Friday, October 31, 2008

Peace of mind

Still no computer working at home. The technician didn't turn up again, last night. I waited. At first I was annoyed. Anxious. Then reality settled in like a warm woolen blanket. How I waited wasn't going to change whether he turned up or not. How I waited would affect my sense of wonder, of being at peace, of being grateful for the time to spend alone.

It was good for me to wait -- I unpacked a couple of boxes. Sorted through stuff that needed ditching and took the puppies for a walk. Quiet waiting in a quiet house. Luxurious. Replenishing. Comforting.

Life is filled with moments waiting to connect to the next. We fill them with mundane items. Tasks that need doing. Chores that need completing. And in the process, we find ourselves sorting through stuff we don't need, don't want, don't have a place for.

This move has been like that. In the kitchen, I have a couple of empty shelves. Astounding. I want to keep them empty. Keep them from filling up. Keep life's stuff from cluttering up the clean, clear lines of empty space.

But life keeps coming. Keeps filling up with things and doings, people and objects.

That's life.

Today, I am at peace with where I'm at. It may not be a long peaceful stretch. It may be a brief encounter of the peace-making kind. But for now, I am carrying my peace of mind like a treasured gift.

It's a short one today -- am off and running to get busy doing what needs to be done. And no matter what I'm doing, I will cherish my peace of mind as I carry it lovingly in my thoughts throughout the goings on of my day unfolding, connecting this moment to the next with threads of peacefulness.

The question is: Are you carrying peace of mind? Are you carrying on with peacefulness as the thread connecting the moments of your day?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Heart warming

I am late writing today. The virus that attacked my monitor took over my cursor and froze it. Tonight, all will be repaired.... I hope!

A compliment is verbal sunshine. Robert Orben
Computers are interesting objects. Without realizing it, my computer has taken up residence in my life, become part of the daily wallpaper I apply to create value in my day. Writing here, has become integral to all I do. It is my morning inspiration, my morning starting point, my raison d'etre! And then, suddenly it becomes sick and I am at a loss.

Who woulda thunk it?

Who would have thought a simple complement would result in a warm sharing of thoughts and history with a woman at a post office? She was the attendant. I was there to mail a parcel. I commented on the pretty ring she was wearing. Three small hearts connected in a band with a small diamond in the centre of each.

"It was my mother's," she told me, stopping momentarily in the process of applying postage to my parcel. She glanced at the ring. "I gave her the ring for her 70th birthday. When she passed away three years ago, I got it back."

She went on to tell me about how wearing it brought her closer to her mother. How it made her smile to see it glittering on her finger. How she felt love just knowing it was there.

She told me about her mother's journey to Canada from Wales as a young bride. "My father couldn't afford to give her a diamond, and then, as the kids came, she had other priorities." She told me about her mother's struggles to find her place on foreign soil with a husband who was never home. Of how her mother raised four children mostly alone.

The parallels with my mother and father were remarkable. War bride. Aloneness. Struggles.

"My mother didn't want to wear the ring," she told me. "She was so afraid of losing it."

The ring will never be lost. It sparkles on the woman's finger, a connection to someone she loved.

As I left, I thanked her for sharing her story with me. She smiled and replied, "Thank you for admiring my ring. I don't often get to speak to strangers about my mother. She was a very special woman."

I smiled in return. "Thank you for sharing. You warmed my day."

Warming days. Heart warming. Heartening.

A brief encounter inspired by a comment I debated sharing. Was it okay to admire someone's jewellery? Was it okay to give her a compliment?

How many times to I hold back from telling someone something about them I admire? How many times do I withhold complements?

The question is: Are you missing opportunities to have your heart warmed by not sharing a warming comment with someone?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

I can see clearly now

I have a new perspective this morning. My computer and Internet are up and running, but a virus attacked my system and blew my video card. The new video card will be installed this evening. In the interim, I can see, but not clearly now. But I do have a connection.

Like life, sometimes I appear connected, but I'm not seeing clearly.

Yesterday, we held a 'calling the spirits home' ceremony at the shelter where I work. The ceremony was in honour of the 177 individuals we know have lost their lives to the streets over the past five years. It is a horrific number. 177. Ranging in age from 18 to 90. Women, men. Caucasian, native, Somalian. They cover all creeds, faith, colour and gender.

It was a beautiful, and sorrowful, event. It was very important.

When someone loses their life to the street, their spirit is lost with them. For me, the ceremony was not just in honour of those who have physically left this plain, it was also for those who continue to wander in the murky alley ways of street life, wandering through a haze of alcohol or drugs, searching for some meaning to why they're here.

Why me? they ask. Why this?

I don't know the why's of how someone's life led them to the street. I do know, there is no reason for them being there, other than it is the life they have fallen into through the choices they made, or that were made for them, somewhere down the road.

Street life isn't a conscious choice. It is a choice though. A choice to let go of possibility. Of change. Of dealing with, coping with what life has offered up. Sometimes, the choice is made because the individual doesn't have the coping skills to take a different direction. Always, the choice is made based on current conditions, prevailing attitudes, known circumstances. And always, the choice is deadly in some way.

Yesterday, we called the spirits home for 177 individuals who lost their lives to the street. May their spirits wander no more. May they continue their journey home to the 'other side', light of heart, joyful in spirit.

And may those still lost, or whom are losing their way to the street, find their way to a different place. May they find the courage and strength to walk away. To back up. To take a different direction. May they find their way home to a place that is safe, back to whom they are meant to be in a world of opportunity and abundance.

The question is: Are you making choices based on fear of the unknown, or are you choosing your path seeing clearly the world around you, connected to the beauty of your spirit, walking in love?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Beating against doors

Don't spend time beating on a wall, hoping to transform it into a door. Dr. Laura Schlessinger
Everyday I am blessed with the opportunity to speak out against abuse, homelessness, poverty and other social ills. Everyday I am inspired by someone who turns up and speaks their truth, in all their confusion and pain.

Yesterday, I gave a talk to a group of about 50 blue. At the end of my speech, a woman approached and asked if she could speak with me in private.

We stepped to the back of the room and she quietly asked, "You mentioned you have counsellors there. Can anyone talk to them?"

"Is this for someone you know who is at risk of homelessness?" I asked.

"It's for me," she tearfully told me. "I'm not at risk of homelessness, but my live-in boyfriend is an addict and I don't know what to do."

"What do you want to do?" I asked her.

"I don't know," she cried. "I want him to change. To stop what he's doing. He steals from me. I have to hide money, credit cards, my wallet, everything."

"What if you can't stop him? What if you only have the power to stop what he's doing in your life?"

"What do you mean?"

"What if the only way to stop what he's doing in your life is to not have him in your life?"

"But I love him," she cried.

Don't spend your time beating your head against a wall expecting a door.

When we allow things in our lives that degrade us, the undermine our beauty, that steal our peace of mind, and then expect someone else to change, we are looking for doors in walls.

I have done it. I'm stopping.

The question is: what about you? Are you beating your head, or opening doorways into freedom?

PS-- I am still without internet access so my posts are later. Hopefully.... technology gods willing.... tomorrow I will be back on schedule.


Monday, October 27, 2008

Moving In

Moving. Yup. Definitely fun. If you have only one suitcase (small) a wallet, and a cellphone. Any more than that and moving can be..... painful.

But, it is also is a new beginning. Starting over. Fresh start. New horizons.

We are in. As are a few dozen boxes (unpacked), sundre bags of clothing, shoes and who knows what. C.C. hooked the TV up -- he's happy. And I have the kitchen almost in order. I'm happy.

And tired.

Moving is tiring. But the weary bones are nothing compared to the anticipation and excitement of owning a home where we both believe we can grow old together. Or at least, grow together, not sure about the 'old' part. Not into getting old. Especially today when bones are bruised, joints ache and tiredness pervades my being!

Aside from that though, we've moved into the house. Lele, my youngest daughter will move her stuff on Saturday. Alexis is moving on, moving out, moving forward. She's got a place with her boyfriend. They're starting a new life together too!

Triggers in moving abound. The closing had to be moved because of some paperwork involving C.C.'s former wife. It wasn't happening. The mortgage company wasn't forwarding funds. And I was living on the waves of anxiety caused by a belief the past could/would/will repeat itself.

THe past never repeats itself unless I believe it will.

It didn't. The paperwork got done. The house closed. And the past will rest in peace.

Moments of joy permeated the ennui of toting boxes, shifting bags and sifting through papers that have no purpose other than to clutter up my desk. Moments of joy were watching Ellie cavort in her new backyard, leaves flying all around her, tail wagging as she raced in circles, barking cries of joy. Or making that first cup of coffee yesterday morning. A bowl of my sisters amazingly good Turkey soup for dinner last night, sitting on the bed watching who knows what -- I was too tired to be aware of what was on the TV. I just loved the joy of sitting beside C.C. dogs lying on the floor at the foot of the bed as we ate soup and yummy bread and shared a glass of special wine my daughter's boyfriend had given us.

Moving is a drag. Moving in, setting up, settling in -- aaahhhh, that's bliss.

I'll be late on posting -- my computer is not yet setup as my Internet is not working... But, I will be back!

Friday, October 24, 2008

I am beautiful in my heart

There is a story about a tribe in South America who had no word for love. When they felt a strong feeling for someone they would say, "I am beautiful in my heart for you."

Noah Webster of dictionary fame said, “Language is not an abstract construction of the learned, or of dictionary makers, but is something arising out of the work, needs, ties, joys, affections, tastes, of long generations of humanity, and has its bases broad and low, close to the ground.”

Last night I went to a fund-raiser on behalf of an agency that provides counselling to men, women and children who suffer from abuse, or are abusers. The guest speaker was a young man, Justin Berry, who at 13 was lured by pedophiles into sexual performances online. At 18, Justin left the business and now 22, works arduously to speak out against online predators and the scourge of child pornography.

The language of Justin's spiral into a secret online life as a child porn star was broad and low, close to the ground. It was filled with the language of 'love' corrupted. Men loved what Justin could do. Men loved Justin's youth. Men fell in love with Justin's capacity to satisfy their needs and under the guise of 'love', men paid Justin well for what he did.

I wonder if any of it would have happened if we hadn't had a word for love. If a predator had to write to a child, "I am beautiful in my heart for you," would the child be as easy to lure into the web of exploitation?

Love is a many splendored thing. Love is.

How we use the word 'love' is another issue.

In the name of love husbands beat wives, mothers beat children, children beat each other. In the name of love wars are fought, lives are lost, hearts are broken.

All in the name of one word which, according to Merriam-Webster's online dictionary, has many meanings.

Pronunciation: \ˈləv\
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English, from Old English lufu; akin to Old High German luba love, Old English lēof dear, Latin lubēre, libēre to please
Date: before 12th century
1 a (1): strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties (2): attraction based on sexual desire : affection and tenderness felt by lovers
(3): affection based on admiration, benevolence, or common interests b: an assurance of love
2: warm attachment, enthusiasm, or devotion
3 a: the object of attachment, devotion, or admiration b (1): a beloved person : darling —often used as a term of endearment (2)British —used as an informal term of address
4 a: unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another: as (1): the fatherly concern of God for humankind (2): brotherly concern for others b: a person's adoration of God
5: a god or personification of love
6: an amorous episode : love affair
7: the sexual embrace : copulation
8: a score of zero (as in tennis)9capitalized Christian Science : god
— at love: holding one's opponent scoreless in tennis
— in love: inspired by affection

I was saddened by the young man's words last night. As I listened to him speak of blame and shame, of his loneliness as a 13 year old eager to connect in a meaningful way with a stranger online, I felt sadness in my heart. I wondered how many thousands of youth are sitting out there, somewhere in the dark quiet of their rooms, tapping on keyboards, their webcams eyeballing their every move, as they connect with unseen predators lurking in the nether world of cyberspace, eager to lure them beyond the safety of their homes.

As I drove home from the event, I breathed in. There are predators out there. And there is beauty.

I am beautiful in my heart for you. It is a feeling. An emotion. A warmth. A connection.

The world is a many splendored place. It is not the world that creates discord, abuse and terror. It is man and woman. When our hearts are filled with unease, when jealousy, envy, greed, fear, anger fill our minds, our hearts cannot know beauty.

I am beautiful in my heart for you pushes my feelings up into my mind creating balance on that 18 inch ribbon of emotion connecting my heart through my mind.

I am beautiful in my thoughts for you. You are beautiful. I am beautiful.

I cannot be congruent if my heart is out of sync with my thoughts. I cannot know beauty if my thinking harbours ill will towards you.

I am beautiful in my heart. For you. For me. For the world around me.

I breathe and let go of sadness for the discord in our world and move with grace and ease into beauty.

I cannot change the world with one thought. I can change the world by shaping my world with thoughts of beauty. I can change my world by holding myself accountable for my thoughts and feelings.

I am beautiful in my heart for you. May your day be filled with beauty, grace and ease. May you be beautiful in your heart. May you be Love.

The question is: Are you filling your heart with beauty? Are you the Love of your life?

PLEASE NOTE: This is moving weekend. I will not be posting until Monday -- and I'll tell you all about my adventures in moving! Have a wonder filled weekend. May your thoughts be beautiful. May your world be one of beauty. Nameste. Louise

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Re-wiring faulty wiring

Life is not lost by dying; life is lost minute by minute, day by dragging day, in all the thousand small uncaring ways. Stephen Vincent Benet
Everyday I witness people whose lives are dying, minute by dragging minute. I see them lying on the sidewalk alongside our building, sitting on the curb by the parked cars, hiding out under the overpass to the south of our compound. They are dying, and yet, they want to live. That's the conundrum.

They are lying on the sidewalk inside our compound because it's safer there. They sit on the curb of our parking lot because there's less risk of getting beat up, or hit on by the countless drug dealers who cruise the area looking for victims. They want to live. They just don't know how to do it.

Last night over dinner, C.C. and I were talking about a program he's running at his company to teach First Nations participants how to build environmental structures. He was surprised that their life skills were so poor. "We teach them the craft, we pay them well for their contributions, and then, they get paid and all hell breaks loose."

I suggested he think about the environment from which these young adults came. They grew up on a reserve. Their parents were part of the residential school system. They had their culture, their faith, language, history, customs ripped away. They were abused and then tossed back upon the sea of humanity with the admonition, "Go forth and live productive lives... according to our values, our systems, our laws." And then they sank.

"Your students haven't had a work ethic instilled in them. They haven't had a sense of pride in their past, nor an understanding of the possibilities for a better future. They don't know how to meet what you expect of them because, they expect so little of themselves and don't understand your expectations."

At the shelter, we operate a wood-working program. Clients enter, many of whom have never had a sense of accomplishment, nor held a job with any success, in their lives. As the manager of the program says, "My first priority is to teach them how to turn up. Learning the craft is the easy part. Learning to count on yourself, be dependable and accountable, that's the tough stuff."

In my life, I have had to teach myself how to turn up for me. I've had to re-wire faulty wiring that had me doing things that undermined my sense of worth, my integrity, my value. What I was doing was based on lessons learned in the past. What I do today is based on how I've learned the lessons and applied my learning to living the life of my dreams. A life based on my values, principles and beliefs.

To live a life of value, I've had to define my values. What's important to me? What are my ethics? My principles. My beliefs?

Often, unlearning a faulty belief has been predicated upon learning from a mishap. Life is a continuous journey of knowledge. Of risking the known to explore the unknown. In learning from my past, I create value today that supports me, uplifts me and inspires me to do better tomorrow.

Looking at life as an opportunity to always 'get better, do better, be better' began with the realization that I wasn't very healthy in some of my beliefs. Like Harry in The Mast of Change, I held some faulty beliefs that limited me in my ability to step beyond my comfort zones, step beyond my fears and soar into the heights of my dreams.

I don't know what I don't know. I don't know all the faulty beliefs I hold about myself until I encounter them. When I say, "I can't," it is an opportunity to push through my fear, to test the boundaries of my abilities, to explore the limitations of my expectations of myself.

I know very few people who had a 'perfect childhood'. A life where they have no issues today in adulthood. A life where some trial or tribulation hasn't stopped them from achieving a dream.

For the students in C.C.'s course, their lives to date have held little promise of success. For those who huddle on the sidewalks of our cities, what success they've had in life has led them to being homeless. In the horror of living on the fringes of society, with an addiction or mental illness, or with nothing to their name but the stories they tell, their past success becomes an albatross, a reminder that they weren't worth what they had and they're only worth what they've got today.

To claim our right to live the lives of our dreams, we must let go of the belief the past is all we deserve. We must give up the story that casts us in stone, living our history as our future.

To claim our right to be great, we must do the hard things that chip away the bedrock of our past and set us free to soar into the wonders of our dreams.

To be great, we must care enough about ourselves to believe in our greatness.

The question is: Do you care enough about yourself to set yourself free of the past? Do you believe in yourself enough to soar through your fear of flying?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The mask of change

The life you have led doesn’t need to be the only life you have. Anna Quindlen*
Once upon a time, I was a child. I grew into a woman and experienced, at one point in that journey, the horror of becoming an abused woman. I didn't have to stay in that role. I didn't.

Life is filled with bumps and hurdles. With unexpected pitfalls, surprising downturns. Life is also filled with freeways and exit ramps. Waterfalls and pools of joy and laughter. Easy rides and home runs.

Life is filled with adventure.

Whatever life leads us to, doesn't destine us to remain forever there. We always have choice.

Last night, I was at the mask making workshop we're holding at the homeless shelter where I work. One of the attendees, Harry** was reluctant to come last week when the course started, he demurred with an emphatic. "I'm not creative. I don't do that stuff."

Harry is in his late forties, early fifties. A shy, gentle man. Crinkles around his bright blue eyes that twinkle with mischief even when his smile doesn't peak out from behind his salt and pepper mustache. He's been a client for a couple of years. Wicked sense of human and an addiction that undermines his belief in himself.

Last night, there were two new participants in the workshop. One from the University. An artist working on a national conference on homelessness that will be held in Calgary next spring, Growing Home. The other, an actor who is part of the cast of a play on homelessness that will be staged during High Performance Rodeo next January. The cast will be rehearsing at the shelter in December. This was his first time in the shelter, and his first time making a mask.

Douglas, the 'professor of mask-making' was busy talking to a couple of students when the two newbies sat down beside Harry to begin their masks. Since starting his first mask last week, Harry has created four new masks -- all of them stunning statements of his creativity, his perspective, his voice. As one of the students beside him struggled to make the armature for his mask, Harry leaned over and said, "Here, let me help you. It's easier if you do this." And he showed him how to easily put the armature together.

As the student began to gather clay to form the mask, Harry again intervened with helpful directions. The other new student asked a question and the three of them began a discussion about building masks as Harry gave them insight into what he's learned over the past week, sitting in the art studio, quietly working on his masks.

It was a profound moment.

To listen to a man who didn't believe in himself, who has relatively nothing in the material world, other than the insight he's gained over the past week, share his knowledge with two strangers who believed in what he had to say.

Ancient Greek statesman, Pericles, is quoted as having said, "What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others."

In the lives of two artists yesterday, Harry's helpful words, his perspective, his wisdom will be forever woven into the fabric of their masks and their lives.

In Harry's masks, his voice will be forever heard through the art he created, even when he didn't think he could.

Sitting there last night, working on my mask, listening to the conversations around me, hearing the hope come alive in the voices of those who had given up hope of every finding a life beyond homelessness, I was inspired. Touched. Moved. Elated.

Working at the shelter is new for me. I've never worked in not-for-profit before. Never worked in the social services. Working at the shelter will always be a part of my life. My experiences will always be a part of me. Always inspire me. Always temper my criticism, my judgements, my perspective.

Working at the shelter has changed me. Being in an abusive relationship, changed me. Being a mother, changed me. Losing my father, my brother, his wife, changed me. Losing contact with my nieces, changed me. Meeting Conrad changed me. Getting the miracle of my life in freedom away from that relationship, changed me. My sister and her husband helping me, changed me. Being able to accept their help, changed me. My daughters forgiveness, changed me. Writing my book, The Dandelion Spirit, changed me. Meeting C.C. changed me.

Everything that happens in my life, changes me. Sometimes, I willingly embrace the change and lead myself into new directions.

Sometimes, I resist the change. Stick my feet in the mud of inertia and try to drag myself back into the past, into the disbelief that this could be happening to me. No matter the change, whatever I do, also affects change, in my life and in the lives of those around me.

Like Harry last night. The realization that he had knowledge worth sharing. That others willingly listened and heeded his words, will change him. How the change affects him is up to him. But he can never go back to that man who believed he was, 'not creative'. He has proven himself wrong about a lie he told himself to keep him safe from changing.

Big changes will come. Harry has opened himself up to the possibilities. And as change happens, the lies he tells himself that limit his living a different life will be moved into the light of truth. As he lets go of his disbelief that there is another life out there, waiting for him to hold on and take the ride of his lifetime, he will change, and effect change on the world around him.

Change happens. It's up to us to move out from behind the masks of the lives we've lived and breathe life into living the life of our dreams.

The question is: How comfortable is your mask? Are you getting worn down by its weight? Are you willing to drop it?

*Thanks to my sister Anne for supplying the quote!
**Not his real name.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The story of my life

The greatest thing about man is his ability to transcend himself, his ancestry and his environment and to become what he dreams of being. Tully C. Knoles
In the world of homelessness, personal greatness is often forgotten beneath the burden of living life on the fringes, trapped on the darkside of our being.

Yesterday, I had a television crew in to do a story about our winter emergency plan. It was quiet when we first stepped onto the second floor, our day area where clients can sit and read, play cards, sometimes watch TV, put their head down on a table top and rest, have a meal...

We always announce when there's a crew on the floor to ensure individuals who do not want to appear on TV have a chance to turn their back, leave the floor or put their head down.

Bringing a crew onto the floor is a catch-22. On one hand, the shelter is a place of sanctuary, home for as long as we're needed. On the other, we need the support of the media to ensure our story gets out to the public, to keep them informed and involved in our work of serving those who have lost their way into homelessness.

Our clients don't often see the latter component of why the TV crews are there. Mostly they look at it as an infringement of their privacy. Thus, I try to explain whenever I can the reason for the crew's presence, and what we're trying to accomplish.

Doesn't matter how much explanation or time I spend explaining what's going on, something always goes on that is unexpected!

Like the couple yesterday who got into a domestic dispute. She ran into the washroom. He tried to run after her. He sat by the washroom door, ignoring staff's entreaties to 'leave it alone'. She came out of the washroom surrounded by a posse of five to six women intent on keeping him away from her. Her intent was to get to him. She broke through the posse. He started shouting obscenities. She started shouting back. They chased each other around the floor while staff tried to contain each of them.

It was, as the expression goes, a gong show.

Finally, two staff got the woman through the elevator door, down to the first floor. The man required more forceful intervention. They took him down to the ground, right in front of where I was standing with the camera crew. I moved the crew back, out of the line of scrimmage. They were respectful. Considerate and understanding. For the five minutes staff held the man pinned to the floor, calmly talking him down as he cried obscenities into their faces, we watched from behind a wall of bodies who had pressed forward to take in the action. There was no where for us to go without causing a further ruckus.

And that's the part of this process that inspires me every morning. As I wrote that last paragraph my mind jumped to conversations with staff about the treatment our clients sometimes receive from the police. Accounts of beatings, being roughed up, being accosted by the boys in blue (and girls) are daily.

Yesterday, as I listened to the conversations around us, as I fielded client's insistent calls that the camera crew 'film this' so that people could see what really goes on at the DI, how staff continually mistreat clients, beat them up, etc., it struck me that the story that would be told about this incident would not be very different than the stories told about the police. "They threw me to the ground. I wasn't doing anything. I just wanted to talk to my woman. And then they beat me. See this bruise. This cut. They did that." And so it would be told, and expanded, and embellished.

The world of homelessness is filled with drama. And that drama is fuelled by the abject poverty, the situational depression that encompasses the lives of those who are homeless.

The need for drama is a constant fix. A continuous hunger for meaning, for relevance, for greatness.

When life doesn't appear to be treating you that great, you go looking for something to fix the scarcity in your life.

Drama is an easy way to get it. Telling your victim story is the way to getting attention, to feeling 'great' for a moment, or a lifetime.

When I tell my victim story, I make myself the innocent bystander to whom these things just happen. In my victimhood, I let go of my power, my ability to create change in my life, my greatness.

We all have a victim story. Growth comes when we turn ourselves from being the victim into the victor of changes that empower me to live up to my greatness, to live the life of my dreams.

For someone experiencing homelessness, being the victim helps you make sense of what has happened and is happening to your life. Telling stories on others, telling stories about how you were treated bad, treated wrong, treated with disrespect puts you into a victim's place and serves to keep you from having to face the truth of your circumstances: Where ever I'm at in my life today, it was my actions (or lack of action) that got me there.

To transcend ourselves, our ancestry, our environment requires actively doing the things that move us away from our victim's place into our victor's role. To claim our greatness so that we can live our dreams, we must let go of the tales of how badly we were treated and start writing stories about being the man or woman of our dreams. True stories. Real stories. Stories that don't need embellishment because they are the stories of our lives of greatness.

The question is: What kind of story will you tell about your life today? Will you embellish the scarcity of your existence, or will you take the hero's road and become the man or woman you've dreamt of being?

Monday, October 20, 2008

The present of my purpose

I am here for a purpose and that purpose is to grow into a mountain, not to shrink to a grain of sand. Henceforth will I apply ALL my efforts to become the highest mountain of all and I will strain my potential until it cries for mercy. Og Mandino
This weekend was the second component (G2) of the Givers segment of the Choices seminar where I coach. G2 is about Purpose. Identifying your 'Do', of the Be. Do. Have statement. Be committed to Do what it takes to Have the life of your dreams.

When we go into the purpose circle, it is not uncommon to have someone say, "But I don't think I have a purpose."

We fear having a purpose. We fear living up to our purpose. Yet, if we can put our purpose in perspective of, a purpose is what we do everyday that gives meaning to our lives, we will find our purpose is inherent in our everyday living, part of our being.

British mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead said, “Our minds are finite, and yet even in these circumstances of finitude we are surrounded by possibilities that are infinite, and the purpose of life is to grasp as much as we can out of that infinitude.”

When I first went through G2 as a trainee, I was worried about writing my purpose. My limiting beliefs were keeping me from seeing the limitless possibilities of my life when I live it on purpose. Talking about my purpose felt like dreaming -- and dreams to me are scary. At least dreams that speak of my aspirations, my desires, my goals. My family of origin 'stuff' got in the way of my seeing that my purpose, like my dreams, are unique to me, and very important to my living a life of substance.

Yesterday, as I sat listening to the conversation around 'what is my purpose and why is it important to me?', I realized how far I've come from that scared little girl who never wanted to tell anyone she was frightened, let alone that she dreamed. In the quiet of my heart, I felt my little girl sigh a breath of relief. She was home. She was safe. She was peaceful.

It was an important moment for me. To sit and feel the peace and calm within. To know my inner child is carefree. Safe. Content.

Most of my life, she has been fearful of what might happen to her. What might 'go wrong'. What might be because I was not being my one true self. I was not paying attention to living this one wild and precious life on purpose and with intent. I was not living up to my limitless possibilities and creating an extraordinary life.

Maryanne Williamson writes in, A Return to Love,
"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.' We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we're liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."
(A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of "A Course in Miracles", Harper Collins, 1992. From Chapter 7, Section 3])

Who am I to play small? Who am I to not breathe life into my purpose? To not live up to my greatness calling?

My purpose is to 'touch hearts and open minds, to set spirits free'. I can only do that when I live my contract, I am a fearless woman.

When I live fearlessly, I create the meaning in my life. I do the things I am born to do that inspire others to find truth and beauty and value in the experiences of their lives.

When I live 'on purpose', I fly in the jet streams. Free of fear and limiting beliefs, I Dare to Soar.

This morning I embrace my purpose. I embrace all I am meant to be in this world and leap into the void of the unknown of today. I don't know what the world will present. I do know what present I can give the world -- my best. My all. My greatness. I am a fearless woman touching hearts and opening minds to set spirits free creating a world of love, joy and harmony.

The question is: What is your present? Are you willing to share it with the world today? Are you willing to live up to your greatness?

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Whose problem is it?

There can be no vulnerability without risk; there can be no community without vulnerability; there can be no peace, and ultimately no life, without community. M. Scott Peck
On Wednesday, I gave a two hour presentation to a group of Police Sergeants. It was the test presentation for a seminar I will be delivering on homelessness to patrol officers throughout the city. This group of sergeants needed to vet the material and my delivery to ensure it met the needs of the force. Thus, I was rather nervous going in, as you may recall on my blog, Facing Reality.

First off, the presentation went extremely well. The material I had was good -- but the most powerful part of the presentation was the dialogue that ensued around the 'myths'. You know, those beliefs we hold that are set in stone, and no one knows who set them there.

When I am giving presentations about homelessness I always ask the audience at the very beginning, "Who are the homeless?"

The answers are always the same: Addicts. Working Poor. Mentally ill. Runaways...

After giving me the 'nice' labels, I invite people to be share the not so nice words we also use to describe a homeless individual. You know, at the bar with their friends, telling a story about the squiggie guy at the corner, or the bum panhandling on the sidewalk. The words come slowly, but they always come. Scum. Deadbeat. Lazy. Good for nothing. Hobos. Vagrants. Dirty...

I agree. Tell them that 'yes, those are common words we hear and sometimes use. But, they are not the words that describe 'who' are the homeless. They are the words we use to label the people living a life we do not understand. A life that scares us. Frightens us. A life that is beyond our norm.'

Underneath the labels, underneath the dirty clothes, the smells, the funny antics, the not so good behaviours is the truth. The homeless are, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters. Grandmothers, grandfathers, aunts, uncles. They're nieces, nephews, cousins, friends. The homeless are human beings, just like you and me.

It is the truth about the people experiencing the abuse of homelessness.

They are connected to each and every one of us through the human condition in which we all share.

When presenting to the group on Wednesday, we got into a discussion about, yes but. Yes. they are human beings. But, they're often breaking the law, and police officers must uphold the law.

Sleeping on park benches. Peeing in alleyways. Spitting on the road are all illegal in this city. And yes, officers need to uphold the law.

Under their mandate, to serve and protect, who does it serve when they ticket someone who has nothing? Who does it protect when they roust them from a park bench and tell them to 'move along'? Where do they move to?

"Yes, but," said one of the sergeants. "You guys [meaning the shelter] call us regularly to come and remove someone from your property who is barred. What are we supposed to do with them? You are their last resort."

And that's where I challenge the myth. "We are their last resort."

See, a shelter is no one's last resort. A shelter is an option. It is a place on a continuum of distress.

When someone is barred from our shelter, it is for a variety of reasons. Violence and drug dealing are the two most serious offences, and they will both result in life bars. If Dealing is an automatic life bar. Violence is based on level of escalation, track record and a host of other considerations. If the police don't have a warrant on someone who is barred, we can only ask the police to remove them, not arrest them. They can charge them with trespassing, but they can't put them in jail.

It is a conundrum for all of us.

"What do you want us to do with them?"

When the sergeant asked me that on Wednesday, I asked him a question. "What if I were to tell you, it's not our problem?"

He promptly replied, "Who's problem is it?"

"Good question," I responded. I turned to the group of about 20. "Who's problem is it?"

Every day we walk the contradictions of what we do at the shelter. We call ourselves the shelter of last resort. We recognize we are not everyone's last resort.

Who's problem is it?

There is much more I need to think about on this. Much more I want to write. But.... and there's that but! I am off to coach at Choices today and must run.

Thank you CZ for inspiring my thinking. She commented on my blog yesterday and wrote about studies on narcissism that connect agression with vulnerability. Need to ponder that. Need to think about what it means in a world where agression is common ground for those suffering from homelessness.

The question is: Who's problem is it?

Friday, October 17, 2008

Eyes Wide Open

The greatest discovery of this generation is that a human being can alter their life by altering their attitude. William James
Attitude. We've all got it. We all project it. And sometimes, it gets in our way.

Who hasn't heard the question, Is your cup half full or half empty? George Carlin once replied when asked if he saw a half empty or half full cup, "I see a glass twice as big as it needs to be."

It's all in our attitude.

But where does attitude come from? And what do we do when it needs an adjustment?

When I was with Conrad, (see The Dandelion Spirit), he used to tell me that one of my problems (and he had many for me) was that I didn't believe in evil. Didn't believe people were capable of 'being bad'.

Now, I will attest to the fact that I believe 99% of human beings are fundamentally good. At our core lives the essence of brilliance that creates our most magnificent selves. I believe the journey through childhood into maturity is about reclaiming that magnificence with which we were born. And I believe, if given the opportunity, we would all rather do good than harm.

In Conrad's perspective, all people were born to be bad. In challenging me on my belief in the fundamental goodness of the human being, he set out to prove I was wrong. In my disbelief, in my refusal to face reality, that there are some people in this world who live in the shadow, in the dark side of human being, I was at risk of Conrad's manipulations. Because I refused to accept some people are evil, I could not accept he was doing evil.

In my awakening, I was given the gift of sight. Yes. There is evil in this world and people willing and capable of furthering it. With eyes wide open, I was able to step into the truth of what happened to me, of what I did, of what he did. I was able to face reality, forgive him and love myself, warts and all.

I work in a world where evil is perpetrated on vulnerable people every day. I work in a world where people have lost their inner light. Untethered from the mores and values of a just and caring society, they wander the streets, aimless and directionless, without a moral compass to guide them home. Huddled beneath the shadow of towering skyscrapers and back alleys, they encounter evil every day and become their worst fears; a fallen human being willing to do anything to stay alive, including abusing drugs, alcohol and each other, in order to numb the pain of their existence.

In their crumbled state, their attitude of defeat gets in their way of finding the light to guide them home, back to where they belong.

Stuck in the shadows, they begin to believe, the world is against me. There is no hope. I am worthless.

And in their belief; this is all I'm worth, they buy into the myth that we live in a world of evil. Everybody's doing it. Why not me?

Everybody is not evil. This is not an evil world. Evil does exist -- call it badness, narcissism, psychopathy, self-centeredness, cruelty. Whatever you call it, it is behaviour fostered by an attitude of entitlement that leads people to do evil.

Was Conrad evil? I believe he has a 'bad attitude' fostered by a perspective of life that says, what 'I want is what I deserve. Getting it is all that counts. And I will do anything to get what I want, regardless of the consequences to anyone else'.

I believe there are many people in this world who share that bad attitude. People for whom what they want is all that counts, to hell with the consequences, to hell with the impact upon other people, upon our world.

I can't change anyone else's attitude. I can adjust mine. In a time where the world appears to be spinning out of control, where markets tumble and fortunes crumble, I take a breath and remind myself -- I can't stop the world. Can't change it. I can change my attitude to make a difference in my world today. I can be the light I am seeking.

Life is an adventure worth living. It is a constant journey into peace, love and joy that moves me closer to my brilliant core, my life force that says, "I am one magnificent human being, being all I'm meant to be by making a difference in a world of abundance."

The question is: What's your attitude? Where's it taking you?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Betting against yourself

To get what you've never had, you must do what you've never done. Unknown
When I was in my teens I was fascinated with psychology. Wanted to be a psychologist for a long time. When it came time to go to University, I was scared. I had a hard time figuring out how I was going to get what I wanted. I didn't know what I wanted to begin with.

Fast forward a couple of decades and I still occasionally struggle with figuring out what I truly want. Options are many. Choices multiple. What do I want?

Well, there's the tangibles, home, money in the bank, car, career.

And there are the intangibles, the things that cannot be measured by a growing bank account or square footage: love, happiness, esteem, a sense of worth, of value, of making a contribution.

Somewhere many years ago, I read a study someone conducted to determine what all cultures in the world value. The answer was, no matter the culture, the continent, the faith, youth and health were valued by all. Beauty is relative. As is wealth. Youth is filled with limitless possibilities and health indispensable to living a full and productive life.

Youth is the purview of the young. I can be young at heart, spirited and youthful in my outlook and claim my youthful perspective; I'm only as old as I think.

Where is that fountain of youth when I need it?

According to actress Sophia Loren, I need look no further than within me. "There is a fountain of youth: it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love. When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age."

Talents not used, grow rusty. Muscles not used, wither. Creativity left on the shelf, grows dusty.

I cannot hold onto my youth. I can bathe in the fountain of youth every day, however, by opening myself up to the limitless possibilities of my creativity. When I dive into my talents, explore my capabilities without limiting myself to what I tell myself is true about my talents or lack of talent, I am tapping into the source of life that keeps me young at heart, that keeps me living a spirited life.

On Tuesday evening, I took a mask-making workshop. Tonight, I go back to create a papier-mache cast of my mask. I didn't know working with clay could be so much fun. I didn't know making a mask would be that enjoyable.

I don't know what I don't know.

Once upon a time, I told myself I had no artistic ability. And then, I picked up a paint brush and fell in love.

I don't know what I don't know. Reality is, I can't know what I don't know if I don't explore the limits of my knowledge, the boundaries I use to define my capabilities.

If I say, I can't do something, I'm right as long as I don't attempt to test the tension of the membrane of that belief.

Life happens when I prove myself wrong about something I hold to be true for me.

I believe I'm getting older. My body is aging, but my mind, my spirit don't have to follow. They can continue to expand, to grow, to evolve as long as I set myself free of limiting beliefs that tether me to the belief I cannot have the life of my dreams as I grow older.

In my youth, I didn't know what I wanted. In my maturity, I have discovered what I want is nothing compared to what I can have when I life this one wild and precious life fearlessly in love with all of me, beauty and the beast. I can have the life of my dreams when I let go of my fear that I am too old to be my most magnificent self.

Life isn't a game that's over when the fat lady sings. Life is an adventure that continues every day, every moment. Life is the journey.

The question is: Are you living life as if it's a game you're doomed to lose? Are you betting against yourself by limiting your possibilities in the belief that you are too old to change, too old to do it differently? Are you living the end before you've even begun the journey of your lifetime?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Facing reality

Under pressure.

A presentation to make this morning -- it was moved late yesterday from Friday to today. I'm feeling the pressure. The stress. I'm not ready.

I breathe.

I know my subject matter. Homelessness. I'm good on my feet. I've got four hours to finish off the powerpoint. I'll be okay.

Where the learning comes is in my agreement to change the date. I was asked. I agreed.

What's with that?

Was I trying to be accommodating? Or, was I simply too afraid to say no?

A bit of both. Mixed with a belief -- I can do anything I set my mind to.

I'd best take Mark Twain's advice and load my presentation with statistics. He said, "I've come loaded with statistics, for I've noticed that a man can't prove anything without statistics."

My presentation is to a group of police sergeants. My goal, to shift their perceptions of homelessness. To awaken their empathy. Statistics don't open minds. Human stories, real stories of real people, they touch hearts and open minds.

Dump the statistics. Go for the heart.

It's not that the audience isn't empathetic. It is that they are accustomed to dealing with people under duress, often at their worst. In particular, street people.

Ask a client at the shelter where I work, and they are bound to have a horror story of an encounter with a police officer. It is part of the collective consciousness of homelessness. "Police are the enemy."

It is not a positive aspect of the consciousness, but it is a reality. To create the world we want, we must first deal with the world the way it is, in all its stark relief. Not the world as we'd like it, but rather the world as it currently exists. By acknowledging what is, we create opportunities for change, for growth, for creating what we want in the world.

Reality is, homeless individuals consider police with jaundiced eyes. Many have had negative experiences.

Reality is, some police consider homeless individuals with jaundiced eyes. Many have had negative experiences.

The difference is in where the power lies.

My job this morning is to open the eyes of those with the power, the police, to the possibility of change, to the opportunity for shifting perspectives that will lead to a more constructive relationship with those on the fringes of our society.

Next step. To present to clients of the shelter a worldview different than the collective view they share whenever they tell their victim stories. To open them up to the possibilities of creating new stories, different stories, new opportunities.

I cannot change the world. I can do my best to create the opportunity for change in the world around me by turning up, paying attention, speaking my truth and staying unattached to the outcome.

The question is: What about you? How entrenched are you in the victim story you tell to keep yourself from stepping into the possibilities of life beyond the comfort zone of your well-worn tale of woe? How open are you to acknowledging your reality and opening yourself up to the truth of the power within you to change your world?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

An attitude of gratitude

God gave you a gift of 86,400 seconds today. Have you used one to say "thank you?" William A. Ward
That's 1,440 minutes in a day. Are you willing to give up one moment for a breath of gratitude?

Yesterday, my eldest daughter and I were talking about a man she met in Australia who amazed her with his positive attitude. "He was always upbeat," she told me. "Always grateful."

"He lives with an attitude of gratitude," I said.

"Oh my goodness. That's it!" she exclaimed. "I forgot about having an attitude of gratitude."

Alexis and her sister work in a well-known retail store. They're continually regaling me with stories of customers antics and the questions they sometimes ask.

"You could really get to dislike people working in a store," they laughingly assert. They claim people are not as rude and inconsiderate as restaurant goers, some however do still insist on treating retail sales staff with disdain.

Perhaps their customers need to give their attitudes a dose of gratitude.

In today's world of crumbling markets and growing despair, having stores laden with goods to buy, having selection, having sales staff capable and able to help you, having sizes that fit in a multitude of colours and fabrics, changing rooms with doors that close and mirrors that shine; these are all things to be grateful for.

Gratitude is an attitude.

Today, I am grateful for my job. For having work I love, people I enjoy to work with and people I am humbled to serve. I am grateful for my pay cheque. I am grateful for my abilities that make it possible for me to earn a living. I am grateful I can make a difference.

Gratitude expands my heart and keeps me open to receive abundance.

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

In my life, I create what I focus on. When I focus on gratitude, abundance appears. When I focus on fearfulness, abundance shrinks as I fall into the trap of believing there is not enough of whatever I want in the universe.

There is always what I want in the universe. I just have to step forward, reach for it, and achieve my dreams. It's up to me to BE committed to DO what it takes to HAVE what I want. I want to be filled with gratitude. I want to be filled with abundance. BE. DO. HAVE.

It's my choice. My actions create the difference between scarcity and abundance.

For today, I choose to move through each moment, all 1,440 of them, with my heart filled with gratitude, my sights set on abundance and my thoughts filled with love. In my actions, I choose to take steps that fill me up with all that I need, all that I want, all I deserve. I choose to be grateful for the abundance of my world and soar free of limiting beliefs.

I am grateful for this day. For this world of abundance. This life of creativity. This moment of joy.

The question is: What about you? Are you filling your 1,440 moments with thoughts of all you can do, all you can achieve when you live your BE. DO. HAVE.? Are you stepping away from fear, filling your heart with gratitude and claiming all you want out of life?

Monday, October 13, 2008





Today is Thanksgiving Day in Canada. A day of gratitude. To give thanks. To acknowledge our blessings. To be thankful for our gifts.

Last night, My sister, J.T. and her husband hosted a Thanksgiving dinner. We were twelve. The five, "Gallagher girls", my eldest daughter's boyfriend's mother, C.C., his son, and the girls' boyfriends including one brother.

We laughed, and joked. Ate copious amounts -- dare I say too much -- gave thanks and appreciation and shared in the love and joy of family and friends gathered around a table.

Earlier in the day, Liseanne, my youngest daughter, and I went to the shelter to help serve lunch. A group of "hubbies", members of HUB, sponsored the turkey dinner, complete with pumpkin pie and whipped cream.

My job was to assist the woman guiding servers to the tables. I was watching for any altercations, any untoward behaviours that might derail the event.

As I walked through the dining area, I stopped to chat with clients and staff, to get a measure of their thanksgiving.

"What are you grateful for?" I asked as I waited by a table, or stood beside a frontline worker.

"This meal."

"I got to see my mom, yesterday."

"I have a job to go to after lunch."

"I made $23.00 picking bottles."

"My friends."

"My shift is over at 2pm."

"I got a pair of shoes that fit from the clothing room."

"I'm alive."

I asked one man sitting with a group of friends, waiting for their meals, what he was thankful for.

"Staff," he promptly replied. "Thanks to them, I'm alive today."

A week ago, he suffered a heart attack. His heart stopped beating. Staff quickly intervened. Cleared the area. Brought out the defibrillator and had his heart beating strongly by the time EMS arrived. Thanks to their prompt attention, and their care, he is alive today.

At the shelter I am constantly in awe of the spirit's will to live. Of our hearts desire to beat.

For this man, living at a shelter. Sharing his meals with 1,000 other people. Sharing his sleeping quarters with over 1,000 others. Sharing every waking moment with strangers. It is not how he would have imagined living. Ever.

It is not how I would want to live. Ever.

And yet. There he was, waiting for his turkey dinner, thankful for staff who saved his life.

As long as there is breath, there is life. As long as there is life, there is hope.
"Hope" is the thing with feathers-- That perches in the soul-- And sings the tune without the words-- And never stops--at all-- Emily Dickenson

I work in a world where hope lives.

No matter how lost. No matter how far they've fallen, how far they've strayed, we keep hope alive for those who cannot find their way back home. We keep hope alive for the families who have lost all hope of ever finding their loved ones again.

Without hope. All is lost.

I am grateful for those who came out to help serve yesterday, who made it possible for us to celebrate Thanksgiving with humble hearts and spirits over-flowing in love.

I am grateful for my sister, J., who created a memorable evening for all of us to share. A table laden with food. A home filled with love.

I am grateful for my daughters. Their love and laughter, their beautiful spirits, their forgiving souls, their loving embrace.

I am grateful for C.C. His kindness. His caring. His laughter. His love.

I am grateful for this day. The sunshine warming my feet as it streams through the patio door. The golden hues of autumn falling. The blue sky. The crisp morning air.

I am grateful for the hum of the furnace. The coffee brewing. Water that flows from a tap. A fridge that keeps the milk cool. Cupboards laden with food. Knives to cut bread with. Spoons to eat soup with.

I am grateful for Ellie. My faithful companion. My gentle friend.

I am grateful for my fingers typing across the keyboard. My heart filled with gratitude and love.

I am grateful for this moment where I sit bathed in the warm glow of gratitude.

I am grateful. I am blessed.

May your day be filled with blessings. May your heart be full of love. May each moment be filled with gratitude. May you fill your world with joy as you dance this one wild and precious life in love with all you are and loved by everyone around you.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Victim of the past, or victor in this moment.

It is never too late to have a happy childhood. Tom Robbins
Saturday morning. Boxes wait to be filled. Coffee warms my hands. Autumn has fallen and with it cool temperatures descend.

What if reality is exactly where we're at? What if, whatever pain or turmoil, fear or consternation we encounter is exactly what we are meant to experience? What if the reason we're here, in this moment, is to move us to the next.

The universe doesn't care where we're at. The universe simply is. We put the caring into our existence. We put the concern into our being.

I had dinner last night with a very dear friend. She was telling me about a conversation with her mother where she tried to discuss some not so great memories of childhood.

"Listening to you, you make it sound like you had a terrible childhood," her eighty year old mother said.

"I had a wonderful childhood," my friend replied. "But there are things that happened that hurt me and I just wanted to talk to you about them."

Her mother didn't want to listen. She didn't want her perceptions of her daughters childhood, and her mothering, disrupted.

My friend was upset. "How do I put these memories in perspective?" she asked. "How do I find closure?"

"What if you create a memory of your childhood you can live with?" I asked.

"But that would be a lie," she said. "What about the truth?"

Ahh, the truth. What is the truth in memory?

The truth is, when we replay painful scenes in our minds, we are purposefully hurting ourselves with something we cannot change. The past.

My friend's childhood happened many years ago. Memory can be faulty. Memory can dipzy doodle in and out of time, out of sync with events no longer clearly seen as time passes and we move onto new adventures, and misadventures. As we create a longer past, our recreation of the details of what happened, becomes faulty.

Truth is, we get to choose how the past affects us today. If replaying scenes of childhood abuse hurts. Don't replay the scenes. Accept the abuse happened and move into healing by moving away from the abuse, into self-love.

It's okay to remember. It's not okay to dwell, to mull over, to become mired down in painful memories that hold you back from flying free.

For my friend, her childhood memories do not create value in her life today. What has value is her minds ability to create a new scene of childhood; a childhood where her inner child runs freely through fields of wild flowers, laughing gaily as she dances under a warm glowing sun.

Nothing can change the events of her childhood that hurt her. She can change the pain of carrying those memories around. Looking for why someone did what they did, long after they're dead and gone, keeps her tethered to the past. Replacing those memories, whenever they erupt, with a different version of the truth, will empower her to live freely today, without fearing that what happened long ago, was all she deserves today.

Now, I'm not suggesting whitewashing over the past. I'm suggesting not repeating the memories that stick inside our hearts, like burs on a dog, rubbing constantly against our peace of mind. I can't change what happened to me. I can change how I perceive its effects. I can change how I tell the story of my life -- I can stay a victim of the past, or become a victor in this moment. The choice is mine.

The question is: How long is your memory? How far and how often do you drag yourself back to a time you cannot change? Are you willing to recreate your childhood to reflect your power today to live the life of your dreams? Are you willing to recreate yourself as the amazing, magnificent, brilliant human being you truly are?

Friday, October 10, 2008

If not me, who?

It is mid afternoon. I am walking on a main thoroughfare, a block from the river that leads into the downtown core. As I walk, the high rent skyscrapers give way to empty spaces and a seedy hotel.

The shelter where I work is here, amidst the rundown, worn out architecture of the east end of the city core. Much of it is under construction. Giant earth movers scuttle back and forth carrying the dirt and debris of change. Orange fences surround gaping holes where once low rental housing leaned into the wind and provided shelter to the working poor, the addicts, the prostitutes, the human effluence who lived on the edges of our society in a place where poverty was the common ground. At this end of the community, however, the construction is only visible on the road ahead where dirt laden with giant tubes of concrete has replaced the tarmac of the road that snakes along the river. The pathway along the river that was once accessible from the road is now fenced off to keep people safe from the construction.

Beside me on the avenue, traffic speeds towards me, racing to reach the safety of the downtown core. It comes in spits and spurts, regulated by the light at the other side of the bridge that connects this part of the city to the northern shore. I walk. Traffic stops coming. The avenue is empty.

Ahead, I spy a group of people sitting on a small knoll. Two men stand facing eachother. One tall. The other, hunched over. His grey jacket slumped back off his shoulders, his hands forward, palms facing up. The group is watching the duo. Faces turned up in anticipation of the drama about to unfold. Drama I am not prepared for.

Suddenly, the taller man flips the younger man to the ground. He laughs. Says something I can't hear to the crowd. I want to hear nervousness in their responsive laughter. I could be imagining it. The taller man leans over the body of the man he's flipped to the ground. He tears the earphones from his head. Rips the CD player from the pocket of his jacket. He looks around. No traffic. He musn't see me. Or, if he does, he doesn't see the threat in a lone woman walking down the street. He stands up. Lifts his boot and stomps it on the head of the man on the ground. He steps over the man and sits down with the group.

I am stunned. Not quite sure I actually saw what I saw. I am alone. One person. A group of four or six sitting on the hillside. I know the tall man is the dealer. I know the others are his clients. I know I need to do something. I don't know what. I am at risk.

I keep walking.

I look for a police cruiser. There's normally one in the neighbourhood. Around the corner, at the side of the hotel, I see one. I walk over. The officer knows me. I tell him what I witnessed. "I'll check it out right away," he says. With a wave and a parting, "I know where to find you if I need you," he flips on his lights and spins around, turns the corner towards the group.

I walk back to my office. Behind me, I see the cruiser in front of the tableau of people sitting on the hill. I know nothing will happen. I know the man whose head was stomped won't say anything. I know the group will not reveal the perpetrator of the drama that unfolded. I know all this and still I want it to be different. I want them to stop doing what they're doing to kill themselves. To stop hurting eachother. To stop giving up on themselves and life and living. I want them to awaken.

I have no questions today. No answers. I know I cannot change the world. I know I cannot stop anyone from speeding down the wrong way on a one way street to destiny. I can only do what I can do. I can only give my best. Do my best. Be my best. My best is good enough.

And still my heart cries. My soul weeps for those who have lost their way and find themselves in the hellhole of an addiction, living on the street, living by their wits, living off the drugs dealers peddle that keep them from turning away from street life back to mainstreet.

Yesterday, in the self-esteem course I was teaching one of the students asked me after we had talked about attitude and the benefits of staying your course to reach your goals, "But how do I do that when I get out of rehab and have to come back here? How do I quit using when everyone around me wants me to keep being who I was and keeps encouraging me to go back to my old ways?"

"Do you want to go back to your old ways?" I asked him.

His response was fast and vehement. "No."

"I don't have the answer for you," I told him. "All I can tell you is, the choice is yours. If getting out of here is your goal, measure every step you take against your goal. Does it take you closer, or further away from where you want to be?"

"Yeah, but these guys are my friends. When I won't go partying with them, they make fun of me, they even pick fights with me."

"Friends don't hold you back from attaining your goals, but an addict will always try to keep you from breaking free," I told him. "If you break free then that means they could too. And what addict wants to know they can get away from the thing they use to ease their pain? You are an inspiration, and a curse. In you, they see the possibilities. And possibilities are scary."

"So, I could be a role model?" he asked. (We had spoken of the kind of man he wanted to be earlier. A role model was key.)

"You are their role model. You are their light, their hope, their possibility. They're afraid of what you're doing but they want what you're doing to be possible for them. Facing their desire, however, is scary. What you've done is the unknown. The dealers got what they know and he knows how to keep them using."

"Yeah," he agreed. "The last thing the dealer wants is to lose another customer."

Another student piped up. "Who cares. There'll always be another one after the last one."

The reality of addictions. "There'll always be another one after the last one."

For that young man lying on the hillside, there is always hope he will awaken. As long as he stays alive.

For the dealer, there is always hope he will awaken too. As long as he stays alive. Perhaps one day he will face the consequences of his actions. Perhaps one day, someone will do to him what he did to another human being and he will awaken from the darkness.

I don't know. I do know that to give up on those who are lost is to give into the darkness of their despair. To give up would be to give over control to those who would want to deal with impunity in the underbelly of someone's addiction. To give up would be impossible.

I am proud of the work I do. I am proud of the people I work with. The courageous souls who will not give up on anyone, even when that person has given up on themselves.

I am grateful for the work I do. I am grateful there are those who will not give up, who continue to fight for the oppressed all over this world. I am grateful for the officer who so quickly responded to my call. I am grateful for the students in my class yesterday who are courageously moving forward, even while they struggle to make sense of the world around them. I am grateful I live in a world where possibilities exist, where spirits can awaken to the beauty of our human condition, where ever they are in the world today.

I am grateful I can make a difference. If not me, who? If not now, when?

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Be mindful

Ahh, the hurry of a late morning.

I slept in. All the way to 6:45! Yippeee! Seldom do it and I always rejoice when I do!

Except. I am teaching a class at 9am. Which means. I'm in a rush.

Pressed for time, I search my mind for words to type. Yet, it is not the searching that brings them forth. It is the being in the flow. Being connected to the world around me, to the creative consciousness that imbues each breath with spirit.

In Zen, there is a concept that encourages practitioners to be mindful, to find the zen in every moment. As Alan Watts wrote, "Zen does not confuse spirituality with thinking about God while one is peeling potatoes. Zen spirituality is just to peel the potatoes."

This morning, I didn't meditate before writing. At least, not my normal, sit quietly and empty my mind kind of meditation. Because I'm pressed for time, I knew I had to make each moment count. So, I chose to be mindful while letting the dogs out, feeding them and making coffee. I was mindful of my actions. Of the motions. Of the sensations. The cheery wave of Ellie's tail. The crisp smell of the fall air. Its cool caress for that brief moment I stood in the doorway, welcoming me into the morning light breaking upon the horizon. The hum of the furnace. The feel of Mollie's fur when I picked her up and gave her a hug. Her wiggly body. Happy pants. The rustle of the dog food when I dug the cup into the tub. The sound when I dropped it into the dog's dishes, like falling stones in a pond. Ellie's large chunks heavy and ponderous against the ceramic of her bowl. No bounce in their fall, just a quiet rolling into place. Mollie's light, popping up and down as they hit the metal sides of the dish. The rich, robust aroma of grinding coffee. The sound of the blades whirring. The sound of steam rising within the cappuccino machine. The gurgle of water heating up, cheerfully calling me to wake-up. Get excited. Get in action.

I could go on. It is the thing about mindfulness. There is beauty in every sound. Every movement. Every sensation. There is Zen.

My world is filled with beauty. I just have to stop and listen. To be mindful of it. To be aware.

Like life, the world around me calls me for my attention. So often, I wander through it, eyes half closed, ears shut off, touch shut down. So often, I ignore the moment in anticipation of the next.

For today, I commit to walking through my day, alive with every moment, aware of every atom of my being to the beauty of my world.

The question is: What about you? What will you be mindful of today?

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

A sea of change

You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it. Margaret Thatcher
In a sea of change, every stroke I take parts the waters, opening the way to new direction. Each stroke carries me away from where I was. Each stroke has the potential to take me closer to my goals, or away from them. The sea is always flowing. How I swim in it is up to me.

Yesterday, the artists of the program I started at the shelter had their first art show in a corporate setting. A generous man heard about the program and offered to organize a show and sale in the lobby of his downtown skyscraper. He got us the space for free, put up posters, sent out emails and personal invitations to other businesses.

Working in the sector I do, it is hard to predict if clients will turn up. For many, one of the factors that drove them into homelessness, was their inability to turn up for themselves. Commitment is not high on their agenda. Commitment is a scary word and turning up on someone else's schedule not always part of their life-skillset.

Yesterday, four of the artists turned up. An amazing number. An amazing event. They are fighting the battle, swimming in the sea of change. Yesterday, they each had a personal victory.

The battle to turn up every day is a victory that is won with every leap I take into fearlessly embracing all that I am. When I surrender my fear and fall in love with my human condition, I come alive like never before.

The challenge is, learned behaviours often inhibit me from taking that leap into living passionately and fearlessly on the other side of my comfort zone. Learned behaviours keep me swimming against myself, battling the currents as I try to force the tides to change.

Unlearning behaviours that have kept me trapped in turbulent waters requires learning new strokes, building new muscle, stretching stiff joints. Unlearning behaviours can be tiring, which is why, in the past, I would often give up on changing my course and give into the urge to let the waters carry me where they will.

Like the artists yesterday. To turn up, each individual had to believe they had something worth sharing with the world. In a world where all they share in is poverty, exposing their art to stranger's eyes, is a leap into the sea of uncertainty. And yet, each artist who turned up did it. He took the leap and flew.

I learned a lot from the artist's yesterday. Each one had the courage to expose themselves, to create vulnerability amidst their poverty. Each had the courage to turn up, in spite of their fears. And each, stepped through learned behaviour that would have them believe they're not good enough, to risk sharing the work they've created.

Native American leader, Mary Bryant said, "Courage is the power to let go of the familiar."

Each artist has had the courage to keep coming back to the art studio, to keep putting a brush to canvas, a pencil to paper, an eye to the lens of a camera. And in their courage to change what is,
they inspire me to live within the grace of Reinhold Niebuhr's Serenity Prayer,

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

In a sea of change, nothing stays the same. In the sea of our human condition, each artist has been changed by turning up for themselves. And each artist has created change in my life, and in the lives of everyone who sees their art. Because in their creative expression, lives the limitless possibilities of letting go of the things we've learned to explore all we do not know.

The question is: Are you willing to turn up for yourself, even when you're afraid? Are you willing to leap, even when you want to fall down? Are you willing to explore what you do not know about your human condition?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The gift

Gifts come in many forms. Sometimes, they arrive wrapped up in crinkly paper, shiny and sparkly, a big red bow on top, handed to us with a smile and an acknowledgement of love. Sometimes, gifts come in the words someone says that speak of their love and respect as they express all we mean to them and how much they care. Sometimes, a gift arrives in the form of a hug, a gentle touch, a kind word, a loving gesture.

We see these gifts. We feel them. We embrace them. They are welcome on our journey. Treasured. Valued.

Sometimes, though, we don't see the gifts we're given until after we've opened Pandora's box and felt our hearts beat with fear and trepidation. We struggle to face the truth riddled with the fear that it is all a mistake, we are a big mistake.

To keep ourselves from turning into pillars of salt we cry out in denial and blind ourselves to the gift of life revealing our beauty in every moment. We deny ourselves the joy of bathing in the essence of our brilliance, our magnificence, our birthright, because sometimes, the gift comes wrapped up in turmoil and angst, pain and sorrow, trials and tribulations. And we don't like pain and sorrow, loss and confusion. We don't like the downside of living life open to the elements.

My relationship with Conrad was that kind of gift. I couldn't see that in its unfolding I was being given the opportunity to grow, to smash through false beliefs and limiting behaviours. I couldn't see that in the turmoil and pain of that encounter, I was uncovering the gift of insight, of knowledge, of self-love.

Life is a gift that keeps on giving.

It never stops. Never ceases until our last breath. And even then, the gifts we leave behind are sprinkled through the memories of those we love as in their grief they learn to celebrate our passing through their lives.

Life is a gift.

Every moment a treasure worth exploring. Every experience a moment worth treasuring.

Last night, I spent a delightful evening with a friend whose wandering into my life has given me untold treasure, untold special moments. We met a couple of years ago at a fundraisers meeting. We chatted briefly. Enjoyed the conversation and agreed to get in touch and actually did.

Over the past two years we've had the occasional dinner, glass of wine, coffee. And through each visit, we've explored life and love, laughter and tears, growth and tearing apart of our beliefs that would keep us stuck in self-pity and self-denial.

As always, CP inspired my thinking last night. Asked the questions that opened me up to the truth of my journey.

Life is a gift.

Make no mistake. There are no mistakes in life. Just mistaken moments where we confuse the experience as the truth.

There are moments in my journey where I have ridiculed the possibilities, closed my eyes to my awakening, stubbornly clung to the debris of beliefs that would keep me from leaping into the void and claiming my right to fly.

Yet, even in my stubbornness, there are no mistakes. Every moment is a part of my awakening. Every moment is an opportunity to step courageously into the dawning of freedom, or to scramble back into the fear of shattering my illusions, challenging my beliefs. Every touch is an opportunity to embrace the mystical, or close myself off from the wonder of a brand new day lived in awe of life's benevolence.

And every moment is integral to this journey. Every moment counts in this one wild adventure of my life, exploring all there is to know and see and be.

Life is a gift.

Accept it. There's no gift like it.

The question is: Are you accepting the gift of life unfolding within you? Are you exclaiming over the possibilities of each moment, or closing your mind to the beauty of your truth revealed in life's dramas, in life's poignant, silly, sad or painful moments? Are you living this one wild adventure with passion, fearlessly claiming your right to be free?

Monday, October 6, 2008

How full is your cupboard?

Reflect upon your blessings, of which every man has plenty, not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some. Charles Dickens
I spent the weekend sorting and packing. Culling through cupboards and drawers, divesting myself of "hmmm, haven't used that in forever" items and carefully packing into boxes treasured dishes and mementos.

And, as happens so often in the past five years, I can't believe how much I've collected in five short years. Believe it. It's true!

Old Mother Hubbard would be shaking in her empty boots if she saw my prosperity laden shelves.

I mean, really, how many sets of dishes does a girl need? I've got the bright red and blue and turquoise and gold striped dishes for sit down dinners of 16. I've got the flowered blue and white for relaxed get-togethers of 8 or sophisticated white plates for elegant dinners of the same number. Oh, and then I've got large and small, formal and informal, round or square, oblong or hexagonal serving trays, platters and bowls. Glass, metal, pottery. Big bowls. Little bowls. Water jugs of many sizes. Looking for serving ware? I've got it.

Perhaps in my quest to replace what was lost, I've acquired a hoarders mind. You know, the gather up more and more just in case.... Just in case happens around the corner. Just in case meets me down the next block.

Reality is, all the collecting in the world won't prevent what happened in the past. The past is yesterday. It's gone. done for. It cannot be repeated but it can be relived every day if I keep myself looking back, tripping over the hearth of tomorrow, anticipating a rerun of yesterday as I move cautiously and fearfully in the here and now.

All the collecting in the world won't prevent the past from rising up today, clouding up tomorrow.

Only way I know to let the past lie peacefully in history is to live my life today, fearlessly and passionately. When I create today without fear of yesterday, I create a life worth living. Don't know what tomorrow will bring. I do know it won't bring yesterday when I live life fully, arms wide open, heart full of laughter, love and joy. To inhibit the past tripping up my tomorrows I have to make the most of my life today.

But I do love dishes.

So, C.C. and I have made a deal. We're not moving again! Haha. Can't see into tomorrow any better today than I could yesterday. Who knows what exciting vistas tomorrow may bring. For today, however, travelling light is taking on a whole new context as I wrap up one more platter, one more bowl, one more serving spoon -- and I haven't even gotten to my vases yet!

Travelling light isn't about stuff. It's about attitude. Lightness of being. Gentleness of spirit.

Travelling light is my attitude of gratitude. It's my dance of joy through packing boxes and paper. It's my WOW factor. Isn't life grand? Isn't it great? I haven't accumulated a lot of stuff. I've acquired a whole new perspective on living life filled with what's important now. Or, as my friend Brian Willis of Winning Mind Training would say, "What's my W.I.N.?"

W.I.N. What's important now?

What is important now is that I appreciate my abundance. I embrace my prosperity.

In just over five years, I have filled my life with what matters most to me. Sure, I've got a bunch of stuff. I like the stuff. I love to cook. Love to entertain. Love to have the stuff that goes with it too!

Most importantly, though, amidst all the stuff, I have what counts. I have love. I have a world filled with people I love and who I know love me. I have good health. A home. I have a job I love. I do work that is vital to me, that gives me an opportunity to make a difference and contribute to a more caring world. I get to look at sunrises and sunsets. Stand in awe of autumn leaves falling in golden splendor. Feel the breeze caressing my cheeks as the puppies and I romp through fields of autumn colour falling all around us.

And, I have a man I love who walks through the door and asks the right questions.

C.C. spent Saturday moving boxes and such into the garage. Clearing out items. Hauling things off to the dump. Yesterday, he had to spend the day in his office. His work was vital and necessary. He had to meet with his partners, go over the content of a proposal, ensure every aspect of the deal was covered, every contingency planned. After a full day pouring over contract details, he walked through the door and asked, "What shall I make for dinner?"

Gotta love a man who cooks.

He made prawns in a delicious garlic and wine sauce. For Alexis, who can't eat garlic, he sauteed them in peanut sauce.

Thoughtful. Caring. Funny. And he cooks!

I am blessed.

My world is filled with all that matters. Love. Laughter. Joy. A man who cooks and all the right serving platters too!

Who could ask for anything more?

The question is: What's your world filled with? How full is your cupboard? How grateful is your heart?

Friday, October 3, 2008

Beginners Mind

The air is full of ideas. They are knocking you in the head all the time. You only have to know what you want, then forget it, and go about your business. Suddenly, the idea will come through. It was there all the time. Henry Ford
Yesterday, I met with a colleague to talk about ideas for gaining awareness about homelessness and the shelter where I work. I came armed with the certaintude that we need to do a print campaign. I left with the confidence that doing the same old is not the path to enlightment. Getting creative is the path to opening hearts and minds, to encouraging compassion and support.

I am always stymied in meetings or conversations where an idea is put on the table and someone immediately leaps upon it, stomping and pummeling it to death with examples of how it will never work, isn't possible, definitely not viable.

Perhaps it's why conversations with Jason are so fruitful. He reminds me that there truly are no bad ideas. There are simply ideas that need to be given the life breath of creativity so that they can flow where they will without an untimely death by sudden objection.

With Jason* conversation flows in every direction. One idea spurs another igniting a stream of consciousness which, while neither of us are sure about the direction its going, we know it needs to flow freely so that it can find its true expression.

In our conversation, we trust in the process of 'brainstorming'. We don't force the conversation. We don't veto ideas as they're born. We let them flow. We give them air. Turn them upside down. Around. Connect one thought with a previous. Circle it around. Change directions. Change sides. Look at it from every angle. Let one word leapfrog to an idea catapult into a vision drawn upon the page.

We don't force the idea to fit the box. We dismantle the box. Open it wide. Unhinge its sides, lay it flat and then lift it up to see what's underneath. We look at the box as a circle, a triangle, a star, a trapezoid. We don't define the box, we let the box become the source of the next idea. The thread that connects it to the 'collective consciousness'. The seed that sprouts into a forest of ideas worth exploring.

So, here's my idea for this morning. I'm off to give a presentation on homelessness to a group of corporate Calgarians. I usually have a pretty clear idea of what I'm going to say before I step into the meeting. I know my story. Like to think I know what homelessness is all about. Like to believe I have the answers.

Today, I'm going to step into the meeting room without the answers, or as zen scholar Shunryu Suzuki would say, beginner's mind. "In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's there are few."

In my mind there are endless possibilities when I step away from knowing it all and leap into exploring all there is to know. This morning, I will not present the answers, I will present the idea that we can all make a difference by stepping away from knowing what homelessness is all about and moving into a place of compassion and caring for those who have lost the question of why they're here and fallen into the belief that down here, on the street, is where they belong.

The question is: Are you walking through your day as if you know everything there is about what will happen? Or, are you leaping into the unknown eager to explore the adventure of your lifetime today armed with your curiosity, open to encountering the unexpected, letting creativity breathe life into your ideas?

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The potency of love

There is more hunger for love and appreciation in this world than for bread. Mother Teresa
I'm not sure who said, "No matter what you've done, no matter what you've not done, you deserve love." I think it's brilliant. And true.

Love comes in many manifestations. Sometimes, it's a gentle touch. A kind word. A thoughtful gesture. Love is. Always. And forever.

Sometimes love comes in forms we do not understand, in ways that hurt the ones we love. The father who strikes his child. The mother who slaps. The grandfather who sexually abuses his granddaughter.

For the father who strikes, the mother who slaps, the grandfather who abuses, we feel no love. What they are doing is wrong. They are accountable for their doing. Can we love their being anyway? Can we love them as the child who was once struck before he became a man? The mother who was continuously slapped, before she became a woman? And, the grandfather who was abused before he sought love in such devastating manner? Is there love for them?

How else do we heal if not with love? In love with the human condition.

To love. To be loved. We must be love. We must open our hearts and our minds and connect to the essence of our human condition. To that which we share. That which is our humanity.

Several years ago, I deserted my daughters. It was never my intent. Never my goal. Yet, I did it.

When first I awoke to what I had done, to what had happened in my life, I wanted to deny the truth of deserting them. I wanted to blame, 'him', the man who abused me. I wanted to blame my state of mind, my fear, my self-loathing, my inability to break the bonds that tied me to his lies.

In my denial, I was denying myself the gift of self-love. I was turning my back on loving myself exactly the way I was in that moment of awakening. Loving myself in all my bruises, hurts and pains. All my failures, all my sorrows so that I could grow in love, away from anger, hatred and pain.

In my denial, I was denying my daughters the opportunity to heal with me. Because my denial that I had deserted them denied the truth of their experience. To help them heal, I could not say, "I know you were hurt but it wasn't my fault." I was accountable for what I did. Accountability was not about laying blame, it was about turning up in love, being love and doing the loving thing.

In wanting to help them heal, in wanting to rebuild the bridges of love that sustain and support us, I had to face reality and acknowledge what I had done, so that we could move into what we could do, in love, to heal.

Today, my daughters and I share a strong and vibrant love. It is real. It is enduring. It is forever. Always.

Sometimes, we argue. Sometimes, we disagree. Sometimes, we are rather heated in our discussions! And always, there is love.
In order to create there must be a dynamic force, and what force is more potent than love? Igor Stravinsky
In order to create harmony and joy, we must step into love. In order to create a world of love, we must create room for love to breathe so that our hearts can find its wings and take flight.

Today is the first day of the rest of your life. Make it a day filled with love for all humankind, no matter their state, not matter what they've done, or what they've not done. Fill your day with love for everyone and everything around you and soar in love. Share your love with joy, no matter the emotions that may flood your being throughout the day. Be love and in love.

The question is: Are you the love you want to receive? Are you stepping into love with each breath?