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“Let that meek (quiet) darkness be your whole mind and like a mirror to you. For I want your thought of self to be as naked and simple as your thought of God, so that you may be with God in spirit without fragmentation and scattering of your mind.”

THE BOOK OF PRIVY COUNCIL , Author Unknown (same as THE CLOUD OF UNKNOWING)

“Do not imagine that when I call it a darkness or a cloud that it is a cloud amassed with vapours that float in the air, or a darkness such as you have in your house at night, when your candle is out, for such a darkness. With little imagination you could picture the summer skies breaking through the clouds or a clear light brightening the dark winter. This is false, it isn’t what I mean for when I say “darkness” I mean a lack of knowing, just as whatever you do know or have forgotten is dark to you, because you do not see it in your spiritual eyes. For this reason, that which is between you and your God is termed, not a cloud of the air, but a cloud of unknowing.”

THE CLOUD OF UNKNOWING, Author Unknown

Cloud of Unknowing is an ancient text and may be, some say, the origin of contemplative practice and dialogue within the Christian faith–we know meditation, contemplation, and philosophy around it is an ancient practice worldwide.

The Sufis did it, the Kabbalists did it, the Buddhists did it, the Mystics were everywhere, all over the globe and in every faith practice doing it. But what is it? Ah, the hard part. Deep inner silence, spiritual and corporeal centeredness, listening and hearing, and as always dealing with the “unknowing” of it all.

Whether we are deep in addiction, eating disorders, PTSD, or any disordered plane of existence we are plagued by the known demons and enemies in our minds, hearts, and souls. Part of addiction rhetoric says, “Let go and let God.” Mantras become mantras because they are so simple, succinct, and right on. This is no exception. Whether you believe in God, a universal force, or just human morality there is a part of us all that want to hold on to what we KNOW in life, about life, about ourselves. Knowing is comforting, even when, and it often is, it’s misleading.

When we KNOW we have no room to GROW. Unknowing however, as uncomfortable as it may be, leaves us ripe and ready for growth, change, and expansion beyond anything the known could ever provide. I say this with all humility as I struggling with my own battle of unknowing in my life right now. How I hate it!  And how I love it!  Maddening tis’nt’ it!

Can you spend a minute, an hour, a day intentionally “unknowing”?  Undoing all the dogmas, preconceptions, all the stuck-ness, ruts, predispositions….and just LET GO!  Give it a shot–it is scary like falling but also freeing like flying.

I am paragliding my way through the present, coasting across the sky to an unknown landing zone.  We will see where it leads.  Follow you own wind, paraglide into your own unknowns….and I hope everyone has a lovely weekend!

Where then, you say shall I be?
Nowhere by this tale!
Exactly you say this well,
for there would I have you.
For nowhere physically is everywhere spiritually.

THE CLOUD OF UNKNOWING, Author Unknown

I was thinking about words that I keep coming back to, professionally and personally, that resonate with me at so many levels.  The words that I come to all seem to be connected in a web of healing and I wanted to share them with you and see if any resonate with you in your life now or in your aspirations going into January of this new year.

TOP 10 WORDS of INSPIRATION for 2010:

1 Mindfulness:  A point of weakness for almost everyone, mindfulness reminds us to constantly be aware of what is going on inside us and in the external world in any given moment.  I find that the more I work on this concept with my clients the easier it is for them to manage their daily existence and the more I work on this concept for myself I find the same.  When I am in the moment driving, acknowledging the sun and the color of the sky, thinking only of the bumps on the road and the car in front of me somehow the world beyond that melts away–the past, the future, and all the worries entangled in each melt away when we are in the now and mindful of that experience. 

2  Resilience:  Ah, forever a key concept in emotional wellness or the lack of it, resilience is our capacity to–like the iguana–bounce back from difficulty  and traumatic emotional experience.  Resilience is something that can be widdled away at over time.  Each additional difficult emotional experience weakens  our wall of self-protection, like rocks being thrown at a wooden fence, the stability will become shakier and it has more potential to break and fall down altogether.  Resilience is critical to be able to weather emotional storms and return to a healthy emotional state but there is work to be done to get there….but, see #3, there is hope….

3 Neuroplasticity:  I love this word for what it means…although it sounds overwhelming it brings a hopefulness to healing, resilience, and wellness in every way.  Neuroplasticity, simply stated, is the scientifically tested truism that THE BRAIN CAN CHANGE.  This brings hope to any obstacle and every internal roadblock in our mind because neuroscience has taught us that any dog can learn a new trick–young, old, traumatized, or otherwise.  We can relearn a sense of resilience, find new coping mechanisms, and rebuild our wall of safety so that we can weather anything with the right tools. 

4 Present-Centered:  This words in tandem with mindfulness practices as it symbolizes living in the moment of our daily existence.  Present-centered existence means really being able let go of our hold on  yesterday, our worries about tomorrow and visualize today for what it is.  Mindfulness teaches us the attunement of living in the now while present-centered philosophy embodies the very nature of being in the now.  If we can work just on being in the moment for a brief period every day we might find a richness and truth imbedded in where we are that we never expected.  When I have brief moments of really being present where I am there are rich spiritual and emotinal rewards–but it is a very difficult thing to embody and a practice I am working on….meditation, for me, is a way of training myself to keep in the moment a little longer every day. 

5  Somatics:  The essense of embodiment, somatic means that we feel and experience things in our physical self.  Our body holds, as many people I think have discovered in their practice of yoga, pockets of hidden secrets and rich emotional material.  We can feel our navel and be reminded of pleasures and pains in our psychological and emotional past.  For someone traumatized their body becomes the triggering point for many painful memories and our body responds along with our mind to what we are afraid of, sad about, happy for.  The somatic experience, meaning a body attunement and discovery, can unlock hidden pains that talk alone could have never explored so deeply.  In every way we emBODY our feelings, stories, and aches. 

6 Integrative:  The word integrative, along with complementary, has been linked within the medical and mental health community to symbolize the umbrella of holistic treatment approaches and therapies that are being discovered to be a great help for people in healing from emotional and physical ills.  Such fields as acupuncture, massage, yoga, creative arts, animal-bond, tai chi, and others are being explored and studied in relation to how they can help us heal.  I believe this year is going to continue to be exciting and invigorating for the study and practice of amazing programs incorporating all these wonderful healing practices–I truely cannot wait to see where it all leads, for me personally and within the field of mental health and trauma therapy!

7 Yoga:  Each moment I spend delving deeper into the world and practice of yoga the more I see it as a sincere life path that seems to walk parallel and stand as a great  metaphor for so many of my core beliefs both personally and professionally.  Life, birth, death, and transformation all seem to begin and end with a breath.  In my new book I explore breath as the mark of both my descent into my trauma, PTSD, and my renewal and rebirth of recovery.  For me yoga was a pinnacle point of my changing life perspective, my renewal of resilience, and learning to be strong in myself again.  Yoga begins with breath and from there it can be applied, karmically, physically, emotionally into our practice and methods of living in the world at large.  I look forward to continue my exploration of yoga and learning new ways to stretch myself, literally and metaphorically, through this upcoming teacher training. 

8 Soul:  The soul is “the root of the root and the bud of the bud and the sky of the sky of a tree called life” as I quote e.e. cummings in one of my favorite poems.  Soul is the essence of what we are when we take away flesh and bone and mind and even heart we are soul in the beginning and in the end and at our very core.  Souls can become damaged in this thing called life and the tribulations within….sometimes we just need some soul renewal.  I think mindfulness, yoga, meditation, and just time of reflection can give us some insight into and attention towards the often neglected root of the self–the soul.  I have to remember to care for myself, we all do, as I work at so much of this mind and body “work”.  We cannot neglect the root of the root and the bud of the bud as we wander through our lives.

9 Equine:  I have begun to dream about horses.  They are entering my consciousness at a new level and it is a comforting and inviting experience to find them nestled in the pages of my unconcious stories.  I find my dreams with equines to be much softer and calmer than my other, more restless nighttime machinations.  In dream interpretation it is said that horses represent strength, power, endurance, and a strong physical energy.  I hope to be able to wrangle some of that equine spirit of my dreams into a stronger physical self in 2010–one that can defy the limitations of my endometriosis.  I hope to imbibe some of that overall strength inherently found in horses and breathe it into myself and my life in this upcoming year…and beyond. 

10 Empowerment:  In working with a few more clients heading into this year with severe self-esteem and body image issues (male and female) I find that this word has ever increasing importance in my vocabulary and the way that I think in terms of helping people.  Empowerment is a key element to any human’s will to persevere in their own lives–we must feel strong, proud, compitent, and confident in our own bodies and minds in some way to be motivated to take on the difficulties of life.  I think, perhaps, empowerment of the self can be one of the greatest keys to emotional wellness.  My hope, in 2010, is to start to create some workshop programming helping people with just this piece–finding a sense of empowerment and strength of self.  I believe that horses can be a great co-facilitator in this regard.   With their symbolic linkages to strength and their yogic-like attunement to emotions and the present they seem just the therapists to assist in the challenge.

” There is more to life than increasing its speed.”  
Mohandas K. Gandhi
A common mantra within addiction recovery it seems that it is an applicable phrase to anyone wishing to better themselves and make their life more profound and centered in every lived day.  Now is the time for New Year’s Resolutions of grand proportions and many if not most of us tend to fall off the wagon of our hopes and aspirations fairly quickly following the turn over of a new year.  We set high expectations of ourselves and what we need to accomplish and when we falter for a moment we give up and fall.  New Year’s declarations seem to imply an all or nothing follow through but what if we gave ourselves permission to falter without judgement and found the courage to continue forward despite weaknesses? 
 
 
Everything and anything is overwhelming when we look past this moment, this hour, this day in our life.  It is great to have goals but if we don’t enact a liveable now, always planning for a better tomorrow, we are easily distracted and taken off track today. What if you lived now and only now–letting go of past and future–and just breathed in the moment and released out the tensions of what was or what should be.  Yogic philosophy becomes an excellent tool in remembering to be in the moment.  
 
 
Yoga begins with breath.  Its essence is breath and everything from mindset to movement stems off of our ability to be centered in our body and breathing in sequence with motion and life.  What a great metaphor and symobilic realization of living life one day at a time.  Breath, when recognized, is the most present-centered action anyone can do.  What is more integral and visceral in the living experience than breathing?  What is a more powerful tool of self awareness and self-regulation than breath?  For me little else comes close to being viscerally and poigniantly “in the now” than breath. 
 
 
So as we all move forward into our resolutions and affirmations for 2010 maybe finding a way and a moment in each day to come back to breath, to awareness of self–body, mind, soul–in the now can help us enact whatever we have resolved to do today.  And move forward taking each moment and each experience one day at a time.  Mantras are mantras for a reason–one day at a time is something that is simple to understand and difficult to enact but possible for all.  I plan to work much harder on my own present-moment living this year.  I have a serious issue of my own living in past and future and losing the present in the process.  .Rachel over at Suburban Yogini wrote in a comment that she is planning on making this her year of mindfulness.  I, in turn, wish to focus this year on present-centered living….one day at a time. 

 
Operating Table by MikeIsNeat on flickr

“The body never lies.”

Martha Graham (famous dancer/choreographer)

  

 

Practice what you preach…it is essential, no?  It is a bit of a duh, if I do say so myself.  Well I just had a moment of sorts over the last 72 hours—a long harsh moment of reality thrust upon me, necessarily and with excellent timing (in the script of my life this is just where I would put such a revelation).  It was a moment—call it a “duh” or an “aha” or an “epiphany” if you will—that reminded me of the importance, non-optional and crucial nature, of holistic living in my own life. 

 

I talk about it with passion until I’m breathless and I vocalize it to anyone who will listen—a complimentary medicine and holistic approach to life is vital for full mind, body, and soul healing.  And although I work towards my own holistic health in baby steps I am not quite the vibrant enactor as I am the vocalize—I am a bit sluggish, sometimes even a bit resistant for all of the reasons I know that people are. 

 

I am stagnant in my old ways of thinking and living.  I am full of negative learned behaviors cultivated with great art over the years.  I am sluggishly lazy about making the alterations in full that would be necessary for living a truly clean, green , and healthfully mean life.  It is a scary prospect—to so drastically change our life patterns.  Yet at the same time to do so is so logical and such a small concession in the grander scheme of things—taking into account a longer, healthier, and less painful existence on all levels.

 

This week has shown me, that like the diabetic person that has not option of whether to take care of their body and their diet as they must do what is necessary or suffer serious, even life threatening consequences, I too must look at my holistic health from a more serious perspective.  Every move I make, or don’t, every substance, hormone, and edible thing I put in my body affects the state of it. 

 

I have (as much as I have been trying to ignore the severity of it for some time) a very serious and chronic illness which only becomes more pervasive and debilitating with time.  I am in a crucial stage of “change” or “be changed for the worse”.  I am on the precipice of a life and a body that could go either way and I have to treat the care of this bodily casing as if it were a life or death situation—it is at least the life or death of my womb that is at stake (not to mention the surrounding organs that are often ravaged by endometriosis like the bladder, bowel, appendix, among others–two out of the three I already have scar tissue on from fusing of organ to organ , by endometriosis growth, prior to my first surgery). 

 

I can no longer say, “Tomorrow I will live better,” or, “Just one more bagel can’t hurt,” or, “I’m just too tired for yoga today.”  I have to effect a lifestyle commiserate with the seriousness of my health, the necessity for self-care as a priority, and an active holistic approach to healing that I know to be so vital.  I can no longer sit on the sidelines of my body and wait to see what happens.  Proactive is the only way. 

 

It is hard, we all know, to shift so drastically the things that inhabit our daily lives, routines, and ways of being.  I know mine is somewhat of an extreme example of how everything we do, consume, imbibe and how it affects our internal and external health, but in some ways this drastic perspective on living is something we should all work harder to enact—and no one knows better than I how much of a struggle it is to do that. 

 

But I know, too, that my every moment and lifestyle decision affects me holistically so I must live taking my whole self into account.  I know that when I have steak, dairy, soda, and white bread my cramps worsen.  I know that and I ignore it quite often. 

 

My body gives me all the signals I need of how to care for it and thus far I have been very capricious with this precious and delicate physicality that I have.  But I can’t be a sideline player in the game of me versus endometriosis.  I have been reminded and reinvigorated by the knowledge that this illness will get worse—how fast and how much is really up to me, every day, and in the choices I make. 

 

We have much of the control over our living, but so often we don’t enact proactive (w)holistic health because it seems too hard or too much.  Well, I can say from experience that the alternative, what can happen when we don’t care for this precious container for our mind and our soul, is much worse than working hard to live well.

 

I hope that this–my life, my body, my situation–can be a reminder to everyone of how precious this life is and how precious these bodies are we have been given.  We owe it to ourselves to take the best care possible of it before something (and something can happen to anyone) happens that makes us realize it is too late to effect changes and damage has been done.  I, myself, am at my own precipice, facing my own “duh” moment and I have big changes to make to create a life  not just of forethought and promises of change, but a life of making that change—I am the one who loses if I don’t.  Life is not a sidelines game and our bodies are vital in the holistic care of ourselves—body, mind, and soul.

 

Daily yoga, clean eating, and beginning active courses of acupuncture will be my first steps to getting my body to a better place to fight the internal enemy that waits, biding  it’s time to eat away at me, from the inside out.  I can create a defensive line that can really save or at least preserve my internals for a longer time, not to do that would be dangerously capricious.  I no longer want to be dangerously capricious. 

 

This blog, this move, this timing of beginning yoga school soon and actively working towards a more yogic, meditative, healthier lifestyle seems (as I said above) to be almost a scripted path I am on.  What a more perfect time for me to be forced to take seriously the severity and vital nature of this life path I am treading on and the life health I am preaching to others.  “Practice what you preach!” my life is yelling at me from every angle imaginable–or beware the consequences. 

 

I prefer to listen to what I have been given and make the necessary changes to myself and my lifestyle that have been a long time coming and necessary to have a long time yet to come.  Endometriosis may be the internal enemy but I would rather to be fighting against the enemy, not aiding its troops with my every action.  I know for everyone effecting changes of any kind is a huge undertaking and no easy task–change is hard.  But change will come whether you enact it or something else does.  Proactive living is much more empowering.  I hope to finally be able to say, with no wavering, or equivocating, that I truly, holistically, practice what I preach.  I must, my body tells me so.

 

 Acupuncture heart by Sharon Pazner on flickr

“The body is your temple.  Keep it pure and clean for the soul to reside in.”

B.K.S. Iyengar, Yoga: The Path To Holistic Health

 Old Sidesaddle from Early Montana days by Bitterroot on flickr

The essential joy of being with horses is that it brings us in contact with the rare elements of grace, beauty, spirit, and fire. 

Sharon Ralls Lemon

  

As a little girl I was in love with horses.  I was mesmerised by dark beautiful flanks and haunting equine eyes watching the films Black Beauty and National Velvet and ached for a horse of my own and wide open fields to ride her in.  I remember from as little as five going to the reservation near our house and running ahead of my parents on the trail so, away from their sight, I could mimick the sound of hooves on dirt, creating a  rhythmic beat of feet on paths and with my imagination, as I stared straight ahead, I could believe I was sitting atop a horse of my own, meandering down trails on a Saturday afternoon.  But I was a suburban girl from an area where reservations were as close to fields as I got and where riding was too expensive to really be possible. 

 

Right before entering middle school I saved up an entire year of allowances and odd jobs money for summer camp  riding school which my parents promised I could take if I could earn enough to pay for it.  I made just barely the allotment, maybe a little less (and my kindly parents pitched in the remainder) and I remember the heart pounding glee of walking into the barn on that first day of class–the smell of hay in the air and the sound of hooves on the dirt.  This was the closest I got to really being anything like the “country horse girl” of my dreams. 

 

Because, as a suburbanite raised person, I am not a country girl.  I may be one in spirit or musical orientation, but I have never been able to qualify myself as a bona-fide, born and bred, workin’ boot wearing country girl.  I aspired with great adulthood imaginations during my time living in Fort Collins, Colorado, surrounded by pickups, cowboys and horse ranches, but I was never able to bring it to fruition–I lacked any of the practical skills and I could never two-step.  The closest I got were a few wonderful rides on horseback through the mountains of Estes Park, care of the local tourist ranches. 

 

I have also, for quite some time, been a great proponent of animal-oriented psychotherapies.  I know from personal experience (much the way I do with my own practice of yoga) the healing benefits that can be derived from a relationship with an animal–their silent acceptance free of judgement, their love without conditions, and their quiet ability to intuit emotions and pain in another. 

 

It was my greatest hope to be able to combine my therapeutic practice with an animal oriented approach and even throw in body/mind elements to create innovative holistic practices.  The idea of truly being able to bring this to pass just seemed a bit too much to hope for.  Well with recent fortuitous events it seems that I may be able to find a way to enter into the amazingly inspiring world of Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy (EFP), which I spoke about briefly in my Friday list from last week. 

 

In this pursuit and active research into the is therapeutic area (I am perhaps a compulsive researcher) I have learned about and ran into some passionate and wonderful people involved in EFP.  One thing that I have found, overall, as I explore all of the holistic realms of the complementary therapies is how many amazing and vibrant people there are out there and I am only lucky to have fallen into their path.  I am forever grateful for where my passions have led me so far and where they continue to lead me.

 Angel Smile Farm Grazing

I happened upon, this past week, a wonderful little patch of heaven called “Angel Smile Farm” in a rural area of Southern Florida right on the periphery of the metropolitan cities of this Southern tip of the state.  This farm is something that replication images could barely do justice to and radiates the kind of beauty and calm that leaves one breathless–at least this “one”.  It smells like freshly cut grass and stallions and looks like something out of a glossy equine photo shoot.  The front corral is edged with crisp white fence posts that stretch out into the distance.  A long sandy path takes you down to an equally crisp white barn with bright mexican blankets and splashes of turquoise and leather that feel quintessentially country with a touch of softness and feminine decor. 

 

The owner is a woman, Maurette, with a friendly laugh, a bold personality, and a passionate heart.  She is one of many people I have discovered in a short period of time with a passion for working to heal through horses.  She, like myself, is full of hopes and plans and dreams for where this work can go and I only had to see her farm once to fall immediately in love with expanses of blue skies and green fields speckled with palms and rugged Floridian trees.  It takes little imagination, even for someone like me who teems with imaginative wells, to imagine such a place being  a site for emotional healing or for someone like Maurette to be a person to bring those hopes to fruition. 

 

I am enthused at the prospect of becoming intermingled into this equine world that seems inexhaustible in this area of the world.  I have found my home in Florida, in the work that I am doing, and the professional and personal adventures which are following with each step I take. 

 

My dream is to find a way to bring all of these worlds together into a cohesive whole.  My teeming imagination envisions a center built on an expanse of land much like the one I discovered and fell in love with this week.  A center under which someone could find all manner of holistic treatment–where psychotherapy, yoga therapy, equine facilitated therapy, creative arts therapy, and so many others can work hand-in-hand, collaborating and overlapping at points for the most complete therapeutic healing approach.  A place that could help those in emotional need of effecting changes in their whole selves–mind, body, heart, soul. 

 

The more I meet amazing people with passionate hearts full of the same yearning to make change and healing happen whatever it takes, the more confidence I have in a future that includes all of these things.  Having met people like Maurette of  Angel Smile Farm, Michele of Heal My PTSD, as well as Geri and Penni of Kula for Karma, I become more confident in the potential shifts for the better in the future of healing both locally and nationally. 

 

I wrote in my prior post titled Elephant Tears about elephants experiencing trauma and finding healing again.  This post I’ve explored how animals, particularly horses, can assist in human healing.  One thing I know, there is something magical in both large majestic creatures–horses and elephants. 

 

There is something intrinsically wild and free watching a herd move.  The earth rumbles and they beat out a rhythm only nature could write.  Their intrinsic freedom provokes the same in the humans they touch–evoking a strength and invoking a freedom in a person that is potent.  Both animals have done muchto help me understand healing in a multidimensional way.  Both make my heart race and my soul ache for a taste of what they have inside of them. 

 

 

Below are some Links to Lists of Therapeutic Riding Centers around the nation enacting this fantastic work of equine facilitated psychotherapy. 

*I have no formal knowledge of these centers, this is just meant as a general reference list for those that are interested. See the NARHA website for a comprehensive listing of accredited horse therapy centers.*

 

NARHA (General Website address: See “CENTERS” link for all variations of links to accredited centers):

http://www.narha.org/

EFMHA (Equine Facilitated Mental Health Association):

http://www.narha.org/SecEFMHA/WhatIsEFMHA.asp

Maryland Horse Country Comprehensive Listing of Psychotherapy and Physical Therapy Equine Programs:

http://www.mdhorsesource.com/therapy.htm

NARHA Premier Accredited Centers: (National and International)

http://www.narha.org/Centers/center_status_search.asp

NARHA “Horses for Heroes” Program (for Veterans) with links to nationwide facilities:

http://www.narha.org/Horses%20For%20Heroes/NARHAHorsesforHeroes.asp

 

Angel Smile Farm Barn  

Where in this wide world can man find nobility without pride,
Friendship without envy,
Or beauty without vanity?
Here, where grace is served with muscle
And strength by gentleness confined
He serves without servility; he has fought without enmity.
There is nothing so powerful, nothing less violent.
There is nothing so quick, nothing more patient.

 

Ronald Duncan, “The Horse,” 1954

 

Firey Sunset

“Each of us has a soul, but we forget to value it…We don’t understand the great secrets hidden inside of us.”

St. Teresa of Avila

 

 

One thing I am enjoying as I delve into reading Stephen Cope’s memoir is his reference to mystics of all religions and philosophies as there are so many corollaries between their practices–all meditative, contemplative, and instilled with devoted faithfulness to their chosen practice and spirituality. 

 

He has referenced, also, some of my favorite Christian mystics (although I have favorite mystics from every tradition and honor all of their intense dedication to their life paths)  including the anonymous monk author of  The Cloud of Unknowing and Teresa of Avila

 

Saint Teresa has always had a little place in my heart and soul–and a huge place in my name and naming.  I was named twice.  Once by nuns in the orphanage in Bogota and once by my parents in New Jersey, but both with the same name and for the same reason.  I was born on Teresa of Avila’s Saint’s Day, October 15th, and congrats to us both having celebrated our co-anniversary–mine of life and hers of recognition of great works as a contemplative and mystic within her faith tradition of Christianity. 

 

 Something about the fortuitous and coincidental nature of my naming–twice with the same name no less– has led me to believe that I was in some way meant to be a mystic heart.  That and the fact that I was always drawn to her writing both for its poetic force and for the meditative content found within.

 

Contemplatives and mystics the world round talk at some point (and through different linguistics) about the concept of “unknowing”.  The book The Cloud of Unknowing perhaps the greatest, at least one of the greatest, literary tomes to this concept was also one of the first, written by a monk in anonymity during the 14th century.  It’s focus and much of mystic exploration before and since is on the concept of getting beyond the known, the certainty, the ego, the pride– all of the inherent humanness we learn to cultivate through years of schooling and indoctrination of how we must be certain

 

Especially in the modern world we must, above all else, KNOW.  Not knowing is weak, not respected, and considered a sign of idiocy.  You will be trampled by the powerful and the charismatic if you don’t know.  But what if you intentional unknow?  What an unfathomable concept.  We must know who we are, put our stamp on the world, preach, and shout, and tout what we believe with irrevocable certainty otherwise who will want to listen?

 

Some of my favorite authors, teachers, philosophers, intellectuals, and spiritual persons in recent years are the ones who have the capacity to be passionate leaders, mentors, and advocates for a cause without touting certainty.  They, in fact, vocalize uncertainty–which often makes “the certains” of the world very nervous.  But what I have learned as I try (and I emphasize try) to cultivate a more contemplative and meditative mindset is that admitting to and embracing unknowing is one of the most spiritually mature and brave things a person can do. 

 

Unknowing is something we should all work to cultivate.  Sure, we have spent a lifetime cultivating knowing, but to be able to let that go, let our hold loosen on what must be certain and leave room for the uncertain would be a brave thing indeed.  It would also leave room for all sorts of mystical  and meditative surprises that we might have been closed to before. 

 

I know with myself, as well as my trauma clients as a whole, control is one of the hardest things to let go of in trauma healing.  After you have endured the worst life and the world has to offer all you have is your personal control–of yourself, of situations, of other people.  But, what is essential in learning in attempting to heal from trauma is that, that control is an illusion.  We have very little control over things in our lives, and with trauma often the things in ourselves are so out of control we can only maintain them to some small extent.  Control is an illusion as is, in many things, knowing.

 

I will admit it.  Giving into unknowing in life is one of the hardest tasks.  I study those that have a better grasp on it intently to try to master it piece by piece.  I know I have trouble–as I sit latching on, with whitened and braced knuckles, to the little control I like to believe I have over my life–letting that control illusion go. 

 

I know I have trouble, through pride, ego, and learning, to say it is ok not to know and to let go of that mental dynamic I have imprinted in my mind that we must know to be better or more wise.  I have a lot to unlearn to become one who can effectively “unknow”. 

 

Unknowing is, perhaps, the hardest part of cultivating a contemplative life and a more yogic sensibility. 

 

I find comfort in exploring other’s journeys on these paths–from the ancient mystics to a fellow psychotherapist and eloquent author like Cope who quotes the same mystics I have quoted, and whom I can watch, through his writing, take his own contemplative journey into self. 

 

Another contemplative for whom I have the greatest admiration is Thomas Keating (a modern Christian contemplative) is perhaps one of the most centered people I have ever encountered personally.  His presence is one which evokes calm.  Meditating in his presence somehow induces a feeling of being closer to something warm, radiating, and sublime.  My experience in meeting him was one of the most spiritually profound I have ever had.  He is someone from whom I constantly garner, through his writing and his speaking, more and more insight into myself. 

 

Father Keating once said, “Just by the very nature of our birth, we are on a spiritual journey.”  I would add to that, from my personal experience, saying that, “Just by the nature of my naming, I am on a mystic journey.”

 

 

“And so I urge you, go after experience rather than knowledge. On account of pride, knowledge may often deceive you, but this gentle, loving affection will not deceive you. Knowledge tends to breed conceit, but love builds. Knowledge is full of labor, but love, full of rest.”

From The Cloud of Unknowing

Vibrant Skies at Water's Edge

   

 

Moon Silhoutted Trees Mosaic by ctd 2005 on flickr 

        African proverb: “The ax forgets, the tree remembers.”

        Maya Angelou, Even the Stars Look Lonesome, 1997

 

 

When I left home for Fort Collins, Colorado at twenty I was running away.  Running away from my trauma, my memories of places, memories of the faces that had become blurred, and the history of a life that (at the time) I didn’t want to remember or own.  So, I went half way across the nation hoping for geographical healing and what I confronted was everything I left behind.  First, subconsciously, through painful mistakes, symptomatic responses in overdrive, and a very unhealthy and volatile relationship.  Then, intentionally, when two and a half years into my “new life” and many falls downward I realized that my demons, my ghosts, and my life didn’t disappear just because I did. 

 

I remember sitting in my first trauma therapist’s office and her making me do what I now know to be “The Empty Chair” Technique from Gestalt therapy and just crying all the tears I had been holding in for the person I was before my trauma, for the person I had become after it, and for all of the unnecessary years of guilt and shame I had bestowed on myself.  It was a first step on a very long journey that continued to include falling down, but at least it didn’t involve any more running away. 

 

Six months after the afternoon in that office I moved back to New Jersey—to confront myself and my memories in the place from whence they came.  I realized once I stopped hiding inside myself I no longer had to hide externally. 

 

On the brink of my move to Florida (just a few months ago) I wanted to make sure for myself that this was a move forward not a fleeing situation.  I find myself very attentive to my own self assessment—making sure I am making conscious decisions for viable reasons so as never to fall back into the trunk of my own car on the road of my own life again.  Most of me knows this will never happen, but the intellectual part of me just wants to think it through anyway.  I realized that in coming back to my hometown and confronting the faces and places that had haunted my mind I had been made free to find my home again.  Not home as a place on a map but as a space in my heart. 

 

I found home in my family, my friends, the new memories I created, and those I could let go of by confronting them.  I found home, most recently and most poignantly, in marrying my husband:  marriage being something I never thought I would do—some for feminist precepts that I held to tightly, but ultimately deep down I think I had cultivated a pervasive fear of trusting someone that implicitly with me—mind, heart, soul, and body

 

I found home in this past year in the most intimate way I could—In a family of my own, in love that gives all and allows the heart to receive all, and in learning in another that I could completely trust myself.

 

I realized in assessing my Florida move motivations that this physical move was essentially just shifting to another point on a map; the real move was a move forward to a life with my family of two plus (now) THREE dogs and an embracing of whatever is to come without fear. 

 

Trauma is like falling to the bottom of the deepest ravine or being pushed off a cliff’s edge into a frigidly cold ocean.  It is the hardest thing to climb out of and it takes all the strength you may have and often then a bit more than that.  You create new strength and new muscles you never had before in the process and it leaves you with a new sense of fearlessness.  Once you have seen the bottom of the coldest ocean and fallen from the highest peak the rest of life’s problems pale in comparison. 

 

Do you have weak points?  There are moments.  No one is impervious to life or feelings or memories.  There are moments when I wake up with a startle or I jump when someone comes up from behind or get a chill when I see a man leering at me, but they are identified and moved beyond—they are not paralyzing and immobilizing like they once were. 

 

 I don’t see shadows in my room every time I open my eyes or sleep with the lights on or numb out, block out, or space out to avoid the pain.  I do not fear life, fear love, fear touch anymore.  I do not hyperventilate and shake from some unknown triggered memory.  I do not hate my body (most days J).  I do not categorically hate men.  I do not wait for the day when the other shoe will drop or anticipate my world falling out from under me. 

 

I can move and move on without carting all that past pain around with me.  I can talk about healing from my own perspective as well as from my “therapist” chair.  I can, when hard days come (quoting, randomly,“Sex and the City”):  “Breathe and reboot.”  I can find my center, find my quiet mind, find my yogic self that can take life in.  I can let the past go enough so that I can keep breathing, breathing deeper, and breathing in this new life, new move, new dog, and whatever else is next. 

 

I will never run away again.  And I will keep remembering to run without fear into my future.

 

 

An Arabian Dream by TAYSER on flickr

          Experience is not what happens to you;
          it’s what you do with what happens to you.

            Adlous Huxley

 

* MY STORY to be continued tomorrow with the post “Full of Sound and Fury: A Survivor’s Tale”. *

watch me fly away, give me life like a butterfly by Te55

 

There are people who come into our lives maybe for a minute or a day but leave an indelible mark, an imprint in our heart and our soul–they teach us something about people, life, and ourselves that is unexpected and a blessing.  I thought I would take this Friday to focus on a few of those people who I have met and seen beauty through in some unexpected way. 

 

 

I am sure everyone has those people in their life history.  Often we remember our mothers, our fathers, our closest friends and they are truly jewels to have in a lifetime but there are also the more anonymous relationships that we have, in passing, which may be fleeting but I feel speak to the beauty and grace that exists in the world, not just from those that are close to us but from random strangers that flutter through our memories from time to time.  I wanted to take a moment and think about those anonymous souls that have stepped on my life path.

 

There are also those people we meet, equally randomly, in whom we see such pain in that may live with us and haunt us–change who we are and deepen how we can feel for someone else.  They may tell us a story, share a sorrow, or just exude such ache that they are permanently inked into some shadowy place in our inner selves.  Those people, as much as the former have changed my experience of the world.  They have helped me to be more empathetic, to see people even when they just pass by me, and to understand sorrow to be as universally human as joy, love, and kindness.  Sometimes people provoke kindnesses in us by the experience of knowing them in some deep and inner way.  I wanted to remember those people too–those who taught me about hurt in the human condition.

 

There are also those people who teach us about hate, fear, and misunderstanding.  Their bitterness seeps out into the world because of their discontent and they can touch our lives, hurt our hearts, and jade our worldviews.  If we try we can find our way back from those moments and away from those people but they leave their mark–like water damage on a page, the water dries, but it has seeped into the ink.  They permeate our memory in some way and we may recall them randomly and without warning.  They too teach us about the world, and ourselves, and give us an opportunity for resilience and empowerment in ourselves.  It may be a painful path but it is a worthwhile trip–so that we do not remains stuck in their bitterness or sucked into their darkness.

 

1.  Mama from Laos:

Mama was a lady who ran the guesthouse where I stayed during 5 days of my solo travels to Southeast Asia following graduate school.  While I was staying at the guesthouse I got one of my patented killer sinus infections and Mama was an angel.  Bringing me tea, patching my face with vicks patches, and praying for me at the local temple.  The morning I left Mama gave me a bracelet that she said she had blessed by a monk in the temple at sunrise and she placed it on my wrist, kissed my hand, and welled with tears.  Her kindness was profound and her impact on me so great I found myself on the plane to Ko Samui later that morning surprising myself as I welled with my own tears for a woman I barely knew and barely knew me but had treated me like a daughter nonetheless. 

She taught me that even anonymouos love can be unconditional–across and despite all the boundary lines that humans create for themselves through religion, language, culture, and familiarity. 

 

2.  The Colombian Police Officer In Bogota Airport: 

When I met him this man was probably in his early 20’s and I was in my early 7’s.  We were both pretty confident and assured and we clicked right away.  My mother and I had traveled to Bogota (city of my birth) when I was 7 years old to get my newly adopted sister Maria (aka Yolanda–that was her orphanage name).  We had just arrived, rumpled and tired at the airport arrivals area and found that we were stranded–the driver meant to pick us up had not arrived.  Not that I was aware of it at the time, wondering with  impatience why my mother was so on edge, but a woman and a child from the United States in the Bogota airport in the early 1980’s was like a stationary target.   The officer was well aware of that and went far above his required position in staying with us, as our personal sentry and my personal new playmate, until we were able to get a reputable taxi to take us to our housing.  He smiled wide, played my games, and probably gave my young mother traveling with a child a blessed gift of security. 

 

He taught me that men wielding rifles can wear unguarded smiles and that even, and maybe especially, in countries with such dangerous reputations  kind hearts and good deeds can still prevail.

 

3.  The Brazilian Guide In The Pantanal:

I can no longer remember his name but I remember him clearly, first and foremost, as the man who got me to swim with gators.  Now, lets just say that at that moment I needed little provocation just a small reassurance from my barefoot, machete-toting, jungle guide that, “They are fine, I feed them fishes,” to get me to edge into the cold river, flanked by alligators on both those sides.  It was a now or never and I foolishly went with the “now”.  That is a story for another day (a story I have written but fearfully never even attempted to get published–the same goes for stories I have written about many of these momentary characters in my life). 

 The thing I remember about him even more vividly than instigating my gator encounter was what happened later that night back at camp.  This scene is set in a deep and brush-filled region of the Brazilian Pantanal Jungle (northern jungle cousin of the Amazon) and the only inhabitants of the area are anacondas, piranhas, gators, snakes, lizards, jaguars, the jungle guides, and their guests that dorm in grass-roofed huts lined with hammocks.  And I cannot forget the corrugated shack of a jungle bar stocked with beer and sugar cane liquor enough to satiate both campers and guides for a night–or until the generator dies.  That night I saw my guide, once confident and adept by day–probably one of most well-versed natural ecologists using a wealth of training handed down by fathers and grandfathers–become a stumbling, aggressive, incoherent alcoholic.  He did so for all three nights I was there and on the third night his lifelong friend and fellow guide revealed to me, without knowledge of AA, and in portuguese accented english, “He has a problem and he has for a long time but I just don’t know what to do.”

He taught me that even in the deepest jungles and amid the most raw beauty anyone can feel emotional pain and numb themselves with addictive behaviors.  He showed me that human pain is universal and even men who brave alligator infested waters and carry machetes with ease can be weak and injured inside.

 

4.  Mama from Mississippi:

I met Mama from Mississippi in the very small town of Pearlington the year following Hurricane Katrina.  My mother and I had decided to volunteer over Thanksgiving to assist in clean up and found ourselves on a very eclectic bandwagon headed by a Catholic Priest who loved to play U2 Songs on his acoustic guitar.  He was a native Mississippian and had grown up in Pearlington, Mama was his mother and so there we found ourselves, crowded on the floor of Mama’s tiny FEMA trailer.  The trailer was parked alongside her once beautiful southern home which had been drowned from the inside leaving a hollow shell dripping with mold,  littered with shattered glass, and splintered in two with pieces of lifelong memories collapsed and crushed under the weight of water. 

The entire town had imploded and on every street there were pieces of pots, strips of photographs, and remains of family treasures.  Some people had fled and never returned while others came by daily to rummage what they could out of what was once their lives and now was mud.  And there was Mama, a sort of self-appointed town delegate, checking on families and making us food from whatever she had stocking her barely livable trailer home.  She cried when she prayed, and shook in a Pentecostal sort of way, beside her Catholic priest son.  But above all she had a beautiful soul, it shone through the dimness of dark times and town ruins with a hope that seemed unbreakable. 

Mama taught me what unwavering faith could look like and she reminded me that there were people, in unexpected places, who were strong enough to hope and pray and love even when even the world and the ground beneath her feet had given way.  She reminded me that there is a love universally found in God, in humans, in ourselves, that can not be broken even by the greatest of storms.

 

5.  The Widow In My  NonFiction Writing Class:

She sat there, often fairly quiet through our ten week creative non-fiction class.  While some wrote out pain in a group therapy type method and others held back emoting with the use of journalistic style prose, she lay somewhere in the middle–writing intelligently and beautifully but often just above the surface of something bigger.  I just couldn’t figure what. 

One day she read a story she wrote about the death of her husband just weeks before beginning the writing program.  She read about how she had taken this class as a means of reviving herself, finding life after his chronic illness and years by his pained side, and losing him finally at the end of it all.  She read how she had found some kind of spark of herself again in story-writing and reading with a purpose.  She had immersed herself in technique and storytelling and found something alive that wasn’t there before. 

It was the most beautiful story I heard in that entire class and is probably the most I ever got to know her–and in that I felt like I knew her both intimately and not at all.  Now I cannot even remember her face but the exquisite craft, melancholy and bravery in her story I will never forget. 

She reminded me how therapeutic writing can be and also that the best writing is made while straddling that fine line of telling the story, feeling the pain in the pages, but not indulging the pain in leu of the craft.  She did it perfectly with artistry and bravery.  In reading her story of mourning and her capacity to tell it, unwaveringly and honestly, I would have guessed years not weeks had passed.  She reminded me that writing has a power that extends beyond the author and becomes alive–her melancholy is still alive in me.  It also reminded me of the curative powers of words–writing and reading them have a capacity to revive and heal. 

 

6.  The Man On The Train To Amsterdam:

He was from Kosovo.  I was from New Jersey.  And we were both riding the night train to Amsterdam from Germany with a man from Austria.  It is a complicated beginning I know.  It was late summer of 1999 and the War in Kosovo had just ended.  We all found ourselves on a train to Amsterdam, me on my first backpacking trip, and the both of them headed somewhere with a purpose.  The Austrian man spoke English but the man from Kosovo spoke none.  He was wrinkled and tired looking with tanned skin and dark hair.  And we began to talk–me and the man from Kosovo–with the Austrian man acting as intermediary translator. 

I heard about his wife and his children who he loved dearly, who had been crushed in the bombing in his town.  I heard about his journey to find life and work and to try to find a reason to live with his family gone.  After a few hours I nearly forgot that the Austrian man was there, it was as though we were the only two people on the train and in the railcar corridor.  I remember feeling like part therapist, part mourner, and part historian hearing a tale of history in the making. 

He showed me what pain was, what war was, what trauma was and how excruciating it can be to be the one that lived when everything you loved has died.  He was my first touch of the existential of war and loss.  He was my first session, although unofficially, as a trauma therapist.  He showed me the value of just listening to someone’s story and the importance of hearing someone else’s pain and validating it.  He showed me war and the casualties of war in lives, in hearts, in souls crushed with love lost.

 

7.  The Montville Racist:

He was a teenager around my age who lived in Montville, New Jersey.  Beyond that I remember nothing distinctive about him as a person–besides being a racist, of course.  I remember that night and what was said very distinctly but in a backwards dream sort of way.  Mostly this was due to the fact that I only figured out what transpired and what it meant after the fact–with a sort of suburban child naivety which, thanks to him, was lost that night. 

I remember going to this anonymous boy’s house one weekend night because he was a friend of a friend.  I remember getting there and them arguing in the other room.  He was saying things like, “There is no way.  I don’t want her here.  I want her out of my house.”  I remember her shouting back that he was a “pig” and “awful” but I didn’t really understand why.  I remember we didn’t have a car and he had to drive us back to our town and to my friend’s house.  She was blush red when we got there and apologizing to me profusely.  I didn’t realize until half-way through her gushing what had even happened.  He didn’t want ME there.  He didn’t want a HISPANIC there.  He didn’t want someone NOT WHITE in his house.  Then I felt nauseous, disgusted, humiliated, and vulnerable all at once.  I wanted to pass out and go home and hide.  I was disguisted at myself for not “getting it” before and for having to spend an entire ride home, unknowingly, with a bigot who hated me just because I “was”, period.  I was horrified that, that kind of bigotry existed and that I had experienced it first hand and I was angry that he had shifted me in a way that could not be taken back or taken away.  I felt unwanted for my skin and the genetics of my birth–and that was a first. 

He taught me that hate can exist–be it for fear or learned stigma–just to exist; for no rational or real reason.  He taught me that bigotry was not just in history or somewhere else but it could be anywhere.  He taught me to be prepared but never ashamed.  He taught me to know people’s potential for wrong, but to not let that hold me back for seeing all the good and right.  I would not let him taint me…but in some ways, in just existing in my memory, as a memory he did, and he has. 

 

8.  My Birthmother–Imagined and Real:

I have thought of my birthmother throughout my life in a number of ways.  When I was young I idolized her as a perfect angel from impoverished circumstances who, with saint-like capacity, gave me up for some greater good.  When I was a teenager I despised her for feelings I had about myself, for not knowing where I came from or my hispanic lineage, and for not giving me the answers to why I was the way I was from the roundness of my nose to my racing mind and hormonally excited emotionality.  As an adult I just wondered–without answers.  After two private investigators and a number of dead ends I guess I came to terms with having nothing but questions without answers.  She is who I am, but also she is not.  She may be my hair or my nose but I’m not sure she has anything to do with my obsessive literary bent.  I blame that on my (adoptive) mother talking to me like I was 30 at 2 and reading me long, linguistically winded novels at 3.  I have found my balance between nature and nurture.  But there are days like my birthday that I still look in the mirror a little too long with a little too much melancholy laying on my heart and wonder about the questions. 

She taught me to love who I am even when I don’t know where I came from–not by example but by absence. She is someone who I have the freedom to imagine however I choose.  She is someone I thank for freeing me to live the life I have, and love the family I love and know that they love me.  But despite all that she has given me, without even knowing that she has done so, she is still a stranger.  She is someone I only see when I stare in the mirror a little too long. 

 

 

Footprints in The Sand by johncooke on flickr

 

My article “Yoga: A Healing Art in A Psychotherapy Context” has just been published in the Fall 2009 Issue of  THE NEW SOCIAL WORKER MAGAZINE

Check it out if you would like!

 

Yoga 49 by jf on flickr

               

                  Yoga is difficult for the one whose mind is not subdued.

                                                  Bhagavad Gita

 

Since moving to Florida I have been feeling like a bit of a faux-gini.  Literally translated this would be a Faux Yogini.  I have been so scattered, life has been so chaotic and bipolar with moments of high stress followed by solitary lulls and isolation that I have been feeling off my game in, well, life.  I haven’t managed to cultivate any sort of a routine or rhythm for my life down here barring the waking, work, home, dogs, blog, sleep.  This seems like a short-sighted and short shelf life kind of life plan. 

 

Part of this is due to the fact that I feel like life is sort of in a state of limbo; partially on pause.  With my husband not down here right now I feel like our Florida life is just maintaining on life support until full measures of resuscitation are activated.  But, in truth, I am the only force that can activate these measures and I can’t wait around indefinitely to do so. 

 

I can only spend so long staring at the walls of our new house, writing and researching all night with a background of Law & Order, NCIS, or Bones humming in my ear, and finding peaks of adrenaline with the moments I have to kill, shoo, or bury one manner of critter or another.  Last night it was a dragonfly.  I don’t even want to talk about the scene that was my livingroom during that five minute drama–dogs, wings, and a yellow broom.

 

In this life-support limbo I have been living in I have neglected all manner of healthy eating habits that I had cultivated, choosing instead to the easier route of whatever take out is most accessible and quickly edible.  I have abandoned all and any yogic routine that I might have cultivated using excuses (some real, others weak) including physical pain, exhaustion, and disorientation to the local yoga studios and classes. 

 

Well this is the week of life resuscitation–begun yesterday with my assertion to create healthy sleeping habits.  It is time to form this Florida life beyond insect slaughters and amphibian burials. 

 

As of this upcoming weekend I will have been in Florida for a month.  This is my deadline.  I am on the brink of making a life of my own in a house, while not literally my own, rented for a year to be my own–I have to Virginia Woolf this sucker and find a metaphorical room of “one’s”/my own. 

By Any Other Name by drp on flickr

 Sometimes the hardest, the scariest thing is moving forward and effecting change in our own lives.  Consistency becomes comforting.  Stagnation starts to feel cozy.  The idea of thrusting ourselves out of the norm and what we know–intentional inertia–seems like unnecessary extra trouble and work.  Sometimes, however, doing that work is what is necessary for real growth; to create a challenge we may need in our life and then force ourselves to rise up and meet it. 

 

Some might look at my life and say I did the hard part–change states, change jobs, change out homes and climates but in truth I have yet to make the real stretch or do anything much that requires a real shift.  I have yet to shift the practices and core focuses of my life.  A job goes from 9-5 or 8-4:30 in my case and so my routine, although locationally different, remains in the same sequence.  The scenery of my home and state may have exchanged palms for firs but I still drive down highways, sit at desks, eat at restaurants, and shop at stores that are similar. 

 

The changes we make that are really core shaking are, well, in the core.  That is the scary stuff: Soul shifting, heart opening, emotionally rattling core changes.  I know, in some fearfully intuitive way, that my yoga training will be such a shift.  And like an athlete preparing for a triathlon I know I have to prepare myself: mind, body, and soul.  I have to eat better, move more intentionally, sit more calmly, and be working towards the shift I am about to make. 

 

With a vegan, yogic, monastic lifestyle ahead on my horizon I have to start living intentionally and finding the yoga in every moment. 

 

How would you create a more intentional life with just one shift in your daily living?  That is a very weighty question but one I have been trying to sort for myself.  I believe I am going to start with mindful eating–eating more consciously, healthfully, and with more the pace of a gazelle rather than a sloppy, ravenous vulture (this would be my old method).  While this may be a small piece I have a tendency for impulsive craving satiation so this is probably one of my biggest hurdles of all. 

 

Starting with Saturday’s yoga at the beach class, which was postponed last time due to weather and abdominal pain, I will try to incorporate intentional movement into the mix.  Piece by piece, bit by bit…I am working my way to a shift in my core.

Mantra by jf on flickr

 

Yoga heals, nourishes, and challenges us.  The practice infiltrates every corner of our lives.

Valerie Jeremijenko

 

“Prayer is not asking.  It is a longing of the soul.  It is a daily admission of one’s weakness.  It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart.”

Mahatma Ghandi

"Meditation" by hkoppdelay

flickr photo “Meditation” from hkoppdelay

 

 

 

 

 

 

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