Saturday, September 29, 2007

Falling from grace and other high places

Yesterday, Mark wrote and commented that in his view I was victimized in that relationship with Conrad and therefore did not fall from grace.

Yes, Conrad victimized me. He lied and cheated and deceived in order to get what he wanted. However, I chose, albeit not necessarily consciously, to let go of my values and beliefs in order to fit into his needs, in order to have the tantalizing aura of 'love' he held out before me and for which I kept reaching -- and coming back empty. No matter what he did, I made choices that kept me locked in his unholy embrace because my hungry heart, my desire to be 'loved like no one had ever loved me before' blinded me to the truth of what he was doing and kept me from seeing my own worthiness, my completeness, my loveliness.

I cannot be accountable for Conrad's actions. For what he did and said that caused such pain in my life. In holding him accountable, I also hold myself accountable for what I did. No matter how dark my life became I am responsible for my actions, my words, my deeds that caused such pain in the lives of those I love. In giving up on me and giving into him I betrayed a sacred trust -- to protect my children from harm, to be accountable, to be responsible to be the adult in their lives.

Author, Ann Lamott writes, “I do not at all understand the mystery of grace - only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.”

Because I journeyed so far away from my beliefs, principles and values, I lost the mystical qualities of grace in my life before I met Conrad. Sure, he did a lot to lure me away -- but I am the one who chose to continue to compromise my principles in order to not look at what he was doing that was causing me such harm. Grace was with me on that road to hell, and I kept walking away.

In my blindness, my daughters trust was betrayed. In my silence, I hurt the two people in the world to whom I was most accountable and for whom I was responsible.

It was a mighty fall.

Being a mother is for me a state of grace. It is a gift. A privilege. A sacred trust.

Once upon a time, I held a place of trust in the hearts of two young girls who loved me and believed I would never hurt them.

I fell.

I broke that trust.

In my fall, I taught my daughters I am fallible, human, and sometimes weak. In my fall, my daughters also learned the world is not a safe place. They learned that their mother lied, that she could hide the truth, that she could abandon them. Those are not lessons I ever wanted to teach my children. They deserved better. They deserved more.

Today, they get my more. I am blessed. I have been given the grace to heal, to reclaim my right to be the mother they deserve, to reconnect the circle of love into which they were born. I am blessed because in our journey into healing, my daughters embraced me with the grace of forgiveness, just as I have embraced myself with forgiveness for all that I did that hurt me and those I love.

The gift in falling comes when we get up.

In getting up, in claiming my right to live at centre stage of my own life, in asking for forgiveness and in making amends, I have taught my daughters that fear is the opportunity to be courageous. I have taught them that you cannot heal or change what you do not acknowledge. I have taught them that the power is not in the past, it is in what I do today to create a beautiful life, to honour my flawless imperfection of being human and to honour the many gifts of grace that find me on the journey of life and hold me lovingly in the light of love.

Once upon a time, I didn't value the grace within my life. I didn't believe grace wanted to find me.

Today I know the truth. I am blessed.

The question is: Where do you place your value? Do you grace someone else's words about you as the truth of your value? Or do you live in a state of grace where you stand true to the awesome beauty and wonder of who you are, exactly the way you are in this moment.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Making a difference

Yesterday I gave my presentation, Victor not Victim, a Woman's journey away from abuse, to a group of victim advocates.

Yesterday, I found myself drifting back into that time, remembering facets of that journey I had forgotten until now.

How strange.

But maybe not.

The mind is a powerful tool. It holds information, sifts through it, sorts it, stores it in disparate parts of the brain until such time as we can or cannot deal with it.

Last night, at the Dale Carnegie Course I take every Thursday evening, we had to give a 2 minute presentation on something we've accomplished that makes us proud of ourselves. I hadn't intended to use the writing of The Dandelion Spirit as my event, but found myself pulling it together into 2 minutes.

Last night, in giving my presentation, I gained clarity on why I talk about abuse, why I share my story, why I do what I do.

I want to make a difference. I want to inspire people to live beautiful lives today -- regardless of what brought them here.

In telling the story of my fall from grace, and my rising up from the ashes of that descent into hell to live my life passionately, fearlessly and freely today, I acknowledge that the past is gone. It's over. Finished. I can learn from it, grow from it, change from it -- but I cannot change the past. Utlimately, it is not the past that makes a difference in my life today. It's what I do today that makes the difference. It's who I am, how I live my life in this moment that creates the beautiful life I deserve.

When I was speaking with the group of victim advocates yesterday I told them about my experiences with the justice system and Corrections Canada. Everyone was superb, I told them. They supported me. Treated me with dignity. Gave me encouragement when I needed it, even when I didn't heed it. I told them about a police officer I met early on in that relationship the first time I tried to break free. He told me that what Conrad was doing wasn't love -- "Love shouldn't hurt so much you want to die," he said.

At the time, I didn't heed the officer's words. But they stayed with me. When I was released from that hell, his words surfaced and reminded me of the truth -- what Conrad had done had nothing to do with me, and nothing to do with love. What he had done wasn't about me. What I do, what I did at the time -- had everything to do with me. It was my responsibility to ensure that what I did was a reflection of me. It was my responsibility to heal so that I could live a life free of abuse -- and free of the fear that what was then could once again be now.

Three years after hearing them, that officer's words resonated. They gave me courage. They helped me make sense of something that didn't make sense at all.

I told the victim advocates yesterday that while it may seem the people with whom they work don't 'get it', they need to know that their words and what they do, has power. Their words resonate somewhere within each person with whom they speak. Their power may not manifest itself today, but somewhere down the road, that person will hear their words and feel encouraged, feel safe, feel understood.

When I write here, when I speak, I cannot know the impact of my words. I can only speak my truth and know that what I am doing is important for me. It is part of my purpose.

I want to make a difference.

I can't end abuse in someone else's life. I can't change an abuser from what he or she is doing. I can, however, end abuse in my life -- and I can live by my example. When I stand true to my principles, when I uphold my values and beliefs, I do not need to compromise on my truth. I do not need to conform to someone else's belief they know what is best for me.

In making a difference in my own life, I believe I inspire others to do the same. I believe I make a difference.

The question is: Where ae you holding onto the past for fear the present will never be different? do you make a difference in your life today?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

My Six Principles for Daily Living

“It takes more courage to reveal insecurities than to hide them, more strength to relate to people than to dominate them, more 'manhood' to abide by thought-out principles rather than blind reflex. Toughness is in the soul and spirit, not in muscles and an immature mind." Alex Karras

Yesterday, I challenged myself to write my six principles for daily living. It was more complex a task than I thought.

First, there's the little voice inside me that whispers, 'rather grandiose of you Louise to think you can write such a thing." Secondly, there's the indecision, the questioning, the looking at the truth -- do I really uphold these principles in my everyday living? Do I really live by these principles in everything I do and say?

Not sure I do every moment of every day, but -- and here's the beauty of taking the time to consciously write out what I believe are the principles that are important to me -- they are principles that I want to live by, principles that guide me in every thing I do and say.

When I know better, I do better. In writing about the principles I believe in, I learn more about where I am, and what I want in my life. I learn more about me -- my insecurities, my strengths, my belief structure. I have a measuring stick against which to gauge my progress, minute by minute, encounter by encounter. I have a rock solid foundation upon which to build my life.

I believe we are all connected. That when I live by the Golden Rule, 'do unto others as you would have them do unto you', I am accountable for everything I do and say. When I respect the differences between me and my fellow man, when I honour who I am by making room for who others are, I am walking my truth, being the difference I want to create in the world by connecting to what is important to me and the world around me.

I believe we are all magnificent human beings, capable of greatness in everything we do. I believe in my own personal significance. That who I am, what I do makes a difference. It is my responsibility to recognize my gifts, acknowledge them and use them wisely. It is my responsibility to step softly, to ensure my footsteps are like butterfly kisses, each imprint inspires imagination, but leaves no mark to mar the surface upon which they passed.

I believe I am responsible for my own happiness, and I trust others to be responsible for theirs. I am happiest when I am living a principled life, acknowledging my dreams and taking action to make them come true. Like happiness, my dreams are my responsibility to bring to fruition.

I believe kindness counts. That being kind creates a more caring world. When I care for the universe, everything and everyone in it, I am contributing to a better world and creating a world of value in everything I do, and every where I go.

I believe in honesty and truth. When I honour someone with my truth, I am opening the door for their truth to enter. When I am honest with myself, I love myself exactly the way I am. When I look at myself honestly and truthfully, I give myself grace to lovingly acknowledge my short-comings, my inconsistencies, my fallibilities. In my truth, I set myself free to change the things I do that hurt me and those around me.

I believe in treating all people with respect. How I treat people is a reflection of who I am. It's my responsibility to be the best me I can be at all times.

The question is: Have you written down your principles? If not, what are you waiting for?

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Six Principles of Daily Living

Every morning I search for an inspirational quote to start my day. Some days, that quote becomes part of my writing, some days it simply forms the foundation for the structure of my day.

This morning, I happened upon a quote by James Cash Penny, the founder of The Golden Rule Store in 1902 which eventually became the JC Penny organization today. Penny said, "The friendly smile, the word of greeting, are certainly something fleeting and seemingly insubstantial. You can't take them with you. But they work for good beyond your power to measure their influence." — James Cash Penney

As I read further into the history of JC Penny, I found Six Principles for Daily Living to which he ascribed. Now, I don't make a habit of using someone else's words as the substance of my blog (they're ususually just the thought starters), but these principles have caught my imagination, and inspired me to think about what are my Six Principles for Daily Living.

So, here's the challenge. I'm going to create my own six principles and share them tomorrow. I'd love for you to do the same.

As inspiration, I've pasted in James Cash Penny's Six Principles for Daily Living, as stated on the JC Penny website.

JC Penny's Six Principles for Daily Living
  1. I believe that preparation wins. A man must know all about his business; he must know a little more than any other man knows. As a rule we achieve what we prepare for.
  2. I believe that hard work wins. The only kind of luck that any man is justified in banking on is hard work, which is made up of sacrifice, persistent effort, and dogged determination. Growth is never by mere chance.
  3. I believe that honesty wins. Not only the kind of honesty that keeps a man’s fingers out of his neighbor’s till, but the finer honesty that will not allow a man to give less than his best, the kind of honesty that makes him count not his hours but his duties and opportunities.
  4. I believe that confidence in men wins. I have found my most successful associates by giving men responsibility, by making them feel that I relied upon them; and those who have proved to be unworthy have only caused the others, who far outnumbered them, to stand in a clearer light.
  5. I believe that the spirit wins. One of the wisest men who ever lived said, ‘The letter killeth, the spirit giveth life.’ Every enterprise I have been interested in demonstrates this fact. It is the spirit of individuals comprising any organization, the spirit of the pioneers in any enterprise or endeavor that will conquer all difficulties and achieve success.
  6. I believe in a practical application of the Golden Rule, as enunciated by the Master Teacher on the hillsides of Judea nearly two thousand years ago. ‘Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them; for this is the law and the prophets.’"-- Lines of a Layman, 1956

The question is: Do you have principles to live by that are clearly stated and against which you measure everything you do? Are you willing to commit yourself to living a principled life?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

One step in front of the other

When "Jukie" Daly walked up the hill in Thunder Bay and stood at the base of the statue of Terry Fox, he began to cry. He'd been walking for a couple of weeks by then. One measured footstep after the other leading him forward towards his goal of walking from Toronto to Golden, B.C. He figured it would take him another eight weeks later. It did.

"I just asked God why I was here. He said, to get walking. So I did." Jukie told me when I sat and chatted with him yesterday afternoon and asked him what inspired him to take such a journey.

He'd made it to Golden, B.C. On Foot. He's now staying at the shelter where I work, resting-up before flying back to Toronto on Friday.

He doesn't have an entourage. He doesn't have a coterie of handlers following along in his footsteps, or driving beside. Jukie walks alone. "But I'm not alone," he says when I ask him if he was ever scared on his journey. "God walks every step with me."

As he travelled across Canada, Jukie stayed in shelters along the way, unless the town in which he was didn't have a shelter -- then he found a hotel to put him up. "The people were nice where ever I went," he said. "God kept providing me everything and every one I needed on my path."

A quiet man. A solid faith. Jukie is 30. His mother and step-father own a bible camp in Durham, Ontario. He grew up reading the Bible. Loving the stories of Jesus. He wanted to make a difference. He wanted to be like "The Legend" as he calls his hero, Terry Fox.

He walked from Toronto to St. Johns, Newfoundland last year. This year, the Mission for whom he works thought a longer journey was in order. Jukie agreed and started walking.

He's humble. Quiet. His black skin shines, his dark eyes glow with enthusiasm. His responses to my questions are measured, slow, easy. "I have a gift," he says. "I didn't want to have to tell God I'd wasted his gifts when I met him at the end of the road. He gave me a voice to speak and feet to walk. Best I use them wisely."

Jukie doesn't think what he's done is all that spectacular. I disagreed. "Many of us think of doing something like you've done Jukie. Few of us seldom put our thoughts into action. You are an inspiration."

Yesterday, I walked up to a humble man sitting at a table on the second floor of the drop-in and asked a simple question. One of the staff had told me about him, suggested I might want to talk with him and write an article for our newsletter. "Will you tell me your story?" I asked him.

His response was a simple, "Yes. That's why I'm here. To share my story and to share my love of God."

My response was more measured. I was concerned. I didn't want to hear a sermon. I wanted to know about his journey. My fear was of my own making.

Jukie never preached. He sat and quietly told me about seeing a fox, a bear, a moose on his journey. About the semi-trailers roaring past, the cars honking their horns when they saw his Canadian flag and the plain sign he carried that explained his journey. "Jukie's cross-Canada walk to support women's shelters". His eyes lit up when he told me about seeing the splendour of this country surrounding him and about being committed to putting one foot in front of the other, one after the other, so that he could reach his goal, step by step.

I can learn a lot of Jukie. I plan on it.

The question is: Are you willing to stay focused on your goals, to take one step after the other until the line of footsteps you've taken lead you to where you want to go, and further away from where you were? Are you willing to commit to the simple task of doing it, one step at a time?

Monday, September 24, 2007

Spinning my own dreams

I have always admired Richard Buckminster Fullerton and his designs. He was a man with an amazing imagination, deep spiritual beliefs and an awesome intellect. Buckminster Fullerton believed in making the seemingly impossible, possible. He once said, "There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it's going to be a butterfly."

When my daughters were little I wrote them a story about an unhappy caterpillar who cried and cried all the time. A leaf fairy upon whom he'd cried a bucket. Awakened by his tears, the leaf fairy asked him what he'd rather be. "A rose," the caterpillar promptly replied and poof, she changed him into a beautiful red rose.

Alas, the rose was prickly and thorny. No one could get close to him. He wanted to be more accessible. He asked to be turned into an iris.

The iris, however was too blue. He was tired of being blue all the time and wanted something happier. Like being a bright, sunny faced daisy he pleaded with the leaf fairy.

The leaf fairy complied but even there the caterpillar was dissatisfied. The daisy had lots of arms to reach out and touch people with, but it was rooted to the ground. He wanted to be free to fly around like a butterfly.

He plead his case one more time and the leaf fairy promised to turn him into a butterfly with gossamer wings. The caterpillar closed his eyes and waited. The leaf fairy spoke the magic words, sprinkled leaf dust all over him and when he opened his eyes anticipating wings to fly free, the caterpillar wailed -- in dismay. He was a caterpillar once again.

"Inside you there is a beautiful pair of wings waiting to be free," the leaf fairy told him. "But first, you must learn to spin your own dreams."

Sometimes, I have not believed I could fly. Sometimes, I have clung to my disbelief in the possibility of change as I held steadfast to my resistance to dream. Sometimes, I have embraced the lie that I am not powerful enough to make my dreams come true, and sometimes, I have grounded myself so deeply in my fear of flying, I haven't even bothered to try to stretch my wings for fear of falling.

Ex nihilo nihil fit. -- okay, so I had to throw it in in Latin, just because I can!

Nothing comes of nothing.

Nothing ever could.

In the Sound of Music, when Maria and Captain vonTrapp sing this song to each other, they exchange confused examples of their wonder of what has happened to them to deserve such a blessing as the others love. We must have done something good, they sing, as if doing good begets good.

When my daughters were small I fought against using the oft heard phrase from my childhood -- what a good girl.


My dog is a good girl. For a child, the opposite of being a good girl is bad -- when I'm not good, am I bad?

Goodness does not beget good happenings. Sometimes, good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people. Not because they deserve it, but simply because the world is a mystical place filled with happenings that sometimes simply do not make sense. What happens to me is nothing compared to what I can make happen for me when I stay focused on my dreams by continuing to reach my goals. When I am committed to my Be. Do. Have. I can move my world in any direction.

Ultimately, my dreams don't come true because I was bad, or because there's a giant scoreboard in the sky keeping track of my proceedings, tallying up the rights from wrongs to determine the cost benefit analysis of my 'deservedness'. Remember, The universe doesn't care. There is no quid pro quo to the universe. I 'do good' because I choose to and I 'do bad' for the very same reasons -- regardless of whom I try to blame.

When dreams don't come true, it's because the dreamer chose to spin cotton, not silk.

When dreams don't come true, it's because the dreamer spun in a different direction, changed their course, or simply gave up spinning in any direction at all.

Today, I commit to spinning my dreams in the direction of my goals. Today, I chose to tie another knot as I affirm, My dreams are mine to spin in every colour of the rainbow.

Today, I commit to spreading my wings. I don't know their full extent until I reach beyond the fringes of my imagination, out into the universe where dreams come true because I'm willing to spin my own dreams.

The question is: Are you spinning your own dreams, committed to making them happen? Are you spinning silk purses from sows ears regardless of the knots knit into the tapestry of your life? Or, are you rationalizing your defeat and blaming the universe for not delivering on your good deeds with your dreams come true?

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Receiving gifts

Rainy days and Sundays.

The air is saturated with cool waters. Each drop of rain carries a premonition, a hint of winter snows to come. Water logged leaves droop from branches and carpet the grass with golden colour. Autumn mist hangs in the air and I am warm and toasty indoors.

Something has shifted in me. Something profound and deep. Labels escape me. Descriptors vanish with the falling rain.

I had friends for dinner last night. On Friday night, when C.C. asked what I was cooking, I told him I wasn't sure.

"I have something I'd like to make," he said.

Surprised, I asked him what and he went on to describe the meal he'd like to prepare for my friends.

And he did.

We spent the afternoon shopping, wandering from market to market searching for the perfect ingredients for the repast. Selecting wines, flowers.

I set the table, flowers, candles.

He busied himself in the kitchen.

Very different for me. I love to cook. Never had a man walk into my kitchen and tenderly prepare a meal for me to share with those I love. It was very special. Very soothing. And fun!

With the Osso Bucco simmering, the salad chilling and the appetizers ready to be popped into the oven, we had a few minutes before the guests arrived. C.C. and I sat in the living room. A few days before he'd brought me a book to read that he'd enjoyed. A suspense novel. Eager, clever detective pitted against a conniving assassin. Enjoyable fare. Perfect for late night, before I fall asleep reading.

C.C. picked up the book and asked, "Shall I read to you? You're at Chapter 7."

And that's when I felt the tilt. The sliding open of possibility, the easing in of trust.

No one has ever read to me before -- at least not that I can remember. No one has simply picked up a novel I've been enjoying and given me the gift of hearing their voice speak the words.

It was divine.

The last time I read the pages of a novel to someone was when my father lay on life support after his heart gave out and he moved into that space of drawing his next breath leading to his last. He was conscious enough to know I was there. Everyone else had gone to sleep on couches and chairs in the family room. I didn't want to leave his side. I wanted to be there, just in case, this breath was the last. I wanted to know something. I wanted him to tell me something I needed to hear. I couldn't leave his side.

A love of books was something my father and I shared. He was an awesome writer, a voracious reader and yet, a man of few words. As he lay on the hospital bed, the steady whirr of the machinery keeping him alive pulsing monotonously in the background, I picked up a novel on the nightstand and began to read. And read. And read. I had no idea of the words I was reading, I just knew I couldn't stop.

My father lay on the bed, his eyes closed, his hands resting by his sides, the tubes and wires streaming from his body the only link separating him from this world to the next. It was a moment filled with possibilities, filled with the hope that with forgiveness, all is possible.

It was the only time I was alone with my father before he died. The only chance I had to tell him I was sorry for not honouring the gift he'd given when he planted the seed of my life. It was the only chance I had to tell him I forgive him for not having honoured the gift of me as well. It was our final moments together.

C.C. read to me last night and in that moment I connected again to the possibilities of every moment to bring fresh breaths, new opportunities, awakening spirit. I loved being read to. Loved listening to C.C.'s voice, calm and assured lifting the words off the page and setting them free in the air around me.

And with the words he spoke, my resistance to receiving the gift of someone else's caring shifted.

Something profound has shifted within me. No words come as I settle into the knowing that anything is possible when I let go of fighting against the gifts that permeate the world around me.

The question is: Are you willing to accept the gifts the universe has to offer? Are you willing to open yourself up through trusting whatever comes to you is a gift. Good, bad, or indifferent, the value is not in the thing, the value is in how you receive it.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Tying the knot

Life is filled with lining up. Lines are an inevitable part of living. Red lights. Grocery stores. Banks and post offices. Line-up and wait.

Every time I wait at a red light, I'm in line waiting. Whenever I stand in a grocery story, waiting to pay, I'm in line.

How I wait is up to me. Am I impatient? Tapping my fingers on the steering wheel? Counting the groceries of the person in front of me, mentally willing the checkout person to scan faster?

Or, do I take the waiting opportunity to breathe some peace of mind into the moment. To calmly center myself in patience?

Some days I'm more adept at centering the car in front of me in the cross-hairs of my bazooka-like impatience than I care to admit!

Bottom line -- I wait in line because I have a goal. I'm getting somewhere. I am inching forward.

Dreams don't wait in line. Dreams are always there, eager to be realized. Often, however, I let my impatience with myself, my lack of drive, my inability to focus, or to 'do it', take over my thinking. I mire myself in negative thought and let go of the actions I know I must take to make my dreams comes true.

Life is a series of steps moving forward. Through intersections, check-out desks, up the corporate ladder, down the garden path. Life inevitably moves forward -- with or without my dreams coming to fruition.

When I tell myself I must wait for outer conditions to align themselves with the stars, or for my inner state to clear up after the storm, I need a reality check -- because if I'm waiting for something out there or in here to 'be ready', I am not moving forward. I am not creating the life of my dreams. I am standing still.

In the 1% solution, I must do one thing every day that moves me one step forward towards my dream. If I don't -- I'm doing nothing but moving further from where I want to be. My commitment today is to do that ONE thing. That one step that will state unequivocally, I am committed to making my dreams come true. I am in motion.

Moving forward requires me to make a choice -- to take action towards my goal, or not.

When I clutter my mind with self-defeating chatter, when I tell myself there's nothing I can do to change my life, my job, my situation, I am choosing to pull myself away from living the life of my dreams.

It's up to me.

It's up to you.

Here's an idea.

Ask yourself, what do I want more of in my life today? For me, the answer is focus. I want to be more focused on being in the moment, doing the things I need to do, want to do, to make my dreams come true.

Now, make an affirming statement about what it is you want more of. My affirmation for today is: I joyfully focus my energy on creating the life of my dreams.

Next, take a piece of ribbon, or string, (I like a brightly coloured slim piece of ribbon because the colour reminds me to be enthusiastic). State your affirmation. Tie a knot. Keep stating your affirmation and every time you do, tie a knot -- you should be able to get about 20 knots on your ribbon.

Put your string/ribbon in your purse or pocket and carry it around for the day. Remember to touch it, and when you do, state your affirmation.

You can use the same affirmation tomorrow, or create a new one for that day.

It's up to you.

This practice works really well to dislodge those negative thoughts that creep in. Get conscious. Every time you say something about yourself, like -- I can't do it. Why bother? What's the point? Nobody cares. I'm so stupid. -- touch your knotted ribbon and say your affirmation.

When you're sitting in traffic, standing in line, touch your ribbon and say your affirmation -- why not fill your mind with positive thoughts rather than constant grumblings of slowness of the world around you?

Try it for a week, or two, or three -- give yourself room to embrace a new habit of speaking positively about yourself while you rid yourself of negative chatter.

Opportunity isn't just going to show up on your doorstep one morning and say -- here I am. Pick me up.

Opportunity appears when you take action, every day, that move you closer to where you want to be.

Get acting. Get active. This is your one and only life. Get living it the way you want it to be!

The question is: Are you willing to do something different today to take you closer to your goals? Are you willing to rid yourself of negative chatter by prompting yourself with positive action?

Friday, September 21, 2007

Finding meaning

Gifts come in many disguises. Yesterday, I received a gift of wisdom from an unexpected quarter.

He hesitates before walking into the room. TV cameras are set up, their seeing eyes focused on the podium at which invited guests will soon dispense the wisdom found when asking the homeless clients at the shelter questions about their experiences with crime. He doesn't say much. Walks up to me slowly, his ambling gate, bowed legs a tribute to his tribe's once proud heritage as horseman riding freely across the prairies. Today, his people are scattered across the land or trapped on a reservation, searching for their past, their identity, their place to belong.

Oscar has found his place, for now, in a homeless shelter. But, he's searching for a way out. It's why he's come today to speak up, he tells me, when he shakes my hand and peers into my eyes.

"Remember me," he asks. "I told you one day that your Lisa Minelli smile makes me smile too."

I laughed and nodded my head. "I remember you, Oscar. I'm so glad you came today."

"I want to speak. Is that okay?" and he motions to the cameras and reporters gathered at the back of the room.

"Absolutely. When it's time, I'll call you to the podium and you can share your story."

As the press conference unfolds I see Oscar's face peeking out from the back row where he is seated. I can tell he's listening intently, focusing on every word that's being said. He nods his head in agreement, scrunches up his face, purses his lips in concentration when something bothers him, and then he sits still, not moving a muscle, when something touches him deeply.

Finally, it's his turn to speak.

He ambles slowly up to the podium, steps up behind the mic and looks out at the crowd.

"We've heard a lot about the crime you expect on the street," he says, his voice steady, slow, assured. "We've heard lots about the violence you can see. The assaults and robberies. But, what about the violence you can't see? What about the beating down of someone's spirit? What about the robbing of your dignity?"

You could hear a pin drop. The cameras stopped whirring. Reporters stopped scribbling. Oscar had their attention.

For the next fifteen minutes, Oscar told stories of a simple life, but not a simple man. A man who will lend a buddy twenty dollars and then is confused and hurt when the buddy denies ever being given a loan. He talked of being 'half-corked' in the bar and feeling good because he's got money in his pocket and sharing his wealth with those around him only to be denied entry to the same bar the next night when he returned without a cent. He talked about walking down the street and having strangers chastise him for being who he is, for being Native, or homeless, jobless, nameless.

He spoke about a man who in spite of the treatment he's been given still searches for meaning, for the best in those around him.

His was not a story of a proud heritage, but it was a story of a man who proudly shared his truth without fear of being anyone other than who he is.

When Oscar was finished he sat down to applause from everyone gathered in the room. As the reporters gathered up their cameras and microphones Oscar came up to me and asked me how he could help the shelter build a safer environment for its clients. "I want to be involved. I got a lot to say," he said. "A lot of wisdom I want to share. I hear things. See things. I know things. And nobody ever asks me what I know. They only tell me what they think."

How true.

Most often, when people are on the other side of the street, we don't stop and listen. Most often, we make immediate judgements about who they are, what they're doing, why they're doing it, and assume we know the answers that will fix them.

Oscar taught me yesterday that my answers are only as good as the questions I ask. My answers only have meaning when they are founded in listening to what others have to say.

The question is: Where do you get your answers? Are you willing to listen for meaning in what others have to say before sharing what you know?

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Don't ask. Act.

Last night, I sat as a panelist at a forum on Homelessness -- finding solutions. Homelessness is in the news a lot these days. It's a crisis in our cities and towns. It's a crisis in our lives.

My forte has never been to think fast, answer fast. Panels scare me.

Last night, I had to overcome my fear and participate. Challenging. Invigorating. Freeing.

Fear is like that. It mires us in self-doubt. In worry. In inaction.

Thomas Jefferson is credited with saying, "Don't ask. Act."

Last night, I heeded Jefferson's advice. I didn't ask myself, why am I doing this. I acted upon my decision to say 'yes' when asked to participate on that panel.

Now, I need to ask a couple of people there to tell me three things I could have done to be more effective -- and then act on their advice.

Sometimes, it's hard to walk into a situation with my 'beginner's mind' open to new ways of doing, learning and participating.

Fear motivates me to hunker down, turtleize. Courage encourages me to open up to curiosity and risk looking stupid to become wise.

Last night was my perfect opportunity to practice my beginner's mind. I know a great deal about the emotional costs of homelessness, both on a personal and professional level. I don't have a wealth of knowledge about the infrastructure costs to society -- time to increase my knowledge base by acting on what I know I don't know -- time to educate myself through actively seeking out information that will increase my knowledge base.

More importantly, however, last night gave me the chance to do something different -- and to make a difference through actively listening to what people had to say. They came to the forum to learn and share their experience. They came because they care. They came because they don't want to sit back and do nothing. They want to be heard. To participate. To act.

Somewhere in my head I have a tape that whispers, "Why bother. Nothing ever changes."

I didn't identify that tape clearly until last night. Underlying my participation was the sibilant hiss of that tape winding through the channels of my mind.

Pretty cool to see in action the power of letting go of a tape that has mired me in inaction for so long.

Pretty cool to wake-up to the realization that any tape that would have me sit back and do nothing -- is wrong. It's the lie.

Because even when I'm doing nothing -- I'm doing something. I'm doing that which will not get me more of what I want in my life.

This morning, I'm off and running early. I've got a press conference that I've organized for the release of a report I've co-authored on the perceptions and experiences of homeless individuals and crime. Two hundred and eighty-four clients of the shelter where I work answered a series of questions about their experiences. It's humbling.

Seventy-three percent of them have been victimized and of those who were, seventy-one percent have been victimized more than once.

Seventy-three percent of them answered they couldn't be bothered to tell the police when asked if they reported the crime. Why? Because they didn't think it would make a difference. ''

I have no idea what difference I'll make when I take action. I do know what I'll accomplish when I take no action -- nothing. Nada. Rien de tout.

And yet, in my inaction, I send a message loud and clear to the world around me -- in my inaction I'm saying, have your way. Do what you want. I am mired in ambivalence.

When we stay with abusers, when we stay in jobs we hate, in marriages that are killing us, when we tolerate the unacceptable, our inaction is the action of defeat. It speaks volumes.

"Don't ask. Act."

The question is: Where in your life are you using questions as the excuse to not take action. Where are you lying to yourself that your inaction is not a choice?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

It's okay to be different as long as I'm me

Alfred Lunt, who along with his wife Lynn Fontane was considered one of the greatest acting couple's of all time, once said, "There is nothing I need so much as nourishment for my self-esteem."

When I was a little girl, I hungered for praise. I desperately wanted to be a "good" little girl and not one of those pesky, mis-behaving little miscreants who kept getting into her parents' bad books because of her irrepressible ways, avid curiosity and her tendency to go it alone when seeking pathways into, or out of, trouble.

"What Katy Did" was my favourite book. For those who never read it, Katy was a young British girl who while playing with her siblings, climbed upon the garage roof, fell off and became wheel chair bound. Confined to wheeling her way through life, Katy never let her disability hold her down.

I understood Katy. I wanted what she had. The approval, appreciation and love of everyone around her, just the way she was.

Lucky for me, Katy was a great role model. No matter what happened, Katy's irrepressible nature got her in and out of adventures where trouble abounded and Katy always saved the day. No matter the circumstances, Katy never cried, woe is me. She always asked, what can I do to fix this?

That was me. Loved adventure. Attracted trouble. And never cried. The only difference was, my adventures often took me onto the wrong side of my parent's temper. I sought approval for my ingenuity in fixing a problem (even if I happened to have created it) and got some really good questions I could never answer. "Why are you so determined to be bad?" "Why can't you be like the others and just do what we say?" "Why can't you be different?"

Those questions plagued me. While incomprehensible to a five year old child, as puberty led to teen riddled angst, I would read anything I could get my hands on in my quest for understanding of what it was that made me so different from who my parents wanted me to be. I was constantly dissatisfied with who I was and struggled to be someone else -- better than me, other than me, different than me.

As I grew into adulthood, my parents' questions became the impetus for my quest to understand my discord -- Was I so different? Was I wrong to want to do things my way? Was being different bad? "What was wrong with me that I kept wanting to be different?"

I have been blessed with a lot of good fortune, and a lot of talents. I've had lots of opportunity to have my self-esteem fed. Unfortunately, my disbelief that people could be telling the truth, mixed with the cocktail of unanswered questions from childhood, left me in constant search of emotional sustenance. I was hungry for more -- and mostly I went searching for it in some man's arms.

And yet, through it all, I stayed true to my quest to understand me.

Today, I know the truth. I'm not different. I'm not other than. I'm not weird or unusual, a miscreant or a trouble-maker. I am me.

When I look back on one of my mother's favourite questions of me, "Why do you always have to make trouble?" I see the gift in her words. My creating trouble, while uncomfortable for those around me, was part of my journey into acceptance of me. I never gave up. Even when the pressure to conform was pushing me into acting out in yet another relationship gone bad, I held onto my irrepressible nature, and never gave up on seeking the answer to my question, "Who am I?".

Now, it could be said I took it a little far with the Conrad episode -- and I would agree. But, as the great Bard once wrote, "All's well that ends well." Can't change what I did. I can only commit to doing better today.

Long ago I searched for praise to feed my insatiable need for approval. Today, I step lightly through my day, knowing I'm okay, just the way I am. Like Katy, my childhood idol, it's not what happens to me that makes the difference in how I move through my day. It's what I do.

I can choose to be irrepressible, or I can repress my nature and feel the emptiness of knowing I'm being untrue to who I am.

Me, I choose to be Me, feeding my self-esteem at centre stage of living my one and only life in love with the best me I can be.

The question is: Where are you holding yourself back from claiming centre stage of your life? Where are you letting the questions keep you stuck in searching for the answer you already know -- you are awesome, exactly the way you are.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Hand-out. Hand-up. It's my choice.

It was another early morning. I had to be at a TV station by 6:45 am in order to be ready to be on air at 7. Yawn.

I love early mornings. In fact, they're my best time of day. But normally, I don't interact with people at that hour. Even the puppies don't get up until after seven. An hour and a half after I've been up and at 'em, quietly working alone on my computer.

It's a stretch.

But a good one.

This is Homeless Awareness Week in Calgary. Lots of activities. Lots of events focused on increasing awareness around the issues of homelessness and the actions individuals can take to make a difference.

Before going on air, Dave Kelly, the Breakfast Show host, and I chatted about some of the challenges of homelessness.

"I don't get the difference between a hand-out or a hand-up?" he said. "Are we just kidding ourselves with words?"

Yup. I agreed. We are.

Doesn't matter what position the hand is in, if I'm in the gutter, unless I reach up to take the proffered hand, I'll still be in the gutter.

Hand-out. Hand-up.

When I was broken, and broke, I needed hand-outs and hand-ups to get back on my feet. Judging the quality of the hand's position, kept me stuck in the shame of being destitute. Accepting the hand as an offering of love and kindness, gave me the grace to be free of shame, to look with love upon the hand being offered, and know -- it was making a difference in my life.

At the time, my sister and her husband played a huge role in my recovery. They offered me both, hand-outs and hand-ups, so that I could catch my breath, get on my feet and find my balance again. I shall always be grateful for their non-judgemental hands and for their loving care.

In accepting their help, without judging their motivation, I was able to breathe freely, and move into living again with grace, ease and dignity. Looking at their helping hands with judging eyes would have put me into resentment -- nobody likes to feel like a welfare case. It destroys spirit, self-esteem, self-belief.

To be free, I had to free myself from resenting the position I found myself in, and accept that at that moment in time, I was exactly where I was at. Broken. Broke and wounded. In accepting my reality, I embraced what was true -- I had choice. I could choose to take necessary steps to create positive change. I could choose resentment. I chose LIFE.

The question is: Where do you keep yourself stuck in labelling the help you're given? Where do helping hands become slapping resentments in your mind?

Monday, September 17, 2007

On being me in all kinds of weather

I crave alone time. The solitude. The pure joy of being one with myself and the world around me. Of sitting with my thoughts floating on the lightness of the silence carried on the rustle of the grass, the whisper of leaves floating to earth. I crave being immersed in the world around me without distraction.

Latte, open sunroof, blaring tunes, I drove south yesterday afternoon through the rolling foothills to the Leighton Foundation Art Gallery and Museum. An ocean of blue soared above me. The sun slipped westward like a golden egg sliding across a celestial plate, arching towards the opened jaw of the Rockies lined up along the western horizon, awaiting its just desserts at end of day. The world was awash in golden leaves glimmering in the sunlight and green grasses defying nature's pull towards autumnal tones.

Happiness flowed through me, a burbling brook of jostling waters eagerly greeting the day, capturing the light and sounds and textures of each moment passing by. Rolling hills stretched out, corrugated fields, a patchwork of golds and yellows and blackened earth marched across a landscape worthy of the palette of any Group of Seven aficionado.

It didn't matter that the Museum was closed when I got there. It didn't matter that the treasures within were locked away from view. I had an entire afternoon to revel in the beauty of the day, the landscape, the vistas stretched out before me, the outdoor gallery splashed with glorious autumn sunlight.

The museum sits high up on a rolling escarpment, westward facing, looking out across the valley, onto the scalloped edge of the foothills gracing the base of the Rockies beyond. Surrounded by acres of forest and open grasslands rolling down towards the valley bottom, the museum displays nature's art au naturel.

I wandered through a grove of poplar trees that formed a natural gallery for The Zimbabwe Sculpture Garden. Giant marble statues stood on display in forest groves and open spaces. Beautiful, smooth and textured pieces of art that evoked a sense of solidarity -- with the earth, with mankind, with nature.

As I wandered out of the glen, I picked up a trail across the slopes towards a herd of cattle grazing on the hillside. They were oblivious to my presence, their bovine contentment complete with grasses to munch, a lazy breeze to whisk away pesky flies and an uninterrupted view of the world around them. One large Swiss Brown momentarily stopped her continuous chomping, lifted her head up and gazed at me with her dark velvety eyes. We stood for a second staring at each other. I smiled. Said a quick, "Hello." She flicked her ears, switched her tail and returned to munching.

I laughed. Summarily dismissed by a Swiss Brown Cow. I continued my hike.

Eventually, I came to a wooden bench perched on a ridge. The view was spectacular. Rolling hills, glistening pools of water laced through the landscape like jewels studded randomly on a quilted blanket of greens and golds and burnished coppers splashed with vibrant reds and oranges. In the distance, the Rockies lumbered across the horizon swathed in a hazy afternoon glow.

I sat on the bench and pulled out my journal. I'd come away from the city for this time alone to gather my thoughts, to connect to the essence of my feelings, to embrace the completeness in my world.

It is my challenge in relationship. To comfortably expand my solitude to embrace someone else, someone particular, special. To breathe deeply and not breathe into my fear of losing my peace of mind. I need the time alone to balance myself, to stabilize my perspective, to embrace my emotions.

Fear is the opportunity to be courageous. In stepping into relationship waters, I rise above my fear.

In taking time to be alone, to hear my heart beating in time with nothing but the world around me, I calm my fears, stoke my courage and come back to earth to the truth within me. I am worthy. I am complete. I am love.

Sitting on a bench, the fecund world wide open before me like a mother's womb erupting with life, possibilities explode into being, beauty erupts beyond the confines of a relationship into the knowing that all is right with my world. Fear subsides, contentment settles and I know that I am okay when I move with grace, ease and dignity through each moment. Not pushing out, bearing down on 'the meaning', but letting it unfold in nature's own time.

What will be will be. My responsiblity is to be open and honest, caring and kind. To be all that I am meant to be in all kinds of weather, over hills and dales, across open waters and stormy seas. My responsiblity is to be me.

The question is: Where do you push down on nature's unfolding, hurrying the birthing of each moment with your desire to make it happen right now? Where are you forcing the moment to expand into meaning rather than finding the meaning in each moment?

Sunday, September 16, 2007

A good question

Mark asked an interesting question yesterday: Does writing about Conrad and those abusive times, virtually every day, help you move forward or does it keep your head in that period of the past? . . while I appreciate the catharsis takes time, do you do yourself a service or harm by dwelling on it daily?

It's a good question and one that's hard to perceive in myself -- if only because I'm so close to what I do, there's the risk I can talk myself out of or into any position. Do I feel like I'm stuck in the past? No. Am I further beyond where I was 4+ years ago -- absolutely. Today, I celebrate me. Beauty and the beast. Darkness and Light. Inner world and outer vistas. I know I am healthy. I make good choices. I take risks without risking my well-being through indiscriminate disregard of my intuition. I have strong boundaries. I do not accept the unacceptable as acceptable. I know me and love me, exactly the way I am.

Good questions deserve thoughtful consideration.

I wanted someone's perspective who is close to me. I asked CC the question last night. His thoughtful response was valuable. Speaking from his own experience, he suggested there is always a risk of that happening. That when we continually repeat the stories from the past, or dwell on them obsessively, then we will remain stuck. The challenge is to not use the past as the benchmark for what the future will be. The responsibility is ours to take care of ourselves in ways that set us free of using the past as an excuse for what happens today.

So true.

In being in relationship, I discover 'my stuff'. You know, those triggers and ideas that hold me back from experiencing life as one whole woman. I have lots of them, and it's in relationship that I get to blow through them, discard them, recognize them for what they are and deal with their impact on my life -- or not. The choice is mine.

Some days, it's hard work. Some days, I want to say, Forget it. I don't do relationship and shift back into my peace of mind in being alone. But, that would be giving into my fear, into 'the beast' who likes to rear his head when he sees me stretching beyond where I'm at into places he is afraid to be. Not because he fears the unknown, but rather because he fears losing control, lost in the silence of being within when I am out there, experiencing life on the other side of my comfort zone.

And so, I face my triggers, dance with my inner demons and step beyond their embrace -- sometimes awkwardly at first, but always with the intent of moving towards grace, ease and dignity.

I do not see the Conrad experience as the defining moment of my life. There are hundreds of those. Conrad was the catalyst that blew me out of the waters of my self-denial. He was the final active ingredient that set me free of self-abuse and recriminations. In coming through that experience, I claimed my right to be the alchemist of my interior design.

Alchemical energies can evoke powerful and often disruptive forces in the psyche. Often, because of their power to transform, they cannot be encountered instantaneously, but need a more measured, considered approach. In their initial contact, the energy can be infused with emotion, driven through with feelings that are unruly, uncomfortable, distressing. Only as I allow myself to sit with the emotions cascading within me, only when I journey deeper, longer, more quietly into their transmutative power are their energies able to unfold in a positive and constructive manner from within me to my outer world.

When I write in this space, it is a journey of trust, of faith that what I write has meaning out there. It comes from within me, and therefore has great significance within. But what is what I'm writing sending out into the world?

When I share my story, I am, in the language of AA, sharing my hope, strength and experience. I am trusting in the universe to receive my words in the love with which they are shared.

Do I keep myself stuck in the Conrad experience? It doesn't feel stuck to me. I believe in the alchemical power of my investigations of my inner world to transform my mind, to clear my vision, to heal my heart and open me wide-up to the awesome beauty of the world within and the world around me. I believe in the power of my story to touch hearts, open minds and set spirits free.

When I write of those experiences, I do not feel pain. I do not feel regret, sorrow or even sadness. I feel free.

My purpose in writing this blog is to share -- my story, my joy, my belief that we are all magnificent human beings on the journey of our lifetimes. Sometimes, we will falter. Sometimes we will fly. Always we change.

In writing of those times, I trust in the alchemical power of the story to affect the perceptions and beliefs of those who read my words. I have no desire to forget those times. I have no desire to remember them. They are simply a time in which I became aware of the awesome power of my spirit to fly free of the bonds that held me tethered to the lie: I am unworthy.

In having tapped into my alchemical power to transform the inner world that led me into despair, I have set myself free to claim my truth: I am worthy.

The question is: Where do you keep yourself stuck in judgement, in disbelief that you are anyone other than a magnificent human being? Where are you tied to your story from the past, closing yourself off to new beginnings and different endings?

Saturday, September 15, 2007

The courage to speak the truth

I am in awe of the human spirit. In Ishmael Beah's, A long way gone, memoirs of a boy soldier, he recounts the story of his life after rebels destroyed his village in Sierra Leone when he was twelve. In the beginning of the story, Ishmael wanders aimlessly through the country looking for answers, for peace, for something other than what he's got.

While lost for a month, alone in a jungle, he does everything he can to avoid thinking. Thoughts are frightening, he says, they only carry images of what he's lost and the horrors of what he's seen on his journey. One thought, however, that keeps him alive is filled with his father's words when he was small. "If you are alive, there is hope for a better day and something good to happen. If there is nothing good left in the destiny of a person, he or she will die."

Powerful words.

In the beginning, when I was with Conrad, I kept believing there was something good that could come out of that relationship. As time moved on and I was drawn deeper and deeper into that living hell, I came to believe there was nothing good left in me. Whatever goodness there was had been drowned out by the evil incantations of his lies. I wanted to die. I willed myself to die. I willed him to kill me.

And then something good happened. The police walked in and arrested him and set me free. I quit dying and started living again.

Four years four months after that relationship ended I look back upon the road from hell into the light of loving myself and my life every day, and I am in awe of the capacity for the human spirit to heal, to survive, to fly free.

Almost every day I receive emails from women, and sometimes men, who have had an encounter of the sociopathic/psychopathic kind. Caring, loving, giving women and men who cannot understand what happened to their lives. Why the one they loved turned from Prince Charming into the prince of darkness. They can't understand why it hurts so much to heal from abuse. Why it takes so long.

It takes as long as it takes. There is no endpoint in healing. There is only the journey.

My journey away from the darkness of Conrad's abuse has not been just about healing from what happened with him. It's about digging into my roots, pulling out the rot permeating the soils of my freedom so that I can step free of fear and anxiety, desperation and self-loathing.

I didn't truly love myself before I met Conrad. Now I do.

Before I met Conrad I was on this journey. I have always wanted to know, who am I. I have always wanted to love me.

What an amazing gift to come to this place where I love myself, warts and all, fearlessly, completely, always.

Yesterday, I had coffee with a friend whom I have known since my teens. He was travelling about Europe. I was working and going to school in Germany. He was enchanted by me. I was frightened of his enchantment.

The story of my life to now. Men have always held a love/hate fascination for me.

Because I never had clear boundaries, or even very good life skills in dealing with men and dating, friendships and relationships, I have often treated men unkindly. Buried somewhere deep within me was the belief that if they liked me more than I liked them, I couldn't tell them the truth. The truth would hurt them. In my fear and belief that truth would hurt them, I stayed silent. In my silence, I hurt them and me. I was being untrue.

In my life I have been blessed with countless opportunities to make amends. To be forgiven and be forgiving.

With my friend yesterday, I was given the gift of being able to apologize for my bad behaviour. In that apology is the gift of forgiveness.

It took courage for him to tell me about the times when he knew my silence was speaking volumes, but because I wasn't being honest, he kept hoping maybe things could be different. In my lack of honesty, I hurt him.

I am grateful for his courage. He wasn't blaming me. He accepted responsibility for his role in what happened. In his truth, he helped me see how my lies caused him more pain than the truth ever would have.

In my life, it has never been my intent to cause someone harm. Often, however, in my fear, in my desire to avoid speaking the truth, I have caused others harm through the lie of my silence.

The truth is very powerful.

Yesterday, my friend had the courage to speak of things that pained him.

Yesterday, I was given the gift of his truth, and in his gift, I was given the opportunity to treat him with the respect he deserves by giving him my truth in return.

It takes courage for a young man like Ismael Beah to write his story. It takes courage for a man who has been silent for years to speak his truth.

As long as we are alive, the opportunity for good to happen in our lives, is always there. The power is in our truth when we let go of the lies we tell through silence.

Thank you J. I am honoured with your friendship.

The question is: Does fear keep you stuck in silence, or do you let fear open you up with courage to speak your truth? Is silence keeping you stuck in fear the past will never die, or do you speak your truth without fear so that the past will lie quietly in yesterday so that you can step fearlessly into today?

Friday, September 14, 2007


Yesterday, I drove an hour and a half east of the city to the retreat centre at Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park to give a presentation on homelessness at an offsite retreat for a group from Calgary. As I drove into the sunrise, the rolling prairies sprawled before me, golden grasses waving in the sun. My sunroof was open, I sipped a latte and listened to tunes on my stereo. A perfect morning!

I was early when I arrived at the Crossing -- which is stunning btw. As I stood waiting, taking in the awesome view beyond the glass enclosure of the main lobby, a tall native man walked towards me.

"Is this your first time at the Crossing?", he asked.

"Yes," I replied. "It's stunning."

His pride in the Park and his Siksika heritage were palpable. His slow, measured voice unwound stories from the past with a lazy drawl that took me along the river valley beyond the windows into a time when buffalo roamed these lands and his people were one with their spirits. He told me stories of his childhood, his grandmother's laughter and his mother's bead designs. He spoke of past generations with pride, and talked about his concern for the future. "They are all our generations," he said when referring to the importance of culture and tradition within the Siksika nation and the loss of language amongst the young.

I told him about my background. About my mother's French roots and my sadness about losing my languages through time and disuse.

"We are all connected," he smiled, nodding his head slowly.

We are all connected.

As I drove east, away from the city, I was thinking about roots. My roots as a Canadian. My heritage. I am a first generation Canadian. I spent my formative years on foreign soils, returning to this land that I had left as a child when I was in my twenties. I've journeyed from east to west, and sometimes, I wonder where I fit in.

For Floyd, the native man with whom I chatted, his roots are grounded in the prairie grasses and centuries of his forefather's travels following the buffalo. He is rooted in the history that created this land and yet, he too feels the angst of trying to understand where he belongs, where his children's children will find their place in time to make a difference to his people.

There was a time when the buffalo roamed and life was paced out with the turning of the seasons, the rumblings of thunder in the sky and the casting of the stars upon the celestial ceiling every night. There was a time when we, the ruling society, believed it was wisest to destroy the culture and traditions of another society in our quest to make one size fit all.

For the Siksika, the destruction of their past left an entire nation rootless, without direction, without a sense of belonging. And yet, they persevere. They continue to dig into their roots, to create a place where they belong, not because someone else says they do, but rather, because this is their land. Their heritage. Their past, present and future.

We are all connected.

I wondered as I drove back to the city later that afternoon, if we have learned anything from history. Where once it was illegal for Indians to leave the reserve without permission. Where once their language and customs were forbidden, the laws have changed.

And yet, we continue to limit the movement and activities of those who do not fit our worldview. Here in Calgary, it is illegal to sit on a park bench and put your feet up. This law is only enacted against those who are visibly homeless. We have new by-laws that inhibit activities those who are homeless employ to survive on the streets, and we call it fair, just, right. When do we learn from the past?

Floyd said it for all of us. "We are a proud people. For a long time we lost our way, now we are finding our way home. My wish is that our children will connect to our stories so they too do not become lost looking for themselves in places where they do not belong."

The question is: Do you see the beauty of the world around you and know that this is exactly where you belong? Do you connect with the past to lead you home, or do you use the past to keep you looking in places you don't belong?

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Accepting the truth -- Part 2

Had a call from Darren (not his real name) yesterday. If you read my blog on Tuesday you'll know Darren has been lying about what's really going on in his life. Now, on the scale of grand things happening in my life, Darren's lies are inconsequential. But, on the scale of past experience shedding light on today's occurences, and being a measure of how far I've come from the darkness of the past, this is big.

One of the ploys often used by conmen, when caught in a lie, is to suggest the lie was necessary to.... well, they'll often hint at some dark, mysterious reason why the lie was necessary to protect the innocent, to help a lost soul, to protect their big toe from getting stubbed. Now, all of this will be alluded to, never completely explained because, well really, you don't believe me anyway, you're already judging me, why should I even bother to tell you the truth?

The truth is, whatever subterfuge they're using, it's to protect the lie and to keep you from seeing the truth.

Listening to Darren yesterday, I felt myself pulled back into that time when lies were woven into the daily fabric of my existence weaving a web of terror, and I was lost in the quagmire of trying to figure out fact from fiction. It was a painful time. A time of horror. A time of sadness.

The horror and terror weren't there yesterday, just the sadness.

I wanted to believe him. I wanted to believe his lies. I wanted to give him another chance. But I know I can't.

Second chances were the lifeblood to Conrad's lying. Like the EverReady bunny, Conrad would keep lying and lying and lying as long as I kept believing and believing and believing. I was the battery feeding his insatiable need to keep going. Today, I know someone else is his battery. It is the nature of the beast. That is sad, but I know I cannot stop his lying. All I can do is stop his lies in my life. In that process my susceptibility to be drawn into the lie, as I found out yesterday, has shifted.

See, this isn't about Darren's lying. It's about what I do with the truth.

A reader wrote to tell me that when I wrote about what had happened as a consequence of Darren's lies, I made myself sound superior to him. Wow. Now that I didn't see. Nor do I believe. I am not better than, other than, greater than anyone -- I am enough, exactly the way I am.

In context to Darren's lies, I am wise. Not a judgement. A statement of fact.

Through the experience with Conrad, I have developed the capacity to accept someone will lie -- it's up to me to be accountable for my truth.

It was hard talking to Darren yesterday. The words he used, the tricks he employed, were so familiar to me. I'd heard them all before from a man I once loved. Part of me wanted to scream at Darren, to STOP IT! Stop lying. Deceiving. Stop trying to con me. The other part wanted to hang up and not have to deal with the truth.

And that's where courage, strength and knowledge came to bear. I had to tell Darren the truth. I had to be accountable for my actions in cancelling his speaking engagements. What he does with that truth is up to him. I can't devote a lot of time to figuring out what Darren will or will not do. I don't need to try to figure out what was a lie, and what is truth -- it doesn't matter. I do not accept the unacceptable. Lying is unacceptable. What I need to do is let it go.

Which is why I write it out here. Letting it go requires thought. To let something go, I need to know what that something is. In this case, it's my need to believe someone isn't lying when I know they are. It's my need to want to 'make it all right.' To fix this problem so that Darren can continue on giving talks, changing his life and other lives in the process. It's my need to want everything to continue on as it was and to avoid the hard truth -- I am not responsible for Darren's lies. I am responsible for me.

In me, two voices battle it out, fighting to gain supremacy over my peace of mind. Those voices carry two tapes that took seed in my psyche long ago. "It's all your fault." and "You're stupid to have believed."

I know what's happened with Darren is not my fault. Could I have seen the lies sooner? Possibly. I knew the possibility existed. I work in a homeless shelter -- it's an ideal place for conmen and sociopath's to ply their trade. Most people lie about every day occurrences to protect themselves from feeling the pain of what has happened to their lives. In Darren's case, I believe the lies comes from a deeper place. He says it himself in his presentations, "I'm a conman. I could talk anyone out of anything or into anything." Yup, like most conmen, he told me what he was doing, I didn't want to listen to that part, I wanted to hear about what he was doing to change his life.

Life is filled with little absurdities. I realize how much I knew even before the events of this week. Which helps me let go of my tapes. I had no control over what Darren was doing -- all I can control is how I responded and act today. I don't consider myself stupid. I am human, flawlessly imperfect in my capacity to accept what is until such time it isn't.

Darren lied and I had the opportunity to meet myself in the mirror and say, "You're okay Louise. Conrad is gone. That was then. This is now. You don't have to accept his lies as truth. You don't have to fall beneath the weight of your disbelief, and you definitely don't have to save him."

Sadness lifts and peace of mind flows into the space left behind with the gentle pulse of waves wasing against the sand. In working with Darren to help him find a new path out of his past, I stayed true to my beliefs, values and morals. In recognizing where I needed to change, I turned up, paid attention, spoke my truth, and stayed unattached to the outcome. My best is good enough.

The question is: Where do you avoid facing the truth in your desire to hang onto someone or something that is hurting you? Where do you refuse to turn up for yourself and be held accountable?

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Weighty choices

I was teaching at Project Forward last night. Every week, students are asked to write down a new goal for that week in the coil notebook they're given. During the week, they're asked to write down their thoughts and feelings, their actions towards and away from, attaining their goals. The following week, when we meet, we discuss what's happened in each of their lives and they measure their progress towards their goals and talk about adjustments they can make to further their forward motion.

Mark Joyner, in Simpleology, writes that you need to aim for your target and 'hit it until you hit it'.

I'm still struggling to lose 30 lbs. I've lost 5 -- but have been stuck on doing nothing about hitting my target.

At Project Forward last night, I decided to join the group in keeping a journal about what I'm doing to reach this specific goal.

I've dubbed it my, "Lighten Up!" journal. Every day I will keep a record of what I eat and drink. I will write about my thoughts around food and I will look for an inspirational quote about life and living, eating healthy and being fit and write it in my journal too.

I also commit to regular check-ins here to report on my progress, my thinking and the actions I've taken that move me towards or away from my goal.

For me, inspirational quotes are great thought provokers and powerful tools to set my day off with a bang! Today's quote by economist John Kenneth Galbraith shook me up: More die in the United States of too much food than too little.

Ouch! Could that be true? Too much food is killing me?

Never thought of it from that perspective before. But, when I put it into that context, the possibility of death by over-eating becomes frightening, and a real possibility. Being overweight taxes every cell of my body. It over-burdens my heart, definitely stresses my aging joints and muscles and adds undo angst to my thinking about myself -- it's hard to feel beautiful inside and out when the little voice inside my head whispers, 'Nobody loves a fat girl.'

Okay, so this is telling on myself. I have body-image anxiety. You know, those thoughts that slither insidiously into your mind, their sibilant whisper a constant hiss like static on the radio. Irritating. Annoying. Grating.

The question then becomes, why would I want to journey through my day listening to static when I could tune into thoughts that love and support me just by eating what's good for me?

Good question.

See, I've tried blocking those voices -- unfortunately, my blocking mechanisms tend to revolve around the very thing causing my angst -- food. I need to look at the issue through a different pair of glasses. If too much food kills people, this becomes a very important question for me: Do I want to live. Or die?

It's not about losing weight. It's about life.

And, about filling my body with food that doesn't stress-out my stressors. Beating myself up about my body image is definitely a stressor for me! Negative back-talk to myself kills my spirit. When I kill my spirit, I destroy my will to keep working towards my goals and slide back into self-defeating behaviours that got me mired in the over-weight jungle in the first place!

Okay. So, this makes sense. I'm not losing weight. I'm celebrating my life. I'm doing what is loving and caring for me so that I take action that says, "Yes! 'I choose life".

I'm celebrating my life. I'm not on a diet. I'm loving myself through feeding myself food for thought, and healthy foods that sustain me without draining me of energy or burdening me with guilt.

Cool -- it's the guilt that's weighing me down. Every time I eat something that is unhealthy for me, the sibilant voice whispers -- see, told you so. You're a loser. Now, I'll quiet the little voice with big choices that celebrate my courage and strength to take care of myself with tender loving care. The sibilant whispers will flow into the river of love coursing through me and be drowned beneath the melody of positive actions I'm taking to do what is loving, caring, healthy for me.

Very cool! or as a girlfriend's son would say, "Wicked awesome!"

The question is: Where are you avoiding reaching for the stars by trapping yourself in actions that take you away from your goals? Where are you choosing failure over success?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Forgiving the lie. Accepting the truth

Mother Theresa said, "We can not all do great things, but we can do small things with great love."

For Darren, telling his story was no small thing. It takes courage to reveal your darkness. Strength to open yourself up and show your pain. In Darren's story-telling he was opening people's eyes to the absolute horror and hopelessness of addiction. He was taking a risk and revealing the darkness of his past so that he could build a lighter future. He was giving people a look into a world they didn't believe could actually be true in the belief that if he could show them how someone fell into the darkness of addiction he might be able to touch their hearts and open their minds to the truth -- we are all connected.

Truth is, we are all connected through love. Not lies. Truth is, Darren forgot that to love, we must be true.

Darren is a client at the homeless shelter where I work. (I wrote about him in July. Two Different Worlds. One Spirit.) Over the past several months, he has been speaking to visitors about his past. Sharing his story because he said he wanted to make a difference. "I've always been a taker," he told me one day. "It's time I started giving back."

Darren is a powerful speaker. His low gravelly voice holds the notes just right, draws people into his tale, where they wait with bated breath for each word to unravel the secrets of Darren's world as a drug addicted dealer who began his journey into darkness at the age of 9. Darren does what he sets out to do. Moves you to tears. Touches your heart and opens your mind to the possibility of redemption.

I don't know how much of Darren's story is truth or fiction. I do know he has lied about something very important. Something that tilts the prism of his story, just so, to reveal the flaw within. In that new perspective, he has put in question everything he has said about his past and his motivation for doing what he does. In knowing the truth about that one lie, I know the truth about Darren.

I knew a man once who lied about everything. Even the little things. It was the little things that tripped him up. Like Darren, he told a good story. Could cry at will. Could pull heartstrings and purse strings in his quest to draw his audience into the web of his deceit.

I am sad. I wanted better for Darren. I wanted more. I wanted this part of his life to be true. To turn around. To change. To move beyond the confines of living at a homeless shelter into that special place where he was living on purpose, making a difference in his own life and the lives of those around him.

I wanted Darren's journey to be a love story of one man's dreams of being all he's meant to be coming true.

Truth is, what I wanted had nothing, and everything, to do with what Darren shared. He's smart. Not just street smart, life smart. Like the con artist from the past, he is very adept at reading people. His facile nature makes it easy for him to tap into the sweet spots in their hearts and weave a tale that will pluck the chords of empathy, and blind them to the truth of what he's doing -- Spinning a mighty tale, a powerful story, an empty lie.

I am sad. But I'm okay. Darren made his choices. Told the lies he told because that's what he does.

Me. I believed long enough to accept the truth. I have no regrets. Sure there's a fissure of anger that this guy took me and my co-workers for a ride. That he 'pulled one over'. But, I work in a homeless shelter. People tell stories on themselves every day to ease the pain and fear of what is really happening in their lives.

Darren's lies are different. I know this. I have past experience to measure this experience against. While Darren is not the man from the past, his lies have a certain lilt, a cadence that is very familiar. It is not behaviour I can accept. In my acceptance of the truth, I have to clean up the mess and rearrange Darren's speaking engagements. No matter how little or how much of Darren's story is true, he was caught in a series of lies. I know he is capable of lying about more than just this. In that truth I know the loving thing to do for those who trust me is to give them the truth, not someone else's lies.

Once upon a time I loved a man who lied. He taught me people lie, not because of me, but rather because they need to. It's their choice. Their drive. Their need.

I cannot change someone else's lies. I can only stay true to me.

It is a small thing to let go of the lies. They are not mine. To do that small thing with great love, I must forgive Darren. It isn't about me, or any of the people to whom he told his story. He lies because that is what he does. I know the truth he is unwilling to embrace. My responsibility is to be accountable for the truth.

The question is: Where have you been lied to and clung to the belief the lie was all your fault? Where have you refused to do a small thing with great love because you held onto anger in your belief you were worth the lie?

Monday, September 10, 2007

For Marie

When my daughters were small I worried about what kind of mother would I be. I didn't have a strong role model. My mother and I have a very tenuous relationship, fraught with angry words and bitterness, tears and sadness. I wanted a better relationship with my daughters and decided when the girls were about 2 and 3 that I'd better do whatever it takes to heal my relationship with my mother if I was going to build a better pathway to the future.

One weekend, while in Vancouver on business, I went over to the island where my parents lived so that I could ask my mother to tell me her life story. I believed that if I could learn more about my mother, I would be able to understand better, and thus, to create bridges of communication between us.

Hearing my mother's story, I understood her sadness. It wasn't about me. I didn't cause it. Some of it was inherent in her nature. The rest was situational and beyond the scope of her coping mechanisms. She never got the help she needed to fall in love with her beauty, and instead, fell into the despair of believing she could never be enough to be loved for who she is.

In understanding my mother's sadness, I learned to accept her the way she is -- and to let go of my yearning for the mother of my dreams. Unfortunately, I too didn't have the tools to repair what was broken between my mother and me, and while I love my mother, I continued to keep my walls up to protect myself from harm.

Yesterday, at Givers 2, the final weekend of the Choices experience, I met the mother of my dreams in the arms of another woman. I don't know this woman's story. She was in another group, in fact, Alexis, my eldest daughter was her coach. Alexis is a woman of her word and thus, she did not 'tell-on' the stories of her group. My interactions with Marie, the mother who embraced me, were limited to conversations in and around the training room. Brief though they were, her warm and loving spirit, her gentle heart, so like my mother's, touched me every time I was in her presence.

And that is the absolute beauty of the Choices journey. People connect on cellular levels far beneath the surface skin. In that rarefied environment, the protective shield that has encrusted itself around our hearts through years of struggling through life, softens. It becomes pliable, porous, cracked. We cry and our tears seep into the cracks, watering the dream we've always carried of being loved for who we are. With every tear, our beauty blossoms and we become open to love and loving.

When I am in the Choices room, I know my heart is safe. I carry no fear of exposing myself to ridicule because, well, to borrow the words from a popular song by John Paul Young, Love is in the air, everywhere I look around.

And yesterday, a mother's love came home to rest easily upon my heart.

Marie had no idea of the gift she was giving me. She did not know her warm and tender embrace would break down my fear that my mother would never see me for who I am today. As I stood with Marie's arms holding me, her hands rubbing my back, I cried. Hers were warm and loving hands. A mother's hands. The hands I've always yearned for.

It wasn't until much later that the truth hit me. Marie gave me the gift of feeling supported, loved, cared for by my mother. It isn't something my mother ever did. Her tears and sadness permeated most of our lives together. She didn't willfully withhold her love -- she just never had the tools, or knowledge to step free of her sadness into joy.

In Marie's embrace, I was held by the mother of my dreams. She gave the gift of love mother's throughout time have given -- not just to their own children but to children everywhere.

My mother's hands are crippled, distorted by arthritis. She may never be able to rub my back, but I can still rub hers. As I become the mother of my dreams, as I celebrate my daughters lives, I look back and reach out for the woman who nurtured the seed of love that became the miracle of me. My mother. In that reaching out I connect the circle of love that has long been broken because, in my yearning for the mother of my dreams, I continually criticized her for not being who I wanted her to be and protected myself from loving her for who she is.

It's never too late to change. I have held back from being present in my mother's life for fear she will hurt me. My fear has limited my growth, inhibited my joy of celebrating each moment where I turn up as who I am today, and let go of my fear that who I am is never enough. Truth is, I do enough. Give enough. I am enough.

My heart is loving. It is something my mother taught me and continues to teach me today through her awesome ability to love those around her. She's still sad. Still uses medications to ease her pain. Her pain is great.

Fear is the opportunity to be courageous. I can't change the past with my mother, but I can give her the gift Marie so lovingly shared with me yesterday. A tender embrace that eases her pain and opens her heart to being loved, exactly the way she is without fear that she will never be enough. I can give her my mother's love.

The question is: Where do you withhold being your loving self for fear you are never enough? Are you willing to love yourself enough to let go of fear?

Sunday, September 9, 2007

We teach people how to treat us

When I created my Vision Map a few weeks ago I included one small picture of a man and a woman walking on the beach. Under it, I pasted the words, Invite Intimacy.

It was the first time since being released from that relationship from hell four years ago that I consciously opened myself up to the possibility of relationship.

And the universe delivered. Now it's up to me to turn up, pay attention, speak my truth and stay unattached to the outcome -- easier said than done!

This is a busy weekend. Choices begins early, ends late, but yesterday afternoon I had a couple of hours so CC and I met up for a glass of wine -- his was wine, mine was cranberry juice as one of the commitments at Choices is to not consume any alcohol throughout the session.

One thing about being in relationship -- it really drives home the concept that we teach people how to treat us.

Earlier in the week, he had committed to calling me when he came back into town after being away for a business meeting. He got back late and didn't call until the next day.

Not a big deal -- except, for me, there's a hairpin trigger connected to a man in my life saying he'll call and not doing it.

Conrad -- the con artist from the past, used to say he'd call and then disappear for days on end. Because there was also an under-current of 'bad men pursuing him' and 'evil men out to hurt my daughters because of him' I lived with a continuous cycle of worry escalating to fear leaping into terror throughout the four years nine months of that relationship. I remember the fear vibrating through every cell of my body as I'd look at my cellphone and will it to ring. I'd promise myself not to call (he'd get angry if I called) and then breaking down having to call, having to know where he was because I was terrified he was dead or that something had gone catastrophically wrong and the evil men were within moments of abducting my daughters, drugging them and forcing them into the sex trade (it was something Conrad had told me they had threatened to do). I lived with that fear every moment of every day, and when Conrad would disappear it would rage throughout my body. It was a terrifying, debilitating and destroying time.

When CC didn't call last week, I knew my angst had nothing to do with him -- and everything to do with my triggers. CC couldn't have known what a missing call would do. In telling him about my anxiety, I also had an opportunity to open myself up and be vulnerable. I told him that my fear doesn't come from not hearing from him. It arises from my fear the past will repeat itself.

It is my responsibility what I do with a missing phone call -- his responsibility is to determine what he'll do with the information.

To calm my fears I had to remind myself that was then, this is now. And to breathe, breathe, breathe, so that I could stay focused on what is true for me today in this relationship. On who he is. On what I know to be true so that I didn't spiral into full-blown panic attack over a man not calling me when he said he would.

I also, however, had to lovingly give CC the opportunity to understand a boundary for me -- it is not acceptable to make a commitment and not follow through. I struggle with this one myself every day. "I'll give you a call," and then I forget, get busy, get involved, get consumed by whatever project I'm involved with. Not acceptable. I teach myself every day how to stay true to my commitments. Some days I pass with flying colours. Others, I need to brush up on my skills.

What was most interesting in the conversation with CC yesterday was -- he got it. As I told him about my angst and how I dealt with it, he acknowledged he could have called to tell me he would be back later than anticipated, and had forgotten. He apologized for not having called. He explained what had happened, and admitted that he struggles with the same thing I do -- a tendency to get consumed by whatever he's doing and losing track of time. In knowing my fears, however, he committed to working hard at ensuring he kept his commitments -- When I say I'll call, I will call.

In the process of talking about this situation, we had a chance to learn more about each other, and to build on trust. For me, being heard is huge. Really big. Trusting that I'm okay, and safe enough to tell a man how I feel about his actions and their affect on me, without fearing his anger, -- that's huge too! To know I have the right to state what I need to feel safe is a big step for me. I've come a long way baby!

We teach people how to treat us.

Yesterday, with CC, I was able to turn up, pay attention, speak my truth and stay unattached to the outcome. In being honest and vulnerable about my feelings and thoughts around what that missing phone call meant to me, I gave CC an opportunity to learn more about me -- and to be accountable for his actions too.

A win/win for both of us.

The question is: Where in your life do you teach people to treat you in ways that cause you pain? Where do you step back from your boundaries to give their bad behaviour room to take root in your life and grow into being treated in ways that are unacceptable?

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Miracles come in every day packages

Cellist, Pablo Casals, once said, “The child must know that he is a miracle, that since the beginning of the world there hasn't been, and until the end of the world there will not be, another child like him.”

At Choices, I am reminded of what miracles we all are every time I step into the training room. This group met up in June. We're in the last weekend, the homeward stretch of the process, and the miracles that are visible on people's faces and in their lives are incredible.

I love being surrounded by miracles. Especially when they come alive on the faces of the people around me. Every person in that room has had something happen within them and within their worlds that, had they not given themselves the gift of the Choices experience, would never have transpired. From families re-connected, to marriages saved. To a child who will go to sleep each night to the sound of his parents laughter rather than voices yelling. To a father who has forgiven the man who abused him thirty years ago and has learned to love himself today .

Miracles are sprinkled about the room like snowflakes falling from the heavens. Each one unique. Each one a perfect reflection of the individuality of the person holding out their hand to capture them.

Some are very simple. Like a mother committing to tell her children, every night, that she loves them. Or the father who after twenty years of distance between him and his daughter is given the gift of being asked to walk her down the aisle.

Life is full of miracles. Everyday. In everyone.

And most of them happen when we quit frantically running from who we believe we are and step into the beauty and the joy of being the miracles we were born to be. When we quit drowning out the truth of our magnificence and listen instead to the steady beat of our heart calling us home to the one we love.

"Deep listening," writes author and psychotherapist, Sue Patton Thoele, "is miraculous for both listener and speaker. When someone receives us with open-hearted, non-judging, intensely interested listening, our spirits expand.”

At Choices, I have learned to listen from my heart and expand into living with spirit. To let go of my need to condemn, criticize and complain so that I can celebrate, collaborate and create opportunities for miracles to happen every day.

At Choices, I have found the me behind the mask, the woman who has craved for recognition and acceptance most of her life, but who was too afraid to stand up for herself and be seen as the miracle of love she is.

I see the same truth dawning on every face in the Choices room. People waking up to the beauty and joy of being who they are meant to be when they let go of their fear that they will never be enough to satisfy the yearning in their heart for more.

Love is limitless. There's no need for more. I am enough.

In accepting I am enough, I reject the notion that to be accepted I must be perfect, or someone else other than who I am. In accepting the miracle of me, I reflect the miracles all around me.

The question is: Where do you deny the miracle of your life? To live the life of your dreams, are you prepared to let go of finding fault with the miracle of you? Are you willing to love yourself, warts and all, and celebrate your magnificence?