Dare boldly

A blog by Louise Gallagher


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Laughter: it changes everything.

laughterIt snowed last night. Yup. Snow at the end of April.

Hello? What happened to ‘spring has sprung, the grass is green…’?

Oh right. This is springtime in the Rockies.

Can I just say this please? Springtime in the Rockies sucks.

Ok. There. Now I feel better.

It is the weather. I cannot change the set of the wind. I can only adjust the set of my sails. And today, I choose to sail gleefully through each moment, and the snow. One nice thing, by the weekend it promises to be sunny and warm — +20Celsius. Nice.  And yup. Springtime in the Rockies. If you don’t like the weather, don’t worry, it too shall pass.

As I said to the man in the magazine shop yesterday when we engaged in one of Calgary’s favourite past-times, complaining about the weather, “It makes us hardy.” He liked that comment, wanted to know if he could steal it. Go for it, I replied. If it you helps accept what is, go for it.

We laughed together. I left carrying that moment of laughter with me. It buoyed me up. Brightened my day.

It’s what I like about the weather here most. I find myself laughing with strangers, sharing a moment of frivolity, all because of the weather.

I am grateful. Laughter is always a gift. It always feeds my soul, lightens my spirit and opens my heart.

According to Dr. Robert Provine, a neuroscientist and author of,  Laughter: A Scientific Investigation (Penguin Books, 2001), “Laughter is not primarily about humor, but about social relationships.”

When we laugh together, we create a human connection. Like smiling, that connection transcends social status, cultural gaps, economic disparities and religious differences. In fact, couples who laugh together are more likely to stay together, according to Dr. Provine.

Laughter is a primordial response. It is pre-verbal. It is contagious. Unlike a virus though, laughter doesn’t make you sick, it makes you healthier.

When my daughters were small, and even into their teens, we used to laugh together, just for the fun of it. Often, when driving one or the other and their friends to dance or some other event, one of the girls would call out from the back seat, “Mom, do the laughing thing!” And I would begin to laugh. And they would begin to laugh. And soon, our entire vehicle would be filled with laughter. Often, it would spill out onto the street, spreading to the occupants in other vehicles or passers-by walking down the street.

It felt good. To laugh for no reason. To laugh simply for the sake of feeling the joy in what happens when we share a moment spent gleefully connecting with one another.

Try it today. Laugh out loud. Tell a funny story on yourself. Share a gleeful moment with a stranger.

Indulge in laughing for no reason other than to feel the joy percolating up out of your body permeating the atmosphere all around you with that sense of elation that comes when we release the endorphins laughter provokes.

And maybe, if you laugh about it, even the weather won’t feel so grim.

It’s worth a try. I mean, seriously, you can’t change the weather so when the weather (or even life) gets you down, what choice do you have? Complain about it or laugh about it? Either way, the weather won’t care what you choose to do (and nor will the universe). But you will. And choosing laughter is always the better option when faced with a situation or circumstance you cannot change. Not only does it lighten your mood, it connects you to others and changes their mood too. And in that connection, miracles happen.

I laughed about the weather yesterday. The weather didn’t change, but my outlook sure did. I let go of taking the world so seriously and gave into the impulse to see the wonder, and the joy, in being connected to another human being in this amazing journey we call life.


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All that I dream of

It is a funny expression of human thinking — the thought that a new day rises as if there is an ending to one before the next can begin. In reality, each day is a continuation of the last. Time is continuously connected, the last moment merging with the next with no finite beginning and end point.

This thought crossed my mind this morning as I looked out my office window and saw the colour of the pale blue sky tinged with light rose deepening with each moment passing by. “A new day rises,” my mind whispered, and I laughed. Where do old days go? Do they die and disappear into the nothingness of space? How is this possible? Nature abhors a vacuum so how can nothingness exist? How is it possible for a day to disappear into something that didn’t exist, unless of course, ‘the day’ didn’t exist in the first place. It was simply the moment that was and always is a reflection of where I am at. And because I contain all of the universe that I am, and you contain all of the universe that you are, time is connected through all of who we are. We are the time passing, flowing, beginning and ending.

We breathe the same air, stand upon the same earth, move through the same space, connected. When the wave crashes against the shore, all the ocean is in that wave. When a raindrop falls upon the earth, all earth feels its impact. When a stone drops into the water of a pond, all the pond and all the air is moved by its ripple.

When one child is born, all life feels its arrival. And when one man dies, all humankind feels life’s mystery.

When I fear living my song, all of nature resonates with the loss of my voice. When you sing out for joy, all of life rejoices.

We are all one. All connected. All part of and all of the universe, the continuum of life flowing.

Alan Watts says it beautifully, “Everybody is I. You all know you are you. And where so ever beings exist throughout all galaxies, it doesn’t make any difference, you are all of them. And when they come into being, that’s you coming into being.”

Heady thoughts on this beautiful spring morning. The grass is turning green, buds are beginning to appear upon tree branches and tulip heads are starting to poke their way out of the earth. In the grand scheme of things, it is a day like any other. In truth, it is the miracle of life on earth, ever evolving, ever flowing, ever becoming more than I imagine. Yet, in my imaginings, it is all that I dream of, all that I wish for, all that I become.

I awoke this morning and life greeted me with its mystery, its divine essence flowing all around. I awoke this morning and remembered. I am magnificent. So are you.

Namaste.


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Interview with Christine Valters Paintner, Abbess of Abbey of the Arts

The first time I encountered Christine Valters Paintner was through my beautiful friend Maureen Doallas of Writing Without Paper. She shared a link to Christine’s website, Abbey of the Arts, and I was hooked. Even just a cursory exploration leaves you yearning for more. More spiritual connection, more sacred moments, more contemplative practice and creative expression.

Recently, I had the gift of spending an hour on Skype with Christine, the Abbess of the Abbey. I am so grateful for her gracious acceptance of my invitation to chat and explore what it means to be a Monk in the World.

My conversation with this amazing woman who lives everyday from that place of sacred connection to the divine essence of every day, left me with a sense of awe and a desire to seek out the sacred in my every day. I felt touched by grace, embraced by the gentle rhythm of her voice and the beautiful images her words evoked of what it means to be “A Monk in the World”. Today, I share Part 1 of my interview with this amazing woman.

Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, is a Benedictine oblate and the author of 7 books on monastic spirituality and creative arts including her latest: Eyes of the Heart: Photography as a Christian Contemplative Practice from Ave Maria Press. For Christine’s full bio, click HERE.

Q. What does it mean to be a Monk in the World?

Being a monk in the world means being committed to helping people reclaim their contemplative self. Everybody has an inner monk, whether you live in a monastary or not. The monk energy is strong in the world, and there’s a growing hunger to live in this meaningful and committed way in every day. My passion is about helping people connect to this ancient energy, this longing. The monk is the part of ourselves that longs for presence to the world through seeking out the sacred in every day moments whether in our homes, or out in the world. To bring that quality of sacred awareness to everything.

Q. How do you stay present in your own experience in the midst of a world that holds a lot of suffering?

There is suffering in our world. There’s large-scale like Boston (this interview took place the day after the Boston Marathon bombings) and in the everyday suffering that we all experience in losses of identity, home, jobs. Being a monk in the world is not about creating a pious always happy persona. It’s about how  I bring myself, my full awareness to my experience and how do I make space for that and how do I honour that in what it means to be human. And to trust that there is something sacred that pulses through all the experiences of our lives. And then, to draw upon this sacred presence in the most difficult times.

Q.  How do you transmit that sense of the sacred to the world around you?

You live it. It’s not always done well by words. In western culture there are a lot of religious traditions that like to tell people how to live a godly life. Being a monk in the world means striving to always put this into practice. How do I live a life that is full of presence and compassion and hospitality so that others will be moved by my example, regardless of what religious tradition they come from. It is more how I am in the world, how I engage, my presence that that will be the inspiration, or witness to the sense that there is something meaningful, there’s a depth dimension to life.

Q. How did you discover your monk in the world.

On some level, I have always been drawn to a contemplative life. I have always been nourished by it. I am an only child and solitude and silence were close companions  and very familiar when I was younger. And then, in my twenties in graduate school that I discovered St. Benedict and through that process of study that I fell in love with a monastic way. And it was a wonderful discovery to realize there was a whole  path that already reflects how I live and what I value. It was a way for me to deepen into that practice and articulate it and find a community of people who were already committed to that way of life. I stumbled into it and yet knew that I was already living that way for quite some time and just didn’t quite have the language to put into it.

The monk path is a universal path. Anybody, regardless of whether they have a religious orientation or not, has this inner monk and inner impulse towards this sense of presence to the sacred or towards what is  most meaningful. And, we can also root our monk practice within specific religious traditions. For me, its rooted in Benedictine practice which is in a Christian tradition.  But I feel like the practice is spacious enough that I could meet with someone in the Buddhist Tradition and while our beliefs may be different to some degree, our practices would be very similar. that’s where we find this kinship which is where living it feels more important that how I explain the beliefs behind it.

Q. How long do you spend in a typical day in contemplative practice?

I strive to keep that awareness throughout my day but I have practices that cultivate it. I will spend time in every day in Lectio Divina, the ancient practice of sacred reading of text whether scripture or poetry or the mystics. I spend usually half an hour to an hour journalling and silent prayer. I find walking and swimming to be contemplative practices. It’s based on the premise that whatever we bring our attention and awareness to can become this contemplative prayer and there are specific practices we might have that help our contemplative capacity. When I go out for a long walk, and I am intentionally walking with this sense of contemplative presence to the world and open my heart to how I might have an encounter with something that is greater than me, that is a contemplative practice. Hopefully, I can bring this awareness to everyday tasks like going grocery shopping or to the bank. Whatever I do.

It takes discipline. It’s pretty essential for me to have regular practices. That I have times in the day that I am consciously and intently cultivating that awareness. And then there are lots of  times in my life  that that the contemplative artist takes over as a natural practice because of who I am and what I’ve done. Practice though is key, showing up again and again so that we can strengthen that ability.

Q. Are there times when you realize you haven’t been engaged in your practice? How do you reconnect?

What can happen is we fall away from our practice and maybe engage in self-judgment, or because we simply forget. And then we remember, oh, I made this commitment to do this practice and now I haven’t done it for a week. And maybe, I just give up on it. When really the call is to keep returning, again and again. That really is the only important thing to remember — to always begin again. We will all have times when we fall away from this central commitment, it’s just part of who we are as human beings. We forget. We fall asleep. And so to begin again is an awakening, over and over. Whenever we notice we have fallen away, we can begin again, we can come back, again and again.

Next Week:  Part 2 of my interview with Abbey of the Arts Abbess, Christine Valters Paintner, PhD on what it means to live as a monk in the world.


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Poetry readings and awe

It was the finale to the, This is My City Festival. Three weeks of arts and theatre celebrating the creative souls of those engaged, involved or living the homeless condition. Last night 4 women shared their stories, and afterwards, 10 of us took to the stage to share our words through poetry and song.

What a blast!

For me, it was a first. Three of my poem were being read. Two by others and one by me.

Now reading my poetry in public is not a common occurrence for me. In fact, this would be the first time I’ve done it.

I like firsts. They suggest, nexts. And, they take me outside my comfort zone. They move me beyond that place where I think I know all I need to know about what I am capable of into that place where all that I know is nothing compared to all that is possible when I let go of setting limits on myself.

Like being in my first art show in two weeks, I never imagined I would be writing poetry, and performing it in public. Yet, there I was last night, standing on stage, listening to my poetry being read, and then, standing up and reading one of my poems myself.

Yup. Definitely a blast!

In my teens and into my twenties I wrote a lot of poetry. Angst riddled verses of love lost, heart’s broken, dreams forsaken. And then I quit. Maybe I didn’t think my words mattered. Maybe I didn’t think I had anything to say, or worth hearing, or sharing. Maybe I told myself, I’m not a poet. I can’t remember. All I know is I quit. Stopped the flow of words and let myself fall into the trap of believing — I don’t do that.

It wasn’t until I connected into a circle of poets here online a few years ago that I started to stretch my writer’s muscles, started to delve into writing in verse that I remembered how much I love expressing myself through the poetic form. It was connecting with people like Maureen Doallas at Writing without Paper, and Glynn Young at Faith. Fiction. Friends and Diane Walker at Contemporary Photography that I reconnected my spirit to the soul of my creative core — poetry. And in that connection, I awoke to all that I am capable of when I quit telling myself — I can’t/don’t/won’t do that.

Last night I stood on a stage and read a poem I wrote about homelessness, Can You See Me?. Kirk Miles of Midnight Yoga for Alcoholics read a poem I wrote this year for my brother who passed away with his wife on March 17, 1997, And Now You’re Gone, and the irrepressible Shannon Jones (who inspired me to get up and read myself) read a ballad I wrote when I took a song-writing course a couple of years ago with Eric Bibb, Fear Lived In Her Belly.Kirk, who was also the ‘poet-maestro’ of the event, set the ballad to a blues guitar played by John Harris with Sally Truss providing percussion and back-up vocals. It gave me shivers.

I had a blast last night and in the process, I cast off limitations and stepped into the pure joy of being present and alive to the moment.

It was inspiring. Fun. Enlivening. And…. to make it even more exciting my friends GC and CY arrived in from New York just in time to share in the evening!

Here is the poem I read:

Can You See Me?

You cannot see mehuddled here beneath

my cloak of invisibility

I wait

hoping

wanting

dreaming

that one day you will

see

me

huddled

in a corner

on a street

down an alley

and know

I am not a mirage

not a bad dream

come to haunt you

or break you

down

to where

I am

broken

down.

You cannot see me

but I see you

walking by

averted eyes

disallowing my presence

to penetrate

the blanket

of your blind insistence

that this

this huddled presence

is not reality

pushing back

forcing me to retreat

back

back

into that place

where your

sweeping statements

clean up

the streets

of the likes of me

 

You cannot see mebut can you see

this place

here where I

lie

back

up against a wall

huddled under the blanket

of despair

where lost and forgotten dreams

blanket reality

in the nightmare

of my life

broken

on the promises

of your

disregard

for my humanity

When will you see

that my being here

is not by choice

Hell, I’d rather be anywhere

but here

but here I am because

here

there is

no other place for me

to be

here is the outcome

measurement

of the things

you’ve done

to create a world

where poverty

sucks

the life

I dreamed of

out of what I could have done

if I had only had

the chance

to be

somewhere

free

of this place

where I am

huddled

beneath my blanket

on the streets

you walk

along

without seeing

me.

 


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Surrender thy will.

I knew it was there. Could feel it. Sense it. Perceive it.

I seldom have to go looking for it. It’s always there. Always lurking, pulling me back, stopping me up, pushing me away from my desire to live life fully in the rapture of now.

It doesn’t have to sneak up, slink in, or crawl under my defences. It just is. There. Here. Present. Even in times like last night, when I am deep into meditation, connected to the light of our group circle, it turns up. I’d say it’s uninvited but seriously, it’s so accustomed to being present, it doesn’t need an invitation.

It just is. My resistance.

And there it was, as I tripped the night fantastic of a meditation circle focused on experiencing the light of the Wesak moon. There it was, pulling at me, picking at my peace of mind, disturbing my equilibrium.

Surrender thy will, the voice of knowing whispered. Surrender thy will.

I didn’t want to. Surrender. Surrender means to give in. To let go. To release my control.

I don’t like giving up control.

Surrender thy will, the voice whispered in a loving stream of consciousness that floated out all around me into the star lit night. Surrender thy will.

I resisted.

And tears flooded my eyes.

Surrender thy will.

I breathed. And surrendered and was bathed in the beautiful light of Love that radiated out from my heart into the night. And in that light I was One with the One. I was immersed in the power of the moment where I was completely, totally, at peace, right where I was, exactly as I was born to be. In that light I was the One I was waiting for. I was the reflection of Love that flowed in and all around me. And I knew, without fear, without hesitation, without question, we are all the beauty and the magnificence of our being who we are meant to be when we let go of resisting our magnificence, our beauty, our Love.

It was a powerful meditation last night. A circle so connected that in its radiance I felt my heart break open, my soul shift in delight, my spirit spread its wings. In its beauty, I found myself surrendering my will to let Love be all that I am, all that I know, all that I become in Love.

There is no need to resist. No need to hold onto control. To hold back on surrender. There is no need unmet, no need unknown, no need to need, when I breathe into the light and surrender my will to Love.

Namaste.

 

 

 


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My Contract

I am finally feeling as though I’m catching up on lost sleep. Finally awakening without rolling over and hitting snooze. And that little voice within me wants to whisper, in it’s oh so critical way, “It’s about time, you lazy bum. There’s no time to be tired. Get going.”

And I push it away (the voice that is) with a loving touch and remind myself, “It is as it is and as it is and as I am is all okay.”

One of the areas we spend a lot of time working on in the Choices training room, and an area that trips most of us up, is our tapes. Those thoughts we repeatedly cycle through our minds that tell us we are failing, falling, losing our grip. Those messages we’ve carried from the ‘then and there’ into the ‘here and now’ that would have us believe we can’t, don’t, won’t, will never, measure up, be enough, have enough, do enough, give enough.

And telling myself there’s no time to rest, no time to take time for myself, is a tape I’ve carried a long, long time. It doesn’t work for me very well, but a tape doesn’t care about how well it works for me. Like most lies, it only wants to be believed.

I have a lot of tapes. From I’m too short to I’m too loud, to I can’t do it, to I should have known better or it’s all my fault. My tapes are not my friends. Though often, they’ll dress themselves up under the guise of being good for me, they always hold me back with their limiting belief that I am not enough just the way I am. They are always critical of the work I’ve done, the place I hold, the way I am. Tapes limit the expression of my magnificence because they would have me believe, I am nothing but…. a loser. A lost cause. A failure. A fraud.

The gift of knowing I have tapes is that when they do arise, when they do leap in to fill the gap or trick me, I catch them before they push me down. And while sometimes I don’t see them until they’re front and centre and screaming in my mind, I am better able to redirect their intention to shut me up, or shut me down. I am better equipped to recognize their lie and override them with the truth of my contract statement — My personal statement that connects me to the pact I made with myself to always live my more, to always live leaning into the unknown of who I am in a world of wonder — I am an alive and radiant woman.

Living my contract is a personal commitment I made when first I went through Choices and claimed the more of what I want in my life — more joy, passion, love, commitment, happiness. To  live it, to be it, I needed to arm myself with the strongest statement I could make that would remind me — I am not my tapes. My tapes are not my friend. And today, stating, I am an alive and radiant woman, awakens my passion, my awe and my desire to express my magnificence with every breath, every step, every thing I do and say and create.

Living on contract keeps me dancing with joy, no matter the weather. It keeps me singing as if the world is singing with me. It keeps me living in the radiance of being alive, every moment of every day.

It is a beautiful morning today. The sky is clear. The snow has melted and though the grass is brown and the trees still bare of leaves, the promise of life shimmers in the golden light of sunrise breaking across the horizon.

It’s a beautiful morning. Time to live it up on the other side of my comfort zone. Time to laugh and dance and sing and kick up my heels and be all that I am when I let go of believing who I am doesn’t make a difference.

We all make a difference. What that difference is, is expressed in how we live each day.

Namaste.


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Breathe in, breathe out and let go.

I painted yesterday. Dripped, stroked, spread, poured paint upon a canvas. Let it run, flow, move across the smooth white surface without any design other than to see what became visible in letting it flow.

And then, just as I got it to a point of saying, “ooooh, that’s nice” all it took to take it from that place to ‘ooooh, that’s not working’ was a spray of water that came out too hard, too fast, too directed. Rather than the mist I meant to give it, I got a blast of water that muddied up the design and turned it into not so nice.

Sometimes, I have to let go of what I was doing, and step away — before I take it over the edge into that place where the water muddies and the image becomes unclear.

That’s what wasn’t happening yesterday. The paint was pouring just right, the colourings mixing just so, the design flowing just the way it was meant to. But I wasn’t quite satisfied with how fast the paint was moving (I was creating a ‘poured’ painting) and decided to give it an extra blast of water. In the process, I gave it more than I expected and the result was not at all what I desired.

Like life, I sometimes forget to ‘Let go and let be.”  Impatient, wanting it to be different, wanting it to go faster, flow differently, turn out another way, I leap in and force the results. And in my impatience, I end up overworking, over-doing, over-analyzing a situation and create a bigger mess than I anticipated. It’s that fine line of letting go to let be, rather than getting in to get dirty only to end up making a mess.

It is my habit — to get impatient and think I can hurry up the process by adding an element that doesn’t necessarily belong, but I think might hurry the process along. I forget, in my desire to make it flow my way, that miracles happen when I give myself room to breathe, to accept and move into the process. When I’m busy moving the process along the way I want it to go, there’s no room for the universe of wonder all around to work with me and create miracles.

It was a big realization yesterday as I scraped the muddy mess off my canvas and began all over again. I am the one who gets in the way of miracles happening all around me. I am the one diverting their flow.

Time to get out of my own way and let the wonder of the universe have its way within and all around me. Time to let go and let be.

I don’t have to be in control. I do need to give up trying to control every situation. And to do that, I need to trust in the flow and the process of creation.

I didn’t trust where and how the paint was flowing yesterday. I ended up making a mess.

Time to breathe in, breathe out and let go. Time to allow space for miracles to unfold.