Dare boldly

A blog by Louise Gallagher


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A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Truth

There is a restaurant downtown that has a sign on the side of its patio, “Free Air’.

The first time I saw it, it made me laugh. I didn’t ask ‘What’s up with that?” I assumed I knew. You’re sitting outside on the patio of a restaurant. The air is free. The food isn’t.

Because of that sign, I created a story in my mind about the owners. Quirky. Ironic. Self-deprecating. Perhaps a little less ‘the road well travelled’ and more ‘let’s chart our own course and see where it takes us.”

I have walked past that restaurant many times during the winter as it is on the route to my Chiropractor’s office. That sign always makes me smile. I also happen to really like their breakfast sandwiches and breads —Alforno is a take-out and sit down French bistro. And yes, the breads are delicious!

The other day, when I stopped to pick up a couple of latte’s and breakfast treats on my way to my youngest daughters, I walked past that sign and saw a man filling his bicycle tires with Free Air.

Yup. Free Air didn’t mean the air we breathe. It meant — free bicycle tire air fill-up!

I laughed out loud causing the bicycle tire filling man to look up. I gave him a friendly smile, all the while shaking my head in fascination at my foibles.

Of course, in defense of my literalness, up until the weather warmed up, the hose for the Free Air was not attached to the valve under the sign. Which means, I saw the sign only in the context of its relation to the outdoor patio, and its literal meaning.

It still makes me laugh to think of my ‘ooops! You’re not being ironic, as in, “Free Air on the patio — all you have to pay for is the food.” You actually are applying a much more practical application of Free Air – and trying to induce more exercise and urban living via the bicycle.

Which, in that context, changes the story I made up about the owners. Now, they’re environmentally conscious urbanites encouraging healthy, greener living. (Though I will tell you that when I asked the server behind the counter if they had any  ‘healthy’ breakfast choices, she raised one eyebrow, gave me one of those ‘you’ve got to be kidding looks?’ and let out an emphatic, NO!)

Which brings me back to the point of this post.

We make up stories about people and happenings all the time. The stories we create can only be in context to what we see and hear, from our perspective, our viewpoint, our beliefs, feelings, understandings, experiences, ideas and assumptions.

Often, we make up our stories based on limited information. Like me with the sign, until the hose was added to the valve beneath it, I was only focused on the words, not the words in context to their application in real life.

How often do you hear or read something and make decisions about that person or situation based on a quick scan and assume you know what’s going on? What if rather than taking your assumptions as truth, you chose instead to delve deeper into the context and substance of what’s happening by stopping to be curious and ask questions of yourself, and others?

How often do you make up a story about ‘why’ someone is saying, doing, or being the way they are, without getting the whole picture?

We are story-telling, and story-making people. We have the capacity to make up stories that shine light on the brilliance and magnificence of ourselves and those around us, or on their limitations.

Which story will you choose?

I don’t know the owners of that restaurant. I do know that the story I made up in my head about Free Air on the patio made me smile — even before I discovered my misconception.

I also know, on a deeper level, that I have many stories I’ve created about people and happenings, that are not so benign. They are limiting in their scope, and my interpretations of their value in my life. These are the stories I need to put in context to that Free Air sign. Like air, I can’t see what’s really going on behind the scenes, or beneath the surface of someone’s behaviours, or my own, without first stopping to ask the question, “What’s up with that?”

But I will admit. I still think my Free Air assumptions are kind of funny! And make a good story about ‘A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Truth”.

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Growing old is a life-long adventure

We are four women of a certain age gathered together to learn about and share with one another our thoughts and feelings and ideas on ageing.

Our teacher is RamDass. A video recording of a presentation he made 25 years ago, 5 years before the stroke that deprived him of his ability to walk, and speak in long sentences, and be independent.

His words are, as RamDass’ words have always been to me, inspiring. Brilliant. Humbling and thought-provoking.

“If we see old people as empty, we are empty of life,” he says. “Because we too shall be ‘old’ one day.”

How we see others is how we see ourselves.

When we are young, we think about ‘getting older’ as an exciting adventure. Something to look forward to, to aim towards. Ask a child their age and they will proudly give you a very specific answer. 4 years and 8 months. 5 and a half years. They might even hold up their fingers to demonstrate the number.

In our teens and 20s, our goal is always to ‘get older’. To become that age where people quit asking, ‘what do you plan to do with your life’, because we’re now doing it.

And then we reach our 30s, possibly even 40s, and age becomes something we’re mostly hopeful nobody notices, or at least will have the grace not to mention and if they do, mistake us for younger than the actual number of years beneath our belts.

I only ever had one crisis of aging. It was the year I was turning 35. I panicked. I was pregnant with my second child. Juggling work and an 18 month old and wondering, what am I doing with my life?  I felt like such a failure. I’d always wanted to be a writer and I wasn’t writing. I kept looking at those two digits and wondering, Oh No! I am half way there. Half way through. What is half way?

I couldn’t figure out if it was half way through my 30s that was so terrifying or if I thought I was halfway through my life and needed to get going faster to become who I was meant to be — if only I could figure out who that was.

Turning 35 was the impetus for my taking my writing seriously. I published my first article that year and started focusing on freelance writing and completed my first novel. I also got serious about therapy. About figuring out what was ‘wrong’ with me so I could find the right way out to seeing myself as whole. Worthwhile. Valued and valuable.

And then the 40s appeared and I was suddenly single, a working mother of two young children and going deeper into therapy. I knew I had to ‘find myself’ to start living life on the other side of my fear that I was missing life.

In my 40s, many things changed. One of the major changes was where once getting older seemed exciting, suddenly it loomed as something to fear.

And so it continued. Excited about getting older. Fearing getting older. To overcome the fear, I have had to learn to make friends with it. With aging. With the mystery of living and dying.

As I move closer to a ‘senior’ frame of reference, aging has become less of “A Thing” and more, just a thing. Like a car, things change. My job is to gracefully accept change without fighting, resisting, or pushing against it. My job is to take care of my vehicle and adapt to its changes with respect and love, so that as I age, I have the freedom and grace to be however I am without thinking who I am is a number on a calendar page that turns older every day, thus lessening my value or worth.

I am learning to grieve the losses, and celebrate the changes.

Aging, RamDas shared, is like setting sail in a boat that you know is going into the ocean and will sink.

We all age. It is unavoidable. What is avoidable, is thinking my age is the measurement of who I am or fearing that as the numbers grow, my sense of self lessens.

Every age has its opportunities, its complexities, its teachings and its challenges. To live my age fearlessly, I must, as RamDass counselled, embrace the entirety of who I am:  I Am Loving Awareness and embrace the  mystery of living and dying in Love.

May my life be my creative expression of Loving Awareness continually illuminating the mystery of life as I grow older and more comfortable with my human expression of learning to live and die with grace.

 

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Be Curious. | 52 Acts of Grace | Week 50

It’s easy to tell ourselves we know everything there is to know about ourselves.

Don’t believe it. Don’t believe everything you think.

Often, your thoughts just aren’t true. They’re just constructs of your experiences colliding with your capacity to let go of who and what you believe to be true about yourself and the world around you.

Years ago, when I first started painting, I had a story I told myself for over 40 years. “I am not an artist.”

One day, when my eldest daughter was 14 and she was painting (she’s an incredible artist) I decided ‘out of the blue’ to paint with her.

I discovered I had been telling myself a lie about myself all my life, or at least for as long as I could remember.

I fell in love with art-making and continue to delve into the mysteries of the creative process, learning something new about myself and my creative essence every day.

Don’t believe everything you think, especially about the limitations you set on and for yourself. Who knows what amazing things you’re capable of if you simply stop believing your limiting beliefs?

Next time you hear yourself saying, “I can’t do that.” or, “I’m too…… old, young, stupid, weak, fragile….” be curious. Ask yourself, “What would happen if I stopped believing that and instead, dove into being curious about what I can accomplish when I let go of that thought…?”

Be curious.

About life.

About those around you.

About you.

Live the questions. Not the answers.

Namaste.


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Surrender does not mean giving up.

From Abbey of the Arts Lenten Course, 2013 Mandala

I saw a question posted on someone’s FB page the other day (I can’t remember whose) that asked, “What does surrender mean to you?”

A good question.

For me, surrender is the art of letting go of holding on. It means falling into Love without fearing love will end, or not be there to catch me, or wrap me in its embrace.

It means, knowing I am safe in the embrace of the Divine simply because I am. Me.

A search of Google provides this definition from Merriam Webster online.

Definition of surrender
surrendered; surrendering
transitive verb
1
a : to yield to the power, control, or possession of another upon compulsion or demand surrendered the fort
b : to give up completely or agree to forgo especially in favor of another
2
a : to give (oneself) up into the power of another especially as a prisoner
b : to give (oneself) over to something (as an influence)
intransitive verb
: to give oneself up into the power of another : yield

Noun
1
a : the action of yielding one’s person or giving up the possession of something especially into the power of another
b : the relinquishment by a patentee of rights or claims under a patent
c : the delivery of a principal into lawful custody by bail —called also surrender by bail
d : the voluntary cancellation of the legal liability of an insurance company by the insured and beneficiary for a consideration
e : the delivery of a fugitive from justice by one government to another
2
: an instance of surrendering

Holding onto nothing, I become that which I hold onto. In that ‘nothing’ I am everything.

Sometimes, I resist surrender (okay, maybe I should type, often I resist surrender… because surrender does not come naturally to me). I resist. I push back. I flee from surrender into that place where I convince myself to surrender is to give up, in, over to something, someone else. Like Merriam Webster’s definition, I am trapped in believing surrender means to give myself up to the power of another.

I don’t like giving myself up to the power of another.

I like to tell myself I am independent. A woman of my own making. Not dependent upon another, or a power other than my own.

Fact is, I am constantly dependent upon and interdependent with others.

In simple terms, this means that to get from A to B, if not walking, I prefer to drive. To drive, I need a car someone manufactured. To drive my car I need a road and some sort of energy to fuel my car. I need street signs and road signs to help me get where I want to go, and to help traffic flow safely. All of which I am dependent upon others to create, build and maintain.

Perhaps surrender is not about surrendering to another power, but rather, surrendering the notion that I am not dependent upon others. Perhaps it means surrendering to the truth — we are all interdependent beings. Even a hermit living in a cave in a desert needs people to stay away, making him/her dependent upon others respecting his/her desire to be cut apart from society.

What does surrender mean to you?

I ask because I’m working on No 31 of my She Persisted series, and surrender keeps popping into the frame. I don’t know yet what the quote is, but I do know that for it to appear, I must surrender my desire to believe I know what is going to appear. Because, that is the essence of creativity for me. To surrender all belief that I am in charge of the process.

Namaste.


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Courage. Curiosity. Humility.

Yesterday, I was interviewed by a university student involved with Engineers without Borders. His group have undertaken a project at the university to understand homelessness and poverty, and then, to create a project that raises awareness, and funding, for Calgary’s efforts to end homelessness.

During our conversation, he told me that they would be walking around campus asking fellow-students questions to gain an understanding of what they know about homelessness. He read me some of his questions and asked, “Can you suggest any other questions?”

“As people to name the words they can think of to describe people who are experiencing homelessness,” I suggested. “You will get words like poor, lonely, lost, addict, bum, scum, lazy, good-for-nothing, scary, dirty, and a host of others. I’m curious if you’ll get the word, ‘human’.” In all my years of asking people that question, I have never heard anyone call someone experiencing homelessness a human, or human being, I told him.

I hope he gets it. I hope someone can see beyond the labels deeply enough to know, people experiencing homelessness are human beings, just like you and me. It’s just the circumstances of their lives have lead them somewhere they never once imagined they would be.

At the Foundation where I work, we recently created an impact video to kick-off an I Heart Home —  3 Things initiative we’re launching to inspire people to get involved with the vision of ending homelessness. We showed the video for the first time on Tuesday morning to the Board Chairs and CEOs of agencies working in the homeless-serving sector. Yesterday, we showed it to members of the Client Action Committee (CAC), a group of individuals with lived experience of homelessness who provide insight and guidance on our practices and programs towards ending homelessness.

The individuals in the video are all members of CAC. Sometime ago, I read that the 3 key attributes of a leader are Courage. Curiosity. Humility. Each of the 8 people in this video demonstrated great courage in sharing their story. They also demonstrated curiosity because they didn’t know what the final piece would look like, they just trusted in the process and were humble in their belief that in doing it, they would be making a difference.

They are right. They are making a difference. This video impacts. Deeply.

Thank you Lorne, Darren, Nigel, Phil, Theresa, Randy, Horse, Lynette. Your courage inspires each of us.

Thank you also to Paul, Brent and Mike the crew from Corkscrew Media who helped bring an idea into beautiful expression.

Making a difference with this video is as easy as sharing it widely with your social media networks. Please share.

Thank you.

 


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The Art of Becoming What You Hold On To

In the Soul of a Pilgrim course I studied during Lent one year, course moderator and Abbess of Abbey of the Arts, Christine Valters Paintner, asked in one of the lessons, “What if I truly believed the path before me was blessed?

And the muse answered — There would be no misstep. Only beauty. Only the perfection of each step, in darkness and light.

It was a scary thought. To hold true within me the thought that each step before me was blessed. For, if I truly believed each step before me was blessed, I would stop striving to ‘become me’ and fall with grace into being me. I would dance on my path. I would sing loud. I would laugh and spin about and not fear the path beneath my feet. I would embrace fearlessness in each step. I would not fear falling away from being me. I would fall into being all of me.

The Path is the Way, I wrote in my journal. Trusting in the Universe I find The Way to trust in me on the Path where each step unfolds as a blessing before me.

When I let go of my need to be…. seen, heard, known. When I release my desire to be…. somebody. A writer. An artist. An advocate. An executive…  my need to seek approval, acknowledgement, recognition is released. Free of my desire to be more, better, other than who I am, I become that which I do not need to seek, because that which I seek is always present, always within, around and about me  — Love.

In Love, being Love, I sink back into that place where I know, deep within me, that all my seeking for understanding is just a way to keep myself busy seeking ‘The More’ I tell myself I need to become to feel fulfilled, worthwhile, present, valued, valuable.

When I let go of seeking, ‘The More’, my heart has room to breathe freely, my mind has space to open wide and I become my light shining fiercely in love.

And in that space where I breathe freely into letting go of becoming the ‘being’ I think I need to be, I become, all that I am.

May your day be filled with being all that you are when you stop trying to become all that you can be. May you be Love shining brightly in all your being you.

Namaste.


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Take Action | 52 Acts of Grace | Week 49

The world is full of people with good intentions. Good intentions do not make a difference to our journey. Action does.

Years ago, sitting in a coffee shop by myself, I saw a young woman seated by herself at another table. She wasn’t doing anything in particular. Just sitting there, staring silently into the distance, occasionally wiping away a tear that had escaped her eyes and was running down her cheek.

I thought of going over to offer her a kleenex. Or to at least ask if she needed anything. Could I help?

I remember feeling uncomfortable. What if she got angry with me for my advances? What if she told me to mind my own business?

I did nothing.

I have carried my sense of regret of having done nothing in that moment with me since that day.

More recently, while walking at the park, I met a woman walking without a dog, who stopped to get her ‘puppy fix’ as we passed. I noticed she was crying.

Carrying the memory of that moment from long ago, I asked her if there was anything I could do. “You look sad,” I said.

“I am”, she blurted out. And she told me of the divorce she’s going through with her husband of many years. “I just feel so lost and lonely,” she said.

She shared a bit more and then, as we parted I asked if she would like a hug. She began to shake her head from side to side, and stopped. She nodded her head up and down. “Yes. Please.” she said quietly.

And we hugged. As we parted ways and walked in opposite directions, she called back. “Thank you!”

It was just a moment. But in that moment, we connected as humans connect when they take time to see one another, and stand together, heart to heart.

If I had noticed her tears and only thought about how sad she looked, and not taken action to create more of what I want in the world around me — peace and harmony — then I would have felt the regret of doing nothing.

That woman still had to face the sadness of her divorce, her sense of loss, her fears of being suddenly alone in her mid-life. But for that moment, she felt a sense of ease. Less alone. More connected.

Taking action doesn’t mean we change someone else’s path. It just means while on our own path, we do not have to carry the regret of doing nothing.