Dare boldly

A blog by Louise Gallagher


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Reflect Beauty

When all we see is hatred, all we do is based on the hatred we perceive to be real, necessary, unavoidable.

When we see kindness, caring, compassion, empathy, we do things that enhance the things we see.

Working in a family emergency shelter, it is easy to see the stress and turmoil, fear and anxiety of homelessness and the crises it brings into people’s lives and how they respond to those crises.

It is also easy to see the caring, kindness, compassion that people show to one another every day. As long as I seek to see the beauty.

Yesterday, while washing out my coffee cup in the dining area, I overheard three mothers gathered around a table chatting about their struggles to find housing.

“My kids are sitting with me and they are asking all these personal questions,” one woman said.

Another woman chimed in. “Yeah. It’s like your entire life gets laid out and they get to judge it while your kids listen in. It’s just not right.”

The third woman sat quietly listening and said, “Why don’t we arrange to take each other’s kids when we go to these interviews?”

And the conversation took a different tact as they began to talk about the things they could do to create better in their lives.

It would have been so easy for these women to get mired in the limitations of their situation, complaining about ‘the system’, seeing only the negatives. Instead, they focused on solutions and how they could help one another.

In their willingness to move beyond the limitations, their world became a reflection of friendship, community, possibility.

It’s easy in every day living to see the darkness, the limitations, the impossibilities of anything changing for the better.

It’s easy to feel trapped by current circumstances and our present world view into believing, there’s no way out of this mess.

Sometimes, when it looks like there’s no light at the end of the tunnel it’s because we’re not looking ahead, we’re only peering into the darkness and reflecting it back upon ourselves.

To see the light, we must open our eyes to the possibility of its presence, and never give into the darkness.

And the best way to do that is to do as those three women did. Seek possibilities. Find solutions. Build community.


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You Do Not Own Me

I wrote this poem last year after dinner with my eldest daughter in Vancouver. She had shared the details of an incident where some men had been cat-calling her as she walked by their construction site.

In our conversation, I shared with her the numerous times I had simply ‘walked on by’ or stood still while some man felt he had the right to overthrow decency with his innuendos and suggestions of sexual possibilities.

I remember when my daughters were little girls and some of the boys in their school (a private school btw) had started reaching up under girls skirts and pulling down their panties — My daughters refused to wear skirts. I refused to stay silent. I went to the school and spoke to the Administrator. After hearing my concerns she replied, “Boys will be boys.”

She got to hear my outrage.

Allowing statements like ‘boys will be boys’ to explain away bad behavior is how boys grow up to be men who think it’s okay to continue the behaviours that denigrate and objectify women — nobody ever taught them better.

Eventually, a group of us pulled our children from that school.

I was reminded of this poem after reading an article about Taylor Swift’s courage to speak out against a man who thought he had the right to treat her body as if he owned it.

She won the case. And my admiration along with the admiration of millions of young girls across the country.

We need to all stand up. To not stay silent. To not just keep walking on by.

Namaste.


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What’s your story?

When my daughters were younger we used to play a game as we drove along city streets. “See that man over by the bus stop? The one walking slowly with his shoulders hunched,” I’d ask. “You’ve got sixty seconds to tell the story of what’s happening in his life.”

Quickly, one of them would ‘write’ the story of his life. “He just came from the doctor’s office. He’s worried because the doctor wants him to go for some tests and he’s scared about what they’ll find. Tests always scare him. Even as a kid, he hated tests. ‘Someone’s judging you no matter what you do,’ his mother used to say. ‘Tests just confirm other people’s bad judgement of you,’ she’d add before marking up his homework with her bright red pen. The doctor told him he doesn’t think it’s cancer. He wants the test to rule it out. But the man didn’t hear the ‘not cancer’, all he hears is, ‘I’ve gotta get a test for cancer’. And he’s convinced he’ll fail.”

And we’d drive on with the story weaving itself until we spotted another person who inspired a different story.

Outside my office window at home the world unfolds every day.

A woman walks past my window every morning. The story I tell myself is that she is on her way to work. Dress pants. Coiffed hair. She has a happy step. A lightness to her gait. She steps onto the heels of her feet, rolls forward and bounces up. Her arms swing. The hem of her 3/4 length dark blue coat with shiny brass buttons swings. The large bright blue bag she carries over one shoulder swings with her.

She walks away and the space in front of my window is filled with a woman walking her Cocker Spaniel on the other side of the street. She too is dressed for work from head to ankles. White running shoes encase her feet. She walks as quickly as her old shambling dog can shuffle. He always stops at the corner where the walk from the white house of the man and lady with the red car meets the sidewalk. He always sniffs. She always waits a moment then tugs gently on his leash to get him moving.

An elderly woman walks by. Bright pink coat. Milk white hair spilling out from the edges of her cream coloured hat. It forms a halo around her face as she steps into the sun streaming towards her from the east. She walks quickly. A purposeful stride.

The story I tell myself…Morning exercise to stem the flow of time eating at long lost youth, curbing ages erosion of her well-being. She’s committed to good health. Good eating. Good living.

Outside my window, the world flows by. I like to make up stories about the people in its flow.

Sometimes, most times, I tell myself stories about all the happenings in my life. Sometimes, I’m right. Sometimes, my emotions, my memory, my experiences cast a light on the story I’m telling myself that isn’t true about the other people in my story.

Life is made up of stories.

I can make up a story for anyone, but the real stories that make a difference in my life are the one’s I tell myself that make a difference in how well I pass the time of day loving, caring and being with the ones I love.

The real stories are the one’s I’m willing to tell that bridge the gap between what’s going on, and what I tell myself is going on.

Sometimes, those stories are absurd.

Letting go of the absurd, I get real with  my story. And when I get real with my story, I get real in my life.


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Who do you choose to be?

No. 35 #ShePersisted series.
http://louisegallagher.ca/shepersisted

I read the news today, oh boy. (Thank you John Lennon and The Beatles)

About nuclear weapons, loaded and locked.

About a car crashing into a crowd.

About Taylor Swift’s court battle.

And about so much more of what is wrong in our world today.

And I felt sad. Upset. Helpless. Alone. Frightened.

I do not live well in those spaces.

I do not feel the pulse of life calling me to create, to dance, to laugh and sing when I am reading the news.

I think I’ll give up reading the news and do what Margaret Wheatley suggests in “Who do we choose to be? Facing reality, claiming leadership, restoring sanity.

“Who do you choose to be for this time? Are you willing to use whatever power and influence you have to create islands of sanity that evoke and rely on our best human qualities to create, produce and persevere?”

Hell Yah!

Reading the news gives me too much room to dive into the insanity. Creating opportunities for the news to be filled with hope, love, joy, caring — now that’s the kind of island of sanity I want to create.

I am not powerful enough to stop nuclear bombs from flying.

I am powerful enough to give my voice to those who would ban nuclear weapons from our earth.

I am not powerful enough to stop a car crashing into a crowd.

I am powerful enough to speak up in the face of discrimination, misogny, brutality, and all forms of racism.

I am not powerful enough to stop every man from raping women, whether in peace time or in war.

I am powerful enough to stand with my sisters, my fellow human beings who believe we each deserve to be treated with the same kind of dignity, respect, kindness, compassion and love we give to others.

I am powerful enough to create an island of sanity in my world where love, hope, joy, compassion exist for all.

And in my standing up and creating such a space, I connect to those who are doing the same, and our ripple will become a tsunami of love, hope, joy, compassion for all the world to know and believe in and live in.

And no matter how many people say, it just isn’t so, I shall persevere. I shall persist.

Namaste.

 

 


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Defining Moments

The first time I remember feeling the bitter sting of being judged harshly I was eleven years old. We had just moved to a new city in France. It was my first day at my new school. Grade seven. Because of the move we were a week late for the beginning of classes. Groups had been formed. Allegiances made. I walked into the schoolyard that morning feeling like an outsider.

I stood alone, waiting for the bell to ring inviting us in. Not far from me stood a group of girls. They kind of looked like the cool kids and I thought I’d like to be part of their tribe.

I smiled tentatively at one of them and she turned away.

I looked away too, not sure what to do.

They whispered among themselves and I could feel them looking at me, eyeing me up and down. I wanted to say Hi. I wanted to be part of the group. I wanted to make friends but was a little afraid and intimidated by the group. And then, I overheard one of the girls say to another as she glanced at me. “What a snob.”

Ouch.

I remember feeling the sting of those words. I remember thinking, “But you don’t even know me.”

It was a defining moment.

I had a choice to make. Let their judgement of me become my truth, or not. I could retreat behind a wall of resentment and attitude, or, I could step out and be known for who I am, not who others perceived me to be.

I stepped out. I decided to introduce myself to the group and not be the snob they’d judged me to be without even knowing me. (I think I may have also done it out of a bit of ‘spite’ too! How dare you judge me! I’ll show you!)

Stepping into that group I didn’t know that the girl who made the comment would become one of my very best friends. We are still in contact. A few years ago she came to Calgary and we spent a four day weekend catching up on thirty years of living. We had a blast.

And as to my defining moment?

It didn’t have a lot of impact on them. In fact, when my girlfriend and I talked about it later, she barely remembered the moment.

I told her how it was one of my defining moments. How, because I never wanted anyone to think I was a snob, I decided I could not act like one.

For that group, my stepping up first paved the way for them to see I wasn’t being standoffish. I was just feeling intimidated and scared — there I was at a new school, the new kid. They didn’t have to invite me into their group, but once I stepped up and showed myself to be who I was, I made it easy for them to let me in.

I didn’t understand that then. I didn’t see how I could be a threat to them or that they didn’t need to invite me in.

French author, Honore de Balzac wrote, “The more one judges, the less one loves.”

My happiness comes from loving, not judging. From seeking first to understand, before being understood.

When I stand in love and allow compassion for my fellow human beings to be my guide as well as the measurement of my happiness within, the world around me becomes a better place for me to stand in. In Love, anything is possible.

And the best part is…. The less I judge, the more I am buoyed up to live, love, laugh my way through every day!


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Love yourself first.

When you’re angry with yourself, when you feel like you’ve made a mistake and are busy chastising yourself for something you’ve done that didn’t work out the way you planned, what do you do?

Do you get angry and fill your head with negative self-talk about how stupid you are, or ridiculous, or what a loser?

You’re not alone. The world is filled with human beings who have made mistakes. Many of them are filled with anger because of the mistakes they’ve made.

It’s nice to know you’re not alone in your self-misery, but it still doesn’t make it healthy for your well-being.

We all make mistakes. We all fall down. And we all talk to ourselves in ways we’d never talk to another human being.

What if, instead of giving into self-anger and loathing, we all gave into love? What if instead of telling ourselves all about how horrible we are, we chose instead to Love ourselves first?

Think about it. Imagine what would be different in your life if you chose to, Love yourself first.

Yeah. Yeah. I know. You love yourself. Maybe? Well sort of. Except… for that piece of flotsam from the past that doesn’t want to lay quiet and is always poking holes in your peace of mind. Or, that place where you did this or that, and keep telling yourself you can’t forgive yourself for doing this or that.

What if instead of carrying anger and unforgiveness, you chose instead to Love yourself first?

Would that make a difference in your life?

I know it would in mine.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love myself. It has been the journey of my lifetime, getting to this place where I can look in the mirror, look deep into my eyes and say, “I love me. Just the way I am. I am a miracle of life.”

But…. And there’s always that but. When I mess up by doing something that upsets my peace of mind, I tend to fall into my default position, chastising myself with the words that play in my head whenever I slip out of esteem. They are not words of support or understanding. They tend to be the words that remind me why I am ‘unworthy’, a human being of enormous flawed proportions. A big mistake.

In my angry state, I focus on the things that are wrong with me, rather than seeing all that is right.

We all make mistakes. We can all learn from our mistakes because, there is always another way of doing something, of doing anything, different.

It’s the way of the universe. It’s filled with limitless possibilities. Unfortunately, when I leap into my “oh my gosh, I’ve just destroyed everything with what I did” thinking, possibilities for better vanish as my self-criticism falls like rain on a hot summer’s day — it’s a welcome relief from the heat. But man, it sure can turn a backyard party into a pity party.

In choosing to Love myself first I do not have to fear myself, or the angry voices in my head. Instead, I get to see myself through the power of love to transform anger, into love. Hatred into kindness. Self-pity into self-compassion.

And when I transform my inner world, the world around me changes too.


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On becoming me.

When I was a child my mother said to me, ‘If you become a soldier, you’ll be a general. If you become a monk, you’ll be the pope.’ Instead I became a painter and wound up as Picasso.  Pablo Picasso

When I was a child, my sister and I spent hours re-enacting scenes from our favourite movies. Gone with the Wind. The Parent Trap. We knew all the characters, all the parts and we each had our favourites.

It didn’t matter that our stage was a stretch of lawn or that Tara was a sheet draped over a tree or that we each had to play three or four different parts, differentiating the characters only through our voices as we didn’t have time to change wardrobe —  we didn’t really have any wardrobe to change into anyway. This was a low budget reproduction — very creative, just not very accurate.

But none of that mattered. What mattered most was that we spent the time together. Laughing. Sharing. Creating.

When I was a child, I liked to draw. To sing and dance and to play piano. I liked to write and make up stories. To play dolls and the now politically incorrect, “Cowboys and Indians”.

It didn’t matter to me what the game or activity. What mattered most was that I was being creative. Expressing myself through arts of all nature.

And then, I grew up.

I still liked to write. To create. To make something out of nothing.

But the tone was different. There was something lacking in my creation.

I kept thinking it needed ‘A Purpose.’

To create for creation sake just didn’t seem to be viable, make sense, have meaning. If I was painting, there needed to be a reason. If I was writing, there needed to be an audience. And, if I was dancing, there needed to be ‘the right steps’.

I’ve grown beyond those ‘grown-up’ days of believing I need ‘A Purpose’ to my art. I’ve grown beyond thinking there are right steps, wrong moves, perfect brushstrokes or perfectly turned phrases.

I’ve grown into being me. Creatively. Expressively. Passionately.

Today, I know that at my core I am a creative being. That life is an act of creation.

Today, I express myself in ways that fulfill on my belief, and need, to create beauty in the world around me.

Today, I let go of the right steps and move with grace and ease into being each step I take to create beauty in the world around me.

There’s freedom in each movement. Freedom in being my creative self.

And, there’s joy in knowing every breath I take is an act of creation. Every step I take is an expression of the beauty I want to create in the world and each brushstroke, each word written are all an expression of me.