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

Knowing When to Unfriend a Friend

Troll. ogre, fairy, giant

“When you don’t know when you have been spit on, it does not matter too much what else you think you know.” -Ruth Shays

It’s taken me far too long to comprehend when a friend isn’t truly a friend. I’ve accepted camouflaged, insulting behavior for many years. Being raised by an emotionally abusive mother was a setup to tolerate abuse, however subtle. Her outright cruelty made it hard to recognize covert mistreatment. Growing up that way made me a ready target for people who didn’t honor me. For example, in the past I had a friend who I thought of as a sister. Most times when we were together I felt so understood and supported. Yet there were times when she turned on me, pointing out my flaws “for my own good.” I felt the distinct “ouch” of being stung even though she spoke to me in a benign voice. It was so confusing. At least in dealing with my mom, her delivery left no mistaking that she meant me harm. Digging deep, I saw that even though my friend’s actions were hurtful I was getting something out of them. Part of the gain was the safety of familiarity, but an even bigger part was that it was comfortable for me to play small. Living that way is so undemanding. I got the security of not having to stretch by accepting the role I was assigned to as a child.

Friends who don’t honor you are a reflection of what you believe about yourself. Having the courage to no longer accept another’s unkindness says you’re ready to claim your power. But what if by doing so your bond disintegrates? In the past, I clung to harmful relationships out of the fear of abandonment. Today I know that when I no longer allow myself to be treated poorly, the connection shifts. I may lose a friend. Indeed, that’s exactly what came to pass in my example above. It’s true that when you assert yourself there may be a hole in your life, but not for long. Love abhors a vacuum. By no longer putting up with being treated as “less than,” we make room for real friends to enter. And enter they always do.

One thing is for certain, it’s not my job to figure out why the perpetrator feels the need to put me down. I’ve spent way too much energy analyzing why people do what they do. That somehow made their bad behavior OK and kept me stuck in an unhealthy situation. The watercolor above illustrates this in a fun way. Like with a troll, it’s futile for the fairy to figure out why she angered him. Could it be she was flying too low and disturbed his sleep? Or did he, once upon a time, have his heart broken by a fairy? Perhaps he was raised to believe her kind are just nasty pests. Most likely he was just doing what miserable ogres do when someone gets too close to them. In the end it’s not important what provoked him. All that matters is getting away from him. It’s up to you to keep yourself safe from brutes no matter how nice they appear to be on the surface. Be mindful of your surroundings. Sleepwalkers disturb bees or worse yet, get in the way of trolls. 

Recognizing that I’m the fairy in the painting makes me smile. Even though she has wings, she cowers clearly immobilized. How in the world did she forget that she can fly?

Flying Fairy

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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

In Art and Life: Perfectionism is the Enemy

I Heart the Moon 12014 © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved.

I Heart the Moon 12014 © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved.

Perfectionism is the enemy in art – and just about everything.

Over the last 10 years, I’ve developed a pattern of procrastination when I begin a new illustration. I circle over my Arche’s hot-pressed watercolor paper like a hawk stuck on repeat. I think about it, plan out my method of approach, resolve to zero in on it and then am interrupted. It’s always something that is a faux “can’t wait” situation. What is this? I’m an artist. Isn’t painting supposed to be my passion? Why am I so easily pulled off course? Next, I berate myself for becoming distracted and vow to start my image first thing…tomorrow.

After about two weeks of this push and pull, I finally force myself to begin. I sit down, grip the pencil tightly and have my eyes inches from the paper to begin the preliminary drawing. It must be perfect. I must be perfect. No wonder I have trouble getting started. I’ve discovered that in pursuing flawlessness I was perfecting the joy and life right out of my art.

“It’s very important to enjoy what you’re doing or else you are always going to procrastinate.” – James Altucher

The more I’ve evolved as a person, the more I’ve embraced my humanity and know many of my character defects are simply survival skills gone awry. Unbeknownst to me, the more I accepted myself, the tighter I gripped my paintbrushes. Losing the enjoyment of my craft, made me wonder what would happen if I painted with abandon. Would it bring back the pleasure and make my artwork come alive? I was ready to experiment. The above piece, I Heart the Moon is the result. I had labored over an earlier version of it in 2012. That one took me six weeks to complete. The new interpretation took two weeks, and l loved painting it. I let the watercolor swirl and land where it wanted to. Unrestricted, filling in the details with colored pencil was no longer drudgery but fun. I felt free. Procrastination didn’t mean I was lazy or a failure. It was just signaling to me that my method wasn’t working.

I Heart the Moon © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved.

I Heart the Moon 2012 © Sue Shanahan. All rights reserved.

Next, I decided to post both pictures on Facebook and take a vote to see which illustration my followers preferred. I was happy to know the new rendering was the favorite, but it wasn’t unanimous like I thought it would be. Some still liked the one that I had done in my “being perfect” stage. Did that mean I was wrong about my up-tightness transferring itself to my art? I don’t think so. What it did confirm is there is an audience for every phase of my work, something  I’m particularly grateful for.

“Safety is all well and good: I prefer freedom.” – E.B. White

My art and it’s process are a metaphor for my life. When I pay attention to both, so much is revealed to me. Holding back who I am in any area, not only does a disservice to myself, but to the world too. Dumbing down the “gift of me” is something I learned in childhood. It kept me off the radar of unsafe people. It took years of unraveling before I felt secure enough to risk living uncensored. Letting go, something I resisted, has ended up bringing me great rewards. The truth of who we are is revealed in every spontaneous action we take.  And for me, hiding is no longer an option. I know too much.

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