Sunday, June 28, 2015

My PRIDE

Pride Steps
Gillian Cornwall, c July 2014

Ultimately, we all become the victim of our own oppressive practices. Your best bet has always been to start, stay and finish with kindness.

In the face of your greatest fears, keep your kindness close, for in your kindness you will plant the seeds of reason.

I just entered a contest in which I had to say of whom I am most proud, and why, in order to win a box of chocolates. If I do win, I will have only one or two and give away the rest as I struggle to become a less large version of my current physical self! 

I had no idea what I would write for this contest as I started but, in light of everything I have been going through recently and in light of it being PRIDE season around the world, here is what I said:

"I am most proud of myself for making it through 35 years of LGBT* advocacy - making it through the street beatings, the jeers, the never feeling safe, the glacially-paced social, employment and political change, for being proud of myself when my family wasn't, for advocating for me and the LGBT* population everywhere I have been, despite the pain, the cost and the loss. I am proud that I have stayed this long, despite my sadness and weariness, realizing this is no longer my baggage to carry alone. I will hold it up and say, "This is what it has cost and more. Never forget." I am proud of who I have become and to know that our stories are worth hearing and acknowledging - that they must be heard so that those of us who have fought so hard for equality and those of us who still fight so hard, can heal. I am proud to know that we are powerful and our words are so much more valuable  than a box of chocolates. Thank you for this opportunity."

One of my next projects will be collecting the stories of people who have been oppressed, to ensure they are heard and acknowledged, to ensure that there is opportunity to heal so we can move forward with an understanding of what has passed. It is not truly healing without recognizing the past and where we want to go in light of it: who we have been, who we are now and who we would like to be - both as individuals and as a society of loving, caring, peaceful beings. 

This PRIDE season, I respectfully request that you ask someone, who has been fighting the good fight for awhile, what it was like and how they are. Listen to the stories and grow to understand the importance behind the rainbow. 

With love and respect and a wish for all of us to walk our healing paths.

-Gillian Cornwall, c. June 28, 2015
Self Portrait
June 2015

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Father's Day

The Cornwalls - circa 1964
Photographer Unknown

Ah, the joy of family photos -particularly those with small kids. I do not look happy. I can't recall this moment but I recall the feeling. 

There is Chris in the back left - he was a great brother and a dutiful son. I miss him. My dad was probably trying to make some kind of joke to get us all to be happy and laughing. Phil, my youngest brother on the bottom left was probably being imaginative and pretending he was launching us all into space or something.... My mum was likely being very proper and trying to simply get a nice family photo for our wall. As I said, I was probably sitting there bawling because, Bruce, my middle brother to my left in the picture was likely bugging me in some way or I was just cranky and tired. Who knows but, valiant effort photographer, valiant effort. 

Now that I am 53, I think back on my past in a different light than I did in my twenties and thirties and forties. Gad, I am aging - but that's better than the alternative! At times, I still feel like the wild child I was at 19 ...other days, not so much.

Anyway, I think of my family life as a child differently now. Not just because I have had years and thousands and thousands of dollars of counselling but also because distance from my own childhood loans a different light to it all. My family life was tempestuous and brutal at times. Bad s--t happened. My dad and mum had issues that they both brought into the relationship long before we were twinkles in their eyes. They were folks with difficult pasts and little resource to resolve their own childhood traumas. I wish they had found the kind of amazing counselling that I managed to find for myself along the way. I would like to believe they did their best - even if some days their best was less than optimal. 

My father was abusive in different ways throughout his life. He grew up at the hands of an abuser and so the cycle carried on through him. I do not mean to say he was awful all the time. This is where, now, the child Gillian has healed somewhat - though the scars still ache some days. I can remember the good days too. My dad was the guy who drove me to soccer every week and stayed silent to my mum after I was kicked in the teeth or dinged my head off the goal post. He knew I could tough it out and he didn't want her to stop me from playing. He saw my potential in sports and arts and supported my efforts and abilities. He didn't seem to want me to be a different person than that who I was (and who I am to this day in many ways).

He was the one who supported me when I wanted the drum set for Christmas - though my mum put the kibosh on that one. Apparently drums weren't a ladylike choice of instrument in the sixties... He drove us all over North America on family vacations. He bought us treats. He got to be the good guy when my mum was mad at us. 

He did his best despite the errors he made in raising us on our paths to adulthood. I can't say that I've totally let it go because I know my potential and that of my brothers, as adults, was impacted by the abuse. It takes something away from a person and it takes a very long time, if ever, to restore that sense of self-pride and ability. For many victims of abuse, you never get it back fully. You simply learn to be an advocate for goodness and understanding. You educate. You watch for it in younger folks and help them along their paths if you can. You show your scars and explain the road you have travelled. You use the lesson of your parents lives as your greatest inheritance. This is how the cycle is broken. This is how you learn to understand and, perhaps, forgive. You needn't forget. Remember your path. Remember the road you have travelled. Remember the good and the bad in the people who raised you. Allow yourself the time and the space required to heal. Forgive, if you can. 

The pain carried and doled out by others is not yours to carry forward through time. It's okay to put it down. You deserve to be joyful. If you have good memories of people who did bad things, that's okay. There are acts of kindness in each life. If you have not yet dealt with parental issues or abuse, please get help for yourself. You deserve to be unburdened and to find a life of joy. There are many resources available and your path is your path. You do not need to follow a prescribed path to wellness. Be kind and gentle with yourself. 

I wish I could travel back through time, to England, to the houses of my grandparents, or their parents before them, to provide a healing energy on those homes. I wish I could unravel that painful history and give my parents a better life. I'm grateful for the life they have given me and the opportunity to sit here today, to write this piece and to share it with you. I hope they can see from beyond and know that I am sorry for their pain, that I understand and that I am still well enough to walk my own path. 

Love heals. I breathe in the healing love of the world and return it to the world with my own breath exhaled. We are one. We are connected and together; we have all we need to heal and live well. 

On this Father's Day, I remember the guy who did his best and let him know, in the great beyond, that I am well. I am strong. I am grateful for my life. Thanks Dad.

-Gillian Cornwall, c.June 15, 2014
Edited June 21, 2915

Summer in Ontario 
at one of the many lake resorts we were lucky enough to visit
Me, Phil and our Dad
circa 1966.

If you are being hurt by someone, there are resources to help you:

Victoria: 


Canada:


Worldwide:


Sunday, June 14, 2015

One Foot

One Foot
Gillian Cornwall, c June 2015

This photo aptly describes my current state. I am dark grey and segmented. One foot bravely treads forward despite the lack of strength and vigour for which I am usually known. I so wish I had an uplifting post for you, something that would have you go away, waving flags and racing into your life with a big smile but, the fact is, I'm not back there yet. Nonetheless, you have my honesty and my best effort for today and I hope it brings you something valuable.

Last week I told you it had been a rough week for me and that hasn't gone away. As a matter of fact, it's been harder. Work has been more challenging, relationships have been rocky and explosive and my ability to cope has hit an all time low, but I'm here and I'm telling you about it. I am doing so, not because i want you to join me down here in my dark, black hole, but because I want you to know that I am still moving, still trying, looking for ways to move forward, to get back out, asking for help and finding ways to keep going, even if the help is not always there when I need it or from whom I expect it. 

I don't want you in here with me. I don't want you to try to fix it. I want you to hear the story of how I got here (Give me time, I'm working on that one and it's big!), acknowledge that it is hard and then offer to shine a light down here if you have one so I can find my own way out. There you have the "person in the hole" parable / analogy or whatever. I like it. It works for me.

It helps that I really dislike physical pain. I have had enough of it over the course of my life and having read up on the ways to die - they all suck. In fact, they all seem to suck way worse than the pain I am experiencing in my life right now. So here I am and I am staying and I think I understand why some people get to the point where they kill themselves. They must have struggled so hard and the pain of their lives must be so impossibly intense that the pain of death would be lesser than the pain of living. Unfathomable.

For any or all of you who have been through this, I love you and have compassion for you. It is horrible and the struggle is epic. I reached out this weekend and though no one is actually physically here, the mighty power of good in social media, particularly private DMs in Twitter have got me through and helped me feel less alone. I am not saying that these can replace a hug, someone wrapping themselves around you so you can still feel that you have a body, that you are real and that you are loved; I kept my engagements this weekend and got what I needed in that regard as well. 

Keep trying. Keep walking your path. Crawl if you have to do so. Own your shit and keep going. Please. Seek help. Let's get this out in the open. Everyone loses hope at times. Please try to reach out and ask for help and know that you can keep that help on your terms. You needn't hand over your control of the situation. 

Through this hard time, complete strangers have stopped to ask me if I was okay - on foot, walking past and in cars, driving past. Makes me realize how much the weight is showing on me but also makes me realize how many beautiful souls there are out there. The person who stopped their car, right on a busy road, actually offered to give me a lift when the bus driver pulled away just as I was running for the closing door. I hope he realizes the impact of his unkindness and I hope the woman knows how grateful I am for her offer - in this day and age, she put her own fear aside and offered a complete stranger a ride because she saw how upset I was - and it wasn't pretty either - let me assure you. By this point, I was ranting and crying, because when you get this low, it's hard to make the appropriate social decisions and remain within the right social behaviours. The other person was a student at the school where I work. So, for those of you who have lost faith in our youth, be heartened. They are compassionate and caring enough to do such a thing. 

Remember your elders and mentors in your difficult times, as I have turned to mine in this time, when my usual rock-like self is worn to fine sand. Listen to them. They have seen much and travelled far and have usually survived horrors that we cannot imagine. Respect the mother earth and ocean and her ability to survive and sustain us despite the abuse we have shown her. Go to her and ask for guidance. Lay down upon her and offer your tears and your gratitude. She is as alive as your lover, mother or brother. We are not alone but sometimes we have to look to different places for support. Re-frame our patterns. Consider giving to someone else who needs, just when we think we are empty and at our lowest. 

To each of you, I apologize if I continue to appear self-serving in these last few posts. Know that I hope my truth gives you sustenance. There is no perfection to which you must strive. You are perfect if you are showing up. Try to be honest, open and willing to be loved. 

I offer myself up to you each week, in my truth, no matter how hard it is. I hope that it helps, that it gives to you - at least as much as it gives to me. As I write, I picture the eyes I have never seen, next door and around the world, Forgive me my failings. I am but human and in love with life in all its wonder and devastation. 

Here, take my hand and walk with me awhile. 

Love,
Gillian
-Gillian Cornwall, c June 14, 2015

Gore Park, Brentwood Bay
Gillian Cornwall, c. May 2015

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Being True to You

Photo and Drawing by:
Gillian Cornwall, c. 2011

"When you're weary
Feeling small
When tears are in your eyes
I will dry them all..."
Paul Simon 
Simon and Garfunkel

Well that was a rough week - one of the hard ones and the stuff I'm processing, well, it's going to be hard and it's going to take a while. That is the truth, my truth ...and it's okay. For someone who works with the ways of being human every week, sometimes I'm astounded at how long and bumpy my road is with this lesson:

"Difficult is okay. Be true to yourself." 

How often have we glazed over our hard times with a handy "I'm fine, thanks" or an "I'm good." Of course, you are good. We all aim to be good. 

This past week, I have been processing some difficult issues, the content of which is not the subject of this post. The subject is, how to maintain the truth of how you are feeling without necessarily going into the details of it unless it is warranted AND accepting the truth from a person without being a fixer. The act of acknowledgement is, at times, the most healing thing. AND, you can simply say to someone who is struggling, "Thank you for sharing your truth with me. If there is something I can do or help you find what you need to get through this, let me know. I could talk after work at 4:30?" OR: "Are you okay in this moment or do we need to get you some help right now?"

The thing is, many of us were raised to fake it 'til we make it and sometimes that is okay too. Sometimes, you just gotta put it away until you get somewhere safe or somewhere you can rest and process. I think the main thing is to be accepting of yourself not being okay all the time. There is so much that we go through in our lives and so much that we witness because of the access of information. It is easy to have your own stuff triggered when faced with streams of video, text and images from the experience of others. 

Again, I think it is how we deal with our hardship that counts. We humans are easy to read. Our difficulty shows in our faces, our actions, our words and our body language. Trying to hide it only results in confusion for those around us. We people function much better when we have some information to go on and when we follow those darn Four Agreements! Here I go again:
  1. Be impeccable with your word.
  2. Don't take anything personally.
  3. Don't make assumptions.
  4. Do your best.
It's okay not to be doing great. It's okay to own it. It's okay to say that you have it covered when you do and that you need help when that is the case. Remember, if you are very deep in your struggle and someone doesn't get it, is uncomfortable with your trouble or grief, is annoyed that you are not "behaving properly" or punishes you in any way for your truth, IT IS NOT ABOUT YOU OR YOUR VALUE! It is about their capacity to help. Check out last week's post, The Life Compassionate for more on this. Do not give up or think you are undeserving if someone disappoints you when you are honest or reach out. It is truly only a reflection of their capacity to help you, NOT your worthiness of their help.

The truth is, we all struggle at times. Some of us hide away and plod through it silently. This may work on some level for some people if they do not need to get to the root of the trouble or, sometimes the trouble is based in a lack of sleep, hormonal shifts, poor diet, not enough serotonin to the brain / exercise. A large number of things can make for a difficult week that will in fact shift with a lifestyle adjustment. It is up to each of us how we choose to walk our healing path. Just know, it is okay to put down the heavy burden of hurt and say, "This is no longer mine to carry alone."

It's the cumulative, long-term troubles that concern me as necessary to shift, raise up, look at, acknowledge, evaluate and place appropriately for healing and growth to occur. Some things need to be put down and unpacked for the betterment of community, society and the individuals that have been carrying them alone for years.  

In light of the Truth and Reconciliation report this week and the impact this has on the people on this land and particularly, the people of this land, I want to acknowledge the horrific atrocities experienced by our Indigenous communities. In particular, the experiences of those who were forced from their homes and communities into the residential schools across Canada. The last residential school closed in 1996. The CBC has a history of residential schools in Canada and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada site is here: http://www.trc.ca/websites/trcinstitution/index.php?p=3

I offer my sincere apologies to my Indigenous brothers and sisters on whose unceded lands I am an uninvited visitor. I do not claim to know or understand your loss but I stand beside you with my heart and arms open in the hopes that we can heal from these crimes together. To the elders, thank you for your strength, your truth and your willingness to share your truth. This post is dedicated to you.

Be well, be true and seek joy, my friends. You all deserve it.

-Gillian Cornwall, c. June 7, 2015

Lana'i
Gillian Cornwall, c 2012

Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Life Compassionate

A Path to Knowledge - University of Victoria
Gillian Cornwall c. 2013


What does it mean to be compassionate? The Oxford definition tells us this:
Adjective: "Feeling or showing sympathy and concern for others."


In particular, what I am thinking about today is, how do we become or remain compassionate in the face of disappointment or hurt? ...and, even as I type this, I remember my lessons from Don Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements:
  1. Be impeccable with your words
  2. Don't take anything personally
  3. Don't make assumptions
  4. Do your best.
In this, I have my answer to the question above. We are emotionally hurt when we take the actions of others personally and when we make assumptions with respect to the intent of another. Oh, I know, so much easier said than done, right? ...but, that is where it gets interesting because all we can do is:
  • Be impeccable with our words and
  • Do our best.
Consider, when you first feel hurt by the actions of another:
  • Where is this person on their own path to awareness and enlightenment?
  • Would this person intentionally hurt me?
  • Am I able to not make assumptions and ask them about the things which have caused me hurt?
  • What do I need to do for myself in order to create a healthy path towards my own well-being and the well-being of the world that will act as a counter-balance to violent behaviour or behaviour lacking compassion?
When we go to, and stay in, our initial feelings of hurt, we perpetuate a path that ultimately lacks resolution and relinquishes personal power:

"Why is Bob so inconsiderate? Why would he do this to me?" 

We concede our power in these statements and assume that Bob set out to do us harm. Certainly, this may be the case, but can Bob actually do us harm if we do not accept his actions as such? Why would Bob do this to us? Almost every time I have investigated and excavated this question, I have come to the same root:
fear

Those of you who have read my blog before are probably fed up to the teeth with this one:
Everything we do as humans is motivated by either love or fear. 

Let us do our best to choose love in our actions: Love for each other and love for ourselves. 

Thank you to everyone in my life that I have encountered on my daily path in Victoria, BC and around the world, through the gift of inter-connectivity and social media, for teaching me and giving me room to learn these lessons. Thank you for not holding me to a standard of perfection that I do not even understand. Thank you for your love. Thank you for your compassion. I will try to honour your love and teachings by the path I walk and the legacy I hope to leave in the hearts of my fellow beings. 

Wishing you each a beautiful and peaceful week. 

Please remember, if someone is hurting you and you do feel stuck and alone, there are people and resources to help. These are a few:

In the moment: Call Emergency Services. In North America, call: 911 Please check the number in your part of the world and commit it to memory. Get out of the immediate environment in which the hurt is happening and seek safety and asylum.

Take Action / Follow up: Seek services to help keep you safe and set you on a happier, safer path:

These are just a very few and I am not affiliated with these providers. Even if all is well in your world, take some time to familiarize yourself with resources in your area and online in order to be ready to help yourself or another should you ever find yourself in that position. Also, many organizations lack regular, base funding and can use whatever resources you can help provide. Its all part of the life compassionate. 

Please feel free to add your local organizations in the comments portion of the blog to help others. 

-Gillian Cornwall, c May 31, 2015

Balance and Peace
Gillian Cornwall, c. 2013 

Sunday, May 24, 2015

In the shoes of a student...

My College Grad Photo
1982

There is little I remember about my time as a college student other than feeling complete and utter chaos and fatigue. With a full-time diploma program, three part-time jobs, one co-op job and a terminally-ill parent, I simply put one foot in front of the other until I found myself crossing the stage to receive my diploma. I know my experience was not unique.

Now, years later, as the editor of a burgeoning student blog for a university community, I have noticed some trends in the posts over the past year. If I were a student today (I graduated 33 years ago, so feel free to picture me as an eccentric Yoda-like sage right now), these would be the top 5 subjects of discussion that I would want to share with you as prospective students, current students, families and high school counsellors. This is my "in the shoes of a student" list:
  1. Stress: University is the most stressful thing many students have done in their lives so far, learning skills such as: work/life balance, multi-tasking, communicating needs and prioritizing. We have to learn that this is our education and, for the most part, we are the ones responsible for its success or failure based on the choices we make along the way. 
  2. Food: ...is fuel. If I do not fuel my body with the appropriate comestibles, I will wither and get sick. Healthy food, in regular portions, is essential to my academic success. Treats, occasionally, are necessary to my emotional success. Feed a student and you will receive eternal gratitude.
  3. Preparation: ...before uni, during uni and after uni will make my life easier. a) High school counsellors: When you care and help us with our decision-making and university preparation, our paths are easier.
    b) Parents: Although we may rail against you every step of the way, it's important that you care and that you remind us about what we need to do and, once you teach us, let go (a little) and let us make our own mistakes so we can learn.
    c) Me: Use the resources available. They are there for me and will make it easier to succeed.
  4. Involvement: ...in the school community. Find your people. Do at least one thing that has nothing to do with your classes and grades. Help someone else. Play a sport. Join a club. Plant a garden. Dance. This will enrich your experience and make your education unique. The "life" part of school will be what you remember the most.
  5. Work: ...at a paid job, in a co-op program, in a work study program or as a volunteer. It will give you the opportunity to put to practice what you have learned in the classroom. I don't mean just the actual book-learning part, I mean the part where you have a difficult conversation with a colleague - like the kind you may have with your roommate or project partner. It will give you the chance to make a presentation to your boss or colleague using all the cool tools you have used for your class presentations. It's a chance to practice for your career post-graduation, to make connections, make some money and make a resume. Please don't worry about taking more than four years to finish your degree because that is very common.
There you have it. It may not be the same as your list, but having edited 155 student blog posts this year, I feel I learned a thing or two.

Would I ever go back to the student life now that I am closer to retirement than I am to school or career planning? Yes, I would - I would go back for the fun of it, for the pure enjoyment of learning, to share ideas and make new friends - definitely, yes. 

-Gillian Cornwall, c. May 24, 2015

Looking back - elementary school
Circa 1969 or 1970


Sunday, May 17, 2015

Renewal

As we walk through life, we encounter all manner of love. Love never disappears. As energy, love only changes shape. 

Each breath of love echoes through our hearts with each beat for as long as our journey continues. Know this and know that you are not alone. We are one world, one life and our hearts beat the rhythm of that song throughout time.

I hope this short poem reminds you of this today and that you feel the universal love, today and always.

For those of you in Nepal trying to recover from the earthquake and aftershocks, and those of you around the world, struggling to survive on little to nothing, please know that there are thousands of us around the globe who know of your plight and are sending resources (financial and physical), love and prayers to you. 


Things green
a place unseen
a home to lay your hat
and love.

Springtime Sunday
a bird song
a heart beat 
rhythm and a tune.


Now I understand 
the love that never left me
in each beat, we meet
as one.


Things green 
a place unseen 
a home to lay your hat
and love. 
-Gillian Cornwall, c. May 17, 2015
All images are the property of Gillian Cornwall


Please do what you can to help those recovering from the earthquake in Nepal. Until May 25, 2015 the Canadian government will match donations to the Nepal Region Earthquake Fund through Red Cross Canada.