He’s still out there. Somewhere.

He is still out a-wandering.

We are still at home waiting for his return.

Funny how the house feels so different without his presence.

Sure do miss him.

Please come home Marley.

Gone a-wandering

Our beloved Marley, the Great Cat, has gone a-wandering. He raced out the front door on Tuesday night and has not come home.

We are worried.

Marley is by nature an outdoor cat. We adopted him from the SPCA about 9 years ago and he immediately began his out the door dashes once ensconced in our home.

Since moving to Bow Landing, he’s not been as eager to go outside and on the few occasions he’s dashed out the door, he’s been back fairly quickly.

This time that didn’t happen.

He’s a big, black (okay somewhat overweight) green-eyed handsome dude who purrs like a motor boat at high speed and is exceptionally affectionate.

Marley came into our home as a mouser, but other than scare the mice away, or toy with them, he isn’t particularly adept at the catching part.

But man, he can love you like nobody’s business. Cuddling is his next favourite thing to eating. He doesn’t even need to be stroked to purr. The minute he’s in your vicinity, his motor starts.

Our home is along the river. We’re worried about that.

Coyote roam this area. We’re concerned about that too.

He was last seen dashing across the drive in the dark of night on Tuesday in the Montgomery area of Calgary, near the Hextall Bridge and Shouldice Park.

He’s tattooed in his left ear. But, other than being black with green eyes (and somewhat overweight) he has no other distinguishing features. Oh. But he is beautiful!

If you happen upon him, you’ll be rewarded with lots of purrs and some cash too if you let us know!

Thank you.

Which do you choose today?

Life is in constant flow. Like the river outside my window, life doesn’t stop. When it meets an obstacle, it flows around it, under it, over it.

This morning, as I contemplate the beauty of green leaves spread out against a sapphire blue sky, I sit in the quiet of being present to the divine nature of the world around me and am reminded, once again, of the divine nature of my human essence.

We are all born magnificent. We are all miraculous beings of light and Love.

And then, life happens. In its happenings, we forget our divine nature and fall into the flow of believing we are flawed, broken, lost.

It isn’t until we wake up one day to the essential essence of our being human, in all our perfectly imperfect human imperfections that we realize we have spent so much of our life pushing against the river’s flow.

In that awareness, we have a choice. Keep struggling, or, Stop It.

In my life, there are places where I pushed against the flow, spaces where I let go and those where I simply let myself be carried within the divine grace of being alive, in this moment, right now.

We are all perfectly imperfect humans. We are all on this journey called ‘Life on Earth’ together.

We can push against one another, or, we can flow together.

Which do you choose today?

 

Rejoice in ordinary things

Acrylic on Canvas 42″ x 36″ Louise Gallagher 2001

I am in summer writing mode, lazy mornings, reading, walking, re-ordering my days. I will be posting less frequently over the next two months, but on those days when I spend my time ‘othering’ I’ll share things that inspire me.

The painting above is one of the very first paintings I did when I first started painting almost 20 years ago. It continues to be one of my favourites — perhaps because in it, I see only the simple, pure joy of creation.

In the beginning, my mind was not cluttered with thoughts of ‘the right way’, or the ‘that’s not good enough way’ of creating that is a natural by-product of learning more about ‘how to paint correctly’ versus ‘how to paint for the pure joy of it’ which is the beginner’s way for me.

In the beginning, painting for the pure joy of it was natural. Now, I strive to recapture that essence. I must consciously let go of my need to ‘do it right’ versus ‘do it for the pure joy of it’ – which can be challenging because when I think about it, I am no longer in that place of natural joyful creation!

Ahh, the contradictions of life are so fascinating!

Namaste.

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Inspiring thought for the day:

Rejoicing in ordinary things is not sentimental or trite. It actually takes guts. Each time we drop our complaints and allow everyday good fortune to inspire us, we enter the warrior’s world.

– Pema Chödron

from the book “The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times”

Just Dharma Quotes

Shared from Zen Flash

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Forgive often. Love always

When I didn’t love myself, I found it hard to forgive myself. It was a kind of chicken and the egg thing. I wanted to love myself, I knew it was important, But, I held myself at fault and couldn’t forgive my mistakes, making it impossible to love myself.

See-sawing between blame and shame, I measured whatever was happening in my life as being done to me. I was not to blame. Not responsible or accountable. It was always someone else’s fault. Or, I was all my mistakes and that made me one big mistake. I could never measure up.

In that place where all I was looking for was to lay blame and shame, forgiveness was not possible, making self-love an elusive dream.

Until I was willing to see my inherent human nature as a beautiful gift, to see that I am perfectly imperfect in all my human imperfections, I could never give myself the grace of seeing my mistakes as an essential and integral part of my journey. In my denial, there was no room for forgiveness and love because, well I was too busy covering-up my mistakes or too busy blaming others for theirs. In that hostile territory, there was only room for blame, fear and denial.

My mistakes are as much a part of me as the things I want the world to know and see about me.

My mistakes don’t make me weaker. They make me stronger, because in their light, the many facets of my human condition shimmer in the light of Love. In that light, I see how beautifully human I am when I give up the need to be perfect, when I am willing to let down my guard and be vulnerable.

As long as I am willing to lovingly face myself in every light, I grow through everything I do and have the space to learn to Love everything I am, beauty and the beast, yin and yang, dark and light.

Ultimately, we are not our mistakes, we are what we make of our mistakes. What we do with them. How we use them as tools to help us grow more forgiving and loving.

When we treat ourselves harshly, we create fertile ground for anger, bitterness, regret and a host of limiting emotions to fester. When we are unforgiving, we are unforgiven. Without forgiveness, there is no room for love to flow freely.

Long ago, I struggled to love myself, all of me.

Today I know that loving all of me is the path to bringing all the best of me to light. In that place, my mistakes are no longer a burden, they are part of my human journey. To enjoy the journey, travelling lightly is optimal. To travel light, I must choose forgiveness. It is the path to Love, and in Love, there is only one answer to living this one precious life freely: to Love more.  Love always.

 

What is home?

Yesterday, I watched a woman receive the news she was getting housed.

It was emotional. Moving. Humbling.

A single mother, she arrived at the homeless shelter, two young children in tow, with no other options, nowhere else to go.

“It’s been a long month,” she told me when we chatted after she received the news. “And now this part is over.”

She moves out this weekend. Into her own place where she and her children can begin to rebuild their lives after the trauma of the past.

When her case worker told her the news she broke down. Crying. She hugged her children. Her case worker. Everyone in sight.

She jumped up and down. Did a crazy dance. Laughed and cried all at the same time.

And I remembered.

A time years ago when I received a box of kitchen supplies.

I had been living with my sister and her husband in North Vancouver for the months after the relationship that had almost killed me ended.

Finally, I was moving into my own place. Albeit the ground floor suite of their home, but it was my own place.

I had few possessions.

Everything my daughters and I owned had been put into storage a year and a half before when we first left our home in anticipation of moving into the house ‘that man’ had promised we’d bought together.

The house never materialized. The money disappeared and so did all our belongings.

Auctioned off eventually as the monthly rental he’d told me he paid had never been paid.

My sister had a friend who was moving to the states and was giving away a bunch of her kitchen stuff.

She gave it to me.

I remember sitting in my bedroom at my sister’s home and opening that box. I started to cry. Suddenly, all that I’d lost came sweeping in. The beautiful set of china my mother had given me. The hand-painted glass plates I’d brought back from Greece. The carefully collected and cherished possessions of a lifetime of living and growing and building a home and a life with my daughters.

Gone.

In that one box I was reminded of what was lost, and what could be.

Suddenly, I had ‘things’ again. The lightness of being devoid of household possessions was gone and I was grounded at home.

Since that day so many years ago, I have gone on to rebuild my home.

This morning, I sit at my desk by the window at the front of our home, overlooking yard and trees and river. The window is open. Birds sing. The leaves rustle in the gentle morning breeze. The river flows with the depth and constancy of the Love that surrounds me and fills my world with such beauty.

Dishes, appliances, household clutter can be replaced, but what could not be taken away, and never needed replacing, was the love that constantly sustained me and carried me through those dark days, the Love that is present every day of my life.

I watched a mother begin her journey home yesterday.

She was elated. Excited. Happy.

She too does not have many possessions, and while she doesn’t have a sister helping her rebuild her household, she does have an incredible network of agencies working with her to ensure she and her children have a solid foundation upon which to build a better future.

A future where fear and abuse, uncertainty and trauma do not have to be the focal point of her journey.

A future where her children can go to bed at night confident they will not be awoken in the dark by screaming and crying and broken dishes on the floor.

A future where tomorrow has the possibility of being better than today because every day gets better when you live without fear of never having enough, of not being able to pay the rent, or put food on the table.

A future where your mother has room to breathe freely, to dream and to plan on how to make her dreams come true so that her children can grow up strong and free, living the lives she’s always dreamed they would have.

I witnessed a mother get the news she was going home yesterday.

My heart took flight.

Namaste.

What do you do when the there and then rises up in the here and now?

I am always fascinated by my triggers. Those places where I respond in the here and now only to discover I’m reacting at a level triggered by a distant past.

I hit one of those spots last night. It was fascinating.

I had stopped by the Sunterra Market near my office to pick up a few groceries. $121 worth or groceries including the beautiful bouquet of flowers I bought for myself.

At the checkout, realizing I didn’t have my shopping bag with me, I purchased one of Sunterra’s nice big bags, believing it would make it easier for the cashier to pack up my items and for me to carry them to my car a block away.

The cashier took the bag, lay it flat on the counter and then proceeded to scan each of my items and lay them on top of the bag.

I was confused.

Why wouldn’t she bag the items as she went along?

She finished scanning my order, I paid and then she proceeded to start scanning the next person’s order.

“Excuse me,” I asked. “Are you not going to bag my groceries?” I could feel the quiver in my voice as my umbrage rose. Sunterra is an upscale market. I like it because I don’t have to bag my own groceries. It always has great produce and it’s convenient. Was she expecting me to bag my groceries?

She looked at me as she bagged the groceries for the man who was behind me in line. “I will.”

By now, I recognize the vibration inside me. It is familiar. It is primordial. It is annoying.

It’s the one that makes me want to cry instead of speak up. That makes me want to stomp my feet in childish frustration and ask, ‘Do you see me?’

I tried to keep my voice calm. “Don’t you think you should bag my groceries before starting on the next person’s order?”

She looked at the two or three people standing in the checkout line behind me. They each had one, two, maximum four items in their hands.

She smiled.

“No. I want to clear the line-up first.”

By now I’m in full reactive mode.

“That’s fine. I’ll do it myself.” And I pull the bag out from under my groceries and start to pile my items into it.

She keeps checking out the people behind me. I keep putting the groceries into my bag.

When I’m finished, I grab my flowers, my bag of groceries and as I’m about to leave I turn to her and say, “I think this is really poor customer service.”

She looks at me surprised. Shrugs her shoulders and smiles at the person she’s helping.

Okay. I admit it. I do not do well when I feel dismissed and/or judged.

I huffed my way out of the store, and as I was leaving the man who appeared to be the Manager walked by me and smiled.

I did not smile back.

Now that’s a big thing for me. I think that’s rude.

I did it anyway.

As I reach the doors to the street, the argument inside my head was in full swing. “You should complain.” “Don’t be ridiculous.” “She’s just trying to do her job.” “Well she’s not that good at it.” “How will she learn?…”

Finally, I turn around, find the manager and tell him how unimpressed I was with her service. He looks surprised when I tell him she didn’t bag my groceries before starting on the next person’s and assures me he will speak with her.

I leave and as I drive home, I mull over my reactions to the situation.

What’s that all about? I ask myself. You sure have a lot of emotional energy around this. Care to dive in to find its source?

Now, along with the voice of wisdom that recognizes my response was not just to the situation but to the past, there is also the critter’s voice inside who wants to justify, rationalize and normalize my behaviour.

You had every right to be upset, the critter hisses. You are not being over-reactive. You deserve better treatment. It’s her problem. How dare she!…

From a customer service level, her actions could use some adjusting. That’s the manager’s job.

From my personal response level, my peace of mind, my equilibrium deserve my attention.

Later, as C.C. and I are enjoying dinner together, I tell him about my emotionally charged encounter. “I sure have some fascinating trigger points,” I tell him.

He laughs and agrees. “Yes you do.”

And I laugh with him.

“Yes I do,” I say. “Aren’t I fascinating!”

That encounter, whether she was giving me good customer service or not, shows me clearly some unhealed areas in my psyche. That wasn’t me, today, in the here and now, responding to her. In that moment, I was vibrating with the energy of a thousand tiny unhealed moments from long ago when as a child I felt unheard, unseen, undefended.

I breathe and remind myself what is real and true today. I am so loved and deserving of joy. I am safe now. I am safe.

Namaste.

 

The magic of living life fearlessly.

photo by @brit_gill
photo by @brit_gill

From her first cry to her first smile to her first song, life with Alexis is always an adventure. Over the past 32 years, I have borne witness to the magic and miracle of her voice growing stronger. I have watched her move through toddler stage to little girl, to adolescent, teenager, young woman and now, a mother.

And always, she has enchanted and enthralled. She has been real and fierce and loving and brave.

Today is my eldest daughter’s birthday.

I remember this day 32 years ago. It was much like today promises to be. Bright and sunny. Blue sky soaring into infinity.

Life looked predictable. Like it would always be blue sky and sunny days.

And then Alexis came into this world. She arrived on her terms, on her schedule. We had been anticipating her arrival at the end of May. That day had passed. Alexis wasn’t ready to meet the world yet. Or perhaps, the world wasn’t ready to meet her?

In the end, Alexis Marie erupted onto life’s stage 23 days past her original due date. As I lay on an operating table and the doctor cut into my abdomen, I heard her cries from within my womb and my heart melted. I could feel it. That instantaneous giving way of the boundaries that held all known feeling in place. A letting go of all restraint, an abandoning of life as I knew it as this tiny, precious, perfect being was lifted from the safety of my womb and exposed to the world.

I wanted to keep her close. To keep her tied to the umbilical safety of my being the vessel that embraced her every breath.

And I had to let her go. I had to allow the cord to be cut to give her wings room to grow.

They have been growing ever since.

There is so much in this world I do not know. So much about life and living and loving fearlessly I have yet to explore.

Before I became a mother, I thought I knew it all. I thought I had life figured out and that once I did become a mother, it would be a pretty clearcut, straight forward journey of raising them and setting them on their path with the prerequisite education, tools and hope chest filled with all they needed to live adult lives in an adult world.

Being a mother has taught me how little I knew then about Love, and how much I don’t need to know now about anything else because, in Love’s light, everything else pales.

Alexis is a woman and a mother now. Beautiful. Talented. Creative. Kind. Caring. Loving. I watch her with her infant son and my heart melts all over again.

She sings to him, and I hear angels’ voices.

She dances with him and I see a fairy queen, ethereal, regal, magical.

She paints and writes and creates beauty and wonder in the world all around and I know her son’s life will be filled with magic and beauty, wonder and awe.

She is sensitive and gentle. Fiercely loyal. Fiercely proud. Sometimes, she doubts her own strength, questions her capacity to be courageous. No matter her self-doubts, always she finds her way through because of her heart’s capacity to beat to its own drum, march to its own beat, love in its own rhythm.

Always, she watches out for others. Sees the beauty in every soul, the wonder in every breath. She hears the words that are left unspoken, and feels the pain that is left unhealed and knows exactly how to reach out and soothe another’s fears, another’s tears, another’s sadness.

photo by @brit_gill

She is intuitive. She is whimsical. She is miraculous, just as she always has been. Just as she always will be.

She is a woman, a mother, a daughter, a grand-daughter, a step-daughter, a sister, a step-sister, a niece, a cousin, a friend. She is so many things and has so many ways of being amazing because she is Alexis.

Happy Birthday my darling daughter. Though the miles may lay between us, you are my heart. Forever and always.

Kairos Blanket Exercise

https://www.kairosblanketexercise.org/reflecting-on-the-blanket-exercise/

I am standing on a blanket. This blanket is one of six spread out on the floor, each one touching the next. They represent Turtle Island, or North America as it’s called today.

I am standing on this blanket as a participant in the Kairos Blanket Exercise. I am excited to begin this learning journey. I am unaware of the power of the next two hours in front of me.

Take up all the space of the blankets the facilitator urges us. Claim your land.

There are about 30 of us standing on the blankets. We all work for Inn from the Cold, the family emergency shelter where I work.

Most of us are non-Indigenous. Some are immigrants. Others born on Canadian soil of ‘settler’ families.

And the story begins.

For the next two hours we become more and more cramped on the blankets as one blanket after another disappears as do some of the participants.

“You are a child who was sent to Residential School,” the facilitator tells one of my co-workers. And they move off the blanket to stand at the edge of the circle.

“Your child was taken from your arms,” a woman is told who is holding a doll. And the facilitator grabs the doll from the woman’s arms and puts it on the floor at the edge of the circle.

“You were swept up in the 60s scoop,” another participant is told and they too join the others standing outside the circle.

Smallpox. Other diseases. Poor nutrition. Suicide. Land appropriation. Adoption. Assimilation. Slowly people disappear from the constantly reducing area the blankets cover until only a handful of us remain on a tiny blanket in the middle of the room.

“You are the survivors,” we are told.

I do not want to cheer. I do not want to clap. I want only to cry.

So much carnage. So much loss. So much pain.

“We do not do this exercise to make people feel guilty, or to make them sad or angry. We do it to raise awareness. To educate. To share the story of Canada through an Indigenous lens,” the facilitator tells us.

It is a story not told in schools. Or text books. Or movies.

It is a story of a nation’s past where fairness, equity, freedom of all people was not for everyone, just the civilized. Indigenous Peoples were not considered civilized. They were deemed savages.

It is a story of the stealing away of an entire people’s lands, dignity, pride, way of life. Of forcing new culture over an existing one in order to make them more like us. To make them seem less different. Unique. Connected to one another.

It is told in a way that makes it possible to understand why, ‘getting over it’ is not so easy, not so possible.

This story.

I am familiar with it. I have read the Truth and Reconciliation recommendations. Participated in other Indigenous learning circles. I have worked in this sector for over 12 years. In this sector, unlike on Turtle Island, Indigenous Peoples are over-represented.

They carry the scars, the wounds, the trauma of a past where their way of life and who they were was deemed unfit by those who usurped power and claimed a land as their own, even though it was already claimed.

This is my country.

It is the land upon which I was born. On which I live today.

We call it Canada.

Once upon a time, it was called Turtle Island.

Our history is not a clean white page in a book unmarred by trauma or dark deeds. It is not a history of treating everyone with dignity, fairness, respect, even though that is the history we’d like to tell.

We have this shared story of our past which we must be willing to talk about, to understand so that we can move beyond the things we don’t want to see, to create a country we do want to have, together. As one people.

A country where the past is not a shadow marred by the darkness of what was done. It is a place where all people’s know, no matter their place in the past, today we are all of one land, one country, one humanity, and one shared story.

“Meegwetch” (Thank you in the language of the Haudensaunee, the Peoples of the traditional territory upon which I was born).

 

The myth of Choice.

It is a statement often made in connection with humans experiencing homelessness. “It’s their choice.”

After twelve years of working in the homeless serving sector, I have yet to meet anyone, no matter their age, who stated, “I chose homelessness.”

It is a choice that is foisted upon someone. A choice that rears its ugly head when all other choices have lead to dead end alleys and closed doors.

It is a choice that was not made willingly, and in most cases, there’s no informed consent. It was made because there were no other choices and homelessness was the only door someone could walk through that wasn’t slammed in their face.

In child and family homelessness, I have never met a parent or parents who say, “We wanted this for our children. This is what they deserve/need/want.”

Homelessness is not a choice.

It’s a lack of choice. A lack of options. A lack of doors to open, roads to take, resources to fall back on to stave off the tragedy and trauma of getting to that place called Homeless.

It is not a choice.

At the family emergency shelter where I work, we are experiencing unprecedented numbers of families coming through our doors. Not one of these families say that the reason they came to the shelter is become they ‘chose’ to.

Their reasons are many. They are complex. They are numbing.

They were staying with friends and family, couch-surfing as its called.

They were evicted because they couldn’t pay the rent. Loss of job. An illness. Family upheaval.

They were fleeing family violence.

They moved from a reserve to the city only to find the city is not always a welcoming place. There is no “You are Welcome Here” doormat inviting them into the prosperity, stability and future they seek. There is mostly a “You’re here now. Good luck. You’re on your own,” mat that leaves them confused, frightened and feeling desperately alone as they struggle to figure out ways to keep their family together, fed and safe.

The choice leaves them, as the saying goes, between the devil you know and the devil you don’t. Go back to a reserve without clean water, with inadequate housing, where the suicide rates in youth are skyrocketing, where numbing through drugs and alcohol prevails, or… stay in the city where racism, discrimination and prejudice abound. Where high rents and landlords unwilling to rent to ‘those people’ turn you away before you even get to the door.

Where the colour of your skin shadows your every step forward, leaving you out in the cold, struggling to find safe shelter for your children so that they can grow up to be free. Strong. Successful.

Homeless is not a choice.

But we, the non-homeless, do make choices that leave homelessness as the only option for those struggling to get out of the raging waters of poverty and inter-generational traumas that colonialism has wrought upon families since settlers came to this land a few hundred years ago.

Our choices include immigration policies that do not link new Canadians to vital resources to get firmly planted in the vibrant network of their new homeland. Policies that leave young mothers and their children in homes where the one who sponsored them is also the one who is abusing them. They can’t/daren’t run away because he holds the papers that give them claim to their status and right to be in Canada.

Homeless is not a choice.

But we can make different choices. We can choose to be more tolerant, more understanding, compassionate even. We can choose to not tear down existing affordable housing to build new and costly places. Or when we do, we can choose also to replace what we tear down so that those who are being displaced have places to go that they can afford. Places that aren’t leaky or creaky or not big enough to hold a family, but are being used anyway because… there is no where else to go, except into homelessness.

I have choice.

I am privileged.

But the families who come to the shelter? They do not experience the privileges I do. They do not have the agency to make decisions about where to live, or go to school, or go on vacation.

Their lack of privilege has lead them to the one place they never wanted their children to be. Homeless.

So let’s cut out the myth about homelessness being a choice and get real with what’s really at issue.

The choices we’ve made as a society, choices designed to increase wealth and the standard of living for many, have also created an environment where poverty and homelessness flourish. These are the choices that have left those without privilege standing on the margins looking for a way to the other side of the street, stranded in poverty because our choices keep closing the door to vulnerable humans seeking to find their way to any place other than that place called Homeless.