directed at you won’t sting. They do, and the feelings about them shouldn’t be denied. Understanding that we are all born innocent and only do what we’ve learned, makes it easier to trade our resentments in for compassion. I believe that beneath the most obnoxious personality lies a beautiful soul that I am a part of. Truly, we are all one. That is why it’s impossible to pick apart another without doing the same to yourself.

Family systems and societal beliefs have a way of programming us to be fearful. We all want relief from our pain and many lash out at others to unburden themselves. That’s why on a higher level, any kind of attack can be looked at as a call for love. Having empathy for what it would be like to roll in another’s skates, in no way means that you should put yourself in a position to be hurt by wounded people. A good analogy for this lies in an incident that happened to my friend, Gigi, while she was living in Montana. One day out her back door, she spied two adorable bear cubs climbing a tree. Moments later, their mother appeared to help them down. Although Gigi is a wildlife photographer, she didn’t take her camera outside and to try capture the scene. Understanding the protective nature of a mama bear, she knew she could be mauled if she went near them. That bear family was best enjoyed from the safety of her kitchen. In the same way, we have the choice to keep our distance from less than safe people. Like wild animals, some folks are best appreciated from afar.

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A photo of the cubs Gigi was able to snap through her kitchen window.

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

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Going With the Flow

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Need to absorb an important life lesson? Get it down on paper. I painted this watercolor to remind myself of the ease that comes with surrendering to the flow of life. For as long as I can remember, I have tried to manipulate events to get what I wanted. Career planning seemed a crucial part of directing my path as an artist. This process seemed to be working until the recession hit eight years ago. At that time, I couldn’t get an art director to look at my portfolio to save my life. Even my portrait commissions dried up. It became clear that all the listing, visualizing and pushing toward my goals wasn’t helping them to materialize.

During that frustrating time, the assurance in Matthew 6:33 came to me. “But you seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all of these things shall be added to you.” Translation: the Divine takes care of His children. For this to occur, all that’s required is to draw near to Him. After that, all of our other needs will be met. This was radical thinking for a wheel gripper like me, but I felt defeated enough to try it. Relaxing my hold and shifting my focus meant living where God lives – in the now.

Being in the now, means no longer trying to make things happen. I began letting problems work themselves out. I stopped trying to pry open doors that were nailed shut and began walking through the doors that were open. I discovered allowing God to be in control feels much better than trying to force solutions. To my surprise, my artistry was pulled in a direction that I never conceived of. I began writing (something I’d never done before) and illustrating a blog that now runs in the Huffington Post. My next step is to compile my posts into a book. It’s an undertaking that never would have come to me if I were still clinging to my “five year plan.”

Today the original “Going With the Flow” painting hangs in my studio.  It calls to mind the acronym for FROG – Fully Relying On God. I need to be reminded daily of the power of surrender. My little frog rider illustrates that truth perfectly. Like me, she has learned that it’s a waste of time to try and redirect the energy of life. Not only is the present moment missed but you’re too preoccupied to notice the gifts that lie around the bend. Relax and enjoy the ride. The current will take you to places that struggle never could.

Karli

My friend Karli was happy to model for the fairy in my painting.

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The frog is based on this photograph by Gigi Embrechts.

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

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Don’t Have a Fairy Godmother? Borrow One

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Elli Stassinopoulos and her daughter, Agapi

“Creative minds have always been known to survive any kind of bad training.” -Anna Freud

I’ve made a practice of gleaning wisdom and support from women I admire. Because my mom was not the “in your corner” type, I learned to do this at a young age. Growing up under her tutelage forced me to figure out ways to get my need for nurturing met. My search led me to reading books with omniscient mother figures and happy endings. It’s no accident that as a child Cinderella was a favorite story of mine. That evil stepmom may have been in control for a time, but she was no match for the powers of a fairy godmother. By fifth grade, I had graduated to being utterly taken with Marmee, the mother of the March sisters, in Little Women. Her steadfast devotion to her girls was the launching pad for them to live their dreams. Somehow reading about the security of unconditional love was healing to me.

In my twenties, I discovered how author Maya Angelo mothered Oprah Winfrey. Her love and wise council helped Oprah to become her “best self.” I began studying other strong women who pointed their daughters in the right direction. I embraced the relationships of Eunice Shriver and her daughter, Maria, Dorothy Howell Rodham and her daughter, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and finally Elli Stassinopoulos and her daughters, Agapi Stassinopoulos and Arianna Huffington. All of these mothers inspired me and gave me a lead to follow. Since I considered them as more than mentors, I christened them fairy godmothers. Remember the sparkle Cinderella’s fairy godmother brought to her life? She gave the added magic needed to help Cinderella leave behind the cinders she made her bed in. That’s what these mothers I admire did for me.

One of my favorite of the godmothers is Elli Stassinopoulos.  In my painting above, she’s pictured with her daughter Agapi on Agapi’s 16th birthday. I first read about Elli in Agapi’s book, Unbinding the Heart. Elli was a remarkable woman. She was not accomplished by the world’s standards and yet gave much to the world. Her daughters are living proof of that. Elli knew what was important in life. It was people not things that mattered. There was no hierarchy in her world. She treated a government official and a plumber with the same warmth and generosity. She never allowed her daughters to feel “less than.” She knew that both of them were born with the gifts needed to fulfill their life’s purpose and she stood in support of that. Reading about Elli made me think of how much easier my life would have been if I were raised by a mom like her. My soul would have known its worth, instead of having to fight for it every step of the way. Getting to know Elli helped soothe what I lacked.

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The Photo I based my painting on.

I reached out to Agapi for permission to work from the photograph I based my watercolor on. Elli reminded me of the fairy godmother in Disney’s Cinderella in the picture. Agapi was kind enough to grant her consent and even gave her thoughts on the art in progress. All along she was pleased that I was capturing her mom’s spirit. What she was having trouble with, was my portrayal of herself. We both knew something was off. Was it her eyes? Or her smile? She could not pinpoint it and in my revisions neither could I. Finally, in frustration, I thought to ask Elli for help. I reasoned that since she had passed away in 2000 she would have the clarity of a higher vantage point. As soon as I sent out my request, I got the distinct feeling to have a glass of red wine and stop trying so hard. I should just relax and enjoy the process. I did just that and had fun tweaking the piece. In a flash, I was done and satisfied with the results. When I sent a file of it to Agapi, she responded,“It’s great!” I smiled as I wondered why I hadn’t called on Elli sooner. Of course she would want me to do justice to her girl.

In my life, I’ve found that within every hardship there are always blessings. I believe I was given the perfect mother to help me become who I was born to be. Without the difficulty of being raised by her, I don’t think I’d have the insight and compassion I do today.  Plus, I may have never discovered the wisdom of these beautiful women I call fairy godmothers. I’ve studied and absorbed how they moved through life. Their philosophies have become my philosophies. Today, I’m happy to say I share their wise council with others who’ve been gifted with moms similar to mine. In this way, even though my fairy godmothers no longer grace the planet, their magic goes on and continues to break the spells that others live under.

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

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My Only Valentine

Valentine*750“We got this far, darling, not by luck, but by never turning back.”                                         – Mary Chapin Carpenter

My husband, Bob, and I met through mutual friends when he was 20 and I was 21. We went on our first date the following week. He had just gotten out of a tumultuous relationship and was determined never to fall in love again. After hearing that, I figured I’d better proceed with caution. We tried our best not to fall for each other, but our hearts won over our brains. I made the above illustration, featuring Mae West and W. C. Fields, for Bob after we had been dating a year. As an artist, a handmade Valentine is the only way to declare your love.

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When we first met.

One year after we met Bob proposed to me. I said, “yes” but wondered if it was a good idea to tie the knot with the only real boyfriend I ever had. This July it will be 37 years for us. Our commitment to each other has weathered many storms. There was too much drinking on his part and way too much “fixing” on mine. When I finally went and got help for myself, things slowly began to change for the better. Bob got sober and we grew together in a positive direction. That’s not to say it’s been smooth sailing ever since. I’ve always held onto the advice my sister Ann gave me about sticking it out in a marriage. After three husbands, she had come to the conclusion that you should work out your troubles, if you can, because no marriage is problem free.

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On our wedding day, July 28, 1979.

In hindsight, I can see that Bob and I had no business getting married when we were 23. We were way too young. I question the wisdom of conceiving our oldest child six months later too. What was our hurry? I think in Bob’s case it seemed like the right thing to do because he came from a huge Irish/Catholic family. In my case, I adored kids and was certain that love would take care of the details. Thankfully, in the end, it always did.

Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be. – Robert Browning

Yes, there is something to be said for growing old together. Being with someone longer than you’ve been without them brings the kind of comfort that a well worn pair of shoes does. Not exactly a romantic notion, until you consider the discomfort that can come from breaking in a new pair. As we age, our love deepens. Sure, Bob and I still can get on each other’s nerves, but we have the presence of mind to let many of the little annoyances go. We are two separate individuals and have come to respect our differences.

Next June, after forty years at his job as a signal maintainer, Bob will be retiring. I have to admit I do worry about having him around all the time. In my work as an  author and artist, I need solitude to reflect and allow inspiration in. At other times, I am not concerned at all about him invading my space, and am looking forward to adventures with him and our grand babies. One thing is certain, the man I married all those years ago deserves a break. He has worked tirelessly to support his family and his wife’s dream of being an artist. It’s his time to fulfill some dreams of his own.

It looks like Bob and I will be approaching this next phase of our lives much like we did our marriage. Jump in and figure out how to swim later. When you think about it, how much of life can you truly plan anyway? What I do know for sure is the love that has carried us through the early, and middle years is not going to fail us now.

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On our 35th wedding anniversary.

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

A New Year – BE TRUE. BE YOU.

“We don’t realize that we are actually perfect just the way we are. We are born perfect, but spend a lifetime trying to be something we are not, and then feel inadequate for failing. Your only purpose is to BE YOURSELF, otherwise you will deprive the universe of who you came here to be.” ~ Anita Moorjani

The other day my son, Brian, told me that he wants our grandson, Cameron, to grow up and do what makes his heart sing. He doesn’t want “who he should be” imposed on his little guy. I found my son’s conviction so heartening. He already knows what’s taken me a whole lifetime to learn. Be who you are.

I was born into a world that already had perimeters and guidelines set into place to mold me. Being Catholic and female, left little room for my song to be sung. Add my parents fearful life-view into the mix, and I was a shell of the gift I was born to be. Needless to say, I felt stifled and unhappy. The harder I tried to fulfill others expectations the more empty I felt. Disillusioned and certain something was wrong with me, I began looking for ways to fix myself. Somehow what I was searching for in self-help books always alluded me. Today I see that what I really was seeking was permission to be myself.

I’ve set the intention to believe it isn’t selfish to love myself in 2016. I am going to stop criticizing my every move and allow myself to be me. I’ve come to the conclusion that loving who you are can only honor the Creator. Your uniqueness is no accident. Without your gifts and quirks there would be a hole in the tapestry of existence. Einstein was known for being a little peculiar but wrapped in his oddness was the ability to see things differently. What if he had stifled himself? The world have been deprived of his genius just like it will be deprived of yours if you keep the “real you” reigned in.

By being ourselves, we allow the Universe to work through us. Some may say, “But how can I do that when I don’t even know who I am?” The easiest way to discover the true you is when you’re making a decision ask yourself, “What would I do if I loved myself?” And then do that. A life lived this way is certain to take you to places you never dreamed of when you were holding yourself back.

This year when presented with a choice I’m going to ask myself, “Is this something that brings me joy or am I doing it out of obligation?” I’m going to check in moment by moment and really listen to how I feel. Once you start practicing this, you’ll be amazed by how many of your choices are not your own. It feels risky to quiet the mind and listen to the heart but doing so yields much joy.

This year, I am going to open myself up to having more fun. Trying to fulfill the world’s expectations is serious business and leaves little room for lightheartedness. I’ve resolved to ban self-help books from my library. I’ve decided I’m going to be reading for enjoyment. I am looking to be entertained not fixed. I will love my body and eat and exercise in ways that feel right to me. I am through with bowing to the standards imposed on women by advertisers and the diet industry.

Truly, the best New Year’s resolutions don’t come from the outside but from within. Many of us have tried for too long to make ourselves into something we’re not. It takes radical trust to believe that God knew what he was doing when he created you.

In working with the dying, palliative nurse Bronnie Ware, found that her patient’s biggest regret was that they wished they had lived a life true to themselves, not the life others expected of them. I’m determined to never let that happen to me. When I reach the end of my days, I don’t want to be hit with the realization that I’ve lived someone else’s life. No, from this day forward the life I am living is my own.

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

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.

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

12 Ways to Help Remove the Barriers to Self-Love

Bloom

Click here to purchase a signed print of Bloom

“Treat yourself as if you were someone inexpressibly dear to you” – Tweeted by Agapi Stassinopoulos 

Do you live with the chatter of a critical voice in your mind? You know the voice I’m talking about. It drones on in the background scolding your every move. It finds fault with how you look, how you feel and who you are. Like a weed, it wraps around your heart and hinders your growth. I have tried to stop that voice by focusing on it, analyzing its origins, and reasoning it away. The harder I pushed the stronger a hold it had on me until one day I realized the truth about it. The “voice of rebuke” was only trying to keep me safe. At some level, I believed I wasn’t good enough and had to be monitored. I thought fitting into the standards of the world was the only way I would be lovable.

I was born innocent. We all are. We come to this planet unsullied, delighting in ourselves. Unfortunately it doesn’t take long for many of us to lose our way. We turn in self-love for self-loathing. There are many reasons why our perception becomes so skewed. In part, my roadblocks to self-love formed in response to my disapproving mother. An unhappy woman, she pointed out my “wrongness” to me on a daily basis. I carried those beliefs with me into my adulthood. I struggled for years to overcome them until one day I decided to get over it and get on with it. I resolved to set my old way of thinking down and love myself. I found that I could not get of rid my self-contempt by force of will. But it did lose it’s grip and disappear on its own by my living as if I did love myself. If you don’t have what it takes to do that, ask the Universe for help and try the suggestions below.

1) Pay attention to how you speak to yourself. Do you belittle yourself? When I grasped that I had allowed my mother’s voice to live on in my head I quieted it by shifting my focus to thoughts of encouragement and self-appreciation.

2) Take care of yourself physically When I felt under the weather I used to just push through it. If I was too ill to do that, I would beat myself up for being “lazy.” Today I make sure I get enough rest and nourish my body. I’m amazed by how much better l feel when I treat myself like I matter.

3) Do I schedule fun into my life? It seems silly to have to find time for this but people who are hard on themselves rarely prioritize fun. Joy and laughter heal and are important facets of self-love.

4) Am I critical of others? I’ve learned that if I’m hard on others I use the same standard of judgement on myself. The reverse is also true. The more accepting I am of another’s humanity, the more I accepting of my own.

5) Do I forgive others? This can be hard, especially when deliberately cruel behavior is involved. Learning to let go of resentments became a necessity when I realized I hold myself to the same standard as I do others. The easiest way for me to forgive a misdeed is to look at the situation from a higher vantage point. When I see the big picture it’s easier to recognize that most folks are doing all they’re capable of. Even when their actions are directed at me it’s still not personal. Having that mindset doesn’t necessarily mean I spend time with unkind people. Staying out of harm’s way is an aspect of self-love.

6) Do I trust my inner guidance? Trusting your perception is a big way to affirm yourself. Honor your “inner knowing” by being mindful of it. Using the phrase “I should”  is a red flag that means you’re not listening to your heart but trying to fit into someone else’s mold.

7) Mirror work Louise Hay is famous for sharing her “mirror work” technique with the world. Through it people have leaned to love themselves by making a practice of holding a mirror, lookIng into their eyes and affirming, “I love you. I really love you.”  Try it. It works.

8) Learn to accept the love of others. This suggestion is simple but not easy because we’ve been conditioned to believe if we love ourselves we’re conceited. When someone pays you a complement, or gives you a gift, be a gracious receiver. Simply say, “Thank you.”

9) Go where you are valued. Allowing yourself to be disrespected, even in subtle ways, fuels feelings of not being good enough.

10) Write down five things a day that you appreciate about yourself.  They can be a accomplishments, setting a boundary or even how cute your hair looks. Anything positive about yourself is worth including.

11) Don’t suppress your emotions. When you push down your emotions you are in part rejecting yourself. Allow your feelings to surface and flow through you. The more you accept them, the quicker they will pass.

12) Ask yourself, “What would I want someone I love to do in this situation? And then do that.

………………………………….

I in no way mean to imply that I’ve mastered the above list. Sometimes I do fall back into my old ways, but I don’t stay there for long. As soon as I catch myself slipping I shift my focus to the tools above.

I’ve found the more I love myself, the more I allow good things to come to me. Today, instead of trying to make my goals materialize, I just I work on loving myself. Somehow this makes fertile ground for my dreams to bloom in ways I couldn’t have imagined. “Love is the miracle cure and when you are willing to love yourself every area of your life works out better,” explains Louise. This certainly has held true in my life. Isn’t it worth a try in yours?

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

Are You Listening, Oprah?

Oprah Sharing Her Gifts750

“Everyone is different: different shapes, sizes, colors, beliefs, personalities, and you have to celebrate those differences.” – Kelly Clarkson

Over the years, I have learned so much from Oprah Winfrey. I felt a kinship with her from the day she began her show in Chicago in 1986. She was so real. Plus, she was a woman of size (like me). She was someone who was approachable, not above me. I could relate to her love of books, spiritual matters and the desire to be thin. I shared her anguish about not being a size six. I went on every diet she did. It was hard not to notice Oprah’s weight yo-yo during the reign of her talk show. If she wasn’t pointing out her failures, the media was.

After the Oprah Winfrey Show ended in 2011, whether she was fat or thin went under the radar. Without being on T.V. Monday through Friday, it was hard to know what shape Oprah was in, which was fine with me. I had been doing some serious soul searching about my size. I needed a break from constantly monitoring my eating and exercising. It was robbing me of the joy of living in the now. It didn’t do any good long term anyway. I wondered if I was fighting nature? Could I have been born this way?

Last December, I watched a once again curvy Oprah being interviewed by Barbara Walters on her “Ten Most Fascinating People of 2014” special. Oprah may not be at her “best self” weight, but she is as beautiful as ever in my eyes. Barbara asked her to complete this sentence, “Before I leave this earth I will not be satisfied until I…”

Oprah responded with, “Until I make peace with the whole weight thing.”

Barbara sounded shocked when she said, “What? That’s still on your mind? I was expecting something deeply profound.” Oprah assured her that yes, she had to make peace with the “ whole weight thing.”

What petite Ms. Walters didn’t understand was Oprah’s wish is deeply profound.  As a woman who has struggled to be thin her whole life, it would be such a gift to me if she accepted herself. Maybe Oprah and I, along with countless others aren’t meant to be a size six. What if we are fine the way we are? Maybe the bodies our souls inhabit aren’t what the culture has deemed desirable, but does that make them wrong?

Today, at 59, I have still not won the war with fat and am waking up to the notion that maybe this is who I am. There is more and more scientific evidence that says being fat doesn’t necessarily mean one is unhealthy. Maybe the media and the fashion police are wrong. After all there was a time in our country’s history when people were made to feel less than because of the color of their skin. Looking at nature I see that there are all different shapes and sizes in the animal world. Could human beings be made the same way?

“If you are who you were meant to be, you will set the world ablaze.” – St. Catherine of Siena

Oprah’s continual references to her issue with her weight has only helped to make her a target by mean spirited people. The distress she feels adds fuel to the shame women carry about their bodies. Think about celebrities like Whoopi Goldberg. I find it interesting that the press never remarks about her size. I have a pretty good idea why. Whoopi knows she has it going on. She knows her light shines from the inside out so it’s a waste of time to try to mold herself into a standard dictated by fools. Because her body isn’t an issue with her it’s not an issue with anyone else. I think it is time for women to embrace their bodies. I don’t want to waste another minute rejecting what I was born into. My body is a temple, and the same goes for you, Oprah Winfrey. What would the world do without you? You have a big purpose and your soul lives in the perfect house to manifest it. If you accept yourself, just as you are, you will give permission to womankind to do the same. That would be a gift passed down from generation to generation. And what do your sisters think about your body inching above your “goal weight”? It’s the better to hug us with, my dear.

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

The Right to Love and Be Loved

I attended two weddings a week apart last September. Both were beautiful celebrations of each couple’s love. What struck me was the contrast between the two events. Betty and Chris are lesbians and had a Chicago Blackhawks-themed affair. Nick and Jacquie are straight and had a traditional fairytale style wedding (think Cinderella). Both were joyful and life-affirming. It’s wonderful how inclusive we are becoming about what constitutes a marriage in the United States. I couldn’t imagine comparing two occasions like this even five years ago.

Nick and Jacquie

Nick and Jacquie

“Marriage – gay and straight – is a gift to the world because the world needs more not less love, fidelity, commitment, devotion and sacrifice.” ~Rob and Kristen Bell, The Zimzum of Love

There was a time when same-sex marriage was not even a thought in my stratosphere. In my youth, homosexuality was kept so hush, hush I didn’t even know it existed until I was a 19-year-old art student. Getting over the shock that two members of the same sex could be lovers took a while for me. I was raised Catholic and soon learned that being gay was a sin in the eyes of the Church. Many branches of Christianity use scripture to condemn homosexuality. They strictly adhere to the Bible being God’s infallible word. When I realized the Bible accepted slavery, it left an opening for me to question the validity of words written two thousand years ago. I came to the conclusion to trust what my heart knew all along: we have a right to be who we are and to love who we love.

“Make no mistake, I am a Christian and I believe in God and I don’t believe he makes mistakes, so I believe that being gay is not a sin and in fact it’s how you’re made.” ~Kristin Chenowith

I’m a woman who was raised to believe she was flawed. Growing up, I was always larger than the other girls. My mother was disgusted with my pudginess and used it to make me feel “less than.” A body-obsessed society backed up her feelings toward me. Although soul crushing, growing up in that environment is what gave me compassion for gays. I knew homosexuality wasn’t a choice any more than my size was. It didn’t make sense that someone would choose a way of being in the world that would hold them up to ridicule. The bodies we are born into are no accident. Who we are is a gift.

“If God wanted me otherwise, He would have created me otherwise.” ~Johann van Goethe

Today is a new day. America is evolving and opening its arms in an ever broader embrace. I see it in the weddings I attend. Betty and Chris’s love was celebrated and as special as Nick and Jacquie’s. As Hillary Rodham Clinton observed, “Gay rights are human rights.” The legalizing of same sex marriage is our reclaiming of the truths written in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Once again, we the people have spoken.

Betty and Chris

Betty and Chris

This story also appeared on MariaShriver.com — THE most inspiring place on the web.

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