Dare boldly

A blog by Louise Gallagher


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We are all doing our best.

It is an interesting thought waiting for me this morning in my email. From TUT: A Note from the Universe.  “…no matter what has happened, you did the very best you could.  And so did those who may have let you down.”

Other than those of personality disordered behaviours of the negative kind (and yes, there are some of those in this great big beautiful world), the vast majority of the +7.4 billion human beings on this planet are trying to do their best. Every day. Day in. Day out.

Like you and me, they experience moments of joy, sadness, sorrow. They have felt the loss of love, belonging, connection.

Like you and me, they have searched for meaning. They have wondered, why am I here? Is this all there is? What’s my purpose? Or even, What’s the point?

Like you and me, they have struggled to understand why some people do the things they do that hurt them. Why it feels some days like they are alone.

And, like you and me, they have done things they are not proud of. Done things that hurt others. Let others down. Upset apple carts and tipped over hopes and dreams.

Like you and me, they were not consciously working at letting anyone down, tripping someone up or fighting them off. They are, like you and me, just doing their best to get along, keep going, keep moving forward. They are all striving to give what they can, however they can, where ever they are on their journey so that they can feel like they got something in return for their investment in life.

Framed that way, it’s easier to accept that sometimes, we misstep. Sometimes, we don’t get it ‘right’. Sometimes, we just aren’t playing at our highest — but we are doing the best we can in that moment.

The other night I attended a community association meeting in an area where the homeless foundation I work for is looking to purchase property and build a small apartment building for individuals with lived experience of homelessness (less than 30 units). The board of this association is mixed 50/50 on their support of our project. Like many communities we talk to, those not in support feel that the community has enough low income developments, that they are at a tipping point with the point of no return towards decline too close for comfort given the socio/economic mix of the community.

At the meeting, two community members in close proximity to the property we are considering purchasing came to present their views of the development. “Nobody wants you, not even the businesses in the area,” they said. And one by one they listed off businesses and after each name said, “They don’t want you.” “They don’t want you.” “They don’t want you.”

Clinging to their position of ‘you don’t belong here’, it was challenging to provide these individuals with any facts.

Our evidence, and research from across North America, show that a development of this size does not negatively impact community with higher crime rates and lower property values. In fact, the evidence shows that a low-income project of this size has little to no impact on a community. Crime stays at historical levels, though it can drop given the increased attention to safety the not-for-profit brings to the community, and property values continue to follow prevailing market trends.

Beyond the facts of this kind of development however, is the fact that these individuals weren’t there to do their worst for their community. They were there to do what they believed was best.

It is easy in emotionally charged situations to sit in judgement of what another is doing, especially if what they are doing does not align with what you see as the preferred outcome.

I have been to many of these kinds of meetings. Always, on both sides of the conversation, people sit with their deep beliefs over what makes community work. And both sides work hard to get the other side to shift their perspective to see it through their point of view. Both sides want to defend their positions. Both sides want to protect their right to build better community — the best way they see to do it.

I believe in the vision and mission of creating better community through ending homelessness.

I also believe that within individual communities, people want to create better through ending those things which disturb their peace of mind and disrupt the vibrancy and health of the community they know. They are doing their best to protect what they know and have today so that they can have some reassurance the future of their community does not slip over the tipping point into such disorder they too will no longer feel like they belong there either.

Having spent the past 10 years working in the homeless-serving sector, I believe we cannot end homelessness by telling people ‘you don’t belong in our community’, or conversely, “we belong in your community”. We can end it by recognizing that we are all doing our best — and sometimes, our best means finding common ground through shifting our position from fearing what we don’t know to seeing the human cost of keeping homelessness on our streets.

We all belong in community. We all have the right to find our way home, even when the way we get there might be different than yours or mine.

Namaste.

 

 


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Celebrate You | 52 Acts of Grace | Week 5

acts of grace week 5 copy

I know. I know. Saying nice things about you, to you, from you, feels… conceited. Weird. Odd. Uncomfortable.

Don’t let critter-mind thinking steal your light. Don’t let doubt undermine your capacity to celebrate you!

To receive compliments from others, you have to be willing to hear them and accept their words as truth. And what better way to practice truth-hearing than all alone in your bathroom?

If you are uncomfortable standing in front of a mirror, looking into your eyes and saying, I Love You, ask yourself… What’s the worst that could happen?

So what if you blush? So what if you cry? You’re alone. Maybe you blush because it’s true and you’re afraid to state it. Maybe you’re afraid it’s not true and that makes you cry. Whatever the response, let it be what it is while you practice standing in front of a mirror, looking yourself in the eyes and saying, I Love You.

It’s good soul-food.

Some time ago a friend gave me a package of crayons that write on glass. For weeks, I wrote a love note to my beloved every morning on the bathroom mirror. At first, he didn’t say much and then, he started to write me notes on the mirror in our bedroom.

What a gift.

I loved getting his messages. I loved knowing he was thinking of me. (Note to Self:  Dig out the crayons. Get writing again!)

So, if you are uncomfortable writing the love note to yourself, write it to someone else — and then… read it out loud to yourself!

Bonus! The other person, whether they read it or not, will have ‘received’ your gift of words, and so will you!

Go ahead. Explore what it means to say nice things about yourself. Let your imagination run wild. In its wild cavorts of fancy and delight, the critter-mind won’t be able to find the air to flare up and douse your passionate embrace of you with its flames of condescension and condemnation! YES!

*************

Last week’s Act of Grace — to share a hug — brought interesting results. I started with people at the office and found both joyful acceptance and guarded acceptance. But always there were smiles.

I asked a woman at the grocery store who shared a story while we looked over the tomatoes if she would like a hug and she promptly said, “Yes!” There we were, standing heart to heart in the produce aisle, surrounded by plump fresh vegetables and fruits. I swear they did a little dance!

When a man at the park offered Beaumont some water, I didn’t ask if I could give him a hug of gratitude. I did thank him and say, “That is very kind.” Like readers said, being conscious of boundaries is important.

A little girl gave me the best hug ever. She is the grand-daughter of a woman I often encounter at the dog park and when I met her, I didn’t need to ask if she wanted a hug. She just stepped in and hugged me. Pure delight! Of course, Beaumont wanted in on the action too, which made her giggle with pure delight.

An interesting self-observation I notice is that the further in time I get from a week of coaching at Choices, the less likely I am to hug people when I meet them. I think it comes from feeling safe, or not, in the world. The Choices seminar room is an incredibly safe and loving space, I don’t ‘think’ about hugging, I just do it. In the beautiful, rarified air of love and acceptance that I find in the Choices environment, connecting with people is easy, effortless and second nature.

Did you hug last week? What did you observe?

Namaste.

 

 

 

 


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No mud

Like so many things, without a there is no b. The beauty of the lotus is possible because of the mud in which it grows.

The beauty of our hearts is possible because of the pains we’ve experienced, the sorrows we endured, the sadness we carried.

The joy we feel is founded in the sadness.
The love is grounded in the fear.

Each is present to the other.

Let us each be present to all so that all may shine in the light of our presence.

Namaste

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The Gift of Giving No Fear

Art Journal Page - The Gift of Giving No Fear

Art Journal Page – The Gift of Giving No Fear

For much of her life, my mother struggled to find joy. To be light. To be carefree.

For my mother, life was a challenging journey fraught with fears of everything in the world around her. Fear lived in her belly constantly stirring the bile into discord and unease that choked off her words and stuffed down her voice.

She wanted peace. Tranquility. Calm.

It is all she still wants.

And so she sleeps. She spends her days mostly in her room, napping and watching television. She will read, and she will pray.

And the days pass by.

She turns 94 this August. She is still a beautiful, sweet, gentle woman. And still she yearns for peace, tranquility, calm.

For a long while, after my father passed away and then my brother a year and a half later, she wondered why God would not take her. She was ready to go, she asserted. She wanted to. Needed to. She felt so much pain and anguish. So much fear. Would not death come and get her and ease her of her fears?

And so she prayed. And still, death never came.

Slowly, she has let go of her entreaties for God to intervene in her life on earth. She has come to accept her place. Resigned herself to being here until she no longer is here.

And my heart breaks open in Love. Her pain is my pain. Her fear resonates within me. Her sadness causes me to rise up and want to be like the sunshine. To create warmth, peace, love, joy where ever I go.

I am my mother’s daughter.

In his essay, “Archetype of the Great Mother“,  yogi, writer, dream-interpreter, Tony Crisp writes, “After all, our mother was the most powerful being in our early world. ‘Did she admire hunters; then we would kill dragons and cleanse the world. Did she feel the weight of the world; then we would be the peace maker and bring her joy.’ (W.V. Caldwell).”

I have been exploring the role of the Divine Mother. What does it mean to awaken to her presence? What does it mean to invoke her? To hear her? To make space for her presence to heal and guide the unhealed aspects of my psyche so that I can be of service in the world?

She is a powerful archetype.

Tony Crisp writes, “…the archetype of the great mother is more than simply a residue of our relationship with our own mother. Motherhood on our planet is as old as life. So the archetype holds in it all that experience, all those patterns of behaviour, whether of the mother wolf with her cubs, or the eagle rearing its young. To touch such enormous wealth of experience is to be penetrated by the holy. Something so beyond the limitations of our own small personality enters us and leaves its imprint.”

The Divine Mother brings me back to compassion and mercy.

 

In her book, Start Where You Are: A compassionate guide to living, Pema Chödrön teaches Tonglen Meditation or Giving and Receiving. It is a form of mindfulness meditation that awakens us to being compassionate with our own suffering so that we can be present to the suffering of others.

Chödrön and others call it one of the richest and bravest practices that we can do.

It is not easy. It is powerful.

Giving No Fear is at the foundation of Tonglen Meditation. It is the practice of learning to relate with our own suffering—our rage, helplessness, frustration, doubt, bitterness, and fear—instead of pushing it away. Of acting through gentle loving-kindness toward ourselves  to be present for our own suffering. In this way, we learn to stay with our own suffering without trying to change it or fix it. And in staying with our own suffering without changing it or fixing it, we are present for others.

I want to shine sunshine on my pain. To stay in the light and dance on rainbows and run through fields of wild flowers without thoughts of darkness skimming along the edges of my mind.

To give no fear I need to breathe into fear, invite it in, embrace it, know its presence and then, to release it for all the world to experience as light, fresh, spaciousness.

The Divine Mother is teaching me to hold myself in compassion and mercy. And in her presence, I am learning to be present with others in the same way so that I give no fear.

My mother has struggled to be free of fear. This is the gift I give her.

It is a gift we can all give the world. For today, I invite you to Give No Fear.

Namaste.

 

 

 

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Can you choose compassion?

flowers in spring copyIn, Start Where You Are: A compassionate guide to living, Pema Chödrön teaches simple steps and simple tools to find compassion for our own wounds so that we can hold others in compassion too. It is the first step she counsels — unconditional compassion for ourselves leads to unconditional compassion for others.

My eldest daughter and I were having a conversation about judgement. How so often, we look at those who have committed heinous crimes and talk about how we can never forgive them. How we want to rip their faces off, or put them in jail forever and a day because, ‘they did bad and are no good’.

Yet, to truly change the world, to make a world of peace and loving kindness, we must  separate ‘the crime’ from the soul. We must see the ‘crime’ as an act of being human, while still holding the human being in compassionate thought.

It is not easy. It is necessary if we are to create a more peaceful, healthy and balanced world.

So often, in condemning those who have harmed others and sentencing them to live in shame we are giving up on them. We are saying, you have no value. You are non-redemptive. You are not worthy. Yet, beneath the crime, beneath the harm they have caused, is the wounded human acting out against the pain they carry from the crimes committed against them. In our giving up on them, we are continuing the cycle of abuse. It leaves little room for awakening, little room for someone to see that what they have done to cause another harm is creating a world of harm all around.

And so the cycle continues.

A few years ago I worked extensively with police officers on ‘homelessness training.’ Every week I’d present to a different group of officers on the facts and myths of homelessness, as well as the impact our perceptions and beliefs about who ‘the homeless’ are have on our ability to work effectively and compassionately with individuals to support them in creating paths away from homelessness.

In the room there were always many perceptions of homelessness.  From’homeless = criminal’ to the belief those experiencing homelessness are there because they choose to be there to if they just stopped drinking, doing drugs, had a shower and cleaned up, they’d be able to get on with their lives. These beliefs created a barrier that inhibited everyone from feeling like they were doing their jobs well. For many, the frustration of working with the same person over and over again lead to disconnecting their hearts from their work so that they could do their job and not carry the pain of feeling ineffective, helpless, and a host of other feelings the officers shared in our conversations.

One day, one of the officers angrily told me that I was wrong. That treating ‘those people’ with compassion was not the path. That tough love was the only way to make ‘them’ change.

He yelled, pounded the table, talked over me in his attempts to get me to change my glasses to his view.

I sat in silence. I held the space for compassion to be present in our conversation. I was there to find common ground. Yelling back would not have opened minds. It would only have created bigger barriers.

Another officer in the room spoke up. He told the angry officer to listen up, to hear what I had to say because it was important.

At the end of the session, the second officer apologized for the other man’s behaviour. I told him he was not responsible for someone else’s behaviour. I did wonder about the pain the angry officer had to be carrying to be so volatile in that situation.

Later, I had an opportunity to find out. The district Commander heard about the incident and insisted the officer apologize. We met in the District board room and the officer acknowledged his behaviour was out of line. That he had no right to talk to me in the way he did.

You sound like you care deeply. You sound like you carry a lot of pain on this issue, I told him.

And he began to talk. He told me about his brother, an alcoholic, who died on the streets. He told me about his pain and frustration in not being able to help him. How he just wants the best for those he serves, and how he feels helpless.

He talked for an hour and I listened. Deeply.

In the end, we hugged. We had connected through our shared human condition.

To this day, I carry deep compassion and respect for this man. He cares. Deeply. His lack of compassion for himself, his lack of acknowledgement of his own pain, stood in the way of his heart breaking open in love instead of shutting down in fear.

We all do it.

We all feel deeply and then, to protect our delicate hearts, to soothe our aching souls, we build walls and barriers in our minds that we believe will keep us safe.

And in the process, we shut off our capacity to see that those who hurt others are hurting.

Desperate people do desperate things.

Hurting people hurt others.

It does not make ‘wrong’ right. It does mean to heal it, to stop it, we must stop condemning and begin holding ourselves accountable for how we respond.

I wonder what a world of difference we could make if instead of condemning, we chose compassion for ourselves and one another?

Let’s all begin where we are and see what happens next!

Namaste.

 


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Facing the belief that is a lie.

yoda fear

Fear lives in my belly. It is that grumbly, rumbly, churning feeling of disquiet that eats away at my peace of mind. When I give into it.

Love lives in my entire being. It is that warm, soothing, tranquil feeling of quiet joy bubbling up to embrace my peace of mind. When I give into it.

Which one will I choose?  It is up to me.

I can’t try to ‘be fearful’. I am or I’m not.

Yoda said it best.

“Do or do not. There is no try.”

Which will you choose today?

To take the path to the dark side, or to keep walking the path into the light?

Will you allow your fearful thoughts to drag you down, or will you allow loving kindness to lift you up and draw you out of the darkness and hold you in the light?

It is your choice.

On the weekend at Choices Seminars, I had a moment of fear wash over me. I’d made a mistake in how I presented something to the group, and my mind went into hyper-active defensive mode when I heard my co-facilitator point out to me how stupid and unprofessional I was.

Now — here’s the thing. That is not what my co-facilitator said. All they really did was provide me some constructive feedback on how to do it better next time.

In my fear of making mistakes, of looking stupid in front of the group, of being shamed for not doing it right, my fear heard their feedback totally out of context to what they said.

In the moment, my fear rose up and heard condemnation. In the moment, my fear drove me away from courage and truth into the darkness of criticism.

I’d like to tell you I recovered right there on the spot. 🙂  Truth is, as soon as I could gracefully do so without drawing attention to myself, (which was at the first break) I left the room and went to the washroom, had a little pity party and then pulled myself together. When the session resumed, I stood in front of the group and continued.

 

And here’s the thing about those moments.

It was a breakthrough. A moment of such deep clarity and light I could not avoid the truth that came spilling up out of me as all night long I worried over and thought through the events of that evening trying to discern why my reaction to such a simple moment had been so visceral, so immediate, so violent.

The next morning, I awoke, tired yet really clear on what that moment of feeling shame at the front of the room represented. And in my enlightenment, the sun broke through the darkness and light illuminated my path in all its brilliant clarity.

Since a small, small girl I had held a belief within me that is not true. I didn’t even know the belief was there until such an insignificant moment erupted into a deep dive into truth and the ‘belief that is a lie’ rose to the top and screamed in my face and, I swear, felt like it was ripping my heart out.

I won’t go into the details of the ‘belief that is a lie’, I still have a lot of processing to do on it. I will tell you though that I am celebrating. I am dancing. I am shouting for joy. This ‘belief that is a lie’ has caused me a lot of pain, confusion and harm. On some deep subconscious level I have always been aware of its presence, lurking in the darkness, disturbing my status quo and jeopardizing my capacity to feel and know pure joy.

Now that I see it. Now that I know it. Now that I can face it, I can deal with it.

I am grateful.

I cannot heal or change what I do not acknowledge.

I acknowledge that the ‘belief that is a lie’ does not serve me well. It does not bring me the ‘more’ of what I want in my life.

Today, I choose to step boldly, confidently and joyfully onto the path of light, love and well-being.

Which path do you choose today?

 

Namaste.

 

 

 


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Share a Hug | 52 Acts of Grace | Week 4

 

acts of grace week 4 copy

When in an open-hearted space and place like the Choices Seminar room, it is easy to give generously. Of yourself. Your time. Your treasures and talents.

At the hotel where the Choices Seminar is held, participants are encouraged to be generous with their tipping — we are a large group and can at times overwhelm restaurant staff and other areas of the hotel. Being at Choices meant Week 3’s Act of Grace invitation to show my appreciation for people who served me was easy to fulfill on.

It also means, it takes me a few days to get out of “Choices” mode out in the ‘real world’. To not greet everyone I meet, whether in meetings or on the elevator, or in my office with a hug.

Maybe I should change that!

One of the things I say in the Choices room is that my dream is to create a world ‘out there’ like it is in here so that I can effortlessly be ‘out there’ as I am, as I feel, as I breathe in the Choices room. A place where everyone has the opportunity to feel loved, safe, supported. A place where mistakes are celebrated as opportunities to grow and learn and do better. Where people believe in themselves. Find their voices and sing out loud. Celebrate who they are. Love themselves in every condition.

And one way to create it that way, no matter where I am, is to offer hugs. To simply not listen to that voice in my head that whispers, “Don’t hug. They’ll think you’re weird. You’re invading their space. You’re being pushy. You’re over-stepping…”

Hugs are a powerful communication tool. Hugs require no special equipment. They’re easy to give and take. Hugs connect us and create a powerful bond between our humanity.

Yesterday, as I approached a table where a hotel staff was selling tickets for the Sunday Brunch, I didn’t even have a chance to say hello before she stood up, opened her arms and walked towards me. We shared a hug and then went about the business of the Sunday Brunch ticket, both of us smiling broadly.

What a wonderful gift!

To know that hugging means as much to the staff as it does to me. To know we are connected.

And let me be clear — 10 years ago, you would not have caught me hugging strangers, hotel staff, or most people for that matter.

Now, I love hugs. I love how for a moment, two people stand silently together, take a breath and simply share human touch and a moment.

Make special moments this week. Share your warmth and generosity of spirit through hugs.