Meeting Shanna Shrum, you wouldn’t necessarily pen her for a meditation guide. Her hair is a delightful shade of shocking pink which she pairs with artful ensembles cleverly plucked from vintage racks. She’s bubbly and bright and truly the life of the “pahty.” But when Shanna spoke to us about her experience with meditation, it all became clear—she wants others to enjoy the extraordinary gifts of meditation that have allowed her to live a fuller, happier, and brighter life.
Shanna has been writing and performing for years—a natural storyteller, she has written, edited, and produced two solo plays and creates and produces a comedy web series called “Life of the Pahty.” About her writing, Shanna says, “I can do something that’s funny, but what if I do something that has something to say, is impactful, makes the audience think a little bit?” About a decade ago, while suffering from creative burnout, Shanna discovered “The Artist’s Way,” a popular book which Shanna describes as “a spiritual path to higher creativity.” The book helped her adopt new practices, including meditation, and allowed her work to become even better.
It’s been more than 600 days since Shanna Shrum began meditating for 600+ days straight, and she has no plans on stopping. Shanna created her meditations for Cancer Wellness with clear intentions in mind: “[I want] people to feel understood and supported and like they’re not alone,” she says.
What led you to a consistent meditation practice?
I’d hit a point in my life where I was extremely dissatisfied and, dare I say, depressed. I didn’t feel like I was reaching my full potential. I wasn’t using all of my skill sets, and there was this general sense of discontent in my life.
This is almost cliched, but I was listening to Oprah, and she was having a conversation with Deepak Chopra, and they were talking about this 21-day meditation challenge that they were running, essentially. I didn’t take the challenge, but I was like, ‘That’s a good idea.’
I thought, I’ll challenge myself to 21 days of meditation. That was on August 24 of 2017. So I woke up in the morning, and I sat down on my couch. And I just meditated. Just the idea of taking up a consistent practice felt new, and I loved it so much I just kept doing it.
How did you stick to this initial plan of 21 days?
I placed some notifications on my iPhone… like the first thing I would see in the morning was a reminder to meditate. And I would have one in the afternoon that would pop up, and I wouldn’t clear the notifications until I had done what I had set out to do.
So the 21 days happened, and I loved it so much, I felt like this fresh new awakening around myself, I felt like I was seeing things clearer. What I realize now, in retrospect, I was building myself an internal support system. […] I had not created a good working internal system to support myself with, essentially.
And I have meditated in one way shape or another every day since, even when I had the stomach flu. Because you can always access your mind, if you are conscious and awake you can do it. This was something that I am adamant with clients—you don’t have to find the perfect place to do it, you can do it on a bus, I have meditated everywhere in Chicago. You can do it on a bus, you can do it on a plane, on a train, the beach. You can do it in bed laying down. I think I made it accessible to myself so I could continue the practice.
What first got you hooked on meditation?
I’ll tell you about the first time I ever meditated; I didn’t even know that’s what I was doing. I was 16, and I was at the emergency room, and I had an illness that was still at that point undiagnosed, and I was in a ton of pain. I just intuitively [started meditating]. No one had taught me meditation, I had zero access to this practice, but in order to control the pain, I [focused] on my breathing. I would breathe in, breathe out, and I just really focused on breathing in, breathing out, in order to manage this immense pain that I was in.
I would also say that with the practice came a new awareness… I remember especially early on in the practice, and even to this day, I would find myself just like crying and not knowing why. Just sobbing for no apparent reason because I’ve sat quietly for a few minutes. And I remember I told my therapist about it. She just kind of nodded her head and was like, ‘Yeah, that’s what happens.’
Where is the weirdest place you’ve ever meditated?
A red line [train]. I was meditating in a public place, and then something disrupted my meditation—an older woman had fallen down, and immediately I was shaken out of my meditative state. I ripped my headphones out, everyone on the train was really kind and went to see that she was okay. So then I sat back down, and I put my headphones back in, and I started the mediation over again, which if you’re meditating, that’s very much the process—you have a thought disrupt the meditation and you’re like, Oh that’s a thought, and I’m just going to focus back on my breath. That was almost a physical, external version of [meditating], which has kind of always stuck with me.
How did you get started as a meditation coach?
Recommitting to the mediation practice and consistently doing it, you start to open up in different ways, and you open up to different possibilities that you couldn’t see before—or at least from my experience, I couldn’t see. One thing that called to me was to return to this practice called “The Artist’s Way,” [which is] a 12-week course—a spiritual path to higher creativity. I felt this call to kind of facilitate [this practice] for other creators, essentially. I had discovered a path to higher, more conscious, more loving, more open creativity, and I wanted to share it with other people. And I remember, I was giving my friend some creative advice, and she was like, ‘Oh my gosh, when do I start paying you for this?’ And I literally said to her, ‘Well, when do you?’
And that moment was just when this idea to create this coaching process and work with people creatively was born. As soon as I [decided I was] going to take clients, someone immediately contacted me. It was wildly fast. Like, I’m still shocked.
What do you hope your meditations will offer cW readers?
I think I want—and this is essentially my mission as an artist and as a coach—for people to feel understood and supported and like they’re not alone. Because they’re not, you know? And in the past fast few years, I’ve really dived into my relationship with fear, and being aware when it’s coming up. [I told a client], I’m afraid of everything. But my desire to live a full, loving, exciting, fun, conscious life weighs a little bit more than my fear does. And I don’t want to fight with my fear anymore, and I hope to impart that to other people too. They don’t have to be afraid of their fear. They can saddle up next to it and ride with it. It’s not going to go away.
I think with the Connection and Affirmation [recordings], those are very in tandem with each other. [You need to hear] someone tell you good things about yourself, and invite you and ask you to ingest those, and make those apart of your tapestry.
What advice do you have for beginners looking to try meditation?
Don’t judge your meditation ability. I get this a lot with clients. They’ll be like, “I’m not any good at it. It’s hard to sit still.” And I tell them it’s supposed to be hard. If you’re showing up and you’re trying to focus on your breath, or listen to the words of the guided meditation, that’s the practice. Perfection is not the goal, and I think we get really caught up in that, and being perfect, and being good at something, but the intent is success.
And I would say start small. If you’ve never meditated before, start with just a few minutes, don’t try 30. It’s like going to the gym—if you try to do the 60-minute class, you’ll burn out super fast.