Tuesday, September 30, 2008

International Passion Day

The ancient Greeks told a legend about the creation of the universe. One day, after creating the planet and all its beauty, the gods held a conference about what to give to their most wondrous creation, Man and Woman.

"We've given birds song. Ocean's fish. Trees leaves. Clouds rain. Flowers nectar. What shall we give man?" they asked eachother.

"Let's give man the same creative power we possess," one of the gods suggested. "But we must make sure he never uses it against us. Let's hide it so that only he who is willing to live up to the brilliance we gods have created in him is able to find it."

They wondered where to hide this priceless gift when one of the gods answered, "Let us hide it where man will never think to look for it: within his own mind."

On Sunday, at the HUB conference, a woman stood up to ask for help in making a vision come true. Based on the Inca goddess Pachimama, she wanted to get people together to focus on the goal of healing the planet. She wasn't really clear of her vision, wasn't sure of what help she was asking for but, in the course of her telling the group about the organization Pachamama and what it meant to her, tears formed in her eyes. Her words slowed down, her body stilled and she began to tell us about her connectedness to the earth, her wonder of its beauty and her awe of its power. By the time she was finished, several people had stood up to join her in her quest.

Janet Bray Attwood was in the audience listening. As people joined with the woman to support her vision, Janet said, "Isn't that beautiful. You aren't clear with your words yet about what you want, but people can hear your heart's desire as you told us about your vision and they resonated with its calling. The heart always knows. Now, you just have to give your mind time to catch up."

The heart always knows.

Within our minds are priceless gifts of wonder. Creative talents waiting to be explored. Unknown genius waiting to be unleashed.

The door to our mind's power is through our hearts. When we let our hearts guide us to our purpose, when we allow our hearts to open up to the incredible gifts we possess, our mind's unleash their amazing ability to create. We become open to receiving the gifts of the universe as we give up on our fear and give into our desire to live passionately on purpose.

Today is International Passion Day. I invite you to click on the link at the bottom of the page and watch the three minute video. Send it on to your friends. Create a stir. Awaken the passion.

Be passionate today about your life. Be passionate today in everything you do. Awaken to your brilliance. Awaken to your magnificence and share your gifts with the world.

The question is: Isn't it about time you got passionate with your life?

Monday, September 29, 2008

Moments of wonder

Happiness radiates like the fragrance from a flower and draws all good things to it. His Holiness Maharishi Mahesh Yogi
It was a room full of happy people. Very happy. The energy was contagious. The spirit alive.

It was late Friday afternoon as I drove to a hotel in the north east of the city to give a 15 minute presentation about the shelter where I work. The conference was for HUB. It's the first time HUB has held a conference in Canada, and it was, without a doubt, a memorable and fruitful event.

There were about 120 people in the room. The facilitator, Spryte, invited me to the stage, gave me a hug and handed me the microphone. I wasn't prepared for such a warm and loving welcome. I wasn't prepared for a standing ovation. I wasn't prepared for the following morning when all 120 participants arrived at the shelter to be of service.

What an amazing experience. The tasks they were assigned were varied. One third sorted clothing donations. Another group went out and cleaned up the environment around the shelter, and the third group served coffee and chatted with clients on our second floor day area. In the process of doing service, they taught me a valuable lesson.

As an organization, we hesitate to simply invite people in to chat with clients. The shelter is their home. Inviting strangers isn't fair. How will some of our clients respond? How will they behave? How will the visitors react?

Trust in the process. When individuals come with open hearts and minds, when they are there to share and learn, to make a difference, miracles happen. At one point, I stood at the front of the day area with a staff member as we talked about the event. "Wow," he said. "The energy in here is amazing. This is exciting."

I agreed. Move on to chat with a client. "Wow," he said. "This is fun. It's really exciting in here right now. We don't get this enough. It's cool."

When people connect with people through open spirits, miracles happen. Eyes open wide. Hearts break open and minds are freed of limiting beliefs.

There were so many exciting moments of wonder over the weekend it's hard to capsulize all of them in one blog!

Of note, the young man who took up a drawing pencil for the first time in 3 years, sold his drawing of the eagle and warrior. The smile on his face, the beam of pride, his sense of accomplishment. Wow!

Another artist was invited to attend the conference, to spend time with the group as they met and to finish a painting that was then auctioned off at the end of the conference yesterday. I was there yesterday and saw him. He was smiling, ear to ear, even with his wired shut jaw. He'd sold one painting and was working on a second for the auction.

There were tears, or as Brandon, one of the facilitators calls them, 'passion pearls', pouring out. There was laughter. There was joy.

Over the weekend, the group had sponsored an 'extreme makeover' of the lives of two refugee families. On Sunday, each family was brought in separately and presented with their gifts. Beds. Tables. Dressers. Clothes. Toys for the children. A stroller. A crib. Food. Gift certificates. Money.

Isn't it amazing what a group of committed and inspired people can do in 30 hours? Before arriving at the conference on Friday afternoon, none of the attendees knew about the makeover. By Sunday, they had accomplished miracles.

For me, a miracle happened in the form of an invitation to attend a workshop held by Janet Bray Atwood of The Passion Test. She and her partner have created the test and program to help individuals live their lives with passion and purpose. Her focus now is to work with homeless women and youth to help them find their way out of homelessness into lives of passion. "You are making a difference," she told me yesterday afternoon when she invited me to attend her next training workshop for facilitators of the test. "I want to give you some tools that will help you make an even bigger difference. This is my gift to you."

Dreams come true when we get out of the way. Dreams come true when we get clear of our thinking.

It was a weekend of miracles and laughter. Of watching lives open up to the beauty of giving to receive.

It wasn't Choices, but it sure felt like it!

The question is: Are you open to stepping into your day with passion and purpose? Are you limiting your movements with thoughts of what could go wrong? Or, are you stepping into the limitless possibilities of your day with an open heart and mind, consciously creating the life you've always dreamed of?

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Cinnamon Dolce Experience

It was a simple lesson in stepping outside my comfort zone, altering my routine to experience the possibilities of something different, something new.

Some mornings, particularly if I drive to work, I stop at the Starbucks across the river from the homeless shelter where I work and pick up my favourite, a Venti Skinny Vanilla Latte. Yesterday, much to my dismay, the barrista informed me they were out of non-fat vanilla syrup. 'Oh no!' I cried, my mind wrestling with the thought of sugar laden vanilla syrup.

"We have other non-fat syrups," the barrista suggested.

My mind balked. Change my routine? Something different? But, skinny won out over calorie indulgement and I chose a Cinnamon Dolce.

Ok. So, this is not an advertisement for Starbucks. But, with one sip I was transported to Christmas. I was immersed in the warm and fragrant sensation of drifting on a bed of cinnamon, my world a swirl of pine boughs and Christmas carols lilting through my mind.

And all it took was one sip of coffee out of the norm!

I arrived in my office adrift on thoughts of a world of peace and joy. That sensory delight in the morning carried me through my day. It carried me through a tense discussion about ethics and accountability. A heated debate about ten year planning to end homelessness and day to day exigencies of dealing with individuals for whom homelessness is their reality with no end in sight. And, it sustained me through a meeting with a Native couple who have been treated badly by the very people who promised to help them end the homelessness that was putting their lives, and the life of their unborn child, at risk.

My world at work is not all lilting song and tidings of comfort and joy. At times, hopelessness seeps in and I become mired in the sense of futility that sometimes pervades the atmosphere with the seemingly endless stream of individuals pushing through our doors, looking for somewhere to get in from the cold.

Yesterday, a sip of cinnamon laden coffee reminded me that my state of mind is determined by my attitude, not the world around me.

Yesterday, a different choice, created a different state of mind in which I could see the possibilities, rather than the futility, of making a difference.

Pinpricks of hope stand out in my day like hoar frost in the morning light. Like cinnamon sprinkled on foaming milk, they add zest to a world where hopelessness pervades.

A meeting with a minister at the church where we will be holding our annual Christmas art show. One of the artists from the shelter attended with me. To see him sit with such pride as he contributed to the planning reminded me everyone has value, everyone wants to make a difference, we just have to make room for their difference.

A visit from another client. An alcoholic, he's cut back on drinking with each day he's worked at reclaiming his artistic endeavours. He is incredibly talented. Yesterday he asked if I would take photos of his work and print them so that he could take them with him to his nephew's wedding on the weekend. He's travelling north to Edmonton. Hasn't been away from the shelter, except on binges, in five years. Hasn't seen his daughter in that time either. She'll be at the wedding.

"I'm kinda stressed," he told me when I brought him the folder of printouts. "But I'm going to do this."

How far he's come. Two years ago when I started the art program, he would attend on an irregular basis. He'd sit quietly in a corner by himself, hunched over his table, seldom sharing what he'd done. Now, he volunteers in the studio. His works stand on display. He often searches me out in the building to talk about what he's working on, about technique and colour and composition, about ideas on how the art program can grow and flourish. And now he's carrying copies of his work to show his family. He's still drinking. He may never quit. But, the change in his demeanour is profound. His pride in what he's doing, inspiring.

In the art studio, another client has started to turn up. I've chatted with him in the day area. Nothing deep. Nothing earth-shattering. "Hello. How's it going." Yesterday, I stopped by the studio to chat with the volunteer and there he was sharpening a pencil.

"Hi Louise!" he greeted me enthusiastically. He moved back to the table where his work was spread out and picked up a drawing. "Do you think I could sell this in the art show?"

I looked at his pencil drawing of an eagle and a warrior. It was superb.

"Wow! That's fabulous. I didn't know you were an artist."

"I used to draw. All the time. This is the first time I've done any in three years." He paused. Ran a hand over the surface of his drawing like a blind man exploring someone's face. He muttered something about being glad to be able to do it again and sat back down to draw.

I smiled. Touched his shoulder and quietly said, "I'm glad to see you here."

He nodded his head and kept drawing.

Baby steps.

For that man, stepping into the studio space was a giant leap outside his comfort zone. Away from the familiarity of his surroundings on the second floor, apart from the crowd with whom he usually hangs, he was stepping out, stepping into a world where his creative spirit could find its wings to soar above the grim reality of homelessness.

Like a cinnamon dolce latte awakening me to the wonder of the world around me, his spirit was touched by the essence of something bigger and deeper than the world in which his daily existence is limited by the label he carries where ever he goes and the self-limiting beliefs that keep him living a life he never dreamed was possible. Homeless.

I work in a world where lilting song and tidings of comfort and joy can be hard to find. But, when I step beyond my comfort zone. Step out of my norm and open up to the possibility of change, I open the door for others to follow.

Two years ago, I started an art program. I love to paint. Thought I'd share my love of painting with clients who were interested in joining in on the experience. I'm not a trained artist. I'm not a teacher. Yet, in the process of sharing something I love, I've created space for others to find a creative spark to ignite their imaginations, and the possibility for change.

Yesterday, as I listened to Reg, the artist who joined me in the discussions about the Christmas art show and sale, I listened in awe as he explained what it has meant to him to be able to paint and draw in a safe environment, a place where possibility exists. "In the studio I'm free of labels. Free of the divide that keeps me on one side of the street. I can build bridges I can crossover. I can build bridges that others can use to reach my world and possibly gain some understanding of what it's like to be so lost you believe there's no way home again."

I had a Skinny Cinnamon Dolce Latte yesterday and awoke to the wonder and joy of Christmas unwrapping itself in my mind. Within the gift of its presence, I was reminded once again that life isn't in the comfort of doing what I've always done to get the same experience. Life begins beyond the edges of my comfort zone, on the other side of letting go of limiting beliefs that keep me trapped in living small.

Yesterday, Christmas arrived on a bed of cinnamon and I woke up to the magic and wonder of a world of limitless possibility, no matter what side of the street I'm on.

The question is: Are you stuck smelling dried out roses? Are you mired in the same old same old, limiting yourself to experiencing what you've always had, limiting yourself to living on one side of the street watching the world go by?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Trusting in the process

I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do. Leonardo da Vinci.

When I began writing this blog a year and a half ago I had no idea what I was doing. Scared that I wouldn't be able to find something to write every morning, I did it anyway. I kept moving through my fear, putting my fingertips to the keyboard every morning and in the process of doing, learned to trust in the process of the writing not being the writer. I became the words appearing on the screen, not the writer making them appear.

Many mornings when I awake, I do not consciously know what I'm going to write about. But, when I let my fingers simply type, to skim the letters on the keyboard and form them into words, the theme or what I'm writing about begins to appear. This blog stems from a conversation I had with a girlfriend yesterday about writing. I didn't know I'd be writing about our conversation until I started writing and the words began to form a thread leading me into my subconscious like Hansel and Gretel through the forest. The gift of our conversation became the clarity of my doing this morning as I trusted in the process of letting the words appear and guide me to my truth.

The subconscious rises to the top when the conscious mind makes way for the truth to appear.

Clarity comes in the doing. Not the thinking about it.

Most of my life I have been 'accused' of over-thinking -- especially when it comes to relationships. I analyze comings and goings like an archaeologist digging for history in the sands of time. I search for hidden meaning in each syllable spoken and pull apart every gesture looking for relevance in every act. I turn a comment into a treatise on the meaning of life and overlook simple acts of kindness in my quest to find discord at the root of harmony. And in my pursuit of truth, love and joy, I have sometimes lost the wonder of the power of the words, I love you.

Writing this blog is not about analyzing anything. It's about letting the truth reveal itself in every day magic, in every day wonder. When I write here, reality becomes clear as the words form pictures that reveal the joy of living life free of believing I have to search for meaning. Meaning is in the doing. Not the searching for it.

For me, writing this blog has provided me an amazing opportunity to learn to trust in my voice. In my strength. In my wisdom. In my life. In me.

In giving, I receive.

The gifts I have received from writing here are many. Confidence. Trust. Truth. Empowerment. Enrichment. Joy. Wonder. Over the year and a half of writing here, I have had many emails telling me what a particular post meant to a reader. I have been blessed to have others find meaning in my words, to find hope in my belief that life is an adventure and comfort in the knowledge that love is limitless. Like meaning, we don't have to search for it, unearth it, uncover it. Love is. All around. Love is.

The question is: Are you searching for meaning in the world around you or living it up with the truth of who you are within you? Are you denying yourself the gift of trusting in love, or are you being the love you seek?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Playing the cards you're dealt

Each player must accept the cards life deals him or her: but once they are in hand, he or she alone must decide how to play the cards in order to win the game. Voltaire

I work in an environment where people have been dealt hands of constant sorrow. Their lives in tatters, they fall farther and farther from where they wanted to be into a place they can't imagine. Stuck in the grind of rock bottom, they cannot conceive of ever getting up again and end up gambling every day with the one thing they fear losing the most; their own lives.

Drugs. Prostitution. Dealing. Gambling. The list of addictions goes on as each individual loses a grip on their power to decide how to play the cards differently. On how to play a different game and win.

Life becomes a constant struggle of making sense of nonsense as they lose all sense of direction, all sense of the possibility of a different life other than the one they've got.

Yesterday, we said farewell to two counsellors who are moving on to roles outside the homeless sector. Jack* came to thank one of the counsellors for her help and to wish her well. Five months ago he moved out of the shelter. He's got a job. Rents a house of his own and has been clean and sober for six months.

"She saved my life," he told me as we sat and chatted before the ceremonies began. "She didn't give up on me." He smiled, his eyes twinkling. "And she wouldn't let me give up on myself."

"How long had you been on the street?" I asked him.

"Five years," he told me. "I'm a truck driver. They took my licence away when I had a stroke."

He was thirty-five when he had the stroke. It was drug related. He'd managed to keep his hand in play, always on the edge. Always looking out for the next big hit. Drive. Drugs. Drink. Drive. Drugs. Drink. And then the stroke hit him. A card he'd not seen before. He dove into drugs with a vengeance. Life became a constant round of drugs, drink, dive.

He didn't know what hit me. He didn't care.

"After the first couple of years I sorta wanted to get off the merry-go-round but I just kept sliding down," he told me. His candor was refreshing. His honesty compelling. "It was easier to stay down than to get up so I kept sliding. And then, one day my buddy Dave came back from rehab. He was committed to being straight. To staying off the drugs. He made me go see the counsellor and here I am." He pointed to the woman who dealt him a card he didn't want to lose. "She's persistent. She doesn't give up."

He's looking good. Clear eyed. Fresh. Proud. He's restoring his relationship with his son. His dad. His mom. Even his ex-wife is speaking civilly to him again. He's reclaiming much of what was lost and has a passion for sobriety and for helping others find theirs.

"I go to several AA meetings a week. I'm committed to staying clean."

In his twenties, life dealt Jack the high-life. He made good money driving. Had a home. A family. A comfortable existence. He also liked to drink. Couldn't drink and drive and so he started using. Drugs kept him alert. They gave him a sense of direction he'd never imagined.

Thing is, life doesn't deal you drugs. People do. And the cards are always stacked in the dealers favour. For Jack, drugs were an easy way to keep driving. When he first tried crack he had no idea he'd keep going back for more and more and more. He had no idea that playing that card would lead him to the street where all he ever wanted was to numb himself enough to forget where he was. The dealer kept dealing and Jack kept playing.

Sober at last, Jack can play his cards with a clear head, a steady hand. With a twelve step program under his belt, Jack has tools that will help him decide what to do with cards that are dealt, with triumphs and with losses.

Sober at last, Jack is in control of the cards he plays. He knows he can't control the game of life. He can decide who he deals with. He can decide how he plays the game.

Everyday I witness people falling down without any idea they have the power to get back up. And everyday I meet someone who has stood up and found themselves back where they belong. Playing the game of their life for keeps. Playing it like it is the only card they've got to lay down.

It is.

The question is: Are you deciding how to play your cards or are you laying down your hand in defeat before the game is ever played? Are you letting the cards you're dealt determine how you play the game or, are you playing for keeps every card you're dealt, confident in your ability to handle triumph and defeat with grace, ease and dignity?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Turning off TV to turn up for me

You're beginning to think that the tube is reality and that your own lives are unreal... In God's name, you people are the real thing; we're the illusion." Howard Beale character in Paddy Chayevski's film"Network".
Years ago, dare I say 'many' years ago in my twenties, I was transferred from Toronto to Edmonton. New to the city, I looked for somewhere to live that was charming and relaxing.

I found the perfect spot, forty-five minutes northwest of the city. Every evening after work, I'd leave my office, jump into my car and drive homeward into the setting sun. Stresses of the day would lift off and I would imagine them blowing into the wind of my open sunroof. By the time I arrived home to my little house on a hillside protected by a grove of trees, I would be ready for an evening of reading, writing and walking in the hills. Situated on the backside of a small ski area, I could walk for hours without encountering a soul. My neighbour's homes were scattered amidst the hills and I seldom saw them.

When the evening's were dark, I'd walk by the light of the moon on the dirt road leading through the small enclave of homes where my house was situated. As I walked, I could see blue light flickering in the windows of the houses nestled amongst the trees. I didn't have a TV so wasn't tempted to race home and turn it on to catch up on the latest drama. I remember thinking that I didn't want a TV. I had enough drama in my life without inviting in hundreds of other people's stuff, imagined or not. Even in my twenties, I knew avoiding my 'stuff', would not get me through it. I needed to embrace it and work with it to get to where I wanted to be.

Years later, I still have a love/hate relationship with TV. The difference today is, I have TV in my home.

Until they were in their teens, my daughters grew up without TV. And then I weakened. Someone gave me one. I bought one. And now, in this house, we have three TV -- two 'donated', one purchased.


What a drain on my resources a TV is.

Noticed it big time last night. I came home. C.C. is away for a few days and I had an evening to myself. Alexis, my eldest daughter, was on her way out to meet her sister and I had only the puppies to keep me company. Made myself dinner. Puttered around the kitchen for awhile, took the dogs for a walk and came home. I thought about painting, but didn't feel like hauling out all the stuff.

"You're tired," my critter mind whispered into my ear. "You deserve to just put your feet up and relax."

"Good idea," my healthy self thought. "I'll do some journalling. Meditate. Read for awhile and get an early night."

"No!" My critter mind rose up into its beastly form. "Don't do that. Turn on the TV. Relax. I'm sure there's something worth watching. Just watch it for an hour. Relax. You can do the other stuff later."

Challenge with 'later' in TV time is, later never comes. Caught in a James Bond thriller, I never turned it off, never got to what I had wanted to do. The healthy, caring, loving things I need to do that keep me nourished and balanced on the road of living this one, wild and precious life for all I'm worth.

I'm telling on myself here. Have to. TV is interfering with my living. I need to acknowledge it. Face it and embrace my fear of appearing less than when I acknowledge I slipped, fell back, fell down on my commitment to doing more of what works in my life, more of what creates the life of my dreams.

Need to find value in an evening of TV.

And the value is.... [insert drum roll] -- there is no value in vacant staring at vacuous programming that is designed to dull my mind and weaken my resolve to living life for all I'm worth.

The value is in turning away from the flickering screen. Not flicking the flicker ON. The value is in acknowledging -- watching TV does not get me more of what I want. Being immersed in my own creative processes gets me everything I want.

Not the end of the world. But it is a pattern I need to gently and lovingly change. With a TV in our bedroom, most nights end with the news droning on in my sleep. I like news. I just don't need to go to sleep with my mind filled with the world's woes pounding away at the shores of my slumber, or, (and I must admit it's my favourite show) Law & Order's unfolding of yet another heinous crime reeling in my brain.With my awareness of TV's drain on my contentment, I have the tools to step into my power and turn on my life with creative processes that nurture and nourish me. I have the power to make a difference in my own life by doing the things I love, the things that say, "You're worth living it up for." And TV isn't one of them!

The question is: Are you draining your resources on mindless programming that doesn't inspire nor excite your life? Are you watching other lives unfold and missing the excitement of living it up in your own existence?

Monday, September 22, 2008

A day of painting

One of the constraints of this home that C.C. and I have created together is that it is too small for his son and daughter as well as my two daughters. It was impacting his relationship -- both with his kids and me. There wasn't enough space for them to come and stay, or to even feel like they could just drop in. So, we decided a change was in need.

A week ago, we closed the deal on a new home.

Which means, packing.

Being a compulsive sort, I decided it would be best to start packing now. Our possession date is October 17, the movers will come October 25 so that we can have time to paint before moving in. If I start packing now, I won't be crunched to get it all done in just a few days before the move.

Great idea. Except, I'm the only one who thinks so.

"Remember, I've got my regular Saturday golf game and then I'm off for three days golf with 'the boys'," he told me Saturday morning when I asked him about packing that day.

Hmmm. D'ya think you could give up one day of golf to help pack? I thought,figurative hands on my hips, jaw set in a defiant sulk. The girls were off doing their thing, I had the house to myself.

My mind was a tornado packed fury as I sorted through laundry. "Fine. I'll do it all like I always do. I'd rather be out doing things I want to do but how will the packing get done? What is wrong with everyone?"

Fortunately, a friend from Choices dropped over for a quick visit before I got too mired in my martyrdom.

"Do you want to live amongst boxes for a month?" she asked.

Not particularly.

Golf season in these mountain climes is short. C.C.'s trip with the boys is an annual occurrence. They spend three days in the mountains playing their own version of a mini-Ryder's Cup. Done it for years. Saturday golf is also a summer tradition. I usually love my Saturday morning's alone. Take the dogs for a walk. Clean house. Do some writing. Have coffee with a friend. My choices are limitless and I love the freedom.

So why such a snit this Saturday morning?

Well, the packing does have to get done. But, does it have to be done to my timetable? My design?

Not really.

If I choose to pack, can I do it without murderous thoughts roiling through my head? Can I do it without smashing plates and flying knives? What's the point of doing it and being angry? What on earth am I angry about?

Good question -- well.... I'm angry that nobody else is taking this packing gig seriously. I'm angry that everyone is doing what they want to do and I'm scuffling about in the muck of making myself do something today that I don't want to do.

What would I rather do? Be embroiled in anger or embraced in love?

How would I like to spend my Saturday?

Painting. Haven't painted in months. My 'To Do' lists have been interfering with my self-nurturing.

"But the packing....?", my martyrs mind cried. "And don't forget, you're mad at C.C."

"Hush," my loving self replied. "You get to choose how you go through your day. Do you want to cling to anger, or do you want to sink into your peace of mind and revel in the joys of doing what you love?"

I covered the dining room table and floor with plastic. Pulled my easel into the room, hauled out my paints, set up a canvas and picked up a brush.

What a beautiful way to spend my day. Surrounded by colour and form. Doing something I love. Surrendering my ire and falling in love all over again with me, my life, with C.C., my creativity, my world.

The question is: Are you prepared to give up your anger to fall in love? Are you ready to surrender your high horse to riding blissfully on peace of mind? Are you ready to choose peace and harmony over discord and anger?

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The fight of his life

When a work-related accident forced him to quit, Rick* moved back from the mountain village where he was working, to the city.

"They didn't have the facilities to help me heal," he told me one day as he sat in my office chatting about his future. He was excited. After two years of battling both his injury and a cancerous tumour they'd found the year before, Rick was on the road to healing.

"I had the surgery June 10," he said, a smile spreading across his face. Its warmth felt like butter melting on a piece of toast. "So far, so good. Four months and I'm still clear."

"Congratulations," I told him. "That's fabulous news."

We talked a bit about the piece he was submitting for the newsletter I write at the shelter where I work.

"I can't stand on my feet all day anymore," he said, patting the crutches that rested on the floor beside his chair. "The cancer took too much muscle and tissue from my calf." A former chef, Rick has been retraining at the shelter. Since coming back to Calgary, Rick has been part of our computer training program. He doesn't live at the shelter, but comes in every day to volunteer and to take training to become a computer technician. In his article he talks about his plans to move back to Banff and set up a computer repair shop.

"Can you add a paragraph about my recovery at the end of the article?" he asked. "Something to the effect that I'm cancer free and looking to move on?"

"Absolutely," I told him.

That was Monday of last week.

On Friday, Rick sought me out. I was busy and didn't have a lot of time to chat when he limped into my office. I wondered if we could meet later.

"This won't take long," he said. "I just wanted to ask you to remove the last paragraph of the article."

I paused, the meaning of what he'd said not quite hitting me. And then it did. I dropped the papers I was holding on my desk and moved quickly to where Rick stood by my office door, leaning on his crutches.

I hugged him. "I'm so sorry to hear that, Rick. What happens now?"

He shrugged. "I don't know. I want a second opinion. They're talking about amputating."

What happens now?

For Rick, the road has turned dark. His mother, the only person in his family with whom he has contact, lives in Quebec. "I haven't told her," he said when I asked him if she would be able to come out. "She's got enough problems and issues to deal with. She doesn't need to add me to the list."

He's here alone. He's still fighting Worker's Comp for the accident that took him off his feet. Still fighting to save his life. "I think WCB is trying to wait me out in the anticipation the cancer will get me first," he jokingly told me some months back. "They won't win."

I pray they don't.

"I'm not going to quit fighting," he said. "It's the only thing I can do. But I don't want the drugs and chemo. I had enough of drugs in my past. I don't want that ever again."

The downside of getting sick after getting clean and sober. Long ago, Rick was an addict. He kicked his habit and now drugs are part of the formula that could save his life. In his mind, drugs are the killer. Drugs stole so much from him, back then, he doesn't want to think about them in the here and now.

Rick will keep fighting. I've watched him over the two years I've known him at the shelter. He's a fighter. He will not give up on himself.

He's in the fight of his life. I pray he wins.

*not his real name

Friday, September 19, 2008

Rock On

It was a busy Thursday night at a neighbourhood pub. C.C. and I were there to listen to his son, T., perform with his band. Neither of us wanted to be out late. We both had had busy days and early mornings to contend with.

"I'm on at 9," T. told his father.

What is it with the creative world? Size 10 is the old 8. 9pm the new 10?

In the end, it didn't matter what time he played. He was fantastic.
To stop the flow of music would be like the stopping of time itself, incredible and inconceivable. Aaron Copland
To not have been there last night would have been incredible and inconceivable. No matter what time he played.

There were four acts. A young woman. Powerful voice. Smooth acoustic guitar. She covered Sarah McLaughlin and Joni Mitchell with her unique raspy voice.

The next band were, as C.C. described them, Oldtimers. Good, solid perfermers. The drummer was spectacular. Hard life on the road written on his face. Blond and white hair curled over his shoulders, cascading down his back. Red muscle shirt. Tattooed arms. Rocker turned 50. Their base guitarist and vocalist was a woman. Tiny. Petite. Raspy voice. She embraced her instrument and let it rip. When it was time for T. to set-up, she helped plug in, balance, re-wire the sound. Comfortable. Versatile. She knew her way around the stage.

And then T. played. Young. Exuberant. Energetic. His band of four blazed their way across the sound waves, rocking the joint with T.s original pieces. Harsh. Edgy. Jazz and rock blended on rhythms of punk. Lyrics that bit into your soul. Ripped your mind.

For his last piece, T. invited an older man from the audience to come up and play the sax with them. Generational gaps disappeared as his sax bridged the notes with rounded ease. A third guitarist joined them. He too was from another generation. The music didn't care. Neither did the audience.

Beside me, a woman rolled her shoulders, bobbed her head in time to the music. She leaned over towards me and asked. "Do you play?"

"No," I replied. I pointed to C.C. "We're here to listen to his son."

Her eyes and face lit up. "Which one is he?"

"T." I replied. "The one with the fedora."

"He's fantastic!" She listened to the music for a moment and then turned back to me. "I'm the drummer in the next band. The saxophonist's my husband. He's been playing all his life. I just started a year and a half ago. Love it," she yelled above the sounds of a base guitar twanging the last notes.

She was probably in her forties. As she got up to seat herself behind the drum kit she smiled and said. "I can't meet their drummer's act. He's good."

I smiled back at her and reassured her. "Your best is good enough. You'll be awesome!"

She thanked me and moved to the stage to join her husband. The third guitarist who joined in T.s band with the saxophonist was T.s base guitarist's teacher. When T and his band sat down, he too stayed on stage and got ready for the fourth and final act of the night.

They were mostly in their forties, maybe nudging up to 50. They rocked the house. Cover pieces only. Nothing original, but their style was a blend of jazz and blues. Syncopation. Familiar pieces. Buffalo Springfield. Bob Dylan. James Brown.

The music didn't care what age anyone was. The music simply was.

Plato said, "Music and rhythm find their way into the secret places of the soul."

Last night, I grudgingly went to listen to T. play. It was late. I was tired.

The music searched out my soul. Awoke my spirit and renewed me with the sounds of creativity come alive in the night. Generational gaps disappeared as everyone got closer to the essence of the human condition.

Music knows no barriers. It bridges the ages with its insistence that we come alive and listen. That we awaken to the beat of our soul's desire to be creative in whatever our human condition.

The question is: Where are you in your human condition? Are you listening to the sounds of silence begging you to slip back into slumber as you ignore the music of the world awakening around you? Or, are you feeling the notes of possibility searching your soul in morning's song? Are you awakening to the call of your spirit's dance willing you to 'rock on'?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

An angry conversation

The phone call came mid-morning.

"I understand you're the person I should be angry at," a male voice roared into my ear.

"You don't have to be angry with me if you don't want," I replied. "It is your choice."

He exploded into an explanation about why I was the person he should be angry with, why he had the right to be angry with me and why I was to blame for him missing an important story.

"What's wrong with you people?" he asked. "I'm here to sell newspapers. Stories are my coin. I get calls from the Premier, the Mayor, the Prime Minister. They know when they want to reach their audience, I can do it. I know they want me to tell their side. We understand each other. You people can't be bothered to give me a call."

Thank goodness for Choices.

We had a media conference on Tuesday morning to release a street level homeless count. This particular columnists name was left off the email distribution list.

It wasn't intentional. It wasn't personal. It was a mistake.

I acknowledged my mistake and my responsibility in his not receiving the report in question. "Your name was unfortunately not on my media list," I told him.

"Who made up the list?" he asked.

"It doesn't matter who made it," I told him. (I had a summer student working for me this summer who had updated the media list. His name wasn't on it to begin with. She wouldn't have the foresight to add it without my instruction.) "It is my responsibility to ensure news releases get to the right people. You didn't get it. I am 100% accountable."

"Harrumph." he muttered. "What's it take to get on your list?"

I could hear the sarcasm in his voice.

"You're on it now," I replied. "I just opened the file and ensured you were there."

"Doesn't help me with this story," he said.

"You're right. I apologize. How can I make amends?"

"You can't. But let me tell you. When someone does me wrong, I don't forget. I remember. It may take me ten years to even the score, but I will."

"I hear what you're saying. You're angry and you want to even the score. I can understand your motivation. In not sending you the information, I have cost you an important story you wanted to tell. My goal is to find a way to make amends."

We went on to talk for another 45 minutes. He climbed up and down. Told me about his frustration with social service agencies in this sector who act from a place of 'cultural entitlement', "just like some of your clients", he said. "You think the media should come to you. You have to reach out to us." He gave me ideas on how I could do my job better. How I could build a relationship with him and other columnists, not just the reporters.

He was right. I hadn't done my job well.

Now, there are many reasons why I had not cultivated his voice -- in particular, I'd had a directive from our Exec. Dir. to let him build the relationships with certain individuals. Doesn't really matter -- I had not included him in the distribution list -- which would have been a simple process.

And that's why I'm grateful to Choices. Rather than get defensive. To climb up on my high horse, to blame everyone and their dog for my mistake, I took ownership. Apologized and asked how I could make amends.

Before I hung up, I thanked him. "You've given me some great insight and ideas on how I can be more effective in my job," I told him. "And, you've given me an inspiring kick in the butt. I appreciate the time you've taken to talk to me today. I look forward to working with you on a more constructive and productive basis."

I had a list of three things I could do to make amends. And, I had some ideas on how I could be more effective in working with the media.

It was a win/win. His anger by the time we said good-bye had abated. He felt heard. I felt I'd gained a good understanding of his needs and how we could work together.

Before Choices, I would have been defensive. I would have been upset! I probably would have been shaking as he yelled in my ear and lost an opportunity to build stronger relationships, to grow. Rather than listening without taking ownership of his words and anger, I would have let it all sink in and let my tapes fire off about being less than, other than, not good enough.

What an awesome opportunity to grow. What a great opportunity to use my tools and soar.

The question is: Where do you let someone else's anger pull you from your path? Where do you let your defensiveness bring you down?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Dare to Soar

When I started this blog I had a desire to write every morning. I gave myself a couple of guidelines -- Write positively. Write personally. Write about what inspires me.

Sunrise inspires me. Golden autumn leaves shimmering in the sunlight inspire me. Rainbows, rain clouds, rain drops inspire me. A piece of art, a piece of music, a poem, a kind word, a gentle touch, a loving look inspire me. Stillness. Movement. Hugs. Kisses. Smiles. Waves. They too inspire me.

People inspire me. I am inspired by life.
Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive. Howard Thurman
On January 19 I will be presenting at a one day conference. Dare to Soar . The presenters at this conference have all experienced life's setbacks and been inspired to rebuild, reclaim, and renew their commitment to living their best life yet. Brian Willis, of Winning Mind Training, is organizing the event. Brian inspires me. He is on a constant journey of learning, growing, being the best he can be. Brian is committed to sharing his deep knowledge about personal excellence and about bringing together people who want to do the same so that others can learn from their experiences.

When I wrote, The Dandelion Spirit, Brian contributed to my book as a 'safety expert'. Prior to Conrad's release from prison, Brian worked with my daughters and me to create a safety perimeter so that we could live our lives without fear. In 'target hardening' our world, I created a victor mentality that stated, I am responsible for my life. No one can make me into a victim -- unless I give them the power.

Claiming 100% responsibility for my life inspires me to live beyond my self-limiting beliefs that would have me believe I can't make a difference. Truth is, I can make a difference. When I behave differently, I create a world of change and a world of difference in my life.

Many things inspire me. When I live an inspired life I come alive and become the inspiration in my day. The spark that lights my way into living my best life yet, every day.

The question is: What inspires you? Are you living an inspired life today?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

In all things, there is hope

News of financial chaos ricochets off the pages of newspapers and Internet sites. Doom and turmoil abound and I wonder where all the hoopla is coming from.

When you work in a world where most have nothing, downturns in the economy, dips in the Dow and the collapse of banking institutions have little impact.

Yet, amidst the turmoil and the darkness, there is always light. When there's nowhere else to go but up, there's always room for improvement.

Yesterday, I had a phone call from a man who saw a news article on TV about the opening of our art studio at the shelter.

"I like to support local artists," he said, "and have a couple of companies interested in buying work from your clients."

What a generous and heartfelt gesture.

Yesterday, I had a call from a woman in Atlanta interested in bringing a group of 100 volunteers to the shelter during a conference she's planning here in Calgary.

What a wonderful difference they'll make.

Yesterday, I spoke with a client who asked if he could come up to the art studio and paint. "I used to be a graphic artist, but my addiction got the better of me" he said. "I've been clean and sober for three months and want to start building my life again. I figure painting will be a great start."

What a wonderful affirmation of the power of art to change lives.

Amidst the clamour and furor of financial collapse, there is hope.

Amidst lives in turmoil, lives at rock bottom, there is light.

On the weekend, two women came up to tell me that they had read my book. "I closed it at three am," one woman said. "I couldn't put it down. And when I did, I stood up. Packed my suitcase and left. I haven't looked back."

In the despair of being beaten down, the possibility arises of standing up.

The world is in turmoil. Financial markets are crumbling.

The light of hope burns bright.

German poet and philosopher Wolfang Goethe wrote, “In all things it is better to hope than to despair.”

In all things it is better to keep your eyes open for the light to get in. In the dark, troubles mount and monsters grow.

The question is: Are you focusing on your troubles? Are you despairing about today and letting go of hope?

Monday, September 15, 2008

Criteria Words

Every Sunday at Givers 2 (the third and final weekend portion of Choices) trainees are invited to create their Purpose statement. That over-arching statement that speaks to which we do -- most times every day of our lives without even thinking about it. Writing a purpose statement is an important commitment. It is our opportunity to celebrate our gifts, and our vision for how we share our gifts to create a world of difference.

My purpose statement begins with my contract and includes my intention -- I am a fearless woman sharing my unique gifts to create a world where spirits dance free in love, joy and harmony.

As part of the process of scripting their statement, each trainee is asked to talk about a time when they felt special, important, extraordinary. Using their 'criteria words', we then work together to create the purpose statement.

Yesterday, when asked if anyone wanted to stand in front of the group and lead by example, the trainee who stood up taught us all a valuable communication lesson.

As part of the example process, the facilitator asked the trainee to tell her story about a time she felt important and what it was about that event that was so important to her. An assistant wrote down her 'criteria words' on a flipchart so that he could repeat her story back to her in language that connected with her heart. For example, if the trainee said, "I felt proud. It made me feel special. I was excited about the day. It showed me that I have the power to create a more loving world," the facilitator would use her specific criteria words when he gave her back her story.

In the group example, there's one extra step. The facilitator first repeats back the story not using her criteria words. Rather than saying, proud, special, excited, the power to create a more loving world, he would say, "I hear you saying that when you experienced [event], you felt like you'd done something outstanding. It was important for you and it was a pretty thrilling day. It really helped you embrace your ability to change the world."

Several things happen when we use someone's criteria words. In the example, often when the individual tells their story, be it about the birth of their child, their wedding day, the day they gave their first speech, or sold their first house, they become emotional. It's easy for everyone in the room to see the effect telling their story has upon them.

When the facilitator repeats back their story, NOT using their criteria words, the emotion generally turns very flat. Often, the look on the person's face is -- well, I know you're getting my story, but you're not really getting it. Where's the feeling? Where's what I want to do?

Yesterday, when the facilitator repeated her story back without her criteria words, the trainee said, "Um, it sounds good what you said, but it scares me. That's not really what I want to do."

Fear. Claiming our purpose and living up to it.

When we use words that do not resonate within the other person, we create fear. We are imposing upon them our criteria words. Words that do not bring value, nor have value in their lives.

Recently, C.C. and I were talking about something very important to us. I was angry. I didn't use words I knew would connect with him. In fact, the words I used were words that fueled his fear. Our conversation turned from loving to angry in the flash of a gunshot. Getting it back on track required my stepping back from my need to be right, and to be heard first, to asking myself what do I want to create? How can I create a safe place for us to have this conversation?

It required me to listen -- and then to give him back what I heard him say in his words -- not mine.

The gift of repeating back what I heard in his words is that I don't have as much at risk -- I'm not as likely to use a word that has a different context or meaning to him when I'm using his words. Which means I don't risk inflaming an already heated situation! It also means I'm not adding elements to the conversation that take us off track into dangerous waters where fear awakens.

When I use his words, he feels heard, he feels connected, he feels like I am listening and honouring his story, his place. In that moment, we have a better opportunity of connecting and moving through whatever is disrupting our peace of mind. Rather than being on opposite sides of the fence, we meet on common ground.

I'm not saying it's easy! It can be very challenging to stand in love and not engage in discord! But -- and there's that but! If what I want is a loving, caring relationship, then I am responsible for my 100% in creating it. Because I know the power of criteria words, I am responsible for using them to create the beautiful world I want, to create the beautiful relationship I deserve.

Dale Carnegie says, "Seek first to understand. Then to be understood."

If I want to create harmony, I need first to understand what is creating discord. I must listen to understand, not to judge. And, I need to disengage from trying to fix whatever I perceive to be wrong in the other person! When I use their criteria words, words that have value and importance to them, I honour them with my attention, the gift of my listening. I honour them with my open heart listening in love.

The question is: Where do you impose your words upon someone else because you don't listen to what they're saying ? Where do you listen with your head filled with judgement and close yourself off from hearing what lies heavy on their heart?

Saturday, September 13, 2008

I am a fearless woman

This is a Choices weekend. Yesterday afternoon I assisted in the Contract room. It is a highlight of the first 3 days. After exploring what holds them back from having more of what they want in their life, each trainee is invited to claim their contract. The statement that will shore them up when they feel inclined to slide back into self-defeating games, self-limiting behaviours.

Walking into the room, I felt the magic. The mystical. The mysterious.

As people journeyed into the light of claiming their magnificence, of claiming their right to live the life of their dreams, they cried, the laughed, they joked, they denied, they stumbled, they leaped, they breathed. Sitting at the edge of the room, watching the process of the small groups as they chatted and explored the stories together, I felt honoured to be part of such incredible beauty.

We humans are amazing. People and circumstances, trials and tribulations beat us down, and still we rise. Life dashes us with frigid climes and still we breathe into the chill of the night to create a new dawn of possibility.

My contract is, I am a fearless woman. It is a sacred trust I make with myself. I don't have my contract because I am fearless. I have it because fear is what often holds me back from claiming my right to stand at centre stage of my life and live large. Fear of speaking up. Fear of speaking my truth. Fear of standing tall. Fear of standing in the light. Fear of pushing back against darkness. Fear of stepping into the unknown.

I know fear.

When I was a little girl in Grade One. I remember getting in trouble with my teacher. I don't recall what I did. I do recall her sending me to the front foyer of the school to stand in the corner with a dunce cap on my head. My brother and sister went to that same school. They saw me standing there and, as siblings will often do, they made fun of me. I remember feeling so ashamed. So scared. So unworthy. Above all else, I did not want them to tell our parents what had happened. I did not want anyone to know that I had been a 'stupid, bad girl'.

The emotion I remember the most is the fear. The fear of being found out. The fear of being found less than, other than, not enough. The fear of not having the answers.

That fear permeated my being for many many years. The injustice of standing there. The incredible indignity of it. The horror of not knowing what to say, of people thinking I was stupid.

As a five year old child, I could not get angry. I could not voice the fear and turmoil inside me. I could not make sense of it and so, I buried it.

Standing in that corner didn't make me stronger. It weakened me. It undermined my belief in my voice, in my right to stand up for myself. In my right to be treated as worthy.

It reinforced for me that above all else; don't blink. Don't let anyone see I hurt. I was afraid. I was wrong. That I didn't know the answer. Don't let anyone know I'd made a mistake.

I carried that fear with me for years. Today, when it arises, as it still sometimes does, I state my contract. I am a fearless woman. In that statement, I claim who I am today. In claiming my power today, I soothe that little girls aching heart and ease her need to be loved and reassured. She's okay. So am I.

Life is a journey. It is not a straight line from point A to B. It is not a well laid out map with clearly marked signposts leading us smoothly from one well organized event to the next. Often, life is unpredictable. Things happen that we cannot predict. Things happen that we can predict -- and we'll still do the same things over and over anticipating a different result!

The beauty of life is in its expected moments and its unexpected moments. Its predictability and its unpredictability. The beauty of life is in each moment. I can't control the winds. I can only set my sails to take advantage of their gift.

With my contract, I am capable of living the life of my dreams. I am capable of being all that I am meant to be, all that I can be. When I live fearlessly, I claim my voice and my right to be magnificent. I claim my right to stand at centre stage and live this one wild and passionate life for all I'm worth.

Yesterday, I witnessed the miracle of people claiming their right to be their magnificent selves. I witnessed miracles come alive.

I couldn't predict how people would respond. How people would claim their beauty. All I could do was be present, in love and awe, and be part of the miracles as they awoke. I am blessed.

The question is: Are you claiming the miracle of you? Are you standing in your light, fearlessly living your magnificence?

Friday, September 12, 2008

The breath of hope


A tiny seed. A quiet ember glowing in the dark. A drop of water.
Consult not your fears but your hopes and dreams. Think not about your frustrations, but about your unfulfilled potential. Concern yourself not with what you tried and failed in, but with what is still possible for you to do. Pope John XXIII

Yesterday was September 11th. A day of silence. A day of sorrow. A day of remembrance. A day that changed everything.

When I was in New York last week, our cab driver, an Egyptian who had moved to New York to live 'the American Dream' as he called it, in 2000, told me that after September 11th, "Everything changed in New York." He paused and added, "The whole world changed."

Yesterday, I taught a self-esteem course at the shelter where I work. One of the trainees, when asked to name someone he admired and the attributes about the individual that inspired him replied, "Adolf Hitler." He went on to list intelligence, commitment to his goal, a belief in himself, courage, ability to inspire a nation as attributes he admired.

I was stymied for a moment on how to respond. Adolf Hitler is not one of my heroes. The attributes he listed however, are all characteristics I aspire to emulate.

"What about his impact on humanity? What about the millions of people he murdered?"

The trainee paused and then replied. "You didn't ask if what he did was right or wrong. You asked me to name someone who possesses characteristics I admire."

Is there anyone else you admire? I asked.

Mother Theresa, he promptly replied. She was kind. Caring. She believed in herself and was committed to people. She didn't bend when the Vatican told her to leave India. She didn't give up on people.

Juxtapositions. Contradictions. Everything changes. Everything stays the same.

On September 11th, 2001, a group of zealots brought terror onto North American soil and changed the psyches of everyone in the world. Terrorism became the thing we fear, the thing we cannot see, yet know is possible.

In the 1930s to mid '40s, Adolf Hitler reigned throughout Europe. His brand of terror killed millions of people and brought humanity to its knees. We who are capable of so much, are also capable of this atrocity.

In the 1990s, almost a million people were slaughtered in Rwanda in a brief and bloody conflagration.

I could go on to list the hundreds upon thousands of atrocities around the globe that have occurred since man first began recording history, but what's the point? It's not what they did that changed the world. It's how we responded, how we still respond that makes the difference.

As we talked more yesterday about the people and events that inspire us, challenge us, change us, I asked the trainee what he wants in his life, big picture.

Respect. Dignity. Love, he replied.

What keeps you from having those today? I asked.

Anger, he said. I'm very very angry.

What prevents you from letting go of your anger, I asked.

I don't know, He replied.

If you did know, what would it be?

I want to stop the world from killing itself off. How do I make sense of all the death, the rapes, the murders. How do I make it stop?

What if the only way to make a difference in the world is to make your world different? I asked him. What if all you can do is create a change in your world so that the ripples from that change begin to expand out with every breath, every step you take?

He sat silently for a moment. "You mean if I'm always angry, everything around me will be angry too?"

What do you think? I asked.

"I don't know how to not be angry," he replied. "I can't remember a time when I wasn't angry."

What if you gave yourself the grace of taking a moment right now to not feel angry. What if you take a breath and think of that breath as the hope for a feeling other than anger. Can you take a breath and concentrate on hope? On love? Joy? Could you do that?

He nodded his head. I invited him to do it. He took a breath. He held it. He let it go.

I'm still angry, he said after a moment's silence.

Did you feel angry in that one breath?


Then it's possible to expand that one breath into many. For that one moment you felt something other than anger. If that is possible, it's possible to let anger go if you keep concentrating on breathing into hope, into love, into joy. When we fan the flames of anger, we create more anger. When we fan the ember of hope, we build the possibility of change. We create the possibility for love.

On September 11th, the world changed. Those events didn't just create fear, they also created the possibility of hope, of love, of joy of peace.

The difference will be created through what we breathe into the fires that remain.

The question is: What inspires you to breathe hope into everyday living? What inspires you to create value in your world today? What connects you to the wonder of the human race? How do you fan the flame of hope?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

A day of celebration.

It was a day of celebration.

About thirty people gathered together to celebrate the opening of our very own artists space at the homeless shelter where I work.

I started art.works just after I joined the shelter two years ago. We've used borrowed space, continually moving and cleaning up, putting our supplies away, shuffling the works as we've moved along, sharing a multi-purpose room with many others.

Yesterday, our very own space was officially opened. What a wonderful day.

For M and R, two of the artists, the day was filled with pride and a sense of hope. Hope that this could lead to more, to something greater than its simple origins. With their art they are fanning the embers of a dream that life could become more than they imagine living in a homeless shelter.

For those who came and participated, there was a sense of hope and joy as well. Several politicians attended -- a coup in and of itself! In their attendance, we brought light on something that is integral to every human being -- The power of the creative spirit to keep hope alive.

The French have a saying, “Hope is the dream of a soul awake.”

When I witness the art of the clients who come to art.works, I am in awe of their spirits awakening. In their work, they create bridges of hope, of community, of beauty with those of us who walk on the other side of the street.

"There are no boundaries to art," said R.K, one of the artists yesterday. "There is no social or economic status, no judgement of how you dress, or speak, or even where you live. There is only the creative spirit."

It was a day of celebration. Of joy. Of possibility. Of hope.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Thinking is out of the question

Don't ask why I was reading an article on baseball, I wasn't. What I was interested in was how many thoughts the average person has in a day. According to Jim Fannin, sports psychologist, two to three thousand -- and 60% of them are in chaos. New York Times, It's about finding a zone, not Zen for Rodriquez, Dave Anderson, April 2004

According to Fannin, the difference between the average person's thinking and a 'superstars' is what they eliminate. "The superstar has 1,100 to 1,300 thoughts a day," Fannin is reported as saying. "They eliminate worry, envy, jealousy, embarrassment and anger. The superstar thinks a lot less and holds a thought longer."

When my girlfriend N.R's daughter was about five she came to her mother with a very worried look on her face. "Mummy," she cried. "There's something wrong with me. My brain won't stop thinking."

I know how she feels.

To put it in perspective, according to Fannin, the average person has 2 to 3 thoughts per minute, though I'm having trouble figuring out how he came up with that number based on the 2 - 3,000 thoughts a day. Regardless, it's a whole bunch of thinking going on. Now, I'm not going to go into how many thoughts about sex men have in a minute but... needless to say, women think about 'stuff' way more than men!

And maybe that's part of the problem. If I'm always thinking about stuff (not sex) then I'm always creating chaos. If men are always, okay not always but a lot, thinking about sex, they've got less time for chaos in their thinking.

But it does make me curious. If I have to eliminate thoughts of worry, envy, jealousy, embarrassment and anger to be in the zone, what about thoughts of sex?

Or maybe, the thoughts about sex I have to eliminate are the one's based on worry, envy, jealous, embarrassment and anger!

High performance rodeo of the mind. Eliminate the negative thoughts -- keep the positive even if they're about sex.

Aldous Huxley said, “An intellectual is a person who has discovered something more interesting than sex.”

So, does that make women more intellectual? The fact their thoughts aren't focused on sex as much?

I'm liking this. My thinking isn't the problem. In fact, my thinking is what makes me intellectual. Which goes to show, you can pretty well argue anything and make it fit your mindspace.

But, back to thinking. Or over-thinking as the case may be.

Last night C.C. and I had dinner with my eldest daughter. She is an amazing young woman. Beautiful. Intelligent. Heartfelt. She thinks about things, a lot. And in her thinking, sometimes gets stuck in believing everything she thinks is right.

And therein lies the problem.

Don't believe everything you think, I told her.

I once thought a man I loved would never hurt me. I thought his motivations were the same. His goals parallel. His values intrinsically sound. I was wrong. In my thinking, I thought my way into a pile of gooey, sticky horse manure. The chaos of my thinking led me astray.

Like Fannin's superstars, the objective is to quiet my thinking. To focus my mind on what creates value in my life and to eliminate the chaos that distracts me from living the life of my dreams.

Meditation helps.

Writing focuses me.

Breathing deeply quiets me.

My mind is a tool. A powerful one. It does not control me. I have the power to control it -- which means, I have the power to control my thinking. I have the ability to focus my thinking into a laser beam of brilliant light that illuminates my path, casting chaos into the shadows. The mind is a muscle. It's up to me to 'use it or lose it'.

I may not be a superstar tennis player or a high performance race car driver. I do, however, share core attributes of the superstar -- I am human. A complex being of many thoughts -- all of which I can control so that I can be and live my wildest dreams come true.

The question is: What on earth are you thinking? Are you breathing, slowing down the rate of information spinning through your mind so that you can connect into your 'zone' and reach your highest thinking?

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Counting my blessings

Gratitude. Morning breaks. Birds chirp in trees outside my bedroom window. Clouds scuttle across the sky. Grey and white, edges tinged with indigo blue and black. There is rain in the distance. Waiting in the wings for the clouds to pull the curtains across the sky so it can dance upon the earth.


“When you are grateful," writes Anthony Robbins, "fear disappears and abundance appears.”

I live in abundance. Surrounded by love, harmony and joy my world is a bountiful plate.

I am blessed.

This morning, I had an email from a woman who read my book. She has left a man who abused her. Is struggling to make sense of the turmoil of his passing through her life. "I keep your book close by me," she wrote. "I can hear your voice telling me to keep breathing. To take baby steps. One step at a time and I will be okay."

The turmoil of abuse. The horror of loving someone who believes it is their right to push you down, push you back, to beat you up emotionally. To pummel you into submission. To bruise you black and blue.

The horror of believing it's true. That he is all you deserve. That what he is doing to you is your due.


I am thankful for what I have learned through that experience. I am grateful for the growth it has brought me. For the truth I have unveiled. For the life I have reclaimed. For the love I know.

Once upon a time I loved a man who lied. Who believed abuse was his right.

I cannot change what he did. I cannot change the past. But in his passing, I can create a world of beauty. Plant seeds of hope, of joy, of love. I can create the world of my dreams.

For me. For my daughters. For C.C. For those I love.

And, in my courage to heal, I can encourage others to grow, to leave the abuse and step into a world of love -- of self-love. A place where the cries within become the voices of freedom. Where tears become like rain -- gently falling onto the earth to dance in puddles, to nourish the flowers and trees, to clean the streets of debris.

One day, I sat in my car and watched raindrops fall onto a puddle. The water glistened on the dark surface of the road. Each puddle bounced upon the water's surface, again and again, it bounced and danced and sparkled. There was such joy in that puddle. Such freedom in the dance.

Today, I am grateful for rain dancing on puddles, for autumn leaves turning, fall colours draping the world in gold and russet hues. I am grateful for my coffee steaming by my side, for Ellie sleeping nearby. I am grateful for C.C. singing in the shower, for Alexis and Liseanne sleeping quietly. I am grateful for the love we share. The laughter and the tears. I am grateful for their forgiveness. For the blessings of their smiles and gentleness of their hearts.

I am blessed.

The question is: Have you counted your blessings this morning? Have you awoken to the sound of gratitude raining in your heart?

Monday, September 8, 2008

Awake and dreaming

501 posts. That's the number today. Since starting this blog a year and a bit ago, I have written 500 days. It's a startling number to me. I began this process without a clear idea of what I would do with it. After writing almost every morning (I tend to not write on Sunday mornings), I've come to a nexus, a crossroads of sorts. What will the next 500 be? I have an idea. A thought that is growing into a body of work. I have a dream.

When I was driving to La Guardia airport last week to catch our flight back to Canada, I asked the cab driver where he was from.

"Egypt," he replied.

"How long have you been here?" I asked him.

"Nine years. I'm the only member of my family to leave Egypt," he said.

"What made you come?"

He smiled, nodded his head, his eyes never leaving the road ahead as if his dream was just up ahead, just around the bend. "The American Dream."

I was surprised. I had never met anyone who moved for The American Dream. "Is it true?" I asked. "The dream?"

"Absolutely. You've got to work hard. But it's possible to create a better life. There's freedom here. I work two jobs, my wife is an accountant. We are doing it."
My fellow Americans, this is an amazing moment for me. To think that a once scrawny boy from Austria could grow up to become Governor of California and stand in Madison Square Garden to speak on behalf of the President of the United States that is an immigrant's dream. It is the American dream. Arnold Schwarzenegger
Thomas Wolfe said, "…to every man, regardless of his birth, his shining, golden opportunity ….the right to live, to work, to be himself, and to become whatever thing his manhood and his vision can combine to make him."

To dream the impossible dream. To reach the unreachable star.

Once upon a time, I dreamt of writing a book. I wrote it. It was published. My dream doesn't stop there. I have other books to write.

Once upon a time, I dreamt of speaking up for humankind, of speaking out against what keeps us down. I am doing it. My dream doesn't stop there. I have many words to share. My dream is to inspire, to reach out beyond this space to wide audiences.

Once upon a time, I had a dream.

I still do.

It's up to me to keep the dream alive. To keep dreaming and stepping forward on the path to making my dreams my reality.

Like my taxi cab driver who dreamt of being free of a society which would keep him in his place, I am free to dream big, and reach higher than I could ever imagine.

Dreams aren't meant to sit on shelves, gathering dust. Dreams are meant to be awoken, shaken up and lit up like a Christmas tree, casting a gold glow upon your day, leading you ever forward on your path. Dreams are meant for living.

The question is: Are you living your dream? Are you shaking yourself out of the doldrums of sleepwalking through your day, reaching beyond the limits of your imagination and stretching high? Are you awake and dreaming?

Saturday, September 6, 2008

At One.

Lazy Saturday morning. Sun streams through my window, I wander through Internet sites -- seeking inspiration -- seeking knowledge -- seeking ideas.


We live our lives as seekers. Fortune and fame. Knowledge. Insight. Understanding. We seek. Sometimes we find what we're looking for. Sometimes we find the unexpected. Sometimes we find what we didn't know we were looking for. Always we seek.

This morning, while reading an article on Edgar Cayce, I discovered something I'd lost long ago -- which over the past few months I had begun to realize was missing but hadn't really felt the loss. It is one of the things I have struggled most to reclaim since the Conrad debacle -- my spirituality. Not my faith, or religion, but rather, my belief in the spiritual, in the mystical elements of the universe, in the Divine.

Awhile ago, when I was at Super Choices in Chase, BC, I touched upon the spiritual. I stood on the shore of the lake, my toes touching the ice cold water, thoughts drifting through my mind like a sail boat drifting lazily upon the water's surface. I felt connected. At one. Part of something larger, greater than, other than this physical plane upon which we exist.

I took a breath. Slow. Deep. Filling. And I felt peace. Absolute total serenity settle upon me.

That is the spiritual, the mystical, the Divine. That is living in the now, in the moment. In this space I'm in.

In the hustle and bustle of the city, it can be hard to feel at one. To feel the connection with the universe, the greatness of this planet upon which we live. And yet, it is always there. Always waiting. Always in existence. In our existence. In my life.

It just takes me to stop running and to sit quietly, at rest, at peace, at one with where I'm at.

The question is: Where are you at this morning? Where are you at peace?

Friday, September 5, 2008

100% responsible for my experience

Watch your thoughts; they lead to attitudes.
Watch your attitudes; they lead to words.
Watch your words; they lead to actions.
Watch your actions; they lead to habits.
Watch your habits; they form your character.
Watch your character; it determines your destiny. Author Unknown
Pick a habit. Any habit you've got.

Ask yourself, is this working for me?

Be honest with yourself. Is doing what you repeatedly do taking you closer to your goals, or away from them? Is it getting you more of what you want in your life, or less? Do you ask yourself, why do I keep doing this. Do you tell yourself, I should stop doing this and then do it again?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, ask yourself, why am I making myself a victim in my own life?

We all do it. We all suffer from victimitis at some point in our lives. Some of us do it more often then others -- but we all do it.

When things aren't going right for us, when life is leading us astray and we blame -- the government, our neighbour, our spouse, our children, our past, our lack of education, money, space..., anything or anyone with whom we've come in contact, then we are choosing to diminish our power, choosing to lessen ourselves and our capabilities. We are choosing to ignore the fact that we can create change in our lives by making different choices.

There's comfort in blaming others. But it doesn't change a thing. Whatever circumstances are upsetting our existence, they will persist, regardless of who we blame. We can't change the pain we're in by willing it away. We can refuse to suffer. We can choose to claim our right to think differently about the circumstances of our lives. To change our attitude. Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.

Right now I'm encountering an area at work where I am feeling 'less than'. I work for a not-for-profit. I choose to do so. I love my work. Love the environment I work in. I enjoy the people I work with and the people whom I serve. But....

And there's that but. But, I'm underpaid. My job title is not appropriate. Yada yada yada.

Now, there are 5,342 reasons why it is the way it is, and there are 5,342 people and things I can blame for my reality. -- Truth is, I choose to work there because I love working there. If I feel my pay or title is diminishing me -- I need to do something about it. I need to choose to accept it isn't the pay nor the title that diminishes me -- I diminish me when I let outside circumstances determine my worth. Being disgruntled with where I'm at provides me some psychological comfort. It undermines my capacity to be 100% accountable for my experience. It's up to me to reflect upon my attitude, change my state and create peace of mind.

If I go back to my value system -- what is important to me -- I will find my answers. I believe in what I do. I believe I make a difference. I believe what I do is important for me, adds value to my life, the organization I work for and the people whom I serve. I believe what I do is vital.

If, in that equation I find myself feeling undervalued -- it's up to me to make a stand, ask for what I want or, move on. Change position. Change my state by finding somewhere else where I can make a difference.

To make it more complex, what if I look at where I'm at as a means of avoiding where I want to be? What if, I am using where I'm at as an excuse to not take the next step. To not leap? What if I'm 100% responsible for my experience and I'm choosing to stay where I'm at because... it's safe. It's familiar. It's comfortable.

What if...

The question is: What if, you are 100% responsible for your experience and you are choosing to live in discord within your very own life? What if, you are choosing to make yourself a victim by blaming others for where you're at? What if, you were to choose differently? What if you were to let go of the discomfort of suffering where you're at and choose to look at yourself, and your circumstances, in a different light?

Thursday, September 4, 2008

The question of our youth

Yesterday I gave a talk about homelessness to a group of 4th year University students. "The challenge for many of our clients is that depression is pervasive," I told them. "It settles into your pores like soot from a chimney, clogging your mind to the possibilities beyond where you're at. It limits your thinking to being homeless and inhibits your actions to a narrow corridor of activity because in many cases you can't afford to venture far beyond the confines of the shelter, beyond the limitations of the labels you carry when you're homeless. "

One of the students asked me about why so many clients remain in the building during the day. "Don't they want to get out and at least get some fresh air?" she asked.

Sure they do, I replied. However, when they leave our building they are at risk. If they have an addiction they're trying to keep clear of, they risk running the gauntlet of dealers standing on the other side of the street, eagerly waiting to lure them into 'feeling no pain'. They risk condemnation from passers-by who feel it is their right to comment on their obvious lack of economic well-being, and, they risk getting ticketed for a host of infractions that end-up making being homeless criminal.

This morning I received an email from a co-worker about a young man who yesterday, while trying to evade a $50 fine for riding the transit system without a ticket, ended up receiving $695 worth of tickets when he was caught by the police after trying to run away. The co-worker wrote that he hoped we could advocate on this young man's behalf, (he's 18). "The tickets seem excessive and he cannot pay. He's a nice kid and feels this [the tickets] will set him back awhile", he wrote.

While the tickets do seem excessive, we can always fall back on 'the law is the law' to explain away their nature. The most costly fine he received, is a $395 fine for having an expired driver's license in his possession. Who knew that was illegal? The co-worker didn't. Neither did I. For the kid, the fact the license was stashed away in his underpants, speaks to something much bigger than an expired piece of ID. In a world where lost ID or no ID is commonplace, it speaks to wanting to retain some personal piece of ID that would identify him, just in case. Just maybe. It speaks to wanting to hold onto some hope that someone might want to know who he is, if something happens to him. (I should mention that the police got this ID by searching his body on the street -- which is a whole other issue!)

For me, advocating on his behalf has to include a piece wherein the opportunity to learn and grow away from where he's at outweighs the penalty imposed. If this kid started living at a shelter by the time he was 18 something is terribly wrong in his life. It's pretty obvious that he's lacking in a whole bunch of experience that should have given him the tools to live his life where he belongs -- not in a homeless shelter.

The question is, what is a young guy of 18 doing living at a homeless shelter in the first place? Where have we [as a collective, as a society that states 'our children are our future'] failed him and the hundreds of other youth who crowd our system? Where are we letting them down?

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

New York tribute.


We made it home. Late last night our flight touched down in Calgary. Liseanne and C.C.s daughter M. have their next trip planned already. Along with our new duds we were all wearing big smiles -- we'd had a wonderful time! As Liseanne said -- lighter wallets, heavier suitcases and memories to last a lifetime!

New York. New York.

Favourite moments -- well, gotta admit they were all favs. We went to WICKED -- it was Wicked. Raced down 51st Street to get there on time. Our subway ride took longer than anticipated and we were behind schedule as the train pulled into the station. Picture five Canadians booting it down the avenue, two of them young women particularly anxious about not getting into the theatre. Fortunately, we arrived on time and spent two hours being amazed -- not just by the show. It was great -- but the costumes and stage -- WOW!

Talk about a small world. As we exited the theatre a woman came raising across the concourse, threw her arms around C.C. and gave him a big hug. It was his sister, trailed by another sister and cousins, all in town for the same wedding.

Later that evening J and C (my friends we were staying with in Brooklyn) met us for dinner at the Jazz Standard. Barbeque and jazz. Scrumdillicious. Step down off the street, through a small door and enter a room of low black ceilings, low lights and fabulous food. The Larry Wilson Quintet. Smooth jazz. Easy listening. That's me in New York. Small town girl with a big town attitude.

We left the club around 10 and started to walk back towards Brooklyn. I found a flower vendor with two dozen roses for $10. I bought them with the intention of giving them to C but Liseanne suggested we should give them away. For the next half hour Liseanne, C.C.s daughter M and I had a glorious time surprising strangers with a free rose. It was rather comical at first. No one wanted to take the rose until we remembered to start the sentence with, Free. We gave roses to a girl celebrating her birthday with friends on an outdoor patio bar. To a cab driver cleaning out his car. To four guys standing on the corner -- one of them took a course with a guy from Vancouver. He was okay, the man told me, kind of boring though. M gave a rose to a woman sitting on a patio at a wine bar. She looked surprised and apprehensive but graciously accepted the gift. When all the roses were gone M said, "Let's do it again!" It was a blast.

And it was. A blast. The whole trip. C.C.s neice was getting married in Madison on the Sunday but other than that, we had no plans. No organized agenda except for the matinee on Saturday. Monday morning, I left C.C. with his two kids in Madison so they could spend time with his family and I joined Liseanne in New York for a day of sightseeing -- and shopping.

One of the places we visited was St. Paul's Church, the place where the firefighters went to rest while working at Ground Zero. Living so far from New York, the events of September 11 had an impact -- it was stunning and horrific to watch the world change in those fateful moments when the Twin Towers were hit. Walking around that church however, seeing the pictures and the cards loved one's left as they searched for family and friends, seeing the prayer cards, and the cot where a firefighter slept, and the flag of Honour with all the names of the victims and all the other tributes to those who did not survive, was powerful. Standing in silence in that church that miraculously survived the onslaught took what was a tragic and horrific event and made it more real, more impactful.

This was the first time I'd been in New York since Sept 11, 2001. The evidence of change is noticeable. Security is a top priority. Signs of watchfulness are everywhere.

And yet, the beat goes on. The city continues to play and live and breathe. To beat its vibrant drum without stop.

New York. New York.

What an amazing place. What an exciting town. What a tribute to a nation of people who continue to challenge the world to live freely to claim their place in the sun with valour and pride.