Dare boldly

A blog by Louise Gallagher


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All my relations

In South Africa it is called Ubuntu.

Here, where the fierce prairie winds are not strong enough to blow away the memories of colonization and the residential schools that did their best to rip cultural identity out of the child with such force the scars still seep from the trauma today, it is called, “All My Relations.”  That place where who I am is because you are who you are and what happens to me impacts the we of who we are together.

Yesterday, I attended a ‘Listening Session” on off-reserve indigenous affordable housing. There were five of us at the round table where I sat. Three of us were non-Indigenous.

One of the questions asked for feedback on how to increase length of stay in housing for Indigenous people after being housed in an urban setting.

“Stop making us feel unwanted everywhere we go, where ever we live” said one man who came from a reserve many years ago and now leads an agency which provides housing for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people exiting homelessness. “Stop discrimination.”

A tall order. Stop discrimination.

Yet, when I see it through its simplest frame, it appears so sensible. So obvious. Stop discriminating against the things we do not understand, the people we do not know, the history we do not want to think about. Stop seeing the world as ‘us and them’ and see it as, “All My Relations.”

One of the other individuals at our table whose PhD made him the most highly educated amongst, us shared the story of how, as a teenager, holding his first pay cheque in hand, he went to the grocery store to cash it.

“I didn’t have a bank account and my mom always cashed her cheques there,” he shared.

When he asked if he could cash it the manager said, without glancing at the cheque but staring only at his brown face. “You’ve got a welfare cheque already?”

All My Relations.

We are not separate. We are the same kind of different. The same human condition appearing in all its manifestations.

On this day in a week focused on celebration of National Aboriginal Day, I check to see where my privilege has landed me and find myself once again in that space of humility.

No one has ever refused to rent to me because of the colour of my skin.

I have never been denied service in a restaurant because I represent an entire nation of people whose culture, history, ceremonies and language were destroyed by the privilege I carry.

No one has ever called me names as I walked down the street that are meant to malign my culture, my past, my people.

And no one has ever spit on me, kicked me or beat me up because I am ‘a dirty Indian’.

Yet it has happened to thousands of my neighbours. To the people who called this land home long before the white man came and planted their roots and claimed this land as their own.

And it keeps happening.

I don’t discriminate against those who are ‘different’ than me but when I do not speak up, when I do not stand with those who have been beaten down because they are Indigenous, I am perpetuating the trauma through my silence and lack of action.

I saw my privilege laid out before me on a round table yesterday.

It is not a pretty thing to see when cast in the light of the trauma and pain its presence causes others.

It is of no benefit to me or the world around me if I do not use it to create better for those for whom the privilege of being treated with dignity, respect, honour is denied because, even though their connection to this land is deeper than mine, the colour of their skin and the vibrancy of their culture, once made them ‘savages’.

Long before the white man came, this land was filled with hope and promise. It was filled with rich and vibrant culture, with ceremony and peace pipes and drums beating.

We cannot turn back time, but we can turn the page to find ourselves writing a different story of how we treat one another. How we build tolerance, compassion, understanding, truth and dignity into our world. We can write a new story where we acknowledge, All My Relations is made of each of us doing better, every day, to build a Canada that is good for everyone.

Namaste.


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#BadLuckCanComeToAnyone – homelessness can’t

A friend (Thanks Nick Falvo!) sends me a link to a Tweet by Helen Clark, former leader of New Zealand.

It’s a catchy hashtag — #BadLuckCanComeToAnyone

But when it’s used in comparison to homelessness? It’s just not not true.

Homelessness isn’t caused by bad luck, unless of course you think it’s bad luck to be born into poverty, or suffer from untreated mental health issues or an addiction, or suffer from all sorts of aspects of the human condition for which there are no resources and little help.

Homelessness isn’t caused by bad luck, and it doesn’t come to ‘anyone’.

It arrives at your front door when there’s no other place to go. It arrives, unwanted, when you’ve run out of options and have no other alternative than to walk away from the one place you desperately tried to hold onto, but couldn’t because there were no social supports available to assist you when you desperately needed them.

Bad luck can happen for anyone, but homelessness happens to those for whom access to education, resources, supports, financial aid and social services are lacking.

It happens when cities grow and push people out of the areas where they could afford to live and push up the price of housing to a cost they can’t afford.

It happens to people who do not have the resilience to withstand environmental and economic disasters, to weather the storms of life and still find themselves standing at the end of the line looking for resources that don’t travel that far down the line.

It happens to people who have to make tough choices every day; do I put food on my table? Do I move because my landlord just jacked up my rent by $100 a month when I couldn’t afford it in the first place, but this is an expensive city and I won’t find anything cheaper anyway? Do I pay for insurance? Do I license my car which I need to get to work because there’s no bus service to the only job I can find? Do I risk a $250 ticket because I don’t have $3.25 to pay for the ride, but I have to file these papers to get the help I desperately need to keep a roof over my family’s heads? Do I buy the proper work boots to get a job or do I pay for my child’s school supplies? Do I pay for a course I desperately need to get a better paying job, or do I feed my family?

And yes, sometimes, the decision is to buy that next fix that will help you forget the dire straits, the stress and turmoil, the helplessness you feel living with poverty, anxiety, hopelessness.

But it’s not the addiction that causes homelessness.

It’s a result of the economic and emotional poverty that takes a toll. It beats down those for whom the lack of mental health supports, the stress of living with the constant strain of trying to stretch every cent to cover the days of the month, knowing there are more days than cents in every month, and keeps them trapped in poverty until there’s nowhere else to go but that place called, Homeless.

Homelessness is not bad luck.

People don’t ‘make’ a decision to be homeless or to be housed. They are forced into it because we make decisions as a society that result in people not being able to access housing they can afford, find help for their physical and mental health or attain a level of education that sustains them so they can weather life’s storms.

Homelessness is a symptom. It’s not the issue.

So yes, bad luck can come to anyone. Homelessness can’t, but it does, when we don’t ensure those living on the margins have access to the resources they need to climb out from the depths of poverty. A poverty we created through government policies and social frameworks that are not robust enough to support people who do not have the same good fortune as the privileged who were not born in poverty, or without mental health and physical issues they can’t afford to take care of.

Posing as homeless to raise awareness may help people shift their perceptions, but comparing homelessness to bad luck that can happen to anyone is not the answer.

We can end homelessness. But we, the collective, have to do things differently to make it happen. Let’s start with not calling homelessness ‘bad luck’.


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Aging with grace

Have you ever been faced with an opportunity and upon what you thought to be sober second thought, said “No” when you could have said, “YES!”

Life is filled with such passages. Those moments where if I’d had the courage, if I’d taken the chance, I might have done ‘a’ instead of ‘b’ and who knows where I’d be today. I can’t change the past, but I can heal the spaces where those decisions continue to present me with opportunities to let go of the fear, or perhaps insecurities, or maybe confusion that held me back from living my life bravely.

According to Thomas Moore, whose soul-centered philosophy speak deeply to me, some of those passages need to be healed, or we stay stuck. In our stuckedness, the unhealed passage leaves us acting out in immature, unconscious ways that limit the grace with which we pass through each day and ultimately, prevent us from knowing grace in aging.

“Passages are not always easy. You may decide it is too much for you and settle for being stuck in a comfortable phase.” — Thomas Moore, Ageless Soul

Moore suggests we look back on our lives and see various passages as linked by plateaus which represent the stages of our lives. Not necessarily the ‘aged’ stages, but rather, the significant events which make up our growing. School. Marriage. Travel. Jobs. Adventures…

Sometimes, we don’t navigate the passages between plateaus well. Sometimes, in our inability to let go of one plateau to pass through to another, we refuse to say yes to possibility and hold onto, or stay stuck in, what was and can never be again.

There are many ways to heal those broken passages.

The first step is to draw a timeline of your life, mark the significant events and then, mark those opportunities on it that you didn’t take, those moments where you said No when you could have said Yes but something held you back.

Look for patterns, for spaces where your reason for No carried over into other areas of your life, even when you wanted to say Yes.

Now, hold those moments lovingly in your mind, and let compassion, love, acceptance pour over them. Let your heart open wide to the realization that in those instances you chose No, not because you couldn’t do it, but rather, because doing it was too risky, scary, fear-inducing, or you just felt more comfortable staying stuck.

And then, say, “I see you. I forgive you. I let go. I am peaceful with my decision today.”

Repeat often.

 

 


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Thirty-one years of love.

She is kind.

She is thoughtful.

She is sensitive.

She is heartfelt.

She is creative.

She gives. She shares. She teaches. She learns. She grows.

In everything she does, she creates space. For creative expression. To be heard. To be seen. To be felt. To be known. For herself and for others.

She writes. She sings. She dances. She paints.

With every ounce of her being, she is Love. Loving. Loveable and loved.

She is my eldest daughter and from the moment I first felt her being stirring within my body, I have loved her with all my heart.

Today, she turns 31.

photo by @brit_gill

It is hard to imagine that 31 years have passed since she took her first breath outside the protective womb of my body and began the journey into growing into the amazing woman she is today. That it’s been 31 years since she first cast her web of loving delight upon the world, a web that she continuously spins full of heartfelt living, love and thoughtful wonder.

Thirty-one years ago today, I fell in love so completely, I have never come out from under the spell. I don’t want to. Loving Alexis has been a journey through time and space and understanding and growing and learning more and more every day about what it means to love unconditionally.

Being her mother has taught me how to let go of my fear I will never do it right, or be enough. To apologize and forgive and make amends and keep loving through it all. She has shown me how to fearlessly give into the one thing that connects us; through stormy nights and sun-filled days and all the weather in-between. Because, loving Alexis has taught me there is no end to love between a mother and her daughter.

Thank you my darling daughter for being your amazing self.  Happy Birthday!


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The best laid plans…

I had a great plan.

  1. Get back into the studio in the evenings. (I haven’t been in the studio throwing paint for a few weeks now. Busy-ness. New Job. Several events. Summer-like evenings and all that jazz kept getting in my way.)
  2. Wake up earlier (5am) to be able to meditate half an hour every morning followed by half an hour of yoga.
  3. Go to bed earlier. Lights out by 10:30.
  4. Check my diet. Ensure it is laden with nutrients and healthy foods.
  5. Walk an hour a day.

 

And, like many best laid plans, life got in the way.

Well, a cold actually.

I have managed to fulfill on Step 3 — Go to bed earlier. Sleep is about all that has been calling to me this past week and weekend. Sleep and more sleep. In fact, Saturday, which was a perfect summer day in the studio because of the rain, I did not get out of bed all day.

That’s the thing about ‘plans’.

You gotta be flexible. Adaptable. Kind.

Flexible enough to adapt your plan to unforeseen circumstances. A cold was not on my agenda, but, working back at a frontline homeless-serving agency it is in some ways inevitable. New venue. New germs. And as this is a child and family centered agency, there are always lots of germs floating around.

Years ago, when I started working at an adult shelter, even though I’m not frontline staff, I got a cold every month for a year. After that, my immune system had strengthened itself enough, I didn’t get another cold for the next five years I worked there.

 

I figure this may be part of my modus operendi. Condition my immune system with variable germs until its strong enough to defend itself.

At least, that’s the plan.

But then, you know what happens to the best laid plans…

We either adapt to present conditions or the plan falls apart.

In the case of a plan that doesn’t follow my script, there’s only one thing I can do, be kind to myself by treating myself with tender loving care, and when conditions improve, give myself the grace to …

Begin again.

 

 

Always begin again.

I am on the mend. The bloom is off my cold as its love affair with my immune system wanes. There are clear nasal passages and fewer coughs on the horizon.

All is good. My plan for now is to treat myself with tender loving care, allowing myself the grace to not appear anywhere at 5am except my bed. And if getting up whenever I get up does not allow enough time to appear here on the page, I’m okay with that too. It’s all in the plan.

Namaste.

 


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The Last Fear

In the practice circle for an online course I am participating in on ‘soulful aging’, another participant, after recounting a story of a traumatic incident from their youth, asks, “Is this the last fear that I need to fully embrace, accept and pass through?”

Upon reading their words, my mind quickly answered, “There are always more hidden fears.”

Perhaps that is my last fear. That I will come to a final fear, obstacle, hurdle and there will be nothing beyond. Not even bliss. Happiness. Joy. Contentment. Just nothing.

I smile as I write that. It sounds so existential, so empty of the promise of possibility, or as my father would say, referencing the Irish at the root of his being, ‘so James Joyce’.

I am not prone to dark thoughts, so when an automatic response such as I made this morning rises unbidden in my mind, I become curious.

Where on earth would such a dark thought arise from? I wonder.

Why on earth would would my automatic thoughts think that?

In Letters to a Young Poet, Rainier Rilke writes, “Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”  (emphasis mine)

Perhaps, rather than questioning “why would my mind think that?” the question could be, “how does fear limit my living fearlessly in this moment right now?”

Or maybe, “What is in it for me to hold onto fear?”

Or, “How does fear stop love flowing freely?”

You get it.

The questions are limitless.

The gift is found living into the questions to that place where the answer  is  always the same.

Love Deeply. Share Your heart. Be Grateful. Live Now. 

Namaste.

 

 

 

 

 


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Ubuntu – it is who we are

Differences are not intended to separate, to alienate. We are different precisely in order to realize our need of one another. ~ DESMOND TUTU ~

When I first see them, they are just two men walking down the street in opposite directions on the same sidewalk leading towards and away from the homeless shelter where I used to work.

The moment transcends ‘normal’ in one instant. As the two men pass eachother, one of the men strikes out and shoves the other man off the sidewalk onto the roadway. He falls to the ground and the other man continues to walk away.

The man on the ground jumps up. His hands are balled into fists. For one moment, he takes a belligerent stance, and then it’s gone. He’s standing facing the retreating back of the other man, his shoulders slumped forward, his arms hang loosely by his side.

I am sitting in my car, about to drive down the lane, away from the shelter where I used to work when this scene unfolded in front of me.

I am stunned. Bewildered.

I stop my car. Get out and approach the man who is still standing in the laneway. “Are you okay?” I ask.

He turns towards me. He is in his 50s, maybe 40s but it can be hard to tell sometimes how old someone who has lived the ‘streetlife’ really is, ‘the street’ can make you appear ten to fifteen years older.

“Yeah. I’m fine.” And he shrugs his shoulders and starts to walk towards the shelter.

“Is there anything I can do?” I ask.

He sighs. “No. I just got off work. I don’t wanna make no trouble. I just wanna lay down.”

I leave him, get back in my car and turn around back to the shelter. I follow him into the building. I want to make sure he’s okay.

At the security desk I wait until he’s checked in. “I’m sorry that happened to you,” I say. And I touch his shoulder with one hand.

“Yeah. Thanks.”

Tears form in his eyes. I wonder when someone last spoke to him kindly when he’s been hurt. Offered comfort. A gentle voice.

“Can I give you a hug?” I ask.

He looks at me surprised. “Sure. That would be nice.”

Later, at my meditation class I am deeply relaxed when our guide instructs us to ‘walk into the desert.’

“Walk with no intention,” says our guide. “There’s a figure walking towards you. Welcome them. See who it is.”

It is one of the two men. Not the one who was thrown to the ground. It is the perpetrator.

He is a dark shadow. Dark clothes. Dark hair. Shrouded.

As he walks towards me I want to shake him. Rattle him. Ask him why he did it. Do something to ‘make him see’.

And I realize, he cannot see me. His world is too dark. Too shadowed to see there is light all around. He is beaten down in the darkness.

I stand and hold the light around him. It is all that I can do.

It was a powerful realization. To know that there was nothing I could do to ‘make him see’, or hear or be anyone or anywhere other than that moment right there.

In that realization I knew – he didn’t see the man he shoved. He saw — his past, the pain and anger of the moment, his powerlessness to change the past, his anger at the moment.

It doesn’t make what he did right. It does make my witnessing of what he did more understandable to me.

Sometimes we do things that hurt others. We strike out — with words, with hands and fists, with guns and knives and weapons of mass destruction. We strike out against the injustice, the inhumanity, the cruelty of what has happened in our lives, what others have done to us, what we have done to them. We tell ourselves, we’re not as bad as ‘them’. We would never to that.

Standing in the desert in front of that man, I knew — I was capable of those same actions. His darkness exists in me because I can see it.

The only difference is — he can not yet see there is light within that darkness.

In Africa there is a word — Ubuntu. It means — ‘human-ness’, Humanity to others — “I am what I am because of who we all are”.

I cannot be me unless you are you and you cannot be you if I am not me. We cannot be who we are unless we each become who we truly are without prejudice, discrimination, hatred and war clouding our vision.

That man’s darkness cannot exist without my darkness. And my light cannot exist without his light.

For him to see his light, I must be my darkness and light. Hold true to my being, without being pulled into darkness.

May we all be inspired by the power of our ability to inspire others, to be our most incredible selves, even in the face of darkness.

May we all live the truth of Ubuntu so that each of us can live peacefully in the light of knowing, we are all connected in our humanity.

__________________________

I have been fighting a cold this week — hence getting up late, no time to write. This post originally appeared on my blog in 2014. I brought it forward because of a post Diana shared on her blog today at Talk to Diana— thank you Diana!