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Pursue Joy

It has been an incredibly stressful and busy week for me so I don’t have the energy to write a new post. However, all this week I’ve noticed it’s easy for me to slip into the doldrums, to notice all the horrible things going on in the world and overlook the good things. This post from a couple of years ago sprang to mind as a good reminder that we have to actively pursue joy.

A few weeks ago I listened to a radio show by Radleigh Valentine and he said on average, people laugh 15 times a day. Fifteen times! And then he asked, “Do you remember if you laughed at all yesterday?” He pointed out it’s easy to remember the unpleasant things – the times we’re sad or scared or anxious – but the joyful times, the laughing times, are easier to forget. He encouraged his listeners to take note of when they laugh, to see if it adds up to 15 times. And then he said something really interesting: Plan for joy.

Radleigh recommends using this card as inspiration for pursuing joy.

Radleigh recommends using this card as inspiration for pursuing joy.

When he said, “Plan for joy,” I wanted to pause his radio show so I could take that in. It hasn’t occurred to me lately I would need to plan for joy – I assumed joy would sort of happen if I bumbled around in my life. But you know? That’s not true – I mean, sure, I stumble across joy every once and a while like an adventurer coming into a clearing – but it wasn’t necessarily something I planned for or actively pursued. I assumed I’d experience joy once my life was peachy keen – when my financial situation improved, the love of my life came along, etc. I think you know this already, but joy is the quiet moments, the small events that we may not remember long after they happen. It’s having a friend call you up spontaneously asking to hang out. It’s laughing along with a television show. It’s finding out the book you put on hold at the library has become available.

Joy can be spontaneous, but it can also be planned and pursued and that’s what struck me the most about Radleigh’s show. In an interesting juxtaposition, I had a powerful therapy session this week. I went from fearful, anxious, and insecure in one moment to laughing, goofy, and joyful in the next. My therapist had me remember a moment I felt joyful, loved, and appreciated, and embody it. She asked me to notice what colors I associated with the experience, and then asked if a movement or sound accompanied it. It did – joy for me looks like strutting with my toes flexed and my heels out singing along to “Let’s go fly a kite” or Life of Brian’s “Always look on the bright side of life.”

What amazes me is no matter how icky I feel, strutting around my cottage and singing, “Always look on the bright side of life,” automatically puts a smile on my face and lifts my mood. I can be melodramatic and get caught up in what’s wrong with my life. Lately, like I wrote on my birthday, I’m noticing what’s right. I’m seeking joy even in the midst of the things I do not like. And I’m remembering joy is not winning the lottery or buying a new car, it’s humming to myself while I walk, it’s remembering all the times I laughed yesterday, it’s making an active effort to improve my mood because I am planning for and pursuing joy.

I dream of a world where we remember we can access joy at any time. A world where we all have that one song that brings a smile to our face. A world where we remember the times we laugh. A world where we not only experience joy, but we pursue it.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

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We Were Made for These Times

I would say the prevailing sentiment for me right now is disillusionment. I’m seeing things as they are, not how I’d like them to be. I read an article the other day about the presence of white supremacists growing faster on twitter than ISIS. The number of accounts has grown by 600 percent since 2012. What’s interesting is instead of feeling scared, I feel relieved. I think a part of me knew this was coming, expected it, and perhaps even prepared for it.

As I’ve perused news stories about the rise of white supremacy and neo-Nazis, a voice clearly said, “You were made for these times.” I’m not alone in this. We were all made for these times. Every experience we’ve had to date has prepared us for this precise moment and for all the moments to come. No experience is wasted.

We are each a spark of light.

We are each a spark of light.

When I think about my experiences, I see how my outlook, my loving nature, and my empathy are useful for today’s world.

I grew up in a household that practiced yoga and meditation and was taught from an early age to find similarities over differences. It wasn’t unusual for a person from a far-off land to stay with us. Hearing different accents was normal. I won’t say I’m completely free of bias and prejudice, but I will say I make an effort to work on it. I didn’t realize how valuable that was until after this election.

My spiritual teacher says, “Those whose preachings encourage discriminatory feelings are the worst enemies of humanity. These are the people who in every age … have caused blood to flow. And even today these vested interests are still trying to perpetrate discrimination in a thousand and one ways.”

He obviously has some strong words about those who want to encourage division. Instead, he advocates seeing everyone as a expression of the divine, something far easier said than done. A way for me to practice that is empathy. To recognize we are all human beings trying to meet our needs. I may not agree with the strategies to meet those needs, but I can see we all want the same things.

Audrey Hepburn said, “Nothing is more important than empathy for another human being’s suffering. Nothing. Not a career, not wealth, not intelligence, certainly not status. We have to feel for one another if we’re going to survive with dignity.”

Surviving with dignity means building bridges, not walls. It’s important for us to create a “we” space, not an “us versus them,” space. “Us versus them” means hate, it means discrimination, it means fear, it means cruelty. I do not hate those who hate me. I do not hate those who hate others. Hate only breeds more hate and more division. Instead, in these challenging times I’m choosing to see other people as human beings, worthy of love and respect. I will fight tooth and nail against policies and practices that harm others, but I will not do so with hate in my heart because my experiences do not allow me to do that. I was made for these times. We all were.

I dream of a world where we realize we were made for these times. A world where we realize we all have unique talents and skills that may be put to use in service of others. A world where we understand each experience prepares us for another. A world where we realize we were born for this.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

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Building Blocks

I am struggling to have hope for the future. To keep the faith things will work out in my favor both personally and in society. It’s very easy to feel that way right now I think. When all signs and evidence are pointing toward one direction, how could I possibly believe another? I know that’s why it’s called faith, but faith has always been a struggle for me.

There’s a saying I like: “More will be revealed.” It’s popular within the recovery community because more will be revealed. We don’t know what the future holds and more will be shown to us. I appreciate that sentiment, and know it to be true, but I also need a little more because, again, issues with faith over here.

Slowly and gradually some things are built.

Slowly and gradually some things are built.

My spiritual teacher says, “[W]ell-directed effort is the first and the last step toward the mundane success, psychic achievement, psycho-spiritual attainment, and spiritual fulfillment of human beings; indeed, aversion to this [well-directed effort] is the greatest impediment to success, great or small, in human life. That is why Shiva said in clear language, ‘Without well-directed effort, success in any field of activity is impossible.’”

Reading that I feel a little better because I can’t control the future, I can’t bend the world according to my whim, but I can keep doing my part. And my part is to keep showing up, to keep doing the footwork, to continue the well-directed effort, and success will be achieved. I think of it in terms of building blocks. I want everything to be finished and complete already, maybe just slap on a coat of paint, but that’s not how a new house is built. A house is built starting with the foundation with each piece carefully placed, otherwise the structure isn’t sturdy.

Maybe instead of wishing the house was already finished and lamenting that I can’t live in it yet, it would be better for me to see I am building something. Slowly but surely I’m building something new, and gradually, with time and continued effort, the house will be complete. The important thing is to keep going, to not give up, even though right now the house looks like a maze instead of a home.

I dream of a world where we keep making strides toward our dreams even when we can’t see the fruits of our labors yet. A world where we realize it’s our efforts that make change possible. A world where we understand the future is made up of building blocks and it’s up to us to place each piece.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

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The Hero Within Us

Last week I wrote about how I don’t want to be responsible right now. I want to retreat, to withdraw. I’m tapping into something deeper this week and realizing it’s more than that. I want to be taken care of. I want someone else to make the hard decisions, to be a leader, a hero. I want to be like a child feeling joyous and free because someone else is taking care of business.

This week has destroyed all notions I’ve had that someone else is taking care of business. Regardless of your political affiliation, I think the majority of us are fed up with many of our political leaders. I think the majority of us have lost faith in the people steering this ship. I know I have.

We all have an inner hero.

We all have an inner hero.

It’s hard and it’s scary for me to say that, because again, I want to be like a child, only concerned with her toys. What I’m realizing is I cannot. None of us have the luxury of becoming disengaged. We are who we’ve been waiting for.

Dhomang Yangthang says, “But now who is the arya sangha [the exalted community]? It is all of us, all of the practitioners of the present time.” That to me means I can’t wait for someone else to show up and be the hero. I can’t wait for someone else to come in and save me or save humanity. I really don’t think it’s up to one person anymore. I think it’s all of us. My spiritual teacher says all spiritual aspirants must strive to become leaders.

We must all find our inner hero because as I think we’ve been shown, most of our leaders are primarily concerned with power, not with our welfare. There are exceptions of course, thank God, but it is up to us to keep the pressure up, to have a voice, to be empowered. And it’s more than just voting once every four years. It’s easy for me to sit back and say, “Well, I voted and that’s good enough, that’s all I can do.” Voting is great! Voting is important! But voting isn’t everything.

To ensure we’re being taken care of, we have to take care of ourselves. To ensure our brothers and sisters are being taken care of, we have to take care of them. What I’m saying is we can’t rely on someone else. We can’t be passive players in our lives because when we are, we become like sheep terrorized by wolves. Wolves will always be wolves, but together, we can drive the wolves away.

I’m going to quote my spiritual teacher again who said leaders will “work for the good of all countries, for the all-around emancipation of all humanity. The downtrodden humanity of this disgraced world is looking up to the eastern horizon, awaiting the leaders advent with earnest zeal and eagerness. Let the cimmerian darkness of the interlunar night disappear. Let the human being of the new day of the new sunrise wake up in the world.” I’m ready for that new day. Are you?

I dream of a world where we realize we have to work together to save ourselves. A world where we realize we have to be our own heroes. A world where we develop the leader within us in order to make the world a better place for all.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

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The Power of Retreat

I don’t want to “adult” right now. By that I mean I don’t want to be responsible, I don’t want to run any errands, I don’t want to show up and engage in life. What’s interesting is I don’t want to go somewhere else, I don’t want to swim with dolphins in Maui for instance. I want to withdraw completely. In yoga, the term for withdrawal is pratyáhára.

Pratyáhára is not the same thing as hibernating. In its true form, pratyáhára means the conscious endeavor to withdraw the mind from mundane qualities and attractions and direct it toward something subtler. It’s considered a crucial first step in meditation.

Sometimes it's important to retreat from the world.

Sometimes it’s important to retreat from the world.

I won’t claim that I practice perfect withdrawal, but the space I’m in right now is a melancholy one. I don’t want to engage or connect. I want to retreat from the world, which is highly unusual for me because my name literally means to bind. I’m all about connection, presence, and form. I love making things happen, turning an idea into reality. But right now, that doesn’t interest me.

I could start to chastise myself because I place so much value on engaging, but when I think about pratyáhára, I remind myself it’s possible this, too, is OK. This, too, is a part of the spiritual process. I know my spiritual teacher discusses the term in relation to meditation, but I wonder if for me right now the desire to physically withdraw is also a call to go inward. To turn toward my inner self and practice communion with the loving presence within me that’s also within everyone.

All things in moderation of course – the world cannot function if we all retreat all the time, but maybe retreating also has a place. Maybe I don’t have to be “on” all of the time or responsible all the time or aware all the time. Maybe it’s OK for me to check out. I struck a nerve there because typing that I started to tear up.

I’m learning to become a more balanced human being, but to do so I have to spend time at either end of the spectrum. To paraphrase my spiritual teacher, meditation is an effort to remove one’s internal distortions – to extract the gold from the alloy, in order to experience merger with the divine. The distortions should not be cast aside, but should be smelted in the fire of meditation and restored to their pure and original form. And withdrawal is a part of that process.

I dream of a world where we strike a balance between withdrawal and engagement. A world where we give ourselves permission to retreat every once in a while. A world where we understand there is a place for all things.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

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The Dark Night of the Soul

I’ve heard the concept “the dark night of the soul” bandied about like a tennis ball. People talk about it in New Age circles as being the point where they hit bottom before things turned around and got better. However, I did some research and it’s far older and more mystical than I would have thought – it dates to the 16th century and is the title for a poem by poet and Roman Catholic Saint John of the Cross.

The original meaning of “the dark night of the soul” is the experience of a spiritual crisis in the journey toward union with the divine. I felt relief when I read that because my experience of the dark night of the soul hasn’t been literal. There hasn’t been one night of pain or darkness followed by things turning around, nor has there been one period of it. Reading about the origin, I’m reminded pain is not a one-time experience.

Sometimes we have to go into darkness to see the light.

Sometimes we have to go into darkness to see the light.

In our capitalistic culture, it seems to me there’s a notion happiness is a commodity. Not only can happiness be bought with nice vacations, a fancy car, or a great pair of shoes, but happiness can be achieved with a thin body, the right romantic partner, and a fulfilling career. And once those things come into our lives, we’re never supposed to feel pain again, or at least that’s been my interpretation of the message.

I call baloney. Life is a series of ups and downs, of pleasure and pain, and instead of working hard to avoid the pain, these days I’m sitting with it.

I’m reading Glennon Doyle Melton‘s Love Warrior, which is delightful. There is so much I could say about this memoir, but what’s relevant to this post is Glennon talks about crisis, how the root word of crisis is to sift, to separate. What happens in a crisis is everything else falls away in order for us to see what’s left, what cannot be taken away. That’s what the dark night of the soul is – a crisis, a sifting period to discover what is permanent. What’s permanent is me and God. It may take years, it may take several dark nights, but there is always something to be found in a crisis if we’re willing to dive into the pain.

What I’ve found going through my own crisis, primarily with my health, is me. I’ve lived most of my life operating under the assumption everyone else knows more than I do, that everyone else has the answers for my life. I’ve valued “other” more than me.

What’s interesting about this health journey I’ve been on is learning I already have the answers I seek, I already know what’s going on with my body. I see doctor after doctor, healer after healer, hoping they’ll tell me something I don’t know. They don’t. Not a single person has given me information that surprises me, which tells me I already know myself. I don’t have the solution yet, but I trust it will come when the timing is right, and I don’t need to frantically throw darts to see what sticks.

I am on a journey toward union with the divine, also called self-realization. By valuing others, I’m not honoring myself or my own wisdom. I’m not trusting myself, and trust is essential for union. I can’t trust in me if I constantly think inspiration lies outside me, that the solution is “out there.” It’s not. It never is. Higher power and I are walking this path together. Higher power communicates with me all the time and it’s my job to listen and to trust. The path is not supposed to be pain-free, and anyone who says otherwise is selling something.

I dream of a world where we recognize the gift in pain. A world where we recognize the dark night of the soul is a crucial part of the process toward union with something greater than ourselves. A world where we understand sometimes it’s important to undergo crisis in order to see what’s left.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

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Inevitable Dreams

I have big dreams for myself and the world. I want social and economic justice for all. I want to live in a place where racism is eradicated, poverty is eliminated, and everyone has their basic needs met. Even typing that sentence I want to laugh because it seems ludicrous. I want to pat myself on the head condescendingly and say, “That’s great Rebekah. You keep having those dreams. I’ll be over here in the real world while you live in fantasy land.”

And it seems that way doesn’t it? Like an impossible dream? When I start to think this way, I fall into despair. However, the words of Rabbi Michael Lerner keep ringing in my ears. A few times during the recent Jewish High Holidays he said:

Our plans [for change] are “unrealistic” in exactly the same way that it was “unrealistic” for women in the 1960s to think that sexism and patriarchy could be challenged effectively; the way that challenging segregation in the U.S. and apartheid in South Africa seemed “unrealistic” before they were overcome; and the way that gays and lesbians were being “unrealistic” to push for marriage equality. It’s always like this: The fundamental changes that are needed in our world are dismissed by the media, the politicians, and even by many people who want those changes as “unrealistic” before people engage in building movements to achieve them, and then described by the media pundits and sociologists as “inevitable” once they have been achieved.

The question for me becomes: how? How do I engage with my personal and public dreams in such a way they become inevitable? First, I think it’s important to have patience. To understand I’ll fail many times before I succeed. That change will not happen overnight, as much as I would like it to. Second, I think about something my spiritual teacher has said. To paraphrase, our actions must be in alignment with a power greater than ourselves. He likens it to the numbers one and zero. A higher power is the number one and our actions are like zeros. If you take the one first and to that one perform your actions, it is like adding zeros to the one – it is like multiplying by 10 with each action.

Not sure why, but I love this picture.

Not sure why, but I love this picture.

What does that mean exactly? I think it means first and foremost remembering I’m an instrument, but I also think it means to do the things my heart urges me to do. I’m not talking about the passing whims, the, “Ooooh, let’s learn to play the trumpet!” or “Let’s quit our job and open a ski chalet in Switzerland even though we don’t know how to ski!” I mean the persistent, constant dreams that nag us like woodpeckers knocking against a tree. It’s those dreams that carry weight. It’s those dreams that leave a mark, and it’s those dreams I have to believe have a “one” in front of them, so to speak.

I dream of a world where we keep the faith that certain dreams will inevitably come to fruition. A world where even if it seems unrealistic, we keep plodding along because in our hearts we know we must. A world where we keep our eyes trained on our goals knowing we will reach them.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

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The Future Unfolding

Lately I’ve been enthralled with the idea the small things we do today can have big consequences later. Sporadically I listen to Elizabeth Gilbert’s podcast “Magic Lessons.” In one of the episodes, she speaks with a woman of Irish descent about the importance of stories and how they’re not frivolous at all. Liz mentions the book, How the Irish Saved Civilization, describing how during the 6th and 7th centuries Irish monks and scribes copied manuscripts of Greek and Latin writers, both pagan and Christian, when most people weren’t even reading yet. When the Roman Empire fell, all these works of literature would have been lost, except the Irish had copies and were able to reintroduce the manuscripts to the continent.

This story charmed me because here these monks and scribes were, engaging in the seemingly pointless task of copying manuscripts, and then years later, that task proved useful. I’d like to believe the same is true for all of us – the seemingly trivial things we engage in even though we’re not sure why, will some day become important. We may not all save civilization, but we all still matter. We’ve all seen television shows and movies where people go back in time and because one detail was altered, history changes. What I’m starting to contemplate is how the same is true for the future – that what I’m doing now affects things down the road. Not just my personal life, but for the lives of others.

What will unfold in the future?

What will unfold in the future?

I think I’ve used this quote before but it’s fitting in this context. My spiritual teacher says, “The Milky Way is vast from one end to the other; an ant is a very small creature, but the role of both of them in maintaining the balance of the universe is equal. If one ant meets a premature death, it will disturb the balance of the entire cosmos. Therefore, nothing here is unimportant, not even an ant. Suppose, an ant is sitting on the edge of a rock and it moves even one inch from east to west, and this disturbs the balance of the rock, it may cause a big earthquake – because after all, the ant is also God’s original creation.”

I’ve heard that quote a few times, but when I mull it over, it’s incredible. The premature death of an ant can disturb the balance of the entire cosmos! An ant! What does that mean for us and our lives? Particularly when we look beyond the scope of our death? Some of the reactions to our actions won’t come to fruition until we are long dead and that’s amazing to think about. How even from the grave our actions are rippling out, affecting humanity. It may not be as monumental as preserving classical literature, but then again it might.

I dream of a world where we realize no one is unimportant. A world where we realize our actions have ripple effects that we may never see. A world where we keep doing the things we are guided to do even when our brains ask, “What’s the point?”

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

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Why Boundaries Make Us Vessels

On Thursday, I finally finished my Saturn return, meaning Saturn left the 20 degree orb from where it was when I was born. This led me to reflect on what the past four years have been like since I started this process, and what I’ve learned from this period. One of the biggest things I’ve learned is how to make and set healthy boundaries.

Boundaries do not come naturally to me. My natural predilection is for merger and oneness. I grew up in a yoga and meditation group that advocates dissolving the microcosmic self into the macrocosmic Self. My meditation practice focuses on feeling I am one with the loving, creative force that pervades the universe, and to see every expression as that loving, creative force as well. In my mind, boundaries keep me from that transcendent space. No one said that to me, by the way. That’s purely my interpretation.

Boundaries are a good thing.

Boundaries are a good thing. There’s even a heart in this photo.

I’ve been blogging for more than eight years so I have a digital record of my life and the issues I’ve faced. In November 2011, I wrote a post about boundaries as well. In it, I talked about the necessity of boundaries to keep myself safe. I displaced the notion safety meant avoidance and understood assertiveness is required for safety. The past several years has been learning that lesson over and over again until it stuck, but also I’m seeing the benefit of boundaries, not just because that’s how I keep myself safe, but also that’s how I become a vessel for cosmic consciousness.

In addition to emphasizing merger and oneness, my spiritual practices stress surrendering the mind, the self, letting it all go. I’ve wanted to surrender my mind and my self before understanding what they are, but that doesn’t work. How can you give something away if you don’t take ownership of it first? That’s like presenting a person with a prewrapped gift – how do you know what’s inside if you never took off the wrapping?

I feel so uncomfortable writing this post because again, it flies in the face of my natural inclinations, but what I’m coming to see is boundaries make me a container for the divine and creative force permeating all existence. Boundaries make me a vessel and an instrument that allows me to co-create with a power greater than myself. I liken it to a pen and ink. Cosmic consciousness is the ink and I am the pen. You can write with ink and no pen, using your finger perhaps, but it’s blotchy and messy and not very clear. Writing with a pen though is sharper, more distinct, easier to read.

Boundaries make me better able to show up in the world and do the work I am meant to do. Declaring this is me and that is you keeps me from codependence, which is a kind of subservience where I make someone else more important than me. Where I make someone else’s needs more important than mine.

We are each divine children of the universe, no better and no worse than anyone else. Taking care of myself by acting assertively, by understanding where I begin and where I end allows me to act accordingly, to treat myself with love, and to become a vessel for something greater than me.

I dream of a world where we understand boundaries are a necessary part of life. A world where we understand boundaries make us better able to do the work we are meant to do. A world where we realize boundaries make us vessels for love.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

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Grounded Hope

I feel a little strange writing this post on Rosh Hashanah eve, the Jewish New Year, for those of you who don’t know. The New Year is a time of hope and celebration, optimism for what’s ahead, but this post is about temperance.

For the past month, I’ve been getting in touch with my propensity to hope without any evidence. To hope things will change based on nothing more than a whim. September painfully brought me back down to earth, not because anything happened, but rather because I realized how damaging it is to have unbridled optimism.

For many years, I hoped people in my life would be different, that they would change their behavior, not based on any indication they had a desire to change, but rather because I wanted them to change. Last month in addition to accepting my health is what it is, I also started accepting people as they are. There’s a version of the serenity prayer applicable in this instance: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the people I cannot change, the courage to change the one I can, and the wisdom to know that one is me.”

Hope can still be magnificent if it's grounded.

Hope can still be magnificent if it’s grounded.

As an optimistic, idealistic person, learning to temper my hope has been painful. Learning to live in reality and accept that this is the way things are, has been a tough pill to swallow. But on the other hand, I’m not so disappointed anymore. When someone responds the way they normally do, instead of feeling crushed, I feel neutral.

This post focuses on other people, but the case is also true for me. There are some things about myself that are not going to change, no matter how much I pray, say affirmations, or wish they were otherwise. And instead of feeling upset, I feel at peace.

I’m not saying hope is a bad thing because it’s not. Hope is a powerful virtue when it’s applied properly. There are many people doing great things in the world, and they give me hope for the future. That sort of hope is grounded, right-sized.

My spiritual teacher talks about harmony and equilibrium as most spiritual teachers do. It wasn’t until this last month that I realized virtues also apply. I must strike a balance between hope and resignation, optimism and pessimism, faith and doubt. I used to think resignation, pessimism, and doubt should be avoided at all costs, but now I’m realizing they have their place, they serve a purpose. They help me live in reality and that’s not such a bad thing.

I dream of a world where we temper our virtues. A world where we base our hope on evidence. A world where we strive for harmony and equilibrium, understanding that’s how we know true peace.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

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