Dare boldly

A blog by Louise Gallagher


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Abuse hurts. Stop it.

This is the second-to-last Friday of November. Black Friday to some. Blue Friday to others. It is also, the second-to-last Friday of Family Violence Prevention Month.

Family violence kills. Spirit. Hope. Dignity. Trust. Life.

Last night, I attended a fundraiser put on by the Campaign Associates of the United Way of Calgary. It was wonderful to spend time amidst these caring and committed individuals who organize the events at which I speak almost daily. Many of them are ‘on loan’ from Calgary corporations for the 4 months of the fall campaign. All of them are funded by Calgary corporations. All of them make a difference.

What was significant for me about this event however wasn’t just the people, it was the place.

It was held at a venue where, once upon a time, I tried to end the relationship that was killing me.

It was fall, 2002. Life was spiralling out of control and I was falling. I had no money, no job, no home. My daughters were living with their father and I was falling further and further into the darkness.

‘The man’ was clinging to me in a desperate attempt to have life look as if it was normal. I don’t remember where he was living, but I was staying between the home of one of my dearest friends and at the time, house-sitting another friend’s house in the same townhome complex in which she lived.

I wasn’t sure what would happen next. ‘The man’ kept promising to make it all right. He kept promising that he would fix it, get my home back, get all my belongings out of storage, get me stable once again.

I didn’t really believe him but I couldn’t quit listening to his promises. I was so tired. So lost. So helpless.

And then, he made a scene. We had gone to a local pub (the same one as last night)  for a drink and he acted out, accusing me of flirting with another man in the bar. Yelling at me for destroying his life. Calling me names.

I left. Grabbed my coat and walked out.

I walked and walked in the cold, dark night.

The pub was only a couple blocks from the river, about a twenty-minute walk from where I was house-sitting.

I walked down to the river and along the path that skirts its shoreline. I don’t remember if there was a moon, or if the stars shone. There was snow on the ground. The air was frosty.

I felt so hopeless.

I wanted him to follow me. I wanted him to leave me alone. I wanted him to disappear. I wanted to vanish.

At one point, I took a path down to the water’s edge and sat on a rock watching the water flow past. I imagined what would happen if I could simply fall into the water. I imagined what it would be like if I could disappear. I knew his presence was choking me. I knew being with him was driving me crazy, that there was no truth in anything he said. And I knew I was lost and had to do something to find myself again.

Somewhere in that relationship he had given me a heart-shaped ring set with tiny diamonds. I had worn that ring ever since he’d given it to me in the belief that as long as I wore it he would not disappear from my life and my daughters lives would be safe.

Sitting beside the river that night, I knew I had to let go.

I took the ring off and hurled it into the river.

I broke the ties. In that act I rebelled against the bonds that tied me so fast to his deceit and abuse.

I walked back to the house where I was staying. I let myself in and went to bed.

It was over.

And then, the doorbell rang.

I didn’t want to answer it. I told myself not to.

But he started yelling. Pounding upon the wooden barrier that stood firm between us.

I capitulated. I told myself I didn’t want to wake the neighbours. I didn’t want him to cause a scene.

I told myself I would let him in just so I could tell him it was over. I didn’t care about the money, the home, the stuff. I wanted free.

It would be six long, terrifying months before I got free again.

I remember that night. It was the night I gave up on me completely. It was the night he threw back at me everything I had ever told him about my life for which I held shame or sadness or regret. In the reminding me of all my misgivings, he affirmed my deepest fear. I was not worthy.

I lost my spirit that night. I lost my direction completely in the darkness of knowing, I was not worthy.

It is the reality of these relationships that take such a toll. To be abused we must believe abuse is all we’re worth. We must believe they are right, we are wrong. We must give up on ourselves, and give into the who they tell us we are, what they tell us we’re worth.

To be abused we must believe in the one who abuses us.

And it is in that belief we die.

Abuse hurts. Stop it.


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The difference begins with me

I heard an amazing woman speak last night. She was exciting. Inspiring. Uplifting. She was herself.

I’ve known Michelle Cameron Coulter for several years through my work with the United Way. I’ve known of her brilliance but never heard her speak. Last night I was blessed to chat with her and listen to her share her story.

Michelle is an Olympic Gold Medalist and six time world Champion in synchronized swimming. Excessively fearful of water, she didn’t start synchronized swimming until she was 13 years old.

It didn’t matter. Age had nothing to do with it. Her fear of water was simply a roadblock to be moved.  Spirit. Commitment. Drive. Determination. And a, ‘can do’ attitude are what counted in her journey to gold.

I went to Women Embracing Brilliance, an event/organization created by the amazing Karen Klassen, out of curiosity and the fact a friend emailed me to ask if I was going. It was kind of a comedy of errors. My friend thought I was going because I was part of the group and had attended before. I thought she was going because she had gone before.

I like mistakes because they’re never really mistakes. We met at the event and spent a good part of the evening chatting and sharing and connecting. And that was the best part — spending time with a brilliant woman I really enjoy and admire.

Karen, the event organizer, is a woman of great heart and enthusiasm. She is committed to celebrating women, to making a difference by encouraging other women to join her in her quest to touch the lives of a million women in the world and open their eyes to see their brilliance. Like Michelle, Karen is committed to reach her goal.

And roadblocks in the way, just don’t matter. They’re meant to be navigated, surmounted, moved and set aside. Roadblocks test us. They must not stop us.

That was the message I got last night. That no matter what appears in your path, look for the way, around it, over it, through it. Do not let it stop you from achieving your goals. Do not lose sight of your dreams.

It was an important message for me to hear.

I have a book I started at the beginning of the year when I finished working at the shelter, “Lessons in Love: Everything I know about being human I learned at a homeless shelter, and I have been stalled.

No time. Too busy. Other ideas to explore. Lots of client work to complete. A life to live. yada yada yada.

You know the drill. Life is happening and I keep letting it get in the way of working on this book.

Roadblocks don’t matter.

I believe in this book.

I believe in the importance of why I’m writing it and the impact it can have.

The book contains 8 very important life lessons — 1. We are all connected. 2. There is no us and them. 3. Forgive and set yourself free. 4. Learn from the broken places. 5. Always begin again. 6.  Giving is receiving. 7. We are all magnificent. 8. Love is the answer.

To highlight each lesson I share stories of my experiences working at the shelter. Human stories. Real stories of lives on the other side of the street that speak to our shared humanity, our common human condition, our forgotten beauty and magnificence.

And I have stalled.

I have let what’s happening all around me pull me from my goal.

Time to get real.

Time to let go of my excuses and step into my power to create that which I want more of in my life — a world of beauty, truth, peace, harmony and joy, within and all around me.

It’s important, for me, that I complete this book. It’s important not just because of the power of these stories to touch hearts and open minds. It’s important because I feel accomplished, happy, fulfilled, satisfied, I feel like a winner when I reach my goals, complete tasks I’ve set out for myself.  I know the impact ‘completion’ has upon my spirit and I am responsible for creating what I want in my world, within and all around me.

Not finishing is a self-defeating game.  Not finishing, or working on it, keeps me in that place where the ‘critter’ gets to whisper in my ear those stories I tell myself when I’m not feeling like I’m living my best — you know, stories like…. loser. You can’t finish anything. You’re a starter, never a finisher…  Stories that would have me live down to my lesser good, forgetting my capacity to live up to my higher greatness.

Enough.  To make a difference in the world I must begin with me.

Time to Breathe and begin again. Always begin again — with a grateful and loving heart.

Thank you Michelle Cameron Coulter and Karen Klassen.  You touched my heart, inspired my imagination and ignited my brilliance.

In sharing your brilliance I am reminded to shine and share mine.


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Calgary Police Make a Difference

I have been presenting a series of workshops to Calgary Police on homelessness. Every Tuesday morning, I work with different officers on perceptions, views, ideas, opinions around homelessness.

It is enlightening.

It is inspiring.

It is uplifting work.

There was a time when I wondered if ‘authority’ would ever get it. When I thought, seriously guys, kicking someone when they’re down is not going to encourage them to get back up again, or even to believe they have the capacity to get back up again. Don’t you care?

I had a lot of judgments.

In letting my judgments go, I’ve encountered truth. Police officers do care. Very much. My experience is that officers want to make a difference. They want to play a role in ending homelessness in our city. And they are.

Yesterday, we talked about Calgary’s Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness.

The consensus from those who work on our streets — Housing First, one of the tenets of the Plan where chronically homeless are provided housing and from there, the wrap-around services necessary to integrate them back into community, is working. Where once they saw the same, chronically homeless, usually under the influence people again and again and again, the numbers are way down.

It’s working.

We are all in this together.

We all have a role to play in ending homelessness.

What’s yours?

Perhaps, your role is simply shifting your beliefs, or perceptions about ‘who’  these people are experiencing homelessness. Maybe, all it requires for you to become engaged is to not call homeless individuals lazy, or drunks, or good-for-nothing. Maybe, it’s all about letting go of your judgments and simply allowing space for compassion to enter. Our thoughts create energy in the world and when our thoughts are focused on all that is wrong with this picture, what we see is always a picture that’s wrong.

Perhaps, your role in the continuum of ending homelessness is to donate to an agency, or volunteer your time. Maybe you already ‘get’ that people are not homeless because they had a dream of losing everything to walk our streets without hope of ever finding their way back home again. Maybe you ‘get’ that homelessness is not a dream but someone’s worst nightmare come to life. From that place of compassion you can, as the United Way invites all of us, Give. Volunteer. Act.

We can all make a difference when it comes to ending homelessness. We can all make a difference on our streets.

Working with police officers on homelessness is a gift for me. It moves me. It reminds me — it is not ‘us and them’, it is all of us working together that will make a difference.

Every police officer I have met shares a dream of making our city a better, safer place. They dream of catching criminals, dealing with the ‘bad guys’ and allowing space for everyone else to exist in harmony.

And there’s a role for each of us to play in that dream as well.

One of the things the officers often share is how frustrating it is to be chatting with a visibly homeless person and having everyday citizens walk by and tell them to ‘leave the guy alone,’ or ‘give him a break’.

I’m just trying to check on the guys well-being, the officers will say, or build a relationship, and people get on my case about abusing him. It’s not fair.

There is little that is ‘fair’ in homelessness.

What there is though is lots of room for change, for shift to happen, for miracles to unfold.

We can all make room for miracles. We can all be open to that space where lives shift, where the many awaken to the truth that who they are is not found in a bottle or a crack pipe but in the dignity of being who they were born to be when they get out from under the pain and wounds and self-hatred of their lives lived on the other side of the street.

Miracles happen when each of us awakens to the truth — We are all connected and when one person falls on the street, we all suffer. When one of us judges another, we all judge eachother. And when one of us shifts, everything shifts.

Let’s shift.

On Monday, Calgary Police Service released the first in a three-part mini-documentary series on homelessness on our streets. Originally created as a training piece for recruits and officers, Homeless in Calgary gives a raw and edgie look at the lives of those for whom ‘home’ is not a place where they are safe amidst those they love. For these individuals, home is the street. A dangerous, dark and frightening place to live. In this video, we follow two officers doing what every officer does every day — taking care of those who have lost their way on our streets.

Changing our perspectives makes a difference. Let’s let shift happen. Let’s let miracles unfold. The world will be a different place when we do.

Namaste.


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Give a little bit, or a lot, and make a difference

We all have something to give. To share. To bestow.

And still, we hesitate. We step back from the brink of stepping beyond our comfort zones and say, not my job. Not my responsibility. Not me.

I don’t have time. It’s too scary. I’ll be in the way. Nobody wants what I have to share.

And yet, no matter our excuses, our rationalizations, our inner conflict, we all have something to give.

Three years ago, a client at the shelter where I used to work was diagnosed with terminal cancer. He had been a participant in the arts program I started and over the course of three years, had fallen in love with photography. “It’s my retirement plan,” he’d tell me when he excitedly showed me another one of his photos — and they really were spectacular.

James Bannerman had an eye. For composition. For colour. For angles. For light.

What he didn’t have was a lot of human connections. He tended to keep to himself. Seldom causing trouble. Always being on his own. He’d given up drinking years ago. “It caused me too much trouble,” he told me. But he never recovered from the other wounds, the deep soul pain he didn’t have words to express.

But he was happy. He was living a simple life, giving back whenever he could. Volunteering. Giving people his photos. Participating in our art shows. And then, James  received the diagnosis he never expected and everything changed. “I never thought it would be stomach cancer that got me,” he told me one day when I went to see him during his many hospitalizations after the diagnosis. An avid smoker, James thought if anything it would be lung cancer. “I can beat this,” he said. “I know I can.”

But he didn’t. Beat it. Less than nine months after the diagnosis James passed away quietly at a hospice.

I was sitting beside him, holding his hand. It was all I could do for this man who had wanted to live his life quietly, picking up bottles, working temp shovelling snow in winter, mowing lawns and tending gardens in summer and, at all times, using his camera to express the beauty he saw everywhere in the world around him.

James didn’t need words to express himself. He had his eyes and his capacity to capture magical moments everywhere.

I hadn’t meant to be there when he passed over. I had spent the final hours with him, waiting for the hospice van to come and get him. When he’d left I’d said my good-byes. It wasn’t until that evening, a cold, cold December night that I wondered, is anyone with him? Usually, in these instances, a frontline staff or member of the medical team from the homeless shelter where I worked would be with a client. I didn’t want to interfere, but, I was worried when I got home from work that possibly no one had been able to drive to the hospice they’d taken James to 45 minutes south of the city. So I called to check on him and when I found out he was alone and, as the nurse said on the phone, “wouldn’t last through the night”, I decided to drive out to the hospice and sit with him through the night. James was afraid of dying and I didn’t want him to go through it alone.

For four hours I sat quietly by his bedside, holding one of his thin, fragile hands. The cancer had taken its toll and this once strong man with weathered hands that worked tirelessly to lift and carry were too heavy for his arms to lift anymore. I chatted with the nurses when they came in to check on us and to ensure James was comfortable. He was mostly unconscious and laid quietly on the bed. I shared stories with them, of James and the shelter and his life as I knew it. And then, shortly after midnight on December 8, 2009, James took in his last rattling gasp of breath, and never let it out.

I sat for a few moments waiting for an exhalation, but it never came.

James was gone.

Sitting with James as he passed over was a profoundly privileged moment. It wasn’t something I expected to do. In my capacity as Director of PR and Volunteer Services at the shelter, it wasn’t something I ‘should’ have been doing.

But I could. And so I did. And in the giving, I was made different.

In the giving, my eyes opened to the sanctity and sacredness of life, every human life and the power we hold as individuals to connect, cherish and celebrate each other.

Give a little bit. Give a lot. Give what you can.

And always give.

In giving we receive.

I thought of this story of James when I saw this video on a friend’s Facebook wall.

Supertramp’s — Give a Little Bit.


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Living Who I Am Makes a Difference

It has begun. Seventy-four people have begun the journey of their lifetimes with tools to free themselves from doing what they’ve always done that’s gotten them what they didn’t want.

What a miracle.

Everything.

Miracle.

I stood in the circle last night and was in awe of our human condition. In awe and humbled by our beauty.

We are amazing.

Someone asked me, “Why do you keep doing this. Haven’t you figured it all out yet?”

And I laughed. Figuring it out isn’t why I do it. Living it, living the tools, living in that place where I hold my life as a sacred gift that I can share as I participate in changing the world one heart at a time is what it’s all about for me. And being in the Choices room, being part of miracles unfolding all around is where I experience complete freedom to do that.

It also reminds me to live my tools. To be conscious of my tapes, that brain chatter that would have me believe I am or deserve less than, other than, being my most amazing self, and recognizing my self-defeating games so that I can quit playing them before they cause mayhem and destruction in my life is why I keep going back. Being there in that room is a gift. And I love presents!

Just as I love being in the present. In the moment right now.

It is what Thelma stressed this week. At 78, she is committed to living in the moment right now. To being present to what is happening now, not what happened in the past or might happen in the future. To cherish this moment and to live it up for all she’s worth.

Or, as Joseph Campbell wrote:

“People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances within our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive. That’s what it’s all finally about, and that’s what these clues help us to find within ourselves.

It is scary walking into the seminar room for the first time. You don’t know what’s going to happen. You don’t know what it’s all about other than someone has told you that they think Choices might be something you’d get a lot out of. Because Choices doesn’t advertise. It is a word of mouth program — someone goes, thinks it’s amazing and recommends it to someone else they care about. And, in suggesting someone else go, they purposefully don’t tell them what it’s all about because to explain the details would be to take away the impact of their self-discovery as they go through the processes.

Plus, we’re human. We’re always looking for a way out and if someone says, “you do this or that”, it’s always a good excuse for someone to say, “I don’t do that.”  We are so clever we humans!

By Sunday evening, the fear is gone. And in its stead, people stand revealed in all their beauty. Smiles wide. Eyes bright. Spirits shining. They stand in their authentic natures and connect with those around them, heart to heart.

It is beautiful. Exciting. Miraculous. And… it leads to more.

To living life outside our comfort zones. To living life in that free and invigorating place where we have the more we’ve always wanted, the special we’ve always felt but were too afraid, or timid, or confused to allow ourselves to be.

I am tired, in a happy kind of way this morning.

For five days I got to live completely on purpose, immersed in miracles unfolding, in lives changing, in hearts breaking open to the wonder and beauty of the gifts and talents within.

I am content.

I am (as I uncovered through my Choices journey of designing my contract, purpose and intention statement) a radiant woman touching hearts and opening minds to set spirits free to live their magnificence in a world of peace, love and joy.

Namaste.


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One Step In A Journey (Guest Blog)

I met Ian Munro in the co-creative circle Kerry Parsons has opened to discuss Essential Living. Over the months of our conversations around what is essential living and how do we move beyond our adapted selves; those selves who cling to anger, resentment, bitterness, self-denigration and all other limiting behaviours, to embrace the essential magnificence of our humanity, we’ve created EssentialU. Our vision is to create a Greenhouse for Essential Living through which we can shift the lives of millions of people from adapted to essential living.

Today, Ian shares his first blog on the basics of Essential Leadership. Please do drop over to Ian’s. I’ve pasted in the beginning of his blog and if you click on the link, you’ll be directed to his brand new site. This is his first blog. Ian is committed to writing about Essential Leadership weekly — please do encourage him. His words are profound, his nature brilliant and his capacity to lead essentially very much needed in our world. Thanks!  And thanks Ian for sharing your brilliance so generously.

One Step In A Journey

by Ian Munro

As I made plans to embark on this self described mission to engage a discussion on the vital nature of leadership, I took some time contemplate the organizations that I have been privileged to be a part of. The greatest memories of each of them is the memories not only of the people themselves but the amazing potential they individually and collectively possessed? The  talents and perspective available to us are truly amazing if we only stop and look.

I don’t think I could have said that two years ago, when i was more interested in competing than collaborating. Back then I had not been introduced to what I now call my essential self. I don’t mean that “self” that always agonized over why my ideas weren’t accepted, or worried how someone else’s actions would affect me, or criticized a co-worker without truly asking what they were trying to accomplish, or filled in the blanks from an email not answered with what could be wrong, not what could be good. and I certainly don’t mean that self that looked for explanations to my own problems in someone else’s flaws… Read More


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Heroes in our midst

We are all heroes. Every one of us.

When my daughters were small I wrote them a story about an unhappy caterpillar who wanted to be anything other than a caterpillar. A leaf fairy tries to help him by turning him into a rose, an iris, a daisy, but he doesn’t like any of the options he’s chosen until finally he says, “I want to be a butterfly!”. Poof! she turns him back into a caterpillar. he’s furious. I want to be a butterfly. And the leaf fairy replies, “You are a butterfly. Inside you are a beautiful pair of wings yearning to unfold. But first, you must learn to spin your own dreams.”

We are all like that caterpillar. We want to do great things in the world, to be our most magnificent selves, but we forget. We forget we are. We forget we have wings. We forget to fly free.

We are all heroes. Every one of us.

Standing in the Choices seminar room, watching wings unfold reminds me always that within each of us is the hero of our lives. It’s our gift to live as our heroic selves. Passionate. Caring. Free. Deserving. Whatever it is we choose, we have wings inside us yearning to unfold.

Every trainee in the seminar room is a hero.

Every coach in the room is a hero.

Thelma Box is a hero. 

Thelma is the founder of Choices. It was her dream 29 years ago to create a program that would help single mothers become all that they were meant to be. To know they had the capacity to live their dreams. From Thelma’s dream of helping other women just like her, she has touched thousand of lives and given wings to her dream of “changing the world one heart a t a time.”

Thelma Box is a hero.

Just for today, (who knows, you might like it enough to do it everyday), whenever you pass a mirror, stop and look at yourself. Look deep into your eyes and say out loud, “Hi hero! You are amazing!”

Try it. I know. It’s hard. it feels silly. It feels awkward. It feels all of those things but it is none of those things because… it is the truth.

You are a hero.

You are amazing.

Namaste.

And… to inspire you today I’ve pasted in Mirabai Ceiba singing their song, Ocean. I originally wrote a blog to this piece at Recover Your Joy. “The ocean refuses no river.”   May we all be our greatest hero today and refuse no part of ourselves. May we all know our magnificence.