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Reflections Massage Therapy

The Beginning March 6, 2015

Filed under: CranioSacral,Massage Therapy — Reflections Integrative Therapy @ 4:10 pm
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There is something that happens when your system settles into a place that it trusts. A place it doesn’t visit often, but it knows the way you know the creaks in the floor of the hallway upstairs in your childhood house, or who is coming up the stairs by the sound of their footfall. Your body knows this place, relishes this place, seeks this place out despite our greatest efforts to be anywhere but there.

It is a quiet place, this settling. It is nourishing and peaceful. And if you stay there long enough you begin to see that there is something even beneath the quiet. Some steady pulsing, slow and rhythmic, like the heartbeat of an ocean you once knew. The quieter you get, the louder it becomes. Maybe it starts in your solar plexus, beneath the quivering you feel just below your sternum. And slowly it spreads from here, spiraling outward until even the furthest reaches of your pinky toes feel full of this pulsing, feel full of presence.

And this fullness then begins to grow, to push out, to expand the boundaries of your body that you once thought we so solid. But in fact, here you are in this minute, growing, expanding. And in this expansion you feel a strength, a force moving beneath the pulsing, filling up these new boundaries. You push, stretch, breath, fill your lungs and feel that center point of the spiral soften to allow for more depth, more expansion. It is courage, yes, but deeper than that even, it is a trust in the strength that is coursing through every cell in your body. It is a trust in your ability to repair. It is a trust in your ability to inhabit your body. It is a trust in your inherent resiliency.

This, my friend, is a trust in your deepest capacity – for growth, for healing, for movement, for love, for repair, for presence. This is where we all come from.

 

Giving Thanks: Letting go and Letting it in. November 21, 2012

Filed under: Balance,Gratitude — Reflections Integrative Therapy @ 4:40 pm
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Every Thanksgiving that I can remember from birth-17 years old were spent in York Harbor, ME at my grandmother’s house with various family members in attendance, learning how to make gravy from the Turkey juice, sitting at the kid’s table, feeding the food I didn’t want to the giant goldfish in my grandmother’s winter fish tank. My first Thanksgiving not in this familiar setting was just after I turned 18, I sat on a beach on the coast of Kenya, 8 hours into my 24-hour solo experience, slicing into a fresh Mango at sunset. And in the years to come, after that deeply reflective, profoundly different holiday experience, I have found myself at tables with strangers, foreign tongues, new holiday traditions, old familiar family, newly created family, lovers, loneliness, warmth, abundance, non-tradition, and constant evolution. In the past 12 years, I have actually spent this holiday differently each year. As a lover of tradition and a creature of habit, this is kind of bizarre.

There’s a feeling of melancholy that this time of year holds for me. And despite my greatest efforts to the contrary, I find that it has arrived again this year. But, this year, unlike in the past where I’ve either resisted or swam in the melancholy, I am just watching it. I am seeing that in many ways this feeling is a pattern. It’s a place that’s familiar for me to go. It is the cliff outside my grandmother’s old home on the coast of Maine. It’s that perch that I know every crevasse of and can sit and listen to the ocean and it’s like I’ve never left.

But, the thing is, I have left. I have learned. I have uncovered the ability within myself to be with something without identifying with it. Without being it. And in that, I am beginning to shed the ties that those patterns have kept me tethered with.

There’s always been a strong sense of loneliness, of displacement, entangled with this melancholy. And frankly, some years that has been totally justified. There were a few rough years there with my ex, full of loneliness and bracing for her drunken outrages. And there was sometimes the sense of being an orphan, feeling disconnected from my family and without a safe, loving community. But in the past few years, a shift has taken place. And I’ve been participating in it without fully opening my awareness and consciousness to it, to the ways it is different and nourishing. So, here in this coffee shop, miles away from friends and family, immersing myself in a new family, exploring traditions crafted by others, I am beginning to let sink in a new way of being with patterns. And in that, I’m allowing for gratitude for what is, in this moment. And so in the tradition of Thanksgiving, I offer up a pie slice of what I am grateful for today, that I can actually allow sink and that I know is there beneath whatever emotions are churning on the surface.

My family. I am grateful that even though I am not with them right now, I want to be. My friends, for the years that we spent together (and probably will continue to in different manifestations) crafting a version of this holiday that finally made it resonate with my soul. My lover’s family who have opened their doors to me, welcoming me into their traditions. My love, herself, for sharing in this adventure of opening and deepening and revealing and loving in a way that feels nurturing and unconditional to a degree I never believed possible. Solitude. I am grateful that I can take this time for myself, to be tender with myself, to reflect and release and honor all that arises for me at this time, and move through it into something new. The tenderness to allow for old patterns and beliefs to die away, making room for something new. To take the cynicism I have long held around this holiday and transmute it into gratitude for what is in this moment. I am grateful for family, those we’re born into and those we create and the sometimes-vast differences between them.

Gratitude for what we’re all learning here, the processes we are engaged in, the healing and growth we are moving through together, the tender places in our hearts we are learning to let others see, the opening that we are allowing for and the practice of remaining in that openness for a split second beyond what feels comfortable, to allow a little more light into the darkness, a little more compassion for the raw places in all of us.

And today in particular, I am grateful for my grandmother, for the family and traditions that she created. I am grateful that even though I wandered some years, I always knew that there was a place for me at her Thanksgiving table, a glass of ginger ale by my plate.

 

Maitri May 10, 2012

Filed under: Balance — Reflections Integrative Therapy @ 10:26 pm
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“This complete acceptance of ourselves as we are is called maitri, a simple, direct relationship with the way we are.” – Pema Chodron

I got myself a tattoo for my birthday last October. The most visible one yet. The next one’s going on my forehead. Just kidding. But there is something significant about the visibility of this one, and it’s not because I’ve learned to make peace with permanence and impermanence (because I haven’t actually). It’s on the inside of my left forearm and it’s a ball jar with a label on it: maitri.

I could go into the symbolism of the jar, but I think that’s a whole other entry. The focus of this right now is on the label, the word maitri. Maitri is a Sanskrit word that was shared with me by a very wise woman in my life a few years ago. It has a few different interpretations, including loving-kindness (Metta meditation) and friendliness, but the one that resonated the most with me was “unconditional friendship with oneself.” And this. This felt pretty important to permanently affix to my body. As Pema Chodron says, “complete acceptance of ourselves as we are.” Anyone who has ever tried this can most likely attest to how freakin’ hard that is.

So, in light of this, I ask you: is it possible to engage in radical acceptance of yourself, exactly as you are, warts and all, as they say? Accept the flaws and the beauty, trusting that they really are one and the same. Accept the things you wish were different, the things you’d like to change, the things that maybe keep you from being where you want to be. Accept it all, just as it is, just as you are, right now. But wait, that ‘s not all. The potency is not limited to accepting what is but also in holding space for a shift: radical acceptance while simultaneously holding the possibility of something else. For example, I accept that throughout my life, I have developed this pattern of retreating and guarding myself to keep people from getting too close. In this practice of maitri, though, my work is in accepting that pattern, witnessing it, holding it in non-judgment, and then asking myself “what else is possible here?” Is it possible for me to do something different this time? Is it possible to let myself remain open just a fraction of a second longer this time, thus ever so slightly changing the pattern? Is it possible for me to give myself permission to go fully into this guarding pattern, trusting that I am also capable of moving out of it?

When I say radical acceptance, I mean radical. I mean, all of it. I mean the demons and shadows and murky, muddy, dark places of yourself that no one has ever seen – that you have barely let yourself see. I mean holding space for all of the places in yourself that you judge, all of those places you have deemed shameful. You don’t need to love them (at least not right now), but can you hold them, can you accept them? Can you trust that they served a purpose in your life at one point, maybe not in a way that you can understand right now or not in a way that has any sort of story around it, but they did serve you at one point? In whatever way, they somehow contributed to you being present right now.

This is a big undertaking, I will be the first to admit that. But, I’ve got a proposal for you, if you decide to embark on this path. It can be really hard to trust that things can be any different than they are (or have been). So for the time begin, I’ll trust in that possibility for you. Because of this I am certain, we can all grow, we can all change, and we can all heal. And what that might look like, I have no idea (for me or anyone else), but I trust that there is always the possibility of something else. And I’m walking this road, too. And I know that the darkest places in myself only look this dark to me, just as the darkest places in you are only that dark to you.  So, what do you say? Meet you there?

 

Theory and Practice. Talking and Walking. March 26, 2012

Filed under: CranioSacral,Massage Therapy — Reflections Integrative Therapy @ 8:23 pm
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Theory and practice. Lately I’ve been finding myself aware of this pairing – not a binary or a dichotomy and certainly not hinting at any sort of mutual exclusivity, but two friends I tend to meet for coffee pretty regularly these days. Theory is better about showing up. Theory is always on time and guaranteed always has plenty to say. Theory is easy and comfortable to be around, even when it’s challenging. Theory and my head are like two peas in a pod. We can talk until the cows come home about what it means to live open-heartedly and what it looks like to step into vulnerability. We’re really good about talking about that…

Practice on the other hand. Practice is that sometimes-flakey friend who is pretty much always late and only really shows up because we’ve had to have a few conversations about its reliability. Practice and I generally get a cup of tea (we gave up coffee 4 months ago) in our to-go cups and go for a walk.

Theory and I talk. Practice and I walk.

And sometimes I don’t want to walk. Sometimes it takes a lot of energy to engage with practice, so I choose sides and hang out with theory and it’s more comfortable.

But lately I’ve been getting…bored with theory. I know, I know! How is that possible?! Theory is entertaining and engaging and exciting and stimulating. All of that is true, certainly. But theory lacks action and as Spring has decided to show up big time here in Boulder, my body is needing action. Shake off the winter, stretch and move and clear the hibernation from my system and get back into the practice of living, of being in this world.

So practice and I are meeting more regularly lately, and theory comes along too, and the three of us are engaging in the process of what it means to unite theory and practice – have practice teach me how to integrate theory – and live from that place. It’s exciting, actually. And challenging. Hanging out with practice sometimes feels like moving my body in a new way. Like I’ve had an injury that I’ve been guarding, but it’s healed now and I am learning this new mobility that is possible.

I was talking to a teacher of mine recently about something I struggle with and she asked me if my belief was really the way things are or if it was my circumstance at one point and is no longer. Of course, being the wise one that she is, she hit the nail on the head and it was another moment of recognizing the places that I still get stuck. Just because something was a certain way does not mean that it is still that way, but sometimes it takes reframing it and actively engaging with now to realize that things have shifted. Over and over.

So, here I go back to Theory and Practice. Theory can help us recognize patterns and learn how to repattern, but it’s practice more often than not that helps us see when we’re actually somewhere new. That what we’ve always held that we’ve known is in fact different. Because by engaging with practice we’re actively participating in the evolution of our lives. Practice is integrating theory into our systems and living from that place.

Need a more concrete example? I went to yoga tonight. I’ve been going to this class now for about 3 months, my first foray into more advanced classes after 3 years of practicing yoga. I’m pretty diligent about it, but every Monday afternoon I get a little trepidatious. It pushes my edges, makes me feel uneasy, mostly because it invites in all of the really loud insecurities that I’m good at quieting when I stay within my comfort zone. But I started going to this class because it was time to move from theory to practice. Intellectually I’ve been exploring what it means to find my edge and to inhabit my body, to know my body and be present with it. But it’s hard to know what it’s capable of if I keep it comfortable, ya know? So in a way, going to this yoga class, with all the attendant uncertainty and self-doubt is my way of engaging with the practice of knowing and exploring my body as well as the Self that inhabits it that gets doubtful and insecure. It gives me a chance to be present with myself and to witness the voices that try to keep me from stepping outside my comfort zone. It’s rewarding like I’d never imagined. In part because I’m learning to integrate the theory of presence and self-awareness.

It’s hard. No two ways about it. Like I said, sometimes I don’t want to go for a walk. Sometimes I just want to cradle a cup of hot tea in my hands and talk. But that’s why practice is a practice, right? It’s not necessarily supposed to be easy and sometimes we’re really not good at it, but we keep at it. We keep at it and through that we learn how to show up for ourselves and we learn to trust that. We learn to see what’s right in front of us, to be with it, and we learn that there’s room for all of this – the talking and the walking.

 

Being human October 3, 2011

“…The heart itself cannot actually break, for its very nature is soft and open. What breaks open when we see things as they are is the protective shell of ego-identity we have built around ourselves to avoid feeling pain. When the heart breaks out of this shell, we feel quite raw and vulnerable. Yet this is also the beginning of feeling real compassion for ourselves and others.” – John Welwood

 

Finding my ground again after an incredibly intense week of CranioSacral training, and vulnerability is bouncing around in my head today. Apropos given the way my last week went. But I’m considering this new space around vulnerability I find myself in now, so I figured I’d take this opportunity to share my ruminations.

What is it we’re afraid of with vulnerability? Is it a fear of being judged? A fear of losing ourselves? A fear of being seen? As a bodyworker, I am acutely aware of the position I am asking people to put themselves in. Most people I work with have no relationship with me outside of the confines of my orange-walled office. Within minutes of meeting me, I am asking someone who has no connection to me to undress and get on the table and be seen in a way that most of us aren’t seen on a day-to-day basis. And not only that, but by getting on the table, one is essentially surrendering control, giving me permission to touch and manipulate their body. There is a level of exposure in massage and bodywork that I have a deep amount of respect and reverence for. Getting on the table, no matter how good a massage feels, is not often an easy task. It can feel incredibly vulnerable. I have so much gratitude for people’s willingness to step into that vulnerability and show up in the way they do.

And that happens in trainings as well, as the past week made painfully clear to me. The vulnerability blind-sided me, in fact, in its intensity, complete with triggers, lots of emotions, and a fair amount of physical pain. On the last day I was sitting in the circle while we were doing a check-in, and I’d shared the space that I found myself in and the difficulty that I’d been having during the week. I listened to others talking about their experiences and I marveled at our ability, mine and others, to step into vulnerability. To open and share and finds words, or actions, to express the places (dark and light and everywhere in between) we’d found ourselves in during the course of the week. Not everyone talked, but everyone was there and held space for those who wanted to share. And I found myself feeling perhaps more intensely than ever before the enormous presence of a group of people showing up for each other and themselves. In that moment, vulnerability was not something to fear, but rather to celebrate and honor. I recognized our ability as humans to connect with each other, to share our hearts with one another, and to hold each other with compassion and grace.

The other piece that I recognized in that circle was the universality of the human experience. Peers were sharing their stories of the week and I found myself resonating with so much of what was being said, connecting to pieces that felt true for me – maybe not in that module, but that I could at least recognize as having felt at some point in my life – and I saw that while experience manifests differently for everyone, the underlying emotions are the same. There is a universality and a connectivity in the shared experience of being human. Underneath the layers, anger is anger; sadness is sadness; loneliness is loneliness; joy is joy. And that commonality is really only accessed when there is a willingness to lean into vulnerability.

Seeing the commonality between us, in that moment, had a profound effect on me. I felt held and seen and supported because something in me began to trust that while my specific experience might not be something that anyone in that room could relate to, they were able to contact the underlying feelings. And it began to melt away any shame that was there for the experience that I was having. And finally, in a very sweet moment, I felt seen. Not for my issues or the things that I was pathologizing in my head, but for being human. For experiencing the complex range of emotions that goes along with the territory of being human. And by acknowledging my experience, I was opening up to that and stepping into a place of authenticity. Yes, I am happy a lot of the time. But I am also sad sometimes, and sometimes I’m even angry, and sometimes I’m tired, and sometimes I’m needy, and sometimes I’m insecure, and sometimes I am, well, you get the point. I’m human.

It is a gift we give one another, I think, to show up in authenticity and to be vulnerable in that, because it allows us to be more present with ourselves and others. And it gives others permission to connect to themselves. Their vulnerability, yes, but also their authenticity.

And then I read over this and cynical me takes over and says, “Alicia, sometimes you’re too quick to look at the bright side, the learning opportunity or positive thing to come out of darkness and it minimizes how hard this is. Sometimes it sucks to feel vulnerable and exposed and seen and you’re making it sound too easy to just think about what a great learning opportunity you’re having when you’re feeling blown open and exposed.” So, it seems important to listen to that part of my brain and acknowledge that it hurts. That it sucks. That naming our dark places is uncomfortable. And sometimes, just naming something doesn’t make it go away, sometimes it magnifies it. And then what? Then we have to sit with it, be uncomfortable and wait it out? Just because we’re human. I can tell you that most often when I’m in that space, I say to hell with this. If this is the human experience, you can take it and shove it, because this hurts too much. But guess what? That’s a valid response to being uncomfortable. It’s a pretty human response. So, there’s room for that too.

All of this is to say, this doesn’t wrap up neatly. It’s not as simple as leaning into vulnerability and trusting that you’ll be held, or even that it will feel good to be seen in your vulnerability. Maybe it’s been your experience that you won’t be and it sure as hell won’t feel good. But, in this training this past week, I realized that part of the healing work that I do (both with others and with myself) is to step into that vulnerable place, over and over again. To take care of myself in that vulnerability. To answer someone genuinely and with integrity when they ask me how I’m doing. To open and soften here and there so I can connect with my own humanness and in doing so, connect with yours too. And through that we can provide enough space for each other to hold that whole big beautiful spectrum of emotions – what it means to be human. And in doing so, actually see each other.

And if we can acknowledge those moments when the world brings us to our knees and we feel our vulnerability, maybe sometimes that vulnerability won’t feel so scary and we will be able to recognize (even if only for a fleeting second) that those moments aren’t the ones that destroy us, but rather make us more human.

 

 

 

Letting go…or how I ended my summer vacation. September 20, 2011

“To live in this world you must be able to do three things: to love what is mortal; to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it; and when the time comes to let it go, to let it go.”  –  Mary Oliver

This oft-quoted passage from Mary Oliver has been in my head a lot lately as the practice of loving and letting go has been a constant work these days. I’ve been finding myself saying good-bye an awful lot lately. But, loving and letting go shows up in so many different forms that it felt appropriate, on the eve of the end of summer, to ruminate for a while on holding on and letting go.

Summer is waning, the days are growing shorter and the morning chill lasts a little longer than in weeks past. Stock is taken of the summer’s activities, what goals were accomplished, what projects completed, what trips taken and adventures had. And with one eye on that, I turn the other to the coming months of vibrant colors, cooler days and more of an inward twist.

How do you face the change of seasons? Is there a grieving process, do you mourn the days no longer? Is there excitement about the newness that the upcoming season will hold? Do you have a ritual to say good-bye and welcome in the new?

And, because this is where I’ve been these days, I can’t help but turn those three tasks inward. I think this applies both to our interactions with others and our surrounding environment, and also to how we interact with ourselves. There are parts of myself that I have loved. Held against my bones as if my very life depended on them. And yet. And yet. Something about this time is calling to me to let them go. Let go of these parts of myself that I know and love and understand and find as comforting as an old flannel shirt. Because that shirt has a lot of holes in it these days and frankly, it doesn’t really fit anymore, one too many dryer cycles. So the time has come to let go. Easier said than done, believe you me. But life has a funny way of helping you along in doing hard things that need to be done. And by “help” I mean, it will find a way of forcing you to do it, even if you don’t want to.

I look at this, too, with bodywork, and the difficulty in changing a holding pattern. The ways that patterns that we’ve adopted are familiar and comforting because they were what we did to manage our experience, they were how we coped. In some way, our life depended on those patterns. And yet. And yet. Now, the experience that we were managing has passed (and if it hasn’t, you have full permission to hang out in your pattern!) and so perhaps it’s time to let it go.

And the inevitable, and perhaps more straight forward realm that Mary Oliver was speaking to (listen, I like to read into things, ok?), letting go of those we love. But to start with, loving those we love. Loving others, holding them close, sharing hearts and lives and adventures. And then, when the time comes to let them go, to let them go.

For me, there is a fear of the void. The space after letting go, before the newness has moved in. And perhaps this is where the seasons can help. The transitional time means some days of shorts and sweatshirts and others pants and flip-flops. Brilliant late afternoon sunshine and warmth, and chilly mornings. In essence transition, neither here nor there, you get to enjoy a little bit of both on any given day. And there is play in that space in between, movement even. A fluidity that allows for deliberate behavior; a consciousness about the coming days. In this time we can give ourselves permission to grieve, to mourn the loss of what is no longer, see the ways in which it impacted our lives and offer it gratitude.

Perhaps it seems so easy to do because I’m just really excited about fall. It’s my favorite season, in part because here in Colorado you get all the beauty and sunshine of summer, without the stifling, soul-sucking heat. August nearly fried me. And fall signals my birthday and I get 5-year-old excited about that. So, while I was a little saddened that it was dusk when I left my office at 7 tonight, I’m delighted to feel a crispness in the air when I open my door to take Lucy for a walk in the morning. And my home is certainly quieter without the constant hum of ceiling fans.

So, yes, there is a lot in this transitory time about letting go. But what about the joy of experience? The ways we celebrated summer? The brilliance of our body’s coping strategies? The beauty in how we’ve known ourselves and the experience of self-discovery? And the wonder in loving others, opening our hearts to friends and lovers and family and giving love wholeheartedly? What an amazing thing to be capable of!

So, as a more specific directive to tag onto Mary Oliver’s, I suggest that in the letting go we also offer gratitude to those parts of ourselves that nurtured us at some point in our lives, to the ways the season held us, to the gifts and lessons and love another brought into our lives, and let them go, knowing that we are forever changed because of them.

 

Be here…here…here…here now. May 23, 2011

Filed under: Balance,CranioSacral,Massage Therapy — Reflections Integrative Therapy @ 11:25 pm
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When I was 17 I sat at the base of Mt. Kenya and listened as my NOLS instructor, Mo, pointed at the mountain and said, “Be here now.” Be present. Be mindful. Don’t be anywhere else but exactly where you are. So, I adopted that as a mantra, returned to it over and over again in my months in East Africa – being “here” with moments both enlightening and terrifying. Practicing presence in the midst of astounding beauty and painfully blistered feet and an aching back.

My “here” has shifted recently. I moved to Denver a few weeks ago, after more than 5 years of calling Boulder home, I chose to move into transition. I chose to become a commuter. I chose to uproot my somewhat fragile root system and truck on down the road a little ways, with the intention of spreading out – expanding my community and finding new places to reach my branches out to.

So, for the past few weeks I’ve been riding the waves of transition and trying to do that with a lot of mindfulness. I’m watching my transition patterns and can recognize and say to myself “oh, right. This is the time in transition when I desperately want to just run away.” Or “This is the stage where I need to be quiet and reflective and deliberate. And careful with myself.” And instead of trying to rush through this time, I’ve been moving slowly and sitting with all the uncomfortable parts, knowing that they’ll shift and that they’re part of this process. I’m honoring the wholeness if I can honor the light and the dark of challenges.

And while the dark has been destabilizing, the light has been bold. This place that 3 weeks ago held no significance for me, now feels like home. It is a comfort to return to at the end of the day, it’s a space that I look forward to being in when I have the time to stay home, it’s infused with me and those I love – photographs of people and places that have touched my life, and in true me fashion, the living room walls are orange (w/ a turquoise accent wall). It is home.

So, I’m here now. And here is Denver. Here is this little house in five points. Here is still Colorado. Here is still full of community and support and love. And here is different than it was a month ago. Here has shifted.

So, how does “be here now” fit into this? I learned something new, or gained a new perspective. “Be here now” is not asking that you cling desperately to each moment, but rather that you lean into the constant shift and transformation is that occurring moment to moment. That you stay present with impermanence. That you stay present with the shift. That you allow yourself to move with that presence. Because trying to “be here now,” doesn’t really work if “here” is not fixed. Because by the time you remember to “be here now” “here” has already shifted, “here” has become somewhere else and so in essence you’re trying to be somewhere that is no longer.

In presence there is endless movement. And if we can cultivate presence, we get to experience that movement and the limitless possibilities that are contained in that movement.

This is part of why, in bodywork, I focus so much on felt sense in the moment. Asking someone what they’re noticing in their bodies just then – not what’s chronic or familiar – but what is happening in that singular moment, helps to call in presence. It’s so easy to get lost in the stories our bodies contain, and those stories certainly serve a purpose, but sometimes we hold on to them longer than we need to, and mindfulness in the body allow us to see what is, in this particular moment, and then watch what shifts with our awareness.

So, I offer Mo my gratitude, wherever he is. But, I’d like to make an addendum to his directive. Be here now, but remember that here is always shifting.

 

 
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