Jun 12 2015

Dorothy Walters – The Abundance of Brightness

Published by under Poetry

The Abundance of Brightness
by Dorothy Walters

      God is not unknown on account of obscurity
      but on account of the abundance of brightness.
            — St. Thomas Aquinas

1.
Dante Mounting to the Rose of Heaven

Not one of us
could breathe this air,
face this naked radiance
unscathed.
Here music turns to light,
a tone so sweet
that we, dulled by
our familiar calliope,
mistake its sound for silence.

Dante, mounting to tiers of
trembling flame,
found light. Light everywhere.
Circles, wheels,
light on light,
a dance of invisibles.
The flames pulsating, as if
measuring the breath of heaven.
At the last, he falls forward,
caught in widening rings
of implacable bright.

2.
At Eleusis

Even at Eleusis,
after the long journey,
the sea-bath among the sacred waves,
the accounts of the grieving mother
and her vanished child,
at the end
the shouts rang out
like birth-cries in the throats
of the startled pilgrims, blinded
by the flare of torches sweeping
from frames of darkness.
Then silence. Then they saw.

3.
A Celebration

And then quiet.
Someone who whispers:
now we are free.

Which was, almost,
true,
but only in the way
a bird,
leaving a limb,
goes freely into
a different realm,
an atmosphere
more pure,
more transparent,
but that, too,
maintaining its fixities.

4.
The Clinging

[for those who] have beheld the Tao… gems sparkle on dusty roads; puddles appear as pools of lapis lazuli; tough weeds acquire fragile beauty…
      — John Blofield

The I Ching calls it clinging, fire:
“Fire has no definite form,”
it says,
“but clings to the burning object
and thus is bright.”

— from Marrow of Flame : Poems of the Spiritual Journey (1st ed.), by Dorothy Walters


/ Image by Hoang Giang Hai /

I hope you will pause to reread this poem a few times. It has several lines that can bring you to a full stop. The images of Dante encountering the circles of light. That final line from “At Eleusis.” The way, in “A Celebration,” a bird taking flight shifts worlds, enters a new reality. In “The Clinging,” the way the fixed object burns bright and gives root to formless fire, and in so doing returns to formlessness itself.

And have a beautiful day!


Recommended Books: Dorothy Walters

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Marrow of Flame : Poems of the Spiritual Journey The Ley Lines of the Soul: Poems of Ecstasy and Ascension Unmasking the Rose: A Record of a Kundalini Initiation A Cloth of Fine Gold: Poems of the Inner Journey
More Books >>


Dorothy Walters

US (1928 – )
Secular or Eclectic

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Jun 12 2015

no opposite

Love has no opposite.

Hate, fear, are not love’s opposites;
they are its denial.

No responses yet

Jun 10 2015

Wendell Berry – Sabbaths 1985 V

Published by under Poetry

Sabbaths 1985, V
by Wendell Berry

How long does it take to make the woods?
As long as it takes to make the world.
The woods is present as the world is, the presence
of all its past and of all its time to come.
It is always finished, it is always being made, the act
of its making forever greater than the act of its destruction.
It is a part of eternity for its end and beginning
belong to the end and beginning of all things,
the beginning lost in the end, the end in the beginning.

What is the way to the woods, how do you go there?
By climbing up through the six days’ field,
kept in all the body’s years, the body’s
sorrow, weariness, and joy. By passing through
the narrow gate on the far side of that field
where the pasture grass of the body’s life gives way
to the high, original standing of the trees.
By coming into the shadow, the shadow
of the grace of the strait way’s ending,
the shadow of the mercy of light.

Why must the gate be narrow?
Because you cannot pass beyond it burdened.
To come into the woods you must leave behind
the six days’ world, all of it, all of its plans and hopes.
You must come without weapon or tool, alone,
expecting nothing, remembering nothing,
into the ease of sight, the brotherhood of eye and leaf.

— from A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems 1979-1997, by Wendell Berry


/ Image by mindfulness /

I suppose I am already thinking of the weekend, and some cherished moments of stillness…

There is something so healing, so earthly — in the most sanctified sense — in this Sabbath meditation by Wendell Berry.

His phrases of the “six days’ world” and the “six day’s field” are references to how we see the world and interact with the world on all the other days of the week, the non-Sabbath days. In the “six days’ world” we work, we do, we accomplish, we acquire. Often it is a world of control and burdens, “plans and hopes.” It is a world of objects and tools to manipulate those objects. Too often it is a world of domination and separation.

An essential reason for the Sabbath is to remind us that that “six days’ world” is not the real world nor is it the whole world, it is only one way of interacting with the world. When we take a true day of rest, and enter a majestic space not made by men — like the ancient, silent woods — we remember that we participate in a larger life, eternal, eternally recycling itself. We are reminded that there is a wholeness to the world we live in, something we can’t segment and sell without harm to ourselves. The Sabbath, the woods, the wilds, these remind us of the sacred, whole, eternal spaces within the human spirit. In true rest and quiet awe, we return to ourselves.

I try to to remember to find something of the Sabbath in each day of the week.


Recommended Books: Wendell Berry

The Collected Poems of Wendell Berry, 1957-1982 Selected Poems of Wendell Berry Given: Poems A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems 1979-1997 The Mad Farmer Poems
More Books >>


Wendell Berry, Wendell Berry poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Wendell Berry

US (1934 – )
Secular or Eclectic

More poetry by Wendell Berry

3 responses so far

Jun 10 2015

a little more

We wake up a little more
when we read a good poem.

No responses yet

Jun 05 2015

Rainer Maria Rilke – The Man Watching

Published by under Poetry

The Man Watching
by Rainer Maria Rilke

English version by Robert Bly

I can tell by the way the trees beat, after
so many dull days, on my worried windowpanes
that a storm is coming,
and I hear the far-off fields say things
I can’t bear without a friend,
I can’t love without a sister

The storm, the shifter of shapes, drives on
across the woods and across time,
and the world looks as if it had no age:
the landscape like a line in the psalm book,
is seriousness and weight and eternity.

What we choose to fight is so tiny!
What fights us is so great!
If only we would let ourselves be dominated
as things do by some immense storm,
we would become strong too, and not need names.

When we win it’s with small things,
and the triumph itself makes us small.
What is extraordinary and eternal
does not want to be bent by us.
I mean the Angel who appeared
to the wrestlers of the Old Testament:
when the wrestler’s sinews
grew long like metal strings,
he felt them under his fingers
like chords of deep music.

Whoever was beaten by this Angel
(who often simply declined the fight)
went away proud and strengthened
and great from that harsh hand,
that kneaded him as if to change his shape.
Winning does not tempt that man.
This is how he grows: by being defeated, decisively,
by constantly greater beings.


/ Image by Christopher Chan /

Last night a tornado touched down just a few miles from where I live in Longmont, Colorado. The power of nature is sometimes majestic and terrifying, both!

And then an evening of being battered by rain and hail, with heavy thunder and lightning.

The experience gives particular resonance to the poem’s lines:

The storm, the shifter of shapes, drives on
across the woods and across time,
and the world looks as if it had no age:
the landscape like a line in the psalm book,
is seriousness and weight and eternity.

It is as if the overwhelm of the storm both renews the world while, at the same time, having bestowed a serenity and ageless wisdom. Having survived the storm, the world has entered a deathless state.

One would think that Rilke’s perspective in this poem would be crushing, with its observation that, through the simple act of living and growing, we face inconceivably immense forces arrayed against us. Forces that hardly notice us in their own massive movement. We are such vulnerable things ready to be battered by life. But Rilke manages a feat of precarious insight, suggesting that our very strength and meaning are found in the particular way we encounter those great currents.

If only we would let ourselves be dominated
as things do by some immense storm,
we would become strong too, and not need names.

And in these encounters the goal is not to win or overcome. “Winning does not tempt that man.” For the one who has met this “Angel who appeared / to the wrestlers of the Old Testament” there is the bruising realization that success is not the success of the man, but the success of the spirit.

The mere touch of these mighty forces, though they overwhelm, somehow ennobles us and strengthens us.

This is how he grows: by being defeated, decisively,
by constantly greater beings.

Something to contemplate in the aftermath of the storm…

===

I feel that I don’t say it often enough, but I want to take a moment to acknowledge the many ways you support and encourage my work with the Poetry Chaikhana…

Many of you donate money, online or through the mail. You have purchased copies of The Longing in Between and Real Thirst. You purchase other poetry books through the links in these emails and on the website.

And when that’s not possible — and I understand that finances can get tight — you send me the most amazing emails. And comments posted on the Poetry Chaikhana blog. And the Facebook page.

I just want to say — Thank You! Your support, financial and energetic, is what allows me to do this work, even when my health limits my ability to keep income up with my day job.

I am so grateful for all of you in the Poetry Chaikhana community!

Have a wonderful (and safe) weekend!


Recommended Books: Rainer Maria Rilke

The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry Ahead of All Parting: The Selected Poetry and Prose of Rainer Maria Rilke The Soul is Here for its Own Joy: Sacred Poems from Many Cultures Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God In Praise of Mortality: Rilke’s Duino Elegies & Sonnets to Orpheus
More Books >>


Rainer Maria Rilke, Rainer Maria Rilke poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Rainer Maria Rilke

Germany (1875 – 1926) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

More poetry by Rainer Maria Rilke

3 responses so far

Jun 05 2015

a good thing

It is a good thing we have our hearts
as well as the moon
to give.

No responses yet

Jun 03 2015

Abdul-Qader Bedil – Creation’s Witness

Published by under Poetry

Creation’s Witness
by Abdul-Qader Bedil

English version by David and Sabrineh Fideler

At time’s beginning
that beauty
which polished creation’s mirror
caressed every atom
with a hundred thousand suns.

But this glory
was never witnessed.

When the human eye emerged,
only then was he known.

— from Love’s Alchemy: Poems from the Sufi Tradition, Translated by David Fideler / Translated by Sabrineh Fideler


/ Image by Lisa Norwood /

At time’s beginning
that beauty
which polished creation’s mirror
caressed every atom
with a hundred thousand suns.

I love that phrase in the opening section about every atom being caressed “with a hundred thousand suns…” Mm.

Reread the poem’s final couplet, though.

When the human eye emerged,
only then was he known.

What do you suppose the poet meant by stating that only “when the human eye emerged” was “that beauty” — the radiance of God — known?

He is directly addressing that aching question that is at the heart of the spiritual quest: If God or the Eternal is One, and all of creation is fundamentally one with that Reality, why then does existence appear fragmented? Why do we perceive separation at all, if all is one? Does that apparent separation serve some purpose?

Bedil’s poem gives us a path of understanding through this dilemma: In the primal Wholeness that exists prior to separation, everything is one, but unawakened. There is wholeness, but no perception of wholeness, since nothing else is known and since there are no individual points of perception from which to witness that wholeness…

But this glory
was never witnessed.

God is said to have willed the illusion of separation in human consciousness in order to produce the necessary duality of seer and seen. The play of separation then allows universal consciousness, through humanity, to witness its own Being. Humanity, in this understanding, is the eye of consciousness within existence. You could say that this is our divine purpose — to awaken to the radiant vision of Being. Our first role is to be witnesses. We exist to perceive the fundamental nature of reality. Only by doing so do we fulfill our reason for being.

Separation leads to perspective. Perspective leads to vision. Vision leads us back to unity.

It is through us that the universe comes to fruition in self-knowledge.

\ | /
– o –
/ | \


Recommended Books: Abdul-Qader Bedil

Love’s Alchemy: Poems from the Sufi Tradition The Ocean of Unity: Wahdat al-wujud in Persian, Turkish, and Malay poetry


Abdul-Qader Bedil

Afghanistan (1644 – 1721) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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6 responses so far

Jun 03 2015

already

Stop struggling for perfection,
and recognize the perfection
you already are.

No responses yet

May 29 2015

Kalidasa – Waking

Published by under Poetry

Waking
by Kalidasa

English version by W. S. Merwin & J. Moussaieff Masson

Even the man who is happy
      glimpses something
      or a hair of sound touches him

      and his heart overflows with a longing
            he does not recognize

then it must be that he is remembering
      in a place out of reach
      shapes he has loved

      in a life before this

      the print of them still there in him waiting

— from East Window: Poems from Asia, Translated by W. S. Merwin


/ Image by Stig Nygaard /

I’m back. I was waylaid by another bout of chronic fatigue syndrome, but I’m recovering and ready to wax poetic once again!

and his heart overflows with a longing
            he does not recognize

I just love these lines.

It reminds me of revelation I had around age 20 that really helped me through a lost, lonely period. It was a time when I felt an excruciating inner ache, a hole in myself, an empty space, with no idea how to fill it. Other people that age were busy with life: schoolwork, friends, dating, imagining their futures. But at that age I was struggling with a terrible void.

But then I started really watching people. I wanted to watch all the “normal” people to figure out how I could be more like them. Then suddenly it struck me: No matter how “happy” one may be, everyone — without exception — has that same gaping hole in their life. Most people pour all of their energies into either filling it endlessly, and with the wrong things, or they cover it up, ignore it, avoid it through endless activity. That sort of happiness is brittle, all too fragile. Suddenly we glimpse something or “a hair of sound touches” us, and that empty space becomes unavoidable. The hunger, the longing overflows.

I saw that the whole world is defined by that longing. And I also began to understand that I wasn’t really different from everyone else. It’s just that perhaps I found it more difficult to avoid staring at that uncomfortable question mark that sits at the center of everyone’s life.

That insight not only reassured me that I was fundamentally okay, it also gave me permission to feel compassion for people I used to quietly envy. Everyone, all of us, high and low, rich and middle class and poor, famous and infamous and obscure — we’re all struggling with that haunting hunger.

But why? What is that hunger? Why is there a hole in the center of the world?

To really know the answer, we have to stop looking away. We have to stop distracting ourselves. And we have to stop trying to fill it with petty things — money, sex, fame.

Turn and sit and just quietly look at that empty space. Get to know it. Learn its feel.

Here’s what I’ve discovered in my own exploration: That hole is exactly God-shaped.

But there’s an important corollary to that statement: God is not shaped like the cutout doll handed to us when we were children. The word “God” itself is too limiting, and is heavily layered with cultural assumptions. That’s why I often use words like the Divine, the Eternal, the Real.

The most important thing about that God-shaped hole: When we finally, truly, really see it, an amazing river of bliss pours through that hole and washes over us…


Recommended Books: Kalidasa

Sanskrit Love Poetry Abhijnanasakuntalam of Kalidasa The Recognition of Sakuntala: A Play in Seven Acts Theatre of Memory: The Plays of Kalidasa The Origin of the Young God: Kalidasa’s Kumarasambhava


Kalidasa, Kalidasa poetry, Yoga / Hindu poetry Kalidasa

India (350? – 430?) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu : Shakta (Goddess-oriented)

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4 responses so far

May 29 2015

pragmatic

A mystic must be supremely pragmatic:
Use what works,
whatever opens the heart
and fires the spirit.

No responses yet

May 20 2015

Czeslaw Milosz – Late Ripeness

Published by under Poetry

Late Ripeness
by Czeslaw Milosz

English version by Robert Hass

Not soon, as late as the approach of my ninetieth year,
I felt a door opening in me and I entered
the clarity of early morning.

One after another my former lives were departing,
like ships, together with their sorrow.

And the countries, cities, gardens, the bays of seas
assigned to my brush came closer,
ready now to be described better than they were before.

I was not separated from people,
grief and pity joined us.
We forget — I kept saying — that we are all children of the King.

For where we come from there is no division
into Yes and No, into is, was, and will be.

We were miserable, we used no more than a hundredth part
of the gift we received for our long journey.

Moments from yesterday and from centuries ago –
a sword blow, the painting of eyelashes before a mirror
of polished metal, a lethal musket shot, a caravel
staving its hull against a reef — they dwell in us,
waiting for a fulfillment.

I knew, always, that I would be a worker in the vineyard,
as are all men and women living at the same time,
whether they are aware of it or not.

— from New and Collected Poems 1931 – 2001, by Czeslaw Milosz


/ Image by BennyBrand /

This is one of my favorite poems by Czeslaw Milosz. I hope you feel it too…

Try reading those early lines again:

I felt a door opening in me and I entered
the clarity of early morning.

Notice how the breaking of the line influences the meaning. It is not written “I felt… / I entered…” separating it into two logical statements. Instead, the first line is “I felt… and I entered.” There the line stops, forcing us to stop as well and consider it as a statement complete in itself. And once we enter, we are almost overwhelmed by the next line; it is as if, at that point, all of existence has become “the clarity of early morning.”

That sense is further emphasized by the next lines, “One after another my former lives were departing, / like ships, together with their sorrow.” Milosz is describing how the weight of one’s personal history, the burden of past identity and the actions that seemed to give it reality, all of that is washed away in the flood of that light. Not even washed away; “departing,” gently drifting away. Reading that line, I have the sense of those laden ships, not sailing away, but fading out, like gloomy phantoms ever looking backward suddenly caught in the brilliance of dawn.

For where we come from there is no division
into Yes and No, into is, was, and will be.

The lines of this poem have an intuitive recognition of the unity at rest beneath the jangle and hurts of life. It is a recognition that allows for forgiveness… and self-forgiveness.


Recommended Books: Czeslaw Milosz

New and Collected Poems 1931 – 2001 The Collected Poems Against Forgetting: Twentieth-Century Poetry of Witness To Begin Where I Am: The Selected Prose of Czeslaw Milosz A Treatise on Poetry
More Books >>


Czeslaw Milosz, Czeslaw Milosz poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Czeslaw Milosz

Poland (1911 – 2004) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic
Christian : Catholic

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4 responses so far

May 20 2015

blind eye

If I turn a blind eye to the suffering of another
…I become a little more blind.

No responses yet

May 15 2015

Omar Khayyam – For in and out, above, about, below

Published by under Poetry

For in and out, above, about, below
by Omar Khayyam

English version by Edward FitzGerald

For in and out, above, about, below,
‘Tis nothing but a Magic Shadow-show,
      Play’d in a Box whose Candle is the Sun,
Round which we Phantom Figures come and go.

— from The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, by Omar Khayyam / Translated by Edward FitzGerald


/ Image by PaperTales /

Goosebumps! I get an electric thrill reading many of the verses from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. It’s something about the rhyme in FitzGerald’s translation.

In this quatrain, we have “below,” “show,” and “go” in the first, second, and fourth lines. But the real magic for me comes from that secondary rhyme in the first line that matches “out” and “about” without disrupting the meter and end of line rhyme. And then the double rhyme of “SHadOW-SHOW”, and the “F” alliteration of “Phantom Figures”…

Read the lines out loud. Listen to the sound of it, the play of rhythm and rhyme.

When rhyme is done poorly, especially in modern poetry, it feels awkward or stilted, distracting from the poem. But when done well, rhyme carries a whole new level of enchantment, firing up a part of the awareness too often dormant in the modern mind. Reading FitzGerald’s rendition of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam is a good restorative elixir.


Recommended Books: Omar Khayyam

The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam Explained The Sufism of the Rubaiyat or the Secret of the Great Paradox Wine of the Mystic: The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyan: A Spiritual Interpretation The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (Illustrated Edition)
More Books >>


Omar Khayyam, Omar Khayyam poetry, Muslim / Sufi poetry Omar Khayyam

Iran/Persia (11th Century) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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2 responses so far

May 15 2015

no story

No story can contain you.

No responses yet

May 12 2015

Abu-Said Abil-Kheir – In the school of mind

In the school of mind you
by Abu-Said Abil-Kheir

English version by Vraje Abramian

In the school of mind you
learn a lot, and become
a true scholar for many to look up to.
In the school of Love, you become
a child to learn again.

— from Nobody, Son of Nobody: Poems of Shaikh Abu-Saeed Abil-Kheir, Translated by Vraje Abramian


/ Image by smoorenburg /

Wow! What a wonderful response to my notes last week! I received a flood of blog comments and private emails. It is always a humbling experience to realize how many wise souls are reading these poem emails. I thoroughly enjoyed reading all of your thoughts and ideas and insights.

I realize, however, that I may not have done the best job in how I framed the subject in the first place. Several of your messages attempted to reassure me that I shouldn’t be concerned with people canceling their subscriptions to the Poetry Chaikhana, a few of you even gently chiding me for worrying about such things. I was so touched by all of your compassionate messages, but, truthfully, I wasn’t particularly upset by the cancellations. If anything, I was rather amused by the reaction, and I thought it would be a good opportunity to open up a discussion to see what everyone else thought. I find that when there’s a bit of a reaction, that’s often a sign that there is more good stuff to explore. That’s the time for Ivan to step down from his soapbox and hand around the microphone. And I’m so glad I did. Even though I do get inspired by these poems and have been known to ramble on a bit, community dialogs like this remind me that mine is one small voice among many. There are so many rich journeys being mapped out by all of you, and spiritual wisdom is not in the short supply we sometimes imagine.

Thank you again, everyone.

In the school of Love, you become
a child to learn again.


Recommended Books: Abu-Said Abil-Kheir

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) The Drunken Universe: An Anthology of Persian Sufi Poetry Nobody, Son of Nobody: Poems of Shaikh Abu-Saeed Abil-Kheir Love’s Alchemy: Poems from the Sufi Tradition The Mystics of Islam
More Books >>


Abu-Said Abil-Kheir

Turkmenistan (967 – 1049) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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One response so far

May 12 2015

day of possibility

Be thankful for this day
of possibility.
Who knows what magic will unfold?

No responses yet

May 08 2015

On Effort, Effortlessness – and the Fine Art of Giving Offense

After my observation that a number of people unsubscribed after Monday’s poem by Ikkyu, I have had several interesting email conversations with members of the Poetry Chaikhana community as to what the real reason may have been.

In one particularly insightful exchange, a friend suggested that people may have been reacting to my commentary in the Ikkyu poem in which I wrote, “It [enlightenment, spiritual insight] is not hidden behind arcane texts. It is not attained through uninspired, dogged effort.” He pointed out that this might be offensive or belittling to the very sincere and often difficult efforts people undertake in order to deepen their spiritual experience.

I thought that was an entirely valid – and compassionate – observation. And he asked me a really good point-blank question: “Do you believe that since we already are what we’re seeking, we can get there without ‘stiff meditation’ or ‘dogged’ persistence?” Or do I think that enlightenment can be attained “merely by looking at the moon, fishing and drinking” as Ikkyu and some other poets seem to suggest.

I wanted to share my brief response in the hopes that it will be meaningful to you and spark further discussion. Here’s how I answered:

I suppose, if I am being both honest and precise, I would say that I respect the essential truth that we already are what we are searching for, and when we are ripe, any particular moment of awareness can serve as the initiating experience; but, coming to that point of readiness usually requires patient and intense striving.

I like the image of a bow and arrow– It takes great strength and effort to draw the bowstring back, but in order to actually hit the target, all that is needed is to let go. If you try to let go without first drawing the bowstring, nothing happens, there’s nothing to let go of. But if you pull and pull and never let go, then all that will happen is you strain your back. To hit the target, you need the effort to produce enough tension, you need to focus on your target, and then… all you do is yield.

As part of my friend’s response to this, he pointed out how well it fits with my commentary accompanying today’s poem by Tagore: “But the spiritual seeker needs passion! The seeker needs the intensity, the energetic boldness of that passion. The art of spiritual success is learning how to tend the coals of that fire, to find a steady fuel, to feed it, to grow comfortable in its heat, to delight in it, to dance in its glow.”

Now you know a little more of my perspective on the subject. I hope it inspires your own thoughts and personal observations. What understanding do you bring to your spiritual practice?

56 responses so far

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