It is startling that we desperately hold on to what makes us miserable. Our own woundedness becomes a source o perverse pleasure and fixes our identity. We do not want to be cured, for that would mean moving into the unknown. Often it seems we are destructively addicted to the negative. What we call the negative is usually the surface form of contradiction. If we maintain our misery at the surface level, we hold off the initially threatening but ultimately redemptive and healing transfiguration that comes through engaging our inner contradiction. We need to revalue what we consider to be negative.
John O’Donohue, Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom
This passage in John O’Donohue’s book, provided an opportunity for me to pause. In that moment, as I considered the latest news about what is happening here in the US, I couldn’t help but wonder how many of us can see where we are.
It’s as if we are sitting in the midst of a battle royale for the very soul of what this country was founded on nearly 244 years ago. The dark underbelly which has perpetuated division and all manner of negativity for aeons has been exposed in fairly stark terms against the powerful backdrop of a deadly pandemic. Yet, there are some who are not sure what they see, or are afraid of what it may mean to really see it for what it is.
There are so many questions that we must ask ourselves, as if we haven’t already been on a roller coaster of internal query already.
Simply speaking or sharing light and love is very important; and sometimes I cannot dig deeply enough to find anymore to offer. In those times, I must be still. In resting in stillness, I create an opportunity to tap that deep well within which can provide more energy for the waning light that within me when I feel it is beginning to dim.
When we are afraid, we hold on to what is familiar. Yet, letting go of what is familiar is where our true emancipation lies. I believe that O’Donohue calls us to examine the inner contradiction by looking at our negativity. Even as I type this, I know that my negativity – however subtle I think it is – always pulls me down and into a place that isn’t comfortable.
Like many, I do my best to maintain a positive outlook, attitude and perspective. And as a human, this can be difficult at times. And I know as I continue to examine my thoughts, beliefs and feelings, I will revalue what I consider to be negative. Therein lies a treasure, if I linger long enough to see it emerge.
Rilke used to say that difficulty is one of the greatest friends of the soul. Our lives would be immeasurably enriched if we could but bring the same hospitality in meeting the negative as we bring to the joyful and pleasurable. In avoiding the negative, we encourage it to recur. We need a new way of understanding and integrating the negative. The negative is one of the closest friends of your destiny. It contains essential energies that you need and that you cannot find elsewhere. This is where art can be so illuminating. Art is full of intimations of the negative in ways that allow you to participate imaginatively in their possibility. The experience of art can help you build a creative friendship with the negative.
The dance with negativity is part of the important work of remembering who we are. This work is both supported and challenged by where we are. The times we are in seem ripe for a deep exploration, integration and reclamation of those essential energies.
I send my best wishes to all, as we all continue to navigate the bumpy roads and white water of our human experience.
No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.
– Nelson Mandela
The quote above is from Long Walk to Freedom, by Nelson Mandela.
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The country I live in, like many others across the world, is seeing it’s ugly underbelly of fear, hate, and violence in full view, as it seeks to be seen and while seeming to take center stage. Anyone who lives here or watches from afar, has seen it becoming more visible. It has always been there, and many of us (me included) had or have been so busy minding our lives – working all of the time, raising children, tending to families, etc. – that we may not have been as aware of the deep pain of ongoing and systemic racism, income inequality, and all manner of rule making and policy development that codifies and grounds the practices which both underlie and underline the existence of all of these.
If the pandemic has done anything, aside from the devastating loss of life and income with the concomitant grief of so many losses, it has provided the opportunity for us to slow down and look; to observe what is endemic to our way of life. The loss of life at the hands of those who have “sworn to protect and defend” has been occurring for far too long, and is now seen in ways it never was before. The advent of technology – put so easily into our hands – has changed everything. What had been hidden is visible. Along with that visibility has been an uncovering of the laws which protect those with the power, when their use of force is inappropriate or too much. It’s reminiscent of the laws that award power largely to the white male establishment (patriarchal power) at the expense of humans of color, women and children of all races, and those who live on the very margins of our “democratic” societies.
How is all of this related to hate?
Let’s first recognize that hate has its roots in fear. Hate is a derivation of fear; an expression of the same. Then, as we reflect on what we have seen, heard, and read some clarity emerges. Fear of the loss of power is playing out in full view today. Fear of the loss of power and control; fear of the exposure of what is and has been hidden, are just some of the examples so visible. Could this be the outer reflection of what is within us?
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Several years ago, I had the opportunity to speak to a group of policemen in my community at an annual dinner sponsored and provided by a local foundation. Many of us from the community participated in serving meals to officers – “serving those who serve”. A few members of the community were invited ahead of time to make some remarks.
My Dad had served as a police officer until he died in another community in another state. So, participating as a volunteer member on two community teams as a part of their implementation of community-based policing, at the time, felt like an opportunity to give back and in so doing, to honor my Dad’s service to his community. Although I no longer have a copy of my remarks, I know that I sought to honor and thank the officers and their families. In addition and regarding safety in particular, I recall this phrase with great clarity, “When fear meets fear, the outcome is never good.”
Today, I know there was so much I simply did not know about the overall structure of laws in this country regarding qualified immunity, among other long standing laws designed to protect officers. I have no regret about my involvement with my local police agency or my sentiments about it or my words of gratitude and encouragement when I spoke. I grew up in a police family – and that comes with many, many thorny issues – and I know the dangers officers face, the cost of that chosen profession, borne by them and their families…and they are all human. And so are the people who die at their hands – human.
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My reverence for life is real and fundamental to my being. And it is often a painful place from which to observe the growing and increasing light being shown on the underbelly of crumbling societal structures.
It is easy to sit on one side or the other of what we are seeing in our collective experience. It would be easier still, to shame, blame or otherwise criticize these conditions and those involved. Yet, to do so is to be lost, caught up in the very fear, hate, and accompanying anguish that all involved are feeling – even if they can’t quite connect to the experiences in the same ways those of us so clearly see as we objectively observe them. Condemning it does nothing to change it – or to begin the healing process at the core of the pain associated with the outcomes of these seemingly intractable societal realities.
What exactly IS possible?
The easy answer is to remember our hearts. Is pain there? Yes. Indeed, the pain that we may no longer feel, because we have chosen to bury it, is still there. It is awaiting our return to see, feel and heal it. Until and unless that happens, we remain locked into our minds with deep festering wounds.
The journey from our overthinking and fear-based mind, to our soft and loving, yet aching heart, is very short, as measures go. However, the journey – the work and our commitment to it – can be longer and fraught with remembering past hurts, questioning (“why me?”), and downright resistance. Who wants to go there anyway?
Well…as we look around, among our family and friends, our communities, cities, states and nations, it is easy to see the vivid and real outcomes of living the resistance to going within to face, embrace and heal all that deeply aches in our hearts…and may even have manifested elsewhere as dis-ease in our bodies. And yet….this is the work of our lives.
It has been said, that in my country, we collectively elected our shadow in the previous general election. The shadow self is that part of us that we have consciously or unconsciously disowned.
“We’re often afraid of looking at our shadow because we want to avoid the shame or embarrassment that comes along with admitting mistakes. We feel that if we take a deep look at ourselves, we’ll be too exposed. But the thing we should actually fear is not looking at it, for our denial of the shadow is exactly what fuels it. One day I looked at something in myself that I had been avoiding because it was too painful. Yet once I did, I had an unexpected surprise. Rather than self-hatred, I was flooded with compassion for myself because I realized the pain necessary to develop that coping mechanism to begin with.”
— Marianne Williamson,
The quote above is from The Shadow Effect, by Deepak Chopra, the late Debbie Ford and Marianne Williamson.
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Generally we are terrified to take that first step to having a deep, long look at ourselves. We tell ourselves that we are too busy, can’t find the time, or cannot do it alone. And…we do NOT have to do it alone. It’s never quite as dark and ugly in there as we thought it was, once we take those steps.*
Our shame about past choices, actions, and spoken words, is so great, we often cannot find a way to forgive ourselves and we therefore are unable to offer forgiveness to others. Ignoring our aching hearts creates ripples that we are not fully aware of. The implications of not doing this work are significant – for our health as individuals and for the health of our families, communities, nations. Indeed the healing of the planet (our natural resources) will not occur in the ways we may intend (the thinking self) until we make that journey into our hearts to heal (the feeling self). Head and heart are important partners, when they work in partnership.
“Feeling is the language of the soul. If you want to know what’s true for you about something, look to how you’re feeling about it.”
– Neale Donald Walsch
The quote above is from, The Complete Conversations With God, by Neale Donald Walsch.
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By virtue of being human, we are born with and from the light of our Creator. When our light dims, we are experiencing separation from that awareness of what and who we are. We all have this light. Some of us have experienced what feels like the dimming of this light, and the ensuing darkness of the emotional clouds which feel like they have completely extinguished this light. And yet, like the sun, it never stops shining. It is always there, shining bright with the love that is who we all really are.
As we continue to observe the situations, conditions and events from which we can no longer avert our eyes and hearts, let us all consider our own darkness. Doing so creates the opportunity for us to take that first step toward acknowledging what aches in our hearts; to embrace with love and acceptance the child, young adult, or adult within who is hurting; and to continue the journey to the heart of our being.
From that place, we can begin to heal ourselves, and all that is hurting in the world outside of ourselves – our families, our communities, our cities, our states, our nations.
Love is always there…waiting for us to return to being that which is our true nature.
*Without the therapists, spiritual directors, and many other healers with whom I have worked, my journey might have been far more difficult. Having traversed the challenging road back to myself, I offer a compassionate listening heart to those who are curious about the journey for themselves. I refer, when necessary, any person to the appropriate experts if their needs are well beyond a what a listening heart and soft inquiry can provide.
I recently came across a wonderful set of cards that serve to both highlight and showcase the beauty in our world, as well as to inspire with thoughtful words for reflection and contemplation. Each card has a theme printed on a picture of a natural setting and on the reverse, a thoughtful message.
This morning, as I was enjoying my morning tea, and reading some articles and catching up on messages sent, I came across an inspiring quote (shared below) which lifted me and reminded me that even though the times we are in feel very dark, we will rise to something even better…in time. Following guidance provided in the box of Beauty Cards, I shuffled them and then pulled one from the middle of the stack. The minute I looked at it, the synchronous message in the quote I had seen earlier came into clearer focus.
The Beauty Card, “Looking Forward” had this message: “From your now moment softly turn your inner gaze to what lies ahead. Imagine a future for yourself that is filled with joy, beauty and wonder. Ask yourself: what’s the best thing that can happen?”
I’ll be honest here. When I first awoke, I felt a little tug of despair and sadness at all that is happening in our world. So many people are dying, and so many more will, from a virus that we still do not know everything there is to know about it. People are dying from violence, desperation, and so many other reasons. It feels as if fear, anger and hate are so pervasive, that seeing love, light and hope can be difficult.
Yet, I am reminded by what I really know in my heart, validated by the card I pulled this morning and the quote below, that we will move forward to a brighter and better time.
We are living the myth of the Phoenix falling from its perch into the fires of transformation. Much of our familiar world will indeed be reduced to ashes. And yet, the promise of the Phoenix is that it will rise again – it always rises again. And so will we.
– Caroline Myss
Looking forward also means, learning and acknowledging the past. By taking responsibility for ourselves – our words, our choices, the way we regarded others – and acknowledging the ultimate sacrifice of others, we have the opportunity to be more clear eyed and open hearted about our visions and answers to the question posed in the card: “What’s the best thing that can happen?”
Today, I wish to offer gratitude to the many whose bodies have been lost to COVID-19, the senseless violence that pervades our society, and those who have left their bodies at this time for other reasons. I know their souls have returned to the great beyond (or true home) and they are with us – always with us – as we may wish to call upon them.
As has been said following the death of John R. Lewis following the years of sacrificing his body as he stood for the fundamental rights promised in the founding documents of the United States, “we will take it from here”.
The world is changing. Our communities are changing. Our individual lives are changing. How are we tending our gardens in the midst of all of this?
Of course, many have taken up gardening this year, since we have been staying at home. There is something life affirming about planting and growing a garden, whether in the ground or in containers. Flowers, plants, herbs, so many options! If you have ever transplanted a house plant – one which has been growing in the same pot for years, and you notice that it just doesn’t seem as vibrant or perhaps isn’t growing the way it used to – then you may well know what “root bound” means. Most of us recognize weeds when we see them…even if they are beautiful plants or flowers growing in a place where we didn’t intend them to grow.
All of this has created an opportunity to reflect on the gardens in our lives. Now, I’m referring to the space in our hearts, the space in our minds – our interior spaces – and our social media spaces, our families, our friends and our communities – our exterior spaces. All of these are either well tended with love, grace, acceptance and an awareness of what to let go of, over the passage of time; OR they are allowed to grow weeds, become root bound, holding fast to those thoughts, ideas or ideologies which we think are comfortable and yet we are not really experiencing any growth or expansion.
Holding on to the old beliefs, the habits of mind and alignments with outer things and people which may not align with our interior spaces can create great suffering. Living in fear of changes over which we have no control can create great separation, perpetuate great division and leave loved ones behind. Often, those in the midst of this don’t even realize what is happening.
As we consider our interior and exterior spaces, perhaps taking a few moments to contemplate, to question ourselves about what we are “growing” (or not), in our spaces might help us take steps toward a more peaceful, love filled life and way of being. Facing our deepest fear is an important step to cultivating a rich “soil” where love, peace, compassion and acceptance can grow.
Love and peace to all in these times of great change.
Hello everyone. The times we are all in challenge us in many ways. One of the ways I’ve been navigating my experience is to participate in a writing circle, lead and facilitated by Ali Grimshaw, from Flashlight Batteries.
I am grateful that she chose to share one of my poems on her blog. She is a wonderful poet herself. Her gentle guidance and deep listening have helped us to find something in ourselves that, at least for me, may not have otherwise easily been expressed. For that I am grateful. You will see in the post I am sharing, her offer of other writing opportunities. I encourage you to visit her site and read some of her beautiful poetry. Thank you, Ali.
we are held one moment, one breath, one heartbeat at a time. even when I feel I am falling, I am held, safely. sometimes the fire within, which most often warms and lights my next step, rages. out of control – yes – that is the rage unseen, well hidden and buried; wounds of the […]
Until the great mass of the people shall be filled with the sense of responsibility for each other’s welfare, social justice can never be attained.
– Helen Keller
Each of us is responsible – individually – for ourselves. We lead ourselves, whether or not we are fully aware of this awesome responsibility.
Each of us can choose to lead from a place of love and compassion for self and other – or we choose only for ourselves, without regard for other(s).
As I watch and reflect on what is happening in my country, I cannot help but wonder if it is happening elsewhere in the world. My guess is, that it is – at least to some degree. As much as I had hoped that we might all begin to find a different way forward in the midst of a sweeping pandemic, quarantining at home with some opportunity to reflect and observe; I wonder today, how much this time will have made a difference in the myriad ways we see ourselves and others.
No one outside ourselves can rule us inwardly. When we know this, we become free. – Buddha
On this Memorial Day weekend in the US, even the opportunities to pause and reflect upon lives lost in wars past and present, seem to get lost in the fray of those who feel their rights have been violated, by the necessary quarantine. It is curious to me that at a time when a nation seeks to honor those who have died in past wars, ostensibly for the purpose of maintaining freedom for our country, we seem to be more locked down, internally, than ever.
What could I possibly mean by that? Well… I have another question.
Why do people protest about their freedoms, guns in hand? Do they believe that are not free? I wonder why they perceive their rights have been violated. Do they still have breath in their lungs? Do their hearts still beat? I wonder if they stop to consider those who have been lost in this pandemic – those whose lungs filled with disease, and were ultimately robbed of a beating heart – for just a moment?
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*I am not ignorant of the economic impact of the quarantine in the lives of so many people. In fact, I could write quite extensively about the many cracks and gaping holes in our fragile societal fabric, which have been laid bare in this time. The condition of our planet – the place we live – has improved and risks returning to its very sick condition – a pandemic of a different kind. We cannot look away any longer. To do so makes us complicit in perpetuating the ongoing suffering of all, from sentient beings to the living and still trying to breathe planet Earth, our home. The authentic leaders in all of us are needed…to begin to right these wrongs, to make different choices. I acknowledge this reality and am comforted by the work of communities to care for those, living at the margins, who are often forgotten and left without. Those who tirelessly stand for our planet and those who open their hearts as they reach to those who need the simplest of things to survive deserve our gratitude and support.
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I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear. – Nelson Mandela
Until and unless we realize that our freedom is truly an inside job, and that no one can grant us freedom – not another person, not another organization, not another government – many will continue to suffer in their fear, wrapped in the tight embrace of their beliefs that something as important as freedom, is being withheld.
The chest-beating, gun-wielding, deserve our compassion. For they have not yet found their freedom within – inherent in the precious Life they are given to live on this planet.
I know but one freedom and that is the freedom of the mind. – Antoine de Saint-Exupery
If we are leading our lives with authenticity (from the best of ourselves within), we take responsibility for the choices we make. We may consider the impact of our decisions if we can foresee them before we step forward. Or, if we couldn’t comprehend an outcome, we take responsibility for not knowing and we make a different choice. We apologize for the unintended consequences, if others are affected, and we move on, enriched by the experience, so that we add to our growing wisdom.
The outer world doesn’t always make it easy for us to lead our lives. There is so much noise – distracting, challenging, shaming, blaming, etc. – which pulls us away from ourselves. Why? Because we all yearn to fit in. The siren’s song of fitting in – by itself – takes from us. It is the definition of allowing ourselves to be lead by the noise of the outer conditions and files narratives about what is valued.
We abandon our true essence for the shiny objects of money, power, the biggest and best anything, all for the purpose of fitting in and rising to the top (of what? I’m not sure.) Are we leading ourselves? Sure. Some would argue that they made the choice to go for it all…all of the marbles, the brass ring as it were. At what cost, the marbles, the brass ring, the fitting in or rising above?
True love, freedom and peace are found deep with us. The shiny objects hold no sway when we know who we are and what is most important. Our service to others comes from a place within of love and acceptance. We offer our best, not our worst. What we offer is us – our trues selves – not a dressed up version that is driven by thoughts and shoulds.
My hope is that as the days, weeks and months unfold, we will see and honor our own fragility. This is the doorway into the most vulnerable places within. This is the place where our courage to be ourselves lives. It awaits our arrival. If and when we find our way home to ourselves, any outer acts of service – including non-violent activities on behalf of those who are not seen and whose voices are not heard – have the greatest chances to make a difference. The love in our hearts is the home for our growth, healing and evolution. The evolution of inclusion, acceptance and peace is within our grasp, I just feel it.
Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the future.
I hope this post finds you well, as you continue to navigate this period of time we are experiencing collectively. We are finding our way forward in different ways. For many of us, writing is one of the tools we have and use to walk gently through the days. Whether it is a deeply personal reflection in my journal, or a quote or quotes which inspire me to offer something in this space, I find comfort and solace in this creative process.
Some years ago, I found myself actually writing some poetry. When inspired words came through me and made their way to the end of my pen, I was often surprised by the bursts of words and phrases and the ways they flowed onto the page. As quickly as those poetry moments came, they seemed to dissipate. It would be easy to attribute that to a number of things, like life events and other distractions. What I know today is the inspiration which seemed to evaporate was more about the changes I was moving through within myself. I even found myself in a deep dark place within ( a dark night of the soul) – where I’ve spent many years of my life – and not feeling my connection to God or Spirit. No poetry, no meditation, no journaling…nothing was happening. I had no energy for any of it.
Among the many who write in these spaces is a poet whose words are inspiring and create opportunities for thoughtful reflection. Recently, she began hosting writing groups. I found myself drawn to the opportunities she announced on her site, flashlight batteries . I also found myself backing away from the opportunities, due in large part to my lack of confidence to bring forth anything meaningful in such a process. I am forever grateful to Alicia Grimshaw for her gentle leadership and support as small groups of us participated with her in the safe space we created together. I have found my inner poet…again.
I encourage you to have a look at her invitation (at the link in the previous paragraph), and consider what is in you that may be awaiting an opportunity to be expressed. This is truly a gift you can give yourself.
Below…one of the poems I wrote during one of our group meetings.
I wake in the night
to the sounds of the house;
creaking, cracking, startling.
I’m reminded of Presence –
the mystical, the grounded, the unknown.
My children appear in my minds eye;
their smiles, their joys, the uncertainty.
My heart aches for a moment;
their fears, their children, what they cannot know.
To Spirit, the voices of love and compassion, peace.
Faith is belief in what you cannot see or prove or touch. Faith is walking face-first and full-speed into the dark.
– Elizabeth Gilbert
It can be said, that some among us fear that which we cannot see.
It can also be said, that we often choose to turn away from that which we prefer to not know or see, as it might erupt something within us that we cannot know or see and…see the previous statement.
I feel it is fair to offer here, that in these last many days of staying at home, we’ve had opportunities – if we chose to avail ourselves of them – to seek that deep place within us that we cannot see and perhaps feel or know is there. We are afraid to “go there”.
These are the times, and this is the call – the call to go there.
Fear shows up in our lives in so many places. The way we heal it depends largely upon our willingness to notice…to notice within ourselves the places (thoughts, beliefs) where we may be stuck. “If I acknowledge that this situation or condition exists outside of me, then I must consider that it exists within me.”
Our ability to hide from ourselves is well honed. It has been reinforced in all of our societal norms and experiences from the moment we took our first breath – from familial experiences and habits to religious training and experiences to individual experiences of pain and betrayal in relationships. We cover our wounds with beliefs and thoughts and stories, and then commit to never going back into that place ever again. Sadly, our fear of what we cannot see, or choose not to see, also holds our greatest opportunity for healing and thus living more fully and authentically, this precious life we have.
I continue to learn that contemplation and waiting, rather than pushing and “making things happen” is the path forward. When we are still, we hear. What we hear or become aware of in those moments, can provide the next steps in our healing journey while we simultaneously walk softly toward what is yet to unfold – one present and precious moment at a time.
When change winds swirl through our lives, they often call us to undertake a new passage of the spiritual journey: that of confronting the lost and counterfeit places within us and releasing our deeper, innermost self – our true selves. They call us to come home to ourselves, to become who we really are.
– Sue Monk Kidd, from When the Heart Waits
The “change winds” have been blowing lately, wouldn’t you agree? I wonder what you are being called to undertake in your own personal journey…
“The true hypocrite is the one who ceases to perceive his deception, the one who lies with sincerity.”
― Andre Gide
It may seem odd that I would begin a post with this quote. However, where we are, collectively in this part of our human experience has created an opportunity for us to examine those places within ourselves where we may have ceased to perceive our deception of ourselves. If you believe “the outer reflects the inner” as I do, you may be able to readily see where this is visible outside of us…compelling us to examine our individual self-deceptions.
When we become unmoored, it can be very scary. No longer tethered to something stable, sound or secure, we may feel lost; without an over-structured schedule or life; perhaps even feeling that we lack a guide for what is next or how we will find our way forward. Many are also talking and writing about a new, as yet undefined, normal.
Before the “new normal” begins to unfold, we must each let go of what defined our collective past. What, you wonder, might some of those beliefs, thoughts, habits, and actions might be? We need look no further than the places – no, the people – most affected by the virus and if still healthy, are feeling the rippling impacts the most.
Rather than developing a list of all of the affected groups, segments and the greed that seems to know no bounds, I will simply offer this.
Contemplating the upside down nature of our human collective as well as the blatant disregard for all beings in nature, including Mother Earth, is probably a good place to begin the development of the new normal. Each of us has something that we are currently contributing to the wholeness of our world right now. Perhaps our reflections will lead us to making different choices, or to expand what we are currently offering.
Anything IS possible. It is in our creative imaginations and dreams that possibilities will dawn and we will find our way forward – together.
For now, may we all find comfort in the unmoored time we are in. As challenging as it may be, it is only in this liminal space where we will realize the potential for many new possibilities as we work together to create new ways of being on our now healing Mother Earth.
“Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.”
― Andre Gide