. . .dadme la muerte que me falta. . .
. . . give me the death I need. . .
I recently had a dream where I was on a fast moving roller coaster that was twisting, turning and speeding through pitch darkness. Somehow I could make it speed up or slow down by my will. I decided to make it go faster until I was screaming a thrilled scream with my eyes closed. I remember thinking to myself--I might as well try to relax and enjoy this wild ride in the dark because it's happening whether I like it or not!
This dream plainly symbolizes what the last year of my life has felt like: being on a wild ride through the landscape of the dark night of the soul. Rather than the scream of thrill in my dream, it has been more like an excruciating, slow, painful moan as I witness the dismantling of the familiar structures that have held my life in place for more than a decade. This decent into the dark has called me to step fully into the difficult lessons of death and to dive into the well of grief that accompanies such loss. The dissolving of my marriage and the process of divorce has catapulted me into this underworld landscape where I have been put in the center of the most uncomfortable paradox I've ever experienced: learning how to let significant parts of myself die while still attending to what lives: namely, my children, our new family dynamic and the emerging life that lives for me.
At some point in our lives each of us is summoned by death of one kind or another, whether it is the death of relationships, roles, identities, illusions, hopes or dreams. As an apprentice to death, my life continues to be the subject of great learning and discovery. Every day I feel alternately broken and reconstructed; deeply vulnerable and wholly strengthened by Grace. While I am still very much living in the midst of this current chapter of my life and do not yet have the benefit of time and perspective to appreciate the full story, I feel called to offer what I can, from where I stand today.
Since I view my life as both a spiritual experience and a personal adventure, I have chosen to perceive this crisis as a journey that is calling me to face, meet and move through the Great Unknown, to strengthen my relationship to the mystery and as an invitation to become a more authentic woman and whole human being. I am learning how to be fiercely present to what is happening in the moment while so much of what was once familiar falls away. . . to trust the process and let it be messy, painful and confusing for a while. Like my dream illustrates: I am not sure where I am going but I recognize that I have a certain amount of choice about how I move through the darkness. It has helped tremendously to take the "global" perspective regularly and view my life from a wider, spiritual lens. As painful as it has been, I have also had moments that can only be described as miraculous--divinely orchestrated and impeccably timed blessings.
There is great death-cycle wisdom that I have gleaned as well. This time of "separation" has given me the opportunity to sort the "poppies from the dirt" or to discern what is generative and life giving from what lacks any vital energy both inwardly and outwardly. I am still very much in this process of sorting: material stuff, thoughts, feelings, dreams, etc. and carefully deciding what to retain and what to release as I move forward. Interestingly, I've even had to reframe my relationship to my creativity, which is such an important part of my life and work. I haven't felt creative or productive for some time and this was causing me anguish until I realized that I could let myself off the hook for not being innovative because it isn't where I am supposed to be! Destruction or death is as much a part of the cycle of creativity--it is, in itself, a kind of preparation for something entirely new. Once I realized this, I decided to let it have its way with me. Because it will anyway! Surrender has become a greater ally in this process. I have learned to befriend its gifts and am seeing that great mercy and compassion live in the act surrender. Oh and yes: surrender is most certainly an active process and not a passive response to what is happening. It will always ask more of us than we are comfortable giving.
The wild roller coaster ride of my dream is the emotional intensity of highs and lows that I have experienced mostly without warning or time to arrange for suitable conditions for a breakdown. Rage, fear, despair, sorrow, anxiety, loneliness have all swept through my being, sometimes one by one and often as a community of commotion setting up camp for days. At these times, I try to become what Rumi calls the "guesthouse" and to be hospitable and welcoming to all who arrive. As I have learned to befriend whatever shows up, I have come to know the truth that no feeling is final and just as swiftly as they arrive, our feelings, once validated, usually move on just as quickly. This practice has asked me to stretch far beyond my closeness with the light and shiny parts of myself and brings me into direct intimacy with the lost, frightened, poor, unloveable, broken-hearted pieces. I lean into the shadow inquiry: can I learn to love them all without rejecting, judging, fixing, analyzing, or spiritualizing them away? Am I willing to sit with whatever shows up and simply offer my presence within a safe, holding environment? I've come to appreciate the fact that I need to regularly consume my spiritual wheaties through prayer and practice in order to develop the nervous system strength necessary to contain these difficult emotions. My practices have been a lifeboat during this time. I am also appreciating the limits of autonomy and recognize when I simply need to ask for help and allow myself to be held by another.
Finally, I am learning to know when and how to surface. When it's time to come up for air and to walk in the daylight, topside world for a while. Rest and enjoy some of the simple pleasures of life. Spend time in nature, sleep late, be with loved ones, and dance! Not every moment needs to be spent "in process" or engaged in the deep inner work to be worthwhile or "healing." Nourishing the body with good food, watching a funny movie, playing with my children and giving myself permission to lighten up have helped me begin to find a new rhythm with my life. Exploring this kind of balance helps keep me sane and able to function in my daily life. I have no idea what tomorrow will bring but I know that I have everything required to face what comes and find my way through it. I know that I am surrounded by more love than I have ever felt. I am beginning to see the light again. In many ways I am a stranger to who I was yesterday and all the days before that, while still not yet certain of who I am becoming.
I am liminal, still forming and falling apart. And it feels like exactly where I need to be.
"Banat, Banat, Ban Jai!" ("Making, Making, some day made!") ~Paramahansa Yogananda
I recently posted the above picture of myself on my Facebook page after a particularly trying day of homework with my children. Tiredness from getting back into the routine after a relaxing summer, mixed with new teachers and next level expectations had us all on our knees by the time Friday came after the first full week of school. Those that know me can attest to the fact that it takes a lot for me lose my calm. However, 5 minutes of homework with my kids, all of my yogic training is lost and I am reduced to my most debased conditioned reactions. Although my post was half in jest, I was both surprised and relieved by its response. My experience is like that of every other family with school aged kids as we are all doing our best to traverse the demanding and challenging landscape of a householder.
The Hindu tradition recognizes four different stages of life that we must experience in order to live a complete life. They are known as the "ashramas" and consist of the following:
1. Brahmacharya or student stage (usually until the age of 25, but personal and cultural influences can impact the length of any stage). The particular focus at this time is the cultivation of our dharma or "duty" in this life.
2. Grihastha or householder stage (traditionally begins at marriage) and the purpose of this stage is known as artha or the creation of wealth, i.e. making a living to support our families and pursue our unique contributions.
3. Vanaprastha or the hermit stage is ushered in around the time we become grandparents. The main pursuit of this stage is kama or pleasure. It is the time where we can enjoy the fruits of our labor.
4. Sannyasa is the final stage and is classified as the time of the wandering ascetic, the one no longer attached to the bonds of this world and living completely devoted to God. At this stage, moksha or liberation is the final goal.
Ideally when we pursue our lives in alignment with the first two stages, the others naturally unfold. The problem occurs when, as we often see promoted in our culture, one seeks to pursue wealth or pleasure without first establishing a connection to their particular dharma or purpose for being alive. We spend our lives chasing money, power, or some other outer form of fulfillment thinking and hoping that it will lead us to the holy grail--liberation! All the while, we are suffering from a foundational disconnection to our soul's true purpose in this life.
As a householder, I am acutely aware of the creative tension that arises daily as I seek to be a mother for my growing children, make a living to support our needs, and live a spiritual life at the same time. While the roles and responsibilities of men haven't changed as drastically in the last 100 years (or more!), women's roles have shifted exponentially as evidenced when we compare our lives to that of our mothers, grandmothers or great-grandmothers. At this stage of life, modern women have marriages to maintain, careers to build, children to tend, homes to hold, and, perhaps, aging parents to sustain as well. So where do we even begin? How do we care for our own souls in the mix? How do we find the time and energy to make our spiritual life a priority?
The last 11 years of my own life have been a giant experiment in living into these koan-like questions that have served as a sacred riddle for my journey as a woman, mother, householder and spiritual seeker.
Here are a few nuggets that I can offer as nourishment for this stage of life:
*Cultivate a practice that will help strengthen, sustain and nurture you. In the yogic tradition, this is the function of Sadhana or spiritual practice. Two elements are key to this process: create a space dedicated to your practice and design a simple ritual that you can do everyday. Having a physical space will help anchor your intention and whatever ritual you choose will, like any habit, begin to forge a pathway in your brain. Place a candle or sacred object or photo in your space. You can practice yoga, journaling, read, or meditate. Let your ritual reflect your deeper heart's intention.
*Connect to the cycles of the moon to develop a conscious relationship to the rhythm of your own creative life as a woman. Just as our menstrual cycles are related to the waxing and waning of the moon, we must honor both times of renewal and release embedded within our lives. If this concept is new for you, begin by simply noticing the moon during its various stages in the night sky to start to connect to lunar wisdom. Notice how you are feeling when the moon is in its full illumination as opposed to its crescent or dark phase. Once you have established a connection, you can utilize the energy of the New and Full Moon in your creative or spiritual life. For example, think about what new, "seed" intentions you would like to plant for a cycle beginning at the New Moon that you will nurture for an entire month. Full Moons are a good time to focus on what is ready to be released or healed within you in order to make room for what you are seeking to create. You can google specific dates for New and Full Moons each month and make a note in your calendar.
*Develop relationships with other women that uplift, empower and inspire you. This can be tricky for some of us because as women we naturally want to be in relationship and give to others. However, very often, we find ourselves involved in interpersonal dynamics that are superficial, draining or one-sided. As a result, we are left feeling less emotionally fulfilled and even more hungry for real connection. Choose your company wisely and be willing to be honest with yourself about which relationships feel mutually satisfying and those that are depleting your life force. Seek to collaborate and connect with women that are open to learning how to support and be supported by other women.
*Make your dharma a priority by taking time regularly to pursue what calls to your soul. Dharma or purpose can easily be misunderstood as our "job" or how we make our living. While some are fortunate enough to make a living by pursuing their dharma, others are gaining their livelihood in different ways that allow them to sustain their lives even though it may not feel like the deeper calling. That's okay! We all need to make money, however, we also must give some time to discover our greater function for being alive. In my own life, I decided to return to school and earn my Master's Degree when when my daughter was old enough to begin Pre-K. Going back to school during the householder stage was anything but easy but the dedication of three precious hours a day/five days a week, devoted to the study of something that was deeply enriching for me, proved to be priceless. It was my way of staking claim to the pursuit of my purpose beyond being a wife and mother. Dharma calls us into action--we must do something on its behalf. What have you always loved to do? What would you do even if you weren't paid? What if, at long last, you had the time—would you do, study, or create? Trust me: if you are waiting for the time, it won't come! Start small, but by all means--START--do one thing that will align you with your soul.
My beloved teacher and spiritual mother, Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes, offers these “general wolf rules for life” for women like you and I seeking how best to live in harmony with our wild nature. She specifically prescribes number 10 as a starting point remedio (remedy) if you are currently struggling:
Here's to you, woman-warrior-householder, in the trenches everyday. I see you. I love you. I am you.
If you are a woman seeking support in cultivating a sacred practice of your own or are wondering how to make your unique soul a priority in your daily life, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about my private coaching and healing services.
"The aim is to balance the terror of being alive with the wonder of being alive." Carlos Casteneda
I’m a planner. I haven’t always been so dedicated to careful forethought about my life though. I think it’s one of the skills that motherhood has forced me to develop. In general, when I plan ahead, things seem to go a lot smoother. We get out the door in time for school, the meals are mapped out for the week, my class ideas are formulated and I even carve out daily pauses for my own self-care. I love it when my attention to good planning and preparation yield the results that I am envisioning. However, as we all know, life doesn’t always deliver on our expectations. Shit happens. All the time.
So how can we best prepare for those times when, despite our best laid plans, the universe has something else in mind?
Trying to change what we cannot control and force our desired outcome only creates greater tension, stress and resistance. It is at those times that we need to learn to quickly and efficiently adopt a fluid and open response to whatever circumstances arise.
We have to practice shifting to neutral.
Instead of rushing into problem solving mode, the very first thing I do is ask myself this question: What is this perfect for? The power of inquiry is that it opens us to a state of receptivity which allows us to shift from dilemma thinking (there is only one "right" choice) to creative solutions (there are several possible "right" choices I can make). This particular inquiry will catalyze the movement from overwhelm to openness and position us to consider the potential opportunity in an unplanned or unwanted experience. It orients us in the direction of neutrality and prepares us for the next step.
Next, we have to call on the power of our neutral mind which we develop, specifically, through meditation practice. The Kundalini yoga tradition recognizes three different functions of the mind: the negative mind, the positive mind and the neutral mind.
The negative mind is protective; it is what tells you where danger is and helps you avoid the things that might harm you. The negative mind in itself is not all "bad", especially when we are in real danger. However, when its grip takes over the entire subconscious mind things can spiral downward into a pit of despair.
The positive mind is supportive and encouraging. It tells you what is good for you and guides you in that direction. This isn’t all good—too much positive mind can actually get us into situations that might not be in our best interest and could potentially become harmful. Our positivity can act as a veil to the reality of a situation.
The neutral mind is objective and integrative of both negative and positive minds. It is the centered place between the polarities that gathers all the information and allows us to make the best decisions. It is our link to our intuition and will tell us what is right for us and what we should do.
The “bhavana" or feeling tone of the neutral mind is stability, steadfastness, elevated consciousness, and objectivity. It is not swept up by emotion or clouded over by excessive thoughts. The neutral mind is what draws us from duality to divinity and establishes a connection to our soul. True stability can only come from our connection to the infinite. Therefore, we must develop access to this state through the cultivation of our meditative mind.
The effects of cultivating a strong, stable center in the mind allow us to establish appropriate boundaries. Also, we turn inward to look for completion. We become magnetic; attracting what we need to feel whole, satisfied, content and contained. As we learn to nurture ourselves in this way, we can give up the exhausting search outside of ourselves for love, peace, validation and acceptance.
Any mediation will help you cultivate neutral mind. Here is a simple Kundalini mantra you can use to help you shift into your neutral mind any time. I even use it while driving or moving through my day. You can begin by connecting to the mantra and mudra in this way :
Sit comfortably with your spine upright, heart lifted and chin drawing slightly in and down so the back of your neck is long. Place your palms facing up in your lap with your right hand resting on top of your left; thumbs touching. Take a few breaths to settle yourself into your body and bring your awareness to your spinal column. Simply returning our awareness to the central channel of energy in the body, our axis, will support neutrality in the mind. Next, begin to chant the mantra Wahe Guru (Wha-hay goo-roo) which means “Infinite identity from darkness to light.” Continue chanting for at least 3 minutes and work your way up to 7, 11, or 17 minutes. Practice looking at your life through this neutral lens and allow it to help guide you to your right next action.
You will find that even after one minute of focused practice, you will begin to attune to the higher mind. Meditation is "mind training" and requires commitment and consistency for best results. If inspired, I would encourage you to do this meditation practice every day this month. Decide how many minutes you will practice and do it!
When we are able to perceive our lives from the level of the infinite consciousness, regardless of the situations that come our way, we are blessed with the capacity to recognize that life doesn’t happen to us, it happens for us. Rather than victims, we become victorious participants in the unfolding of our lives each day even if things don't work out exactly as we planned.
*A note on the image above: Sri Yantra is considered to be the "mother" of all yantras (sacred geometric designs) in the Hindu tradition. It is a symbolic tool for awakening the pineal gland and bringing balance to right and left hemispheres of the brain. Sri Yantra means "holy instrument" and contains all form of sacred geometry and represents the union of the Divine Masculine and Feminine. You can use this powerful symbol to meditate by focusing your eyes on the bindu or dot in the center. It's effects are deeply healing and often used for amplifying our manifestation capacities.
That's the pride of a teacher: that he has the privilege to serve another student, because somebody served him. ~Yogi Bhajan
I never consciously set out to be a yoga teacher, instead the door opened for me to step into the teacher’s seat when one of my instructors was moving and asked if I would take over her class. I had begun my personal practice many years prior to teaching because I was seeking alternative ways to heal my depression beyond prescription medication. I wanted to get to the root of my illness and deep down I knew that yoga offered a vital piece for my healing. I loved the way the postures challenged me physically and opened me to cultivating a more loving and hospitable relationship with my mind. Slowly, over time, I began to feel happy for no apparent reason. I was changing from the inside—out. This is one of the unique aspects of yoga that separates it from other forms of learning and personal growth: it is an embodied practice. It’s effects are much farther reaching than our physicality or our intellect. Yoga is a technology for transformation and it is designed to awaken us to our true nature as limitless, infinite beings having a human experience for just a short time. And, just ask anyone who practices: it works!
I have been teaching yoga for more than ten years now. My favorite thing in the world is sharing my passion for this sacred practice with others and witnessing their transformations before my eyes. It is amazing to see all types of healing occurring from a committed practice--I've seen countless physical issues such as chronic pain being alleviated or altogether eliminated, weight loss and complete injury recovery, as well as the most commonly treated mental illnesses like anxiety and depression being significantly improved and effectively managed.
The transition from being a student to a teacher felt, in some ways, very natural for me: I was basically doing my practice alongside others and guiding them through my words. I was figuring it out as I went—watching how their bodies responded to the postures and reading the energy of the room—relying on my intuition to offer adjustments or suggestions that would be of benefit. However, I knew that if I wanted to continue to teach I really needed to avail myself of more specific techniques to keep the students safe and inspired to grow in their practice. This is where my yoga teacher training was invaluable. I was given much more of the technical information with regards to anatomy and alignment; sequencing and adjusting. The personal mentorship and support of the other trainees helped me gain confidence in my ability and begin to discover my unique voice as a teacher. Yoga teacher training not only made me an 'official' and employable Yoga Alliance registered teacher, it made me more effective in my role as a guide for others and continues to open me to access new levels of my own potential.
Over the course of the last decade I have seen a paradigm shift taking place from health care to self care. Many people are no longer content to view pathology from the single focused perspective of disease as final prognosis but rather as a pathway to greater health and wellness. Like me, many are using their diagnoses as a platform to explore a multidimensional approach to healing and wholeness. We are expanding our understanding around what it means to care well for ourselves and learning a new language for how to access the intuitive wisdom that lives within us for our greatest benefit.
It is a privilege and an honor to be able to teach in this capacity as the need is growing in our modern world for practical tools to recalibrate our taxed nervous systems, maintain equilibrium for our overactive minds and awaken us to the depth of our own soul soaked truth. I am very excited to be taking my own teaching to a new level this year by facilitating the next One Integrative Yoga Teacher Training at One Yoga and Fitness beginning this September. I believe that choosing to step into a teacher training of this kind is to receive a call that you may or may not yet fully understand. Not everyone that feels compelled to do a teacher training intends to teach. Many individuals embark on the quest for their own interests. Whether you are looking for a new career, a part time pleasure or simply to make a personal pilgrimage, you will most assuredly experience the following by saying “yes” to this call:
Due to the steadily increasing research around the benefits of complimentary practices like yoga, mindfulness and meditation, the wellness industry is becoming one of the most robust industries in America. It is a wonderful time to decide to be a part of the solution for the myriad health related issues that cause many to suffer. If you are curious and feel the call to learn more about this training or have specific questions, feel free to contact me at email@example.com or call One Yoga and Fitness at 407.900.8039. I would love to have you join me!
June is the midpoint of the year, and it affords us the opportunity to course-correct if need be, now that we can see the vivid expression of the seeds we have sown in the earth, as well as those that have been planted in our hearts and souls.
Often, June reveals to us what continues to be deeply meaningful for us in our work and family life. The beginning of summer mirrors back to us what is fulfilling, renewing, and nurturing to us—and what is not. What is not tolerated at this time is any situation in our work or relationships that has become a “should,” where we feel duty-bound. Whatever is not aligned or congruent with our integrity and heart is forced to be released at the midpoint of the year, or reassessed in its meaning to us. ~Angeles Arrien
Summer is my favorite time of the year. Another school year is over and the pace of life slows for couple of months to allow me to catch up with myself and be with those that I love. With less rigid time constraints and fewer obligations, I relish the natural unfolding of each day with more time to simply rest and be. Spending more time outdoors, connecting deeply with the elemental world, reading books, making art, being with my children in a state of relaxation rather than rush and languishing in a longer yoga practice are some of the rituals that I most savor.
Also, being that the year is half over, it is the perfect time to take pause and check in with where I am in relationship to the intentions that I set at the beginning of the year in my January dream time. Midyear offers the opportunity to come back into balance in whatever way(s) we have drifted off course; to identify the “shoulds” that are responsible for pulling us away from our true north and to let them go.
Fire is the symbol most often associated with summer. In its destructive form it allows us to release what no longer serves and in its constructive form it ignites us with our passion, realigning our heartfelt desire with positive action. In the yoga tradition, the power of heat to transform is called “tapas” and it comes from the Sanskrit root tap which means “to burn.” It refers to that alchemical ability of fire to transform the lead of our ego identity into a higher vibrational form of energy more in alignment with our soul. Energetically this inner fire relates to the third chakra and is experienced as a “fire in the belly” that is often used to describe the qualities of will power, inner strength and disciplined determination that are indicative of inspired action. What is the state of your inner fire?
Coming back into balance at this time of year invites us to look at where we may be in need of more magnetic, feminine (yin) energy or dynamic, masculine (yang). Shifting our lifestyle habits to accommodate our needs can be a little easier during this time of year when taking vacations and time off are possible.
Take some time this month to do your own midyear reflection in order to help you discern what’s working and what isn’t. Here are a few questions to consider at this juncture:
*Where am I now? What is my current life like?
*What have been the highlights of the first half of this year? What celebrations or accomplishments can I name?
*What challenge(s) am I encountering? What “shoulds” can I drop?
*What is the growth opportunity that my challenge(s) are offering? (i.e. am I being called to greater balance, letting go, focus, faith, authenticity, self-compassion, trust, etc.)
*What is one practical thing I can do to step more fully into the growth? (i.e. create definitive work times and honor the boundaries when I am home, set up work-outs with a friend, meditate on my blessings for 5min. a day, or read a book that addresses my challenge, etc.)
*Review your heartfelt desire or intentions for the year. Do they still resonate or do you want to revise/update?
*Imagine yourself six months from now; at the end of this year-2017. What have you experienced or accomplished that you are most proud of?
Create a simple ritual using the element of fire to write a list of both the things that no longer serve as well as those dreams that you are wanting to catch on fire and grow in your life and toss them into a bonfire.
Finally, allow some time to relax and enjoy some time to do the things that you love with the people that are most special to you. May this summer bless you with an abundance of joy and fun!
you worry too much.
You have seen your own strength.
You have seen your own beauty.
You have seen your golden wings.
Of anything less,
why do you worry?
You are in truth
the soul, of the soul, of the soul.
When I was a child I used to cry every Sunday night before the new school week began. Although I appeared to be well adjusted on the outside--I had friends and made good enough grades--I struggled with feeling displaced and fundamentally uncomfortable. I worried about everything. My mom, who was trying her best to comfort my anxiety, bought me a collection of worry people. They were tiny dolls that wore colorful Guatemalan clothes and seemed to arrive from some distant land. At night before bed I would whisper my worries to the dolls and place them under my pillow. Although it was never clearly articulated, the implication was that while I slept they were supposed to magically carry my fears away. It was a creative idea that provided a certain level of assurance both to my mom and me, but ultimately, I still worried.
As I have grown older, I have met many people that experienced similar challenges in school and are familiar with the discomfort of trying to navigate the multitude of verbalized and unspoken rules of conduct. I can’t help but think--where were YOU when I was in school? And why don’t we provide conversations for kids (and adults) to express their discomfort? Maybe some kind of code word or hand shake for those of us who need to be reminded that we are not alone or crazy. To be honest, I still find myself often defaulting to worry mode. Concerns that turn into relentless “what-if’s” and fears that are tied up in my feeling like life is a giant standardized test and I am running out of time while my future hangs in the balance.
When I really look carefully, I can see that worry is actually a disguise for deeply caring about something but it is rooted in the shame that who we are will never be quite good enough. Whether it’s our appearance, intelligence or talent, we all struggle with wanting to be valued, accepted and loved. We believe that we have to perfect, perform or please to win the attention that we crave. Worry is a non partisan player in the psyche--it can take any/all material from our lives and turn it into a catastrophic event. We become addicted to the worry as a means of feeling significant. And as all true worrywarts know--the greatest cause for worry is when we aren’t actually worried about anything!
So how do we deal with worry in our lives? How can we shift from fearful worrying to simply caring about our lives with more compassion and peace?
Here are a few things that I have learned:
Gather your people
The gift my mom gave me as a child applies here. Except rather than sharing with inanimate objects, find the real people in your life with whom you can talk. These are the people that know and love you and won’t try to dismiss or fix your concerns, but rather act as true sounding boards and allies in your process. As Dr. Brene Brown says in her work--Shame thrives in secrecy. When we call it out lovingly and honestly in the company of a compassionate other, we can begin to feel the connection that we deeply long for. Have a certain number of precious people on speed dial and at precisely those times when you would rather run and hide--have the courage to call them and talk about what scares you most. Creating a safe space and place for our worries to land is a necessary step in letting go of the habits that cause us to cling to them.
Shift Your Focus
Brain research has shown that we have evolved with a "negative bias" hardwired into our thinking. This makes sense when we think of the primitive challenge to "have lunch rather than be lunch" as our major motivation. Our very survival depended on our ability to foresee trouble. However, as advancements in neuroscience have shown, we have the ability to create new pathways in the brain. Consciously choosing where we place our attention is an art and skill that can be developed with practice. Here is a simple exercise that comes from the work of Psychosynthesis that can be used a starting place:
Close your eyes and take a few breaths to relax your body. Then imagine a blank, white screen before you. Visualize a yellow triangle there. Stay with it for a few breaths. Next imagine a red triangle next to the yellow one. Keep both triangles in your field of vision. Then begin to shift your attention from one triangle to the other. Focus on one at a time. Notice your ability to shift your attention back and forth.
Once you are familiar with this capacity, instead of triangles, imagine two different situations, one pleasant and the other unpleasant. First imagine the unpleasant situation in detail. Experience it with all of your senses. Then shift your attention to the pleasant situation, and experience it fully. Now shift your attention rapidly a few times between the two situations.
This exercise can be practiced with any two polarities (inner/outer; past/future). With practice you are able to recognize that you are the one in the center who can direct the light of attention as you choose.
Historically many artists battled anxiety and depression. The call to create is related to the Soul’s ache for beauty, form and expression. When we remove the veils of thought, judgement and blame, worry and anxiety are often nothing more than excess energy that need to be channelled though deliberate movement. Any creative medium can be one in which we can collaborate with the intensity of human emotion in a constructive way. Journalling, dancing, gardening, drawing or cooking can all be explored as supportive channels for our worry, fear or doubt. In my own experience, creativity is an alchemical process that transforms the lead of our base emotions and thoughts into the gold of deeper knowing and truth.
Use your worry habit to help you grow in the direction of wholeness. Part of becoming a fully functioning adult is about recognizing who is in charge. On any given day there are a myriad voices within and around us championing for attention and soliciting our vote in electing the leadership of our being. In psychological terms, these are considered to be sub-personalities, or fragments of our psyche that carry very different perspectives and potentialities. “The worrier” could be understood as one of these sub-personalities that we have unconsciously permitted to run the show. Chances are, if we listen carefully to what any part of us has to say, there is wisdom and guidance for us. Imagine sitting down with this part of yourself and talking to it. Ask questions and stay open and curious. What wisdom can you glean? How can this part of you be integrated into a larger framework of awareness rather than always occupying center stage? This question itself sets up the possibility of discovering what, in Transpersonal Psychology, is called the transpersonal self. It is that central or core aspect of ourselves that lives within and beyond our personalities and conditioning. It can be referred to in many ways such as Higher Self, Soul, True Nature, Essence, God, Love, etc. When perceived from this perspective of wholeness, we are able to appreciate all parts as treasured fragments whose source is the same. The origins of the word "worry" come from Middle English worien and Old English wyrgan which mean "to strangle" or "to constrict." This seems to refer to the way constant worry can lead to a kind of disconnection from our essential self.
For those of you who appreciate statistics, it is interesting to note that 40% of what you worry about will never happen, 30% happened in the past and can't be changed, 10% are considered to be insignificant issues, and 12% are related to issues of health that will never happen. That means 92% of our worries are related to events that have either already happened or never will!
Take some time this month to become aware of what worries and concerns are occupying your life and then experiment with some or all of the suggestions here to begin to transmute the energy of worry into the wide awake heart of wonder.
The doors to the world of the wild Self are few but precious. If you have a deep scar, that is a door, if you have an old, old story, that is a door. If you love the sky and the water so much you almost cannot bear it, that is a door. If you yearn for a deeper life, a full life, a sane life, that is a door. ~Clarissa Pinkola Estes
We are living in a time of great challenge, change and uncertainty. Overpopulation, climate change, and corporate controlled industry are just a few of the social and economic issues that we face today. Environmental activist Joanna Macy describes the essential adventure of our time as “the Great Turning,” marking a shift from the industrial growth society to a life-sustaining civilization. Macy declares:
“A revolution is underway because people are realizing that our needs can be met without destroying our world. We have the technical knowledge, the communication tools, and material resources to grow enough food, ensure clean air and water, and meet rational energy needs. Future generations, if there is a livable world for them, will look back at the epochal transition we are making to a life-sustaining society. And they may well call this the time of the Great Turning. It is happening now.”
We are part of this revolution and our contribution to the healing and transformation of the planet begins with our personal commitment to our own awakening. Sri T. Krishnamacharya described yoga as the process where the impossible becomes possible and the possible over a long period of time becomes easy. If we consider our human development, this process becomes clear—as babies it seems impossible that we will ever walk or run, adolescence and young adulthood highlight the challenge of finding our identity apart from our families of origin, and the tests of adulthood and aging are centered around generativity and continued growth rather than stagnation and regression. Each stage of life presents specific crises to aid in our transformation into fully actualized human beings. The word “crisis” comes from the Greek krisis and literally means “decision,” such as the time when an important decision must be made or as the turning point of a disease when an important change takes place, indicating either recovery or death. Crises in our lives are actually vital junctures or thresholds to be crossed that cultivate the conditions necessary for the impossible to become possible in our lives. Crisis is often the carrier pigeon of calling in our lives and ushers us into a new way of being or living. We cannot separate our adventures from our ordeals—they exist hand in hand to elicit deeper truths about ourselves and greater meaning for our lives. These challenges act as sacred portals initiating us into an entirely new life.
Ordeal as Opportunity
The Hero Journey is a motif that was developed by American scholar Joseph Campbell who studied stories from various cultures around the world to discover the one universal story that each myth contains. As a “monomyth,” or the one great story, it represents the archetypal journey of transformation that every person must undergo in order to become a whole human being. It is a cyclical journey where one is called away from the familiar, often through a significant challenge or difficulty that disrupts the status quo, into the wild terrain of the unconscious psyche. The hero encounters extreme difficulty (lifelong saboteurs, past traumas, etc.) and must face and slay the dragon (that which we most fear) in order to recover a lost treasure (our individual “bliss”). Returning to the very place from which we started--home--we must complete the journey by offering the jewel to the world. Each of our unique lives is the myth that we must live out to realize our full potential and bring forth our gifts in service of the greater good. In every adventure story the hero or heroine encounters an ordeal (or several) that test the limits of what (s)he thought possible.
In the movie The Wizard of Oz, for example, Dorothy is tested all along the way by the Wicked Witch of the West who uses all of her power to scare and divert Dorothy from her quest while seeking to destroy her ability to believe in herself. Dorothy’s greatest challenge occurs in the Witch’s castle when she is forced to choose whether to give up the magic red slippers or her precious Toto. The ordeal that ensues is when the Witch torches the Scarecrow and he begins to burn. In an effort to protect her friend, Dorothy douses the fire and accidentally wets the Wicked Witch who melts into a puddle on the floor. Eventually she is rewarded for her bravery and returns home to Kansas with the knowledge that what she was seeking, she had all along. The heroine had to experience the tests and trials in order to discover the gift—she had to encounter her own crucible challenge to make the impossible possible.
Just like Dorothy, our personal adventures come with their own ordeals. The antagonist may come in the form of an illness, a difficult relationship, the loss of a job, divorce, or death. Mid-life as well as other major transitions can initiate a crisis. In my own life marriage and motherhood have proven to be the ultimate ordeals! While also full of unexpected blessings, these relationships induce great challenge. Nothing can fully prepare us for the ordeals, yet the hidden beauty contained within them allows us to discover entirely new aspects of ourselves that would otherwise remain unknown. Our ordeals will ask something from us; we will have to give something up in order to gain the treasure. Using my own life as an example: my choice to nurture a family as one of my primary values has meant that I have had to sacrifice a full time career outside of the home. While I respect and admire the women that are mothers and have careers, I recognize my personal need to prioritize and place my family first. Being a mother is the most difficult job I have ever had and through it I have learned about my greatest limitations as well as the source of my deepest strength. Navigating ordeals with grace and grit is what being a mother is all about! Learning to let go is a daily and sometimes momentary reality. My capacity to love has been enlarged well beyond myself and even my own children to include all of the mothers on the ground each and everyday doing their part to keep the family together. Most significantly, my understanding of what it means to be a woman, reclaiming and honoring the feminine principles of grounding, containment, compassion, ferocity and creativity have become prominent in my awakening. Our ordeals contain countless opportunities for self-discovery if we are willing to see the blessings in the challenges.
Dorothy is not alone in her journey to Oz. Along the way she encounters those with whom she creates an alliance of friendship and mutual support: her dog Toto, Glinda The Good Witch, the Scarecrow, the Tin man and the Cowardly Lion.
The discovery of allies is an important part of the journey. Very often the particular adventures that we undertake will also include the helpers that will provide the aid we most need. Allies are distinctly different than someone we may consider more casually as a friend. Very specifically, allies are the ones that can really be in it with us. One of my teachers, Michael Mervosh, explains that an ally is someone who has been through similar trials and ordeals and yet “is able to have a differing perspective from our own, which we will need as we journey through life.” It is foolish to think that we can make the journey on our own. We need those who help us. Allies can come in the form of visible and invisible aid. Benevolent strangers that appear when we are most in need are our allies. Angels, ancestors and spirit guides can assist our walking from the other side. The natural world and all of its beauty can act as healer for us. Even animals can provide companionship and unconditional love when we are struggling. Our allies appear when we are in need; we must be open to receiving the help!
Useful Tips for Navigating Ordeals
When we are in the throes of an ordeal it can be very difficult to maintain our connection to center and the challenges can induce fear and self-doubt causing us to believe that there is something wrong with us that must be fixed. Do your best not to take your ordeals too personally—remember that they are part of the universal experience of being human—everyone experiences them! I encourage you to do your best to practice self-care in the following ways:
What seems “impossible” for you now? Rather than engaging your logical mind, answer this question more intuitively by practicing stream of consciousness writing for ten minutes or longer. Simply write the question at the top of your page and then commit to writing without stopping or censoring your words. Just let it flow and see what emerges.
Reflect back upon the span of your life. Revisit that which has been the “Supreme Ordeal” of your life's time, to date. What was it about the experience that made it feel like such an ordeal for you? What have you learned from this profound life experience that moved you closer toward your authentic self?
What is the most significant or meaningful adventure/ordeal in your present day life? What is it that makes it such an adventure or ordeal for you? As you reflect on your answers to the previous question, what opportunity do you see lying before you, for your unfolding future, from here?
Who are your allies? Who is able to be in it with you? What places or people feel supportive for you?
What kind of self-care do you most need now? Is there a particular practice that you would like to emphasize at this time?
We Are The Ones We Have Been Waiting For
As the Great Turning is underway and we are in the process of our own transformational growth process, we can call on the wisdom of those who have gone before us to help us find the way. The Native Americans considered the impact of their choices by the 7 generation principle: for every personal, governmental or corporate decision made, it was taken into account how it would affect the next seven generations into the future. A generation is thought to be 25 years—so that’s 175 years impact to consider. “Sustainability” for the indigenous people meant living in balance and harmony with the world around them. Mitakuye oyasin is the term used by the Lakota that means “we are all related to, and respect, everything in life.” Take to heart this message from the Hopi Elders as a timely reminder for you, who have been called on a sacred mission as artists, yogis, helpers, healers, and light bearers to make the impossible, possible through your commitment and courage to the realizing the essential teaching of the path—we are that which we are seeking; only ONE exists and we are the individual expressions of that Unity. We need not feel small and insignificant in the face of the world's problems. We are the ones we have been waiting for. . .
Message From the Hopi Elders:
You have been telling people that this is the Eleventh Hour, now you must go back and tell the people that this is the Hour. And there are things to be considered…
Where are you living?
What are you doing?
What are your relationships?
Are you in right relation?
Where is your water?
Know your garden.
It is time to speak your truth.
Create your community.
Be good to each other.
And do not look outside yourself for your leader.
Then he clasped his hands together, smiled, and said, “This could be a good time! There is a river flowing now very fast. It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid. They will try to hold on to the shore. They will feel they are being torn apart and will suffer greatly. Know the river has its destination. The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off into the middle of the river, keep our eyes open, and our heads above the water.
And I say, see who is in there with you and celebrate. At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally, least of all ourselves. For the moment that we do, our spiritual growth and journey come to a halt.
The time of the one wolf is over. Gather yourselves! Banish the word ’struggle’ from your attitude and your vocabulary. All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.
We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.
--Hopi Elders' Prophecy, June 8, 2000
"Lighthouse Collage by Jenny
“Gathering in circles is an ancient practice being revived in our time. We have dialogue circles to improve communication, conflict resolution circles to negotiate crises, therapeutic circles to explore our emotions, problem-solving circles to puzzle out hard questions, team-building circles to cheerlead for a common cause, and collaborative learning circles to deepen our education. All of them have worthy purposes, but none of them has the singular intent of a circle of trust: to make it safe for the soul to show up and offer us its guidance.” ~Parker Palmer
Yesterday was my monthly Women’s Wisdom Circle gathering and today I am still reflecting on the experience. One of my intentions this year is to dig deep into what “self-care” really means for me—what does it look like to be impeccable about how I care for myself everyday? How do I nurture and nourish myself on every level? How can I let go of the hustle and live closer to the flow state? What do I really need and how do I make it a priority in my daily life to take responsibility for myself in this way? In order to support this inquiry, I have invited a conversation around this theme of self-care with other women.
Because we have so few role models for what a truly vital, nourished, radiant, whole woman looks like, we need to begin the quest to discover it for ourselves and then share our findings with each other. Here is what I know for sure right now: yes, we must take good care of our bodies through diet, exercise and rest. Yes, we need to deal with our emotional baggage and clean up the past. Yes, our minds can benefit from regular de-cluttering and some kind of meditation practice. But, most importantly, how we connect with and relate to our SOUL is everything. When a woman is connected to her Soul essence, she is her most authentic self. She is strong, wise, creative, intuitive, charismatic, dignified, and POWERFUL. In the yogic tradition, this is the Shakti—or feminine force that gets activated and unleashed. A woman connected to her soul is a lighthouse—she is able to elevate others just by her presence. She is beautiful because she radiates self-love and radical acceptance of both her divinity and her humanity. She is a genius because she is sharing her unique brilliance by standing completely in the light of her inherent giftedness rather than the shadow of her doubt. A woman connected to her soul is a genuine blessing to others.
What I witnessed in circle yesterday was the emergence of this soul essence in each woman. Here is what else I know for sure: given the space, time and invitation—the soul will show up. As John O’Donohue, the great Irish writer says, the soul is a “shy presence” and it will never force its way, uninvited, into your life. You need to open the door, step back, let her enter freely, give her a cup of tea, invite her to take a seat and then just wait for her to speak. Host the soul just as you would the most special guest. It really doesn’t need to be more complicated than that. As I had the privilege of observing in circle yesterday—when a woman begins to speak from her soul, she taps into, and pours forth from, an inner spring of wisdom, truth and beauty. It doesn't necessarily translate as profound or otherworldly. But it is moving. When she is giving from her essence there is a natural strength that she is drawing on and it transmits as unmistakable grace.
I am grateful to be a part of the creation of such a “circle of trust” in this capacity. Here are a few more things that I know for sure regarding what happens, particularly, when women gather in this way:
• Our struggles look very similar, while our strengths shine with a distinction unique to each of us. Our soul gifts are given the space to emerge in circle relationship.
• A natural healing intelligence is cultivated when women gather with intention. That’s because the archetype of wholeness (and femininity) has a shape and it’s a circle.
• Our stories are medicinal—embedded within them lie our deepest wisdom. Sharing our stories consciously sets the wisdom (and us) free--allowing the healing to complete.
• Learning to truly love and accept ourselves is the greatest self-help. Waking up to our real beauty—as an embodiment of the Divine—is what self-empowerment is all about.
• We are all leaders and guides in some capacity in our lives. To be a leader is to bring out the highest and best in ourselves and each other. When we lead from our strengths, we inspire others to do the same.
• We are all infinitely creative and resourceful. When we allow our wise, intuitive heart to guide us, we will know exactly what to do and how to do it. Who and what you surround yourself with will influence your creation. Choose the highest caliber!
Who is in your circle of trust? What makes your soul sing? Are you listening? This month practice being hospitable to your own soul and investigate what would nourish and revitalize your connection to the wise self who may just be the one patiently holding the door open waiting for you to step inside and take a seat.
For more information on my monthly women’s circle contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Reaching the "mental and spiritual nature of ourselves" is what spiritual practices are designed to do. Spiritual vision has inspired sages throughout history and been called many names. Both Christians and Plato named it the "eye of the soul." For Sufis it is the "the eye of the heart," and for Taoists the "eye of Tao" or the "inner eye." Whatever its name, it represents a flowering of intuitive awareness that recognizes the sacred in all people, in all things, and within ourselves. This potent awareness penetrates far below the ego's restless turmoil to the sacred core of our being. St. Augustine described how he turned attention inward "and beheld with the eye of my soul- the Light Unchangeable." He concluded, "It is with the interior eye that truth is seen," and our whole business therefore in this life is to restore to health the eye of the heart whereby God may be seen." ~Roger Walsh
Consider for a moment: how do you know what you know? Do you tend to be more rational and logical; relying on empirical evidence over theoretical knowledge? Do you appreciate gathering all the facts before you make decisions or are you more intuitive and idealistic; closely attuned to your feelings as your guidepost for decision making? Maybe you fall somewhere in the middle? In addition to the ability of the intellect to employ reason and logic to learn, multiple intelligences such as bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal and existential have been identified within the world of psychology to help people recognize how we best discover new things.
Dreams, visions, creativity and body awareness are all ways of connecting to our intuition. Wendy Palmer’s book Inner Knowing examines the intuitive faculty we all share and sheds a light on how to cultivate our intuition:
Intuitive practices work their magic by shaping different routes to inner knowing, and just as the outer sense allows us to see, hear, and orient to the physical environment, intuition also has its organs of perception. The three primary “organs,” or centers of subtle knowing, are experienced as being the head where dreams appear at night, in the abdomen where breath and attention join, and in the area of the heart. There is also a fourth form of intuition, called “direct knowing,” that does not rely on intermediary cues (p. 175).
These areas of the head, heart and belly work together to support our inner knowing and I believe that as we learn to strengthen our connection to these areas and practice trusting our intuitive hunches, deep healing and growth result. I think that one of the greatest benefits of a regular yoga practice is the intimate connection that we begin to forge with the body as well as learning how to trust the natural intelligence or consciousness of the body/mind/heart landscape. The breath practices teach us how to center ourselves in the belly with a sense of groundedness and clarity. From that sense of stability and support, the necessary conditions are created for the heart to open and expand to include a wider capacity for compassion and love to emerge. With a solid foundation and a fluid heart, an expanded vision is made possible as we begin to see, feel and hear in new ways. All of this requires the capacity for deep listening--to our bodies, hearts and visions.
Although I believe that I have been able to cultivate my intuition through my yoga and spiritual practices, I am aware that much of my personal knowing falls into the category of “direct knowing.” I often take for granted the fact that I just know without being able to explain, justify or rationalize why. And very often it takes time for me to articulate that knowing with words. That capacity, however, is responsible for guiding me throughout my life. As I look back, every major decision I have ever made came from a deep and direct knowing in what I needed to do. I am drawn to people, places, and circumstances because of this knowing. As I continue to learn to trust it, a greater respect for intuition has grown. I see the cultivation of a relationship to our intuition as vital to living a soulful and authentic life. Without it, we are tempted to model our lives on what the society, culture or outer world believes is right for us. To live an intuitive life defies much of what we have been taught to value in our highly rational, empirical Western culture and it requires a certain degree of courage to live according to a more subtle pull.
Maybe as you read this you became aware of the ways that you are naturally intuitive. One of my mentors, Nancy Rowe, teaches about connecting to our “felt sense.” Do you gain information through your body? Do you have a “gut” level knowing about certain things--have you been in an uncomfortable situation where your body responds adversely? Or are you more visual, receiving impressions in the form of colors or images? Do you have dreams that offer important guidance or messages? Perhaps, like me, you just know what you know? There is a clear and direct understanding that seems to come from some deeper place both within and beyond the mind and body.
This month practice developing TRUST in your inner knowing. It’s common for the mind to discount what we know to be true and right. Practice shifting from doubt to knowing by acting on your intuitions and learning from them. As you move through your days trust your intuition with small choices at first--let your intuition choose what to eat or wear or to help you set your pace for the day, for example. Perhaps begin each day asking your higher knowing “What is most important for me to do today?” The more I practice in this way, the more surprised I am at the difference between what I think is most important and the guidance I receive. I find that things often transpire on those days that I ask for guidance that are far beyond what I could have planned! Like anything, developing trust in our intuition is a practice and takes time, so be patient but consistent in your effort.
Our inner knowing holds the potential to connect us with our unique gifts. Ultimately the different ways of knowing are thresholds between worlds--they serve as a bridge between the known and unknown leading us to health and wholeness. Set your intention to listen for and practice following your intuitive hunches. Call on the wise part of yourself to guide you. As you develop the trust in yourself to discern the voice of your intuition and follow its promptings, you won’t be infallible or perfect but you will begin to uncover new understandings that will reveal more than any book or class ever could.
We don't always get what we think we want but we always (without fail) get the precise support that our soul needs. Our dream can often be a lure, the intention of which is to lead us to a state and a place higher than the dream itself. To align our will with divine will requires total trust especially when the diversions from what we desire and how we imagined things would be start to happen. We have to constantly surrender in order to flow towards our destiny without manifesting unnecessary fear and suffering. This is where the gold is, it's not in the goal. ~Caroline de Lisser
The numbers 2+0+1+7 add up to 10--and according to numerology, this is a number of leadership and mastery . Pesonally, I feel the call to step up and out of the trance of self-doubt and discouragement and into the current of change that is available to those of us who are really ready. No more waiting until the perfect time or holding out for better circumsances. Don't be lukewarm. The time is now. All of my practice, training and education has prepared me for what is emerging and today I recieved the invitation loud and clear: Will you do what is being asked of you? Of course, the invitation comes without specific details--just the first step of commitment; of willingness and saying "Yes."
This call to personal mastery means knowing and loving ourselves completely and honoring the dreams that were planted inside of us when we were born. Our dreams for our lives are vital to our health and well-being because they connect us to our purpose for being alive. The deep desires of our hearts offer a pathway to one of the most vital qualitites of our human expereince: hope. This gift of hope provides a necessary counterbalance to the rigors, routines and habits of our lives. Dreams give us a glimpse into what is possible for each of us. Unfortunatley we are taught from a young age to "stop daydreaming" and we are conditioned to give up our cherished dreams in favor of "reality." While we all must come to terms with what our version of reality presents to us, we need not forfeit our dreams. The dream itself provides the fuel for our destiny, which is our ultimate destination. For this reason, our dreams don't have to be exactly fulfilled to be useful for our lives. I love this idea that Caroline de Lisser presents: the dream could actually be leading us elsewhere--it may be serving as a vehicle, rather than the destination itself.
So much of the energy around the new year has to do with making our plans and hitting the ground running. There is a starting line buzz that I always feel in these first few weeks that tends to feel like people lacing up their new shoes, jogging around in circles to warm up-- anxious to be first to run at the sound of "go"; single focused on making it to the finish line in record time. But my rhythm always feels less hurried and more introspective this time of year and I believe that January should be dedicated to dreaming and establishing your own pace as you begin to bridge your heart's desire with your priorites for the new year.
Here are a few suggestions to help you renew and refresh your connection to your dreams:
Keep your dream close to you as you move forward into this new year. Remember that you don't have to fulfill your desinty or realize your dream in a single day, month or year. Set your own pace; it's not a race. Commit to your own call to mastery, do what needs to be done and trust that all is well.
All is well!
What My Clients Are Saying:
"I know that “life changing” is a bit over used but it best describes how I feel about what Jenny Clarke offers with "The Courage to Create" course. She uses the metaphor of the labyrinth. A twisted turning path with hidden chambers that takes you to the center and then back out again with new insights. I took the private version of this program. The weekly lessons took me to the core of who I am. Along the way looking into some long closed chambers where we cleared out a few ghosts and discovered some buried gems. At the end of the course I emerged forever changed with a new understanding and appreciation of who I am. You can not get lost in a labyrinth as long as you keep moving forward. The journey begins when you take the first step. I highly recommend that you take the first step and sign up for the Courage to Create!" ~L.H.
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