Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Big Apple

The Big Apple.

Traffic. Horns blaring. Lights and action. Streets that never quiet. A million hearts beating as one.

We arrived in as dusk was falling after an uneventful flight -- always the best kind. 

It's hot and muggy here. Poured last night but promises of sun keep my spirits up. It's different travelling with such a large crew. Five of us. Fun. And different. Liseanne and I are so accustomed to being part of a 'team', it's cool to watch her connect with C.C.'s son and daughter -- the girls have their shopping trip planned today before we go off to see Wicked on Broadway this afternoon. After that, we're meeting up with friends  and going for dinner and a night of music somewhere in Manhattan.

After an incredible dinner at our friends last night, C.C.'s daughter hauled out her guitar and began to play. She is not as accomplished as her brother, but what an amazing voice! Her brother also joined in and we were regaled with music and laughter late into the night.

This is the city that never sleeps. There's always something going on. Something happening. As we drove in from the airport Liseanne looked around and commented, "It's so dirty."

Coming from the wide open spaces of the prairies, and a city that has just passed the one million mark, she's right -- by comparison this is a dirty city. It never ceases to amaze me however that this city 'works'. We're staying in Brooklyn, a borough of 4 million people. Every day 9 million people make their way into Manhattan from boroughs and far flung areas for work and school and play. 9 million. Imagine a transit system capable of handling that! Imagine doing it twice a day. Imagine what it takes to get the street lights synced. The subway in motion. The garbage moved. The traffic unsnarled. It truly is amazing!

Yup. It's a big city with big city issues -- but it is still beyond the imagination that it can work.

Yet it does.

That's the wonder of life.

Somethings just don't seem possible. And they are.

Somethings seem impossible, and yet, human ingenuity sparks the creative spirit, rises to the occasion and makes it possible, makes it happen.

What incredible beings we humans are!

And we work.


Off to have an adventure. My favourite bakery is around the corner. Their croissant rival Paris! Want to surprise the crew with a gourmet breakfast treat.


Friday, August 29, 2008

Ain't got no time to worry.

We're off to New York this morning. One of C.C.'s nieces is getting married this weekend and we are flying east to enjoy the festivities. His two kids and my youngest daughter, Liseanne, are accompanying us for the five day vacation.

Gotta admit, I'm nervous. I haven't spent a lot of time with his children. At 17 and 20, they are busy living their lives. What time I have spent with them, however, has been enjoyable -- they're fun, interesting, creative and caring human beings. A reflection of the love and attention their mother and father have devoted to them. Need to focus on what I know -- his kids are awesome young people -- and breathe into my insecurities.

I'm also going to be meeting C.C.'s extended family. They're quite a large group -- he's fourth in a line of 13 kids! All but two of the siblings will be at the wedding. Ask me if I'm nervous?

Yesterday, Liseanne and I were driving to pick up my mother to take her for lunch and she asked me, "Are you nervous."

"If I think about it I am," I replied. "So, I don't think about it. That way it will be what it will be without me fussing about it before it happens."
Worry is a thin stream of fear trickling through the mind. If encouraged, it cuts a channel into which all other thoughts are drained. Arthur Somers Roche
What me worry?

Gotta admit, given the chance, worry would channel its way into my mind and drain me of all enjoyment in the occasion -- if I let it.

That's the thing about worry. I can choose to let it override my spirit, or I can choose to acknowledge it and set it free. Like white fluffy clouds drifting across a blue summer's day, I let worry drift out of my mind as I state my truth with conviction, "I am a fearless woman."

What would a fearless woman do when faced with worry? She'd give it the boot and settle down into doing something about what's in front of her, right now, in this moment.

In this moment, I have a blog to write, packing to finish. I've got a plan for my inflight entertainment -- I have a number of cards to write to Choices friends and will spend the four+ hour journey immersing myself in completing a task I enjoy.

Filling my time, and my mind, with things I love, doesn't give me time to worry.

Does it?

Hope not! 'Cause this girls on her way to the Big Apple. Worry can't find me there!

Have an awesome long weekend. I'll try to post from New York -- no guarantees -- 'cause I'm gonna be living it up, tripping the light fantastic!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Loss Aversion

"In prospect theory, loss aversion refers to the tendency for people to strongly prefer avoiding losses than acquiring gains. Some studies suggest that losses are as much as twice as psychologically powerful as gains. Loss aversion was first convincingly demonstrated by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman." Loss aversion - Wikipedia

One of the questions that still sometimes haunts me is, "Why did I stay?"

Why did I stay with Conrad when I knew he was lying? Why did I stay when I knew he was hurting me, hurting my daughters, hurting those I love? Why did I keep choosing to believe him, to ignore the truth, to subvert my ego and subjugate myself to his manipulations?

In the initial months of my release from his web, I didn't look at that question. I knew that asking why -- Why did he do it? Why did I stay? -- would only keep the crazy-making alive. In those first few weeks and months, I wasn't psychologically healthy enough to withstand the pull into despair that those questions opened the door to.

As time has lapsed, as distance has added depth to my healing and put those events into perspective of my time without him, I have gained strength. Today, I can look at those questions and consider them from the perspective of information I need to know to be safe and secure in my world today. George Santayana, in The Life of Reason, states, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

During these intervening years I have come to understand much about what left me at risk of Conrad's manipulations. I've come to love myself -- as I was, and as I am. I look back on that woman who lost herself in his unholy charms and love that woman I was, she was abused. She deserves my love.

And still I wonder -- why did I stay?

I've created lots of different reasons. Lots of alternative perspectives that would explain what happened to keep me locked in his arms, even when I knew he was killing me. In the end, I've resigned myself to the truth that, whether or not I understand why I stayed, the reality is, I did. What I need to do to heal is to accept reality and embrace my power today.

And that is true.

Sometimes, though, a thought or idea can shed light that is so bright, I stand in awe of its illumination of the truth.

I stayed for many reasons. One of them was, the fear of losing what I had, even though what I had was killing me, was greater than my desire to gain my freedom away from him. I wasn't resisting freedom, I was resisting cutting my losses by letting go of what I had.

I couldn't leave him because I feared losing myself completely if he was gone. In those final months, I had some vestiges of me to hold onto. Some parts of my psyche that had not yet completely identified with him. To walk away from him meant possibly losing all of me, every part of me. Because I didn't know what would happen if I left, and I feared what would happen if I did, I stayed and stayed and stayed.

Ultimately, because I had already lost so much, I feared losing more and couldn't contemplate how much I had to gain by leaving.

The question is: Where does your fear of loss hold you back from stepping into what you have to gain when you let go of your losses and balance yourself in freedom?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Street Visions

It was an idea inspired by a generous donation from a friend. Her daughter's wedding had been cancelled. They had 40 personalized disposable cameras to divest themselves of.

"If you're looking for an avenue to put them to good use, I would love to help," I laughingly told her one day. "I want to give our clients cameras to take photos of their lives."

The cameras arrived the next day along with a cheque for processing of the film.
Photography records the gamut of feelings written on the human face, the beauty of the earth and skies that man has inherited, and the wealth and confusion man has created. It is a major force in explaining man to man. Edward Steichen

I processed seven of the films on Monday. Laid out the photos on bristle board and have the beginnings of what promises to be a powerful photo journal story.

The images are of people. Of places they hang out. Of things they do. Of things that are important to them. Laden shopping carts. An overflowing flower pot filled with sun drenched daisies. Bicycles. An outdoor port-a-pottie. A pair of feet extending from a bush. A man sleeping on the grass. A blazing sunrise. A decrepit building. New construction. No exit signs. No trespassing. No entry. A photo of a deadend alley. A stairwell in the shelter. A group of people sitting at a table watching tv. A staff member. A crack pipe.

A different world. The same world. Different perspectives.

The photos tell a story of lives confined to a few square blocks in the inner core of the city. There are photos of people laughing. Sitting under a flyover on the road out of downtown. Of people horsing around, pretending to be frisked by the police. There's a photo of a security camera on a building. A photo of a police car. Police bikes. Photos that say, 'everyone's watching'. Photos that say, 'no one cares'.

There is a sadness to the photos. A sense of sorrow that rises from the page. They speak of belonging. Of longing to belong. Of longing for belongings. They speak of friendship. Of camaraderie. Of misery loves company. They speak of looking for meaning in lives that walk the same streets looking for the exit sign that takes them back to where they came from. Back here. Back into this little corner of the world. Back into the four walls where three square meals are served to those who spend their time in this place where no one dreamt of coming but where they can find a place to belong for as long as they're here.

They speak to finding a way out when all the roads appear before you as a deadend.

One of the photographers is an eighteen year old girl. She's been homeless since she was twelve when she ran away from a foster home. She's got two kids. They were apprehended. I have three goals, she wrote. "To get off crack. Get a job and a home. Get my kids back."

Eighteen. She knows what she wants. How will she get there.

Her photos are all of people. Except for the one of the sunrise. "That one's my future," she said when I showed her the photo journal. "I'm going to find my new life." She's working on finishing off her high school. Working on herself. Her photos show her determination. Her conviction that she will get out of this place. It's a long road. But she'll get there.

My goal is to mount the photos into a photo exhibit: Street Visions. Each panel will tell the story of one person's life on that day. Each story will include their pictures, and a brief bio along with a description of what the photos mean to the photographer.

I'm writing the proposal for funding. I've identified three sources for funding. I've got the sample boards ready for display. It's a long road. But I'll get there.

The question is: What road are you on? Do you know where you're going?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The stories we tell

On our honeymoon in 1981 my former husband, G., grew a beard. I never liked that beard. It was thin and scraggly and, more importantly, hid his beautiful jaw. I loved his jaw. It was strong and well defined. Angular.

Over the course of our eleven year marriage, I often told him how much I liked his jaw. How I preferred it without the beard. "Having a beard saves me five minutes every morning," he insisted and the subject was closed, until the next time when I would try to find another way to suggest shaving it was a good idea.

One day, he got the hint and shaved it off. It was a few days after our marriage ended.

I always took that action as a passive aggressive move. A defiant statement of, "So there. Take that."

Until yesterday that is when someone suggested another way to look at it.

I was chatting with a couple of the students from the self-esteem course I teach at the shelter where I work. One of the guys has just started growing a beard. His is thick and robust in only a week.

"What made you grow it?" I asked.

"It saves me five minutes in the morning," he replied.


I laughed and told him how my ex-husband used to say the thing. And then I added the kicker, my 'look at me, I'm the martyr in this relationship. See how wrong he done me?' clincher. "You know, I asked him to shave that beard off for ten years and it wasn't until after we separated that he finally did."

"He must have really wanted you back," one of the guys said.

Surprised, I shook my head. "No. He was making a point about who was in control."

The guy shook his head. "If it had been me I would have done it to show you I wanted you back."

Changing glasses.

What if that was why he did it? What if in my anger and frustration and my 'I am the wounded party here', I had missed a cue? What if I wasn't right?

The stories we cling to limit our vision.

In clinging to the story of how my ex-husband defied me by holding onto his beard and then shaved it off in an act of 'Ha! See. You don't own me!' defiance, I was limiting the possibility of his being a man who was trying to reach me at a time when I was refusing to be reached.

I remember those turbulent days of our separation. I could not, would not hear anything he had to say. I was riding my high horse principles of "I gave it a good try. It didn't work. I'm gone." I wanted to be right. I didn't want to get off my horse. I wanted to give up on riding with balance and integrity. I wanted to throw a tantrum -- and this was it.

Maybe in shaving off his beard he was taking a giant step towards me, not away.

It doesn't change things today. It doesn't change the past. But, it does give me an opportunity to look at my beliefs around those days and open up my perspective to his truth too. It gives me a chance to let go of my victimhood, of always painting that picture with me as the wounded party and him as the one who 'just didn't get it'.

I was far from perfect in that relationship. Far from the wife he deserved, the wife of his dreams. We struggled to connect. We struggled to be open and honest and caring. We struggled and eventually the struggle became too much for me to keep attempting to find another route into intimacy.

In looking at that moment through different glasses, I no longer have to struggle to paint him as anyone other than who he is. A frightened man who was going through a difficult, painful time. A man who had lost more than just the woman he loved. In our separation he lost a family. His family. It is something he has never reclaimed. Never found a way to reconnect.

What if, in shaving off his beard, he was doing something he thought would please me?

For years, I let it fuel my anger. I let it become a symbol of my justification for leaving. A tick mark on the righteous side of my reasons for walking away.

Humble pie only tastes good when eaten with a generous helping of forgiveness.

I didn't know then what I know now. I couldn't see then what I see now.

In my confused and frightened state, I wasn't able to open up to the possibilities of his actions being for, not against, me. I wasn't able to see him beyond the stories I told that kept me moving away.

Doesn't change what happened that led me to leaving. It does change how I tell the story today. How I see the past through loving eyes, not an angry heart.

The question is: Are you willing to see there are other possibilities for someone else's actions? Are you willing to let go of your belief you know someone else's heart better than your own?

Monday, August 25, 2008

Risking other people's opinions

People are, if anything, more touchy about being thought silly than they are about being thought unjust. E. B. White
I am often quoted in the newspaper or appear on television speaking out against homelessness, speaking about the shelter where I work. Last week was one of those weeks. One of the local tv stations interviewed me about happenings around the shelter due to construction work in that part of the city and I was on radio several times.

I don't like watching myself on tv. When I watch myself, I can't hear myself. I get caught up in criticizing how I appear. My expressions. My movements -- I have a very mobile face. On television, every movement is magnified and I appear to be overally dramatic. Nope. Don't like watching myself on tv.

The thing about tv is that other people do watch you. When someone tells me they saw me on tv or heard me on the radio my first question falls in line with E.B. White's quote above: Did I sound intelligent?

My worst fear: To be thought stupid.

What's with that? I'm not stupid -- but I fear people thinking I am.

It's a good question for me to ponder. I'm sure it affects me in ways that I haven't yet imagined!

When I was a child I was very good in school. It came naturally to me. I loved learning. Loved the challenge of picking up new ideas and examining them from every different angle. I was inquisitive by nature and was always asking questions about everything. I remember a family friend who used to time me to see how long I could go without asking a question. It wasn't long.

Asking questions has served me well in my life. In my twenties, my family and I had a disagreement that put a rift between my brother and me for at least a year. I couldn't understand why he behaved the way he did one night -- he was visiting with my parents and spent several hours criticizing me while at my home. I went to bed but they kept on talking about me. When I told them they could stay if they quit talking about me, or leave if that was what they wanted to do, they left. I felt abandoned -- and yet, it was a wonderful gift. It forced me to start looking inside me. To start examining who am I. What do I stand for, and, as Brian Willis suggests, to ask myself, What's Important Now. W.I.N.

That evening was a seminal moment for me. It inspired change that has become lasting and enlivening. It inspired me to start roto-rooting through my soul, examining my values and beliefs, unearthing my hurts and bruises and to start growing into myself.

Growing has been a continuous process for me. In my journey I have fallen into some very dark places. I've fallen far from where I want to be. But, in those falls, I have learned to fly -- and that is what the journey has always been about. Learning to fly free of limiting beliefs so that I can fly freely in being all that I am meant to be.

My fear of people thinking I'm stupid limits my wingspan. It keeps me tethered to the belief that other people's opinions of me create value in my life.

I care about people. I care about whether or not people 'like' me -- but... and it's a big but... whether or not they like me doesn't give me my value. I can only be me. I can only do what I believe is right and true for me. I cannot determine how someone else will take value from what I say and do. I cannot pre-determine their response.

When I stand true to my values and beliefs, and share my beliefs in love, I am creating a world of value around me. We can differ in our opinions without having to fight for the right to be right. When I speak from my heart about what is important to me, how someone else responds is based on their values and beliefs -- sometimes we share common values. Sometimes we don't. But, when I place my value on whether or not you agree with me -- or think me stupid for having the belief I do -- I am not grounded. I am at risk of being pulled from my path by my insecurities.

And that is unsettling.

Being grounded in my truth, standing up for myself, standing true to my values and principles leads to a disciplined and courageous journey.

Letting myself become uprooted by someone else's opinion, someone else's sense of value, leaves me fluttering in the winds of change howling around me.

I believe in the human spirit's ability to rise above life's traumas. I believe we are all capable of living noble lives, free to be all we are meant to be. I believe some people need more help than others. I believe some people get so lost, so caught up in the winds of change, they lose their footing in their own values and lose sight of who they are as they search for themselves in addictions and other self-debilitating places. I believe everyone deserves the opportunity to change, to find themselves where ever they're at so that they can live free of the past, inspired by the joy of being in this moment living it up for all they're worth.

I believe I'm worth a lot.

And I believe worrying about whether people think I'm stupid is a stupid thing to do!

I believe I deserve more. It's up to me to give it to myself.

The question is: What do you believe? Are you willing to stand in your truth and speak up for your beliefs? Are you willing to risk other people's opinions of you?

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Inspired changes.

I read this quote from Lon Bartel, a law enforcement trainer, in Brian Willis' latest newsletter. "People change out of desperation or inspiration. Desperation results in short term change. Inspiration, results in powerful and lasting change."

When I was in relationship with Conrad, the man who lied about everything, I made desperate changes. Living in constant fear, I was desperate to keep him happy. In my desperation, I contorted and distorted myself to fit the image he told me I had to fit. Most of what I did was about keeping him happy and my life, as it were, intact. Often, the changes I made were 'inspired' by his anger. I would do just about anything not to have to experience his anger, and he knew it.

It's called, Learned Helplessness. Using intermittent reinforcement, he trained me to be his co-conspirator in my self-destruction. He would rage and I would succumb. The breaks between rage and 'happiness' grew shorter and shorter, and I became less and less willing to tempt the fates by disagreeing with him. I learned very quickly that my silence and acquiescence bought his 'good humour'. Eventually, it took less energy on his part to keep me silent as I fell beneath the weight of the sorrow that was pervading my life and my fear of his anger. Desperate for the return of Prince Charming, I kept letting go of what I knew to be right so that I wouldn't have to face the Prince of Darkness raging before me.

And then, one day he was arrested and I was set free. In that moment I was inspired to make lasting change. To accept the gift of his removal from my life as a miracle, and to soar free.

Lasting change comes easy when we are inspired to create the life of our dreams.

I am often contacted by women and men who are involved with an abuser. They write to tell me their stories, and to ask me how they can change. My response is always -- love yourself enough to know you deserve more than his/her abuse. Love yourself as an abused woman/man and give yourself the gift of freedom by naming what he/she is doing and choosing to accept you have the power to change your life. You can't change him/her. In fact, whether or not he/she can change is not the question. Are you willing to make an inspired change in your life by stepping away from him and stopping the abuse in your life?

Sounds easy -- it's not when the abusers voice is roaring through your mind, telling you lies you can't believe but don't dare disbelieve.

One of the hardest aspects of leaving an abuser is naming what they're doing as abuse. Our minds recoil from the reality, fall back from the precipice of the truth. How could someone who says they love me, willing, knowingly, consciously choose to hurt me? Believe it. Name it. They will. They can. They do.

Accepting that truth is frightening. If they could do it willingly, then I must have played a role in what happened. Answering that is tough. We don't want to be participants in abuse, and so cannot accept that we had something to do with what has happened to us.

The inspired choice is to accept -- I am 100% accountable for what happened to me. Doesn't make what he/she did right, it does mean I can't change the past, but I can turn up today and take 100% responsibility for what I do, right now, in this moment.
Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending. Maria Robinson

It means choosing long term change over short term relief from their abuse.

Hard stuff. Life changing. Liberating. But hard.

When we 'love' someone who is an abuser, our minds become twisted into the insanity of their crazy-making behaviours. Love shouldn't hurt as much as it does, but we begin to accept the pain of loving them as part of the norm of our existence. In that acceptance, we let go of our belief in our right to live free of abuse. For some, living free of abuse has never been their reality. For others, the crazy-making of the abuser is new -- and thus, a surprise, an unbelievable occurrence in their lives.

Believing we are being abused is the first step to creating lasting change.

Believing we have the power to change our lives -- and acknowledging we cannot change the abuser, is the next step.

Inspired change requires courage. It takes guts and it takes a commitment to self that overrides the voices in our heads telling us 'this (the past) is all we deserve'.

No one deserves abuse. No one deserves to live in fear.

And no one can give us the gift of freedom except ourselves.

The question is: Are you making inspired changes in your life?

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Heavens above!

Night fell. Stars rose and the sky was filled with glittering fireworks. Sparkling drops cascaded to the water below like leaves on a willow tree drifting in a gentle summer breeze. Shimmering. Glistening. The air was filled with wonder.

We were at GlobalFest last night. An international festival featuring displays, food and entertainment from around the world. The fireworks competition is the highlight of the events every evening for five days. Amazing!

I was given V.I.P. tickets as a gift for speaking on two panels during GlobalFest's Human Rights Forum the week before. At one of the panels, we were asked to tell stories about our clients -- particularly pertaining to issues immigrants face. It was an interesting event -- what struck me most was that the 200 seat theatre was only about half full. The people to whom we were speaking were all 'believers'. They already realize the necessity to broaden our concept of community, to expand our understanding of each other and to become a more tolerant society. Where was everyone?

One of the speakers was an aboriginal man from Saskatchewan. He told of becoming homeless -- not because he's an addict, or because of violence. He became homeless because of bed bugs. Lots of them. The rooming house he lived in was infested with them. When he asked the landlords to do something about it, they ignored him and so he went to the authorities. He was eventually evicted when the rooming house shut down. Unable to find a comparable rent, he hit the streets.

He was an amazing story-teller. Passionate. His voice was strong yet melodious. He spoke in short sentences, punctuating each comment with a short silence. I couldn't help but hang onto each word he spoke.

The art of speaking. Of story-telling. Of weaving words into pictures. He was gifted.

At Globalfest last night, I witnessed story-telling in the night sky. Set to contemporary music -- Pink Floyd's, The Wall -- the display exploded into the sky and cascaded to the still waters of the lake below in pinks and whites and yellows and blues and greens. We sat on a blanket on a grassy verge, our heads tilted up, our eyes wide open, our mouths whispering Ooohs! and Aaaahs! into the night. Brilliant stories danced in the sky and I felt transported by the magic of the moment into silent wonder. On the surface of the lake's water, in the light cast by the fireworks above, a lone duck swam. He'd dip his head, duck beneath the surface and then come up for air. Perhaps he too was struck by the wonder of it all! In the thundering clap of the fireworks, my mind slipped into stillness, silence descended, the world drifted far away and I became lost in the moment. Surreal. Sublime. Stupendous.

It was a night to remember. A night to dream upon a star. To cast a wish to the heavens above and be lifted up by the artistry dancing in the sky. Aurora Borealis move over. The heavens are on fire.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Being special

Wilma Rudolph weighed 4.6 pounds when she was born prematurely. She battled childhood pneumonia, scarlet fever and polio and at the age of six, lost the use of her left leg and was fitted with braces. "I spent most of my time trying to get them off. (I had an uncompromising resolve) to be a normal kid," she often said.

For someone who wanted to be normal, Wilma Rudolph was very special. At 16, she won a bronze medal at the Olympic Games in Melbourne, Australia. In the 1960 Rome Olympics, she became 'the fastest woman in the world' and the first American woman to win three gold medals in one Olympics.

All this from a woman who was told as a child that she would never walk without braces.

"My mother taught me very early to believe I could achieve any accomplishment I wanted to. The first was to walk without braces," she is quoted as saying.

When I teach the self-esteem course at the homeless shelter where I work, I ask the attendees to give me the names of people they admire. Dead or alive, fictional or human, who are the people who inspire you?

Beside the names of Mother, Father, Aunt, Grade one Teacher, Ghandi, Mother Teresa, we list the attributes of each person that make that person remarkable. "Strong. Honest. Hard-working. Kind. Compassionate. Intelligent. Committed. Big-hearted...."

Words such as 'rich', 'tall', 'owns the most cars', etc. seldom make it to the list and when they do, upon examination, they are generally noted as 'nice to have', but not necessary to live a full and purposeful life.

Once the list is complete, I ask the students to write "My Allies" at the top of a page in their binder and underneath the heading, to write their own list and to note the characteristics of each individual that they admire.

Those are your value-driven words, I tell them. They are what you value most in people, and are the characteristics you most value in yourself. If you feel you haven't been caring or honest, hard-working or strong, ask one of your allies to help you be caring and honest, hard-working, strong. Imagine for a moment that you are one of your allies and then ask yourself -- What would you do in this situation? Or, as Brian Willis suggests, What's Important Now? -- W.I.N.

We all have allies, people we admire in life who have done or achieved or overcome something remarkable. Wilma Rudolph is one of my allies. She reminds me of my favourite character in "What Katy Did" a book I cherished when I was a child. Katy fell off a roof and broke her back. She wasn't satisfied sitting in a wheelchair and created a rich and wonderful world of creativity around her. Whenever I'm feeling blue or frustrated by a situation, I ask myself, "What would Katy do?" Inevitably, the answer is, she'd find the value in this situation and not let it get her down.

When I'm feeling like the odds are stacked against me. That I simply cannot take one more step, I don my Wilma Rudolph cloak of power in my imagination and step boldly forward. I cast off the constraints just as Wilma once cast off her leg braces and take a giant leap into the unknown.

When Wilma first released herself from her braces, she didn't know she would one day be an Olympic champion. All she knew was that she didn't want to be different than the rest of the kids. She didn't want to be 'special'. She wanted to be normal.

Ultimately, Wilma was special. Not because of her brace, or even because of overcoming such a difficult condition. She was special because she didn't give up. She never backed down. She set her sights on what she wanted and lived her Be. Do. Have. In the end, when Wilma died at the age of 54 from cancer, she left behind a very special legacy that has inspired countless young men and women to strive for gold and live the life of their dreams, no matter what track they're on.

The question is: Are you treating yourself as special because you can't do something or because of something you never had or something that happened to you long ago? Or, are you making your life special by being committed to Be. Do. Have. To being your most amazing self so you can do what it takes to reach your goals and live the life of your dreams?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

For the good of the 'all'

Half the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important. They don’t mean to do harm---but the harm does not interest them. Or they do not see it, or they justify it because they are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves. T.S. Eliot

I borrowed that quote from my friend CZ's blog. Normally, the majority of the quotes I use on this blog can be found at ThinkExist.

I work in a sector where many, many people are trying to do the right thing. For some, that right thing is based on wanting to feel important, wanting to feel like they're making a difference in such a way that they feel different about themselves by creating a difference in the world of homelessness. Regardless of their motives, they do make a difference and then some...

Recently, there has been a lot of debate in our city about ending homelessness. Our streets are being over-run with homeless people. What's happening? They examine the issue from many angles and in the process forget to involve the agencies working in the sector in their consultations. They come up with a statement so bold everyone stands up and cheers. We have a dearth of affordable housing.

Committees are formed. Balance sheets are readied with cost projections and overage allowances. Let's spend $3.2 billion dollars and end homelessness forever, the pundits state and politicians and well-meaning citizens band together to create a plan to make it happen.

We'll house them first, says the planning group.

Sounds good.

Except -- when you start to house the hard to house. The chronic addict with a history of violence. The mentally challenged individual with a history of substance abuse. The street worker with an addiction.

To make it look better, the planners eliminate the hard to house from the planning. They don't take in those that will make the plan 'look bad' because of the risk to success. If they don't fit within the parameters of their planning and are given housing which doesn't 'stick', they will skewer the results to the side of negative.

It's all in our perceptions.

"We need quick wins," say the planners.

And the loser is... the very person they stated they wanted to help.

The goal is laudable. The reality is different.

This post isn't about living your dream. It isn't about being the best 'you' you can be. About accepting you are enough, exactly the way you are.

This post is about doing the right thing and not kidding ourselves when we stray from the path. It's also about my mini-tirade against a system that wants to give the perception that it's doing the right thing for everyone when what they're doing is the right thing for some.

I believe ending homelessness is a great goal. I believe housing first is a good idea. What I don't believe in, is passing it off as a universal concept that meets the needs of every chronic homeless person in the city -- and then forgetting to tell the public that you're only working with a narrow subset of the demographic.

For the ten year planners in our city, doing the right thing would be to support the agencies who work hard to lessen the affect of homelessness on those experiencing it today. Doing the right thing would be to acknowledge you don't have all the answers. That one size does not fit all -- no matter how hard you try to make it fit. A size 9 foot will never fit into a size 6 glass slipper without causing harm.

Okay. Deep breath. Feeling better.

It's a good question though: How many areas of my life do I give the perception of doing the right thing when what I'm doing is only partly right because I'm not considering the impact of what I'm doing upon the person or persons I'm doing it for? How many times do I try to force my opinions and solutions on someone else or on some situation because they fit my plan, or idea, of what is right?

How many times do you do it too?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

What? Me worry?

Morning has risen. The heat has broken into cooler air wafting through the upper floor of the house. Yipppeee! I was beginning to worry that it would never get cool again.

And that's the thing about worry -- it's often senseless. Fact is, it would get cool again. It will get hot again, and all my thinking will never ever change what the weather does.

Last night I visited with a friend who has come out of a relationship with a 'bad man'. You know, one of those personality disordered types who leave you feeling like you're living in a vat of gnome poop rather than the golden fairy dust of the happily ever-after of your imaginings. She's been free for two months and doing amazingly well -- she looks fabulous, is exercising and moving through the pain and turmoil of his passing through her life. But, she worries.

"I can't stop worrying about what he's saying about me," she said.

"And what do you think he's saying about you?" I asked.

"You know, the same old, same old," she replied.

"Ahh, lies."

She nodded her head. "Yup. Lies."

"We can't defend against lies and worrying that he's doing what you know he's doing won't change a thing. If you must worry, worry about yourself. Worry about whether you're giving yourself enough love, enough attention, enough tender loving care -- and then do it."

Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy. Leo Buscaglia

I know worry. Grew up in a house full of it. My mother could worry about whether they'd be anything to worry about. It was a natural state for her and one that continually creates stress and anxiety in her life.

Why worry?

Sometimes, worry is a habit. Sometimes, it's the only way we can feel powerful. Sometimes, it's a great way to avoid being powerful.

For me, not worrying is often confused with denial. "I won't worry about that..." leads to, I won't think about that, which leads to, "what happened?"

Like with Conrad. I chose not to worry about the fact he was lying because if I did, I'd have had to do something about it. After he was arrested, I knew that worrying about what he was saying and doing would only keep me stuck in the craziness of his behaviour. I had to consciously choose not to worry about him and to focus my thoughts on where they belonged -- on my life, on what I was doing, on where I was going and how I was treating myself.

After years of paying attention to everything about him, to denying my truth, my being in the midst of his chaos, it took energy to keep my thoughts focused on me -- in a world where what I knew I wanted was to heal, to live freely, to be free of his abuse, it was imperative I keep my thoughts focused on where they belonged. And so, I made a commitment to myself -- not to worry about him. He was going to be doing and saying and acting however he wanted. I had the right to do the same.

Claiming that right -- to do and say and act however I wanted, however it fit me, suited me, helped me, healed me was a stretch. Claiming that right gave me my freedom.

When I worry about whether I'm doing or saying 'the right thing', or if I'm acting, 'the right way', I am letting go of my power. I am abdicating my right to be at the centre of my attention, centre stage in my life. Because in that worry about whether or not what I'm doing or saying is, 'the right thing', I am not being all that I am meant to be -- free of judgement, free of self-criticism, free of restraint to live this one wild and precious life with passion. To be my most magnificent self.

Edith Armstrong said, "I keep the telephone of my mind open to peace, harmony, health, love and abundance. Then, whenever doubt, anxiety or fear try to call me, they keep getting a busy signal - and soon they'll forget my number."

The same can be said for worry -- Filling my mind with worry -- keeps me in a place that is uncomfortable, discordant and disruptive to my peace of mind.

Filling my mind with loving thoughts, keeping myself open to harmony, love, health and abundance, keeps me full of what I want most in my life, peace of mind.

The question is: Are you giving discord and anxiety a busy signal? Are you filling your life with more of what you want today or are you worrying about when will you get it?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Watching the world pass by

Every morning when I walk to work I cross the river and walk through The Island of Creativity, an oasis of lush grasses, towering trees and art works suspended from the air. Yesterday, as I walked towards the bridge at the far end of the island, I saw a woman dancing. In one hand she held a large red fan. It fluttered and flitted like a one-winged butterfly as she spun and swirled gracefully around. Dancer and fan. A vision in grace.

What a beautiful morning to be alive! Hot sunshine streamed down upon my back. The air was redolent with the perfume of summer's flowers in full bloom. Birds twittered from trees, the air too heavy for them to even bother to lift their wings and fly. The river danced lazily along its banks. Sunshine sparkled on its surface like fairy dancers spinning their stories of love and laughter in the morning.

I crossed the suspension bridge at the end of the island, my body bobbing in time to its gentle sway. As I took the path along the river, I passed "Mr. Obelisk", an old man of Oriental descent who performs Ti-Chi every morning in front of a marble obelisk in the park. He moved with grace and precision, each extension of an arm or leg a study in intent. A measured expression. A beautiful flow of energy in the morning light.

I kept walking and saw "T.", a client from the shelter where I work, walking towards me. He wore work gloves and carried a large plastic garbage bag in one hand. A black backpack hung suspended from his shoulders. It looked heavy.

"Hey T," I called out as we got closer. He smiled in his quiet way and nodded his head as he always does. We both stopped to wait for a bike to pass between us before I crossed over the pathway to chat.

He held up his garbage bag. "I just started fifteen minutes ago," he said giving the bag a shake. I could hear bottles and cans rattling. "It's great. People float down the river, get as close to the shore as they can and throw away their beer bottles and cans. It happens every day when it's this hot." He took the cap from his head and wiped his brow. "Man it's hot."

"No kidding," I said. I pointed to the river six feet below us. The riverbank was crowded with brambles and shrubs. 'Queen Anne's Lace' made a delicate white filigree net amidst the greens and pink of wild roses in bloom. "You scramble down there? Looks treacherous."

T laughed. "Not really. It's filled with the makings of my lunch. I'll take these to the depot." He held up his garbage bag. "And then I'll buy myself a hotdog and pop and relax in the sun. Might do a little reading." T doesn't smile often but when he does, it feels like the sun just came out. On a blazing hot morning, I could still feel the warmth of his smile.

"How wonderful," I replied. He spied an empty beer bottle in the grasses below, scrambled partway down the bank, picked it up and put it in his bag.

I waited. "If only people knew what a service you provide to the city," I told him as he carefully closed the top of the bag. "They throw out their garbage where ever they want and you come and clean it up for no charge. Not a bad deal for the city."

He shrugged and laughed. "I get to keep the empties. It's fair."

We parted and I continued on my way to work as T continued to work his way down the river.

I wondered about the fairness of it. How fair is it that a man who is often criticized by passers-by as a no-good bum, labelled a criminal by many, and a drain on society by others, spends his morning picking up other people's garbage? How fair is it that in helping keep our city clean, his only reward is the return on the deposit for the bottles and cans he picks up?

I walked toward the shelter and saw other individuals lounging on the grass of the park, reading on a park bench and walking the paths. Some were visibly homeless. Some were hard to tell -- were they housed or not? What difference does it make? The parks are there for everyone to use. For all to enjoy. Just because someone is homeless doesn't mean they do not deserve the right to spend a few moments, or the day, sitting on a bench watching the world pass them by.

For our clients, sometimes it is in the watching of the world pass them by that they connect to their desire to get back up and climb aboard. In seeing what they're missing, they find the courage to pick up the pieces and find their way back home. Sometimes, it is just the brief respite that gives them the strength to start again, to take steps in a new direction. To step away from where they're at to somewhere else, somewhere they might want to put down roots and stay awhile.

For others, like T, they don't feel they're missing anything. This life is good enough for them the way it is. And sometimes, that includes picking up other people's garbage in order to get by.

Monday, August 18, 2008

No 'I' in team

I typed in my blog address this morning and the computer immediately responded: Blog not found. The blog address you typed in does not exist.

A momentary flicker of panic flashed through my mind. What? And then I took a breath, looked at what I'd typed and realized I'd mispelt the word 'your'. It took but a moment to correct my error and I was back in business.

Made me stop and think though. How many times do I immediately jump to conclusions that I've made an irreversible mistake? That something is amiss and can never be fixed. That all is lost; cyberspace has robbed me of my site?

Last night, AJ and JD came to dinner. Thirty years ago, friends set them up on a blind date, and I was there. They've been married for 25+ years and going strong.

Dinner was an impromptu affair. Informal. Unscheduled. C.C. was cooking giant prawns and had way more than just the two of us could eat. I was talking to JD on the phone and C.C. said, invite them over. I did. They came. We spent an evening laughing and joking. Their son, C.J. came for awhile and then their daughter C joined us after her brother had left. Both my daughters turned up later, after the barbecue they were at ended. We were one big happy family. The 'kids' have known eachother all their lives. JD was one of the women who saved my life when I was in trouble with Conrad. AJ acts as my daughters surrogate father -- our friendship is based on longevity, shared experience and most importantly, love.

During dinner, Alexis asked each of us the question, "If you could be in one Winter and one Summer Olympic games, what sport would you be in?"

The answers were varied. When it came to my turn I said, "Slalom skiing and Dressage."

"Why not a team sport?" asked my daughter.

"I don't like team sports," I replied. "Never have. I don't like depending upon other people and in particular, I don't like other people depending upon me. What if I let the whole team down?"

My daughter quickly jumped in to tell me I should take up a team sport, just because. "It would be a good stretch for you, mum."

Andre Gide, French writer and Nobel Prize winner, wrote, "There are admirable potentialities in every human being. Believe in your strength and your truth. Learn to repeat endlessly to yourself. "It all depends on me."

It's the, 'it all depends on me' part that stresses me out!

I have a core tape that, whenever the chips are down and the world is falling apart, whispers its insidious message in my head -- "It's all my fault."

Being part of a team awakens my negative narcissistic traits -- when we win, I know it took the whole team's effort. But, when we lose, it is all because of me.

This tape has played itself out in many forums in my life. When with Conrad, it roared incessantly. "It's all your fault. You're to blame. You did it." In the end, I believed I had created the monster. I believed it was because of me that he was so evil.

I am not that powerful.

Unfortunately, when feeling powerless, making it all my fault makes me feel powerful.

I have worked on becoming aware of that tape. Worked on letting go of my need to take the blame just to feel powerful. I know that my life depends on me, on how I live it, how I 'work' it -- but in times of stress, my default position will automatically leap into the victim's mode of thinking -- to protect my ego at all costs by taking on all the blame. In 'working it', the lapse is usually momentary as I quickly assert my victor's voice into the conversation and remind myself of the truth -- I am not that powerful. It's not all about me!

Perhaps my daughter is right. Perhaps it's time to find a team sport where I can stretch myself into participating with a group -- as part of a team where there is no 'I'.

I wonder if there's team knitting?

The question is: Are you making yourself powerful by using the victim's voice of 'it's all my fault', or are you claiming your power by accepting you cannot change someone else, you can only be responsible for you.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Do It Now

Money is congealed energy, and releasing it releases life's possibilities. Joseph Campbell

In Maria Nemeth's book, The Energy of Money, she states that it is imperative we ground our goals in specific life intentions. It's not enough to just 'think positively' about your goal. Thoughts live in the metaphysical realm. Success comes as a result of actions in the physical domain.

It was around my thirty-fifth birthday that the truth of that statement became a reality for me. All my life I had said, "I want to be a writer." Great intention but at thirty-five I had to look at the harsh reality of my goal -- How could I be a writer if I wasn't writing? Duh.

I had to take action in the physical realm to make my writer's dream a reality. I took a course on writing for magazines. I phoned the editor of a major newspaper and pitched a story idea for Remembrance Day. Imagine my surprise when he said "Yes."

Suddenly, I had to find subjects to interview and get to work. I was terrified. But I had a goal. I wanted to be a published writer. I couldn't achieve my goal without specific actions to back up my intent.

That feature story was published and I went on to write many more. And then, I ran out of steam, lost sight of my dream, folded up my tent and put away my writing utensils.
Life's Intentions keep you energized and focused whenever you encounter challenges on the path to your goals. They keep you heading in the direction of what has heart and meaning for you. Maria Nemeth, The Energy of Money

To keep striving towards my goal of being a full time writer, I need to step back from this physical realm for a moment and take a look at what limiting beliefs I have in my metaphysical plane that are preventing me from taking action. One of them is -- I can't make a living as a writer.

Says who?

Um, I have no idea. The idea just rests in my head and whispers its insidious limitation in my psyche.

What if I took that thought and shifted its perspective? What if I weaken the negative belief by empowering it with action? What if I told myself, I will make my living as a full time writer a reality by starting today with action. I commit to pitching one story a week to a newspaper and/or magazine starting this week.

I have a dream. When I articulate it as a goal, I set myself up for success by keeping my promise with myself to BE committed to DO what it takes to HAVE the life of my dreams.

I'm committed. It's my responsibility to take action and DO IT NOW.

The question is: Are you relying on positive thinking to make your dreams a reality? If you are, when do you plan on bringing them alive through acting on your intentions?

Friday, August 15, 2008

I wanna hold your hand

I sat in my 6th floor office and watched an elderly man stumble down the street. He pushed his metal walker before him, a human barstool on the move. He came to the curb, attempted to navigate the bump, and fell. He struggled to get up but with each attempt, he fell back to the ground. Sitting up in my eerie, I had an eagle's eye view, and I was helpless. I phoned the security desk at our shelter to ask a staff to go out and help him but as I started to speak, two people came up and assisted the man.

Later I went downstairs to ensure the man had made it safely to his destination -- our shelter. He had.

Our greatest glory consists not in never failing but in rising every time we fall. Oliver Goldsmith
He fell down. He got up. A tiny success in a seemingly endless journey through the haze of alcohol that constantly fogs his mind. Once again, I am in awe of the spirit's need to live, of the drive for survival.

This man's life may have little sense to it. It may appear to be a futile attempt to wrest a few more moments or days from fate. But, in the end, this man's life is all he's got. He is a late stage alcoholic. A man for whom sobriety is a long lost relative to the despair that permeates his spirit like alcohol pouring through his veins. There is little we can do for him other than provide a safe landing when he falls. Provide him assistance with his daily libations, clean him up when he messes up, watch over him when he has a seizure and check to ensure he's still breathing when he falls.

The help we provide him is not based on 'cleaning him up' or even getting him into rehab. Too many brain cells have hit the dust, too many synapses have mis-fired. He is walking towards his destiny. A tragic story of one man's life gone grievously astray. A human being no long able to do anything other than what he's doing today -- drinking himself to death.

Is it tragic? Absolutely. Did he make choices? Absolutely. Do his choices make a difference to him today? They make a difference to his quality of life, what he might have done, or been or had. But for today, his choices are limited to a narrow corridor of insobriety, a singular path to keeping himself numbed under the influence.

Does this man need help today? Absolutely. Does he deserve to be helped? Yes.

Regardless of the circumstances that led him down his dark and drunken street, he is where he's at. He is helpless to help himself. All we can do is watch over him as best we can. Provide him the help he needs and gather his statistics and his belongings when he's gone.

We've had and have many clients like this man. Many clients drink themselves or drug themselves to death. We try to intervene whenever we can. We attempt to redirect their attention to some other path. Sometimes, it's not enough to divert them from their self-directed date with destiny. For whatever reason, their lives have gone wildly astray, their paths become a constant struggle to get up.

Regardless of the reason, we cannot deny their need. No one deserves the street. No one deserves to die there. If he were a dog who had been hit by a car and been left bleeding on the road, we would not hesitate to pick him up and rush him to a vet. And yet, with a human being, we often stop in judgement and say, "It's his own fault."

In the end, it doesn't make a difference who's fault it is. He is falling and needs help.

We cannot change someones destiny. All we can do is provide them the best care we can while they walk in the direction they're going. All we can do is walk beside them as long as we can, hold their hand when they need us, and let them know we care.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

My olympic best

The road to happiness lies in two simple principles: find what it is that interests you and that you can do well, and when you find it put your whole soul into it - every bit of energy and ambition and natural ability you have. John D. Rockefeller
The studio lights were dimmed. The walls were painted aqua blue, the ceiling deep as midnight. Ceramic fish hung along the walls, swimming around our heads. Above our heads, a tiny disco bowl spun, sparkling the walls with tiny dots of light that ripped around us like waves underwater. I felt immersed in a sea of warm colour.

In front of us the lights on the giant sound board blinked red and green and yellow and blue. On the other side of the giant panel of glass, C.C.'s son, T. stood, earphones tightly pressed against his head, singing.

He's talented. The music he's recording is all original. Stunning in its complexity. It's gritty scenes of life a surprising note of confidence from one so young. He's cutting a CD. His first. It's a big step for a twenty-year-old. A big opportunity. He won it at a band competition earlier this year. It's another leap forward in his dream to live his life as a musician.

One of the sound technicians is a woman. Early twenties. Dark hair with a streak of blond shot through. While we're waiting for T. during a break, I ask her how she came to work in the studio. Where once her face was dark and brooding, her demeanour bored, she suddenly lit up like the lights on the sound board in front of her. "I was enrolled at college to take PR," she told me. "It just didn't feel right and then I saw an ad for this nineteen week course to become a sound tech." She wraps her arms around her shoulders as if to give herself a giant pinch. "I can't believe I get to live this life everyday doing this." And her hand sweeps away from her body to include the room and studio on the other side of the glass. "I love it."

Amidst the dour commentary on the lack of Canada's Olympic medals, athletes from across the country are living their dream today in Beijing. Doing what they love, giving it their best, they are competing against other world class athletes for their chance to win a tiny gold and silver and bronze medal. It's a harsh competition. A place where one slip of attention, one tiny miss of one one hundreth of a second can mean the difference between glory or despair.

But the real competition is in their work to get to where they are. Against what appears at times to be insurmountable odds, these athletes have spent countless hours in gyms and in or on the water, training and training, doing what they love. We, their public, do not see the hours upon hours, days and nights of rigorous training. We don't see or feel the aching muscles, the spasming joints, the strained tendons. We see only the missed opportunities. The falling behind in the standings. The lack of glitter around their necks.

Ultimately, as a nation, we want the medals. We want to ride on the shirttails of these athletes, to stand in their glory so that we can enjoy the reflected glow of their achievement.

And when they don't get the medal, we chastise them for not being good enough.

Go figure.

To be part of Olympic gold all I have to do is pick up the clicker and turn on the tube. And when my team doesn't stand on the podium, I get to dis them or praise them.

The choice is mind. Me, I choose to congratulate them on doing their best. I don't need them to stand on the podium to be inspired by their actions. I am in awe of their commitment, their drive and their passion. I am humbled by their ability to BE committed to DO what it takes to HAVE what they want. And, I am inspired to keep living my dream and walk, leap, run along the path of my personal excellence. Because, in their commitment to keep going, to keep striving, to keep stepping beyond their boundaries, I am reminded that I too can live my personal best in everything I do.

Medal or not, here I come!

The question is: Are you giving life your Olympic best or are you lagging behind, listening to those who sit on the sidelines grumbling, telling you that you're just not good enough? Are you living your dream or awakening each morning forgetting what your dream was?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Shall We Dance?

"Nobody cares if you can't dance well. Just get up and dance. Great dancers are not great because of their technique, they are great because of their passion." Martha Graham

I love to dance. Always have. Both my daughters dance. We dance together at home. We dance together at parties. We dance alone. We dance.

There are no set footsteps. No predetermined place to be. Destination to get to. Ending to achieve. It is only the dance. The dance makes the journey interesting. It enlivens each step. Colours each moment.

At the shelter where I work, I witness people falling. People who have forgotten how to dance. Forgotten that they can dance. Their steps are heavy. Their breathing laboured. The journey is not in the dance. It is in the survival of getting from this moment to the next.

Yesterday, I gave a talk to a group of EMS workers. At the end of my presentation, one of the organizers came up and told me he had a story to tell me. "I didn't want to interrupt your presentation, but I thought you'd find value in this story," he said.

"There were four of us in high school. Best buds. We played together. Got into trouble together. We were tight. When high school ended, we each went our separate ways. Dave* was one of those guys you figured would 'do good'. I saw him for the first time six years after we left high school. I was at the airport picking up a patient from a flight, and Dave walked off the plane. Big guy. Big muscle. An MP in the Armed Forces."

"Life's great, he told me. I'm travelling the world. Living it up."

"Next time I saw Dave it was about five years later. I was on an emergency call in a building where people were lying all over the floor. It was pretty seedy. I stepped over a sleeping man and couldn't believe my eyes. It was Dave. Stoned. I stopped to talk for a moment. He tried to pretend he didn't see me but I wouldn't let him not talk to me. Seems that he got out of the service after a tour of duty in some place like Cyprus and what he witnessed was overwhelming. The Service didn't do much for him and he couldn't cope so there he was. I told him to keep fighting and had to leave. I had a patient, a child, to see to."

"I didn't see Dave for a couple more years until one night while doing a rotation in an Emergency Ward I walked behind the curtain of a patient who had attempted suicide and there was Dave. Lying on the bed. He started crying. Telling me he simply couldn't take it anymore. We talked and talked and then I had to move on. I hoped Dave would make it."

"Three years later, while driving my ambulance, a green pick-up truck pulled up beside me at a red light. I looked across at the driver and it was Dave. He rolled down his window. Waved and said. "I made it. I'm doing okay. I'm working as a welder. I'm doing okay." The light turned green and we both went our separate ways. But I'm sure glad to know he made it."

It happens. People fall down. Sometimes, they dance with the devil. And then, one day, something clicks, ruby shoes appear on their feet, the stars align, or simply someone took the time to listen. Whatever the reason, they get up again and slowly learn to dance.

I see it every day at the shelter where I work. People who have forgotten how to dance. We hold their hands. bandage their weary feet and keep hope alive until one day, hopefully, they will remember how to stand up straight and begin to dance again.

Once upon a time, my daughters and I forgot how to dance together. We've retraced our steps, reclaimed our right to dance joyously and freely through each moment. We are blessed.
The question is: Are you dancing?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Start small and do it now.

The shelter where I work is situated in the east end of the downtown core, an area that is currently undergoing massive reconstruction and renewal. Yesterday, the bridge leading across the river was shut down to vehicular traffic for a month. All access to the centre was re-directed via a main route to the south. Suddenly, there's one way in and one way out of the shelter. Suddenly, we're isolated.

It's a funny feeling. Where once traffic flowed constantly in and around us, we are now an island of serenity -- except for the massive earth moving equipment digging and moving dirt.

In some ways, the isolation is symbolic. Being homeless is isolating. Your life is in a constant state of chaos. The dirt is thick and oppressive. There's destruction everywhere.

And that's the thing about the redevelopment of the area in which our centre is located. It's taken years for the city and planners to get to this point where reconstruction can begin, just as it took years to get to the level of decay that was evident for so long in the neighbourhood.

Homelessness, while it may happen in one night, is not an over-night occurrence. It takes time for someone's life to devolve into such chaos. Sometimes it takes years. But once it sets in, it takes massive planning, upheaval, and reconstruction to change.

Homelessness is not an incident in someone's life. It's a symptom of something massively wrong.

Like an area of the city that is under reconstruction, homelessness requires patience, understanding and commitment to change.

For years, city planners, architects, engineers, environmentalists have worked to create a vision for the east end of the city that reflects the diverse needs of the current residents, while also providing for the needs of the newcomers. Land was acquired, buildings removed and ground torn up to prepare for the 'new growth'. While many believe this development has taken too long, the reality is, its taken as long as its taken and now its begun.

In life, the changes we're experiencing sometimes seem to be more about 'going to the dogs' than 'going places' we want to be. Our lives seem to be upheaving some mighty big chunks of dirt that block our vision from seeing we're getting to a place where renewal can happen. Yet, somewhere within us, our psyches are busily planning, and scheming, looking for ways to create new growth out of the dirt of the past. We need patience, love and compassion for ourselves to allow it to happen -- yet, if we give ourselves the opportunity to create anew, we have the chance to change our lives from where we're at to where we want to go.

Growth is not an overnight occurrence. We gotta Start Small. Start Now.

When I was released from the nightmare of my relationship with Conrad, my life was in utter disarray. The problems looked (and felt) HUGE. I knew I couldn't fix them all over-night. I knew I couldn't change one iota of the past. So, I worked with the moment, the very moment I was in. "What can I do right now," I asked myself, "that will make a difference to my life today?"

In that question I gave myself permission to Start Small. Start Now.

I left the burden of 'the problem' up to God, to the Universe, to the Divine to carry so that I could focus on what steps I could take, right now, to make change happen.

To sit back hoping that someday, some way, someone will make things right is to go on feeding the crocodile, hoping he will eat you last -- but eat you he will.” Ronald Reagan

There is no better time to change your life than the moment you're in. It's easy to look at tomorrow and say, "I'll get to it. Let me just enjoy where I'm at today." Getting to it starts now. Not tomorrow. Not a week from now. It starts right now.

The question is: Are you waiting for tomorrow to make a change? Are you expecting happiness to arrive at some future date when you will be ready to accept it? Where are you letting someday possibilities hold you back from accepting today's limitless possibility?

Monday, August 11, 2008

A place to call home.

It was a busy Saturday morning. C.C. and I were off to visit friends in the mountains and I wanted to get some chores done before we left. After taking a load of newspapers and cardboard to the recycling depot, I loaded my car with bottles and headed downtown. I knew I was early for the bottle depot and looked on the streets for someone with a cart who might want to take my bottles off my hands. When nobody appeared, I did the next best thing. I went to the homeless shelter where I work and asked a couple of guys I know if they knew anyone interested in a load of bottles. One of the guys, Jack* replied, "I used to collect bottles. It would be nice to have some cash in my pocket."

"I'll drop you off at the Depot with them," I told him.

"You would?" he exclaimed. "Let's go." He tucked his bag under his chair and asked his tablemate to watch his stuff. "No problem," said his friend, Doug*. "It's not like I've got anywhere to go."

I drove Jack to the depot and on the way he told me about his hip surgery the previous year after a fall brought him down. "I had to have a hip replacement, but they left all sorts of bone fragments in. The pain is awful. I can't work. I've applied for government assistance but that's really slow."

I asked him how he ended up at the shelter. "My apartment building got sold and turned into condos. I couldn't find anyplace I could afford so here I am. It's okay. But I'd sure like to get a place of my own."

A place of my own.

It is a common refrain amongst the people we serve. 'I just want a place of my own.' But, in a city of skyrocketing rents and a dearth of rental units, finding that place of your own, a place you can afford is tough.

Before leaving the city on Saturday for the mountains, my eldest daughter and I went looking at apartments for her and her friend to rent. They've checked out the areas of the city they want to live in. They know how much it will take for them to be able to 'make it' every month. Like Jack, they have decided to get a place of their own. A place they can claim as their little space in the world. A place with a door with a key that locks it. A place that is safe and clean and allows them to start building their lives together as they separate physically from the families that have supported them for over twenty years.

It is a natural yearning. To have a place of your own.

And yet, for thousands of people in this city, a place of your own is not a reality. Sure, for some of our clients, it is their addiction that keeps them from meeting their need. For many, however, it is a series of events, of circumstances both personal and societal that have put up roadblocks to their attaining their goal.

Doug, Jack's tablemate, had a place of his own in a senior's building we own. It's subsidized rent and provides minimum support to help individuals maintain their position in the building. But for Doug, his lifeskills, or lack of them, got him into too much trouble. After months of missing the rent, he ended up back at the main shelter. He's been there now for over a year and has lost the belief that he will ever find that place of his own again. "Someday," he tells me whenever we chat. "Someday."

When does someday come? Waiting for someday is like waiting to win the lottery. You can't plan your life around it and if you do, you're not living your life in reality.

It is what I find most tragic about the cycle of homelessness. The ebbing away of initiative. The drying up of the drive to get someplace else other than where you're at.

As Doug said, "It's not like I've got anywhere else to go."

As a shelter, we don't have the capacity, the programs nor the staff to help someone like Doug develop the longterm life skills to make a difference in his own life. At sixty, after a lifetime of flirting in and out of homelessness, Doug's inertia becomes a force to be reckoned with. He sits every day at a table at the front of the room, laughing and reading the paper. Most days, he doesn't leave the building. Most days, he holds onto the table he's at, claiming his one little space in the world as if it is the only space that gives him meaning.

In a place where everyone gets a second and a third and a fourth chance, Doug has lost the will to take a chance on himself. To give himself the chance to make a difference in his own life.

My daughter and her friend are about to take a chance on life. They're about to give themselves a chance to journey into the world, to spread their wings and see how high they can fly free of the nests that have held them safe for so long. It is an awesome journey, an exciting adventure. A step worth taking. A leap worth jumping into. They are looking at their future through open eyes, planning the steps they must take to create the life of their dreams. They're going after what they want, living large. Living life filled with possibility.

Former British Prime Minister, David Lloyd George said, "Don't be afraid to take a big step. You can't cross a chasm in two small jumps."

For Doug and Jack and those who sit at tables day after day in the hopes that the world will somehow change, that answers will somehow appear, the ties that bind them to their pasts keep them from taking a step into the world beyond the doors of the shelter. They keep them fixed on believing baby steps will create the story of their futures.

Every night at the shelter we sleep up to 1100 adult men and women. It's a busy place. A place filled with stories of lives in despair, of lives in turmoil, of lives of people who sit day after day at a table in the corner because they believe they have 'nowhere to go.'

The question is: Where are you sitting? In the possibility of someday arriving with the answers? Or, are you creating your answers as you live in the limitless possibilities of living life beyond your comfort zone? Are you leaping into the void armed with the knowledge that whatever happens, you're prepared for what life offers up because you are a human being doing what it takes to live the life of your dreams?

Friday, August 8, 2008

Dream big. Live large.

“Life is full of beauty. Notice it. Notice the bumble bee, the small child, and the smiling faces. Smell the rain, and feel the wind. Live your life to the fullest potential, and fight for your dreams.” Ashley Smith

It's possible you've never heard of Ashley Smith. She was a single mom who lost her child because of a drug addiction. Four years after her husband died of a stab wound, she was held hostage by Brian Nichols, a man who reportedly had just escaped from jail and killed several people before randomly selecting her as his hostage. While hostage, she read to him from the Bible and gave him some of her stash of meth. Her captor let her go when she told him she wanted to visit her daughter. She called 9-1-1 and he was arrested without incident.

Before the events transpired on that fateful day in June of 05, Ashley Smith had a dream of ending her addiction. Since those events transpired, she has written a book, remarried and is going to school.

We all have dreams. Sometimes, we let them wither on a shelf. Sometimes, we might even take them down and admire them. Hold them up to the light, let them sparkle in the sun before replacing them on the shelf for safe-keeping.

Sometimes, we might even choose to live our dream.

Thoreau wrote, "If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours."

Shoot for the moon. You'll end up amongst the stars.

I have a dream. It is a vision of my life as a full-time writer. I was close to it once. Got scared and backed away. Met a man and took a wrong turn into despair. I've been slowly inching closer to my dream again. Slowly taking steps that move me forward on the continuum of my dreaming.

It's time to leap. Time to embrace my dream with fervour and passion. Time to get real with my reality. To get up close and personal with my ambitions and down and dirty with my resistance to claiming my place in the sun.

As Thoreau suggests, in the act of living our dreams, we live a life beyond our imagination. In the act of writing here every morning, of moving constantly forward in my vision of my life, I am experiencing life beyond my imagination. Life amongst the stars, in the stratosphere of my dreams.

Dream big. Live large.

The question is: What's your dream for your life? Are you living it up every day or letting it wither on a shelf for fear it might fall to pieces?

Thursday, August 7, 2008

In giving we receive

Grace defies reason and logic. Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news indeed, because I've done a lot of stupid stuff. Bono

In my life, I too have done a lot of stupid stuff. My stupidity lessens as I become more aware of my ability to live in grace through every moment of the day by doing less of what hurts me and more of what heals me. In my journey, however, I am humbled by the realization of how little I know about living without fear of the world around me. How little I know about being free. When I stand in love, however, my journey is filled with grace, and the recognition that this is my one wild and passionate life. It's up to me to live it up.

In Greek mythology, the three graces were sisters, Aglaia (Splendor), Euphrosyne (Mirth), and Thalia (Good Cheer). In middle ages iconography, the Graces represented beauty, charity and love. For me today, grace is the state of being where I am in balance. Where I am at ease with my world, at peace in my heart and at rest in my mind, confident in my being my one true self.

In today's hyper-accelerated world, living in grace can be a challenge. Life gets going and I get doing without stopping to breathe the air around me. Mind in forward, I step into my day looking for what needs to get done as I forget about what I'm doing in the moment of my being at one, at peace, at ease with where I'm at.
Recently, I received an email from a woman I've never met. She saw my daughters and me at Choices awhile ago and had to write to tell me of what that brief encounter meant to her. Her words were moving, touching and inspiring. I felt bathed in grace. Surrounded by beauty, charity and love.

In the woman's email, she wrote and told me about her story and how it parallels the story of my journey with Conrad. But I'm not writing to tell you about my story, she wrote, when I heard you'd written a book I bought it "not b/c of what it was about, but b/c I wanted a piece of your understanding of the gift of life."

In her words I am bathed in the Graces. Bathed in the gift of another woman's spirit touching mine and lifting me up. I am reminded that I am a child of the universe, living this one wild and passionate life, fearlessly becoming all that I am meant to be. When I share my joy and laughter with grace and ease, I am living on purpose, doing with intent. "I am a fearless woman sharing my unique gifts to create a world where spirits dance freely in love, joy and harmony."

I asked both my daughters to read this woman's email. "Please know," she writes at the end of her email, "that your spirit has touched my soul." I wanted them to know that their spirits, their love, has touched another and inspired her to live, laugh, love.

I am humbled and I am inspired.

What an amazing gift this woman has given me. In her words I am in awe once again of the human spirit's ability to overcome sorrow and pain. For my daughters, the gift of her words is a soothing balm of confidence, of joy, of love. What her words tell me is that in our journey away from those dark days of pain and sorrow, we have claimed the right to live in joy and laughter. To live in spirited exuberance, alive and dancing, in love with being who we are, in love with where we're at, freely sharing our gifts so that in giving, we receive.

The question is: Are you dancing with joy, sharing your exuberance with the world around you? Or, are you silently standing on the sidelines watching the world dance before you, refusing to receive the wonders around you?

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Fear of falling

So, I have this thing about trust. I know I mentioned it before but when it jumps up and hits me in the face, figure I'd better pay attention.

C.C. and I were having a discussion. Alright, it was heated and it had teeth but as neither of us are yellers, it can't be called an argument, right?

Wrong. Silence or Violence -- it is still an argument when two people take sides and refuse to give way for another perspective. Both C.C. and I share the silence mode of arguing -- which gets nowhere fast other than discord.

Thing is, I haven't got a clue about what we were arguing. The inciting incident was lost after about the third stony silence that clearly stated, "I'm pissed. Don't enter my space."

To make matters worse, I have 'all or nothing stinkin' thinking' tendencies. As in, "Fine. This obviously means we have no common ground. Good-bye."

Okay, so while the argument, veiled as a discussion, didn't quite get to there, my thinking definitely did. I suppose in some ways it's like someone saying, "Well, it's not really infidelity if I don't act on my thinking." Duh? Even without the action, it's still 'stinking thinking'. There's no integrity in thinking like a pig.

In this instance my stinking thinking was planning exit strategies -- and I still couldn't remember what the argument was all about!

Which led me to my journal last night. To writing it out so that my head didn't get caught up in thinking itself into tighter and tighter circles.

Now, it's easy to cite the 5,432 things he did to make matters worse. I'm not so liberal with adding up the totality of my accountability.

I knew I had to take ownership of my 100%. I knew I was responsible for everything I said and did -- I just really, really wanted to lay all the blame on him. I mean, it was all his fault. Right?

Wrong. Until I ask myself the questions that make me dig deep into my accountability and add up my steps into the wrong direction to arrive at the total of their mis-direction, I will be acting out of reflex. blaming him for my 100% as well as his and not living with integrity.

I started with the most important questions first -- What do I want in my relationship with C.C.

Closeness. Intimacy. Trust. Love.

Did my behaviour increase closeness, intimacy, trust and love or did it subtract?

Duh. It was mighty cold in them frigid zones below zero where my defenses kept me on Red Alert looking for any means to justify my position, adding up his accountability to 202%.

But.... and my critter mind awakens to the danger of losing control. Yah But he.... and it begins to cite C.C.'s offences without any regard to truth or fact. In the world of protecting my ego, fiction works best.

Back to ground zero. What do I want? What am I creating? Discord or Harmony.

Thing is, discord keeps me stuck in my fears. To create harmony I must step through my barriers, step beyond my comfort zone, surrender my ego and fall into love.

Scary stuff that falling into love. What if I hit rock bottom? What if I don't fly?

And there lay the crux of my discord. My fear of falling was keeping me from taking the leap into love trusting that no matter which direction I go, I will always be okay within me.

In falling into love, I fear letting go of the ground beneath my feet. I fear moving to another place and keep myself in the place I'm at, regardless of how uncomfortable it might be. Talk about self-defeating game!

As Babe Ruth said, "You can't steal second base and keep one foot on first."

I can't fall into love without surrendering the place I'm at. I can't trust without being trusting, without being trustworthy.

I was creating the distrust I was living.

C.C. was acting from where ever he's at. From his discomfort. His fears. His insecurities.

What was I doing?

Well, truth is, exactly the same thing -- in spite of my holier than thou thinking that kept chiming in that I was acting like a mature, caring, loving human being!

And that's the thing about arguments. The details of how we fall into discord evaporate in our desire to hold our ground on where we're at.

For me, being right became way more important than being loving, caring and considerate. Being right protected me from risking being vulnerable -- now that was scary.

In the big picture of our relationship -- I don't have to be right. What I need to be is loving and caring. I need to act with integrity -- not the intent to protect myself just in case I might get hurt.

Scrapes and bruises, bumps and hurts are all part of loving and living with passion. Fearlessly letting go of my fear of scrapes and bruises, bumps and hurts is all part of being a woman of worth, a woman with integrity, a woman who is capable of living life outside her comfort zone, fearlessly experiencing the highs, and the lows, of loving another human being without fear of falling.

The question is: Where do you create discord to protect yourself from being 100% accountable for your actions? Where do you let fear keep you from letting go of where you're at?

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Flying over waves

The water was choppy. Whitecaps danced. Waves splashed. Clouds floated like islands. The sun floated amidst them. Hiding. Shining. Hiding. Shining.

I had never driven a SeaDoo before. A.S. offered to give me a lesson. "The water's a bit rough for a first time," he said. "But if you're willing, I don't mind taking you out."

We left the group of thirty or so adults and kids sitting on lawn chairs in a circle on the sand, and waded out to the SeaDoo. The water was icy. Thigh high. Cold. Chilly.

A.S. gave me a quick lesson. We climbed on board with me in front and took off across the waves. At first, I was nervous. Trepidations washed over me. Oh my god, my mind screamed. I'm scared. My right thumb on the gas knob, I pushed gently down. The machine bucked and balked, slewing through the choppy waters.

"It has to get above the waves," A.S. hollered into my ear.

I pressed harder upon the lever with my thumb. The machine leaped forward, and up and onto the water. We began to fly across the waves. Bouncing and rolling, the sound of the engine a constant drone in our ears.

I was terrified and exhilarated all in the same breath. I laughed and screamed and hooted. Water splashed, spray flew up and out in a white foam that sparkled in the air. We zipped over to the other side of the lake. We zoomed into the waves and headed north. I turned the wheel and we began westward, back to the other shore. With a spew of water and wake, we made it back.

I was in heaven.

I have a contract that I created at Choices. "I am a fearless woman." It reminds me of what I want more of in my life. It's the tool I use in moments when I am afraid. When I hesitate to do what's right. When I balk at taking the next step.

I know a lot of fear. Have felt it race through my body at the most inopportune times, impeding me from forward motion. Inhbiting me from taking action. From experiencing life on the edge of reason, on the other side of my comfort zone.

On Saturday, I whispered my contract to myself. Asked, "What would a fearless woman do?" and hit the gas.

It was grand!

The question is: What do you do when you confront your fear? Do you face it down and move into it, leaping over the boundaries of its inhibitions? Or, do you stop dead and let the waters wash over you, drowning you in their need to hold you back?

Friday, August 1, 2008

Gone fishin'

Off to the deep lakes of the interior of BC. Hope everyone has a great long weekend. There's no Internet service where we'll be so I will be gone 'fishin'!

I'll be back invigorated on Tuesday!


I walk in beauty now.

Something I lost through the debacle with Conrad (see, The Dandelion Spirit for background) was my belief in the mystical elements of life. My spirituality.

On Sunday, while at Choices, I was listening to the the speaker at the Sunday Morning Spiritual Service and the thought raced through my head that I had lost a song. It's a small song. Just four lines. I couldn't remember the words, but I could remember the value that song used to play in my life. I sang it to my daughters when they were young. I sang it to myself when I walked my dog, when I ran, when I went about my day.

I hadn't realized I'd lost that song until Sunday morning. I sat and thought about that loss and struggled to remember the words. Frustrated, I turned my mind back to listening to the speaker. He was asking a question. What do you believe?

What do I believe? I believe the world is a mystical, magical place where miracles take place every moment of every day. I believe there is a Divine Being, a collective consciousness through which we are all connected. I believe I have a purpose on this earth. I believe we all do.

And then the worlds of that song from my past came back to me:
I walk in beauty now.
Beauty lies before me.
Beauty lies above me.
Behind and below me.

Four simple lines that create a world of beauty around me.

Sometimes, we don't know what we've lost until we're reminded of its absence from our lives.

For me, my spirituality is an integral part of who I am. Before Conrad, I embraced my spiritual being and revelled in the wonder and joy of living on this amazing planet called Earth. I felt part of the universe, that big beautiful cosmos filled with shining stars.

And then I lost my sense of wonder. Lost my direction. Myself.

It's been over five years since his arrest and I am reclaiming that part of myself. My spiritual essence that believes in wonder, believes in a Divine Being, believes in a collective consciousness.

I have always struggled with my Christianity. Raised Catholic, God and I were not on very good terms. I wanted Him to like me. I wanted Him to save me, but in my childhood world, God was a giant hand suspended from the heavens waiting to descend forcefully upon my head for the slightest infraction of his rules. He was an all-seeing eye that watched my every move, grading me Good or Bad, forever keeping me in his sights in anticipation of my inevitable falls from grace that would mark me forever on the darkside of the ever-after.

Speaking of religion has always frightened me. Turning up for my beliefs has always intimidated me. What if... someone disagrees? What if.... someone thinks I'm stupid to believe what I believe? What if.... I don't know what I believe?

Happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, worn or consumed. Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace and gratitude. Denis Waitley

On Sunday, a song came back to me that once upon a time filled my world with beauty. In its reemergence into my mind, I am reminded that this is a wonderful world I live in. It is a place of beauty when I walk with a loving heart filled with gratitude, standing up for what I believe in, turning up for me in all kinds of weather and moving with grace, ease and dignity through my day.

I walk in beauty now.

The question is: How grateful is your heart? How loving is your world? Do you see the beauty all around you?