The immeasurable moments of making a difference

I received an email yesterday from a co-worker at the shelter where I worked for almost six years. They wrote to tell me how much I had touched their life, what a difference I made for them, and how I taught them many things they appreciate and incorporate into their life today.

I am grateful.

In this individual’s note is the essence of what it means to make a difference for me.

It is not about what I do. Not about title or wealth or education or status or who I know or the perfect outfit for the perfect occasion. It is about the imprint I make upon people —  The gentleness of my touch, the kindness of my words, the softness of my step upon the delicate fabric of their hearts.

In receiving their email yesterday it struck me that out of all the things I did at the shelter, from raising community awareness, building relationships, creating an art program, opening an art and music studio, writing/publishing a book, recording Stand by Me with clients, creating a concert, a documentary, plays, the writing, the commercials, the teaching, the creating opportunities for community engagement, while all of those things are important, what matters most are the ‘intangibles’. Those immeasurable moments that touch my soul,open my heart, awaken my mind. It is in those quiet moments where hope stirs, spirits lift and I am connected, heart-to-heart in service, that I am most alive and grateful.

For it isn’t in the concrete things I do or did that make the difference. It is in the hearts I touch. The hearts that touch mine that I find myself steeped in gratitude.

As a friend said when I told him I was leaving the shelter, “What you did will flow back into the miasma of the universe. Things will change. What can never change is how we touch people. How we made them feel. How we connected to their hearts.”

I am grateful. In my co-workers email I am reminded that making a difference isn’t all about what I ‘do’, it’s about how I am, how my being shows up in the hearts and minds of those I encounter on my journey. It is about being the difference I want to see in the world and making my difference through being the best me I am when I let go of my ego’s call for more and give into my soul’s desire for quality in all my relationships, for beauty in all my doing, for humility and Love in all my being me in this world.

A Servant’s Frame of Reference

Being at home created the opportunity to make a difference. C.C., my partner, is ill. A nasty cough that will not subside, I played nurse to his patient. Bringing him tea, going to the drugstore to buy Eucalyptus oil so that he could breathe in a warm, healing mist. Making him chicken soup.

Now, I would normally do these kinds of things but yesterday, the difference was, I consciously did them with a loving heart. I consciously filled my being with harmony as I responded to his need for care.

Often, when taking care of someone else, my mind is busy with thoughts of what the interruption is costing me — time, energy, the book I was reading, the task I was doing… With a loving heart, thoughts of the ‘cost’ vanished as awareness rose to the forefront of my thinking, filling my doing with awareness of what the other person needed to be comfortable, to feel loved, not what my doing would do for them and me. In that gift of being of service without worrying about ‘the cost’, I became intimately aware of the sacredness of the moment as my heart became imbued with  the awe of living from a servant’s frame of reference to being of service to my fellow human beings.

It also meant I was conscious of the gift of having my friend Dave stay with us for the weekend. He is moving back to Winnipeg today and needed a few days, after cleaning out his apartment, to rest and ground himself before driving east. This weekend gave C.C. and me a chance to spend time with him before he left. To simply be in the moment of enjoying his conversation, company, wit and insight as we shared a few days on the path together.

Opportunities to make a difference are always present. It is my presence that is not always aware of their presence. Filled with the importance of my personal busy-ness, I often miss out on the gift of living with a servant’s frame of reference. Without a frame of mind that says —  Living on purpose means being of service to others — I lose opportunities to replenish my spirit and enlighten my heart and soul.

This weekend, as I practiced being conscious of the moment and the gifts within each moment as I acted upon the call to be of service, I found myself reveling in the joy opening up within my heart like a lotus flower opening to the sun’s warming rays. In that opening, I am filled with the grace of gratitude knowing that, in service, I am breathing life into my presence here on earth.

Namaste.

Beyond my range.

I did not know the father well. Met him a few times years ago at our daughters’ school events. I adore his daughter. She worked for me one summer while at University. Kind. Insightful. Intelligent. Caring. She added light and joy and laughter to the darkness of a shelter where sadness reigns over lives lost in the confusion of being homeless.

The father passed away last week. The funeral was yesterday.

I went. To be present for this young woman who over the ten years I have known her never ceased to sparkle in whatever room she graced with her beautiful presence.

I went to support her and her family. To support my daughter and her friends who were all there.

I don’t remember ever having gone to the funeral of a friend’s parent. The only funeral I remember attending in my 20s was my former husband’s grand-father’s.

There was great sadness there. Great sorrow. And the truth and beauty of celebrating a man who loved his family above all else.

And then, I read my A Course in Miracles Lesson for today: God is in everything I see.

To see the divine in this gentle man’s passing. To know the divine is present in the hearts filled with pain and sorrow.

In the lesson for today the author’s invite the student to:  “learn how to look on all things with love, appreciation and open-mindedness. You do not see them now. Would you know what is in them? Nothing is as it appears to you. Its holy purpose stands beyond your little range.”

Nothing is as it appears to me.

I was present yesterday, along with the hundreds of others who came to show respect and support for a family in pain. In our presence, we gave strength, we shared love.

I could only be present by being there. The holy purpose of his passing is beyond my range.

A smile is the difference

Busy day yesterday. My youngest daughter’s 24th birthday dinner was last night and we were 16 for dinner. I have to remind myself on days like that to stay present, to stay in the moment, to enjoy the festivities while they are taking place, and not get immersed in only the process of getting it all ready. At dinner, we went around the table and each shared, “Our wish for you Liseanne this year.” What a lovely difference it made to focus on wishing someone beauty and love, laughter, good times, fun, no car trouble, joy, success, good health, lots of sunny days and a host of other things her guests wished for her last night.

Earlier in the day, C.C. and I went to the market to buy what was needed for the dinner. Taking the lead from Beverly’s comment Thursday on my 10 Things post, where she said that she tries to look servers etc. directly in the eyes when she says ‘Thank you.’  I consciously ensured I looked the people serving us in the eyes. I also attempted to look passers-by in the eyes as well and to smile as we walked past each other.

The man at the coffee counter also responded to smiles and laughter, as did the young man serving us at the meat-counter. As did the young mother with a buggy walking across the parking lot towards the building when we got there. I waited and held the doors for her and smiled and told her to not hurry as she sped up to reach the open door. Her smile of gratitude was warm and welcoming.

It made a difference. Those brief moments of connection warmed me — and I believe, those passing by because everyone smiled back.

Sometimes, a smile is the only difference we need to make to change someone’s outlook, including our own. No matter how brief, a smile registers on people’s hearts and warms them up as if to say, I’m glad to see you too!

I see you. I hear you.

My day began with an act of service. A friend is moving, his apartment is emptied and he needed a ladder, coffee and a sweet to get his day rolling and the cleaning finished. By nine I had delivered and was moving on with my day — and that’s when everything changed.

I chatted with my sister who told me our mother wasn’t feeling well. I’ll just drop over and say hello on my way home, I told her and she informed me that the nurse had suggested taking mom to the Emergent Care Centre. “I’m cancelling my lunch so I can go do that,” she said.

“Don’t,” I replied. “I can do it.”

Now, let me explain. My eldest sister is my 90-year-old mother’s primary care giver. I have always kept my distance. Full-time work, two daughters and a not too harmonious relationship with my mother have always stood in my way. Plus, my sister is ‘better at dealing with her’, I’ve told myself. And mom prefers her anyway.

To spend a day with my mother in an emergency room, to simply be present, was a blessing, and a gift.  It let me be of service to both my sister and my mom, and it gave my sister a much-needed break from the stress and strain of caring for a 90-year-old woman whose need for attention is sometimes exhausting.

As I sat in the curtained cubicle while my mother napped and I read emails on my iPhone and read blogs I’ve been meaning to catch up on, I listened to the goings on all around me and was drawn again to what connects us all in our shared experience of this human condition. A need for belonging, for community, for a sense of relevance in a sometimes irreverent and inexplicable world.

In the cubicle next to us a daughter joined her father who had been brought in by ambulance mid-afternoon. “Why on earth would you come here?” she asked. “The EMS guys thought this would be faster,” her father explained.  “Harumph,” replied the daughter. “It would have been better if you’d gone to emergent care in the south. I had a meeting at that end of the city, which I missed to come here to get you.” Silence. “And now I find out you haven’t even been seen by the doctor yet.” “Thank you for coming,” he replied. “I missed my meeting for you.” And suddenly, a man who had been garrulous and pleasant became taciturn and complaining.  “Where is that doctor? Did they lose him?” “I notice there seem to be a lot of regulars in the waiting area,” the daughter said. “You know, those people who are just coming in for attention. They don’t really have much need for service.”

Really, I wondered. How does she know?

Bless her. Forgive me.

Let me not slip into criticism, complaints and condemnation.

My mother is okay. A flu bug, a series of mis-communications with the staff at the lodge where she lives and she spent a day without eating. The ensuing confusion and paranoia were  a direct result of her state of being dehydrated. Seven hours later, an IV, fluids into her system and she is as right as rain, or as right as rain as a 90-year-old woman can be.

And I am better for the experience. My sister carries the lions share of caring for my mother without complaint, with love and attention. It was a gift to be able to do something of value for her. And, it doesn’t take much to give my mother, this woman who brought the seed of my life into this world, a sense of well-being, of feeling heard, feeling visible, feeling wanted.

And what better way to give back than to let her know,  I see you. I hear you. I acknowledge you, whatever your state of being.

Namaste.

10 Easy ways to make a difference everyday

It was an easy day to make a difference yesterday. A friend needed picking up at the airport. Another needed their spirits lifted.

And in the process, I realized, one of the easiest ways to make a difference is to make someone laugh or smile. Every day.

Which got me thinking about other ‘easy’ ways to make a difference, every day.

  1. Tell the one’s you love, you love them, everyday — better yet, act/be loving in all ways so they feel your love everyday, in every way.
  2. Share your appreciation for those around you. Tell them,  “What I appreciate most about you today is…” Focus always on their strengths. ie. if it’s your boss, “Boss, what I appreciate most about you today is your fairness/the way you handled that difficult customer/the fact you always smile and acknowledge me when you come into the office.” If it’s your child, “Child, what I appreciate most about you today is your… and then name one thing or aspect of them you cherish – [hugs/ willingness to clean up their room/ positive attitude when helping with chores/ laughter…] Do this everyday with those closest to you and feel/live/breathe the shift in energy.
  3. Smile at strangers.
  4. Pick up garbage on the street. Don’t litter.
  5. Touch people when you talk to them — a gentle touch on the arm, sleeve, hand creates a powerful connection.
  6. Let a driver in (even when you don’t want to or you’re late and every car length counts…!)
  7. Give a stranger a compliment.
  8. Tip the server at Tim Horton’s, Starbucks, where ever you buy coffee and give them a compliment on their service.
  9. Drive the speed limit.
  10. Take a walk in the fresh air.

Ten easy things that we can all do to make a difference everyday!

Do you have some to add to the list? I’d love to hear your ideas too.

Being of service

There is someone I love dearly who has taken the courageous yet scary step of going through rehab. I am in awe of this human being. Their resolve, their loving attitude, beauty and kindness have never diminished as they’ve tackled the beast of their addiction and stepped into the light of their truth — they are a human of great light and worth. They are not their addiction. It is a disease they did not ask for, want and for many years, ran from knowing they had through the doorway it presented to oblivion.

Yesterday, they asked if I would support them in their next step. Would I come and stay with them for their initial foray back into the world without their addiction blurring their vision and keeping them from feeling the world in all its sometimes harsh yet always loving reality.

I said yes. It means going to stay with them, leaving this place of comfort that is my home, to support them in theirs. Initially just for a night, but possibly longer as they find their balance.

This is a difference I joyfully and gratefully commit to. To give back to this person who means so much to me and who has given me so much is a gift, a blessing, an honour.

Sometimes, to make a difference requires sacrifice — and yet, it is never sacrifice when the gift of service is to witness and hold a safe space for another human being in their healing journey. The question I ask myself is, What will doing this create in my heart? What will not doing this create in my world? — harmony or discord? To not be there for this person I love would create discord in my heart. And I do not want discord in my heart nor my world. I want only harmony and Love.

Harmony and Love. It’s up to me to create them, to make room for them, to breathe into them in everything I do so that my ripple inspires more ripples of Love.

I am grateful. They have given me an opportunity to be of service in Love.

Namaste

 

The Difference of A Dream

I was there when he took his last breath. I held his hand and waited in anticipation of an exhalation that never came. And in that one final breath in, the life-force left his body and James A. Bannerman was gone.

James was a client of the homeless shelter where I worked. Just after joining the team, I started an art program. One day, a box of throw-away cameras arrived in my office and I gave them to clients with the request they take pictures of their world. James was one of the ones who agreed to participate. From then on, a camera was never far from his sights. Whenever he wandered the streets of Calgary doing what he did everyday, picking up bottles along the riverbank, he would take photos. “Bottle pickings my civic duty,” he used to tell me when I’d pass him as I walked into work in the mornings. “I’m helping keep the city clean.”

Photography became his way of life.

That little box of a camera became a conduit for him to express the light and darkness of the city all around him. He became indefatigable in his ‘picture-taking’ as he liked to call it.  Homeless for over 15 years when he received that first camera, picture-taking became his passion and, he laughed, maybe even his retirement plan. He became so immersed in his art that eventually, he saved up enough money from his odd jobs and bottle collecting to buy himself a digital camera, and then a laptop. And his picture-taking became an insatiable desire to express his awe of the world around him. Whenever we held art shows James would always turn up. A man of view words, he struggled to connect through words to those who passed his booth. He didn’t need words to speak. His photos spoke for him and to the hearts of those who purchased his work and gave it a home.

And then, cancer came and within months he was gone.

But not his photography. Not his view of the world  he inhabited that he captured tirelessly where ever he went throughout our city. He didn’t take photos of people. He only took photos of buildings and bridges and water flowing in the river and frozen footprints in ice and the patterns of a manhole cover and an image of a street through the broken glass of a bus shelter.

James A. Bannerman had an eye for beauty and next week, on the day that would have been his fifty-fourth birthday James A. Bannerman’s first solo exhibit will open.

Yesterday, I met with the curator of the exhibit from The New Gallery (TNG) and two individuals who are part of hosting this year’s inaugural, This is My City Festival to finalize the selection of photos that will appear in the exhibit. As we sorted through Jame’s photos, looking for just the right one’s to include in the Plus 15 TNG Window Gallery that will be their home for the next two months, I shared stories of James and his indefatigable spirit and felt connected once again to this man who touched my heart in so many ways.

James would be pleased. His photos are out of retirement.

This is a difference worth making. This is a difference I have held in my heart since I sat and held Jame’s hand and listened to the last intake of his breath rattling through his lungs in the early morning hours of December 8, 2009. This is a dream I’ve breathed life into throughout the intervening days, a dream other’s have joined with me in bringing to light.

I am happy and I am grateful.

Namaste.

 

PS:  For those in Calgary, or visiting over the next few months, the exhibit will be located at the Plus 15 at Epcor Centre for the Performing Arts — http://www.thenewgallery.org/exhibitions/plus15-window/the-compassionate-eye-of-james-bannerman-2012-02-01

The Purpose in our Presence

There were tears and smiles and hugs and laughter and always, there was love.

Yesterday I coached in the Givers 2 room of Choices, a personal development program both my daughters and I took in 2006 that transformed our lives and our relationships. Ever since, I have coached as often as possible in the five-day program, and always, whenever it is being held in Calgary, in Givers 2, the weekend segment during which participants work on articulating and claiming their purpose.

It is a blessing to be there, to be able to volunteer and be part of miracles unfolding as individuals open their eyes to the truth of their existence — we are not just bits of  matter glommed together to form a body taking up space here on earth. We matter. We count. There is a purpose to our presence in the world and it is our right, our duty our responsibility, to claim it and live it and shine.

In 2006 when I went through Choices, I left the five-day program with a Contract — that statement that says who I am in the world and what I need more of in my life to live my dreams. That word for me was ‘fearless’. To be my authentic self in the world, I need to be a ‘fearless woman’. To not let self-doubt and insecurities rob me of playing big, keep me from being my best.

When I went back for Givers 2, my contract statement was enhanced with my purpose — the statement that says what I do in the world to express my greatness, which as Marianne Williamson writes in “A Return to Love”, is in all of us. “It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Post Choices, my contract and purpose statement have evolved from my original statement of, ‘touching hearts and opening minds to set spirits free’, to encompass my deeper understanding of me and who I am and what I want to create in the world. It now reads, “I am a radiant woman igniting joy in an enlightened world.”

To do and be my best in the world I must always remind myself that playing small does not become me. Letting self-doubt keep me from shining does not serve the world. I must radiate joy and love and peace and harmony. To live on purpose, I must share my gifts openly and lovingly with the world.

Yesterday, making a difference was easy because I was in a place where all 110 people in the room were focused on the thought and belief that to express their difference in the world makes a world of difference. To change the world one heart at a time, as Thelma Box, founder of Choices has been committed to doing since 1985, we must have a change of heart as to who we are and what our purpose is here on earth.

To create a world of difference, to touch hearts and open minds, to ignite joy in an enlightened world, I must be my difference in the world. I must live my purpose.

Yesterday, I had the gift of living on purpose in a room where I purposefully chose to be present and let my light shine.

Are you willing to let your light shine today? Will you live on purpose?

And the Universe laughed

I had other plans yesterday for making a difference, but a cold that wants to come to life kept me home, so I stayed in bed and wallowed in self-care tinged with a small dose (okay maybe bigger than small) of self-pity.

And I was okay with it.

Sometimes, making a difference out there has to start with making a difference within me. My body needed the care. I let it have it.

Which means, I didn’t drive my car yesterday and, I didn’t spend money — though I almost compromised on that part of the equation.

No matter the weather, or how I’m feeling, Ellie insists she needs a walk. The weather had warmed up significantly, and my head was clearing so late in the afternoon, I took her for a walk around the neighbourhood. And I took along a book I intended to mail. I was torn. Part of the principle of not driving my car for a day is to not spend money for a day. But I’d promised to mail the book and thought it a good idea to do it on my walk as the Post Office is just a few blocks away. My mind wrestled with the conflict of spending money (but this is a good cause. I’m taking care of business — it’s not really spending money when I’m doing it for someone else 🙂 ) and the need to make good on my commitment —  to not drive my car/spend money for the day)

And the Universe laughed.

My beautiful Ellie, the Wonder Pooch, has one significant personality flaw. She doesn’t like small dogs, in particular, small white dogs that yap and jump up. And she likes to express her dislike vocally, and aggressively — the Vet calls it ‘fear based aggression’, but whatever you call it, it’s not pretty if she actually comes nose to nose with a small yapping dog.)  We walked towards the Post Office, my mind wrestling with the decision of ‘to mail or not to mail’ when what did I see but a small white dog tied up outside the Post Office. Yapping and jumping up and down against the window.

Ellie saw it too. She started to pull against her leash, a deep growl emanating from her throat, growing louder like a volcano about to erupt.

It was an easy decision. I can mail the book tomorrow. A day later than promised, but hey, when the Universe is jumping up and down and yapping right in front of me, I listen.

The right thing is always the best thing to do. In this case, my day of not driving my car includes the commitment to not spend any money. Compromising half of that equation doesn’t make a huge difference to the Universe, but it does make a difference to me. Because in that compromise is the hook of my integrity being released. In that compromise is me letting go of my commitment. And I am committed to consciously staying present in making a difference, and that includes — holding true to my commitments, holding fast to my integrity.