Red dragonfly

•July 8, 2018 • Leave a Comment

On the weekend, while celebrating a birthday, there was a pause in the chatter, as a friend and I realised our mothers had passed away on the same day in April. The pause was filled with the “who goes first” of a story to be told, each instantly aware of the complexity of the passing of a parent. We gently gave each other space for that telling ,  comparing  notes as far as was appropriate to the circumstances, as the general chatter recommenced around us. That pause is what leads me now to reflect on the story-telling of death and grief. It takes time to create the story to be told and it has different form in different places.

At the beginning of this year I rehashed a practice I’d tried for the first time during the Twelve Days of Christmas between 2016 and 2017: the Omen Days. On the fourth Omen Day, corresponding to April for 2018, I saw a red dragonfly on my car aerial as I was leaving for work, a second red dragonfly as I crossed the stream from my car parking spot and walked to the hospital, and had a third red dragonfly zip closely past my ear.

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When I got home, I looked up the symbolism of dragonflies – death and transformation, said the interwebs.  It doesn’t really matter by whose tradition. Meanings are formed by consensus and the life of a dragonfly from nymph in the water to predatory flying creature of the air makes the symbology fairly inevitable. I noted in my Omen record that perhaps April would be the month of my mother’s passing.

By the beginning of April my mother, who had been struggling with a brain tumour since October of 2016, was in palliative care. She had no capacity to lay down new memories and could barely hold a conversation as she struggled with word retrieval.  The month of the red dragonfly was upon us.

On the 4th of April, my parents wedding anniversary, I noted that my mother was no longer coherent. The palliative team has started a continuous morphine infusion and I wrote in my journal that the last coherent pieces of her mind were shattering.

I made a red dragonfly to add to the Shamble I had created at the beginning of the year, but wasn’t ready to include it yet. A piece of me felt as if the act of creating it was invoking my mother’s departure.  I noted in my journal that it was about tensions and entanglement. Letting go is never easy. The dragonfly was made of red and orange ice-cream sticks from an old school project, wrapped in red Lindt chocolate paper and wound with red ribbon from a book mark. Its thorax was made from a red Christmas card envelope, and the wings from the plastic lid of my middle son’s birthday cake container. The head was a shell of camellia seed capsule from the camellias leaning over the fence from the neighbour’s garden. This hotchpotch of bits and pieces from life, representing connection, celebrations, mundanity, growing family, and community, seemed just right. The red dragonfly is a Shamble in its own right.

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On the 5th of April I added the dragonfly to the Shambles. It felt like an acknowledgement of the inevitable.

By the 8th of April her breathing had changed to the pattern of end of life. I read her A.A Milne poems so she had the sound of my voice, knowing that the words were buried deep in her memories from her own childhood through to mine and my brothers and those of her grandchildren. Familiarity is a balm. I did the same on the 9th, visiting after work, reading different poems, this time, but struggling through the tears. I organised to take the rest of the week off work.
Once upon a time there lived a girl with shining red hair and freckles. She was tormented by her brother and harassed by nuns for her wicked sense of humour, but her indomitable spirit could not be quelled…I have often imagined my mother as a storybook character. She so identified with L.M. Montgomery’s  Anne of Green Gables.

On the 10th I printed out my own poetry to read to her – every sort of poem on love and nature, children’s poems, sonnets, villanelles…

The phone call came at 6.30 am on the 11th of April. I joined my father and brother at her bedside and we began planning the next steps.

Pending death is like a pregnancy of sorts and death births the grief. Grief doesn’t want to do much at first except cry and sleep and maybe eat a little because survival matters. However, grief is a creative energy. It thrives and matures with ritual, remembrance, connection and feeding oneself soul food, through gentle connection and creativity helps the growing grief child.

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I felt a deep need to express my grief creatively somehow, so I honoured the red dragonfly omen one more time in a painting. I didn’t know for sure if I could do it justice, but it mattered that I tried. I added words from my journal to explain the red dragonfly omen, and an epitaph in memory of my mother, Philippa Moira Holland.

 

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When the Christmas biscuits are finished…

•January 28, 2018 • Leave a Comment

 

There were04-DSCF1019 three biscuits left in the tin from Christmas. I took them out, gathered all the empty paper rosettes from the tin, and left the them on top of the tin to be consumed by whoever grabbed them. Those white paper cupcake rosettes were silently screaming “make something…”

The need to create had been building over the past three days. Make something with what? I didn’t have a canvas…but I had sticks in the back yard, and string…What else? This thing wanted to make itself. Wrapping paper left over from Christmas… Beads I wanted to rescue from what had once been a dry arrangement of sorts, due for chucking out… A necklace I didn’t use but that had sentimental value…A bit of gold braid…Feathers…

I lashed the sticks together into a rustic frame and wove the string back and forth across it a few times to create a useable space and realised that perhaps the best description of what I was making was a shamble.

‘A shamble (also called a shambles) is a handmade device used by witches to detect or amplify magic. It can even be used for protection or to send a spell. The device itself is not magical. Shambles are like spectacles, they help you see, but don’t see for you. A conversant witch can assemble a shamble in a matter of seconds using stuff like strings, twigs, leaves, feathers, beads, coloured paper, an egg or even a beetle. The whole thing looks like a “cat’s cradle”, or some sort of nest made of rubbish. The ingredients are not really important, although the centre should contain a live ingredient (e.g. an egg or a beetle. On one desperate occasion, a Nac Mac Feegle has been employed as the living part of a shamble).

The magic lies in its assembly and use, which is to catch the moment. “The way you tie the knots,” said Miss Level, who was a Research Witch, “the way the string runs – the freshness of the egg, perhaps, and the moisture in the air – the tension of the twigs and the kind of things that you just happen to have in your pocket at that moment – even the way the wind is blowing. All these things make a kind of… of picture of the here-and-now when you move them right.”’ (https://wiki.lspace.org/mediawiki/Shamble)

The bits just seemed to know what they should be and where they should go and I thought as little as possible, letting the thing make itself for the most part. An assemblage for the here-and-now moment of starting a New Year – a potentially challenging year with an un-well mother and university stuff to do…

Once I hung it on the wall, I realised it needed something behind it, so added the cheap scarf that it seemed to ask for.05-DSCF1020

I didn’t have time to sit down and consider what my shamble was telling me as I rushed headlong into a busy week, but now I’m grabbing an opportunity to use it and see what it has to say.

The sticks were grabbed off a pile of old branches. at least least some of them are from the old Ti tree that probably predates the house and the neighbourhood being built up. It’s a link to the ancient soil and rocks beneath this suburb – a link to deep time. Lashing them together brought back  memories of my time as a Girl Guide, learning to lash and tie knots. Working with the sticks in my bedroom left bark all over the floor mingling my indoor life with outdoor life merging realms and timelines.

Weaving the string between the branches invoked the weaving of life, of portals, complex pathways and mazes, things for seeing through, scrying, dreamcatchers…it forms a gateway to other worlds, other views, other perspectives, the spiritual realm.

The biscuit papers – strewn across like flowers on a vine – are the moments i treasure  – times with my children, my parents, my brother and sister-in-law and niece and nephews, and my friends, blight sparks of laughter, togetherness, meeting over food and drink, building community and sharing adventures and life events.

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The butterfly painting – something I did in 2003 – fifteen years ago, now. It was, back then, a moment of reconnecting with my creativity, reminding myself that I could paint if I tried. Butterflies are always a symbol of transformation, of stepping through the next gateway on the path, moving onward and upward and taking life lightly, too.

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The wrapping paper leaves run across counter to the biscuit paper flowers, invoking growth, but mostly they are there for their delicious aquamarine colour, my favourite colour – a combination of the green of the heart chakra and the blue of the throat chakra – a reminder to speak from the heart, to speak my truth, to be guided by compassion.

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The dragon pendant was a gift from my mother, who knows I love dragons. It represents her love for me and her desire to nurture me. Dragons are symbolic of the power in wisdom to me – an ancient mythical being from so many cultures. It’s hard to find the words to explain what a dragon is to me – a sort of gathering of the essence of something, be it a powerful intention greater than the some of the people or creatures intending it, or strong emotion that gains a momentum of it’s own…I see dragons forring or summoned in those sorts of things.

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The bell – probably left over from some past Lindt bunny – it wanted to be part of the whole to add sound. It’s presence invokes the wind chime in the back yard, and the voices of the birds. It is present to give warning of comings and goings, to include other senses to create the whole.

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The feathers! – ah the feathers – bird gifts. Where would I be without my birds? I am in constant conversation with the birds around me. The cockatoos come for a bit of bread and seed, gently and politely accepting to be hand fed.

The lorikeets ask for apple at the kitchen window.

And ravens – visit occasionally. 15-DSCF1030

The birds link me back to my maternal grandmother who taught me to watch and love them and to tell the difference between a Laughing dove and Rock Pigeon at the birdbath in the centre of her lawn as we watched from her bedroom window when I was little (back in South Africa)

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The ribbon comes from a Christmas gift from a dear friend and fellow kenshi, representing the importance of friendship and kinship – the ties that bind us, and the link to the sword, the life giving sword – only drawn to defend and protect.

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The golden braid was left over from the making of a druid robe. It meanders coming in at an unpredictable point and going who-knows-where, because the way is like that. We catch glimpses of the thing that draws us forward, and for a while we are certain or our path, but then it seems to vanish for a time, yet as we press on it reappears, gleaming strongly again. This is like my current relationship with druidry which I would dearly love to give more time to, but just can’t while busy with university studies, and yet at the same time, the university studies align uncannily with druidry.

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The beads represent light and reflection moments to pause and be still.

The scarf behind was originally bought as part of my costume for the first druid assembly I attended, where are evening festivities focused om Manannan mac Lir, the sea god. It forms an appropriate background as the way of being that druidry represents, with its strong sense of being situated in nature and part of nature, connected to place and season and creature, is what governs my life.

This is no small shamble. It focuses everything that is important to me – a web of community, love, friendship and support. Through this I can focus the magic of the year.

The calling…

•September 30, 2017 • 1 Comment

When I began my Wistful Dragon blog, it was to consider the nature of calling and vocation. It was born out of the space between leaving the church, where the concept of calling is a given and shifting into unknown territory, where I could no longer attribute the idea of a calling to something dispensed by a God.

The concept of a calling has always been important to me. It’s a gift that my past life as a Christian gave me and it didn’t crumble when I found the creed collapsing in the face of too much scrutiny. That idea of a “one thing” provides a path through life that gives meaning and a sense of fulfilment.

It has taken me until now, in my 50s to be able to say with confidence and clarity what my “one thing” is, to which I feel sufficiently dedicated that I will happily spend time on it regardless of whether it generates an income or not.

Over the last couple of years I have done some serious soul searching and taken deliberate steps to reach this point. The first thing was acknowledging that I needed to change something in my life if I wanted to reach some future point where I felt differently about what I was doing. The future point looked impossible to reach. I didn’t have skills for a different job, and I didn’t have money to study. One thing I could do was apply to move upwards slightly in my path as a nurse. Prior to that point I had felt that the additional payment for a Clinical Nurse Specialist role wasn’t enough for the extra work expected of the position, but now I had a different reason to apply. I need to push the nearest boundary – change something that was within reach to change. That was in 2014.

No sooner than I had accomplished that change, something completely outside my usual realm of experience came up. I was asked by my local Greens group if I’d be willing to stand in the 2015 State Election so that we had a Greens candidate on the ballot paper for our area. This meant I had to be willing to put myself in the public eye and run as much of a campaign as I could manage. Scary indeed for an introvert – not in terms of being public, but in terms of the energy expenditure with all that interaction! It was a fantastic experience as I learnt what I was capable of in such circumstances and what I could push myself to do. I was safe from being elected in my area, but still able to contribute to the overall support of the Greens.

Following the election, I had to consider long and hard where I most wanted to put my energy. So many issues across the spectrum of environment, education, healthcare, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander concerns, social welfare, infrastructure and climate change jostled for attention, and I could not apply myself to them all while also caring for my family and working full time. I had to find what mattered to me most. I pared it down to environment and psychology and hence discovered ecopsychology. It was time for a new decision.

At the beginning of 2016 I didn’t think there was any way I’d be able to study ecopsychology. Nevertheless, I joined the Ecopsychology page on Facebook and started reading, determined to learn as much as I could anyway. Then someone posted a link to a course that was running for free. It had a mouthful of a name: “Environmental Education: Trans-disciplinary Approaches to Addressing Wicked Problems”. It was focussed on sustainability, so I signed up. It was interesting and kept me busy. In the meantime, on the Ecopsychology page, I struck up a conversation with a professor in Nebraska, who suggested I find out what one Dr David Wright was doing at Western Sydney University. I followed his advice and discovered the Masters of Education(Social Ecology) course, and set up a meeting with Dr Wright.

I worked out that the course cost was within my reach and applied. It started just after the Trans-disciplinary Approaches to Addressing Wicked Problems course ended, as if they were organised semesters of the same ongoing education. One of the subjects of the Social Ecology degree is Ecopsychology – the thing I had thought at the beginning to 2016 I’d never be able to study formally!

I am now half way through my Master’s degree and loving it. In the space since it began I have joined with others of the New South Wales Nurses and Midwives Association(NSWNMA) to form the Climate Change Action Reference Group. I am working at keeping my coursework concentrated on how we can shift and change our perspective regarding healthcare, so that what we do is kinder to the environment, It seems appropriate to me that healthcare should be about sharing good health and healing with the whole of our biosphere, and not just about healing humans at the expense of everything else.

More opportunities are coming up as have found I can write for the NSWNMA blog, and am making amazing connections with other people at the university and beyond.

It’s easy to be caught up in all the bad news about the impact of humanity on the biosphere, and as a nurse I am particularly aware of the health impacts of climate change and environmental damage. However I am also aware of the dandelion that pushes through the concrete to bloom in the most unlikely places.

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I hold a vision of us working with the amazing generative and sustaining forces that give life and healing to our beloved planet and to us, so that healing and healthcare become a mindful and collaborative process fully aware of our interbeing with all of Gaia. My calling is to live, work on, and teach this vision – a process of cultural change.

There are already so many lovely people with me who share similar ideas and visions. I hope you will join us too.

Writing about writing

•April 25, 2017 • Leave a Comment

25-DSC_0240I miss my blog! It’s way too long since I last wrote something here. It was never meant to be this way. I’ve had ideas and thoughts and they’ve come and gone as I’ve failed to set aside the time to write them when they came.

Sometimes my critical mind takes over and dissects what I want to write too viciously before I’ve even begun. Sometimes there’s a bottleneck of ideas – too many things all demanding I find a way to say them Right Now, so that not one of them will come through clearly, without getting mixed up with the others. At other times I’ve spent time reading things that resonate profoundly with me, written by other people. When I want to articulate my own ideas I can’t untangle them from what other people have expressed, and it all gets too messy.

Mostly, this past year I have been sorely pressed for time, with my thinking tied up in my Master of Education (Social Ecology) degree. But here’s the thing: what I am studying demands that I also be writing and practising expressing my ideas. On one hand that is achieved through my assignments, but that also implies a particular kind of writing, which isn’t the same as the freedom of my blog.On the other hand, what I am studying ties in beautifully with everything that is most important to me regarding our relationship with our lovely planet and it’s important that I keep up the informal sharing and conversation that this blog gives me space for.

So, my hope is that this little piece will shift the logjam in my mind and allow a trickle of inspiration to flow through again. I need to write, I need to share, I need to keep telling anyone who reads this about the magic of nature, our place in nature, our place in our environment, how important it is, how important we are, how important YOU are, for we are, every one of us, bearers of the message that we have the capacity to be carers and healers and nurturers of nature and of each other.

A Threshold

•March 19, 2016 • 5 Comments

1-DSCF1058Last Sunday I experienced something I had never felt before. I have been for more walks in my local reserve area than I can count, since living in Australia, but no walk has ever been quite like this. I rose early, and felt compelled to remain fasting, and head out for some time among the trees. Sometimes a sense of ritual is particularly helpful.

As I entered the reserve, the morning sunlight was slanting through the trees – a rich, warm gold. One has to see and appreciate Australian bush to fully grasp the loveliness of the red earth and the particular shades of green of the eucalypts. The colours are intense, and more so on a day like this, with a very blue sky overhead.1-DSC_0117 (2)

Not very far in, I became aware of a sensation that was completely new to me. I felt a warm glow starting at my feet and rising up to knee level. It was strange – like the comfort of a soft blanket. There was absolutely no logical, concrete explanation for this experience, and it seemed the place was recognising and welcoming me: the ground that knew my feet, the trees and shrubs that knew my skin cells, my hair, my breath, my microbiota – the parts of me that I exchange with the environment every time I visit.

1-DSCF1055Further along my way, as I moved slowly and wonderingly, I felt as if I was joined by other unseen beings. It had all the sense of a welcome for an important ceremony, by community where one feels utter and complete belonging and love. I don’t know who or what those presences might have been, and it didn’t really matter. I felt them there and I belonged with them, and they with me, and they brought with them an incredibly deep sense of acceptance, celebration and joy. Just before I crossed the stream, they seemed to stay behind, sending me forward on my own.

I paused at the stream. While the water was very low, it was the clearest I’d seen it in a very long time.  There was a Water Dragon up on the rocks – my Australian totem creature – an affirming sign, and at the edge of the stream I found two four-leafed clovers. Four-leafed clovers have featured strongly in my life sinc1-DSCF1268e childhood, as a sign of abundance beyond the expected. A tiny Thornbill nearby paid no mind to my presence at all, as it hopped around the branches of a shrub and paused to preen.

As I continued up the path on the other side of the stream, I became very aware of the rocks. They reminded me of the rocks at the headland at Mona Vale Beach, where the crumbling cliff has strewn an astonishing variety of different boulders on the shore below. Many contain fossils and I have always felt frustrated that I was not a geologist who could read the stories they had to tell. Now, these rocks in my local forest seemed to be inviting me to read their stories in a different way – not the scientific way, but rather in terms of their long, slow transformation and witnessing of life. They seemed to be inviting me to shift my way of seeing.

I came to a particularly large tree – an old ironbark, fire-blasted and strong. I felt this was the right place to head off the path to find a space where I would be truly alone, away from any other folk enjoying a morning walk or run. It meant a new level of awareness of my surroundings, with the very real possibility of encountering a poisonous snake. Without a path, the layers of sticks, twigs and leaf litter build up over the rocks, hiding treacherous gaps and animal hidey-holes. There were times I wondered at the sense of making this off-path effort, but I realised that nothing worthwhile comes easily. How can I ever be “of the wild” if I am not prepared to negotiate the wild and test my ability to put my feet in the right places? I found a spot where a live tree and a dead tree leant together to make a gateway – a liminal space, a place of one thing meeting another.1-DSC_0122

I spent my time there in reflection, meditation and movement, just being. The process of leaving the beaten track seemed to symbolize leaving the normal tracks of thinking and pushing into new and unknown territory. I considered nature’s values – something that had been on my mind after reading someone’s suggestion that nature had no values and didn’t care about us. Just looking around me I ticked off the values I could see: Life and death cycle of conservation- no wastage, complexity and diversity, symbiosis, inter-connectivity, mutuality, balance, sustainability, experimentation, systems behaviour, balance, cohesion, nurture…

With these thoughts I felt I had moved out of the highly intuitive space where I could read symbols on rocks, and into a more cognitive space, but bringing the reverence and perspective with me that allowed me to be both intuitive and cognitive, rather than either/or. It was a wonderful sense of bringing integration to parts of my thinking that have often seemed poles apart and irreconcilable.

1-DSC_0143I had meant to spend only the morning there, but by the time I left it was late afternoon. I had lost all sense of time. I left slowly, contemplating this amazing experience and feeling I had in
deed crossed a line. I no longer felt like an imposter, stepping off the path into forest that had not felt human feet for a very long time. Rather, I felt welcomed and I belonged there, because I am part of nature, sprung from Earth, made of her, breathing
with her, constantly exchanging myself with the rest of her and here as her guardian.

2016- and moving forward

•January 2, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Happy New Year!

It is now over a year since I posted anything on this blog, but that’s fine. I created this space to explore calling and vocation, and sometimes that is what a pause is about too. Coming back is a gift, for as I reread my last post, back on October of 2014, it ties in perfectly with where I am now, a year and three months later.

Last year, 2015, was strange, exciting and boundary-pushing. My pause in blogging coincides with taking on the task of standing for the Greens in the New South Wales State election. It was not comfortable or easy for me doing something like that, but the opportunity arose and it felt meaningful to stand in that gap and represent the green-minded people in an area that is very conservative and capitalist.

I had the opportunity to go to Townsville and grade in my school of Japanese swordsmanship, Nakamura Ryu Battodo, so finally have my sho dan (black belt).

In May, after the State Elections, I needed to retreat back into my comfort zone, but I was also left feeling “what now-ish” after all the energy spent trying to engage with people and get my message out to the community. How was I to build on that experience? I found myself struggling with the rage and grief around our failure to work meaningfully to end our dependence on fossil fuels, but recognised that despair is not a solution.

So, I made a list of all the things that mattered most to me and found pictures, and ended up creating a vision board for myself. It focussed on the best kind of future for our planet that I could wish for. I worked out an acronym using EARTH – Envisioning Abundant Renewable Transforming Healing….and added “for our planet”, and created a Facebook page, EARTH Thriving – where I could post all the good news: every article and interest story and meme telling us about people doing the right things to move towards sustainability and healing.

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Over the next few months I found myself returning again and again to the same theme: how to shift our relationship with the planet – psychologically. On the 21st of October 2015, I have a journal entry where I grilled myself about my nebulous sea of “what” – this human/planetary/environmental nexus that I didn’t know what to do with, but has me so entranced. I was looking for the “base thing” that could be a launch point, as suggested by a dear friend, Janette Dalgliesh. That date is intriguingly noteworthy. I decided there must be something that connected ecology and psychology so googled “eco-psychology” to see if it existed. Bingo! The 23rd of October 2015 marks the date in my journaling where I acknowledged I’d found my “One Thing”

Yes, I would love to study and get an appropriate qualification, however that might not be possible – yet – so I am reading and educating myself. More books are ordered, websites bookmarked, and I’ve started a blog especially for this: EarthThriving.org – still in its infancy as I feel my way forward with baby steps.

Now, at the age of fifty, I finally know my life’s purpose. It is all about connection – ours to Gaia – our planetary environment, our interdependence on and relationship with the exquisite network of life, which is what ties in so perfectly with my last blog entry exactly a year before: Connected.

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Connected

•October 21, 2014 • 3 Comments

A couple of weeks ago I found myself standing on the rocks at the beach – low tide.  My parents, hubby and I had just enjoyed a lovely lunch out to celebrate birthdays in August, September and October.  My parents can seldom resist an opportunity to sit and watch the sea, so we’d made our postprandial way beachwards, and here I was – rock-hopping – unable to sit still after sitting in the restaurant.

The ocean was its very best shade of deep blue and aqua, the sun gently warm, and I basked in it, relishing the rough rock under my feet, the delight of skuttling crabs at the fishing edge, anemones hiding in clefts, little fish temporarily trapped ’til the return of the tide, the salty breeze. I felt tears prick at the sheer pleasure of being. How can anyone not love this planet?

This  underpins everything for me – this sense of connectedness, this awareness of how I am part of this little green, blue and red spinning globe. It’s no accident that I feel compelled to greet and talk to every bird, animal, fish and insect I cross paths with. They are as much a part of this place as I am, interdependent, they speak other languages, have other perspectives, ways of being, sorts of consciousness, but we share the will to live, to be, to create. In this business of life, we are very deeply connected.
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