Category Archives: blog – 5: DIARY

Spiritual Road Trip, Part 4: Satsang Sunday

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Part 4: Sunday – Satsang Sunday

From my notes from the Gita class:

“He alone who recognizes his own self can recognize God.”

“Fixing your mind on me, you become me.” Krishna

Today I got up in time to go to the Bhagavad Gita class at the temple, and what a blessing that was on so many levels. Firstly, the Satsang (companionship of other devoted Hindus) was sorely needed. There is no Temple in Gainesville, so I have been feeling terribly isolated. Being here now has shone a light on a very large part of what has been my problem since coming to Gainesville… there is no Temple, no Satsang, and I feel not merely isolated, but almost as though I made Hindusim up, as if I have lost my mind and am sinking into some sort of madness for being so out of sorts with mainstream American/Western culture. Sometimes it scares me. I love SAW, but the comics community is not my community. I love Joe Courter, but Progressive politics and activists are also not my community. And, no, though I have and love many New Age and Pagan friends, the “Temple Of the Universe” is not my community. Inside the Hindu Temple I feel at home. I feel at home among the sari’s, the Carnatic music, among the Gods, the people, and am definitely at home eating the Temple food every single day. And, I was at home in our class of 6 (plus the teacher) in the Gita class. Though the surroundings were scarcely even humble, a tatty “library” in the basement of the temple that also doubles as a supply closet and overflow storage room for the kitchen, there in that tatty place I fought back tears through the whole class. Simply realizing how much it hurts to be so far from what matters to me most created an empty ache in me that I cannot resolve. But now, here I was in the company of others who were on the same path and asking the same questions as I. How isolating it is to not have access to that kind of companionship.

I made a lot of notes in my diary as we went along, but what really stopped me dead in my tracks was when we read aloud in the ancillary reading. We went around the table, each person reading a paragraph aloud, all of it closer inspection of the truths within the Bhagavad Gita. What just about knocked me out of my chair was the paragraph I read aloud… the very paragraph was about the unhealthiness of political hysteria. As I read the words I was stunned not only that the subject was being addressed right here and now in this book on this weekend in this place, but that the words of wisdom were going straight into my eyes and out my mouth into the air to echo my current “reality.” I was giving words to thoughts, and giving form to words. This was no coincidence. God is Consciousness. It was not Trump winning that drove me to the Temple, it was the reaction of everyone around me that drove me there, and the passage addressed the very topic of political overreaction, and in general, of placing too much importance on politics. To read such things there and then took my breath away. I could not help myself, I had to share what I was going through, and what I had to share was actually welcome there! They didn’t scold me for my views, didn’t become hysterical when I tried to suggest that politics will NOT save us… no… they nodded in agreement! Finally, I was in a room where I didn’t feel like I was babbling in another language, I was in a room where the things I had to say were not only welcomed, but were seen as wise. My heart ached to know I had to get in my car and drive away, that I could not attend this class week after week… that I had to leave… home.

We talked for a while about my feelings of isolation and displacement, and I stated how sometimes I feel so isolated that I fear I am losing my mind. They all nodded and understood how hard it must be, they have each other, I have no one. But, the upside is, I have been invited to continue taking the class via phone conferencing! I am elated to have a lifeline to what matters, to have found Satsang! Had my oil not leaked out, had I continued to Tennessee, had I not listened to Ram and gone home, I would not have been here for this, for this class which will continue to nourish me and help me feel less isolated and insane. More significantly, this class will help keep me from being distracted by delusion, and will keep me on the right track.

Equally significant for me was the open dialog, in which no one sat in judgment with “THE” single right answer. No, in Hinduism the questions can be open ended, and “debates” can be listened to and carefully considered, such a far cry from the sort of Christianity I grew up in where there was a one-way path. The discussions were fluid and healthy, NEVER dogmatic, and in those discussions I was at last able to open up and share some of the conclusions about Hinduism, Gods and spirituality that I have come to in solitude… and was able to have them confirmed as perfectly reasonable, even beautiful. Having come to those conclusions without a teacher, a guru or Satsang, I felt they were worthy of suspicion, but as it turns out, I had been led to perfectly acceptable conclusions, guided, dare I say, by the hand of Shiva, Krishna… let’s just say… God. This brings me back to what the first Priest I talked to in the temple in Ohio said to me when I told him my story and how I came to convert to Hinduism, he said to me: “God is speaking to you,” which has always felt like a burden to me. I mean, if God is speaking to me, it seems to me I have not lived up to such an honor, that I have not done anything worthy of being spoken to. Now, I saw, that perhaps by speaking to me, God was simply sharing wisdom through clarity with me, and for now, that has been enough. Perhaps God is not speaking to me so that I may change the world, but so that I may change myself. After all, who can change the world who cannot change themselves?

But here at last, I was able to talk with those who know more than me about their cultural metaphors, about the ambiguous nature of God, about REALITY (a topic that has somewhat obsessed me since my DMT journeys brought me experientially closer to Hindu teaching about the illusory nature of reality). I was able to talk about embracing duality, and how beautiful it is that in Hinduism questions need not be resolved and opposing ideas need not resolve into a single truth that must be followed by all. Furthermore I was able to talk about how our language and words are meant to describe this reality, and are quite ill-equipped to consider and describe any other. No wonder so many “intellectuals” are atheists, they put far too much trust and value in an intellect that can only comprehend this tiny corner of “reality.” They are limited by their egos. Every single thing I said and others said confirmed for me that I am not full of shit when it comes to my understanding of Hinduism. It seems that perhaps the conclusions I have been coming to are conclusions I had been gently led to.

I am grateful to have had this experience, grateful to be able to continue to participate, yet somehow saddened that the Temple is, in all practicality, out of my reach considering my finances and lemonish car. But, I will return home with Satsang, and enough spiritual fuel to keep me going for some time, and in the comfort of knowing that all I have learned and all the conclusions I have come to on my own have not been absurd fantasies, that they have been guided by my consciousness being open to Godly consciousness. This is not my ego talking, this is a breathless gratitude talking.

I didn’t spend much time in the temple Sunday, I was tired, the sudden weather change from driving up North has messed up my sinuses, so I spent a lot of the day in my room, but I did go back for a brief visit, and for all my bemoaning the loss of temple access, I realized that in the time since I left the Shiva Vishnu Temple behind in Ohio, I have learned a lot. For one, I had been able to hold my own during the Bhagavad Gita class, and my understanding of the Gita (and I have read two translations more than once) and the complexities of Hindu concepts of “reality” and God have been greatly enhanced by my admittedly shamefully infrequent studies (which I am now going to become more serious about).

Additionally, thanks to DMT I had learned to meditate. Back in Ohio I could not meditate at all, but now, over the past few days, I had been meditating before the Deities. This in and of itself is quite an arrival for me. And beyond all that, I had learned to chant, and need to learn more chants, but I am pleased to say that I was able to circumambulate around the Shiva sanctum while chanting this:

Om Try-Ambakam Yajaamahe
Sugandhim Pusstti-Vardhanam
Urvaarukam-Iva Bandhanaan
Mrtyor-Mukssiiya Maa-[A]mrtaat

Har har Mahadev!

Sunday night, in my room, totally exhausted I had to accept that I was growing very fatigued from the weather/pressure and sinus pains. I had been bearing them, had tried not to think about them, but they had been a weight around my neck the whole trip. Finally, I sat down with my prasadam (an orange), and ate it. Prasadam promises to be not only healthy but healing food blessed by the Gods. One hour later, and this was quite a shock to me, 100% of my fatigue, body aches and sinus pains were gone, simply gone, like my anxiety!

But for all the glories of Sunday, the real ecstasies were to come Monday, at the Shiva Temple, and Ram was right, it was more than two eyes could bear, and more than I could have imagined.

NEXT (Part 5, Monday): Har Har Mahadev!

Spiritual Road Trip, Part 3: Me, The Visiting Deity?

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Part 3: Saturday – Me, The Visiting Deity?

Saturday morning, the day I was supposed to stop by the temple before hitting the road to Tennessee, well, that did not happen. Instead I settled into a full day at the Temple, a day I would not have had had I gone to Tennessee, yet I still would have been returning home days earlier than originally planned. The problem with returning was that my objective had not been met, in that my anxiety had not yet diminished in the least, and I had not counted on, nor was I fully prepared for, how seductive the hospitality of the Indian people can be. A practice unknown to most Westerners is that when visitors come to Hindu homes, the guests are to be treated like visiting Deities. This is rather convenient when one has guests in ending that awkward personal dilemma that arises when you’ve made something delicious and secretly want to keep the bigger piece for yourself… if you wouldn’t short Ganesh the big piece, you cannot short your guest. I often get very special treatment when I am among Hindus, and though my ego would like to believe it’s due to my smile and surrender to their spiritual truths and culture, it’s more likely that they are simply extending that philosophy to me, or, peradventure, they are simply hospitable people. In light of their openness to Westerners partaking of their culture, here’s one point I need to make in regards to this “cultural appropriation” nonsense. Whenever I wear Indian bangles, skirts, a bindi, or Gods on my jewelry, the Indians light up. The Indians I have met LOVE seeing a Westerner embracing their culture. I have been complicated more than once on my dress. Even in the temple back in Ohio the Priest complimented me on my Indian-influenced style. Want to see an Indian smile? Talk about their mythology, food, Bollywood or Hinduism, or wear a bindi and sari. So, here’s the deal, culture police… you don’t know what the hell you are talking about when it comes to the myth of “cultural appropriation” and, believe it or not, no one appointed you as a spokesperson for other people and other cultures, so keep your holier-than-thou hostility, bigotry, judgments and cultural ignorance to yourselves. Once you have informed and enlightened yourselves, you can go around telling the rest of us what to do, wear, or sing, until then, follow my Granny’s advice and mind your own business.

Now, on to more pleasant matters. Again, here at the Atlanta temple, the Indians have welcomed me with open arms into their culture, into their temple, and into their sense of style.

OK, confession time, maybe the thing I miss most about temple life isn’t the spirituality, the Satsang, or the culture, maybe it’s the food! See, I LOVE Indian food, and one of my biggest frustrations with Indian restaurants in America is how the food is often dumbed down to suit our limited palettes. For one thing the food is mean to be very spicy, and for another chai is NOT chai if it is not sweetened with sugar! I know it’s some weird American pride thing to drink coffee and tea black, but that most definitely is not culturally authentic. If you are not sugaring your chai in restaurants, you are drinking bastardized American chai… period! Me, I want an authentic experience, hot food and sweet chai. The food at temples is prepared lovingly by fellow devotees to suit an Indian audience, so the food is spicy and delicious. I have eaten nothing but temple food since I have been here (confession… a couple chocolate chip cookies), and most of it free. Sure, I paid for some of it, but Saturday as I was enjoying my first temple meal, one of the kitchen staff came to me and welcomed me, and upon talking to me was pleased to hear of my genuine interest in their culture and devotion to their spirituality, and he told me that all day long all my food would be free and that I could take whatever I liked. He then handed me some Indian sweets, including the BIGGEST Laddoo I had ever seen–as in the size of softball. For those of you who have never had Laddoo, it is a little like a round Indian sticky donut hole, but far more textural, flavorful and delicious… especially when prepared in a temple. The problem with laddoo is were I to eat them as much as I would like… I too would be the shape of Ganesh.

In mythology, Ganesh had eaten so much laddoo that Chandra (moon God) saw him struggling to walk and laughed at him. Ganesh fell and his extended belly split open and all the laddoo spilled out, so he grabbed a cobra and tied it about his belly and cursed the moon. This is the story of why the moon is not full year-round. And, by the way, no most Hindus do not believe this to be literal scientific fact, it is accepted as mythology.

One of my bigger disappointments was that the temple gift shop was not open. This temple is more than a temple, it is a community center and for many, a spectacular tourist attraction. Additionally, as Hindus love their murti (so-called “idols”), they need a place to buy not only them, but books of wisdom that are otherwise hard to find, and this book store even had lots of Indian ACK Comics, which are all based on Hindu mythology, history, and so forth. I wanted in, so I went upstairs and asked the little old white lady if someone could open it, as it was supposed to have been open anyway. I told her I had driven almost 5 hours just to be here and really wanted a chance to pick up a few things. She, with complete disinterest, rather flatly and unsympathetically told me no. Rather cold.

OK, so I wasn’t going to get in to the gift shop, then I thought about it a little longer and realized I had approached this thing all wrong… all wrong. I realized that if I know Indians, and I am beginning to, then all I had to do was ask one of them, and soon I would be in the gift shop, so I asked one. Also, I knew that if I knew Indians, and I am beginning to, that no one would know who would open it, where the key was, and there would be a certain amount of confusion and disorganization… but give or take ten minutes, and the shop would definitely be open. Confusion and disorganization aside, that was a huge improvement over the unfriendly, disinterested and unsympathetic little old white lady who had no interest in helping me because it was simply easier to tell me tough luck. Well, I sat on the stairs of the shop and watched them go at it, and soon enough, in some great swoop of karmic justice, along came the Indian woman I had talked to about getting in, and toting along behind her… guess who? Yep, the cranky little unsympathetic white lady… with the key… and a stern scowl. Oh, no, she did not smile at me when she saw me sitting on the stair, but my smile was big enough for both our faces. The woman who sat in the shop, Sudha (if I have that right) was all smiles and kindness. We talked a little as I selected a few books and comics, and I thanked her and went along my way. The lesson here… if you’re at a temple and you want something done, always ask an Indian.

Between the free food and the lovely gift shop experience, I was beginning to realize more and more that I was gonna miss the hell out of this when I left in the morning.

image001Of course food and gifts were not really why I had gone there, so I went back upstairs to the temple to watch the rituals which Ram had promised would be unforgettably beautiful and “auspicious,” and he was right. The first thing I saw was a lengthy pujah to Lord Vishnu. They have, in this temple, an astounding larger than life shining black Vishnu. I don’t know how much you know about Indian temples, but there are sanctums. There is the outer sanctum in which all shoes must be removed as no outside dirt is allowed inside the temple. This is a symbolic practice, as it symbolizes that we are also not to bring any outside dirt into the temples in our hearts, minds and souls. Now, encased within (or beyond) that is the temple proper, and upon entering you are to bow to the Deities, many, myself included, prostrate themselves flat on the floor. Within the temple are numerous smaller inner sanctums which house the Deities. The most significant Deities (such as Shiva and Vishnu) are housed in their own small structures or sanctums, and the devotees are allowed in the outer sanctum that houses the Deity, but only temple Priests are allowed within the innermost sanctum where the murti reside. Now, contrary to the limited Christian viewpoint, Hindus are not “idol worshipers,” and to say so is a gross over-simplification based on ignorance and cultural bias. The so-called idol, or murti, is really nothing more than a representation of the Deity that we focus our meditation or prayers on to connect with the Deity. This day Vishnu was being offered milk, honey, and various sensual and delicious offerings. Ram was right, the sight of the shining black face and body being coated in milk was lovely beyond description. All the while the Brahmin (Priests) are chanting in a call and response whose strange harmonies stir the soul.

Shortly before the Navagrahas (planetary Deities) pujah, my new friend Ram talked to me for a while explaining that I should consider staying through Monday as it was a major Shiva festival, Karthika Deepotsavam. He said the temple would be decorated with thousands of lights and that “two eyes are not enough to see” the beauty of the event. I thought about this for a while and realized that my original plan was to be gone at least as long as Tuesday anyhow, so I would stay around and witness that before I tended to my oil leak. Besides, the hospitality that had been shown me had warmed my heart and had left me feeling as though I was in no way ready to go back home, and I was feeling far less lonely than I had in a long time. It is also important to note that as a Shiva devotee, it seemed astonishingly fortuitous that I had arrived there with an oil leak at the precise time of year when a major festival in honor of Shiva was taking place. I realized more and more that my oil leak was most definitely an obstacle placed in my path to keep me where I was meant to be (Ganesh not only removes obstacles, but places them in your path if you are going the in the wrong direction). So it was that my plan to stay until Tuesday remained, the only difference being that I stayed in one place and saved myself 4 more hours of drive time. Thanks, of course to Ganesh… though now that I think about it, as Shiva is Ganesh’s father, it’s no wonder he had a hand in keeping me at the temple, a devotee of his father’s, for his father’s sacred day.

So here’s another confession, though I stayed after and participated in the Navagrahas pujah, I had no idea what the significance of it was. Hinduism is a 10,000 year old religion, and I have only been a practitioner for about six years, and have had to practice my devotion in practical isolation, so there is much I do not know. For example, yesterday when the Brahmin poured yellow liquid over Vishnu… I was moved to tears by the sheer beauty of the act, but I’m not 100% certain what the vibrant yellow liquid was.

While waiting for a similar pujah to be performed over the Shiva Linga, one of the Priests explained that most milk, even organic milk, contains fish oil extracts, so is not appropriate for Lord Shiva. One of the devotees asked why we do not use vegan milk. The Priest patiently explained that he was not here to change their traditions, just to educate them about the milks they were buying.

Now, there is a rather troubling question, or attitude, that is passed judgmentally upon these rituals in the form of a heavily loaded question, “Why do Indians pour milk and honey over their Deities when so many people are starving?” This is a question that demonstrates a “pragmatic” Western bias or comes from a person who clearly does not value spiritual practices highly enough, meaning that, to them, there will be no satisfactory answer. It must be understood that in order to advance spiritually sacrifices must be made. When a devotee comes to the temple with an offering, they come as an offering. One cannot just take from God, one must give as well.

This evening, once the Shiva pujah was underway, was when the most significant event of the trip took place. Now that I had decided to no longer allow fear to dictate my actions (meaning I did not run home), and chose instead to stay in the temple and attend the Karthika Deepotsavam, right then and there, in the middle of the worship of Shiva, a miracle happened. Within ten minutes, give or take, all at once, as if I had sprung a leak, all of the anxiety I had been carrying around in me for the past weeks and months simply drained away… all of it! I noticed soon that not only had all that anxiety drained away, but ALL anxiety had drained away. I was perfectly clean and clear for the first time in decades! I had simply forgotten what it felt like to not be carrying some anxiety in me somewhere, and it felt amazing, as though a dead dog I had been carrying forever had been lifted off my shoulders. God has reset my nervous system. Now it would be up to me to reset my mind.

Just prior to the Shiva pujah I had gotten in line for another meal, but they were briefly out of chana masala, so Sudha (from the gift shop) asked me to step aside and wait for the food, after a while I left, not because I got impatient, but because I didn’t want to miss the conclusion of the Shiva pujah. She arrived in the middle of the ceremony and was genuinely concerned that I had not gotten my food. I held her hand and told her it was OK, I just wanted to participate in this. After I drank the holy water and ate the prasadam (blessed food), she took me into the closed kitchen and the staff sent me home with boxes full of free delicious food, enough that I have not had to buy a meal all weekend.

Yes, the hospitality of the Indian people can be moving and seductive, I was definitely staying on through to Tuesday morning. Though I was concerned about the additional hotel bill, when Sunday came I was cosmically certain I had made the right sacrifice (i.e. money for wisdom and Satsang), as early Sunday morning I had what was another peak experience, the very Satsang that had been so sorely missing from my life since I had moved away from my home temple in Ohio, that which could end my loneliness, if only there was a way for me to continue the Satsang… but, there was and is a way…

NEXT (Part 4, Sunday): Satsang Sunday

Spiritual Road Trip, Part 2: The Story Of Ram

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Part 2: Friday, Episode 2 – The Story Of Ram

Now that all that unpleasant political stage-setting is over, we can get down to the real business at hand… Gods and stories.

The first thing that greeted me upon entering the temple was the feeling of being wholly at home. There is an elaborate sensuality combined with an ancient holiness that overwhelms me in a highly personal way when I walk into Hindu temples. To this day the first-impression shimmer of awe I experienced on my first temple visit has never dulled. Some things are always fresh and invigorating for me, like seeing Eagles overhead when I’m in a kayak, or seeing deer in the forest out my window, or temple visits. These are things to which I never grow jaded. The first time I walked into a Hindu temple was in Ohio at the Shiva Vishnu Temple, and I was immediately hit by an astounding dualistic impressions, on the one hand, a powerful homecoming, and on the other a spicy exoticism. Early in my history of temple visitations I spoke to one of the Priests, “Though, while Krishna talks of renouncing worldly pleasures, when I walk into the temple I am surrounded by the sensuality of the silk sari’s, the jeweled bare feet, the heavy aroma of incense, the Deities are sensual and adorned in colorful and elaborate silks, you give me succulent fruit, and I go downstairs and am served spicy delicious foods. Unless I completely misunderstand, there seems to be a contradiction…” To which he said, bobbing his head in that distinctly Indian way, “You do not misunderstand, it takes time.” Cryptic as it was, he was right, it took time, and while it’s not so simply resolved as what I’ve figured out over time, what I have realized is that the temples are meant to draw you immediately out of ordinary reality and transport you to another world, a world where we are free of mundane concerns of daily living. This is why they are extravagant even in poor cultures. Temples must inspire a sense of otherworldliness. More deeply, I also realized that Krishna warns specifically against the desiring of earthly sensual pleasures, of being attached to them, less than against the earthly pleasures themselves. He seems to wryly smile when he tells us it’s OK to be joyful and enjoy them… just don’t crave or fixate on them. But, like I said, it’s not so simple as all that, and I am constantly learning to revise whatever it is I think I know when it comes to Hindu spirituality. The point being, no matter how many temples I have visited I have still never gotten over the strange combination of wonder and homey ease that I felt when I first set foot in a temple. Simply put, it is always awesome, inspiring, and overwhelming.

The biggest difference between now and then was that then the nearest temple was a manageable 45 minutes away, now I must add between 90 minutes and four hours to that 45 minutes and it becomes much less manageable, especially when driving old leaky cars. There is no temple near me in Gainesville. Now when I step into temples, I feel devastatingly overwhelmed and weep. I weep warmly before Ganesh and Durga, then uncontrollably when I bow before Shiva. These are unbearably warm tears of ecstasy and release, tears of agony at being so despairingly separated from such a rich source of spiritual life, company, nourishment and community. I can easily say that 75% of the extreme energy caused by my current suffering comes from having been torn so far from the nourishment and peacefulness I find in temple life. I used to go to the temple 3 or more times a week when I lived in Ohio, now I get to one every couple of years, and I have grown weaker for it, far weaker. This world is not my home. The temple brings me closer to home than any place I’ve ever known, and that is no small matter.

After I paid all my respects and explored Atlanta’s fabulous temple (of the 7 I have visited, this is easily my favorite and the most spectacular), I sat down to write in my journal, but was soon called to my feet by a Priest and a small warm-faced man with a great big heart. The Priest began asking me questions that I honestly did not understand. I understood the core of the questions, but none of the intent or details. I tried my best to answer, until at last the kindly little man with him stepped in. A few minutes after the Priest went away, he began telling me what was going on in the temple that evening, and what would be going on Saturday as well, and he congratulated me for coming for to be part of such “auspicious” occasions. He spoke with profound enthusiasm about Saturday, when Vishnu would be bathed in milk, and of the rare Navagrahas (planetary) ceremony I would be part of on Saturday.

We talked a little, and I told him how I had arrived and that I was nervous about finding my way back to 75. He drew a little map for me, then pulled up local hotels on his phone so I could book a room. At last he told me his name was Ram, “As in Ram and Sita!” I said brightly, knowing this would make him proud. Ram, is of course, one of the most beloved and revered, even worshipped, of heroic Deities in Hindu mythology. In case you don’t know this, many Indians are named after Gods and mythic characters. In fact the name I was given as my Hindu name “Kameshwari,” means “Goddess of desire.” Kameshwari is a form of Shakti, the Goddess, who, when she passes before Shiva (and I can only hear this in Sadhguru’s beautiful booming voice) “He roars!” The name for me is appropriate in that she is largely only worshipped by those who practice tantric arts, and moreso desire is dualistic here, both invigorating and exciting to Lord Shiva, but we all know that desire is also what leads to attachment and attachment leads to suffering.

Ram soon went about his business, as did I, observing the rituals in the temple. As things began to wind down I spoke with him again, and when he recognized my distress at having to get back into my leaking car, hopelessly lost (no GPS), Ram offered not only to lead me to the hotel of my choice (I chose the Ramada, as I felt it was auspicious that it had “Ram” as its first three words), but he offered to drive me to my car, which was in the lower lot. I was pleased for the help because the anxiety I had been carrying for months had only increased since being lost AND having all the oil leak out of my car. Once in his car, Ram began telling me his life story in that charming way that only an Indian for whom English is a second language can–and I mean this with no hint of condescension as the musicality of the Indian accent is music to my ears. We sat in his car two spaces away from mine and he started.

When Ram was a child he was very skinny and tiny because he was raised by, in his words, “wicked people.” These wicked people did not feed him, and abused him, rather like a cinderella story (and by the way, “Cinderella” and most of our modern fairy tales are of Indian–or Chinese– origin). Ram decided as a child that no matter how poorly he was treated by these “wicked people,” that he would treat those very people and everyone else around him with only love, positive energy, and he would only accept and think positive thoughts about all the events of his life. Even though his family did not feed him, he treated them with respect and positivity, as he realized that even though they were wicked, they, and all wicked people, are still God’s children and therefor we must love even the wicked. It is true in Hinduism that we are taught to see that all people are God potential beings. Ram said he silently chanted the Lord’s names over and over, forever in meditation, and it did not matter if it was Ohm Namah Shivaiya or the name of Jesus Christ, to him God was God. He asked God that if he would continue this powerful Sadhana (yogic practice) and meditative life of positivity and unconditional love, that when he turned 23 his life would change.

It did. Ram came to the states and got his Masters degree, and sitting in his new but humble car, he told me that of all the people in his family no one has a better life than him. “My life is the best of all of them, the best!” he said bobbing his head and gesturing with finality. He told me to think only positive thoughts no matter how bad things can get, and to treat everyone as one of God’s children. This, folks, every aspect of this story, is core Hinduism, right down to not seeing any difference between Shiva and Jesus. This is also not dissimilar to the wisdom passed down to me by my great grandmother when she was on her deathbed. I asked her what she had learned in 98 years, and she told me: “Be nice to people, try not to hurt anyone, and mind your own business.” Wisdom is wisdom, whether it comes from ancient India or the depression-era hill-folk of Pennsylvania.

Once at the Ramada, Ram went so far as to get out of the car and come in with me to make sure I had a room, just in case I would need him to lead me to another hotel. Now, for many, this level of care from a stranger might make them uncomfortable, but the thing most people don’t realize is that the good deed a person does for another is not an imposition, but for many, it is a deep Sadhana, a karmic realignment, a duty or a pleasure… a thing that should be allowed to happen. Never resist good deeds or hospitality for fear of imposing, it is far more imposing to rob that person of the good karma created by caring for another person. Speaking of Instant Karma, just last year we had a student come to SAW from India, and when he arrived, I helped him every step of the way, from offering him a room at the lakehouse, to finding him an apartment, taking him out on his errands, and even intervening in conversations with his landlord. I would even feed him and find him work. This is the way of karma, and the energy of karma is not a tit-for-tat trade-off, the positive karma of living this way creates an unending flow of give and take. The help I received from Ram was the help I had earned, and the next time I come across someone who needs similar help, I will again do all I can. I do not expect or demand help in return, but I am open and receptive to it when it comes, and living this way means the help comes more often than not. But it has to be a give and take, and never a selfish exploitation nor self-righteous sacrifice.

I began to realize that perhaps my car running out of oil at that very moment was not merely Ganesh delivering me to the Temple and into the hands of caring Indians at the gas station, I was being delivered to a new plan for my journey, and perhaps, just perhaps, I was not meant to go to Tennessee at all, perhaps I was meant to go no further than the Hindu Temple of Atlanta.

The events of the next few days have all but stunned me. From the hospitality shown to me the next day, Saturday, to the sacred events dedicated to Lord Shiva this coming Monday, with each passing day, turn of events and decision, I am eternally grateful that my plans did not work out and that I am here now. Just as when my cancer led to a better life, it seems my oil leak is one more thing I have cause to be thankful for. And I am ever grateful that I did not cower in my room in Gainesville, that I got on the road, and that I did not turn tail and run home when my car leaked oil, and ultimately that I followed the dictate of my favorite line from the Bhagavad Gita…

“Fight the battle Arjuna.”

And speaking of the Bhagavad Gita… just wait until we get to Sunday… ah, but there is still a whole Saturday to talk about…

NEXT (Part 3, Saturday): Justine, The Visiting Deity?

Spiritual Road Trip, Part 1: Hindu Temple Or Trump Hysteria?

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Part One: Friday, Episode One – Hindu Temple Or Trump Hysteria?

I began making escape plans Wednesday Morning. First thing out of bed, in my inbox, bad news, and all around me people were losing it, hair pulling, wild-eyed, weeping hysteria. I know, “this time it’s different,” but I’ve heard that argument applied to elections every single cycle, “We have to stop Bush, the other Bush, Romney… now Tump… whoever. It’s always so urgent, so desperate, so much more important than last time, as if the fate of the world depends on it every damn time. Nope, no one’s EVER allowed to vote third party, no one’s ever allowed to vote for who and what they believe in because we’re all being manipulated by fear mongers demanding we vote in another worthless Democrat, or we’re snorted at contemptuously for daring to do what we feel is right, etc. Number one, I don’t participate in “lesser of two evils” voting, and number two, I will NOT be manipulated by fear.. not yours, anyway. I have my own fears manipulating me, say, for example, the same old same old system running us ever deeper into the ground while we wait for people elected by cowards on both sides who, at best, do little more than slap band-aids on open wounds, or or at worst, dig at the wounds, and what is the open wound? Soul-sick broken America. The smartest and hippest among us think the system is broken, the news isn’t even that good, America itself is broken. The system cannot work within a nation with a broken consciousness. The problems we have are beyond the system, beyond the game of musical chairs we just played this past Tuesday.

Sorry, group, Trump is NOT the problem. Hilary was NOT the solution, she was a band-aid on a gaping and fetid wound. The maggots are already in the wound, what good will a band-aid do? The wound is simply that we are a declining empire, a wounded dragon, and for decades we have let ourselves become obsessed with d short-sighted, extremist divisive politics on both sides. Yep, 24 hour news channels, news comedy shows, the relentlessness of our Facebook feeds. It’s just one HUGE fear bubble, and we keep blowing the damn bubble up around ourselves. Frankly, two things come to mind: first, we were all better off when we watched the six-o’clock news and forgot about it; secondly, we were all better off when people had the decency to keep their politics to themselves. What happened to the privacy of the voting booth? Now people press you into political conversations that, in more civil times, were considered inappropriate to hold in polite society. We’ve let politics not only consume us, but we have let it wholly divide us, and I don’t see ANY way back to sanity. I don’t care which side we’re on in this new civil war, both sides are utterly fucked until we realize that we’re all just Americans… hell, we’re all really just citizens of the world.

I’m not playing that game, I don’t care how much someone feels it’s my duty as a thinking person to “be pragmatic” and vote for Hilary… I want no part of this bizarre mutant monster that is today’s political world. I don’t want that shit on me. I am not participating in that karmic outhouse.

Yep, after the election all my friends had their heads immersed up Twitter and Facebook’s ass of fear, every friend I had was lost in their cones of fear, so what did I do? I got the hell out of Dodge, and do you know what I discovered once I hit the road and started dealing with real people outside of the cones of fear of my progressive friends? I discovered that NOTHING had changed, nope, not a thing. Sure, we can spend all damn day on Facebook reading carefully selected horror stories about mentally handicapped children being abused by Trump supporters, or about the horrible graffiti going up, we can spend all day fretting over the precious few examples of Trump-mania, but the truth is, most people are just going about their business as usual. If you’re terrified, things haven’t changed that much once you sign out of Facebook and turn off the 24 hour hellhole of ever-flowing “news” It’s no longer “news,” folks, it’s all opinion at best and obsession at worst. If you’re terrified… walk away from your damn computer, step outside of the cone of fear, trust me, you’ll like it.

The last thing I want to say on this, to all those of you (and they are legion) who are prepared to flee the country declaring Trump the new Hitler (which is not impossible… but) let’s take a deep breath, there is nothing so far to suggest that he is an inhuman monster… he’s an asshole, sure, but there is a world of difference between an asshole and an inhuman monster. Let’s just wait and see what he turns out to be before we freak. I used to get all my family’s right-wing nonsense in my FB feed, all that stuff about how Obama was gonna take away all your guns, turn us into socialists, and make Sharia law the law of the land, the Right-wingnuts were pulling their hair out over this shit, and how much of it happened? Well… not a bit. In fact, apart from the brilliant maneuver of making us all debtors to insurance companies, very little changed directly because of Obama, he pretty much kept waging the same Bush-era wars, it was business as usual. Let’s just assume the same is gonna happen with Trump, and if it doesn’t, if Trump does enact all his lunacies, let’s REACT as needed.

A people busy overreacting will be incapable of reacting appropriately when called upon to do so. Why? because hysterical neurotic freaked-out people cannot think straight.

Yeah, Wednesday morning I had the choice, get sucked into Trump hysteria, or get the hell away. For a start I took my class out for lunch and then to my house so they could spend the day in the woods getting some perspective, and all the while I made plans to get awaya. Now, regarding my decision to leave town, I won’t say what was the straw that broke the camel’s back, but a course of action was proposed that was going to gut my life, leaving me with NOTHING. I was facing the possibility of life in Gainesville with the only reason I had to be here gone for good. This was impossible news to bear, especially as I had been suffering a slow burn of anxiety for a very long time already. Now, with the old anxieties alive and well in me and this new one large in my head, I began to overreact, at least internally. I had two choices, wallow in that, or go do something else. I began doing research, I began making calls and moving money around. My plan, quietly disappear for several days, heal, maintain (hell… FIND) my center, and let the election storm pass. My plan, as it turned out, was to drive up to Atlanta to the Hindu Temple, spend some time with Lord Ganesh, Ma Durga and Lord Shiva, then drive up to Sadhguru’s ashram in Tennessee. I figured some time with Gods, gurus and fresh mountain air would do me good. Part of this plan, no phone calls, no internet. I made reservations, did all the prep, told one person (dear Joe Courter), turned off my phone and internet, and hit the road. Well, as it turns out, none of it worked out properly, but what became of my escape was far more beautiful than what I had planned. Then again, my life’s been like that. So many times when life upended me, it was only because I was going in the wrong direction.

I hate traveling alone, frankly, to be honest, I hate that my life has become one big ALONE. I go to bed alone, get up and go to lunch alone, go home and spend the day alone, go to a movie alone, eat dinner alone, watch a movie alone and go to bed alone… only to get up alone and do the whole lonely routine all over again day in and day out; nope, no best friend to pass the time with, no one to casually have dinner with, no one to hold me at night, no one to hold onto when I’m scared, I got no one. I, Barefoot Justine, may be an internet sex symbol to a few, a symbol of barefoot abandon to a few others, but none of that has done me a damn bit of good. Guys come all day long to look at my topless pics, but not a single man has asked me out in over 4 years. No, I didn’t want to travel alone, in fact traveling alone terrifies me, but the only thing worse than traveling alone was going to be spending the next several days alone in my room binge-watching Starsky and Hutch (I’m up to season 2) while my friends and life fell apart around me. So, I hit the road, as usual, the most anxious part was the planning, once I got in the car and got some music on, I felt the pleasure of freedom and release that only a road trip can deliver.

And you know what? Contrary to our self-perpetuating cones of Facebook fear, Trump’s America looks exactly like America before the election. We’ll see what happens later, but for now, the sun still shone, people were still nice, and most people were just doing what they always do, did, and will do. Probably the most important thing I realized was driving away from it all was healthy.

I hate driving long hours on the road, always anxious that my car’s gonna blow, but back home my mind was gonna blow, so what the hell. Everything went great, until I got off 75 to find the Temple. The directions were intimidatingly complicated, full of immediate turns and confusing information. To make matters worse, I realized that none of the roads in Atlanta are marked. I kept making turns based on my best guess as to what road it was I was turning on. After a while I became terribly panicky–I hate being lost, but miraculously I ended up on the road the temple was on, but I had no idea where it was, and it wasn’t where the directions said it would be. Then, just as planned, my oil light came on. Yep, that’s why I hate traveling, more to the point, traveling poor. I’ve never in my adult life made enough money to buy a car I could trust on a road trip, and this car was no exception. I pulled into the first gas station I found, walked in and asked “Where’s the Hindu Temple?” The Indian behind the counter said, “There.” Sure enough, Ganesh had delivered me AND broke my car down right in the shadow of the (UNMARKED) Temple. It was right behind the trees of the very spot where my oil-drained car sat, no sign or anything, but right there behind the trees. Then a lovely young Indian boy offered to help me with my oil problem. Like a true gentleman, he guided me through the whole process and put all the oil in my car for me. Listen group, I’m not into this modern-woman bullshit. I don’t want left to be strong and learn to do these things for myself, I want some guy to roll up his sleeves, pop the hood and take care of it just like men were born to do… dammit! I don’t wanna have to prove to men that I can do heavy dirty work, frankly, I don’t want my fingernails broken, nor do I want my make-up smudged. I always kinda liked it, when I went to see Granny Glover up in the mountains, that the men hung out in the garage and women in the kitchen.

My car filled with oil, I got in and laughed, then bowed to my dashboard Ganesh, not only had he delivered me (after the chaotic directions and random which-turn-to-make decision-making) to the Temple gates, but to a gas station where lovely Indian men worked! Now, one might ask, if Ganesh is so great, why didn’t he just stop the oil-leak? I have a theory about that… Ganesh is not a mechanic. Ganesh guides consciousness, removes obstacles that are created through consciousness, the oil leak and bad directions were mechanical issues out of my control, but my random turns and arrival at EXACTLY the right gas station into the hands of helpful smiling Indians in the shadow of the Temple itself… well, that is Ganesh helping me master consciousness. Consciousness, that’s Ganesh’s business, the car, that’s my problem.

I pulled up to the Temple and felt a sense of relief, but didn’t know what I was going to do about my leaking car and the rest of my trip to the ashram, so I did what I usually do, I started to work out the problem. See, I have anxiety issues, and I have had them so long that I know how they work. I knew if I went into the Temple I would have been immersed in anxiety, so I began to work out how to deal with this new information (i.e. my car leaking oil profusely) before even trying to pursue my spiritual vacation any further than the parking lot. I realized that I could cancel my further drive to Tennessee, so I made that call, and realized that if I kept cans of oil in the car I could probably limp home and have a mechanic I know look into it, and THEN I went into the Temple, wondering how the hell I was going to find my way back to 75, as there was no way I could remember all the complicated twists and turns that got me there.

Temple life is something I have really missed. I can’t overstate how important having a nearby temple is to me, and NO, the Temple Of the Universe may be amazing for many people, but I need a straight-up Hindu Temple with straight-up Hindu rituals and Deities. As soon as I stepped in I teared up, it felt like someone was baking chocolate chip cookies in my chest. And when I bowed before Ganesh, tears streamed my cheeks. I have a Ganesh at home, but I have really missed the experience of seeing Ganesh in a Temple, of being with Ganesh in a Temple. Of course I thanked him profusely for guiding me there and for the help I got at the gas station below. I next visited Ma Durga, and wept again, but as always seems to happen, it wasn’t until I bowed before Shiva that I broke down. Something about Shiva will always bring me to tears of bliss and release.

I was exhausted and trying not to think about how lost I was. I mean, how was I gonna find my way back from where I was? Was I going to a hotel, or just turning back and going home? Could I have really counted on Ganesh to guide me back the same way he guided me there? Not likely, but along came my personal hero, Ram. Yep, as in Ramayana. A young man named Ram befriended me immediately, and he took care of me, going so far as leading me out of the Temple and to a hotel, AND going into the hotel with me to make sure I had a room before he drove off! God I LOVE Indians!

But before Ram even got me to my car, we sat in his and he told me his life story, and it reads like an Indian Fairy Tale, or perhaps more accurately, like a humble bit of Indian Mythology.

NEXT (Part 2, Friday Episode Two): The Story Of Ram

Without You

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Without You
Justine Mara Andersen

Drip drop on leaves, reflecting,
Shimmering pearls of silver glass,
I sing for fallen drops of rain,
Which never wet the grass.

When no wind blows the mangroves,
When even eagles dare not call,
A silence glassy as the lake,
Becomes in me as one in all.

Between the cries of forest owls,
Above the grass I wait to fall,
And hide my breath from wind,
From God, from you and all.

My voice alone does now endure,
I need you not to praise my song,
Though every verse I sing as one,
Know every fall I take is long.

For any word I write is so,
And any song I know is mine,
For any love I hold is here,
And any words I sing divine.

Barefoot Justine First Day Of Summer 2016

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Summer 1970? Well… in my heart, anyhow. First day of summer Barefoot Justine selfies… sunny, brilliant, barefoot, wind on the lake, and high on the James Gang! Peace.

And remember, pot don’t kill people, guns kill people!

Barefoot Justine, first day of summer (2016) selfie

Barefoot Justine, first day of summer (2016) selfie

Barefoot Justine, first day of summer (2016) selfie

Barefoot Justine, first day of summer (2016) selfie

Barefoot Justine, first day of summer (2016) selfie

Barefoot Justine, first day of summer (2016) selfie

Pulse, Assault Rifles… What The Fuck?

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Everyone is now asking those usual stupid questions: “What are the warning signs? What people should we be suspicious of?” Well, it’s pretty damn simple… the answer is… PEOPLE WITH ASSAUT RIFLES!

Funny how damn easy it is sometimes.

Got an assault rifle? Then you need to be watched. You are a suspect, we cannot trust you. What are assault rifles for? Killing lots of people. If you own an assault rifle… we must assume you are planning on using it for its only intended purpose. Sure, it’s your “god given right” to own one… it’s our right to watch you. What is the common link in all these crimes? Ideology? No. Mental illness? maybe, but… no. Assault rifles? Yep, that’s it! That IS the common link every single time. People with sticks just can’t wreak this kind of carnage… hell, people with simple 6-shooters can’t wreak this kind of carnage.

Things are not as complicated as we make them seem.

How long are we going to let a minority of pinheads complicate matters?

For those of you who haven’t been paying attention, let’s just add this up:

A minority of gun-nuts convince us we can’t make any laws restricting their right to own rifles and handguns.

Same minority of gun-nuts convince us we can’t restrict their right to own assault rifles.

Gun-nuts shoot people with assault rifles.

We let gun-nuts keep their guns.

We let same gun-nuts tell us the only way out is to let them carry more guns in public to shoot the gun-nuts with assault rifles.

So… the people who caused this problem, we’re now going to entrust to keep us safe and protect us from the very problem they caused?

And this makes sense to who? And we’re all gonna shrug and be OK with this?

We’ve been doing it their way for how long now?

How’s it working?

Not so good, huh? How long is everyone going to let those guys make the rules? Why is anyone still listening to them?

No… really, stop, think about that for a moment… how has doing it their way worked out? I don’t know about you, but I don’t see any benefits at all… I just see corpses.

The whole notion that “open carry” is the answer, that if more people had guns, these things wouldn’t happen… are you kidding?

So, just because a minority of angry testosterone-addled assholes want to go around stroking their little cocks (…er… excuse me, I mean “big guns”) in public… we all now have to live in the wild west? I, for one, do not want to live in the wild west. Do you want to live in the wild west? This is exactly what is happening in ‘Merica, a small minority of lunatics are condemning us ALL to the wild west, a small minority of frightened limp-dicked men are forcing the rest of us to live under the risk of constant massacres in a gun-slinging culture.

Again… it really is THAT fucking simple.

I have an idea… let’s just tell these nutjobs “NO… fuck off.”

This is madness. That is all it is. It is not a debate, it is not political… it is sheer madness.

This is all part of why I am a virtual recluse. It’s why I live out in the woods with no cable TV, no Facebook, no reality shows, no grim drab colorless ultra-violent dystopic Marvel (or DC) movies, no Twitter… I do not want any part of this madness. Seriously, if this is how people want to run their little world, pretending all this stuff is complicated, constructing this bizarre concept of “reality”… count me out. I’m much happier out here with the deer, the alligators, eagles, and all these sensible trees.

Wake me up when it’s over. Or, at the very least, don’t wake me up until everyone else wakes up.

Therese, the Lonely Otter

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Therese, the Lonely Otter
by Barefoot Justine

Therese swallowed the last sugary sip of tea,
Turning towards the light outside, squinting,
She set her teacup into the saucer with a clink,
And looked across her table at the empty chair.

“Well, old girl, might as well go on out,”
Reaching across the table, she took her hat,
off the back of the chair where it always hung,
And shook yesterday’s leaves from its brim.

She never wasted any sunshine, our Therese,
And soon charged playfully from her well-kept holt,
Into the easy waters of the lake with a splash,
And rustled ashore through the reeds and grass.

“Quite a commotion up there,” she noted,
Dodging cypress knees as she followed the buzz,
Trotting across the old fallen log to the hive,
From a safe distance, she stood for a moment.

“Pardon me, how big and deep can loneliness be?”
Asked Therese of the cloud of busy buzzing bees,
In her experience, bees had precious little to say,
“Fine weather we’re having,” at best.

So it went, indeed, the bees had precious little to say,
Nothing of interest to anyone apart from other bees,
She never fit in with the bees, then, who does?
Why, not even the most cordial of crickets.

It’s no use talking to bees, as everyone knows,
Besides, how could they know loneliness, the bees,
Swarming all together in their hives as one,
With God, queen, and all that dripping honey?

Across the meadow a cardinal pecked the grass,
Picking for ticks and singing all the while,
“Dear cardinal, how big and deep can loneliness be?”
The cardinal glanced suspiciously at her smile.

He hopped two paces away, then glanced back,
Where Therese sat perched on her hind legs,
the cardinal sang a wall of song between them,
Before he flew to his love in the bowers above.

“Not much use talking to cardinals either, I suppose,”
Therese trotted towards the water’s edge,
“They all tweet the same tired little songs,
And what could cardinals know of loneliness?”

Across the meadow came the proud turkeys,
Three adults and nine nervous young in tow,
“Not much use talking loneliness to turkeys,”
So, “Good day,” she said to them with a nod.

“Good day, old girl,” clucked the father,
“Splendid!” agreed Therese, “What a sky today!”
“Splendid sky, indeed… carry on…” the turkey bowed,
And on they went, plucking and clucking along.

Leaving Therese there under her silent open sky,
She sniffed a waft of honeysuckle on the wind,
Smiled, and started towards the winding dirt road,
Where often sat the old tired alligator.

He would know about loneliness, she thought,
After all, alligators eat all their friends,
Or so say the turtles, but Therese wasn’t certain,
So much that isn’t so has been said and said again.

“Hmmmm…” grumbled the ‘gator, belly to the ground,
As much of an invitation as alligators ever mutter,
Therese stood back a safe distance and cocked her head,
“How big and deep can loneliness be?” she asked humbly.

“Why do you ask me such things?” The ‘gator growled,
“I’m sorry, my Lord,” she said, slinking back,
“Get away from me, what’s an otter, after all?”
“Far less than an alligator,” Therese humbly bowed.

“Indeed,” the ‘gator hrumphed as he settled on his belly,
All in the swamp know, alligators need forever appeased,
Lest they snap and make quarrels, as is their way,
And everyone fears the alligators, don’t you know.

Busy on her way, she trotted alongside the iron fence,
And thought ‘I suppose when one is so toothy and angry,
One doesn’t have much time to feel loneliness.’
“Sun is sharp today,” she said from the muggy shade.

Nestling between the broad roots of an old live oak,
She closed her eyes and thought on nothing but silence,
And there she soon found her forgetting place,
A quiet place with no loneliness at all.

A place with no buzzing bees, nor a drop of honey,
A place with no cardinals to snub her honest smile,
A place with no politely gobbling rafter of turkeys,
And where no alligator anger shamed her questions.

“How big and deep can loneliness be?” It lingered,
But dissolved into her silence, then clear as a bell,
“Not as deep as the silence,” whispered the sky,
“Not as deep as the silence,” smiled Therese.

She opened her eyes to find the perfect stone,
‘Just right for cracking snails,’ she thought,
But she wasn’t terribly hungry, so she set it aside,
And looked above, and heard the cardinals singing.

They sang, “How big and deep can loneliness be?
How long can the darkest storm rain?
How hollow the hole in the holy ground,
Where no love, nor rain, can ever be found?”

Funny thing about cardinals when they’re singing,
To you and I it would sound like tweets and nonsense,
But Therese more deeply understood each word they sang,
Than would even the most golden throated of birds.

“How big and deep can loneliness be,” sang Therese,
And on her way she went, back to her wide open lake,
Towards her cozy burrowed holt, to wait for the answer,
Or perhaps, to wait for a friend, who knew.

“How big and deep can loneliness be?”
‘Surely out there some other otter must know,’
Thought Therese as she floated in the water.
“Surely some friend must come,” she cried.

Yet for all her questions, she knew: ‘Loneliness,
Is deeper than the waters of this or any lake,
Ah, but most certainly not deeper than the silence,’
“And never so big as the wise sky above,” she smiled.
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