Monday, November 30, 2009

Where do you find hope?

The natural flights of the human mind are not from pleasure to pleasure but from hope to hope. Samuel Johnson
We held our fourth annual art show and sale yesterday. Sponsored by Wild Rose United Church, the sale showcased the work of eight artists from the Wild Rose Studio at the shelter where I work. The day also included the DI Singers performing three songs they have worked diligently on over the past several months.

It was a day of expansion. Of hearts opening and spirits rising as the artists, singers and those who had come to support them joined with a congregation of caring people and created magic.

When I first started the art program it was through a generous donation from the Wild Rose United Church Foundation. A donation that allowed us to purchase paint supplies and canvases and brushes. Since the art program started, we have held the sale every year on the First Day of Advent at the church. And every year, Linda, the minister, includes the artists in the service by inviting one of the artists, or myself, to light the advent candle.

At the beginning of the service, Linda asked the question, "Where do I find hope?"

I find it here, I told the congregation when it was my turn to speak. Here amidst people who stand by us as we work with those who have lost their way on the road of life and are struggling to find their way back home.

I find it here, where everyone is accepted without being judged as less than or other than.

I find it here, where you stand beside us, support us and encourage us to explore the creative wonder within so that we can share our wonderful gifts with you.

It was a far cry from the reception our clients received one night last week when we turned up to volunteer at the Marriott Hotel.

It was Grey Cup Week. To celebrate, the Marriott Hotel, one of our local downtown hotels, put on a huge party Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings. As part of their community service, the hotel offered to donate the monies that fifteen volunteers a night would have earned helping at the parties. It was a 'sweet deal'. We hoped to raise $10,000 over three nights of volunteering. The volunteers were looking forward to a good time rubbing shoulders with football players and the city's 'who's who' while giving back to the agency. They were hopeful it would be an evening of camaraderie and good fun.

We put together three teams of client and community volunteers and on Thursday night, the first team set out to make a difference. The crew was a bit nervous. It was our first time organizing such a team and we wanted to ensure it went off without a hitch. Seven external volunteers turned up along with eight client volunteers as well as our Volunteer Coordinator. Dressed in black pants, black shirts, they all looked the same. Except for their address on the Volunteer Registry, no one could tell their housing status.

Except for the staff supervisor at the hotel. "Some of these people are homeless," she said, scanning the list and noting the shelter address.

"Yes," replied the Volunteer Coordinator. "We've vetted them and everyone understands the purpose of our being here and the rules. We're very confident in our people."

"Well," said the supervisor. "They might get drunk or steal stuff. They can't stay."

When I got the phone call from the Volunteer Coordinator he was in tears. "It's not right. How do I tell the guys they're not wanted?"

It wasn't right.

We pulled out of volunteering at the event and the subsequent evenings too.

It wasn't right. There was no hope of changing her mind. Everyone left deflated.

I felt little hope that night for changing hearts and minds. I felt little hope that we could create a more caring society. I felt little hope that the clients would be saved from feeling shamed, or embarrassed. "Don't worry about it," one of the clients told the Volunteer coordinator. "It happens all the time. We were kind of expecting it."

Where is the hope in such callous treatment of human beings?

And then we held the art show yesterday. Hope rose. It awoke, within me, within the hearts of those who stood up for the performers. It rose as they came into the church hall and wandered amidst the art work on display.

James Bannerman (click on Jame's name and you can see some of his work and purchase his calendars and cards) turned up to sell his calendars and Christmas cards and photographs. James has cancer. Serious cancer. But he turned up. "I didn't want to miss it," he told me. He sat on the seat of his walker. His body emaciated. His skin sallow, ashen grey. I put my arm around him to give him a hug and felt the boniness of his shoulder. I wanted to cry.

He looked at me and smiled. "I'm okay. I'll stay as long as I can. I'm not giving into it," he said.

There was hope in his voice, in his eyes. Hope that possibly the cancer wouldn't win. Hope that the afternoon would lift his spirits.

His presence lifted mine.

A new artist also came. Gazzy is from Central America. His pencil drawings were very popular. He sat and painted as people wandered around, and he too felt hopeful. "I hope I can keep coming up to the studio," he said.

I hope he does.

Tamara was also there. She's a fifteen year old high school student who makes jewellery and knits scarves to raise money for the shelter. It was her fourth year at the show. She was eleven when she first started her own not-for-profit, Heartprints: Kids for a Cause. Over the past four years she's raised over $5,000.

Tamara gives me hope.

Throughout the afternoon the singers sang. The artists buzzed around, the church volunteers served tea and coffee and snacks. The air was filled with excitement. With opportunity. With caring. With hope.

I know where to find hope.

It's in that place where caring hearts open up to the wonder of being connected through the human condition we all share.

It's in that place where acceptance folds itself back and peels away our judgements to reveal our common ground.

It's in that place where spirit awakens to the beauty within each of us as we share the best of who we are when we celebrate the best of what we have to offer, no matter what side of the street we come from.

The question is: Where do you find hope?

Friday, November 27, 2009

Holding onto nothing

Our hunger to belong is the longing to find a bridge across the distance from isolation to intimacy. Everyone longs for intimacy and dreams of a nest of belonging in which one is embraced, seen and loved. Something within each of us cries out for belonging. We can have all the world has to offer in terms of status, achievement, and possessions. Yet without a sense of belonging it all seems empty and pointless. John O'Donohue
I read the 'wise and beautiful words' above at my blogger friend Joyce's blog, Peaceful Legacies. I read these words and was entranced. Curious. Thoughtful. "A bridge across the distance from isolation to intimacy."

I wondered about intimacy. At Choices, we spell it "In-to-me-see". I can't be intimate with you -- on a spiritual, emotional, physical level without your seeing into me. And I can't know intimacy with you without seeing into you. And first, my story begins with me. And your story begins with you.

Intimacy is a two-way street. The road across that bridge goes in both directions both of which begin and end in our selves.

In-to-me-see. My happiness in life is determined by how open I am to being all of me -- and being open to your seeing me as you see me, not as I want you to see me or fear you see me.

In-to-me-see does not project the image of who I want you to see. There are no projectors of ego-defense in In-to-me-see. I peel away the veil concealing my 'self' and open myself up to being real, a three-dimensional being. In In-to-me-see I am not worried about who you see me as. I am not busy being the person I want you to believe I am. My happiness and contentment is dependent upon my being happy and content with myself, exactly the way I am, without fearing you will find me less than, other than or wanting if I show you 'me' just the way I am.

When I accept me, just as I am, and open myself up to being myself, just as I am, I cross the bridge of my own fears. I cross the bridge into being accepting of me, myself and I, knowing -- who I am is all I need to be to create the life of my dreams today. And on that bridge I meet you as you are, accepting your gifts, your talents, your wondrous nature exactly the way you are, judgement free. In my acceptance of our unique selves, there is room for all beings to be free to be exactly who they are.

There was a time when I believed if I just knew more about 'why' I was the way I was, I would be happier with who I am.

There was a time when I struggled to understand how I fit into the world.

In truth, the why of my fit is not important. Knowing I fit exactly the way I am is what makes my life full and valuable and exciting today.

I don't have to be taller, thinner, fatter, shorter. I don't have to dye my hair, pluck my eyebrows, or even worry about where I wear my heart. To be happy, content, accepting of where I am in my life today, all I have to do is breathe and be willing to be open and.... vulnerable.


A word I struggle with. A word that challenges my ability to be intimate in all my important relations.

Being vulnerable frightens me. What if.... I get hurt. What if... they take away my pride. My purpose. My passion. What if.... they don't like me?

And there's the contradiction.

I can't be truly vulnerable when I'm holding onto all the words I use to define myself. All the ideas I hold about myself.

To be vulnerable means to hold onto nothing. Holding onto nothing, no one can take anything from me.

It is in being vulnerable that I am free.

It is in being vulnerable that true intimacy arises, deepens into the core of my being and settles in as my worth.

I am a vulnerable woman.

I am vulnerable.

I am.

Arms wide, embracing the world, heart broken open in song, I dance in the light of being my most amazing self and invite you to dance. With me. Alone. Together. Apart. We dance and create a wondrous rhythm of feet pounding a beat of freedom.

The freedom to Be.

Who we are. How we are. What we are when we claim our right to live this one wild and passionate life free of fear that someone else can take away who we are.

No one can take who I am away from me.

Who I am is all I am when I hold onto nothing but who I am.

Who I am is nothing compared to my being all I'm meant to be holding onto nothing.


Happy Thanksgiving to our friends south of the border. May this day be filled with abundance. Love. Joy. Beauty. May your hearts be open wide. Your table filled with bounty. Thank you for your presence on my path.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

One man makes a difference

Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive. Howard Thurman
Last night was graduation night for Project Forward, the 12-week financial planning and life skills course I participate in at the shelter where I work. Ten men who have applied themselves over the past three months received their Project Forward graduation certificates and celebrated their excellence.

We were about thirty people in the Multi-purpose room on the sixth floor of the shelter. We had come together to celebrate the accomplishments of these ten individuals and to pay tribute to Ram Banga of Infinity Capital Management, the man who created Project Forward and who, for the past three years, has attended every Wednesday evening to share his knowledge and his passion for living a financially healthy life.

When Ram and I first started working together three years ago, there was little idea that this project would survive -- or just how much value it would add to everyone's life, including Ram's.

"I'm a much better financial advisor since starting Project Forward," he told me one night after class. "I used to just think it was about giving people the information on how to manage their money wisely. And sometimes, I judged my clients. Now, I know it's so much more. Now, I realize there is a story behind every bad debt, a human being struggling to come alive behind every mis-spent penny. I am definitely more compassionate and caring than I was three years ago."

At the end of the ceremony, several of the students came up to me and asked, "What's next? Can we keep coming back?"

"Absolutely," I replied. "We'll be covering different topics next time too."

"What if we became mentors to the new guys," suggested one of the students. "You know, share our knowledge to encourage them to do what we've done."

What several of these individuals has done is -- save up enough money to get out of the shelter into their own apartment. They're working full-time. They've worked on their addiction issues if they had one, and they've created a financial plan to ensure they have what it takes to maintain their independence.

It's been an amazing success.

Ram is just your 'ordinary banker' kind of guy. He's been in the finance sector for thirteen years. He's got a wife. A house. No kids (yet), but he's mapped out his financial path and is walking his talk.

"I never park in the downtown core," he told the class one night. "I always park in the beltline where it's fifty-percent cheaper and walk the rest of the way to client appointments. I save money and I get good exercise."

It's just one of many practical suggestions Ram shares on how to create wealth. Practical suggestions such as, use coupons. Did you know the AMA (Alberta Motor Association) sells $8.00 movie tickets which you can purchase in advance and use at any theatre? Or, buy a coupon book for restaurants and treat yourself and your wife (or girlfriend or whomever) to a great dinner at a fine restaurant at half the price. Or, watch for sales at the grocery store. Stock up on those Delizio's pizzas and enjoy them whenever you want at dollars off.

He also had great ideas on how the guys could cut down their expenses such as cigarettes. If you smoke a pack a day, he told them, smoke one less every day. Keep cutting down gradually until you're only smoking a handful a day -- you could even think about quitting. One of the students actually did quit and he's very proud of himself for doing it.

When Ram first started coming to the shelter, he'd appear in his silk suit and tie, eager to get the class underway. Quickly, he realized the silk suit was a barrier. The suit kept him apart. He started wearing jeans.

In one of his first presentations he gave an example of the value of savings by talking about what it would take to save-up for a $5,000 flat screen TV. After the class I suggested he might want to use something more real for his audience. Like saving up for a first month/last month rent deposit. It was the first time I saw him 'get-it'. These are real lives, real people with real issues limiting them from moving out of the shelter system. A flat screen TV is far off in the distance of their goal-setting, it's a big dream off on the horizon. What they needed was the encouragement to set goals that would create the very real possibility of creating independent living beyond a homeless shelter.

It was the last time he mentioned $5,000 TV sets.

I have been blessed with spending the past three years of Wednesday nights in the training room with Ram. I have been blessed with spending the time with a group of men, and a few women, who, no matter how hard they are struggling, are working towards changing their lives so that they can reclaim what was lost, and so much more.

And, I have been blessed with watching one man take an idea and turn it into action. Action that changes lives and changes the world, one person at a time.

We can all do it. Take action. Change the world, one person at a time.

All it takes is an idea. A commitment. A belief you can make it happen. A passion. And action.

We can all make a difference in the world -- and when we do, we can all share in the gratitude of knowing, our ripple effect touches lives in very real ways. Our ripple spreads out and creates smiles and joy in the hearts of those we touch.

Like the men last night. Their lives have been touched and they now want to give back, to share their knowledge, their courage and their strength to encourage others. They want to share their learning so that others can take the steps they have taken to create very real success in their lives. They want to create their own ripple that keeps on spreading, ever wider, in a world of ending homelessness, one person at a time.

Success was in the air last night and its spreading.

The question is: Do you have a dream of making a difference? Are you taking action?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Powerful beyond our wildest imaginings

The walls we build around us to keep sadness out also keeps out the joy. Jim Rohn
When I became a mother I knew I wanted to be the best mother I could be. Not ever having walked in a mother's shoes before, I didn't feel confident in my abilities. I knew, however, that what I wanted to give my daughters, Alexis and Liseanne, was the gift of becoming who they are meant to be without making 'my stuff', their stuff. (Did I mention I used to wear deep rose coloured glasses?)

To educate myself, I read books, watched videos, took courses, spoke with other parents, counsellors, and wise women and tested each step I took on this wondrous path of being a mother. Naturally, there was one element in this journey I could not predict. My daughters. They were each unique, individual, miraculous beings and while I could 'make' them do what I said, I could not force them, corral them or round them up into being who I wanted them to be -- no matter how hard I tried.

When the girls were little, I recognized that to have a good relationship with my daughters I needed to have a better relationship with my mother. Ours had always been a difficult relationship. In my mother's eyes, I was the rebel. The one who always had to do it her way, who didn't listen, who didn't care enough to take care of her feelings, her needs, her wants.

To me, my mother was an enigma. I could never understand her sadness, never understand her needs, I could never understand her. I didn't know what to say when she cried. I didn't know what to do when she accused me of being someone I believed myself not to be, someone I never wanted to be. And so I kept my distance.

And then I had these two little miracles and I had to do something to build a bridge into my mother's heart.

One night, while on a business trip to the city where my parents lived, I asked my mother if she would sit down and tell me her life story. She began to speak and as she spoke, she began to cry. She cried for two and a half hours, yet she could not stop telling me her story. In her words I began to see the woman behind the wall of fear I had built between us -- I had always been afraid of being smothered, of being buried alive beneath my mother's sorrow, drowning in the ocean of her tears. I had always feared being needed and not being able to give someone what they said they needed to soothe their needs. My mother was sad and I was not powerful enough to lift her sadness -- no matter how much I wanted to or how hard I tried. I was not that powerful to give someone else everything they wanted or believed they needed to make their world right.

At the homeless shelter, I work amidst hundreds of people who bury their sadness beneath the drugs and alcohol, the anger and abuse they hurl out at a world that they believe does not understand. A world that cannot give them what they want. A world that cannot give them what they believe they need to feel better, do better, be better in this world.

No one is that powerful.

My mother gave me a gift long ago -- it is the gift of insight. As a child, I wanted desperately to make my mother happy and studied everything she did and said to understand what it was I needed to do to make it happen. But, I was always fighting against myself. Always battling my self calling me to be who I am meant to be. Within me was this wise woman who knew, I could never give my mother what she needed most of all, it wasn't in me to give her. It was in her to give to herself.

On the weekend, Mary Davis, the daughter of Choices founder, Thelma Box asked me, "How do you do what you do? How do you work there?"

The answer is easy. I know I am not powerful enough to change someone else's life. What I can do is show them through my words, my actions, my deeds that I am powerful enough to make a difference in my life. And when I make a difference in my life, I change the world around me.

I am a fearless woman touching hearts and opening minds to set spirits free.

Once upon a time I was a little girl struggling to change the world -- it was a world I didn't understand. It was a world of fear and uncertainty. A world where I felt out of step with who I was in the scheme of what the people around me told me I was or should be.

Today, I know who I am. I know my power comes not in making the world revolve around me. My power comes from standing fearlessly in my size nine dancing shoes, leaping for joy at the wonder of the beauty all around me. My power comes in knowing inside me there is everything I will ever need to create the life of my dreams. I have it all!

Today, I know I am not powerful enough to change the world. I am powerful enough to change my world -- and so I do. Every day. I learn and grow and put my learning into action. I dig and roto-rooter around my inner being, unearthing hidden gems of knowledge, of insight, of vision, sharing the gifts I find to create a world of wonder all around me.

And when I share freely of the best of me, I create the best all around me. I move with grace and ease, accepting those I meet upon my path as miraculous beings of love and light. In my acceptance, my light illuminates the path between us, casting away the shadows of self-doubt that would have me run back into the darkness of believing, I am helpless to create a better world all around me.

I am not helpless -- I am powerful beyond my wildest imaginings.

So are you.

The question is: Are you willing to give up your role of fixing the world out there? Are you willing to dive into the wondrous world within you to love yourself exactly the way you are today? Are you willing to accept that you are powerful enough to create everything you ever dreamed of in your life today?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Shadow and the shovel

We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves. Buddha
I had dinner last night with two women -- one an old and dear friend, the other a new acquaintance, my friend's boss. It was an unexpected interlude. My friend and I had chatted earlier in the day and she was feeling stressed and worn out from life's journey. "How can I help?" I asked. "I'd love to get together," she replied. I leaped at the opportunity. I love this friend but her work life leaves little time for socializing. "Are you free for dinner tonight?" I asked and dinner was on.

I arrived first at the restaurant where I'd made reservations and as I sat waiting I stared at a large painting hanging on the wall beside the bar. It was a surrealistic depiction of Christ on the cross. Simple. Stark. Provocative. What made it most interesting, however, was what I couldn't figure out to be either a shovel or possibly a broom hanging from his left arm.

I wondered what it was. What it meant. Why it was there. I wondered about the deeper meaning of the object.

When my friend and her boss arrived, I let my wonderings go as I focused in on our conversation. We spent a delightful couple of hours chatting and connecting. Towards the end of the evening, during a lull in the conversation, I asked the other two women what they thought the object was in the painting.

"I keep trying to figure out why there's a shovel hanging from his arm," I said.

They both turned to look at the painting. My friend said, "I don't see it." The other woman said, "You mean that greyish section?"

"Yes," I replied. "It's slightly darker. It's almost like a floor lamp hanging upside down..." My voice trailed away. I looked at the lights hanging from above the bar. They too looked like floor lamps hanging upside down. "Oh dear," I laughed. "It's the shadow of the light above the bar. It's not part of the painting at all."

We started to laugh. I told them of how I'd spent the five minutes I'd sat alone wondering about the purpose of that image in the painting. About how I'd had all sorts of ideas of the artist's statement -- like, we hung Christ on a cross and then made him dig his own grave, or dug our own graves by hanging him on a cross. Some of my ideas had become almost metaphysical in their explanation of the object in Christ's hand -- when in reality, there was no object in His hand. It was just a trick of the lighting.

Like life. We cast a shadow and, as Debbie Ford suggests in her Shadow Effect work, have a shadow that casts a long pall on our lives until we're willing to look at it, really, really look at it and embrace what it is that shadow represents.

In focusing on the shadow of that lamp I took my attention away from the actual painting and put it on something that was not part of the 'real' thing. I kept looking for meaning in the unreal as I struggled to understand what the shadow meant.

In life, we look for meaning out there -- in the world around us -- often believing that if we can just figure out 'what it' means, the 'what it' being whatever is happening around us at any given moment. We focus externally rather than looking inside ourselves, to where the 'real it' lives and breathes and expands with every breath we take and every thought we create.

Within each of us there is a 'shadow' waiting to be discerned, seen, embraced, understood, faced. In that moment of seeing our shadow and embracing its presence, we set ourselves free of the past, free of the limiting beliefs that would have us question our right to live up to our greatness.

We do not know what we do not know.

In looking at the painting last night, I did not know I was being tricked by a shadow until I took my focus off of what I saw, and moved into where the light was coming from on the painting.

Within me, I do not know how my shadow is tricking me until I take my focus off what I tell myself I believe to be true about myself -- and face what I fear will happen to me if I face the lies I tell myself about myself and step into the wondrous truth of my being in freedom.

To create the life of my dreams I must be willing to look at what is hiding in my shadow. I must be willing to do the things I fear, to dig into my darkness and uncover the blocks, the limiting beliefs, the outdated ideas that keep me stuck, that keep me out of the light of living my best life yet.

That life can only be achieved when I step into my shadow, embrace what I do not know and find myself in the light of realizing, there is nothing inside me so terrifying as the darkness I refuse to uncover from the past.

The past cannot hurt me. The past only exists in my mind and in my mind is all the power, all the tools I need to reach inside my heart and love myself for all I'm worth.

In the end, there was no shovel. There was only darkness coming to light.

The question is: What truth is your shadow hiding? Are you willing to dig into it and uncover the light?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Holding onto love

When the solution is simple, God is answering. Albert Einstein
It was a wonderful five days. Five days immersed in the wonder of being in a room where human beings have the opportunity to come clean, to open up, to 'let go and let God'.

Come clean. One of the premises of personal development work that resonates on a deep level with me is the idea that 'secrets keep us sick'.

When I believe my 'bad' is so ugly I cannot let it out, or that what happened to me is so shameful I cannot tell anyone, then I am making myself sick holding onto that which is eating at my spirit. I am holding myself accountable for the past. The past doesn't care -- it's done. Over. Finished. It's me, in this moment, holding onto my secret that is keeping me stuck in the past. And that is a vicious circle of unfulfillment, self-denial and abasement.

The things I do as a human that reflect my 'lesser self' are always ego driven. And when I am in my ego, I am always being defensive. My ego defence will always bite me. My ego defence is always about protecting myself -- from shame, blame, hurt, fear... When I am protecting my ego, I am closed off, closed in, closed out of being open and vulnerable. And when I am closed off, I am not open to receiving, or giving, that which is limitless. Love.

To be open to love and being loving, I must surrender, my ego, my fixed position, my intransigent self. It is only when I am vulnerable that I am completely safe. For in vulnerability, no one can take anything from me. There is nothing to be taken. Nothing to give away. I am open. Expansive. Accepting. I do not judge. I do not condemn. I do not fear.

It was about 11pm on Friday night when I came up against my ego in the driveway in front of our house. It had been a long and beautiful day in the seminar room. I was tired. And happy. Content.

I stepped out of my car and heard youthful male voices across the street. I looked over and four young men, late teens, were walking along the sidewalk. As they walked, they laughed and jostled each other. One of them started a rap tune.

And that's when my ego woke up.

Their rap song was filled with four letter expletives and vicious descriptions of the act of love-making.

I was disgusted. Angry. Upset. Disturbed. I was incensed. How dare they pollute the air I was breathing with their vile language. How dare they...

I tried to breathe to calm my anger.

I wanted to race across the street, open their mouths and tear out their tongues or at least wash them out with soap. I wanted to shake them and tell them that these words, these actions, these thoughts were poisoning them, the environment around them, the world. I wanted them to hear me and know the pain they were causing.

And I was helpless.

I breathed.

And opened myself up to being vulnerable.

To love.

All I could do was let go of my anger, let go of my judgements, my fear and sorrow and stand in love.

All I could do was leave myself vulnerable to my feelings and let them pass me by.

I cannot change what these boys were doing. I am helpless to change them when I rail against them.

I can change how I think of them. How I experience their words and actions. How I help myself to claim my center, how I ease into my peace of mind, how I stand in love.

They do not know what they do not know -- and my forcing anger, upset, disgust, judgement, 'knowing' upon them would only create more of what I do not want in the world. It would only create a space for them to hold onto their 'right' to act the way they want, to say what they want -- and it would prevent them from seeing their contribution to the world is made up of every word they speak, breath they take, action they make.

I want a world of love and peace around me. I want to create a world of beauty. And no one can take that from me -- unless I give it to them.

When I am vulnerable, nothing can be taken from me, for I am holding onto nothing other than love.

To rail against them would create a world of 'us and them'. A world where they are 'wrong' and I am indignant and right in my judgements of them. A world divided.

I stood on the street, the night dark, the stars hidden behind a blanket of cloud. The youth walked by. I surrounded my thoughts of them with love. I sent my thoughts of love out to surround them.

Bless them. Strengthen me.

Let me be the love I create in the world around me.


Friday, November 20, 2009


Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word happy would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness. Carl Jung
It is all about balance. Balancing our gifts against the fears, the hurts and sorrows, the wounds of life. Balancing who we are against who we believe we can be when we get off the tightrope of proving our deepest fears true.

This is a Choices week -- a week of long days, short sleeps. I am off to serve. To be a part of, to take part in the wonder of human beings awakening to their human condition and falling in love.

For today, I leave with you this passage from Marianne Williamson's "A Return to Love". Let it sing to your soul. Call your spirit out and set you free to live your true greatness.
“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 is 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 are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Days of miracles and wonder

From wonder into wonder existence opens. Lao Tzu
I am off for five days of wonder. Five days spent serving people in the discovery of the wonder of their lives.

I'm off to Coach at Choices, the personal development program my daughters and I took three years ago -- the program we have each gone back to coach at as often as we can.

It is a wonder that I still keep going back. Given that my mindset when I first stepped into the training room was one of 'knowing'. I already knew whatever I needed to know about myself. I already knew what I had to do to live the life of my dreams. I already knew everything there was to know about me -- I just needed to keep working hard at life. At living. At being.

Ahhh, the things we don't know when we don't know what we don't know.

I didn't know three years ago in April when I first stepped into the Choices training room that it was my knowing that was standing in my way of being.

I didn't know that I was a complex, complicated, convoluted system of wires and messages and tapes and decoder rings waiting to be lit. I didn't know how stubborn (read that 'scared') I was of truly dipping into the wonder of me. I didn't know how simple life could be when I let go of scurrying down the rabbit holes of my creation in fear of creating my life without fearing who I am, who I was, who I can be when I live in wonder of the wonder of me! I didn't know how much wonder of me (read that 'YOU'!) there could be!

That's the beauty of opening up to wonder.

In wonder, the wonder of my existence became clearer. The wonder of the world around me lit up. In wonder, I let go of what I was determined to hold onto -- my fear, my angst, my sorrow, my regret, my self-doubt, my opinions, my judgements, my obstinacy, my.... Get it?

I let go of what I knew and gave into what I don't know -- how incredibly amazing I can be when I simply let myself be... REAL. Be ME -- in all my fear, angst, sorrow, regret, self-doubt, opinions, judgements, obstinacy... Get it?

Holding onto who I was kept me from being who I'm truly meant to be when I love all of me, darkness and light, shadow and brightness, yin and yang, beauty and the beast, open and closed, in and out...

Holding onto who I was when I told myself I was frightened, scared, sorry, envious, insecure, opinionated and stubborn... Holding onto those things kept me from stepping through the shadow into the wonder of being free of what I feared the most -- being me.

I thought the world saw the pretty picture I presented. What I didn't think about was how poorly I was disguising my fears, my regrets, my shadow self.

It has been a wondrous journey of self-discovery. Of digging into my psyche and unearthing all the bits and pieces, darkness and light, wonder and joy of me that had been jettisoned, or tucked away, or covered over or buried deep as I journeyed into my life from back then into the here and now.

In this journey, I have breathed into the truth of my life -- This is my life. To live it up, or down. To dance in the rain or cower under the eaves. This is my one and only life.

I get to choose being frightened or fearless.

I get to choose being closed off or opened up to the beauty all around me.

I get to choose -- what will I do with this moment, right now. Will I hide in fear about what may or may not happen, what is meant to be, or not to be. I get to choose -- being a dull little penny hiding my worth, or the brightest I can be, making my worth have the greatest value I can in my life right now.

Today, I choose worth. Being a Woman of Worth -- a real WoW :)! Valuing every bit of me, polishing up my shadow, lighting up my day finding value in every moment.

I'm off to coach at Choices today. I'm off to live in the wonder of seeing miracles open up before my eyes!

May your day be filled with love and wonder. May you see the miracles dancing all around you.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A place to belong.

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. Scott Peck

It was a simple, heartfelt email of thanks. I had given her company a tour of the homeless shelter where I work. She wrote to tell me of her personal connection to the shelter through her brother who had once been part of the organization several years ago. "I could never understand why he gave up his high profile, high paying job to go and work at a homeless shelter," she wrote. "I was angry. And embarrassed. I was sixteen," she added, as if age could explain the emotions surrounding her loss.

She went on to describe her brothers death several years later. "Before the service, the minister asked us to tell him something about Jason* that he could use to tell all of the people attending the service," she wrote. "I was angry. I instantly blurted out “Who is here??!!! It’s us!! Jason was a loner. No friends. There is nobody else here but us -- so we have no stories for you to share!!”. The minister just smiled at me and graciously asked us to follow him out to the church to be seated in the first pew."

"The room was full Louise. Standing room was taken. Wall to wall the place was packed. I looked out into a sea of faces – all there in Jason’s honor. It must have been every single client the shelter had that day!!! God bless each and every one of them."

She wrote further about the impact of the tour twenty years after her brother's death. Of feeling the community supporting her as it had once supported her brother. Of hearing the stories he had heard, of seeing the people in a place that her brother's eyes had held, a place where he fit in, exactly as he was. "He had found a community where he belonged. Thank you. I understand now."

Community. A place to belong. A longing to belong. A longing for belonging. A longing to be. To connect. To be part of something, someone other than just ourselves, wandering alone on this lonely planet.

A shelter is a microcosm of the macrocosm of our world. In the shelter, people search for belonging, longing for that place where they know they belong. To be. Connected. A part of. A community. A place to be.

In each of us there is that longing. To belong. That longing that drives us to search for a connection, meaning, understanding. It drives us beyond the reaches of our comfort zone. It pushes us into the recesses of our fears, cowering in the darkness of that place where we do not fit, yet cling to as we struggle to throw off our desire to move beyond whatever place we're in that feels so uncomfortable, so unbecoming, so disconnected.

Longing to belong, we search for a community. Of like minds. Kindred souls. Struggling spirits. Shared experiences. Common ground.

Longing to belong, we reach out. For help. For knowledge. For hope. For support. For connection.

We reach out and hope our hands do not come back empty. We reach out and fear our hands will come back full of what we do not need. We reach inside to discover what it is we really want. What it is we really need to feel like we fit in. Like we belong. Like we are part of a community. That place where we are accepted because there is where we belong. This is the community where we fit in. Find our fit. Find ourselves where ever we're at. Exactly the way we are with you being exactly the way you are.

Even in homelessness.

A community where to belong you must lose everything that belonged to you, everything that spoke of who you are, who you were before you lost everything to come to this community where everyone has nothing but what you share in this moment. Sometimes hope. Sometimes despair. Sometimes fear or anger or blame or shame. Sometimes a toke. A pull. A drag. A drink. A sandwich. A smile. A laugh. A slap. A poke. A hit. A blanket. A joke. A stroke. Of good luck. Good fortune. Nothing other than a pat on the back. A hug. A gentle touch. Nothing.

Community. A rhythm. A beat. A pulse. A flowing river connecting you to him and her and them and us to you and back again flowing ever onward. Ever forward. Ever over, into and under. Like water surrounding rocks. Wearing down rough spots, hard knocks, jagged edges.

Community. A place to belong. A place to come home to. To run from. To hide out. To hide in. To hide behind. To hide. A place. A thing. A song. A whispered word of hope. A shout of joy. An exclamation of fear. A never-ending story of who we are when we connect to the best. The worst. The most. The least. The only parts of our our selves where we stand alike. Beside. Together. United. In community. Communal. Common. Ground.

Community. A place. Connected. To everyone. Everyone is connected in community. No matter their circumstances. No matter their place. We are all connected.

Community. We are all connected. A part of a community of souls. Sometimes kindred. Sometimes apart. Sometimes on different sides. Of the street. Of the argument. The boardroom table. The common ground. Connected none the less. To the best. The worst. The courage. The strength. The fear. The hope. The belief. We are a community. A place to fit in. To find. Hope. Courage. Strength. Community.

"I get it," the woman wrote. "My brother was always troubled. Always torn. He fit in at your place. He found the community that accepted him and understood him. He found a place where he could be himself, for as long as he could bear being on this earth. I am grateful he found a place to belong."

Community. A place to live up to. To belong. To give into. To give up on. To give up. To give to. To give. A place to die for. A place to die. Never alone. Always surrounded by the ones you love. And the one's who love you just the way you are.

This is the second time I am participating in Blog Carnival. Today's word to write on is: Community. If you want to take part, or to read the amazing posts from fellow bloggers, please go here and immerse yourself in the wonder and the magic of being connected to an amazing community of thoughtful folk here in cyberland.

One Community

In every conceivable manner, the family is link to our past, bridge to our future. Alex Haley
Sometime ago, I visited a native museum east of the city, Blackfoot Crossing. I was alone. I was in awe. I stood in the large, airy lobby looking through the floor to ceiling windows that provided a panoramic view of the valley laid out in fall glory before me.

A tall native man walked towards me. "Is this your first time at the Crossing?", he asked.

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

He smiled. Nodded his head. His pride in the museum and the surrounding terrain and his Siksika heritage was entrancing. His slow, measured voice unwound stories from the past with a lazy drawl that took me along the river valley beyond the windows into a time when buffalo roamed these lands and his people were one with their spirits. He told me stories of his childhood, his grandmother's laughter and his mother's bead designs. He spoke of past generations with pride, and talked about his concern for the future.

"They are all our generations," he said when referring to the importance of community and tradition within the Siksika nation and the loss of language amongst the young.

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

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

We are all connected.

Community is about connection. No matter where we roam. No matter how far from home we go.

Community brings us back to that place where we are all connected. At one. One with eachother, rooted in the strength and courage we share, grounded in the past, forever bound to eachother through our shared experience -- where ever we stand.

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

There was a time when the buffalo roamed and life was paced out with the turning of the seasons, the rumblings of thunder in the sky and the casting of the stars upon the celestial ceiling every night. There was a time when we, the interlopers, the ruling society, the holders of power, and guns and money, believed it was wisest to destroy the culture and traditions of another community in our quest to make our world fit into the community of our design.

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

We are all connected. We are all one community.

At Choices, we connect through those bonds that are stirred by the pain of our past. We connect through the humanity we share, the human condition we all carry -- no matter how tattered, bruised or battered we may be. We connect through our human condition and uncover the miracle of who we are meant to be. No matter our heritage. No matter our roots. Our colour. Our creed. We connect and become one family aligned with the dream of a woman who is committed to changing the world one heart at a time.

My heart expands. I am changed. My world changes with me.


Monday, November 16, 2009

When the war came. Peace fled.

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. The world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. Dwight D. Eisenhower [1953]
He was nine when he remembers the war coming for the first time. It was how he said it, "I was nine the first time I remember when the war came."

When the war came.

I had never heard it said that way. I think of men going to war. Of soldiers going off to war, but never of the war coming to me. To my family. My home. My city.

For Sam, the war came to him and his family. It came to his neighbours' homes. To his city. His country. The war came and he hid. In a basement. All night. All day. "We'd be allowed out sometimes for a couple of hours during the day. For sunlight. To get food. Water. We weren't allowed to play. You don't play during war," he said.

He is from Lebanon.

The second time the war came he was about fourteen. And then nineteen. "By then," he said as he clipped and shaped my hair, "by then I didn't much care about the war. I didn't think about it. It came. It went. I knew it would come back. I tried not to think about it. It just was."

He had to join the military. "I didn't like that at all," he said. "I didn't want to be there. I didn't fit in."

"I couldn't figure out why we had an army anyway," he added. "We didn't really have any guns. We didn't want to have a war."

He clipped a bit more hair. In the mirror, I watched his hands deftly wielding the scissors. His shaggy black hair. Full lips. Deep brown eyes. Late twenties, handsome. But his shoulders are hunched. His chest curled forward, huddled over his stomach. I think of a turtle crouched in its shell protecting its soft body.

His eyes are downcast. He concentrates on his job. Stops. Punctuates a comment with his hands. The scissors snipping at air.

"They made us march. And line up. It was so tedious." Snip. Snip.

"I was lucky. The war came back the year after I left the army." Pause. "I'm glad I was gone from the army. I could not have killed another man."

Snip. Snip.

"It is wrong what happened. I was just a boy. I should have been playing with my friends. Kicking a ball around. Instead, I hid out. Eventually, it became normal."

The war kept coming back and finally he left. "The last time the war came, my mother and cousins left for safer places. My father and I, we didn't leave. It was our home. We couldn't leave it."

Snip. Snip.

"I don't want to be at war. I don't want to fight. I want to get married. Raise children. Have a family." He paused. His hands stopped moving. His body stilled. "I want to have peace."

Harry Emerson Fosdick the Liberal Protestant preacher who wrote, "Shall the Fundamentalists Win?" wrote after the First World War, "I hate war for its consequences, for the lies it lives on and propagates, for the undying hatreds it arouses, for the dictatorships it puts in the place of democracies, and for the starvation that stalks after it. I hate war, and never again will I sanction or support another."

For Sam, war came and drove him from the arms of his family. It tore him from those he loves to send him half way around the world to a land he'd never been, a city he'd never heard of before. It took him from the sea he loves, a city, for all its war torn streets, that was familiar to him, a place he called home. It took him away and deposited him here, in a cold and northern clime he had never imagined. And, it drove him to a place where 'war doesn't come.'

I pray it never does. Come to him, or me, or anyone I love, or anyone in the world. And I know my prayers are already unanswered. Today, there are over 40 wars/conflicts taking place right now. Over 40? I can name a few. Afghanistan. Iraq. l know so little about war. I do not want to know more.

Perhaps, it is not time to speak out against war, but to speak up for peace. For that which keeps lives and families intact. For that which keeps us safe.


In my prayers, I commit to speaking up for peace. For speaking up for those who do not have a voice to speak out against that which is taking the lives of those they love away from the hearts who hold them dear. Sons. Daughters. Nieces. Nephews. Cousins. Husbands. Fathers. Mothers. Wives.

For those, who, like Sam, were never given the right to stand up for that which they believe in, the sanctity of human life.

I speak out against fighting to find peace. Peace never comes when mother's children die or are forced to leave their homes to find the life they desire. Promises of peace are futile when bellies are empty and arms are filled with guns and bullets designed to take the very thing mother's cherished when they brought their sons and daughters into this world.

Peace can only come when war comes no longer. For with everyone mother's child who dies, a seed of sorrow, of anger, of hatred is sown.

War gives birth to animosity. To tears of sorrow. To future wars.

It is time to put down arms and stand up for peace. It is time.


Friday, November 13, 2009

Paper doll cutouts and making sense of $1.04

Be glad of life because it gives you the chance to love and to work and to play and to look up at the stars. Henry Van Dyke
When was the last time you played hard? Laughed heartily? Looked silly? Danced in the rain? Ran barefoot through mud puddles? When was the last time you gave yourself permission to take off the mantle of 'being adult' to leap for joy at the sheer exhilaration of being alive, of having a place that is uniquely yours on this great big ball of energy spinning through space. A space where you can be wild. Be free. Be yourself. A place filled with limitless possibilities, unwritten pages and stories yet to unfold. When was the last time you had fun?

Well, today's the day. It's as good a day as any to throw off your ennui and get into life in a fun and enjoyable way. Remember, the number 1 rule? Don't take yourself so seriously!

Okay, so maybe it's not the no. 1 rule, but it is a good rule none-the-less.

Think about the last time you got into a kerfuffle about what someone said or did. Maybe it was like the conversation I overheard while walking along the river path the other day at noon. Two women, obviously out for their noon hour constitutional, walked quickly along. One woman listened as the other described in great detail what had happened at the store the evening before.

"I know it was only $1.04," she said. "But really. That teller was a bitch. When I pointed out the discrepancy between what she'd charged me and what the sale price was all she could say was, 'it doesn't come up on my computer. You'll have to go to Customer Service.' I mean, really. Who's the customer? It was just a $1.04. What was it to her?"

I wondered if maybe it was her job. Or a fear of breaking the rules. Or doing it wrong. Or doing it right. I wondered if maybe she had been on her feet all day and had run out of energy to argue or fix it or just do anything other than ring it in.

The other woman murmured quietly, walked along beside her workmate and nodded her head. Was she really listening or just being polite?

As we walked, the river flowed silently beside us. The sun shone. Sprinkles of sunlight danced on the water, warmed the air. Golden leaves dappled the ground. The sky was blue. Clear. Endless.

The women kept walking in front of me. The one woman went on to describe looking over at Customer Service and seeing a line up of four people. She talked about her fear of making a scene with people standing behind her, waiting their turn. Her disgust with this teller, a perfect stranger, whom she felt compelled to label. In the end, she said, "I wasn't going to make a big fuss over $1.04."

I was walking behind them. Not meaning to eavesdrop but it was pretty hard given the level of her voice. I couldn't change their conversation. I could change what I was doing.

I stopped to admire the sunlight on the river.

Ahh, the seriousness of our encounters on the road of life. The $1.04 incidents that rob us of the joy that is our birthright. The $1.04 moments that steal our peace of mind. That keep us from seeing the beauty of the world around us.

No more $1.04 thievery for me.

I'm kicking up my heels. Dancing in the rain and running straight into the waters of life, laughing and leaping for joy.

I'm not going to take myself so seriously $1.04 becomes the focal point of my day. I'm going to invest my $1.04 in having fun. In doing something silly. In creating enjoyment. Sunlight. Laughter. Joy.

As a little girl I loved to make Paper Dolls and play with them. When Alexis and Liseanne were younger, Alexis spent hours creating paper dolls for her sister. She had entire families of dolls complete with extensive wardrobes and accessories. They'd play with them for hours. I'd stand and listen to their laughter. Their stories as the dolls lived out their lives on the floor in front of them were filled with drama, possiblities, life.

This morning, I cut out a string of paper dolls. I wrote phrases from my Vision Statement on my dolls and strung them around my desk. My dolls danced and sang and laughed and leaped for joy as I smiled at my mastery as a paper doll maker.

It was fun. Silly. And empowering.

I invite you to join in. Get five pieces of 8 x 11 inch paper. Tape the long edges together so you have a length of paper -- 40 inches long. Fold each section of 8 x 11 in half and then half again (lol -- explaining how to fold paper is hard!). Now draw a doll on the top page. Cut out the doll and you should have a string of 10 dolls holding hands. (I hope!)

Go wild. Write on them. Give yourself messages of joy and laughter. String your dolls around your neck. On your desk. Pin them up on the wall. Dress them up. Colour them in. Light up your world.

As George Bernard Shaw once said, "We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing."

Get playing! Get into the game of life and Have Fun!

The question is: What about you? Isn't it time you let loose? Kicked up your heels and did something silly? Isn't it your time?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

My highest expression

More men fail through lack of purpose than through lack of talent. Billy Sunday
I am taking my professional coaches certification. It's an online certification program -- and I am loving online learning!

One of the exercises is to create a Vision Statement for your client. As we are all trainees on the call, each trainee takes a turn being 'the client', while another interviews them and then writes a Vision Statement for them. And then we switch -- but work with a different trainee as the coach/client.

The Vision Statement is a powerful statement of what you've revealed during the interview as your dreams and hopes and goals in all areas of your life; spiritual, relationships, emotional, financial, career, physical. Of what you've described as your ideal life and the goals you want to achieve over the next year. It is written as if you are already living it, already experiencing your dream life come true.

Last night, the coach trainee I'd worked with the night before read my Vision Statement to me. She invited me to relax, to sink down into that place within me where I feel safe, secure, open.

I sank. She read. I awoke to my life as 'a brand new and spacious place filled with surprise and hidden bursts of light coming from unexpected places."

I felt incredibly blessed. Honoured. Respected. Heard.

We had spent an hour and a half the night before, the coach trainee interviewing me. Me digging deep to provide her insight into my dreams.

She nailed it.

Heard me and fed me back, and thus my subconscious, the words and ideas, thoughts and images, goals and dreams I had shared the night before.

Listening to her voice read my Vision Statement to me, I felt like I was immersed in a river of love and beauty. Buoyed up by the warm gentle waters carrying me along, I drifted into that place where I am free to live my greatest expression of me.

And the fun didn't stop there!

I then got to read to the trainee I'd worked with the Vision Statement I'd created for him. What an amazingly rewarding experience!

For half an hour, I got to repeat back to him his powerful words of the change he wants to be in the world. Of his drive to live his life creating value everywhere he goes.

As I read, I imagined my words were a beautiful spring rain shower pouring down upon him. They entered his mind, sank into his heart and settled upon the soils of his verdant subconscious creating a lush and sustaining garden of beauty and love. I imagined him being his Vision Statement. Saw him taking the steps he'd described to reach his goals, to soar into his highest expression of himself.

The objective of the Vision Statement exercise is to embed what a person's Vision Statement in their subconscious as their personal truth. In his book, Psycho-Cybernetics, Dr. Maxwell Maltz, MD., wrote,

"Change occurs not by intellect, and not by intelligence; change is brought about by experience. Remember, experiencing is the same to the subconscious mind as imagining. The subconscious mind does not know the difference between real and unreal. It accepts what you feed it."

Last night, I sank with grace and ease into the truth within me. I opened my heart and mind to the wonder of being alive, of living this one wild and precious life in love with all I am, all I can be when I let go of the shores of my comfort zone and swim out into the limitless possibilities of life beyond the realm of my wildest dreams. Of life lived large. Lived completely in love with all I am, all I can be when I align myself with my purpose and focus on creating a ripple effect of love with every stroke I take in the sea of possibility that is my life filled with beauty and wonder.

The question is: What's your purpose? Are you willing to open yourself up to the wonder of your dreams by embracing your vision of living your highest expression as your truth?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Poet Boy

I wrote this piece a few years ago in memory of my father. I share it again today in honour of those who have lost their lives in the name of freedom.

When the poet boy was sixteen, he lied about his age and ran off to war. It was a war he was too young to understand. Or know why he was fighting. When the guns were silenced and the victors and the vanquished carried off their dead and wounded, the poet boy was gone. In his stead, there stood a man. An angry man. A wounded man. The man who would become my father.

By the time of my arrival, the final note in a quartet of baby-boomer children, the poet boy was deeply buried beneath the burden of an unforgettable war and the dark moods that permeated my father's being with the density of storm clouds blocking the sun. Occasionally, on a holiday or a walk in the woods, the sun would burst through and signs of the poet boy would seep out from beneath the burden of the past. Sometimes, like letters scrambled in a bowl of alphabet soup that momentarily made sense of a word drifting across the surface, images of the poet boy appeared in a note or a letter my father wrote me. For that one brief moment a light would be cast on what was lost and then suddenly, with the deftness of a croupier sweeping away the dice, the words would disappear as the angry man came sweeping back with the ferocity of winter rushing in from the north.

I spent my lifetime looking for the words that would make the poet boy appear, but time ran out when my father’s heart gave up its fierce beat to the silence of eternity. It was a massive coronary. My mother said he was angry when the pain hit him. Angry, but unafraid. She wasn’t allowed to call an ambulance. She wasn’t allowed to call a neighbor. He drove himself to the hospital and she sat helplessly beside him. As he crossed the threshold of the emergency room, he collapsed, never to awaken again. In his death, he was lost forever, leaving behind my anger for which I had no words.

One Remembrance Day, ten years after his death, I went in search of my father at the foot of the memorial to an unnamed soldier that stands in the middle of a city park. A trumpet played “Taps”. I stood at the edge of the crowd and fingered the felt of the bright red poppy I held between my thumb and fingers. It was a blustery day. A weak November sunshine peaked out from behind sullen grey clouds. Bundled up against the cold, the crowd, young and old, silently approached the monument and placed their poppies on a ledge beneath the soldier’s feet.
I stood and watched and held back.

I wanted to understand the war. I wanted to find the father who might have been had the poet boy not run off to fight “the good war” as a commentator had called it earlier that morning on the radio. Where is the good in war, I wondered? I thought of soldiers falling, mother’s crying and anger never dying. I thought of the past, never resting, always remembered and I thought of my father, never forgotten. The poet boy who went to war and came home an angry man. In his anger, life became the battlefield upon which he fought to retain some sense of balance amidst the memories of a world gone mad.

Perhaps it was as George Orwell wrote in his novel, Nineteen Eighty-four:

“The very word 'war', therefore, has become misleading. It would probably be accurate to say that by becoming continuous war has ceased to exist... War is Peace.”

For my father, anger became the peacetime of his world until his heart ran out of time, and he lost all hope of finding the poetry within him.

There is still time for me.

On that cold November morning, I approach the monument. I stand at the bottom step and look at the bright red poppies lining the gun metal grey of the concrete base of the statue. Slowly, I take the first step up and then the second. I hesitate then reach forward and place my poppy amidst the blood red row lined up along the ledge.

I wait. I don’t want to leave. I want a sign. I want to know my father sees me.

I turn and watch a white-haired grandfather approach, his gloved right hand encasing the mitten covered hand of his granddaughter. Her bright curly locks tumble from around the edges of her white furry cap. Her pink overcoat is adorned with little white bunnies leaping along the bottom edge. She skips beside him, her smile wide, blue eyes bright.

They approach the monument, climb the few steps and stop beside me. The grandfather lets go of his granddaughter’s hand and steps forward to place his poppy on the ledge. He stands for a moment, head bowed. The little girl turns to me, the poppy clasped between her pink mittens outstretched in front of her.

“Can you lift me up?” she asks me.

“Of course,” I reply.

I pick her up, facing her towards the statue.

Carefully she places the poppy in the empty spot beside her grandfather’s.

I place her gently back on the ground.

She flashes me a toothy grin and skips away to join her grandfather where he waits at the foot of the monument. She grabs his hand.

“Do you think your daddy will know which one is mine?” she asks.

The grandfather laughs as he leads her back into the gathered throng.

“I’m sure he will,” he replies.

I watch the little girl skip away with her grandfather. The wind gently stirs the poppies lining the ledge. I feel them ripple through my memories of a poet boy who once stood his ground and fell beneath the weight of war.

My father is gone from this world. The dreams he had, the promises of his youth were forever lost on the bloody tide of war that swept the poet boy away. In his passing, he left behind a love of words born upon the essays and letters he wrote me throughout the years. Words of encouragement. Of admonishment. Words that inspired me. Humored me. Guided me. Touched me. Words that will never fade away.

I stand at the base of the monument and look up at the soldier mounted on its pedestal. Perhaps he was once a poet boy hurrying off to war to become a man. Perhaps he too came back from war an angry man fearful of letting the memories die lest the gift of his life be forgotten.

I turn away and leave my poppy lying at his feet. I don’t know if my father will know which is mine. I don’t know if poppies grow where he has gone. But standing at the feet of the Unknown Soldier, the wind whispering through the poppies circling him in a blood red river, I feel the roots of the poet boy stir within me. He planted the seed that became my life.

Long ago my father went off to war and became a man. His poetry was silenced but still the poppies blow, row on row. They mark the place where poet boys went off to war and never came home again.

The war is over. In loving memory of my father and those who fought beside him, I let go of anger. It is time for me to make peace.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Living large in a world of wonder

The major block to compassion is the judgment in our minds. Judgment is the mind's primary tool of separation. Diane Berke
I have been called headstrong, stubborn, willful and arrogant. I have been called, kind, caring, loving and considerate. I like the second set of attributes. The first set annoy me -- but then, my ego doesn't like it when someone sees it at play.

When I have been considered headstrong, or stubborn or arrogant, it is because I am coming from an ego-driven place that holds me separate from (think above) others. My ego wants to believe it has the answers. My ego wants to control how the world turns around me so that I can feel safe, secure and comfortable spinning my human being into doing what she knows best -- playing with my ego.

Several years ago I had a disagreement with someone I love. It wasn't too long after Conrad was arrested so I was really proud of myself for standing my ground. For not backing down in the face of someone else's insistence they knew what was best for me and had the right to usurp their authority.

At the time, I surprised myself, and the person I was dealing with -- someone I love -- by choosing to walk away, in love, and not hold onto the argument, to their actions (which just to be clear, my ego considered to be wrong, wrong, wrong). At the time, I chose to let go of right and wrong, to surrender and fall into love -- that place where there is no right or wrong, no time or space, no place other than where I am in the moment.

It was a new experience for me. Different. Far beyond the edges of my comfort zone. Out in that place called, living large. Living true to all I'm meant to be.

And I was scared.

A short time afterwards, the friend called to talk about what had happened. She was crying. Upset. Scared. In trying to make me see 'the wrong' in my actions, she began to tell me all the things I shouldn't have done. All the ways I was wrong to say/do/feel what I had. At first I resisted her attempts to tell me who I was. I stood my loving ground, but then, I found myself falling under the lure of the elixir of her tirade about what was wrong with me. I began to listen hungrily for the next item on her list, my head abuzz with thoughts of "Caught. She's found me out. She's so right." I remember sitting numbly, listening to the phone, listening to her voice as the victim's voice within me rose up to shout with her, "Damn right sistah! I'm selfish, inconsiderate, ungrateful and stubborn. I don't give a damn about anyone but me."

It was... a painful moment. A painful realization to discover within me the voice that wanted so desperately to collude with someone else's negative thoughts about me.

Now, I know and love the individual in question. I know she was only operating from her fear, her place of sorrow and angst and concern. I know her words were not about me and had everything to do with where she was at in our discord and how desperately she wanted to make things right. Her words were a reflection of the enormous inner turmoil our disagreement had placed her under. Her words were her angst giving voice to the pain within her.

Doesn't make what she said right. It does make her human condition understandable and forgivable.

The challenge for me was recognizing how my psyche was so adept at flipping from, "I am ok" into "I am such a mess" in a few quick, uneven breaths.

My victim's voice wanted confirmation that I was not responsible for me. I was not to blame for the messes I had created. I was not accountable for everything I had done. It wanted to abdicate self-responsibility and give into the notion -- I'm just not good enough -- so that I wouldn't have to say, "Enough. I give enough. I do enough. I am enough." My victim's voice did not want to turn up for me in all my beauty, warts and all, and so it gave into the whim of letting someone else define me.

My victim's voice is a powerhouse of self-condemnation. It does not want to stand tall. It does not want to 'grow up'. It wants to hold onto the notion that I am not responsible for my life. I am not capable of being a mature, caring and self-loving adult. My victim's voice does not want to claim its right to be perfectly human in all my human imperfections. Beauty and the beast, warts and all. My victim's voice wants to keep me playing small in this great big world of wonder. It's no wonder it stomps its feet so harshly when it is scared -- my victim's voice doesn't like feeling out of control, out on the edge of reason, leaping into the unknown waters of life beyond the realm of my comfort zone.

My victim's voice doesn't like knowing, compassion begins within me. It's frightened of the truth -- no one can rescue me from my human condition. No one can do it for me but me.

Scary thought that. That I am the one who has to turn up for me and live my life, live my heart's desire and soul's expression infused with the Divine blessing of being perfectly human. It doesn't like knowing it is waiting for no one but me to surrender and fall in love with all that I am, and all I can be. It doesn't like knowing it has the power to liberate me from the past. It doesn't want to be committed to love, honour and protect me, myself and I. It doesn't want to admit it loves me.

Too bad ego.

I love you. And there's nothing you can do to change that!

The question is: Can you love yourself, in all your ego driven, angst-riddled confusion, enough to stand up and be your own agent of change, living large in a world of wonder?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Let it Shine

The love that you withhold is the pain that you carry. Vissaeus
In a world of wonder, there is war. In a world of beauty, there is pain. In a world of laughter, there are tears. Perhaps it is as the sages suggest, the one cannot exist without the other. We cannot experience laughter without having known pain. We cannot know joy without having met sorrow.

Buddha said, "Your work is to discover your world and then with all your heart give yourself to it." How do I give myself to the world when my heart is carrying pain?

Life is the made up of dark and light. Our journey is to find our light within and 'let it shine. Let it shine. Let it shine.'

I wasn't shining very much over the weekend. Mired in thoughts of scarcity and lack, I trampled through my psyche, playing my self-defeating game of confusion. Angst ridden, I searched for the path into the light and kept finding myself in dead end alleys.

It started with a throw-away comment from C.C. on my tendency to ask questions. "You're constantly asking me how I'm feeling, what I'm thinking," he said.


I wanted to stop right there and scream back. "No I don't!" I didn't. (Scream back that is. I must deserve a gold star for my restraint.) Regardless of my outer restraint, however, my inner landscape kicked into high gear, running as fast as it could from a comment that triggered deeply seated grains of truth buried within me.

Harummph, my willful ego whispered. I don't 'constantly' ask. I ask because I'm interested, concerned, looking for information, seeking insight...

The litany of rationalizations, excuses, making sense of nonsense talk flew around like sharks zeroing in on their prey. I was abuzz with justification. My discord hid behind my smile as my psyche lazered him with pointed ripostes replete with razor-like wit, scathing rebuttals and shining insight into his faults and my 'rightness'.

Looking for order in my disorderly thinking, I headed to the back yard for air. I scooped up dog poop, raked leaves, stuffed them into bags and pummelled them down to make room for me to step into the garbage can and jump up and down in a furious dance to drain every breath of air from the stack of the leaves in the bag. If I'd had a vat of grapes, I'd have made a potent wine! But I didn't need the wine. I was heady on my indignation. After three giant bags of leaves, I headed into the kitchen to make parsnip soup. I cleaned the bathroom and threw in a load of laundry. And through it all, the monkey chatter in my mind kept stirring up a great big vat of angst.

I do not.

He doesn't understand.

He's just.....

He won't...

He doesn't...

He can't...

See the problem? My ego-driven thinking was all about what he was or wasn't doing, and wasn't giving any room for his comment to exist without my taking umbrage to their content. In my angst, I was withholding love and carrying pain as I focused on refuting his comments -- I wasn't interested in his truth -- I was interested in making myself shine in a better light.


Give his words room for air.

What am I avoiding? What is true for me here?

There is a cord of angst tied to the past in his observation about my tendency to ask -- and honest, I don't do it constantly! :) The key for me is to unhook from hearing what he said as 'my truth', or 'his truth about me', and accept it as an observation. A piece of information on how he feels about being questionned about his feelings.

In my reaction to his comment, I was connecting to something deeply buried in my psyche. A thread of feeling less than, not good enough, not perfect, not wanted, not needed. It is a voice that resonates from childhood when I was a curious child looking for answers in a world I didn't understand. It underlies my core tape. The lie I tell myself when I am feeling afraid: I am helpless.

The truth about me is: I am a fearless woman touching hearts and opening minds to set spirits free.

Speaking truth is always a frightening thing for me -- especially when the truth is about my feelings, my needs, my wants and desires. Especially when the truth counter commands the lie, "I am helpless."

I did a lot of work this weekend. Inner and outer. I dredged and pulled and raked and scooped and trampled through to come to a place where I am clearer on what is mine to fess up to.

I am afraid of speaking my truth. It is a truth that lays heavy on my heart -- not the words I need to say, or even the feelings that inspire the words -- the act of speaking my truth is a dark secret I hold close to my heart, shielding it from the light. To be real, to be authentic, to be my most magnificent self, I must break through my fear and shine my light on what lays heavy on my heart. I must speak up.


What if he gets angry? What if they get upset? What if he/she doesn't like me? What if...

The what if's for me are endless when I give into my fears.

The possibilities are infinite when I step through them.

I stepped through my fears and spoke up. "I am feeling..." and I told him how I felt. It was a long conversation. Sometimes awkward. Sometimes jangly. Sometimes scary. But we kept talking. And in the opening up of truth, more truth arose. More openings appeared. More honesty was revealed.

It was a deep realization for me. I am not acting with integrity when I hide my truth behind my fear of speaking up.

This morning, the cloud has lifted for me. I am feeling balanced again. Hopeful. Open. Trusting and, in love. In love with this little light of mine. Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

The question is: Will you shine your light on the darkness within to bring it out into the light of day? Will you let yourself shine?

Friday, November 6, 2009

A good question: What is worth protecting?

For several years I worried a lot about protecting an image, but today I have understood that the image cannot be preconceived. Shakira
Over at Maureen's 'All Art Friday' blog today at, Writing Without Paper, she poses a question that artist M.K. Guth will ask at a collaborative art event she is creating, "Ties of Protection and Safekeeping". "What is worth protecting?"

A good question.

At the Free Online Dictionary, 'protect' is defined as 'to defend from trouble, harm, attack, etc.' It can also have economic implications -- to impose protective tariffs, to protect against default of payment.

What is worth protecting?

After I had moved back to live with my daughters in this city at the foot of the Rockies, we felt pretty safe. Conrad was in jail (again) and I did not think about his presence on the streets around me -- or in my head! When he was released from prison the year after I moved back, I was worried he would try to find me and impose his power over me. Alexis and Liseanne shared my fear -- and I didn't want to have them live in fear. I wanted all of us to live with peace of mind, joy and love.

To nullify our fear, I met with Brian Willis of Winning Mind Training to get some guidance on how to create a safety perimeter -- around our home, and ourselves. The best way to protect yourself, said Brian, is to educate yourself.

My life was worth protecting. My daughters lives were worth protecting. And more importantly, by taking positive measures to protect what was most important to us, we created peace of mind. We educated ourselves so we could let go of fear and walk easily in the world.

I had never thought much about 'protection' before Conrad's parole. Hadn't thought much about my right to protect myself. Or even the need. I hadn't give much thought to the value of taking concrete steps to create safety in my environment. But, after being jumped by Conrad one night while visiting my girlfriend, and his subsequent return to prison and parole, I needed to take action, and responsibility, for my own safety. "The police cannot be with you twenty-four seven," Brian said. "The courts nor the police can protect you, unless you're in protective custody. Take responsibility."

Taking responsibility was an eye opener.

One of the first things Brian recommended was putting my 'fear' into perspective. Is Conrad a violent man or is he a coward? Now, my fearful mind wanted to scream out -- he's violent! Really, really violent.

Reality was, after talking about what my intuition and my experience with him knew -- he wasn't violent. He could be dangerous. But he was, first and foremost a coward. The real monster of Conrad had grown up in my mind. He had taken on a greater than life aura in my head that caused me to view him through the filter of my fear and sadness and sorrow and shame of all that had gone wrong. In cleaning the filter of my thinking, I put the real man into perspective. He did what he did because he was terrified of living without lies and deceit. He was terrified of his human condition. He did what he did in my life because he could. It's what he does. And because I didn't stop him from 'doing what he does' in my life, he terrorized me and those I love. He was a coward. I had been a victim.

I wanted to be a victor.

In the course of creating the safety perimeter around my home, or, Target Hardening, as Brian called it, he worked with Alexis and Liseanne and me on personal safety training. "It is your right, your duty, your responsibility to protect yourself," he told us. "Whatever it takes."

The whatever it takes was the scary part. "You can't let your thoughts of, oh that's not a nice thing to do, interfere with your responsibility to take care of yourself," Brian said. This was after demonstrating to us how to use our voice and limbs as tools to deter an attacker. "Tactics for personal protection must be easy to use, and effective outside the training room," he said. "Avoiding confrontation is always the first step. Don't trick yourself into believing that in a confrontation you can 'talk' him into being nice. He wouldn't be stalking you if being nice was part of his agenda."

Think like your enemy. Take action, he advised.

In his book, Fear Less, Gavin deBecker writes, "Others can choose to make you a target. Only you can choose to be a victim."

Victim's abdicate responsibility for their well-being to the courts and police and other people, writes Brian in Creating a Safety Perimeter an article he wrote for my book, The Dandelion Spirit.
"A Victim has an external locus of control and feels they are powerless to stop whatever is going to happen to them. As a result they give up their power and control to others. Their lives are filled with worry, anxiety and fear. A Victor accepts personal responsibility and takes action to make themselves and their loved ones, 'Hard Targets'. They have an internal locus of control and understand that they have the power and they are in control. The 'Victor' mentality not only makes you safer, it allows you to live a life filled with awareness, confidence, fulfillment and empowerment."

What is worth protecting?


Target hardening my home, my workspace, my environment were simply measures to provide me the assurance that I had done, whatever it takes, to protect myself and my daughters. I couldn't control what Conrad, or anyone else, with evil intent would do. That wasn't my agenda.

My purpose was to make it hard for anyone to do something that took away my peace of mind, that robbed me of my right to move with ease through my day without fearing what lurked in the shadows around me. My purpose was to Live without fear.

Looking over my shoulder was part of my fear. Making my life a 'hard target', gave me the peace of mind to keep my sights on the road ahead of me. Knowing I had taken responsibility, done what was required to make it hard for him to break through my safety perimeter gave me the space to live my life with joy, without looking over my shoulder in fear.

Today, I don't fear what others will do in my life. Whatever they attempt, I know that I am safe when I take responsibility for creating the life of my dreams -- and that includes shining light on the shadows around me.

In protecting the sanctity of my environment, in creating a safety perimeter around me, in consciously choosing to be aware, to listen to my intuition, to not let fear drive me away from being courageous, I step confidently into my day knowing, I am 100% responsible for my life. I don't have to live with fear. I have to take action to live fearlessly.

The question is: Are you fearlessly living your life by lighting up the shadows you fear?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

She is a miracle.

If nothing every changed, there would be no butterflies. Unknown
It is a miracle she is alive. I wasn't supposed to be able to get pregnant. Before her conception, I'd had two ectopic pregnancies. Half a tube was left. She found the point of entry and the miracle of Alexis was conceived.

That was almost 24 years ago. Yesterday, I stood at the airport with C.C. and my sister, J.T. waving good-bye to Alexis as she passed through security and walked towards the gate where the jet awaited that would whisk her away. She is moving. Permanently. Forever. (or so she says.) "I'm not coming back to Calgary to live," she said. "I hate winter."

She's gone to the coast. Gone to pursue a dream she's nurtured since she was a child. A dream that has pushed her, pulled her, torn her apart and driven her upwards and forwards and backwards and around and back to centre stage again and again. It is a dream she cannot let go of because it will not let go of her.

She's an actor. An artist. A singer. A dancer. A writer. A gift from God. The stage is the playground upon which she found her voice. And now, she's off into the wild blue yonder to make her mark, to stake her ground, to give voice to making her dream come true.

It was a bittersweet moment.

Before we'd left the house in the morning, she was sitting on the couch in the living room, reading the newspaper. I sat down beside her, put my arms around her and gave her a hug. "It's finally hitting me," I said. "I won't be able to just walk up at any time and give you a hug."

Tiny tears pricked at my eyelids. I held them back. This wasn't a time for tears. It was a time for celebration. The butterfly's wings have spread wide. She's taking flight.

It isn't that she was living at home in the past couple of years. She'd moved back home when she made the decision earlier this fall to leave the city and pursue her dream.

Having her home has been a gift of time. Okay, so sure, there were the frustrations of her 'stuff' scattered everywhere. "If you wouldn't nag me mum, I'd clean it up myself."

What? Me? Nag? It wasn't nagging. It was constructive criticism designed to create awareness of the value of respecting other people's space. Uh uh. Really. I wasn't nagging.

I went into the kitchen this morning and didn't find her keys on the counter. Her purse is gone from the floor by the front door and suddenly the empty space looms larger. There's no book on the couch. No sweater on the chair. No reminder of the wonder and the woes of a twenty-something who fills whatever space she's in because... well, just because. It is her way. She is still filling out the pages of her book of life, expanding into all she will ever be as she paints the world in the amazingly vibrant hues of her laughter, her joy, her love.

So, it was appropriate this morning that I hadn't opened yesterday's Daily Om until today. It was titled, "Making Connections While Apart". The article suggests we send loving thoughts to those we love who are far away throughout the day. It also suggests picking a set time, every day, once a week, once a month, to pause and think lovingly of the ones we love who are far away. In time and with practice, the article states, we may learn to recognize the feeling that comes when a loved one sends energy our way, and the feeling of soul-to-soul communication. I'm sending you vibrations of love Alexis. May they fill your heart with joy, lift your spirits and warm your soul.

Last week, Alexis wrote on her blog,
"The times I’ve wished I could have fallen in love with computer programming are countless. But every time I have made an attempt to follow a more even path, something calls me back. And I can’t help but think that maybe what is so frightening about a life of creativity is that it is not unlike falling in love.

Like love, it is a risk. It is called “falling” for a reason after all. It is falling without knowing where we will land, or how hard. It takes a leap of faith. Sacrifice. Commitment. It takes tearing down all the walls we have built up to protect our hearts and letting someone else inside. One must be fearless in their vulnerability, courageous enough to open themselves up, to share their voice, their feelings, their heart and soul. And when we risk all this, allow others to witness our humanity, we also open ourselves up to the sting of rejection, to pain, to heartbreak. Just like we cannot make someone love us back, there is no guarantee that the world will love our art.

And just as lovers, in spite of knowing all the risks, fall anyways, I have to trust the wind to pull me from the safety of the branch, and let me fall."

I cannot stop her falling. I cannot give her flight. She has spent her lifetime creating her wings, preparing for flight. And though she is a part of my being, my soul, my heart, she has learned the lesson we all must learn to find ourselves in the world, how to fly.

I can't tie her wings down. I have spent her lifetime making space for her to find them, being there as she tested them, as she built up strength to spread them wide and soar free.

I am joyful that she has, grateful she is courageous enough to leap -- and to trust in the universe to be there to support her. She knows I will always be here to help her up if she falls. To give her space to catch her breath should she run out of wind.

She has flown away, but she will never fly free of my heart. She lives within me forever in my heart. I will miss her. And I will not have to pick up after her again! At least, until she comes home at Christmas. And this time, I promise, I won't nag. I'll see every bit of clutter as a gift from a young woman who fills my being with joy. She is a miracle. And I am blessed to be a part of the miracle that is Alexis. She is a blessing to the world.