Dare boldly

A blog by Louise Gallagher


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In Liberty’s Gaze.

You can protect your liberties in this world only by protecting the other man’s freedom.
You can be free only if I am free. — Clarence Darrow

She didn’t know her own strength. She’d never been tested. Never been put up against man’s nature to tear things down.

No one knew what would happen when the winds of adversity blew. When the gales howled. When the hurricanes ripped through the foundations of her truth that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.. Give me your tired, your poor…

No one knew the measure of her strength under pressure of another’s assertions he knew best, that his truth was the righteous belief of mankind’s salvation. No one knew.

And, when the winds came, as they often do, they howled and careened around her body, pummeling her righteous stance, her insistance that she not be swayed. Her belief that she must hold fast. Be strong.

The winds screamed like a thousand banshees roaring through desert sands, a storm of idealogies cast upon the winds, swirling around her, rising up into a hailstorm of dissent, rising up with hatred and condemnation, fear and loathing. A typhoon of evolutionary calamity in the making of war that would never know peace until quietened in an oasis of calm at the sheer strength of her steadfast gaze through time. …Give me… Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore…

The winds roared and she stood strong and true as she stands strong and true today. True to the foundation upon which she was built, a symbol of friendship, freedom and peace, this lady of liberty. This lady with the strength to hold fast the belief of nations and the dream of all mankind. Liberty for all. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me…

Hers is the strength of a dream woven into the fabric of their collective nationhood aspiring for equality, justice, freedom, and the pursuit of happiness for all mankind. A nation of people who stand true in their belief in the rightness of all men to worship from their own separate pew. The strength of a nation that stands true to the right of all men, women and children, where ever on earth they may stand to rise up and be heard, be seen and be free. I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

The above is the inscription inside the base of the Statues of Liberty in New York harbour, Swan Ally Island in the Seine River in Paris and Paris’ Luxembourg Gardens. The lines are found in a sonnet by Emma Lazarus, The New Colossus written in 1883.

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles.
From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Emma Lazarus, 1883

I have reposted this from my Recover Your Joy blog I posted it in in 2010 in honour of our American neighbour’s July 4th Independence Day celebrations.

Happy July 4th my friends!

PS — I wrote these words long before the current times. And still they ring true for me. Having since written a piece on the African term, Ubuntu — I can see the connection in all things — We are all connected. Ubuntu from the Bantu language, represents the philosophy that — “I am what I am because of who we all are.”

May we all be free together. May we all know our magnificence together. May we all be together as one human race celebrating our humanity.

Let it begin with me.


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All my relations

In South Africa it is called Ubuntu.

Here, where the fierce prairie winds are not strong enough to blow away the memories of colonization and the residential schools that did their best to rip cultural identity out of the child with such force the scars still seep from the trauma today, it is called, “All My Relations.”  That place where who I am is because you are who you are and what happens to me impacts the we of who we are together.

Yesterday, I attended a ‘Listening Session” on off-reserve indigenous affordable housing. There were five of us at the round table where I sat. Three of us were non-Indigenous.

One of the questions asked for feedback on how to increase length of stay in housing for Indigenous people after being housed in an urban setting.

“Stop making us feel unwanted everywhere we go, where ever we live” said one man who came from a reserve many years ago and now leads an agency which provides housing for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people exiting homelessness. “Stop discrimination.”

A tall order. Stop discrimination.

Yet, when I see it through its simplest frame, it appears so sensible. So obvious. Stop discriminating against the things we do not understand, the people we do not know, the history we do not want to think about. Stop seeing the world as ‘us and them’ and see it as, “All My Relations.”

One of the other individuals at our table whose PhD made him the most highly educated amongst, us shared the story of how, as a teenager, holding his first pay cheque in hand, he went to the grocery store to cash it.

“I didn’t have a bank account and my mom always cashed her cheques there,” he shared.

When he asked if he could cash it the manager said, without glancing at the cheque but staring only at his brown face. “You’ve got a welfare cheque already?”

All My Relations.

We are not separate. We are the same kind of different. The same human condition appearing in all its manifestations.

On this day in a week focused on celebration of National Aboriginal Day, I check to see where my privilege has landed me and find myself once again in that space of humility.

No one has ever refused to rent to me because of the colour of my skin.

I have never been denied service in a restaurant because I represent an entire nation of people whose culture, history, ceremonies and language were destroyed by the privilege I carry.

No one has ever called me names as I walked down the street that are meant to malign my culture, my past, my people.

And no one has ever spit on me, kicked me or beat me up because I am ‘a dirty Indian’.

Yet it has happened to thousands of my neighbours. To the people who called this land home long before the white man came and planted their roots and claimed this land as their own.

And it keeps happening.

I don’t discriminate against those who are ‘different’ than me but when I do not speak up, when I do not stand with those who have been beaten down because they are Indigenous, I am perpetuating the trauma through my silence and lack of action.

I saw my privilege laid out before me on a round table yesterday.

It is not a pretty thing to see when cast in the light of the trauma and pain its presence causes others.

It is of no benefit to me or the world around me if I do not use it to create better for those for whom the privilege of being treated with dignity, respect, honour is denied because, even though their connection to this land is deeper than mine, the colour of their skin and the vibrancy of their culture, once made them ‘savages’.

Long before the white man came, this land was filled with hope and promise. It was filled with rich and vibrant culture, with ceremony and peace pipes and drums beating.

We cannot turn back time, but we can turn the page to find ourselves writing a different story of how we treat one another. How we build tolerance, compassion, understanding, truth and dignity into our world. We can write a new story where we acknowledge, All My Relations is made of each of us doing better, every day, to build a Canada that is good for everyone.

Namaste.


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Aging with grace

Have you ever been faced with an opportunity and upon what you thought to be sober second thought, said “No” when you could have said, “YES!”

Life is filled with such passages. Those moments where if I’d had the courage, if I’d taken the chance, I might have done ‘a’ instead of ‘b’ and who knows where I’d be today. I can’t change the past, but I can heal the spaces where those decisions continue to present me with opportunities to let go of the fear, or perhaps insecurities, or maybe confusion that held me back from living my life bravely.

According to Thomas Moore, whose soul-centered philosophy speak deeply to me, some of those passages need to be healed, or we stay stuck. In our stuckedness, the unhealed passage leaves us acting out in immature, unconscious ways that limit the grace with which we pass through each day and ultimately, prevent us from knowing grace in aging.

“Passages are not always easy. You may decide it is too much for you and settle for being stuck in a comfortable phase.” — Thomas Moore, Ageless Soul

Moore suggests we look back on our lives and see various passages as linked by plateaus which represent the stages of our lives. Not necessarily the ‘aged’ stages, but rather, the significant events which make up our growing. School. Marriage. Travel. Jobs. Adventures…

Sometimes, we don’t navigate the passages between plateaus well. Sometimes, in our inability to let go of one plateau to pass through to another, we refuse to say yes to possibility and hold onto, or stay stuck in, what was and can never be again.

There are many ways to heal those broken passages.

The first step is to draw a timeline of your life, mark the significant events and then, mark those opportunities on it that you didn’t take, those moments where you said No when you could have said Yes but something held you back.

Look for patterns, for spaces where your reason for No carried over into other areas of your life, even when you wanted to say Yes.

Now, hold those moments lovingly in your mind, and let compassion, love, acceptance pour over them. Let your heart open wide to the realization that in those instances you chose No, not because you couldn’t do it, but rather, because doing it was too risky, scary, fear-inducing, or you just felt more comfortable staying stuck.

And then, say, “I see you. I forgive you. I let go. I am peaceful with my decision today.”

Repeat often.

 

 


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The best laid plans…

I had a great plan.

  1. Get back into the studio in the evenings. (I haven’t been in the studio throwing paint for a few weeks now. Busy-ness. New Job. Several events. Summer-like evenings and all that jazz kept getting in my way.)
  2. Wake up earlier (5am) to be able to meditate half an hour every morning followed by half an hour of yoga.
  3. Go to bed earlier. Lights out by 10:30.
  4. Check my diet. Ensure it is laden with nutrients and healthy foods.
  5. Walk an hour a day.

 

And, like many best laid plans, life got in the way.

Well, a cold actually.

I have managed to fulfill on Step 3 — Go to bed earlier. Sleep is about all that has been calling to me this past week and weekend. Sleep and more sleep. In fact, Saturday, which was a perfect summer day in the studio because of the rain, I did not get out of bed all day.

That’s the thing about ‘plans’.

You gotta be flexible. Adaptable. Kind.

Flexible enough to adapt your plan to unforeseen circumstances. A cold was not on my agenda, but, working back at a frontline homeless-serving agency it is in some ways inevitable. New venue. New germs. And as this is a child and family centered agency, there are always lots of germs floating around.

Years ago, when I started working at an adult shelter, even though I’m not frontline staff, I got a cold every month for a year. After that, my immune system had strengthened itself enough, I didn’t get another cold for the next five years I worked there.

 

I figure this may be part of my modus operendi. Condition my immune system with variable germs until its strong enough to defend itself.

At least, that’s the plan.

But then, you know what happens to the best laid plans…

We either adapt to present conditions or the plan falls apart.

In the case of a plan that doesn’t follow my script, there’s only one thing I can do, be kind to myself by treating myself with tender loving care, and when conditions improve, give myself the grace to …

Begin again.

 

 

Always begin again.

I am on the mend. The bloom is off my cold as its love affair with my immune system wanes. There are clear nasal passages and fewer coughs on the horizon.

All is good. My plan for now is to treat myself with tender loving care, allowing myself the grace to not appear anywhere at 5am except my bed. And if getting up whenever I get up does not allow enough time to appear here on the page, I’m okay with that too. It’s all in the plan.

Namaste.

 


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Can education end poverty, homelessness and discrimination?

I am at a dinner party. The people around the table are all successful by society’s norms. They have achieved status, good jobs, make contributions to their organizations, families, communities, society.

One of the guests states they know how to resolve the problem for Canada’s Indigenous people. “Give them goals,” they say with conviction, “and hold them to the outcomes.”

The other guests murmur in agreement. Yes. Yes. It’s what’s needed. They need to stop whining and start doing more to be productive members of society. Sure, we messed up, someone mentions, we treated them unfairly, but that’s in the past. It’s time to move on.

I chime in and ask if anyone around the table has read the Truth and Reconciliation Report. There’s a lot of head shaking, No.

So, we can sit here with answers when no one has read a report that provides clear directions on how to move forward in addressing the inequities and injustices that have created the trauma and crisis today.

Good point, someone says. But they still need to be held accountable to goals. They need to progress.

And who are we to say what that looks like I ask, when we don’t understand the people, culture, history and our role in creating the issues today?

I ask one man, the CEO of a large multi-national corporation how he would respond if a consultant, hired to help fix a problem in the organization, walked in and said, I know the answers. Here’s what you have to do. Yet, the consultant had not even looked at the organization’s balance sheet, annual report, strategic plan or interviewed leadership, etc.

The man laughed and replied, “I’d throw him out.”

Yet, it’s okay to act like that consultant about a situation you have not spent any time understanding.

There was a long silence and the conversation changed to another topic.

 

Yesterday, a reader commented on my post that education is vital. “… the answer is education. It lifts people, it lifts families, it lifts communities. And, while it is lifting people out of chronic cyclical poverty and its attendant problems, it lifts spirit, self-esteem/pride and empowers more accomplishment.”

I agree.

But it’s not just those experiencing homelessness, or poverty, or other social injustices who need education. It is all of us.

Recently, a man told me of his experience looking for a place to live. He arranged for a viewing of an apartment and when he got there, it was mysteriously, suddenly, unavailable.

You can’t tell the colour of my skin on the phone, he told me. But I could see his [the landlord’s] revulsion by the look on his face when he opened the door.

The man is Blackfoot.

It happens all the time, he told me. Sometimes, people don’t even bother to pretend. They just say, “I don’t rent to Indians.”

It doesn’t just happen to indigenous people, but to immigrants too.

Someone sees the colour of their skin, and doors close in their face.

Education is needed.

For everyone.

Discrimination hurts all of us. It fosters resentment, disillusionment, despair; entitlement, injustice, disrespect.

It creates Us and Them communities where the ‘have’s’ deny the ‘have not’s’ access to the resources and supports they need to be able to live without feeling the burden of poverty pressing them down.

It is not up to those who are being discriminated against to prove to the rest of us that they are equal, worthy or deserving. It’s up to each of us to let go of our thinking that someone else is not equal, worthy or deserving of our consideration, fair treatment, justice, dignity.

When we tear down the barriers we have erected to keep ‘them’ out of where we live, work, play and create communities, we create a world where tolerance, understanding, justice, and consideration for all has room to flow in all directions.

And that requires a willingness to learn — about the impact of our thinking we have all the answers for those we judge to be less than, other than, outside of our human experience.

We need to educate ourselves on the injustices we create because of our privileged thinking and belief that ‘they’ are the one’s who need to educate themselves to do better.

We are a planet of diverse cultures, faith, traditions, ways of being on this earth.

What we share in common is our human condition. And that is all we need to be equal to one another.

The rest… it comes with educating ourselves about the beauty in our differences, and learning to become compassionate in our view of how those differences make us each unique and richer in the experience of sharing our world in ways that create better, not just for the few, but for everyone.

Namaste.

 


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New Moon Rising

Photo credit: Nousnou Iwasaki
Source: https://unsplash.com

The other day, in a conversation with a friend, we spoke about what it takes for families to break the cycle of poverty that has in many cases, surrounded their lives since the beginning of their lives.

“When all you know is hardship, it’s hard to trust there’s anything else in the world but a rough ride,” my friend said.

Trust.

Trust doesn’t come easy when the world around you has appeared untrustworthy, filled with angst and turmoil. When you feel like you’re constantly living on the dark side, it’s hard to trust that when something good appears on your path, it will hang around for awhile to create more goodness.

When you’ve seldom, or possibly never, felt the lightness of being free, safe, protected, cared for, visible or seen for the beautiful soul you truly are, it’s not so easy to believe tomorrow will be a brighter day

When I began creating the #ShePersisted series I continue to work on, it began with the thought of creating one painting to speak out against the silencing of Senator Elizabeth Warren and to say to women everywhere, we are not helpless.

Feeling helpless is a common response to ‘bad things happening’ in our lives.

The feelings of being helpless are compounded when we feel  like bad things always happen.

Woman or man, we have all experienced moments of feeling helpless. Moments when it felt like no matter what we did, nothing ever changed, nothing could ever come out right, nothing good ever happens.

Yet, in this world of turmoil, angst and inexplicable violence that takes the lives of children, women and men every day, good things are happening. It’s just sometimes, we lose sight of the goodness amidst the feeling of being helpless to change, or stop or prevent the bad.

Today is a new moon.

New moon’s bring the promise of possibility, hope, change, transformation.

Living in a city, surrounded by concrete and asphalt, it can be hard to remember at times the gifts of nature all around us. It can be hard to feel the ebb and flow and beauty of life all around us.

Today, under this new moon, take a moment to breathe deeply and remind yourself,

possibility exists everywhere and in everyone.
miracles do not discriminate. They are constantly flowing all around us.
hope rises always, and
when we trust in the inherent goodness of humankind,
when we believe in the power and Oneness of Love,
we are not helpless
we are powerful beyond our wildest imaginings.

Namaste.

 

 

 

 

 


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Time to say good-bye.

Today is my last day at the Foundation where I have worked for the past 4+ years.

It is time to say good-bye.

I am sad. I am excited.

Both emotions co-exist in a field of possibility that opens up whenever we begin to step through a portal from one threshold to the next.

Life will change. It will keep flowing. It will adapt. Fill in the spaces behind. Open up the spaces in front.

And I move on. Along. Through. Stepping across this threshold into a new space.

The unknown beckons. The known is carried with me.

For 4+ years I have worked alongside incredibly talented and passionate people. In that time, people have changed, moved on, moved into the Foundation. Yet, no matter the faces at the table, the passion and commitment to ending homelessness has remained constant.

It has been 4 years of growth, of learning new things, of stretching my talents and gifts, of stretching my capacity to lead, to inspire, to collaborate, to share, to listen, to step back, to step forward.

It has been 4 years of being inspired by those I work with, for and amongst. Of building community where every voice matters, of working within a community where every act counts and is valued.

I move on and already the space I held is being filled in by the passion, talent, commitment and brilliance of those who remain.

It is what I love most about this point in time where I stand at the edge of the doorway leading into a new portal. Behind me are the infinite possibilities of change, just as there are before me. Where I stood can never remain the same. It is physically impossibly. As it changes and as I step out of it, it becomes part of the changing spaces behind me that others are creating through illuminating it with their brilliance and passion.  The possibilities of what they can do and create are limitless.

The spaces I move into have been created by others just as committed, just as brilliant in their passion to end homelessness. As I move into that new space, it too will be changed as we find our way together to create a space that is illuminated by our different voices, ideas, passion and creativity.  Informed by the past. Steeped in limitless possibility.

And so life continues.

We move from one space to another, leaving behind the possibilities of change for others to pick up, creating in front of us new possibilities for change for us to enter into.

I have been so incredibly honoured and blessed to work with amazing people. To Andrea, Kayleigh, Aaron, Wendy, Sharon B., Paul, Darcy, Kelsey, Joel, Ben, Sharon D., Teresa, Kara, over the years you have all played a role in creating an amazing space to be a part of and to work within. You have all touched my heart and made a difference in my life.  I carry you with me.

Throughout my tenure at CHF I have worked alongside incredible leadership. John R., Gerrad, Diana, thank you for sharing your brilliance.

To the team at CHF. WOW!  Your passion, commitment, willingness to learn and adapt and take risk to create better continually inspires me to do the same. Thank you.

To the CAC, your courage, commitment, humility and honesty have touched my heart deeply.

I am stepping through one doorway into the next today.

I am excited. I am sad. I am grateful.

Namaste.