Jan 23 2017

The Power of Poetry — and “Nasty Women”

I posted this on the Poetry Chaikhana’s Facebook page over the weekend, but I thought I should share it here, as well. This is a video of the actress Ashley Judd reciting a poem by a 19-year-old young woman about “Nasty Women.” As she speaks this poem, she stalks across the stage and channeling the shared experience of outrage combined with a renewed spirit of self-assertion. It is blunt, the language and imagery will be uncomfortable for many. But I share it for this reason: This poem, and the way it is delivered, is undeniably powerful. This poem has become one of the focal points of this massive movement. Refusing to mince words, this poem gives voice to the feelings of so many women who participated in this weekend’s events.

That is the power of poetry. Crystalizing and magnifying the sense of identity and purpose within the collective awareness.

Whether or not you like the poem or the mood it represents, I encourage you to watch in order to see the power of poetry as it operates within society.

Ashley Judd’s “Nasty Woman” Speech

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Jan 23 2017

favor compassion

When in doubt, favor compassion
over certainty or tradition.

No responses yet

Jan 18 2017

Muso Soseki – Satori Poem

Published by under Poetry

Toki-no-Ge (Satori Poem)
by Muso Soseki

English version by W. S. Merwin

Year after year
      I dug in the earth
            looking for the blue of heaven
only to feel
      the pile of dirt
            choking me
until once in the dead of night
      I tripped on a broken brick
            and kicked it into the air
and saw that without a thought
      I had smashed the bones
            of the empty sky

— from Sun at Midnight: Muso Soseki – Poems and Sermons, Translated by W. S. Merwin / Translated by Soiku Shigematsu


/ Image by Questavia /

Don’t you like the way this short Zen poem says so much?

Year after year
      I dug in the earth
            looking for the blue of heaven

The spiritual quest is first seen as some sort of construction project, but he doesn’t really know what to build or what he’s doing so he just digs deeper.

He is digging into the earth searching for heaven. We might take this to mean that he is delving into worldly, material existence. Or perhaps it is merely to suggest the heavy effort of spiritual striving. Either way, the effort, rather than freeing him is choking him.

only to feel
      the pile of dirt
            choking me

It is as if he has been digging his own grave. Even then he doesn’t know what else to do.

But insight, that moment of satori or enlightenment, comes almost by accident.

until once in the dead of night
      I tripped on a broken brick
            and kicked it into the air

Though it may be an accident, it is not random. If he hadn’t been digging in the first place, he never would have stumbled. So, in an ironic way, the effort has served its purpose, but not in the purposeful cause-and-effect manner he imagined.

Significantly, it is “in the dead of night” when he stumbles and falls, what we might interpret as the dark night of the soul when he feels most hopeless and drained.

and saw that without a thought
      I had smashed the bones
            of the empty sky

Yet in falling on his back he is face up and finally sees the sky. He’s stunned into silence (“without a thought”). The sky itself shatters. He pierces through the false sky, which is a construction of his mind — his thoughts about the sky and the heavenly realms, his concepts and assumptions of all that encompasses his world. He finally sees clearly sky, as it is, the living, empty spaciousness that overarches and permeates everything.

A reminder to us that earnest seekers labor hard, but the masters know how to fall back — and so see the sky.

=

Big energies are circulating because of the inauguration this week in the US. It’s okay to not go along with the pretense that things are okay.

The challenge going forward — cultivating a peaceful heart in coordination with a strong voice and a willing hand.


Recommended Books: Muso Soseki

Sun at Midnight: Muso Soseki – Poems and Sermons East Window: Poems from Asia Roaring Stream: A New Zen Reader


Muso Soseki, Muso Soseki poetry, Buddhist poetry Muso Soseki

Japan (1275 – 1351) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

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Jan 18 2017

The real you

The real you
is much too big to be your own.

One response so far

Jan 12 2017

John O’Donohue – For Light

Published by under Poetry

For Light
by John O’Donohue

Light cannot see inside things.
That is what the dark is for:
Minding the interior,
Nurturing the draw of growth
Through places where death
In its own way turns into life.

In the glare of neon times,
Let our eyes not be worn
By surfaces that shine
With hunger made attractive.

That our thoughts may be true light,
Finding their way into words
Which have the weight of shadow
To hold the layers of truth.

That we never place our trust
In minds claimed by empty light,
Where one-sided certainties
Are driven by false desire.

When we look into the heart,
May our eyes have the kindness
And reverence of candlelight.

That the searching of our minds
Be equal to the oblique
Crevices and corners where
The mystery continues to dwell,
Glimmering in fugitive light.

When we are confined inside
The dark house of suffering
That moonlight might find a window.

When we become false and lost
That the severe noon-light
Would cast our shadow clear.

When we love, that dawn-light
Would lighten our feet
Upon the waters.

As we grow old, that twilight
Would illuminate treasure
In the fields of memory.

And when we come to search for God,
Let us first be robed in night,
Put on the mind of morning
To feel the rush of light
Spread slowly inside
The color and stillness
Of a found word.

— from To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings, by John O’Donohue


/ Image by Darren Bertram /

After the holidays I have been having difficulty getting back into a regular rhythm of work and poetry and life in general. Do I need to refocus? Should I intensify my spiritual practice? Fast for a day or two? Should I be spending more time with poetry and writing, or should I let it sit until it bubbles up inside me? Do I push or do I putter?

There’s a part of me that starts to spin in agitation when I feel like the rhythm of my life has shifted and I don’t know my next step. But then there is also a nameless part of my awareness that finds a certain pleasure at resting in that uncertain space. That feeling of being out of sync and uncomfortable, as if I’m an alien in the center my own life, is also an opportunity to forget what it means to be “me.”

It can feel like a period of darkness, but it also allows us to see by a new light. When our accustomed patterns of feeling and activity shift, there is a period of time before we settle into the forward focus of new rhythms when the alleyways and secondary spaces of our lives become visible. Some of these are the most fascinating quirks of who we are. Here we may find troubled spaces, secret wounds, but also immense creativity, playfulness, and forgotten treasures and inner life.

O’Donohue’s poem seems like the perfect meditation. Light and darkness. The illumination of awareness and the shadow that allows us to see what is missed in the glare of too much light. How both shadow and light reveal in different ways. How light can be gentle or harsh, how the light and the dark can interact to shape the quality of the light and affect not just what we see but how we react to what is seen.

And just as important as seeing is how we choose to see.

When we look into the heart,
May our eyes have the kindness
And reverence of candlelight.


Recommended Books: John O’Donohue

To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings Eternal Echoes: Celtic Reflections on Our Yearning to Belong Conamara Blues Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom Echoes of Memory
More Books >>


John O'Donohue, John O'Donohue poetry, Christian poetry John O’Donohue

Ireland (1956 – 2008) Timeline
Christian : Catholic
Secular or Eclectic

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4 responses so far

Jan 12 2017

new action

With each new insight
take a new action
to claim it.

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Jan 12 2017

Kindle Price Savings

Published by under Books

I haven’t mentioned it often, but all of the Poetry Chaikhana books are available in Kindle ebook format for the electronically inclined among you. And, with the new year, the price of the Kindle versions have dropped:

Gathering Silence – now $3.99
The Longing In Between – now $3.99
Real Thirst – now $2.99
Marrow of Flame – now $2.99

I still like the feel of a tangible book in my hands, but the convenience of having a book — or a whole library — available at my fingertips on an electronic device is compelling. And the price saving is significant.

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Jan 04 2017

Shah Nematollah Vali – The Point of the Circle

Published by under Poetry

The Point of the Circle
by Shah Nematollah Vali

The point appeared in the circle
And was not;
But it was the dot
That the circle begot.

The point appears
As a circle, as it revolves
In the eyes of him
Who a circle draws.

When the point
Completed the circle
Its beginning and end
Were one.

When the compass
Did the circle complete
It was wrapped up
And rested its feet.

Without existence
Not-being are we;
We who are Not
And You existence free.

I said the whole world was His dream;
Then I saw His dream was He.
Sweeter than the words of our guide,
Nimatullah knows no other words.

— from Islamic Mystical Poetry: Sufi Verse from the Early Mystics to Rumi, Translated by Mahmood Jamal


/ Image by ratravarman /

When I was in high school I loved geometry. Something about the visual, spatial nature of geometry just clicked for me. This poem reminds me of the way I’d get lost in geometrical contemplations on hot afternoons in the classroom…

The point appeared in the circle
And was not;
But it was the dot
That the circle begot.

The point appears
As a circle, as it revolves…

In geometry, a point has no dimension. It has no diameter, no depth. It does not really exist in space; it is only an idea, a point of reference. Yet when you start to move it in a single direction, its trail creates a line. Move it around another point, you create an arc. Continue describing that arc, and its end will eventually meet its beginning, and form an endless circle.

From nothing, something has taken form. From the point, a circle emerges. It is the existence of the circle that proves the existence of the point. The point is not-being; the circle is being.

Here’s another image: A circle encloses a limited area. We can calculate the area with the formula pi multiplied by the radius squared. Yet, although the area is limited and specific, we can still fit an infinite number of points within the circle. Since a point does not take up space but can still have a location, its possibilities within the circle are unlimited.

Let’s meditate on this for a moment. Imagine that you are that point and the circle is the canvas of reality — your life. Your life has a limited number of years to it, a limited number of places you can go, people you will meet, experiences you will have. Being human, we instinctively rebel against that feeling of limitation. But we are like the point within the circle: Within the limited area of our lives, the possibilities available to us are, in reality, without limit. Just the slightest shift in point-of-view, and everything around us is made new. So, is our limited life really limited?

These are the sorts of things nerdy teenaged Ivan used to daydream about in geometry class…

I said the whole world was His dream;
Then I saw His dream was He.


Recommended Books: Shah Nematollah Vali

Poetry for the Spirit: Poems of Universal Wisdom and Beauty The Drunken Universe: An Anthology of Persian Sufi Poetry Islamic Mystical Poetry: Sufi Verse from the Early Mystics to Rumi


Shah Nematollah Vali, Shah Nematollah Vali poetry, Muslim / Sufi poetry Shah Nematollah Vali

Iran/Persia (1330 – 1431) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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Jan 04 2017

trace of time

Follow the trace of time
until the start
collapses with the end
in the space of the heart.

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Dec 28 2016

Joseph Gikatilla – The Nut Garden

Published by under Poetry

The Nut Garden
by Joseph Gikatilla

English version by Peter Cole

The Nut Garden holds things felt and thought,
and feeling for thought is always a palace —

Sinai with flames of fire about it,
burning though never by fire devoured.

On all four sides surrounded so,
entrance is barred to pretenders forever.

For one who learns to be wise, however,
its doors are open toward the East:

he reaches out and takes a nut,
then cracks its shell, and eats…

— from The Dream of the Poem: Hebrew Poetry from Muslim and Christian Spain, 950-1492, Edited by Peter Cole


/ Image by Tatters /

I was trying to think of a poem in honor of Hanukkah today. This short selection by Joseph Gikatilla doesn’t directly deal with the traditional themes of Hanukkah like light, endurance, and renewal, but it came strongly to mind this morning, and so I thought I would share it with you…

This poem is from Rabbi Gikatilla’s major philosophical work of the same name — Ginnat Egoz or the Nut Garden. The title itself is imbued with layers of meaning — the nut (“egoz”) being a symbol for esoteric knowledge, and the word “ginat/GNT” being an acronym composed of the three main elements of his school of Kabbalah: Gematria (numerology of sacred texts), Notarikon (use of sacred acronyms), and Temurah (rearranging the letters of words in sacred texts to gain deeper esoteric insight).

But also, and perhaps most important, the reference to the “nut garden” or “nut orchard” evokes lines from the Song of Solomon :

I went down to the nut orchard,
to look at the blossoms of the valley,
to see whether the vines had budded,
whether the pomegranates were in bloom.
Before I was aware, my fancy set me in a chariot beside my prince.
(Song of Solomon 6:11-12)

In other words, this reference to a nut garden is also associated with a chariot. That image of a chariot is especially significant in Jewish mysticism. It is the Merkavah, the vehicle that transports the awareness to the eternal realms of the “prince” or the Messiah.

So, in the title alone, we have the “nut” of esoteric knowledge — difficult to open, but sweet and nourishing. It is discovered within the “nut garden” — the inner world, the psychic and spiritual landscape of the mystic. (And for the practitioner of this school of Kabbalah, this landscape is especially revealed through meditation on the permutations of letters and words within the sacred texts.) Entering this garden of secret, sacred knowledge, we discover the inner life budding and blossoming… and we find ourselves aboard the chariot of divine communion.

Sinai with flames of fire about it,
burning though never by fire devoured.

These lines are a reference to the overlapping Biblical images of the burning bush encountered by Moses, and the description of Mt. Sinai being surrounded by fire and lightning. These, too, are important images for mystics, interpreted by some to be a reference to the blissfully burning fire that often marks deep communion. When the mystic experiences that purifying and refining fire, it is as if the entire world is consumed, even one’s own outer self, and all that remains is what is eternal and lasting within — the inner Mt. Sinai.

On all four sides surrounded so,
entrance is barred to pretenders forever.

For one who learns to be wise, however,
its doors are open toward the East…

The summit of this inner mountain is holy ground that cannot be entered under false pretenses or with a selfish heart. One must approach in all humility, purity, and honesty, barefoot, without buffer or separation.

And then, “for one who learns to be wise,” the entrance is found to the East. The East is the direction of the rising sun, dawning awareness, the light of enlightenment. This the direction of awakening and new vision. This is why many sacred traditions pray and meditate facing East… it is the direction of opening.

he reaches out and takes a nut,
then cracks its shell, and eats…


Recommended Books: Joseph Gikatilla

The Dream of the Poem: Hebrew Poetry from Muslim and Christian Spain, 950-1492 Gates of Light: Sha’are Orah


Joseph Gikatilla

Spain (1248 – 1325?) Timeline
Jewish

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Dec 28 2016

In every love

In every love, we love the Beloved.

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Dec 21 2016

Symeon the New Theologian – We awaken in Christ’s body

Published by under Poetry

We awaken in Christ’s body
by Symeon the New Theologian

English version by Stephen Mitchell

We awaken in Christ’s body
as Christ awakens our bodies,
and my poor hand is Christ, He enters
my foot, and is infinitely me.

I move my hand, and wonderfully
my hand becomes Christ, becomes all of Him
(for God is indivisibly
whole, seamless in His Godhood).

I move my foot, and at once
He appears like a flash of lightning.
Do my words seem blasphemous? — Then
open your heart to Him

and let yourself receive the one
who is opening to you so deeply.
For if we genuinely love Him,
we wake up inside Christ’s body

where all our body, all over,
every most hidden part of it,
is realized in joy as Him,
and He makes us, utterly, real,

and everything that is hurt, everything
that seemed to us dark, harsh, shameful,
maimed, ugly, irreparably
damaged, is in Him transformed

and recognized as whole, as lovely,
and radiant in His light
he awakens as the Beloved
in every last part of our body.

— from The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry, by Stephen Mitchell


/ Image by obsidian-blade /

Since it is the Solstice and we are coming into the Christmas season, I thought I would take the opportunity to share one of my favorite poems by Symeon the New Theologian.

Symeon doesn’t urge us to merely honor or love the Beloved (Christ within the Christian tradition) from a distance. We melt into the Divine, become one with the Divine, share the same body.

I move my hand, and wonderfully
my hand becomes Christ, becomes all of Him

Some of these lines remind me of the poem attributed to Teresa of Avila, You Are Christ’s Hands with it’s lines– “Christ has no body now on earth but yours, / no hands but yours…”

This poem by Symeon is one I just want to drink in — it feels so deeply healing and generous to the soul.

and everything that is hurt, everything
that seemed to us dark, harsh, shameful,
maimed, ugly, irreparably
damaged, is in Him transformed

and recognized as whole, as lovely,
and radiant in His light
he awakens as the Beloved
in every last part of our body.

Thinking of Christmas, I have always felt a particular love for manger scenes, ceramic, porcelain, or carved wooden figurines of the Christ Child laid in a bed of straw, Mary knelt over her new child, Joseph with his lamp, the Three Magi holding their gifts, a shepherd with a few sheep, an ox and an ass at rest. Often the scene has a hut-like manger as background, the roof covered with moss — with the announcing angel and the Christmas star shining above. That iconic scene has always felt magical and alive to me, rich with unspoken meaning.

And it is. We can read the gospel stories of the birth of Christ as simply describing events, or we can read it more deeply as being imbued with spiritual meaning.

In the Nativity, we discover the pure spark of light that is the Christ child — also represented by the star — surrounded by the emptiness of the night. The Nativity is an image of light in the darkness. A small child, vulnerable, humble, poor, a tiny point of existence, surrounded by the immensity of the night… but with the promise that the light will increase until it floods the world with its light. (It is no accident that Christmas occurs near the Winter Solstice, when the world is plunged in darkness and awaits the rebirth of the sun.)

Looking at Mary and Joseph, one way to understand Mary in the Nativity story is that she represents the heart or the soul, while Joseph represents the intellect. From this perspective, the gospel story of the virgin birth takes on ever deeper dimensions.

In the mystical tradition, the soul must first stop attempting to take false lovers through every outer experience, and yearn so deeply for the true Beloved within that she (the soul) becomes restored to her natural “untouched” state (Mary’s virginity). That is, the soul must become purified, inward focused, unattached, “untouched” by the experiences of the outer world. Mary’s virginity is a virginity of awareness.

When this happens deeply enough, the divine touch comes, and a new life (the Christ child in Christian tradition) is formed within the individual. The overwhelming sense of joy and spiritual bliss that is felt becomes a new presence in the body and mind.

But the father of this new life is not Joseph. The heart does not conceive by the intellect, but through direct communion with the Eternal. At this stage, the intellect has a choice: Retreat into cold denial, proclaiming, ‘I do not know that child’ and reject the heart and the life it carries; or it can recognize that something deeply sacred is taking place, something not of its own making, and then take responsibility and provide for the growth and maturation of that inner illumination.

In this way, the Christian gospel drama is played out in you and me and in all devout mystics. This isn’t something experienced only by Christians; here, we are simply using Christian language to describe a universal mystical experience…

In the traditional iconography, we see the infant Christ on a bed of straw in a manger surrounded by animals. In the gospel tale, two animals are mentioned specifically: an ox and an ass. Why those two animals? Esoteric Christian teachings sometimes explain it this way: the ox (an ancient symbol of Venus), represents sensuality and passion; the ass can be seen as embodying either the ego or reason. What are they doing in this image of divine birth? Notice that they are not suppressed; the ox and ass are not chained or slaughtered. No, they rest, they are at peace, tamed by the presence of spiritual light. More than that, they are actually protecting the infant, giving him their strength. As one 20th century Christian teacher phrased it, “They are warming the Christ child with their breath.” Viewed this way, the nativity gives us an image not of suppression, but of integration of the energies of life in support of the awakening soul.

There is, of course, much more to explore. The cave or manger of the birth. The three Magian wise men from the east. But I hope I have suggested some good ideas to contemplate and inspire a bit more spiritual connection this Christmas.

he awakens as the Beloved
in every last part of our body.

Wishing each and every one of you a beautiful Christmas, Hanukkah, and Solstice. May this time when the light renews itself amidst the darkness also bring a renewal of the light and life within you and everyone your life touches.


Recommended Books: Symeon the New Theologian

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Real Thirst: Poetry of the Spiritual Journey The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry The Book of Mystical Chapters: Meditations on the Soul’s Ascent from the Desert Fathers and Other Early Christian Contemplatives Hymns of Divine Love: Songs of praise by one of the great mystics of all church history
More Books >>


Symeon the New Theologian, Symeon the New Theologian poetry, Christian poetry Symeon the New Theologian

Turkey (949 – 1032) Timeline
Christian : Eastern Orthodox

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Dec 21 2016

Right action

Right action heals
in ways that even “success” cannot match.

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Dec 14 2016

Buson – winter moon

Published by under Poetry

winter moon
by Buson

English version by Gabriel Rosenstock

winter moon —
bowing to a monk
on the bridge

— from The Moon Over Tagoto: Selected Haiku of Buson, Translated by Gabriel Rosenstock / Translated by John McDonald


/ Image by Hartwig HKD /

I couldn’t help but notice the full moon last night hovering in the cool winter sky.

Something about a “winter moon” seems more moon-like, evoking the moon at its brightest, purest, and perhaps most aloof. There is a crystalline clarity to the moon in a winter sky.

This is the moon of awakened awareness, shining sartori.

But with the closing lines, who is bowing to the monk on the bridge? One way to read it is that the moon is bowing to the monk. Perhaps the moon is heavy and low in the sky. So perhaps heavenly enlightenment is quietly acknowledging the noble journey of the monk.

We can also read these lines as we ourselves are bowing to the monk, which seems to transform the monk into the moon itself. So perhaps we are bowing to the embodied enlightenment of the monk.

The bridge itself seems significant. In Asia, we have “moon bridges,” highly arched bridges that form a full (moon) circle when seen in reflection upon the water’s surface. So, is the bridge the moon? Or is the moon a bridge?

A bridge is an interstitial space, joining two realms separated by flowing water, yet the bridge itself belongs to neither side. It represents a pathway between worlds and states of mind. The bridge is connection, pathway, and transformation.

Let’s bow to that winter moon-bridge. Perhaps it will bow back to us.


Recommended Books: Buson

Zen Poetry: Let the Spring Breeze Enter The Poetry of Zen: (Shambhala Library) The Moon Over Tagoto: Selected Haiku of Buson


Buson, Buson poetry, Buddhist poetry Buson

Japan (1716 – 1784) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

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Dec 14 2016

battered heart

somehow the battered heart
blossoms with such beauty,
no hint of past hurts

2 responses so far

Dec 09 2016

William Stafford – Any Morning

Published by under Poetry

Any Morning
by William Stafford

Just lying on the couch and being happy.
Only humming a little, the quiet sound in the head.
Trouble is busy elsewhere at the moment, it has
so much to do in the world.

People who might judge are mostly asleep; they can’t
monitor you all the time, and sometimes they forget.
When dawn flows over the hedge you can
get up and act busy.

Little corners like this, pieces of Heaven
left lying around, can be picked up and saved.
People won’t even see that you have them,
they are so light and easy to hide.

Later in the day you can act like the others.
You can shake your head. You can frown.

— from The Way It Is: New & Selected Poems, by William Stafford


/ Image by incolor16 /

I think there is a great deal of wisdom in this poem. It is a reminder of how to conduct oneself while pretending to be part of the world. Yes, at work, at the store, saying hello to neighbors, do be practical, be responsible, be concerned. Or at least, appear to be.

But in those private moments, perhaps early in the morning before others have awakened, before the “important” activity of the day, before the clock has begun to tick, find those languid moments where sweetness abounds in the tiny movements and forgotten corners. On some fundamental level, this is our real job as human beings, to discover these moments, to bathe in them, to gather them like pollen — and then, to go about our lives making honey.

You can frown, if it is expected of you. But it is hard to do with the sweetness still on your tongue.


Recommended Books: William Stafford

The Way It Is: New & Selected Poems My Name is William Tell Dancing with Joy: 99 Poems Even in Quiet Places Ask Me: 100 Essential Poems of William Stafford
More Books >>


William Stafford, William Stafford poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry William Stafford

US (1914 – 1993) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

More poetry by William Stafford

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Dec 09 2016

Any step

Any step
— done well —
completes the journey.

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