Wrap yourself in loving-kindness

When I worked in an adult emergency homeless shelter, amidst the joy and laughter, the lights and decorations that adorn this time of year in the rosy glow of family gatherings and festive delights, the air was also filled with the sadness of loneliness and the heavy despair of homelessness.

For those without a place to call home, finding joy always came shrouded in the memories of joy lost, connections broken, family circles torn apart by poverty, addiction, violence and loss.

One year, we invited clients to share holiday messages to post on our website. I was always in awe of how excited those who participated were to have a chance to reach out to family and friends and let them know they were thinking of them and wishing them well.

One of those individuals was Zahir. His nickname was ‘Happy’ because he could always be counted on to lighten even the darkest moments with his laughter.

Zahir was diagnosed with a mental illness when his daughter was three. He was exiled from the family home and his community and began a long journey through homelessness.

He was in his 50s when we did a video story with Zahir one Christmas. We wanted to show the human side of homelessness. To help those who had never experienced it or judged the shelter and those experiencing homelessness, find compassion and understanding for those who used the shelter as their respite.

This video had an even more important purpose which would only be revealed several months later when I received a letter from a woman who had never given up searching for the father she’d lost when she was 3 years old.

As a child, she’d been forbidden from seeing or searching for, her father. As an adult, she made it her mission to find him. One of the things she did constantly, was search the websites of emergency shelters across Canada in the hopes of finding him. In her letter, she told me it was a miracle she stumbled across our video. She had started to give up hope of ever finding her father.

Zahir and his by-then 30-something daughter were reunited. At that reunion, Zahir got to meet his 2-year-old granddaughter and learned that he would be a grandfather again later that same year.

Zahir, despite his daughter’s requests he come live with them in another city, would not leave the shelter. It was the world he knew. And, though he never met his second grandchild, when Zahir passed away later that year, he was a very happy man. He had met the daughter he’d never lost hope of one day seeing again.

In the darkness of homelessness, Zahir held onto hope and loving-kindness.

May we all do the same.

This is the video that sparked the miracle of Zahir and his daughter’s reunion.

It’s amazing what is forgotten through lack of doing

OK. So maybe ‘amazing’ isn’t the right word, but it truly does fascinate me how lack of doing something, in this case building a video, can make building a video more difficult when I come back todoing it!

Take the video I’ve created for my She Dares Boldly 2023 Calendar. It took me DAYS! And over the course of those days (which were more precisely my weekend and evenings as my days were busy) I made countless mistakes, rebuilds, retakes, re everythings to complete the video. And, because I don’t have the finished product yet, I had to compile the pages manually – which took a bit of figuring out too!

Yet, here’s the thing. I learned lots. Enjoyed the process (even though it was chocker-block full of missteps) and have the joy of experiencing a great sense of achievement now that I’ve got it done.

There is another aspect to this calendar that is new to me! For the past 4 iterations, I’ve sold them via my Etsy store or e-transfer.

I’m still planning on doing that this year but, I wanted to let people use their paypal accounts too. Getting that properly set up on my blog took a lot of effort, and a lengthy chat with a WordPress expert – they were very patient.

In the end, it’s on my site. Etsy’s the next shop stop.

That’s all to say — the She Dares Boldly 2023 Calendar is available. Thank you to those who kept messaging me to ask if I was creating one. You inspired me. And, in the process I had the gift of learning, growing, accepting and becoming. What a lovely gift.

Non. Je ne regrette riens.

I am unlearning a lifetime of habitually believing that to regret is to sentence myself to a lifetime of always looking back, never moving on.

Dan Pink’s The Power of Regret: How Looking Backward Moves Us Forward is the impetus for my unlearning.

Now, I could be cheeky and try to turn the tables on his teaching by saying, “I regret reading this book! It’s making me change my mind about something I thought was one of those unalterable life truths.

Fact is, I don’t regret it at all, which in this case, is a good thing because I can’t unread what’s already read.

Regret makes us human. Regret makes us better, writes Pink.

I’d also add, it makes our journey richer – as long as we enlist our regrets to improve our future.

Like, when you say something to your best friend that is insensitive or snarky. Regret rides in fast (at least for most of us it does) compelling us to apologize and make amends.

Pink calls those ‘regrets of action’. The premise being, I have a chance to recalibrate the present by owning and making amends for what I’ve done to harm/hurt another.

The more challenging regrets, he expostulates, are ones of inaction. The roads not taken. The deeds not done.

Those are harder to course correct, and in more instances than not, according to Pink, seldom are.

Those are the ones we carry with us to the grave.

Which gives credence to the oft-quoted Mark Twain aphorism (which apparently he never said)

What if I try… and don’t fail?

At a popular restaurant, a young man with Down’s Syndrome has an important lesson to teach.

Several years ago, he wanted to find a job. He asked an agency that supports people with barriers to help him.

And they did.

His career advisor helped him write his resume, develop and practice his interviewing skills, worked with him on improving his ability to handle human interactions, change and conflict in particular.

The agency also works with employers on diversity hiring and best practices in accomodating special needs and had a roster of opportunities for him to apply to.

After several months, the young man went for an interview and got a job as a dishwasher in a busy restaurant kitchen.

His career advisor stayed connected, helped him adapt to a busy workplace and worked with the employer to develop their comfort in working with the young man’s ‘style’.

After 4 years as a dishwasher, he is a valued member of staff, one of ‘the family’. Well-liked, he is included in all social activities, has made friends and is considered an essential worker, so vital to the organization that even with COVID’s downturn, the organization didn’t lay him off.

One day, the young man announced he wanted to work front-of-house, in particular, the cash register. This is a big move and everyone, including his career advisor who has stayed connected, tries to dissuade him.

“I can do it,” he says. His persistence finally convinces management to give him a chance. They move him to front-of-house as a busyboy. He excels.

After several months, the young man still hasn’t given up on his dream. He wants to work the cashier register and serve customers at the counter.

Several months ago, he got his chance.

He’s a star. Friendly. Always accurate in his work. Steady and solid in his service. Customers love him and the rest of the staff, along with his family and support team and career advisor… They learned a valuable lesson.

Barriers are limitations that haven’t been tested.

Our human minds perceive barriers to be concrete. Immovable. Insurmountable. So why bother testing them?

Everyone involved wanted to protect the young man — taking on such a big challenge left him exposed. “What if you fail?” they asked.

His response, “What if I don’t?”

_________________

Next time you face a new opportunity, experience, barrier, ask yourself… What if it’s not about protecting myself from failure? What if, it’s about giving myself the opportunity to succeed?

What if instead of fearing falling, I chose to believe in my wings?

Namaste

Just hanging On!

Hang on! Hang on! The leaves cry frantically to one another. The fall is coming. The falling is coming. Resist! Resist!

Let’s stick together, they tell one another as they huddle closer to the branch. There’s strength in numbers.

In time, none of it matters. Resistance is futile. Defiance unnecessary.

As predictable as the earth’s orbit around the sun, the fall beckons. The leaves fall. Winter descends. Spring follows.

Nature always has its way.

Let’s face it, hanging on is sometimes the only way we know to avoid the thing we fear even more than speaking in public or dying — change.

Change is in the air. It always is. Change is here to stay.

Have you ever…

Stayed in a job you hate? A relationship that made you unhappy?

Are there clothes in your closet that no longer fit? Shoes that hurt your feet? Sweaters with holes and pulled threads that you no longer wear but just can’t get rid of?

And, what about memories?

Do you keep a reel of unhappy stories on repeat in your mind? Do you replay them and replay them so that your ‘poor me’ story becomes the only story you know how to tell?

Do you wish you could change the past? Redirect the movie of your life into someone else’s story?

Well, here’s the deal. No one is powerful enough to change the past. And someone else’s story will never fit you.

All you’ve got to work with to create the life you dream of is this moment right now and your willingness to bet your life on your heart’s desires, whatever they may be.

So… what’s holding you back? What are you hanging on to?

Ask yourself,

“What am I feeling right now? Do I want to be feeling these same feelings I’m feeling right now in a week, a month, a year, five years time?”

“Is there a burning desire deep within me to make a dream come true and I am doing nothing to make it happen because I’m afraid to let go of… [name your poison] Fear of failure. Looking silly. Falling down. Being laughed at. Being right. Having to learn something new. My story of why it isn’t possible. My deeply buried belief my dreams are not worth fighting for…”

“Am I holding onto past hurts and pain because I tell myself at least I can count on the past? Nothing changes there. And anyway, I’m not ready to let go of them yet.”

Once you’ve examined your feelings and thoughts around those questions, ask yourself, “What’s the worst that can happen if I let go of [fill in the blank] and my fear of change and the stories I tell myself and decide to just do it anyway?”

Fact is. You might fall.

Then again. You might soar too.

You’ll never know until you let go of what is holding you back…

_____________

About this post:

When I took this photo yesterday on one of my walks with Beaumont, I was fascinated by how this one bush was still covered in leaves when all through the forest the trees stood bare, stripped of their autumn finery by wind and snow and the changing of the seasons.

I wonder why this one tree hasn’t lost its leaves yet, I wondered… and then, the parallel to my life began to form.

What am I holding onto that I need to let go of? I wondered.

I think it’s a great question to begin my day.

Namaste

My Tears Have No Name

My Tears Have No Name
©2020 Louise Gallagher

My tears have no name this morning
no one simple reason, no one single purpose
but to fall for all of this,
for all the world, for all of us,
for everyone and everything.

My tears do not need to be named
they are tears born of these times,
tears for these fears that walk with each of us.
They are tears for loss and grief, illness and death.
They are tears for those who are feeling lost and alone
and those who are hungry and frightened
and those who are ill
and those who are afraid that someone they love will fall.

My tears are all I have to give
to a shuttered-in world wrapped in fear.
My tears are the words I cannot speak
to a family I do not know, whose circle is broken,
a child who lost their grandfather
a son who lost their mother
a neighbour who lost a friend.

I have no words to name these feelings
my tears must speak for themselves,
and in their speaking
may they ease your pain as they ease mine
may they wash away your fear as they wash away mine
may they help relieve the burden
of being alone and isolated
of being laid off and frightened
of facing an unknown future
in a time when the future holds so much certainty
of sickness and death, loss and grief yet to come.

May my tears flow into the ocean
of your tears washing away the darkness,
letting in the light so that together,
we can see the path to where
what feels like life as we knew it ending
is actually the beginning of life that we create,
together, springing forth
out of Love for all humanity rising as One.

All Things Are Possible

Iris as a little girl.

Lent leading up to Good Friday and Easter Sunday were very important and sacred times to our mother. To give up her earthly body on Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, was a testament to her faith and her belief of the forgiveness of sins through penitence and prayer. For our mother, there could be no holier time than this to ascend to be with her Father and those she loves.

As a child, I remember my sister Anne and I going to the church on Friday evenings and helping my mother change the flowers. She loved flowers and looked upon her duty of keeping the altar and church filled with beauty as a sacred trust.

Anne and I would rather have been out playing but mom insisted we attend to the needs of the church first, especially during Easter season.

Solemnly we’d kneel with her in front of the altar, pray a rosary and then, help remove the deadened flowers from each bouquet. My job was to place each dead flower on a sheet of paper, wrap them up carefully so that no stray leaves or petals fell out and carry them to the waste bin in the church offices. Older and bigger than me, Anne was allowed to carry the water-filled vases to the sink and empty them.

Then again, Anne’s being allowed to carry the glass vases may have had nothing to do with age and size and everything to do with the fact my mother knew she could trust Anne to take her job seriously. Me. Well… She probably feared I’d try to dance with the vase in my hands or even sprinkle the water on the floor of the sacristy like a priest sprinkling holy water on a penitent’s forehead.

I liked to play in the make-believe. My mother never quit praying that one day I’d learn to keep my feet on the ground.

She often felt I was too irreverent, too wild by nature, too free-spirited and strong-willed. I can still hear her cautioning me to ‘be careful’. To take heed. To watch my words, my steps, and even my dreams.

She wasn’t big on dreaming. Life was meant to be lived in the service of God. It was serious business, too weighty for dreams to take flight. Life, for my mother, was about living by God’s will. Walking humble. Staying true to her faith and being His servant here on earth.

She was ‘pure of heart’. She held no hypocrisy. No guile. No hidden motives. She dedicated her life to God and through extension, to her family and community.

She imbued the spirit of the Church she loved so much. She wore its traditions and rituals, its liturgy and songs like a beautiful velvet robe of grace and sacred service.

She told me once that most of the gold and silver jewellery she carried with her from India when she left to build a life with my father at the end of WWII was sold off in the early days of their marriage. Times were tough in those days and she had to do what needed to be done to take care of her family.

There was no regret in her voice for the loss of her jewels. Family always came first.

What never left her possession, however, was the rosary and wooden crucifix her father gave her as a child, and the statue of her beloved Saint Teresa of Avila. They had travelled the seas and continents with her, always finding a place at her bedside no matter where in the world she was.

Like Saint Teresa, my mother prayed for peace. Of heart. In her family. In the world.

She prayed for her Church. For her family and everyone she knew.

My mother prayed. Always.

It is one of the things I admire most about her and hold in awe.

No matter the challenges, no matter her losses, her sorrow, my mother never gave up her faith.

She also never gave up praying I would learn to keep my feet on the ground.

It’s something I never had to learn how to do, keep my feet on the ground. I am blessed. My life has been grounded in the constancy and faithfulness of my mother’s prayers.

This morning I sit at my desk, tears flow and my heart breaks open, filled with the beautiful gift of my mother’s prayers. I know,  deep within my being, my mother is looking down on me now, clicking her rosary beads in an endless circle of love, whispering her words of benediction and praying I keep dancing and laughing, living and loving with all my heart.

My mother is praying I have faith. In Love. In God. In her prayers.

She is praying I live my life in kindness, grace and Love.

It’s what she prays for all of us because she believes, like St Teresa of Avila, all things are possible.

 

The Invitation

Photo-Credit-Sebastian-Buzzalino-4

It was just one of those invitations I could not refuse.

My beloved thinks I’m crazy, or at least a little weird.

“You’re going to do what?” C.C. asked when I told him about the invitation and my response.

“It’ll be fun!” I told him.

“And you think this is a great birthday gift?”

I do. I do.

Yesterday, my ‘tall’ daughter CJ (she’s actually the daughter of my dearest friend JD but, she’s so wonderful, I like to claim her as mine too!) and her partner, J, called to wish me happy birthday. Towards the end of our conversation, they threw in the idea that maybe, just maybe, I’d be interested in helping out in the kitchen at Mount Engadine for a couple of days.

“That would be the most amazing birthday gift ever!” I told them.

They laughed.

“You’d consider doing it?” J asked incredulously.

“Yup!” I enthusiastically replied.

After chatting with the general manager of the Lodge, I said, “Count me in!”

J is one of two chefs at the Lodge. Due to some paperwork issues with his landed immigrant application, he’s unable to work at the moment. It’s put a great deal of pressure on his co-chef at the Lodge who has worked two weeks solid and needs to get away for a couple of days this week.

Hence the invitation.

Cover off for the other chef for two days in the kitchen at Mount Engadine Lodge.

All the professionals they’ve tried are tied up.

I’m the only person they know who a) loves to cook, and b) isn’t phased by cooking for large groups of people. In this case, it’s only 14 – heck our Christmas dinner will be more than that!

For me, it is a dream come true.

I love the backcountry. I love mountain lodges. I love to cook. And, I get to help J out as he is feeling stressed by the fact he is causing undue hardship on his employer and the team.

I leave today.

I’ll be back Thursday afternoon.

Which means, I’ll see you Friday!

I’ll be shadowing the chef for dinner tonight and then… on my own for the next two days.

Colour me over the top excited. I get to bake bread. Bake cookies. Make dinner and breakfast and stretch myself by cooking for strangers in a remote mountain setting.

And I smile as I write that as the critter’s voice awakens and whispers (okay screams), “Are you kidding me? This is crazy even for you Louise! You are not a chef. You’ve never been in charge of a professional kitchen, especially in the mountains and cooking at altitude. Seriously?  That’s way outside your comfort zone. And btw. Did you notice you turned another year older yesterday?  You’re too old to be doing this.”

I breathe deep into my belly. Gently move my conscious awareness from the centre of my brain, where it likes to hang out and pass judgement on pretty well everything I do, down into my belly. I ask my deep knowing self, “When you let go of judgement, fear, worry, what feels most alive right now?”

The critter hisses, “Staying home where you belong!”

I gently invite the critter to ‘BACK-OFF!”

Okay, that wasn’t so gentle but honestly, sometimes that critter can be sooo annoying!

I breathe deep into my belly again. The critter breathes with me. As I sink down into being present in this moment, as I move into my inner knowingness, the critter’s fear opens up to the possibility that this adventure might be fun! It might even be good for me because stretching and doing things outside my comfort zone makes the most of my experience of life. It’s where I feel myself come alive.

I am off to cook at Mount Engadine Lodge for two days. It’s a beautiful place nestled in the Kananaskis mountains, 35km from the closest town. And while many years ago I helped out in the kitchen at Mount Assiniboine Lodge and cooked at Selkirk Mountain Lodge for a work crew, I’ve never taken on a kitchen in the Rockies all by myself.

It promises to be an adventure!

 

 

To Be or Not To Be. What’s the Real Question?

how bright will

A bird does not ask if one day it will fly. A fish does not wonder if it will swim just as a river does not worry about where it’s flowing. It just flows.

It’s only us human beings who wonder, “What will I be?”

It starts at an early age.

When I was a little girl I would tell people I wanted to be an actress when I grew up because I wanted to make people laugh and cry and feel all the colours of the rainbow. That occupation did not sit well in my household so I changed it to a psychologist – maybe I could help people smile more?

And then, I grew up, (well at least kind of) and neither of those occupations were on my radar. But then, neither was becoming a leader in the not-for-profit sector working in homelessness on my agenda either. It just kind of happened.

Which brings me back to Hamlet’s famous question,

“To be or not to be.
That is the question.
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer,
the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
or to take arms against a sea of troubles.”

There is nothing noble in suffering. No rewards. No commendations. No aspirational title like, “Chief Sufferer of Life’s Slings and Arrows.”

There is only suffering in suffering. And I don’t know about you, but when I’m suffering, I kinda like to see the world as suffering along with me. It feels less lonely.

The situations that create suffering in our lives are not always of our design or choice. The things we do to keep us tied to the suffering, well, those are sometimes based on choices we make, albeit often unconscious and often circumscribed by the limitations of our environment and history. And while it is possible to change our circumstances, when we’re mired in suffering that keeps us tethered to the pain of our existence, it’s hard to recognize — there is another way To Be.

Working in a homeless shelter, I encountered daily people whose belief in themselves was so limited by their circumstances they could not see any hope of the possibility of change. Their roads had been dark so long, there was no glimmer of light in the tunnel of the dark and gloomy past, present and future they believed was theirs and theirs alone.

When I first started working in the sector, I started an art program in the shelter where I worked. I believe that it doesn’t matter where we’ve landed on the road of life, what matters is we stand up again and again and take one little step after another, again and again.

And that can be hard when the bottom feels like it is constantly falling away.

Which is where ‘creative expression’ plays a leading role. Standing up is hard without a foundation. Tapping into our creative core gives us access to a solid place to begin to see there is a possibility of some kind of ‘different’. As we dive in, we begin to see the world in varying hues of grey until the darkness opens up to all the colours of the rainbow.

And so, I come full circle.

The view from where I sit this morning as I type.

This morning, as I look out through my window at the beautiful blue sky above, two birds fly swiftly by. A gentle morning breeze brushes the snow clinging to the bare-limbed arms of the tree lining the river, pushing it gently into the air. Beneath the surface of the swiftly flowing river, fish swim in its depths.

Birds fly. Fish swim. The river flows. The sun rises and I smile at the symmetry of my life.

Once upon a time, I wanted to be a light so that I didn’t feel so alone in the dark and maybe, others wouldn’t too.

Today I know there is no choice to be or not to be a light. The question is, “How bright am I willing to shine?”

How bright are you willing to shine?

Dancing with the muse

The finished front cover – “Grow only love in the garden of your heart.”

You know when you do something and think, “Well that turned out better than I expected!”?

That was my day yesterday.

The original notebook.

In preparation for the workshop I’m leading on Art Journalling at  Kensington Art Supply, November 19th, I am testing different ways of creating an art journal. Yesterday, I took an inexpensive scribbler and transformed it into the beginnings of an art journal.

The process includes gluing and taping together with masking tape every 3 pages so that they are stronger, masking taping the spines and creating a more sturdy cover. I’ll also gesso (a medium designed to strengthen the page’s ability to accept paint without soaking it up) all the 3-page layouts I’ve taped together as well as the cover so that we can begin to create and journal without spending time waiting for the paint to dry!

My process yesterday was all about painting the cover as I’d spent the evening before taping the pages together and affixing the heavier paper to make the cover.

Let’s just say, I’m pleased with the outcome – which is quite different than what my original ‘vision’ for the cover had been – and that’s the joy of art journaling. There’s really no destination other than where the muse, and your willingness to be open and present to the process, takes you.

Now my goal is to have several pages of the journal completed by the workshop so that I can use them as examples, and to have journals ready for the participants to begin painting. Each participant will be provided with a journal that is ready to paint — that means the cover and the first 3 page layouts.

For the workshop I will also have a journal example where rather than painting the cover, I’ll have glued paper to create the design. I’ll use papers I’ve already printed/painted and affix them to the cover – at least that’s my ‘vision’. We’ll see what happens when the muse and the creative process meet up on the cover page!

Art journalling is about the freedom to flow and be present to the moment. It’s about living the questions, not the answers or things you tell yourself you know.

Questions like, ‘I wonder what is calling within me to be expressed?’

What is the most brave thing I can do right now?

What am I not saying?

What if I give up thinking I know and allow myself the freedom to be present? 

Or, ‘I wonder what will happen if…?’

If I spread some teal over this pink paint and then use a stencil and babywipes to rub out some of the paint?

If I cover this area in gesso and let the images beneath peek out?

If I stop trying to make the page ‘look like something’ and just let it become what it is yearning to express?

Art journaling is all about expression, not perfection.

It’s about experience the freedom to create all over the page, not creating in a box.

And it’s about being present in the moment, letting what is appear without fearing what will happen if you just let go.

The muse and I danced together yesterday. I am grateful for every step of the dance we created together.

Namaste.