I could feel little electric charges of energy starting weeks before her shoot. Particles of imagery came to me in the daytime and two symbolic dreams came to me on two separate nights. Snippets of music, color, and texture all seemed to swirl into my consciousness in preparation and when all those parts came together the day of the shoot, it felt like a cellular thrum.
I was introduced to Shannon months before in Washington DC, at a weekend course she was leading in tandem with another remarkable woman.
In addition to being incredibly aware of her presence that weekend, I'll also admit that something about her intimidated the hell out of me. As I've reflected upon it since, I've come to recognize that she embodied a connection to something important to me, that I felt I had lost touch with; FIRE.
I could feel it. Both the warmth and the danger.
Heat, high octane and something mutable. I imagined how it might serve her, as both a torch to light up the darkness and also as fiery ring of protection, circling herself and those she loves.
This elemental metaphor for her continued to intrigue me. From a spiritual perspective fire represents our passions, compulsion, zeal, creativity, and motivation. It is our inner light as well as a living symbol of the divine fire that burns in each of us. If you watch a fire burn you’ll notice that there are many colors depending on the heat levels and virtually I could see them as she shifted through the stages of her REVEAL.
Shannon: REVEAL Playlist
Heraclitus, a philosopher from Greece offered an interesting explanation of the fire element and its connection with our souls. He felt that the soul consisted of both water and fire and philosophized that the eternal soul’s quest is eventually to become pure fire, which we might consider “enlightenment” by modern standards.
Toward the end of the shoot, I could see her as she stood there, glowing in the ashes of her souls quest to show up in the world as a creative force, to reveal and ultimately heal everything in her path. At that moment a new thought surfaced...
Creation, destruction and transformation; fire is all three.
At that moment, I recognized in her then, a Shaman.
Meet Shannon Kelly:
I was the 8th and youngest child born to a US Army Major General and a 'traditional', southern belle, stay-at-home-mom. They were conservative, right-wing, and Catholic, and from a very young age I knew I was very, very different. I was one of only two girls in the family and was a little activist from early on. I was sensitive and different and in my teens, rebellious and moody. I knew I wanted to work with people and eventually wound up in Boston to get my MSW. I worked in nonprofit for 15 years and burned out, and blessedly found the Coaches Training Institute in 2008. Since then, I have worked as a personal and executive coach, psychotherapist, group leader, consultant, and several years ago I was chosen to lead for CTI. I love my work—it is creative, energizing, fun, and intimate. I love helping people tap into greater self-compassion, and to live fuller, more meaningful lives.
I am divorced, no children, and I have lived in Boston for 20 years. I still love it and always will but have been called to the west coast since I was a child so am contemplating a move there. I will do it when it feels easy and right.
I love: Co-leading powerful experiences. Attending awesome workshops—learning more about cool stuff. A great meal and conversation. Vacation! Cool synchronicities and magical moments. Bookstores and libraries. Hot tubs and massages. Flowers, especially sunflowers. Silence. Nature. Love. Intellectual and emotional and spiritual community. Beauty. Sunlight. Freedom, peace, ease, fun.
What are the most difficult Challenges that you have faced as a woman?
Growing up in a patriarchal family was sometimes very hard for me. I was loved but it was challenging to be a sensitive, sometimes withdrawn, un-athletic girl child in my family. There was an expectation that I would attend college and get a degree in a traditional women’s field (teaching or nursing) and maybe work until I got married.
I have been a victim of sexual violence and workplace sexual harassment in my life. I keenly felt the sting of sexism in many ways, particularly in early life, and found feminism and women’s studies at 19, and with that, a sense of sisterhood and structures in which to channel my activism.
What are some of the issues you think are important to explore about being a woman in the world today?
Certainly the intersection of racism, classism and sexism. The double-bind we put mothers in and the lack of support and resources for both SAH and working mothers. Sexual violence, including global issues such as trafficking, FGM, and dowry deaths. I also think that everyone, including men, suffer when a distorted masculine way of living life is prized and the divine feminine and the divine masculine are devalued and debased as they are in our culture.
What can’t you tolerate in the world?
Lack of compassion and curiosity. Unfettered greed. The objectification of people, animals, the planet. Unquestioned “isms.”
What frightens you the most?
Probably imagining winding up old, alone, and unloved under a bridge somewhere.
What is your calling, what does your heart and soul gravitate towards?
Powerful group experiences—I call it creating circles of belonging that grow people. Helping people see their unique beauty and the truth of who they are and why they are here. Being a conduit for self-love, powerful insights and spiritual awakening. Helping people step more fully into taking responsibility for their world.
How do you keep yourself inspired by life?
Surrounding myself with wonderful people. Doing lots of fun things and going great places. Being in nature. Trying new things and going on adventures.
Have you ever hit “Rock Bottom”: How did you recover; what did it teach you?
Whew, I contemplated not sharing this but there is something I want for people more than I want to hide because of my fear of the stigma of mental illness.
When I was a teenager, I was diagnosed with dysthymia, chronic low-level depression. I smoked cigarettes (2 packs a day) from age 14-28 and I think a lot of it was self-medicating. When I quit smoking on January 1, 2000, I had my first episode of Major Depression. I couldn’t get out of bed. I was halfway through my MSW program and knew I had to do something. Despite feeling like a “loser” for “copping out” and taking medication, I went on an SSRI. In six weeks, I felt like myself, but better—even the dysthymia was gone. It was as if I could finally be myself, a healthy, happy person. I maintained this for the next 15 years and never considered trying to come off SSRIs.
Fast forward to the end of 2015. After 35 years of being seizure-free (I had been diagnosed with epilepsy as a child), I had a grand mal seizure in February of that year. I decided to try to eliminate anything that would lower my seizure threshold. With some trepidation, I decided to try weaning off my SSRI, under a doctor’s care and supervision. I did everything right, and took 6 full months to wean off, finally coming off completely in June of 2016. I felt fine, until suddenly, in September 2016, I started not being able to sleep for more than 2 hours a night. I had my first-ever panic attack, and then nightly panic attacks that would wake me from my short rest. Within weeks I had spiraled into a paralyzing depression. I went back on the medication immediately but it no longer worked (this is a frequent occurrence when people decide to cease using SSRIs).
A truly hellish 5 months later, I was finally on an antidepressant that worked and back to my normal self, all symptoms in complete remission.
For me and for many other people, psychotropic medication is as necessary as insulin for a diabetic for survival. However, there is a pervasive belief that SSRIs and other medications should be temporary, or that people should be able to develop coping skills instead of utilizing medication, or that it is safe to go on and off medication. I am coming out to be a stand for, if it is working, STAY ON IT. If you have been diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder or Bipolar Disorder, take your medications. Would it be great to not have to? Yes. Is it awful to support big Pharma, take something unnatural, have side effects? Yes. But after going through months of suicidal depression that lifted and shifted IMMEDIATELY when the medication started working, I can tell you that the potential benefits of being medication-free are far outweighed by the potential risk of stopping medication.
What is the shadow side of you, that you try to hide, deny, suppress… OR maybe accept & celebrate…
Oh gosh, I love shadow work. I love it so much I even created a workshop called Standing in the Shadow of Trump. I truly believe that if it is bothering you “out there,” it is alive inside of you. Some of the shadow parts of me I have uncovered through work are my inner Mean Girl, a Trickster who likes to take shortcuts instead of taking responsibility, and a very harsh Judge. There is not any aspect of the human condition that is not present in each of us. The more we can each make peace with that reality, the more conscious, at-choice, and kind we will be to self and other.
What in particular made you feel like being part of the Revelation Project was a good idea at this time in your life?
I feel like I am poised on the edge of my Third Stage. I am happy in my career, I somewhat recently ended a long-term relationship, I dyed my hair blond and wanted some new pictures that matched the “new me.” I also feel more self-love and self-acceptance than I ever have and I thought it would be fun and challenging and push my edges.
About the Day of your REVEAL photoshoot:
What was the conversation you were having with yourself as you were approaching your photo shoot (before you got there)?
I wanted to be able to just let loose and not be self-conscious. I spend the first 35 years or so of my life at total war with my body and my looks and the last 10 trying to make peace with it and I wanted to be able to be at peace. So I was trying to talk to the part of me that felt self-conscious, embarrassed, that wanted to control the process and my image.
Was there anything in particular that made you feel more or less open to the process ?
Well, the three of you were amazing. I felt so loved and supported and you all made me feel absolutely gorgeous.
What was it like to be witnessed by your TRP Team?
It was so very vulnerable, and so loving.
What was it like to be the center of attention with a group of women?
Nourishing and healing.
What was it like not to have to fight for attention with a group of women?
I have stopped fighting for attention, for the most part in my life.
What was the Most Uncomfortable part of the shoot for you?
Being shot in a bralette, with my abdomen exposed. I felt SO naked and I could feel self-consciousness and even shame arising. I took a deep breath and said, “I’m doing this. I trust this.” And off we went.
What’s the biggest lie you’ve ever believed about yourself- Do you still believe it?
That there is something wrong with me, and that I am unlovable.
No, I believe that not only is there nothing wrong with me, but that I am a divine gift, awash with purpose and aglow with brilliance. Not only am I not unlovable, but I AM love itself and am loved for no reason. As are all humans.
At what point in the shoot did you feel most beautiful and most connected to yourself? Did you claim it?
I think near the end, in the black dress. I was standing the doorway, looking outside, the sun was streaming down, I knew the shoot was about to wrap, and I felt happy, relaxed and triumphant.
How did the music impact you during your shoot?
I loved it—it pumped me up.
Please describe in three words the way you felt before we shot:
Nervous, hopeful, excited.
Three words for after:
Sated, exhilarated, satisfied
Three words for when you saw the results:
first thought: UGH UGH UGH. After I calmed down: Vulnerable, tender, intrigued.
What were some of the things you thought about on the drive home after your shoot? How were you feeling? Try to be as specific as possible.
I was feeling pretty high. I was thinking about the different outfits and what they brought out in me. I really appreciated the range of looks and felt that they all exemplified parts of me. I was also appreciating the three of you and the process.
After your photo shoot, but before you saw the photos, did you have any thoughts about the experience?
Yes, it was like waiting for Santa Claus to arrive. I am a very impatient person!
When you saw your images for the very first time what was your initial reaction? Where were you? What was revealed in those first moments ?
I was in the middle of a workshop. I only had about 5 minutes to look at them. I was definitely freaked out about the exposed abdomen shots and I didn’t like the way I looked in a couple of the shots and that was what I focused on first. I think it was my old story of “I’m ugly and I don’t measure up to traditional beauty standards” rearing its head.
After spending more time with them, I found the beauty in each shot. I started loving them all, some more than others.
About Being Witnessed:
What was important for you to know from others about the impact your images had on them?
It was exciting to see how many women were inspired to think about doing their own photoshoot. I loved that.
What are some words you would use to describe how those comments made you feel?
It was so moving to feel so much love pouring toward me. People wrote such beautiful things and I cried multiple times at the incredible acknowledgements I received.
Who was most difficult to have witness your images, and why?
I don’t want my mom to see them. I am not sure she would understand the whole process. We love each other very much, but we have different values around certain things.
Who did you intentionally NOT reveal your photos to, and why?
Why do you think this portion of the Project is important ( Being Witnessed)?
Because we all need mirrors. We can’t see ourselves clearly. That is one of the reasons coaching is so powerful—it holds up a mirror and reflects our client’s beauty to them, and also the areas where they are unconscious. This process did that for me.
What did Being Witnessed and Celebrated by others in this way Reveal that you might not have known.
I did not know I was seen so deeply and truly by so many. It was deeply humbling and moving.
Did you learn anything new about yourself from your TRP experience?
I think I learned that I have really come a long way in letting go of certain old ways of being.
What photo was the most difficult photo to be with and why?
The abdomen shots. I have always hated that part of my body and have hid it versus highlighted it! But now that I am used to them, I have let that go.
Is there a particular photo that captured something that you’ve never seen in yourself?
I have never seen myself yelling. That was fascinating. I have also never seen me look as seductive and traditionally attractive as I do in the black chair/dress shot.
What is your favorite TRP photograph, and what did it capture about you that you LOVE?
I think my favorite is the one in the black dress, with Little Chief in the background. I just look so happy and relaxed. I also love the one on my stomach in the road. LOVE it.
Do you think The Revelation Project is relevant for women, if so why?
Yes. There isn’t a woman alive in this culture who doesn’t have a challenging relationship with her looks and her body and her self-image.
How will you use the photos moving forward: professionally, personally, as gifts?
Professionally and personally for sure.
What is your favorite song or piece of media that moves or inspires you, and why?
I have two songs that represent me right now: Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken by P!nk and So Alive by Ryan Adams. The activist and the spiritual lover of life, in two songs.
What is the #1 Revelation you take away from you Revelation Project?
It was a fun, thrilling, confronting, joyful, scary experience. I am so glad I did it.
Shannon Kelly - Thank you. You are a force & we love you, XXOO
To read more about the the design of the project please click here.
If you'd like to sign yourself up for the REVEAL Portrait Workshop click here.
Shannon's gallery below is filled with out-takes & extras, enjoy! Don't forget to follow our page on Facebook!