Thoughts on gratitude

img_4959I am glad to be alive today.

We had Thanksgiving dinner with 15 family and friends — and since our house is tiny, we hosted it at our art gallery. What fun! It was an experience I hope everyone there remembers. Thanks everybody.

I am grateful to have had all the experiences of my life, every single moment. Even moments of despair, grief or anger. Gratitude is big enough to hold every thing. Connection. Loneliness. Delight. Full belly. Music.

It begins by being deeply present in each moment. Too often I forget to be present. Then somehow we orchestrate a day like today and I’ve made up for those times I forgot to notice the preciousness. The fleeting sweetness. My treasured family and friends. Remembering is gratitude.


Look at all of this before us: your eyes and smiles around the table! The bounty of our beautiful earth and of our labors! The beauty and artistry on the walls, on the table, in our bodies. Take it in- the laughter and dancing and goofing and helping and eating and washing and sharing. The sharing!

Thanksgiving 2016 – post feast dancing from Maureen Shaughnessy on Vimeo.

I appreciate you all. Each one. I have no regrets for the difficulties and hard times, though I am sorry if I ever hurt you. We are who we are because of all that. We are who we are because of who loves us and who we love and who has been vulnerable with us and who we have shown our hearts to. And. What we do about it.

Gratitude demands that we do something to bring the emotion to life! That we create a ripple in the surface — simply because we are aware, thankful, changed. That we take some kind of action. So I ask myself tonight, “What do I do, to honor what I love, to advance what I value, to create more of what I long for?”

Bow deeply to the sacred in each person you meet.

How to Get Out of the Way of a Portrait


At first I thought about showing this shot (in-camera) to Ema and saying “try not to look so worried, Ema…” but I resisted and I am glad I did. Somehow, the way her brow is lifted, the way her eyes are focused on some thought far far away … the way her mouth is slightly turned down and so relaxed, the way her hair falls to half cover her face … that light, the soft animal body of Ema … somehow this is who she really is and I am glad I did not try to change her today.

My best portraits are the ones that have reached into a person’s soul and somehow let it shine out through the facial expression, eyes, body language. Not the ones where they were smiling at the camera, being their “perfect selves.”  But the shots where there might be a sadness. A thoughtfulness, some discomfort — or deep comfort. The shots where they weren’t wearing makeup or the clothes they thought they should wear, or perfectly styled hair.  Those best portraits are the ones where I captured a moment dis-armed. The space between two heartbeats. The true heart of a person. When I can do this, I feel deeply satisfied.


Lessons from a Grandchild

mother holding child in rocking chair

mother holding child in rocking chair

“Sometimes I need
only to stand
wherever I am
to be blessed.”

~Mary Oliver

I am babysitting my grandson, so my son and his wife can have an evening alone. I have been at their house a few days and have let Henry take the lead in deciding when and how much to trust his Montana Gma, how close to let her come. He gives me cues. I follow. He has started coming to me. Just a little. I am happy to have that.

So here I am in their cozy home, for a little while, alone with this sweet sleeping child.  I hear him crying.  I go to my grandson in his little bed on the floor in the corner of his parents’ room. He is crying in the darkness, woken from a dream, or maybe from a dreamless sleep … by something. A chill? A small sound? The cat stepping across his blanket?  Or just coming to the light part of his sleeping when any little thing will make him drift up from sleep like a bubble of air rising in still water.

He is used to his mommy or daddy cuddling on the bed when he wakes in the night, so I try that… but I smell different. My humming voice sounds different. My body bigger, not mama’s not dada’s. He looks at me in the dark with wide eyes and cries some more. His daddy told me to try cuddling, try milk, try just rubbing his back. Try not to bring him out into the kitchen/living room into the light…well, that’s not working … so we go into the kitchen to make a bottle of milk.

He cries quietly in my arms. Watches me make the bottle. We go back into the darkened bedroom, wrap up in a fuzzy blanket and sit in the rocking chair. He pushes the milk on the floor. Not having that! I keep rocking. I whisper the song I used to sing to his daddy. I love you … bigger than a great big whale, softer than a bunny, greener than the grass. I love you farther than the farthest star, taller than a redwood tree, deeper than the sea… and within minutes he is breathing slow and calm, sleeping on my chest.

Regardless of how hard you try to follow the rules, to be good, you will always be led to what you’re meant to learn. The rhythm of things, of sleep and waking and grief. The movement. The heartbeat. The connection of breath to breath. This is what you needed to learn. To follow your heart. And that was always to sit holding him, breathing with your face resting on the top of his head, smelling the sweetness of his long curls and his soft baby skin. Tears wetting your cheek and the top of his head. Crying in the half-dark, not from sadness, or any sort of disconnect but from the wild and precious connection you feel with this small child. This child who possesses a piece of you. Who holds a big part of your heart in his chubby little hand and makes little sleeping noises against your chest.

In this moment. In the darkness. In the quiet warm house you know all you need to know and you stay rocking him for longer than you need to.


I end with an excerpt from another poem by Mary Oliver, Invitation:

… believe us, they say,
it is a serious thing

just to be alive
on this fresh morning
in the broken world.
I beg of you,

It could mean something.
It could mean everything.
It could be what Rilke meant, when he wrote:
You must change your life.


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An Open Letter to the Teens in My Life

girl leaning on window

girl leaning on windowDear beautiful young woman:
It is true.
You are beautiful.
You are strong. You are solid
with a will like an arrow
and eyes like the sun.
Your heart will attract love.
You will be cherished
and protected like you
have always wished you had been.

Do you believe what I am saying?

 girl's hands with sea urchin
You have a gift.
Plant that knowledge in your heart.
Water it with understanding and strength and
with the same tenderness you have
when you care for your child.
Someday you will blossom
because you cared and because someone else
loved that little girl in you – the best you.
I want you to get that – really get it deep and strong.

Do you believe you have a gift?

Girl looking out the window
Maybe you have been passed
from one place to another, unwanted.
Or … made bad choices and had to learn the hard way.
You were hard when I met you. Angry. Hurt.
Have you ever felt wanted? Have you
ever felt what’s like to be safe
in the presence of another human being?
Have you ever known what it’s like
to be someone’s priority?

Do you believe that right now you are someone’s priority?

girl brushing hair back
I am saying only what’s true: you are important.
You are worth it. You deserve it. And it’s true that
today – this very moment – you have a chance
to grab on to your beautiful future. Never let it go.
Do something amazing!
There are folks right here who, even when
you are in trouble, never give up on you.
They give you some love and they give you room
to be the beauty they know you are.

Do you believe you deserve that kind of regard?

Girl with serious look
Yes, beautiful young woman.  You are beautiful.
You are smart and strong and capable.
Figure out how to be comfortable being you.
Open your eyes
believe in yourself.
You know what’s right and what’s wrong.
You can see what you want.
Let your best self be in charge.

Do you believe you have a best self? Do you know how to find her?

portrait of a teen
So … you fell back today. That’s the old you.
At least you care – when I first met you, you didn’t care.
Now you care that you let someone down:
your child. your family. the people who love you and believe in you.
You care that you let your best self down. Well,
I say this:  “Old you, meet the new you, the best you.” It’s an experience,
and all the experiences you have had in your life –
you can turn those into something amazing.

Do you believe you are amazing? You are! 

girl looking at her baby
You have a spark of goodness in you that the rest of the world needs to see.
You are raising your child the best way you know.
You are determined to be a better parent than the ones you were given.
You will do things in new ways. You will do good things
for yourself and your child.
Your bravery inspires me. You have inspired me to take a leap I was afraid to take.
You have inspired me to create something new in my life.
Thank you for just being so totally and perfectly yourself.
You helped me see my own best self.


Photos Copyright by Maureen Shaughnessy, Raymond LaRose, Mark Sebastian and Sam Agnew.