I have to tell you, the Discovery Workshop has left me changed. As each day goes by, I can tell the change is lasting. Even though I was teaching it alongside Rick and Brian, I was also powerfully affected. As teachers, we did all the exercises we asked our attendees to do, and I can’t believe what unraveled for me. I told the ladies I was going to share my new self portrait, but we ran out of time. So I hope you don’t mind if I share the process here.

This was the Self Portrait I brought to the workshop.

It’s an image that Brian and I worked on together while in Thailand. The interesting thing about this image is that I knew it had something to tell me about myself, but I wasn’t sure what that something was. I tried blogging about this image several times while in Thailand, but the story still wasn’t clear. Not until after we got home did the image, the story of the image, make sense.

Brian and I set the image up so I would be blurred while in motion. The overall image is meant to give feelings of warmth, ease, femininity, softness. But I wanted to be in blur because I was in the middle of discovering a part of myself I never knew existed. I knew I was moving toward something, but I didn’t have clarity yet. The books below are all our homeschool materials. I wanted those in focus because in the midst of feeling this change, this journey inside, our family was clearer than ever. The homeschool time we had, the projects we worked on, the long walks we did every day, I could see my family like I’d never seen them before. And lastly, if you’ll notice, I’m not lifting my head up. I’m looking down. I tried taking this shot with me looking up, straight ahead, but I couldn’t do it with ease. Inside I knew that the future was still unclear. I didn’t feel confident enough, at ease with myself, to look straight ahead as I moved forward.

I tried to hold back my tears at the workshop, but it was a lost cause. I told the women that I felt like I had begun to find this woman inside me. And yet, I only had a moment with her before we had to leave Thailand. Would I find her again? Was it possible for her to exist here, away from the calm of Thailand’s jungle? The unanswered questions have swirled inside me ever since we returned. This self portrait was my discovery process to finding the answers.

When we did our drawing exercise at the Discovery Workshop, I was amazed with what came out of me. I don’t feel like I can draw at all, but I felt like the first half of the day unleashed all this emotion inside. I found myself drawing swirls, and flames of fire, that are moving upward. I drew hands, lots of hands, reaching, comforting and calming myself. I realized I had more hands within me to help myself than the two I see.

As you can see, I can’t really draw but that didn’t matter for the exercise. The drawing affirmed an overall connection to my body. Maybe it’s the fact that I wore a two piece every day in Thailand and did it with ease–maybe that is where it started. Maybe that step of doing something I never do was the beginning of me feeling connected to my body. Did I ever realize how strong I was? Did I ever know how disconnected my heart had been from my physical body? How did that happen? These are all the questions that started to swirl, churn, and rise up within me.

And then Leslie, Rick’s beautiful wife, asked us to write three statements based on our drawings starting with the words, “I am.”. Mine were the following;

I am fire, rising, churning, surfacing, then swirling before settlement. I am more hands reaching than two, more help than I knew, more mystery, internal movement than I knew existed. I am unfolding, untangling, coming up for air.

Then Leslie did something that shook me to the core. She took her own three statements and said she was going to transform them into an interruptive dance. Leslie started by saying she wasn’t a dancer by formal training, but movement is a way she expresses herself. What she did for us was amazing. And I found myself needing to understand it more.

I had a conversation with Leslie about my three statements. Feeling totally afraid and insecure, I asked her for ideas on how she would turn my statements into movement. As we talked, I remembered going to ballet for so many years. Fourteen years of ballet, can you believe it? As a little girl, I wanted to be a dancer. But I didn’t really have a dancer’s body. I wasn’t flexible. And my ballet classes seemed to stress my dad out. Over the years, I felt more pain around ballet than freedom. I’m wondering if I disconnected from my body at the same time. Leslie challenged me to open my idea of what Dance means–outside of the box of formal ballet. And all of a sudden, in talking with Leslie, I wanted to be a dancer again. It was like this little girl inside of me called out. And her voice was pure, free and innocent.

The next day, when we were at Stinson Beach, Garrett and I had a few minutes of unexpected down time. I told him about my talk with Leslie, and I asked him to help me create a new self portrait. Without expecting it, I was in a new place. The self portrait I had brought to the workshop was no longer relevant.

I wanted this self portrait to have movement in it. I wanted to somehow show the hands within me that care for me, reach for hope, and give me ease. I wanted to somehow capture the motion of feeling at rest, and yet alive and vibrant at the same time.

Remember how I started my statements out with “I am fire.”? Well, we happened to find a red door. And even though I felt incredibly self conscious, I tried moving my arms and hands in a way that represented my statements. Garrett was so great and encouraging, and he shot away until we found what we were looking for. This was all WAY out of my comfort zone. But look at what we captured.

That is me. It’s hard to believe. I’ve never been at that much ease in front of a camera. It’s been years since I let my body move with a purpose to discover more of myself.

And then the huge “Aha” moment came (on top of all the others), I often ask my clients to move freely, relax, while I’m taking photos of them. But how little freedom do I have with myself? And how can I lead someone to being free in front of the camera, if I don’t possess it?

What do Self Portraits and Discovering the Artist Within have to do with your photography business?

Answer: Every Thing

If workshop attendees are comfortable posting them, I would LOVE to hear what your “I am” statements were. I’m working on Day 2 and Day 3, so you can have a window into those days too.

And last but not least, Happy Mother’s Day this weekend to all the beautiful, spirited, brave moms who follow this blog. Some of you are coming to the Seattle Workshop in June, and we are so excited to work with you!

xoxo, Me Ra

p.s. Wait! I owe all the dads two ideas for making Mother’s Day perfect!

1. Here are some of my favorite things that we’ve done for Mother’s Day…a trip to the nursery for flowers and a hanging basket, Brian once bought some colorful place mats and made me breakfast–the new place mats was the icing on the cake! And Brian says, “Get a card and tell her ways that you think she is a good mom.” (he’s trying to score points with me at this moment :))

2. You can still purchase our Award Winning DVDs (yep, they won a major award! More details to follow!). If you want her to have them by Sunday, you can purchase the download version. Or, you can purchase fast shipping and have the DVDs delivered by Mon/Tues!

3. Let’s make it THREE, in case you missed Monday’s ideas. I did a live Q&A for Sony on Monday night. The topic was 10 Tips to Capture the Perfect Mother’s Day Moment. The forum is still posted on Sony’s Backstage Learning site. To read the tips, go to this blog post for the directions on how to access the interview. Tip #8 is my favorite. Leave a comment on there and tell me what your favorite tip was!

29 Comments: “My Self Portait and Discovery from San Francisco!”

  1. jeramy says:

    for those that read this blog that believe in god….i see so much in this post to compares to how god makes us a new creation when we choose to live our life in relationship with him. he takes what we’ve always known…felt….thought about ourselves and completely turns it upside down. changing what we can do, say, be…rattles every preconceived notion that we have for ourselves.

    when we spoke on thur. night i told you that i just knew that we were on the verge of something new. something exciting. with no idea what…we are running to it. this kind of discovery applies in so many areas of our lives if we just let it.

    kudos to you for being vulnerable enough to lead these courageous women on this journey of discovery. i’m sure it’s getting old, but it really just seems to fit.

    “…now everything has changed. things will never be the same….WE will never be the same.” – DCB

  2. annie says:

    Good morning Me Ra! This was an amazing exercise for me as well. And Leslie’s dance piece made my heart leap! The whole first day of the discovery workshop brought me back to why I love art and it felt so comforting.

    here is my 3 statements:

    I am movement connected to exploring. I am organically fearful of moving. I am holding fluid attachments.

    what a contradiction, yet it made perfect sense. As I “move” and explore, I am terrified at the same time. I also try to hold onto attachments (people and things) that are supposed to be fluid. Supposed to come and go.

  3. Misty says:

    Absolutely one of the most beautiful posts ever! Love you.

  4. I am still reeling from all of the emotion and all that I learned about this past weekend.

    The beauty of it all is I feel myself diving back under, every few hours, just to remind myself of where I emerged.
    I am so grateful to have had this experience with you all.

    My three phrases are:
    I am moving fluidly to a new beginning.
    I am resisting turbulent rebirth.
    I am conflict, cleansed and free.

    For anyone interested, I am revealing my drawn self portrait in the 13th image in MeRa’s post 31 Discoveries.

  5. Sarah Alston says:

    Beautiful! The portraits, the thoughts, everything!

  6. Amy says:

    Me Ra, You are truly an inspiration. I have been following your blog for since last fall and have just loved reading about you and your family. What wonderful experiences you have shared. You inspire me everyday!
    Thank you!
    Amy, Mi

  7. Christina says:

    Wow, I was constantly telling my husband about all your blogs in Thialand and how you seemed more free with yourself. I told him about the bikini and how brave you are and how much I admire you. It seems like all that has changed you to the core and continues to. I admire you so much! Thank you for sharing…EVERYTHING!!

  8. Addie says:

    Oh, Me Ra! This is so beautiful. “I see cradling and love. I feel peace and serenity. I imagine a woman who loves who she is and is confident in stillness AND in movement.” :-)
    I can truly feel the value in re-visiting the self-portrait idea. I came home and my first day back at our office, the lady who works for us said (without having any idea of what we had just experienced, mind you) “Addie, look at this picture I took over the weekend. I just feel like this is somewhat of a self-portrait because this is where I am in life right now.” I was stunned!! And so, I invited her to join Chelsie and I as we will do more self-portraits and drawings in the coming months to check in with where our inner-artists are at. I actually put an appointment reminder in my cell phone for June to be sure I set aside the time!
    My 3 sentences were:
    I am floating, wishful for calmer waters.
    I am a sad eye hoping to focus.
    I am reflective wings trying to get there.

    You have given so much to all of us. Now it is so nice to see you sharing these gifts with yourself! I hope you have a wonderfullly warm and cozy Mother’s Day, Me Ra!!

  9. MeRa,
    You are truly an inspiration. I love your new self-portrait. I see a deep thought and reflection; I feel a sense of peace; I imagine a bright light.
    This weekend has changed me in so many way, words cannot express. It truly made me step way out of my comfort zone. I was so proud of myself. I brought my self-portrait drawing to work and it hangs on my wall where I can see it every day.
    My sentences were:
    I am frustrated movement spining out of control;
    I am controled chaos rushed through time; and
    I am filled with warmth in the happiness of life.

    Thank you for everything and thank you for sharing.
    Happy mother’s Day!!

  10. denise karis says:

    oh goodness – I was totally going to ask about your self portrait- so I’m so glad you posted this!! It’s so scary to focus on myself – you’re so good for sharing so much of yourself with us -Thank you thank you thank you

  11. lora says:

    Thank you so much for sharing, and you look beautiful and so peaceful in your self portrait. You are such a blessing to me, and I would love to meet you one day! :) Happy Mothers Day!

  12. denise karis says:

    ok, I just read thru the sony forum – I love the cropping out the arms tip – I always think my arms look giant in photos. Then it doesnt even matter how my face looks, LOOK AT MY ARMS!!! blech.

    I also love that you keep the center point your focus – I do too but I feel like such an outsider because everyone else seems to move theirs around – that would just take too much time for me!

  13. Genie says:

    So proud and happy to work with you and be near as you make these beautiful transitions. The way I watched everyone,including me, open and change was ignited by the deep sharing by you, Brian, Rick Garrett & Lesley. I’ll never forget Garrett’s brain!! C’mon Garrett, give it up!

    I was moved by the words that emerged, whether they mean anything to anyone else or not. They were spoken by my artist within, reaching out:

    I am a mountain of strength going into the unknown,
    I am a skyway that plays with waves of creativity.
    I am made up of rhythms, jags and swirls that play with the calm and fearful borders of my mind.

    Thank you for helping her speak and for my new found faith.
    (Hey everyone, after I hugged goodbye to M/B/R/G I rode my bike under and across the GG bridge, fog & all- wonderful!)

  14. This whole “Discover the Artist within” and self-portrait thing is rocking my world right now. You have no idea how bad I HATE having my picture taken. I’ve tried to do my own self-portrait before and I just want to cry when I see the results.
    There is a lot in this post for me to process and digest.
    Thank you!

  15. Laurie says:

    Happy Mothers day to you Me Ra. I think finding our true self, is the hardest journey we ever take. Good for you in taking the time to travel there.

  16. Paris Parfait says:

    I really hope I am in one of the cities where you’re hosting a workshop later in the year. What a fantastic voyage of self-discovery in your portraits – and in your words – Me Ra! Brilliant post. Happy Mother’s Day!

  17. Allison G. says:

    Aw, MeRa, this beautiful post just brought me to tears. I am so excited for you and for everyone who attended the workshop for the amazing growth you’ve made. Sometimes it is hard, sometimes exciting, but so important and SOOOO revealing!

    Your self-portrait is so beautiful! I know you felt like it was so risky doing that, but wow, what an amazing result!!

    After the Atlanta workshop, I felt both invigorated and excited and yet so exhausted from the intensity of the weekend. But, I often try to think back and recapture some of that feeling of searching for and getting in touch with my inner artist.

    Thanks so much for continuing to remind us of the importance of looking inward and revealing ourselves, so we can ultimately be better photographers. You are amazing!

    Wow, I just remembered something I’ve been meaning to tell you!!! As I was driving out of Atlanta after the workshop, kind of processing the whole weekend and what I thought my future held. I had so many questions swirling through my head and waves of doubt kept creeping in. Then in front of this house on the side of the road, there was a sign hanging off the mailbox that said, “Allison Photography.” whoa. Talk about God sending me a sign. Literally. Doesn’t get much clearer than that. :)

  18. Terri Mauck says:

    I’m sorry I did not see the post on who won the camera’s I do not see a post for May 1 anywhere. Is there another place to look?

  19. Wonderful post, Me Ra! Your self-portrait pictures are both beautiful. To me, it looks like you shifted from “doing” in the first one, to “being” in the second one. And in the second one, you look like you are connected to something mystical. It really is enchanting! I hope your discoveries keep on coming! Thank you for sharing something so intimate with all of us!

  20. lindy says:

    this post really inspired me… i did the challenge myself on my blog. here are mine:

    1 I am a mother, wife, friend, photographer, humanitarian, latter day saint, lover, cultural human and child of god.

    2 I am not defined by my country, my clothes, my house, the contents of my wallet or any other material thing or world organization.

    3 I am Lindy.

    it was a great activity. and i have started to take self portraits myself.

  21. lindy says:

    and i forgot… thanks for bieng so open… thanks

  22. Cathy says:

    Oh, our wonderful “I am” statement/s! I started calling it the “power phrases”–because it makes me think of everything I discovered and the amount of profound confidence I gained just a few short days ago.

    I am filled with life-giving breath along the journey.
    I am wings, powerful and prepared for the destination.
    I am weightless; graceful, strong and enduring.

    When I arrived at the workshop, my self portrait was a clear glass of water. Tight, restricted, unemotional. Then I started to open up, stirring deep emotions through Lesley’s amazing exercises and path to discovery. And it resonated. My drawing was of an angel–emerging, not fully visible, and the new self portrait, again of water (in thanks to the sweet SF weather), felt more alive, driven with new emotion: filled with the deep, awakening breath I was taking on my path to re-discovering myself as an artist.

    The phrases stuck with me as we continued on our experience throughout the rest of the weekend–and I found the statements weaving themselves into the photographs on Saturday, Sunday and even since I’ve arrived back home.

    It’s truly a gift to discover the clarity of the path which I’m headed, and for that I’m forever changed and grateful.

    Much love! Happy Mother’s Day!

  23. Pamela S. says:

    I got goosebumps at the ‘new’ self portrait. I like what comes out when you guide a group of women. It is a gift that you have.

  24. Freida says:

    Me Ra…
    I wish I could bottle you up and keep you in my pocket… you are the most inspiring woman I know! Thank you for being so open and sharing this post. I tried the exercise too…


    Much Love!

  25. Sara Goetz says:

    Hi Me Ra. I found your post SO inspiring! I noticed from the comments that many woman tried this exercise on their own at home. I’d really love to try it too but I feel like I need a little bit more direction. Would you consider making the exercise into a 101 kit that we could purchase? Maybe include some of the curriculum from the workshop? I think that would be SO valuable! Thanks! Sara

  26. Shannon says:

    Me Ra thank you so much for the chance to attend the workshop. I will never forget all of the wonderful people I met and how much everyone will stay with me forever. I will forever be changed…I love the new self portrait it says so much about the woman that you are.

    My sentence was:
    I am yellow joy flying.

  27. john louviere says:

    MeRa – you and i have known each other for 16 years now; and from the first week in a van full of 10 strangers, through the reasons for the title of your first book, to watching you become the woman that is now photographer, mother, wife, friend (this list could go on, um, pretty much, forever) . . . the themes that i, with deep admiration, continue to recognize in you are Truth and Beauty. not only am i grateful, but recognize a gratefulness and trust i have had all along.

    it’s a bit strange leaving such a heartfelt “comment” to someone i consider one of my best friends; and i know i usually just leave stupid, inside jokes, but i decided to give you the goods today. you (and BTown) are rare companions in this life.

    from my “poor” little heart –


  28. […] in and want to learn more about taking Self Portraits, here are two blog posts to enjoy! One is my own exercise in Self Discovery, and the other is what 31 women discovered at a recent workshop we […]

  29. […] that would like to share how powerful this exercise was, please do!  You can read about mine by CLICKING HERE!  Tomorrow, Linda Baylis will share her Self Portraits, Tuesday will be Jennifer, and Wednesday […]