Sunday, January 31, 2010
Saturday, January 30, 2010
If we do not succeed, we run the risk of failure. Former Vice-President Dan QuayleMorning. Quiet. The house still. Marley, the Great Cat, has taken to lying on C.C.s stomach and purring loudly during the night. I mean, loud. He doesn't meow. Just purr. Did I mention loud?
I'm considering a muzzle but not sure that will stop his purring. It might give him something else to focus on though and with his new focus, he might decide to go sleep somewhere else. Without Liseanne at home, he's a bit lost -- he liked sleeping with her most. And I liked it that way most too!
Needless to say, C.C. sleeps through the purring. I don't.
Which is why I am up at this uber early hour, catching up on some reading, writing and meditating into dawn rising on a brand new day.
So, here's a question. Is 'dawn rising' a redundancy? The word 'dawn' implies morning awakening so, if I write, 'dawn rising' am I being redundant? For that matter, if it's dawn, do I need to say, 'new day'? Dawn denotes new day just by its very meaning.
Samuel Goldwyn once said, "I never make predictions, especially about the future."
What else would you make a prediction about?
Not the past, that's for sure. The past is dead and gone. Packed up its bags and high-tailed it to the desert, or the Rockies or maybe even the distant future so far off we can't see that 'what was' is becoming 'what is' all over again as we circle around and around what we're doing, or not doing, to change the world for the better.
Okay. So I'm tired. It is not a morning of profundity. It is a morning of musing about life and loving and letting go.
Here's another question. When I let go of control, it's a good thing. When I am out of control, it's not.
What's with that? If I'm out of control, I have no control left, right? So why's it a bad thing?
And, just to make it more interesting, here's a great photo I found online.
That's one determined cat -- so, question is...
Is he letting go or holding on? Holding on to what he wants, which is not to be in the bath, or letting go of what frightens him, being in the bath? I figure it would actually be pretty easy for that cat to let go. It's the holding on that's taking all the work.
My friend Joyce asks a really good question over on her blog, Peaceful Legacies. She's also got a really great video of polygraph expert, Cleve Backster's attempts to answer the question, "Can plants sense other beings 'thoughts'?" It's rather fascinating and well worth the visit over to Joyce's place.
Over at Writing without Paper, Maureen shares some great finds on this amazing place called the Internet. The question is, where do I find all the time in the world I need to dig through all there is to find on the Internet? So many sites. So little time.
And now, I must go and get ready to leave. We're off to Vancouver to visit Alexis for a few days -- and to haul out all the paraphenalia she left behind when she uprooted and headed off, heeding that sage advice, Go west young woman! We'll be gone until Thursday. I will be blogging -- sporadically, but I do plan on keeping my online life in line! It keeps my thinking in line which keeps me inline and balanced.
I'm so excited to see my lovely girl! We've got lunches planned. A play and shopping. We'll explore one of my favourite cities and spend time in lush green vegetation all around. Alexis had to phone me yesterday to tell me that, on her way to work she passed by a garden where the buds are starting to appear.
Here at the foot of the Rockies, snow still covers the ground and the world is an etch-a-sketch picture of black and white. It will be late April into May before the first crocus appear.
I'm looking forward to green and ocean and mountains and beauty by the sea. The Olympic celebrations are kicking off and the city is abuzz with excitement.
Friday, January 29, 2010
Make the most of yourself, for that is all there is of you. Ralph Waldo EmersonMy youngest daughter Liseanne, is in London. Having a jolly good time. Enjoying the sights and sounds and atmosphere of the city and its surroundings.
Now, let's be clear, Liseanne is a free spirit. Lithe and energetic, she catapults into the day like a deer leaping through the forest. She's been keeping a blog of her travels thus far, (the name says it all -- One girl. One backpack. Too many shoes) and it is priceless. Though I do despair about her lack of punctuation. Liseanne doesn't believe in commas. Highly over-rated she says. Let people take a breath where they want, not where I say.
Hmmmm..... Not sure about the logic but it does make for an entertaining read!
Unlike her sister, Alexis, and me, Liseanne does not take herself too seriously. She's bright and intelligent, but life, in Liseanne's world, is best lived with ample doses of humour and laughter, always looking for the funny-side of where you're at and who you are being -- like, who are you trying to kid? Really? As Emmerson suggests, You're you. Make the most of it and don't go looking for darkness when it's so much healthier to stand in the light.
It is one of the many things I admire about her. She is able, even when in London with only two pairs of sandals in January, to find the humour in her situation.
I should mention, back here, on the homefront, the front hall closet is filled to over-flowing with Liseanne's shoes. Red. Blue. Black. Pink. Purple. Orange. She's got a shoe in every colour. Every style. Every contorted heel. So I guess the title of her blog actually refers to the shoes she doesn't have with her on this journey because, over there, across the pond. She's got a pair of Uggs and two pair of sandals. Sandals! I exclaim. Why would you only take sandals in January? What were you thinking. About sunshine and warm Spanish beaches. About going barefoot in the rain and dancing in Tivoli fountain. Don't need shoes for those. Only need a spirit of adventure and twinkly toes looking to dance.
She really is an amazing and wondrous child of God. Dancing her way through life. She's got the important things figured out. The rest, as she says, is just stuff.
Now, as her mother, there's that little voice in my head that whispers. "You should have been paying more attention to her packing. You should have made her a list and ensured she had the essentials. You should have.... You know, the voice that wants to take it all way too seriously and figure out escape plans and emergency hatches to ensure she never gets stuck in someplace I haven't dreamed of. To make it all better, to fix it, change it, prevent it and circumvent it before disaster ever happens..."
The best education is experience. Bet she thinks twice before she packs next time!
Reality is, I trust her to make the right decisions for herself. That's part of my commitment to being a loving parent.
Whether shoes or University courses, or who to date, or not to date, or how to dress for the weather, I trust her to be responsible for her own happiness. And she is. Fact is, she creates happiness where ever she goes because she's never burdened down with carrying bitterness or resentment, sorrow or guilt or any host of negative emotions designed to keep us living in the troughs of regret rather than dancing on the waters of life over-flowing with abundance.
The fact she's only got two pair of shoes isn't a big deal. She's got the important ingredients on this trip. Her passport. Her logistics to attend university in Holland. Her housing (paid for in full for the next six months). Her sheets (washed before she left). Her weekend trips to here and there planned. Contact lists for the cousins in Paris and other French locales. A guide book and a superb thinking mind, a warm and loving heart and an ingredient that will get her through every kind of storm -- her sense of humour.
Humour counts. In every kind of weather. In every kind of situation. In every tight spot, wide spot, deep ditch or mountain trail.
Keeping your sense of humour, your ability to 'not take yourself so seriously', keeps you from falling down into the pits of despair and lashing out at yourself and the world around you. Which means, your world will stay intact, even when the sky appears to be falling.
I admire Liseanne. Only two pair of shoes in London town, and she's having a great time!
Not to mention, she also gets to go out and buy a pair or two. Any excuse for a shopping fix, even in one of the most expensive cities in the world!
So, the question for today is: Where are you taking yourself too seriously to see, you really are a funny creature? A human being of immense possibilities all tied up into this funny construct called life. Are you standing on the edge of reason, clinging to fear in the hope it will hold you down? or. Are you casting forth a lifeline out into the universe, hooking yourself onto a star and sailing forth into living this one wild and passionate life in the rapture of now, finding the 'funny' in the serious side of life?
Thursday, January 28, 2010
The human experience is meant to be an emotional one, so the extent to which we deny our feelings is the extent to which we deny our purpose for being here. Colin Tipping - Radical Forgiveness
I felt challenged today. Challenged to pick up my 'pen' and write of forgiveness in images bursting from my mind. Long ago, I thought in poetry. Long ago, I wrote, never in rhyme, rhyme is too predictable, too constructed for me. I wrote in poetic prose. Images skittering onto the page, in a hurry to reach their destination, tripping over each other to form an idea, an image, a poignant light shimmering upon the page.
Those binders and journals I had that held my poetry were lost long ago when 'he whose name is not spoken' went to jail. I've been doing a bit more thinking on him these days. Sometime ago I had been asked if I was willing to have the story told in a documentary.
In March, a film crew will be here to document the journey. I believe that as long as the story controls me, it is using me. To use the story to create awareness, to shine light in the world is to wrest the power from the dark. To illuminate someone else's path out of the darkness is to own the story and set myself free. Giving is receiving.
As I read Trouble In Paradise, Maureen's poem today, I felt compelled to think in verse. This poem comes from that place where I am free to see the light and dance.
upon the sunset
of happily ever-after
never to rise
a new day
the moon's farewell
deep into the envelope
a kiss sealed
upon the flap
of secret’s laid bare
upon love’s pillow
into the night
threadbare and worn
never to be
of a new day
of secrets sealed
into the inky black depths
of memories caprice
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow men, true nobility is being superior to your former self. Lao TzuHe is a giant bear of a man. Staff admire him. Clients respect him. He is always smiling. Always courteous. Always respectful, no matter if you're lying on the ground in a drunken stupor or standing at the front of a meeting talking about cut-backs and deficits.
I met him the first day I came to the shelter where I work for my job interview. I stood in the lobby of the building, waiting for someone to come and give me access to the elevator so that I could go to the sixth floor for my interview.
He stood in the middle of the lobby, mop bucket loaded with water, mop in hand cleaning up someone else's mess.
I was nervous. I'd never been in the shelter before. Never stood in the middle of the lobby surrounded by people sitting on chairs, heads hanging low, or tucked into a corner, lying on the floor.
He recognized my state of being. It's something I will come to admire about him over the years of our acquaintance. His uncanny ability to tell someone's state of being -- even when they're trying to hide it. He walked over and said "Hi. Has someone helped you?"
I wasn't sure about the 'helped' part. I was feeling uncomfortable. Unnerved. This was a new environment. (As an aside, that first exposure to the shelter helps me when talking to groups who come to the centre for the first time. "How many of you were nervous or afraid when you first walked in?" I always ask. Inevitably, there are a few people brave enough to put up their hands. "I was too," I tell them. And I recount that morning in April 2006 when I first walked in.)
"I'm waiting for someone to take me up to the Exec Director's office," I told him. "I have an interview."
He nodded his head. Smiled a toothy grin. I didn't know if he was a client or staff. He was big. Really big. He leaned on his mop handle. Nodded his head. "Job interview?"
"Yeah," In my mind I was hoping I'd get into the elevator soon. I didn't know what to say and my nervousness was making it hard to engage in what I considered small talk. I should have known. To Ron, there is no such thing as small talk. He's always observing. Always assessing. Always weighing up people and situations.
He would tell me many months later about his years as a bouncer in a bar and then a hotel manager. "You always gotta be watching out for everything and everyone. You gotta know where the exits are. Who's got your back. Who's doing what. Who's most likely to blow. You gotta know where you're at. And you've gotta be willing to stand your ground and take whatever's coming at you."
Recently, he discovered where he's at on this journey and what life has in store for him. Cancer. Lung. Stage 3.
"I don't know how long I've got," he told me yesterday as we sat in a coffee shop sharing a tea and chat. "But whatever I've got, I want to ensure I put back what I've taken out. I figure if I've taken out what I've needed for fifty years, I should be able to put back the equivalent in goodwill before I go."
His life has been a storybook journey of the rough and tumble kind. "Been there. Done that," he says about hitting rock bottom, searching for a place to land and coming up empty. It was Christmas 1993 when he began the long road back. Walked out of Vancouver's east side. Broken down and broken up. He kept walking. Eventually, his path led to the doors of the shelter here in Calgary. It was spring 2002.
"I don't know what it was but, I walked through those doors and I knew. This is it. This is the place I can find myself again."
He'd given himself one last chance. One last kick of the can before he ended it of his own volition.
"None of us know how long we've got, or how it will end. At least not until you sit in a doctor's office and they tell you something like, there's a 5% chance we'll get this. Then, you start thinking, what do I want to do with the rest of my life?" He pauses. "I want to make sure I give back as much as I've taken."
He's got plans. Ideas. Notions on how to do it. He's putting them in motion. Cleaning up business the way he's kept the floors and hallways and public areas of the shelter clean for all these years.
"When I think of leadership, I think of Ron," I told our executive director a couple of years ago.
"You do? Why?" he asked.
"Because there are no small jobs to him. No unimportant tasks. No matter what he's doing, he gives his 100%. He's always leading by example. Always teaching the younger guys how to act. No matter how someone comes up to him, he always responds with kindness and consideration. He is a natural leader."
Once again, he's leading the way. Showing through his example how to deal with tough situations. How to be a man of integrity, no matter the hand life deals.
I'm learning from him. I've still got time.
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
At 9:13 am on May 21, 2003, everything changed. Everything shifted and my world as I knew it ended. A police car drove up and I stood watching as two officers stepped from the car.
At 9:14 am I followed the officers into the room where my abuser lay sleeping and watched them arrest him.
They took him away and I sat in a chair in a room I did not recognize, captive in a body I could not feel. I was catatonic. Frightened. Terrified. I had 72 cents in my pocket, a few clothes and my dog, Ellie, who had journeyed through that four year, nine month voyage through hell beside me. She was my ballast but with his arrest, I was cast adrift. I clung to her fur, cried into her shoulders but still fear eroded my being, clawed at my heart, tore my world apart.
In my fear that this horror that I was enduring would be the rest of my life, I didn't know where I'd find myself. I didn't know where I'd come ashore. I only knew, I had run out of options. Run out of running away, of hiding, of being frightened and alone.
I called my sister and she and her husband came to get me. We drove the hour from the small town where I had been hiding out with my abuser for 4 months, into Vancouver. They didn't ask me questions. They didn't prod and poke. They didn't dig into where I'd been nor share their fear and anger. They let me sit in silence in the back seat of their car and I was grateful.
My abuser was gone but still I felt the tendrils of his control lapping at the shores of my consciousness. I felt the fear of his absence from my life ripping at the delicate thought of freedom seeping into my mind. The enticement of peace from his abuse and anger seepped quietly into a tiny corner of my heart and began to take up residence.
It was the first peace I had known for months, years even. The first sense of peace I'd let in since meeting the man who'd promised to love me 'til death do us part, and then set about making the death part come true, sooner rather than later.
And in that moment of peace, sitting in the back seat of my sister's car, Ellie beside me, I watched the countryside roll by and wondered, where had I gone?
It would be many months before I found an answer I could live with, but in the intervening weeks, I would dig deep into my psyche to uncover the truth about what had happened to me. In my digging, I would discover there was one choice I could make, every moment of every day -- to be or not to be filled with peace -- peace of mind, a peaceful heart, to claim a piece of calmness within my day.
Peace didn't come cheap. It came with great effort. With a constant reminder of the question, "What do I want to create? Harmony or discord?" "Is what I am doing creating more harmony in my life? Or less?"
And when the answer was, 'less', I would ask myself, "What can I do to restore peace of mind, right now, in this moment? What am I willing to do to have more of what I want in my life?"
He was arrested in May. By July I was working, rebuilding my life. I had one focus and that was to heal myself so that I could help my daughters heal. And constantly I reminded myself, my peace of mind comes when I know that what I am doing creates more of what I want in my life and less of what I don't.
And peace came. It drifted into my being like fog rising from the ocean shores upon which I walked at night with Ellie. It came. Dressed up in a gossamer gown of morning dew resting upon the delicate petals of the flowers strewn across the garden in a joyful disarray of colour. It seeped in, shrouded in the night falling sweetly upon the end of day. Peace came and I became filled with peace of mind.
And then, the phone call arrived. It was a hot summer's morning in August. I was getting ready to walk to the Seabus that would carry me across the bay to the downtown core. I was getting ready and peace of mind slept unaware of the moment about to arrive. The phone rang. I answered it and listened to the disturbing words of a police officer.
"Conrad has escaped from jail. We don't know where he is but we assume he'll come looking for you... Just thought we should warn you."
And in one moment, my peace of mind evaporated. My sense of well-being vanished.
I started to shake. To cry. To be consumed with the fiery fringe of fear lapping at my heart, sending its beat into erratic rhythm.
My mind began to race. What if... no way... but then he could...
I shut the windows. Locked the door. And still I feared.
I wanted out. I didn't want to let go of my peace of mind.
I took a breath. Refused to be scared. I got Ellie's leash and called her to my side. "Let's go for a walk," I said.
The thought of the great outdoors enticed her. She didn't care about my peace of mind. She just wanted to go for a walk.
And so we walked. Out the front door, through the gate, down the street. A left and then a right, across the avenue, along the trail leading into the woods. My sanctuary. My respite. My peaceful place.
I took a step into the forest's tranquil embrace. A leaf rustled on the ground. A twig snapped.
Fear erupted. Peace escaped.
Suddenly, behind every branch, he lurked. Every rustle of leaf was his footstep. Every step took me closer to a deadly encounter.
I lasted less than two minutes in the woods before I bolted.
Peace was no longer possible. Terror reigned.
I raced down the street, back towards my sister's home where I was living. I raced with Ellie loping beside me. It's a game, her upturned face seemed to say. Can we play?
No, I cried. No time to play. We've got to get home. Home to the safety of a locked door, drawn blinds, darkness.
And in the comfort of my room, lying on my bed, Ellie watching me from the floor beside me, I cried and I cried.
How dare he steal my peace of mind. How dare he erode my tranquility.
"He doesn't have to," a voice somewhere in the darkness of my mind whispered. "You don't have to let him in."
"It's not my choice," I cried.
"You always have a choice," the voice admonished.
I took a breath. A choice? A peaceful choice? The voice was right. I always have a choice.
To live in fear or peace?
Which would I choose?
There is a story of a First Nations elder who tells his grandson about the two wolves that live within each of us. One is black. One is white, he tells his grandson. And always, they are fighting to gain control of our being.
"Which one wins?" the grandson asks.
"Whichever one you feed," replies the elder.
I fed the black wolf that day. I fed it my hard won peace of mind, my sense of well-being, my comfort. I fed what I had worked so hard to achieve and still it was hungry. It wanted more.
I had so little to give. I could not give it what I cherished most.
I took a breath and let my breath feed oxygen to the white wolf where it sat waiting at the doorway to my mind. With each breath I stoked the fires of my passion to live with peace of mind residing deep within me, a calm, clear lake of tranquility resting at my core.
I took a breath and chose to let go of fear and step into courage. I chose to let courage drive fear out, as I drove clear of the darkness.
I claimed my peace of mind and stepped out into the sunshine of the day, confident in my choice to live fearlessly in the rapture of now. I took a breath and slid effortlessly into the grace of being free to choose more of what I want of my life, letting go of what no longer serves me.
The question is: Which wolf will you feed?
It's another Blog Carnival! Click here to go to the One Word at a Time blog where you will find a list of links to all the bloggers writing about Peace today.
And this is a special Blog Carnival. Maureen, over at Writing without Paper, has issued a Challenge for Haiti. For every original comment posted on my blog today, January 26 (before 9pm MST), I will donate $1 to a charity helping out in Haiti. (Donations up to $100). So please, link in, post in, blog away and feel free to comment! Your words will benefit Haiti and give rise to my giving!
Please follow this link to find out how you can make a difference with other Canadians. http://www.cbc.ca/haitirelief/
Monday, January 25, 2010
Developing a cocoon is a natural and essential part of being a caterpillar. But the time comes when the cocoon softens, wears out, and opens up. What if this is the case for all our opinions, possessions, and even for our ego? What if, when the cocoon of ego opens, instead of the feared abyss we find a butterfly? William Martin, A Path and a Practice
It was an exciting day. The morning was filled with good conversation, workshop activities exploring possibilities and interesting perspectives on what we can do to make a difference.
By the time the Governor General arrived, I was starting to feel nervous. I had intended to go over my notes prior to the Panel discussion, but the day was jam packed and I was immersed in it. The GG arrived. We met and chatted as a group in the Green Room and then it was time to enter the theatre. I sat behind the table in the front of the room, looking out at the audience. The microphone sat in front of me, waiting for me to speak when it was my turn. I prayed it wasn't on yet -- what if I said something stupid while sitting there waiting and everyone heard me. What if I burped (which can happen when I'm nervous) and the whole room heard it?
My mind reeling with negative fortune-telling, I turned to the panelist beside me, a young woman who runs an art program for youth. "Okay, so I'm a tad nervous," I leaned over and whispered.
She looked over. Surprised. "Me too!" she said. "What if I get it wrong?"
I smiled. "There is no right or wrong," I whispered. "Just the truth for you and me as we see it."
I knew how she felt though. My greatest fear revealed, my ego's trip -- what if they think I'm stupid?
In the expression of her fear I found the opportunity to be courageous. I leaned over and touched her hand. "Take a deep breath. Open yourself up to expansion. Sink down from your head, enter your heart and you will be grounded in what is true and beautiful about art for you."
We breathed together for a moment. Connected.
I needed to hear myself speak those words. Normally, I'm not nervous speaking in front of groups, but my head was playing games on me, telling me, this situation was different. I needed to be careful. To watch my words. To take care.
Truth was. It wasn't different. I didn't need to be careful or watch my words. This talk wasn't about what I had to say. It was about saying what was true for me in the power of art to create a world of difference. I needed to breathe, to speak my truth from my heart to connect to the hearts of those in the room. I needed to speak and be unattached to the outcome.
I breathed. And gave my head a mental shake. Aren't I amazing! It was just my ego getting in the way of my being real and authentic. Open and caring.
It came my turn to speak. The organizer had told me that to get the audio visual to play, all I had to do was wave at the technician in the back booth and it would happen. I waved.
Nothing happened. I looked at the organizer sitting in the front row. She smiled back, nodded her head, lifted her hand and waved back. 'Just wave at him,' she mouthed. I waved again. Through the smoky glass of the audio booth, I could see the technician wave back at me.
And nothing happened with the video.
The moderator leaned into his microphone. "Louise. Would you like to begin?"
I smiled and waved at the technician again. He waved back again. Other people in the audience waved too.
Perhaps they think this is part of my talk? I wondered. I tested the idea. I waved again and more people waved back.
Finally, in the press of the moment bearing down reality struck me. The technician had no idea why I was waving.
I laughed and leaned into the microphone. "Could we play the video please?"
And the video began to play.
As I watched the video play, I wondered about what had happened in the room prior to its visual stimuli appearing on the screen.
In the awkwardness of the moment. In our smiling at each other, waving back and forth, laughter erupted and we connected. For just a moment, they wondered, what is she up to? For just a moment, I wondered, what am I going to do?
And in that moment, I forgot about my nervousness and slipped into that place of grace where going with the flow is all I can do as I thought of creative ways to present without my video.
I sat back and let the video presentation of The Possibilities Project play out. I let the people whose voices needed to be heard speak up about how art matters.
The video ended and I began to speak. My notes rested before me. White sheet lined with large black type lying on top of crisp white table cloth. (I'd told the young woman who was so nervous when I saw her neatly typed notes in 12 pt. Times Roman, "I've got to have big type. I can't read the little stuff anymore." And she'd laughed and we both relaxed into the moment.).
I didn't have to be concerned about my notes. I didn't use them. Sure, there were things I missed. Like yesterday's quote from Frederick Buechner. But it didn't matter. I came straight from my heart. Speaking with passion about something about which I'm passionate: The power of art to transform us. To experience joy in the midst of chaos. To deepen our connection to our human condition. To create a sacred space to belong to one another.
During the question and answer period, a native man approached the microphone and chastised us for the lack of aboriginal representation on the panel, for lack of involvement of first nations people in the process.
I sat and listened and let his words sink deeply into me. Is this true? Is this about not including aboriginal peoples? Is this about us and them?
"Thank you for the invitation to enter the conversation," I replied. "I look forward to keeping the conversation going."
Art is an invitation to join in a conversation. To enter that sacred space where us and them, you against me, my difference trumps your indifference, your difference makes me indifferent, is illuminated in the light of, we are not different. We are all One. All connected. All part of the same human condition.
There were no first nations on the panel. No blacks. No middle eastern representation. No Balkan states.
There were just people. People for whom the arts have created a space to make a difference, to shift perceptions, to open minds and spirits to possibility.
And in that room, there should have been no first nations. No blacks. No middle eastern representation. No Balkan states. No white washed Caucasians or black listed homeless folk.
There should have been just people. People interested in joining in a conversation about how to transform our world into a more caring, just, open society where people matter, no matter the colour of their skin, their creed, their ethnic origins.
We were all just people. And through the medium of our creative expression, we sank into reverie, dove into possibilities, and discovered a world of opportunity to make a difference in a different kind of world. A world where, as Dan Pink in his book A Whole New Mind (2005), argues, "left-brain linear, analytical computer-like thinking are being replaced by right-brain empathy, inventiveness, and understanding as skills most needed by business." He goes on to write, "Logical and precise, left-brain thinking gave us the Information Age. Now comes the Conceptual Age — ruled by artistry, empathy, and emotion."
I sure hope so!
When we get out of the way of our thinking we are different, we are separate, we are isolated, when we move aside our differences, step across our cultural clashes and open ourselves up to being creative human beings, we enter that sacred space where Art Matters because People matter most. People matter more than ideology, technology, and all the other 'ologies' out there that would keep us apart and finding difference in our human condition.
I live and work and play in an amazing city. A city where, a year long project called, This Is My City, connected homeless artists with community artist mentors and opened all of us up to the possibility of hope, of change, of being connected through our human condition. That place of grace where miracles happen and spirits take flight.
And it all happened because a group of people under the guidance of a woman named Beth Gignac, along with Dawn Ford, Jody Williams and Aviva Zimmerman and a host of artists cared enough to explore the question, What if art matters and people make a difference -- regardless of what side of the street they walk on?
Sunday, January 24, 2010
I leave you with a quote from theologian and author, Frederick Buechner:
Buechner also said about grace: God said when you were born: This is your life. You might not have been born but you were and the party would not have been complete without you.
Live in the spirit of grace filling your day. Enjoy your party!
Saturday, January 23, 2010
And I wonder, “Who are we kidding?”
Now, don’t get me wrong. It’s important to have a goal. And ending homelessness is a laudable one. But, is it the goal that will have the greatest impact on changing what has become, as many call it, a crisis in our society? Can we make something end in someone else’s life if that person isn’t committed to, or invested in, making it happen?
Take addictions. A tenet of addiction counseling is, you can’t make someone quit. They have to make the decision themselves and then they have to become invested in their own well-being. Sometimes, an intervention will work and the individual will choose getting help in order to keep love and support in their life rather than the addiction. But, they still have to become invested in the idea that quitting is good for them. Change has value.
Addictions play an integral role in homelessness. Of the 12,000+ individuals the shelter where I work served in 2009, over one-third of them had an addiction. We provided them shelter and food, in essence a place to call home, for as long as they needed it. We provided services and programs, when they were ready, to help them figure out where they were going. We could and did treat them with dignity and respect. But we couldn’t end the homelessness that drove them to our door. How can we end homelessness in someone’s life if they are more committed to their addiction than moving away from our door?
We can give someone a home. What we can’t do is make them do the things they need to do, or make the changes they need to make, to stay housed no matter how badly we want them to or tell them they must. Ask any parent who has struggled with their child’s addiction. It just isn’t that simple.
Which is what makes me ask, “Who are we kidding?” How do you end homelessness in someone’s life if they aren’t willing to do the work to get off the street?
Recently, a woman pleaded with me for help. “Don’t desert me,” she cried. “I really need your help.”
It felt good to be needed and I wanted to help her. I just couldn’t provide her what she wanted, which was a home of her own. We’d already gone through that cycle and she had fallen, several times. And each time she fell, the unavoidable truth she did not want to face kept rearing its ugly head; she was more committed to keeping crack and booze in her life than making the changes she needed to stay housed.
I wasn’t deserting her. She was deserting herself. She was deserting herself by giving into the booze and drugs that had driven her out of her home long ago. She was deserting herself by telling herself, “If only someone else will come and fix this [her lack of housing]. I can’t do it myself.”
The truth is, yes she can. Do it. Fix the problem. Stop the drinking. Cut out crack. End homelessness in her life.
But that’s not what she wants to hear. What she really wants to hear is that I’ll do whatever it takes to help her find a home to rent without calling her on her addictions. She wants me to believe she can do this, and I do, as long as she’s willing to do ‘the hard’ to keep a roof of her own over her head.
“Are you willing to do whatever it takes to make it work this time?” I ask.
‘Yes,” she quickly replies. “I don’t want to live in a shelter anymore. I can’t stand it.”
“Are you willing to stop drinking?”
In her response I know she’s not willing to do whatever it takes. She doesn’t believe she can. Stop drinking. Stop using. And if she doesn’t believe she can stop the very thing that keeps forcing her out of her home, she doesn’t believe she can keep her home either. No matter how hard I do whatever it takes to help her.
I know what it’s like to have so little belief in yourself you aren’t willing to do whatever it takes to get healthy. I was there once. In a place where those who loved me desperately tried to save me and I just couldn’t hear them, or wouldn’t listen. I was more committed to my path of self-destruction than I was to changing what I was doing in a relationship that was killing me.
I wasn’t an addict. At least not in the conventional sense of using drugs or alcohol to buffer me from the reality of his abuse consuming my life. I was using a man as my excuse to not do whatever it took to be a good mother, a responsible adult, a truthful human being. I was using my fear of losing him as my reason for keeping myself in that place that hurt so badly I wanted to die. I was using him as a reason for not letting go of the constant drama taking over my life. I knew he was lying. I just couldn’t face the truth that his lies were keeping me from facing the truth of what was happening to me and those I love. In running from the truth, I didn’t want to face the fact that only I could stop his abuse in my life. Only I could walk away.
Being the victim of his abuse had its payoffs. Big time. I never had to turn up for me. I could always abdicate responsibility for myself as I prayed for someone else to come and stop it. To make it all better. To make it go away. Because, in not facing my own accountability in what was happening to me, in not turning up for me, regardless of my fear, I was proving to myself I wasn’t capable of doing it. I wasn’t worth saving.
And that’s the thing about homelessness.
Homelessness grinds you down. It leeches your self-esteem and pummels you into believing that ‘this’ is all you deserve. This life of no fixed address is the best you can do. The best you can get. The best you can be. This life of grinding poverty, of being stuck in the mire of self-doubt and self-denigration is all you’re worth.
And when we as a society say, we can end homelessness if we just work together to put a plan in place that will make it possible for everyone to have a home, we make it possible for those suffering from homelessness to stay stuck in the darkness of the street. Because in our planning for the end to their pain, they never have to turn up and do ‘the hard’. We feel better about doing something and those suffering the disgrace of homelessness feel better about not having to do something themselves.
Let’s be clear. Nobody dreams of becoming homeless. Nobody wants to be homeless because they like it. They are homeless because they’ve run out of options to keep them going on the path they were on. No matter how self-destructive or narrow that path, as long as it didn’t end, the path towards homelessness was okay. As long as it didn’t disappear into the door of a shelter it was easy to pretend it was going anywhere but there.
Once there, there’s a glaring truth that exists for everyone under the roof of its sheltering space. They are there because what they were doing wasn’t working in their life anymore. They are there because they ran out of options everywhere else.
Ending homelessness isn’t about giving someone a place to call their own and walking away after you’ve closed the door on them. It’s about creating new ways of connecting with people where they’re at, making room for them to stay connected, regardless of what’s going on in their lives. It’s about holding them accountable for their behavior, without making them pay for their mistakes in a bucketful of shame. It’s not about condoning bad behavior. It’s about accepting people where they are, regardless of how they behave. As long as they are not a risk to themselves or to others, it’s about giving them room to act out until they no longer have the need or until such time as they find the courage to say, “Help me please. I’m willing to do whatever it takes to find my way back home. And that includes giving up my addiction.”
End homelessness in someone else’s life? I don’t think so.
Empower people to find their path back home? Help them find ways to overcome hurdles, smooth out the wrinkles on their road? Help them come clean, get together the resources to make the necessary changes to their lives? Provide funding for affordable housing to be built. Absolutely.
So let’s stop kidding ourselves. How do we end homelessness is not the question we need to be asking. How do we stop people from falling through the cracks? How do we keep our children safe? How do we get the drugs out of our schools? How do we keep the dealers from selling crack on street corners and school yards? How do we appropriately and respectfully shelter people with mental health issues so that they don’t feel so helpless they self-medicate their way into forgetfulness? How do we stop people from falling before they hit the street? How do we create a difference in the world, in our communities, in our homes?
These are the questions we need to be asking and these are the answers we need to find. Let’s end homelessness, but first, let’s find a way to make our cities safer, our communities healthier and our homes more loving. Let’s find a way to care for each other before we reach the shelter door. And if we do get there, to the shelter, let’s create a space where people can find their way back home in a place where people matter, no matter where they’re at or where they’re going and no matter how long it takes for them to get there.
Friday, January 22, 2010
What you can plan is too small for you to live. David Whyte
Liseanne is off in the universe. She's in London now (I trust). Maybe sleeping. Probably not. Erika, one of my 'other' daughters met her at the airport, (I trust) and they have taken off to see the sights. Erika went through Junior high and High School with Alexis. She's a delightful young woman who, after graduating with a degree in Journalism, is making a life for herself in London. She used to come to the house and sleep over and all I could hear was laughter and giggles from the living room as the three girls flipped through magazines, painted each other's toe nails weird and wacky colours and talked about boys and life and what's going on in their world.
And now, she's squiring Lele (Liseanne's nickname) around London. It's pretty exciting. And I am trusting in the Universe to be a welcoming place, to love and cherish my baby girl, to treat her with care.
There is no 'plan' on how to 'survive' my daughter's adventure. No book of "Twelve steps to survive your daughter's travels through Europe." There is just LIFE and how can I have a plan for her life? That's not my job.
My job is to trust -- in her and the universe. I have great hope. Great excitement and a deep abiding trust that she is exactly where she's meant to be, doing exactly what she's meant to do. It is the way of the world. The way of loving without fear. The way of finding the new rhythm of life with Lele out there in a world of adventure, experiencing life on her terms.
John O'Donohue writes in Anam Cara:
"Spirituality is the art of transfiguration. we should not force ourselves to change by hammering our lives into any pre-determined shape. We do not need to operate according to the idea of a predetermined program or plan for our lives. Rather, we need to practice a new art of attention to the inner rhythm of our days and lives...If you work with a different rhythm , you will come easily and naturally home to yourself. your soul knows the geography of your own destiny. Your soul alone has the map of your future, therefore you can trust this indirect, oblique side of yourself... If you attend to yourself and seek to come into your presence, you will find exactly the right rhythm for your life."
Lele is off on an adventure. The future is yet to unfold. For the moment, she is... in the moment. Loving life. Loving her adventure. Loving the world unfolding around her.
For the moment, I am... in the moment. Loving life. Loving my adventure. Loving the world unfolding around me.
We are both supported by this Universe, at One with and within the Divine. Where we are in our separate journeys is a testament of our diverse experiences, our age and our place in this world. She is just setting off. Just stepping onto the world stage to find her place as a young woman.
I am just setting off into today. Finding my place in this stage of my life where being at One with the Divine, practicing the art of paying attention to the inner rhythm of my days, brings me home to myself.
I like that thought. Like the idea that my soul knows my future. All I have to do is trust my inner knowing, listen to my inner truth and I will find myself exactly where I am meant to be. I will find myself in exactly the right rhythm with my life.
The question is: Are you trying to force yourself into another step just to get them all in? Or, are you paying attention to the rhythm of your day, finding yourself easily coming in step with your spirit calling you home?
Thursday, January 21, 2010
She leaves today -- and I am happy.
There's a wonderful video story by David MacNally and Mac Anderson about an eagle who, in the process of helping her babies fly, must push them from the nest -- because if she didn't, they would stay forever stuck in the belief they don't know how to fly. It's called, Even Eagles Need a Push. At one point, the mother Eagle asks, "Why does the thrill of soaring have to begin with the fear of falling?"
MacNally and Anderson then write,
My daughter leaves today. Flying away. Flying free. Flying freely. Flying.
She is soaring into her future with wings of light. Lifted up by love. Forever carried in my heart.
And in her flying free, she reminds me, staying stuck on the ground is for turkeys.
Dreams are meant to be lived, not carried unopened like an umbrella carted around just in case of rain.
Lives are meant to be experienced in flight, not stuck here on the ground.
Taking a lesson from my daughter, today I challenge myself to spread my wings, to leap and soar into freedom.
A friend wrote this morning that he is about to do an 'adult' thing this month. Become a partner in his firm.
I admire him. I've known him for many, many years and in his embracing a dream today, he too reminds me,
Dreams are the currency of a life lived passionately in the rapture of now.
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Just because something looks like fate, doesn't mean it is. It may just be coincidence dressed up in destiny’s clothes. Alexis McDonaldShe's only 23 but her wisdom runs deep. Like a river. Ever flowing towards the sea. "Water doesn't run backwards," she once wrote. And she's right.
Alexis is my eldest daughter. Beautiful. Loving. Wise. Insightful. And oh so talented. She lives a thousand miles away. I miss her. I can't unravel the miles. Can't unravel time either. What I can unravel is the sadness of missing her.
No matter where she is, she is always in my heart. Always part of me. No matter where we are, we are always connected through the Love that surrounds and sets us free to travel through this world without fearing the push of time's need to pull us back to safety. We are at home in each other's hearts, no matter where we are. We don't need time to pull us back to safety. We only need love.
This morning, time is pushing me ever forward to tomorrow when my youngest daughter, Liseanne, leaves for an eight month journey. She's off to the Netherlands for a semester at university and then three months travelling.
Friends keep asking, "How are you handling Liseanne's pending departure. You must be pretty anxious."
"I'm not thinking about when she's gone, yet. I'm focusing on today so that I can enjoy every moment before she goes. I've got lots of time to miss her once she's gone."
And now, time of departure is edging closer. Today, I'm meeting her for a late lunch. We'll do some banking, park her car in the garage for storage. Organize a few things and then chat over lunch about life and living and adventure and all that is transpiring in her life today.
It's pretty exciting. This young woman whose nickname as a child was "Ghee!" because she laughed so gleefully over the tiniest things. This beautiful woman who as a child loved to travel with a hundred stuffed Beanie Babies in the car surrounding her, who on every flight carried her "Polie" where ever she went and who still sleeps with 'Blankie' under her pillow. Who every Easter Sunday when we were in Vancouver, dressed up in Bunnie ears, bought a basket of foil wrapped chocolates and would traipse around Granville Island Market giving away Easter Eggs because she liked the fact she could bring smiles to people's faces. Who at lunch in a restaurant downtown one day, took paper serviettes and created a beautiful headpiece (okay so it wasn't so beautiful and she was egged on by her sister and friend) and then walked down the Avenue in front of us dancing and waving at passers-by, just because she knew it would make them smile. This young woman who when she danced made my heart ache. The gracefulness of her arms. The lissomness of her body. Her fluid motions. She was poetry in motion. A breath of fresh air. A song on the wings of love.
She is going away. Off on an adventure. Off to see the big wide world beyond the borders of her home.
It is a big adventure. She leaves tomorrow at 1:30pm in the afternoon. She's off to learn and grow and leap and soar.
How can I be sad?
I have spent her lifetime building a foundation of love upon which she can stand, no matter where in the world she is.
For no matter where she roams on this great big amazing ball spinning through space, she will always be grounded in the love that roots her in my heart. She will always stand firm on the love that courses through every fibre of her body.
She is a gift. Her flight is a miracle to witness, a beautiful present of life and love and living free.
She leaves tomorrow.
Today, I have time for love and laughter. A couple of tears and lots of smiles. A few more moments to breathe in the incredible essence of this young woman who is strong enough to know, when she shares her beauty and her heart without fear, she has nothing to lose for she is holding onto nothing but Love and Love will never let her down.
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Limitations live only in our minds. But if we use our imaginations, our possibilities become limitless. Jamie PaolinettiShe sat patiently on the seat of her walker. Waiting. I drove up to the curb by the front doors of the shelter and she stood up and slowly walked towards me. "I was just about to call a cab," she said, panic rising in her voice. "I didn't know where you were."
I smiled as I helped maneuver her walker and her numerous bags into the back of my car. "I'm glad I got here in time then," I replied.
I wasn't late. She had forgotten our conversation on Saturday when we'd set the time for me to pick her up. She was too excited. Anxious. She was about to participate in Two Bit Oper eh? Shun and her mind wasn't really focused on details.
I got her to the theatre where she will spend the next five days working on Power Play: Homelessness, participatory Forum theatre facilitated by David Diamond of Headlines Theatre.
As she walked through the doors of the theatre, wheeling her walker before her, she was like a play unfolding all on its own. She has a locker at the shelter. A place to store her things. Not big, packed full, like a thousand other lockers in the building, it overflows with clothes and trinkets and personal belongings. Entire lives held in the confines of a metal locker.
On her walker, her life precedes her. A bag dangles from each handle. The seat is packed with a backpack and another bag. A metal pannier sits on the front, loaded with another bag and a jacket. "I never know what I'm going to need during the day," she says. "And staff don't have a lot of time to take people up to their lockers so I gotta plan for every eventuality."
Plan for every eventuality.
In homelessness, an eventuality is seldom what you expect. They arrive unplanned. Unanticipated. A fall. A sudden turn can all lead somewhere unexpected. The hospital. Jail. A theatre lobby.
She had wanted to take part in Power Play: Homelessness. She had sent in her application but missed the message telling her when she needed to turn up for her interview. It's the thing about homelessness. In a busy shelter, sometimes, messages go missing. Lost. Taken down before read from the bulletin board. The message bearer forgetting to pass on the message.
For her, that missed message lead to a missed appointment.
"What am I going to do about the play next week?" she'd asked me Saturday night as we prepared for the opening of Two Bit Oper Eh? Shun.
The rehearsals started the next morning. My mind raced with ideas on how to make it happen for her. "You're going to sit right here and wait for me to come back with the coordinator," I said. "She's just out in the lobby getting things ready."
I raced off and grabbed the coordinator. She agreed to do the interview right then and there. Arrangements were made and my friend with the walker is now in the play.
As we drove she whispered shyly. "You know, I made enough from Two Bit. I could afford to take a cab."
"You don't want to spend your hard earned money on a cab," I replied. "This is easy."
Her mobility is limited because of a dislocated hip. She doesn't heal well. Diabetes doesn't help. And, living in a shelter, her diet doesn't always present opportunities for wellness.
For Sarah*, it doesn't matter. She is filled with possibilities.
"Do you think I could work with you on a newsletter?" she asks. "Something just for the clients. We could include tips on how to survive life in a shelter. Maybe even recipes." She pauses. I wonder about the recipes idea. Her enthusiasm sweeps me up in the possibilities. "You'd have to help me. I don't write very well. But I'd sure work hard at making it work."
I've promised to give her a notebook to write down ideas. "How about journaling this week. Ask the other participants to write down their thoughts too. And then we can create a story out of your journey through Power Play."
She turns her face towards me. High forehead banded by a blue bandanna. She beams. A smile bright and excited. "That would be really nice. I'd like to do that."
I've got a notebook I can take this morning. She's filled with possibilities. All I need to do is give her the space to write them in.
We created the video below for my presentation on Sunday, January 24 at a public forum, ART MATTERS. I'm pretty excited about the possibilities of what can happen when we give voice to the power of art and the creative process to awaken spirit. At the Forum, their Excellencies the Right Honourable Michaelle Jean, Governor General of Canada, and Mr. Jean-Daniel Lafond, will be in attendance to participate in the investigation of 'the power and purpose of using the arts to address social justice.'
To read more about the Possibilities Project, click here.
Monday, January 18, 2010
The praise that comes from love does not make us vain, but more humble. James M. Barrie
They first met a year ago in December. They weren't sure of the outcome. There wasn't a destination, or path. Just a group of people coming together to share some time to sing and chat and learn and grow.
Saturday night, the destination became apparent. The path clear. They had come together to create a story of life. To stir our hearts in Love.
A story of life and love unfolding. Growing. Becoming visible.
And visible it did become for the over five hundred people who filled the pews of Grace Presbyterian Church. With eyes wide-open, we sat in awe, listening to the sights and sounds, feasting on the beauty of the spirit awakening as we fell In Love.
Love isn't always gentle. Life isn't always pretty. Sometimes, love is a poignant reminder that life is fragile. Life is short. Life ends. And sometimes, as in Two Bit Oper Eh? Shun, love is the story of a young girl's life ending in death on the street. Murder. The killer never found.
This story they wrote. This motely crew of performers from all walks of life -- it was a story of love so stripped bare we felt it whispering throughout the night.
There was love. A paper crane floating in the air, the name of someone who died on the street written on its wing. A prayer fluttering in the wind.
There was love. A note from a violin piercing our hearts with its plaintiff call to awaken. To stir. To open our minds and hearts. To Stop. the numbing grind of poverty pulling someone under.
The characters in the play that unfolded before our eyes on Saturday night were diverse. There was John Harris, guitar player, I wrote about him in December as part of the 12 Days of Christmas. He composed a flamenco inspired piece that was both dramatic and compelling. And Max Ciesielski who composed a haunting piano lullaby to accompany soprano Elizabeth Stepkowski Tarhan who asked, "Who will save the children?" When describing what having a place to practice his art means to him, Max said, "I knew I had something to say. I knew I had a voice. You showed me how to find it and you told me how to use it."
Norm Saunders, vocalist on our recording of Stand by Me , wrote the lyrics to an amazing piece, Broken Down, that composer Marcel Bergman created to showcase Norm's voice and the powerful lyrics of his song. "We gotta Stop and look around. We gotta mend the broken down."
Members of the Found Sound Orchestra, Robert Ramstead, Aubrey Miller, and Scott Chunn also contributed poetry and story as did Debbie Emmet who shared an eulogy for a client who died at Christmas. Jenn Carew folded a thousand cranes on which 166 had names of clients who had died since 2002. Eighteen of those individuals were murdered.
It was a night of beauty. Of soul touching honesty. Of breath taking humility.
It was deep. Stirring. Disturbing. Moving. Profound and through it all, Love whispered. It whispered and wept and cried out. It beat a drum. It vibrated in the air on the pluck of a violin string resonating in harmony against the powerful pull of a cello plaintively calling it to stir. Love roared and the audience lifted their heads in awe.
We were humbled.
As a fellow concert-goer said, "What is so beautiful to witness is the absolute purity of the performers from the Drop-In. In their not trying to be actors, in their not being anyone other than who they are, they are the true artists. They bring an incredible beauty to the show that leaves me breathless."
Breathless. Like Debbie Emmet during the show who gasps and chokes as the singers cry out in despair during a piece about addictions.
Breathless. Like Jenn Carew standing on six inch stiletto's, a tiny figure in black high up in the choir seats looking down at vocalist Doug McKeag trying to climb up to touch a bit of flesh. "Nobody gets hurt," he sings about prostitution. "Everybody gets paid."
In their sharing their stories with such breath-taking honesty, they awoke each of us to that which connects us; our shared experience of humanity. They stripped away our defenses and left us vulnerable to Love.
To read a review from the Calgary Herald, click here. To read some background on Onalea and the casts work in creating Two Bit Oper eh? Shun, click here.
Saturday, January 16, 2010
Friday, January 15, 2010
Great art grabs you against your will, and then suspends your will. Ken WilberI got excited last night by great art in the making. I was at a rehearsal for a play that will be performed Saturday night. "Two Bit Oper eh? Shun" is an oratoria created by Marcel Bergmann and Onalea Gilbertson. I wrote about Onalea as one of my 12 Days of Christmas at the Shelter, She Lights Up Our Lives. She's an amazing woman. Talented. Creative. Compassionate and, she sings like an angel.
For the past several months, Onalea and her cast have been coming into the shelter to rehearse in the multi-purpose room on the sixth floor. Along with several clients who are taking part, they've sung and built found object instruments and written poems and songs and stretched their creative muscles to encompass their past in a musical piece that touches hearts and opens minds to the sorrow and the possibilities on the street.
Last night, sitting listening and watching the rehearsal, I was struck by the possibilities of the human spirit to stretch and shift and slide into another space and awareness that can only be opened up through art -- and in this case -- sound art.
So, that led me to thinking how powerful sound is as a healing force. Which lead me to go researching information on sound and healing (quite fascinating) which eventually lead me to ask the question of my favourite online assistant, Google, What color is my aura?
And I came across this cool quiz.
Click the here and take the test to find out what colour your aura is. It's fun and easy and interesting!
In my delving into Googleland, I also came across a whole series of sites related to Sound and healing. One of the most fascinating ones is a site I know I will visit again and again. The Temple of Sacred Sound is an interactive website. I entered one of the Toning Chambers and spent a magical ten minutes meditating on OM as beautiful visuals of lotus blossoms and stars and spirals floated across my monitor. It was transcendental -- and left me feeling peaceful and calm and full of gratitude.
And, because I spent way more time visiting sites this morning, I'm late! So, this post is inspired by my friend Maureen's, All Art Friday, blog. A compendium of interesting tidbits picked up along the journey of living life in the exclamation zone of... WoW! And, if you've never visited or read Ken Wilber's work, visit his site here, or visit the Integal Institute here. -- and give yourself lots of time. I always become immersed in wonder for hours when I visit.
And so, I leave you with this peace-inducing video which I hope creates a state of being in Love within your heart that you will carry with you throughout your day. Nameste.
Thursday, January 14, 2010
Beauty isn't just in the face. It's in everything.
Kearstyn (age 14)
He is fourteen. A member of Canada's First Nations. His home life is not ideal. He has 'seen it all'. Witnessed man's cruelty to man. Man's despair laid bare by alcohol and drugs, by decades of abuse. It doesn't make a difference. He is fourteen and he is determined to make a difference. He is convinced he can create a different world.
I am ... older. A mature woman. A guest presenter. In his classroom to talk about the shelter where I work and things that lead to homelessness. It's part of my job. A part I love. Speaking up to prevent, however I can, youth from falling through the cracks and onto the street. I use my story as a tool to demonstrate how unhealthy relationships can lead to unhealthy places.
"That relationship was really unhealthy," I tell the class. "And I had to be unhealthy to be in it."
It is the same truth with homelessness. Shelters are not the 'healthiest' place to be. We do our best. Absolutely. But we cannot be healthy if only because, the people who come to us are unhealthy in where they're at in life, what they're doing, how they're doing it. Unhealthy people create unhealthy spaces. Unhealthy spaces foster unhealthy people.
I talk about being unhealthy and the journey back to well-being. "It must have been hard," one student states.
"It was neither hard nor easy," I reply. "It was a decision. A choice. To create more of what I wanted in my life. Every day. Joy. Well-being. Happiness. Love. To get more of what I wanted, I had to choose things that lead me closer to my goal. And that meant doing things that were healthy for me."
He listened. Intently. He asked questions. Pointed. Deep. He observed and listened and participated.
And when I finished he came up to me and asked. "Can I give you a hug? I think you're a really courageous person."
"I'd love a hug," I replied.
We hugged and he stepped back. "Thank you for what you said. You inspired me."
It was a long day. Back to back presentations to three Grade 10 classes. Back to back story-telling, to ignite, inspire, challenge their thinking.
The hard part is looking at some of those kids and seeing the effects of unhealthy parenting in their lives. The lassitude, cynicism, despair. Not in all of them. Most were engaged. Interested. Questioning. Thoughtful.
But those handful who sat watching, their eyes wary, their minds shut off, their bodies hunched forward, chins dropped to their chests. They disturbed me. They saddened me. When did their light go out? Where did it go?For some of them, the classroom is the only place they could feel safe. Safe from the violence and abuse and drugs and alcohol in their homes. Safe. and numb. For some, to cope with what goes on around them, they feel compelled to numb themselves. To cut themselves off from feeling. Knowing. Seeing. They have already learned the safest place to be is in that place where they sit, empty eyes staring out sightlessly at me.
They are the future clients of shelters across the country. Of prison cells and halfway houses. They sadden me.
We should be able to do better for our children. We must.
And then this young man walked up and offered me a hug and I remembered. If all I do is touch one life, I have made a difference. One life is enough.
Yesterday, I was blessed to touch many lives. One, this young man. Another, the young girl who's quoted above. She too was engaged. Eager to participate. Challenging and challenged by the conversation. As she left I thanked her for her participation. "I really appreciated your questions and input," I told her.
She stopped packing up her backpack. Hesitated. A shy smile lifting the corners of her mouth. "Really?"
"Really." I replied.
And then she started to share. A messy relationship that ended two weeks prior. "He was only using me," she said. She is fourteen. How can a fourteen year old know so much about what no one should ever have to learn? "How long does it take to be able to talk so easily?" she asks.
I smile. There was a time when speaking in front of groups made me nervous. Made my voice quiver, my mind go blank.
"If you're passionate about what you're doing, it's easy," I reply. "Like your story. You've got the power to touch other girls. To awaken them to being their best."
"Absolutely," I reply. "Use your story or it will use you. Use it to create a changed world and the world will change."
She too reminds me that, changing the world begins with one.
Changing the world begins with each one of us doing one thing to touch another, to tell them how amazing they are, to validate their presence in our lives, in the room, in the moment.
I went in search of the video below in honour of these young people who will change the world because they are changing themselves. They are challenging what is, with their belief they can create the world of their dreams by being who they are meant to be.
I was validated yesterday. It felt good. I hope this video validates you too.
I hope you feel good about yourself today. You are amazing.
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
The nine bags represent all her worldly possessions. They were filled and placed in the storage room when she was barred for thirty days for rudeness and disrespectful behaviour (this time her rudeness didn't even come close to last time and the time before, but bars are cumulative and no matter the relative 'mildness' of her transgressions she has stretched the rules too far) -- in this case she swore at an outside volunteer. Do not curse or swear at outside volunteers. They are the lifeblood of the shelter.
She was barred and had to find another place to stay. A staff member and a client volunteer (female) packed up her locker and placed the bags in storage.
"Who packed up my bags?" she asks. "I saw my headphones on someone on the second floor. They're not supposed to give my stuff away. Yet. They're at least supposed to wait until my bar is up and I can reclaim my stuff. Why'd they do that?"
I have asked staff for permission for her to come and retrieve a few items, or all of them if she so wishes. She's got a special event Saturday night and needs a few clothes.
"Perhaps you were mistaken," I suggest. "Maybe someone else has earphones just like yours."
"No way," she insists. "Nobody else has a headset like that." She describes them in detail. "I know they were mine. Why'd they give them away?"
I don't have an answer. I wait and watch her rummage some more, praying she finds them soon.
She finds her headphones in bag 3 of 9. She takes them out and like a child opening her favourite present at Christmas, she exclaims. "Look. They're here!" She holds them up proudly to show me her prize.
"This is a good lesson," I say, never wanting to miss an opportunity for learning.
She ignores me. Starts rummaging through another bag. "My camera's missing. Two more bags to go. It better be here."
I stand back and wait. I wonder how many other agency workers have stood back and waited as she rummaged through whatever bag she had. Her whole world in a black garbage bag.
She's 19 years old.
She rummages and I look for conversation starters. "How long have you been at the shelter", I ask.
She stops rummaging. Thinks for a moment. "Well, let me see. My kid was born in March 08. They took her from me seven months later. So, since Thanksgiving 08."
"What do you want?" I ask.
She snorts through her nose. Flips her long blonde hair over one shoulder. "Obviously to get out of here." Pause. "Though I guess that's kinda stupid right now. I'm not even staying here."
She pulls up her sweatshirt and shows me her belly where it pushes out above the top of her jeans. "I can't even do up my top button," she says, her hands demonstrating the distance between the button and the button hole. "What's with that?"
"Are you pregnant?
"Maybe. Only problem is, it'd be Joe's. I don't want his kid." She scrunches up her face. "Yuck. No way do I want his kid."
"I'd think you wouldn't want any kid right now," I suggest.
"Not really," she says. "It'd be easier to get help if I had a kid. There's all sorts of programs that would help me with my jail stuff and court and school. I'd probably even get some government assistance and could finish high school." Pause.
I don't know what to say. I stay silent. Listening. Open. Attentive.
"I dropped out," she tells me. "When they took my kid from me." She rummages through another bag. Six of nine. "I gotta find my camera. It's got pictures of my kid on it."
I stand mute. I watch her rummaging. Remember back to a time when my world centered on a few plastic garbage bags. A backpack. A suitcase. My world on the run.
I stand mute and watch and feel the sadness wash over me.
Forgive her Father. She is but a child. She knows not what she does.
Forgive me Father for I have sinned.
We are connected.
Nine black garbage bags. Fear of losing what little remains. Fear of what is happening to her life. Fear it will always be like this. That this, this craziness, uncertainty, shifting sands, unsettling times will never stop.
Will anyone ever love me? Know me? See me?
She shakes another bag. "I gotta downsize," she says.
And there, in the bottom of a bag, tucked between a pair of light grey sweats and one dirty sock she finds it.
She looks up at me. Holds up her prize.
"I didn't really think they took it," she says.
She tries to turn it on but the battery is dead. She starts to rummage again.
"I gotta find the charger. I want to show you the pictures of my kid."
I look at her bowed head. She is just a kid herself. I stand in the doorway and prop it open. She is just a kid. I have no answers for her.
I wait to see the pictures of her kid.
The charger is missing. "Why would they just take my charger and not the camera?" she asks.
I have no answers for her. I want to say, look again.
But I know it would be futile.
The pictures will have to wait.
For now, I know she's safe. Staying at another agency. She's got a plan. I hope it works out so that she can quit rummaging through plastic bags and find a place to stay put.
Maybe it will.
She quits rummaging. Gathers up the meagre belongings she's retrieved from some of the nine bags left in storage. "I gotta go for a blood test this week," she says. "I don't want it to be his kid."
I wonder if she really knows what she really wants. I wonder if she's ever had a chance to find out.
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Hell has three gates: lust, anger, and greed. Bhagavad GitaWhen I was a little child, an uncle abused me. It didn't happen, my mother decreed, not out of vindictiveness or a desire to hurt me but rather out of a need to protect herself from fear and sorrow and a truth she couldn't deal with. As I grew into a woman and found the courage to look at those events long ago, I found the duality of my journey. In my consciousness rising, the question arose, "If it didn't happen, what happened to me to make me so ill at ease with myself? It must be me."
I craved, I yearned, I lusted after the truth about me. And, as happens to many who suffered abuse at a young age, to compensate for my disbelief about what had happened, I disowned my body and separated from my psyche. Lust drove me to understand. Lust drove me to hurt myself. Lust drove me into unloving arms and painful situations as I craved to find the real me beneath the lie I could not escape, "It was all my fault."
And then I had daughters, two of them, and the truth came howling in with the ferocity of a double barrel shotgun blasting the tentative walls of my resistance to smithereens in one resounding crash. Their childhoods were my responsibility. I could be a good mother if I gave up lusting for knowledge of what's wrong with me and embraced the miracle of my birthright to be all I'm meant to be. "What happened to me as a child was not my fault. What happens to me as an adult is my responsibility." became my mantra and I stepped timidly into the waters of self-revelation, seeking to reclaim my soul and my wonder of the miracle of my birth.
And still I struggled.
I lusted for what I couldn't find within me. I yearned for what I didn't know how to touch. I craved for that which no one else could give me to make me whole.
Love of me myself and I. All of me as One within me.
And then, one night I stood out on the street dressed in skimpy clothing, kewpie doll make-up and false eye-lashes fluttering to disguise the fear in my eyes as I went eyeball to eyeball with man after man named john who drove up to my corner of the street, lusting for the elixir of my body enveloping theirs.
I had been coached. I had spent countless hours researching what I was doing. I had interviewed prostitutes and johns and pimps. And still, I had no idea what was in store for me that night.
I stood on the corner, exposed, frightened, terrified. Further down the street two under cover police officers watched, protecting me. Keeping me in their sights. And still I felt alone. A piece of meat on display for wandering johns to encircle, examine, vet. Yes I lust for you. No I don't.
I was 'prepared'. But nothing could prepare me for the dirty feeling of being lusted after by men who trolled the streets searching for escape from whatever demon drove them there.
Nothing could prepare me for the sorrow, the pain, the abasement that drove up in family sedans, baby-seat in the back, Best Dad license plate in tow.
I was humbled. Shattered. Released.
For years I had struggled to own my body, to reclaim the fragments of my being that had separated, that constantly disengaged whenever I came upon one of life's turmoils and felt unnerved by the encounter. For years, I had known my defense was to separate, to become the observer of my actions, the watcher watching me do whatever I was doing that hurt me. And it hurt.
Through therapy and group encounters, breath work, body work, Gestalt therapy and a trunk load of self-help books and affirmations, I lusted for release from what ailed me within, only to keep coming up against my desire to watch me watching myself hurting me in some self-denigrating way that confirmed once again, "I can take it. It's not my fault. It's just the way I am. I am worthless."
And then I stood out on the street, my body exposed, my limbs trembling as I approached a car and asked, "You looking for some fun?"
And he replied. "What ya got?" The john behind the wheel. The faceless man who lusted after me wanted to see my wares. And I denied him. I stepped back from the curb. Back from the open door, slammed it shut and stated my choice. "Not tonight."
Dust to dust. He drove away and a little bit of my body returned to me.
I did it. Again and again.
"Hi. Looking for some fun?"
Step back. Slam door.
I kept doing it and kept finding myself beneath the power of that door closing on some faceless man's lust for me.
It was unexpected. Surprising. Amazing almost.
With every door slammed on some john's proposition lusting after me, I found my voice and my courage to say, "No. I deserve more than answering some nameless craving for more pain, more grist for the mill grinding me into dust. I am worth more than I have given me in the past. I am worthy."
It was the night lust drove me home to where I belong within me.
It's another Blog Carnival Tuesday! Sponsored by Bridget Chumbley of "One Word at a Time" and Peter Pollock of "Rediscovering the Church", today's word is "lust". I wondered what I would write on what I found to be such a challenging word. I am surprised by what came out when I trusted in the process and let myself sink beneath the surface to where lust opened the door to possibility of another place beyond the hell of where I was at once upon a time. For a day of great reading, amazing ideas and writers, check out the others' contributions here at Bridget's place.
Monday, January 11, 2010
Ellie was ecstatic. Snow still covers the ground and she took great pleasure in rolling and slithering her body through it. She dug her nose into it, flipped it up into the air and created mini-snowfalls all around her. She danced and pranced and dug deep into its frosty depths, following the scent of other critter's paths, following the scent of her own joy.
She didnt' question where she was walking, or how or what she was doing. She just did. Enjoy.
As I walked along a path on the ridge overlooking the river, I carefully stepped across icy patches in the trail. It was treacherous in places. Ice covered the path in a narrow band, the hillside fell away sharply. Footing was important.
I thought about stepping cautiously. Stepping consciously. About stepping carefully. Stepping with care.
Cautious steps left me less balanced. In my focus on my footing, my head was down, my energy centered around 'not falling'.
Conscious steps kept my feet firmly planted on the ground, stepping assuredly across the icy patches.
It was a small step, a slight shift in how I fulfilled on my intention to enjoy my afternoon in the sun, and it made a difference.
When I focused on not slipping on the ice, my thoughts were all about my fear of falling. With fear-driving thoughts running through my head, I was less confident in my progress.
When I leaned into my fear and focused my attention on stepping across the icy patches, trusting in my ability to navigate the trail, regardless of its terrain, I wasn't thinking about falling. I was committed to my intention to have a wonderful walk in the sun and snow and air. I needed to walk with care, not to avoid falling, but rather, to enjoy my time in the outdoors. Confident in my ability to carry me over any uncertain terrain, I stepped assuredly where ever I went. With my thoughts focused on taking care to be conscious of where and how I was walking, not because I feared I might fall, but simply because I was enjoying my walk, I felt more centered, more balanced, less exposed to the risk of falling.
It's all in my attention and how I focus my thoughts on my intention.
When I focus on the litany of what someone did to hurt me, forgiveness feels hard. It feels difficult. Challenging. Sometimes, even impossible.
When I focus on the benefits of forgiveness, on how I am choosing to forgive to set myself free, and put my attention on the person I am forgiving, not their sins against me, forgiveness flows into my body filling me with grace. The steel bands constricting my heart, limiting my movement and my enjoyment, are released and I am free to pass confidently from anger, resentment, bitterness and regret into the healing grace of forgiveness.
It's all in my attention and intention. When I put my attention on my intention: In forgiveness I set myself free -- rather than my fear that if I forgive the other person will get away with having hurt me -- I cut the bounds that tie me to his/her wrongdoing and set myself free to flow joyfully into what I am doing. In forgiveness, I do not have to worry about whether they'll get theirs. I am not the keeper of the Universal scales of justice. I am the keeper of my own journey, my tranquility, my peace of mind.
When I focus on all the reasons why I do not, cannot, will not 'walk in faith', I talk myself out of surrendering my ego, and falling into love.
Yesterday, I set a vow to be One with God.
It is an act of faith. A belief that the Divine within me is a reflection of the Divine spirit of love flowing in and around and under and behind and below and through me.
I am a child of God, the Divine expression of Her amazing grace.
In my expression of the Spirit within me, I take a leap of faith. I leap into the Spirit of living my one and only life passionately in love with the rapture of now unfolding all around me.
I don't worry about stepping carefully. Where I step doesn't change the value of my journey. No matter the terrain, when I walk with faith that I am supported throughout my journey, in every way, in every step, I travel with confidence, no matter the obstacles, no matter the road, trusting the path will reveal itself as I journey joyfully through each moment of my life. Walking as One with God within me, I become all I am and all I can be in Love.
In Love, I surrender and soar free of the chains that bind me to living my life in fear of falling.