‘Drops of Awen’

Hello, lovely Catbox followers!

A small thing that may be of interest. Encouraged by many of you, I’ve started a small additional WordPress site for a challenge in daily inspiration. ‘Drops of Awen‘ starts today, but won’t be publicised on the social media – it’s purely for ‘followers’ who subscribe to join the journey.

Do pop over and take a look, if you fancy some small bursts of thought each day from me! Meantime, the main blog here will continue, of course, with the usual ‘in-depth’ ponderings as and when they arise…

With thanks, as always, for reading.

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Sacred Reading

The year is turning still. In the Western Hemisphere in which I live, Spring is indeed springing all around, with the brightness of daffodils, the unique smell of showers on fresh grass, and birds chattering amidst green leaves.

This is also a time of celebration for many. Pagans have just marked the Vernal Equinox with Ostara; Hindus are joyous with Holi, the amazing festival of colours and love; and Christians are in the middle of the intensity of Lent.

Each of these is very different, but it is fascinating to compare how different faiths mark this time of year. From very personal, private rituals and promises to large public statements, it seems that many of us are doing something to actively notice the budding of new life around us, and inspiration within us.

Despite – or perhaps because of – my primarily Pagan path, I’ve been reading a lot of varied articles and books recently about other faith paths, or simply the personal practice of religion and spirituality. I recently chanced upon a fascinating ‘Making a Heart for God’, about life in Catholic Monastery – interesting reading for a Druid, you might think, but first of all, I read pretty much anything that catches my eye, and secondly, I love stories. Especially those of others, heartfelt and true, and often bypassed in favour of something more ‘glamorous’ to end up on charity shop shelves.

As demonstrated with the current seasonal festivals, I’ve often remarked on how our spiritual paths have more commonality than difference. We are, at heart, all humans seeking our own personal truths, ways to walk through life and find meaning, exploring connection and relationship with others. Generally we seek those of similar persuasions and ideas, but I’ve never seen any reason to ignore those who choose a different way to my own. Once I look, I always find that common ground again – usually very quickly – and the smile of understanding begins, as I learn of traditions, beliefs and human stories that inspire me to learn more… as well as to consider their relation to my own personal practice.

In the Monastery tale, the female narrator writes of time spent at this all-male monastery, where she was permitted to live alongside the brothers (gasp!)… and was welcomed into their spiritual world. She speaks of the relevance that such living still has in the 21st century, and how such monasteries are booked far in advance for visiting folk looking to retreat from the everyday world for a while.

My smile began. I know many Pagans who seek retreat time and space for any number of reasons, but certainly to focus on their own spiritual quests and relationship with the sacred. Imagine choosing that path to live, night and day, for years… My respect for those who do this rises with the turning of every page.

Reading on, I then discovered the practice of Lectio, which struck me as rather wonderful – and to be performed at this particular time of year. I love it when books provide information in such a timely manner!:

‘At the beginning of Lent, the [Benedictine] Rule called for each monk to receive a special book from the library and “to read the whole of it straight through.” This practice continues today.’

I was amazed that I’d never heard of this before – what a great idea! But of course, it’s not actually as simple as it sounds. Reading a book ‘straight through’ is no problem at all for me (and I suspect, many of you), but to elaborate:

Lectio [is] “reading with the expectancy that some word, phrase, paragraph, or page is worth stopping and reflecting on – a message that fits somewhere in our search.”… The point of lectio, regardless of the subject matter, is to listen to what one is reading with “the ear of the heart.”

A powerful idea. Monastic time and space is set aside specifically for this reading, to allow total focus and deliberation. How many of us have ever done such a thing? How many of us have that time? Like a retreat, such things might well have to be planned for, with the busy-ness of life making it a challenge in itself!

And yet, I’m sure that most (if not all) of you reading this have paused while reading to ponder a particular sentence that calls to you, that is applicable right now, that answers a question that you weren’t even aware you were asking. The rest of the book might be good, bad or indifferent, but if inspiration is sparked in the reading, perhaps this is touching on the spirit of ‘lectio’.

Setting such time aside for sacred reading may well be something that we need to do in our busy lives. In the manner of meditation, a door is closed, phones and gadgets switched off, and we simply sit to focus. We might not be seeking the same answers as those monks, but their practice is inspiring us in our own. A story which we might otherwise have ignored can help us.

So let’s combine traditions. Seek out a random book – whether something familiar, or a chance pick from a second-hand shop shelf. I’d suggest non-fiction for this, as that will allow you to share directly in someone else’s story, but decent fiction might work just as well, as you follow the characters through their own journeys. Audiobooks may well also work, especially those narrated by the writers themselves.

Set side time to just read. To focus your intention on the pages, the words, the voices and the images they evoke. Find a particular comfy chair, a room where you can see the sky, or even outside in green spaces with friendly trees as company.

Storytelling is sacred. We honour the tellers with our attention, and as we carry their tales forward in our lives – as we listen with our hearts. We see what others do, feeling so passionately that they have written about their experiences. Even if we don’t understand or agree, we can witness and learn, be inspired and explore.

It’s Spring. Time for new ideas.

Note: I apologise if this post is a little more disjointed than usual. Inspiration hits me and I dash to write, but today has been an interesting process, as due to physical injury, my mind is slightly muddled by pain and painkillers. Therefore any inadvertent errors or leaps of topic are entirely my own!

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The Dark Side

Years ago, I was quietly told that it was a tricky thing to be a ‘public’ Pagan. You raise your head above the parapet, you’re liable to get it shot at.

This is entirely true (and not just of Pagans, of course!). When you publicly identify as anything, there are those who will take umbrage at this, whether for your perceived audacity at doing so, or just that they think you’re wrong because they don’t like what you do.

In Paganism, there’s a practice that’s come to be known as ‘Bitchcraft’. This kind be genial – gossiping around campfire, for example, tipsy joking with no real malice – or nastier, more insidious talk. Words, as we know, are powerful things.

As I’ve said before, I’ve been on the receiving end of ‘How dare you’ diatribes before, generally for the reasons above. I try to be open to discussion and comment, and so must expect the negative with the positive. The difficulty comes when the muck-thrower is more interested in the throwing of muck than discussing something with a view to resolving the issue.

Together with other public Pagans, I’ve been accused of some ridiculous things, with arguments which go around for as long as they’re sustained, because the basic premise is incorrect and the person with a chip on their shoulder doesn’t actually want to discuss matters – they want to have an argument. Because they’re right, automatically, and anyone who disagrees is wrong. There’s no debate with such an approach. This is the time to ‘not feed the trolls’ (in internet terms) and just walk away; this fire will not burn without fuel.

However, situations can become even nastier. I’ve heard of people actively persecuted by Pagan-identified groups, with physical assault and damage being caused because the recipient does not practice in a way that the attackers consider ‘right’ or ‘proper’. I recently received a letter from someone who doesn’t want to identify publicly as Pagan – she’s still finding her way – and yet her local group are sending her threats, curses, physically damaging her property and generally assaulting her… because she won’t ‘come out’ as Pagan. This is, to my mind, wholly unacceptable on many levels.

A few months ago, I was asked at a Moot about the ‘Pagan Police’, and what to do if there was information about assaults occurring within a group or coven. I’d never come across such a thing myself, but presumed that the Pagan Police were actually the same as the real Police – if someone is acting illegally, that’s true no matter what their faith. There is the Pagan Police Association in the UK, who act for Pagan Police Officers, so it’s safe to presume that you won’t get mocked if the issue is a faith-based one (but you may need to push to find a representative in your area). Groups such as the Pagan Federation also have legal representation for Pagans as needed.

But it was then suggested that a ‘Pagan Police’ is somehow formed. A group which moderates behaviour within our ‘community’. I thought about this… would such a thing not be impossible at base, and vigilanteeism at worst?

Think about it. The Pagan Community is a very amorphous thing, made up of multitudes of different views. Those in authority are often regarded with suspicion, even when they are trying to help (see the point of this post); many groups who work hard to represent Pagans tirelessly and often thanklessly (the PF, TDN, OBOD, etc) can be on the receiving end of perceived ‘power-seeking’ or accused of taking ‘authority’ positions. This can be a real no-win situation. How can we have authority if we won’t accept authority, railing against it with suspicion – even though it’s made up of folk like ourselves?

So it’s up to us, in our individual communities, to moderate behaviour. Sometimes that does mean walking away. At other times, it may mean bravely taking a stand – retorting to the gossip or slanderer. A simple ‘That’s extremely rude’ perhaps, or ‘Actually, I don’t agree.’ ‘Why do you think that?’ is a great precursor to discussion. Sometimes the person is only whinging to make noise, and quiet down once challenged – or even be inspired to think about why they’re saying what they are.

Each situation is unique, I think, because each person is. Sometimes the nay-sayer is crying out because they’re been abused themselves, and need help or support. It can be a matter of ego too, the desire to be heard. We can listen to these people, then, and respond appropriately. The challenge here is not to becomes uncaring bullies in return.

However, greater difficulty comes when boundaries need to be set and proper behaviour has to be moderated. This isn’t ‘power-gaming’ – this is polite society, with respect for others. If you speak up, you will be heard, so expect to receive a response. You might not like that, but then it’s up to you to respond in turn. This is intelligent adult discussion. Sometimes it’s not as simple as ‘I’m right/you’re wrong’ – Paganism accepts shades of grey (doesn’t it)?

Issues such as those I’ve mentioned cannot always be solved with ‘love and light’. The peaceful nature of many Pagans makes conflict hard to deal with. But sometimes we need that maturity and strength, taking a stand to remind others that they cannot always get away with acting like children – or those whom they rail against.

And taking responsibility does not mean you’re seeking power; sometimes it’s just standing up for yourself and/or others. This is needed. We walk between worlds: our own perceived ‘Pagan’ society and the ‘Muggle’ world. We’re not playing, as we see that our words and actions have consequences.

I stand up and represent my Paganism, in my Druidry. I get challenged, and I’m glad of that – often the questions inspire me to think more deeply about a matter! But my way may not be yours, and occasionally you may need to be challenged as well. Great care must be taken that passion does not turn into denigration or abuse.

What are we doing… how are we listening and responding?

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Fantasy in Reality

I love fantasy. You might have guessed from previous posts, but I’ve always been an avid reader – stories fuel my life. Fantasy is a big part of this, be it the warped dystopian worlds of current ‘trendy’ fiction, the lost 1920s worlds of Agatha Christie, or (of course) Papa Tolkien. There are bandwagons and there are original writers who explore and subvert. All have something to say.

I’ve been seeing a lot of social media lately, however, in which people are looking at fantasy more and more as escapism. The world is a difficult place, and we need somewhere ‘safe’ to retreat to, somewhere better, just for a while.

This is completely fine. It’s an agreed function of those same stories, after all, from the fairytales of childhood to the myths of legend: to lose ourselves in the lives of others, to forget our problems, to imagine alternatives (potentially involving dragons). We need heroes when life seems just mundane, or when our own lives seem less than magical.

But it worries me a little when escapism becomes the sole function of fantasy, or fiction generally. It’s ‘just’ escapism, if you will. The story is denigrated, the humans experiences and lessons passed on as nothing more than fairytale… while missing the obvious truth that ‘fairytales’ are some of the most powerful stories of all.

Or we actively seek to live in such realms as an alternative to this one, like a reenactor who’s forgotten that he’s returned to work on a Monday and reaches for his sword… only to find a mobile phone.

Pagan folk speak of having ‘a foot in both worlds’ – meaning the world of spirit and this everyday realm – but that still requires a solid understanding and awareness of both. It’s advisable to not choose one over another, because that way lies madness. Perspective is crucial, but it can, of course, be easily forgotten with the wonder of spirit seems clearly preferable to the deluge of utility bills, or when the office seems more important than the home.

While recognising the (occasionally satirical) aspects of this world in those of fantasy, it’s certainly a good idea to notice the magical, fantastic parts of our everyday homelands. After all, these are what inspired the fantasy in the first place: London for Ankh-Morpork, perhaps, or Middle England for Middle Earth. We walk the streets of fantasy every day, in our own lives.

I’ve encouraged others to explore the heroic in themselves – and always receive the response ‘Oh, there’s nothing special about me’… followed by the most amazing story of something they’ve accomplished or felt.

We’re not encouraged to see the everyday as fantastic, because we take it for granted. Yet when telling our stories to another person, we’re surprised by their reactions, as they listen wide-eyed and ask questions in enthusiasm. Perspective again – everything seems normal from inside our heads, but may be absolutely marvellous to others. And certainly worth remembering and retelling.

We walk with a foot in both worlds every day. It’s just up to us to open our senses to see.

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Rainshine

Spring is on its way here in the UK, but while the snowdrops struggle to force their heads above the ground, most of us are dealing with the near-constant rainfall of recent weeks. The ground is saturated, everything seems muddy, and where I live, that means the additional early-morning fun of inadvertent ice-skating on the dog walk…

This is the world, though, and so many places seem to be dealing with the unusual falling from the skies. England seems to have a standing international status as ‘perpetually damp’ – this time last year, we were snowed in for over a week. But as Pagan folk, we should be aware that of course we are subject to the elements. We have to ride their tides, and learn what is to be taught from the experience

I’ve found the constant wetness to reflect my emotional state recently – ebbs and flows, rushing waves and standing puddles. But as the Spring begins to approach, as I see the buds and hear the birds more frequently, there is a definite change in the air. Imbolc is upon us. Brigid is at the door.

Imbolc has been one of the more elusive festivals, for me. What is it about, really? It comes at a midpoint in seasons, during dark days which it’s hard to believe are growing lighter. As a creative person, I’ve always felt that I should be connecting to the Lady of Inspiration a little more strongly, but the gods of these islands have been tricksy as well. Distant Classical deities? No problem. So-called ‘Celtic’ (I really do not like that term!), however? There’s more to them than meets the eye.

Perhaps this is as it should be. These aren’t just archetypes, after all – these gods are real people, more than just their ‘duties’. They require you to investigate, get to know them, read the stories but also draw your own conclusions, reading between the pages to see what’s really going on. I’ve written before about folk who think the Morrigan is just ‘bad’ – a point of view which baffles me. So how can a deity of Inspiration be clear-cut and straightforward? It took Nine Muses for the Greeks to sort this concept out! This year, Brigid came to me in the form of a request.

I’ve been knitting prayer shawls for some time now, taking the idea of a ritualised act of creativity to help another and seeing where it takes me. Each shawl is entirely unique, its’ own personality almost, with the ‘spell’ of its undertaking beginning at conception of idea, through to final sewing up and wearing. A large and complex task, but tremendously fulfilling. Sometimes they just come to me as ideas; sometimes through the dreams of others.

A lovely lady, friends through the connectivity of the Internet, asked me to make her something special. Emails zoomed back and forth, ideas of concept and purpose, then texture and colour, yarn, beads… until this week, it was finally resolved. And in the manner of all the best rituals and magic, everything came together at the right time, as if we were guided – because we had our eyes open and were looking with purpose, yes, but I’ve absolutely no doubt that there was a hand at my shoulder.

The yarn is pure silk, delicate yet strong, hand-dyed by another talented creative at Solstice Yarns. It is called ‘Brigid’s Dream’. The shawl is begun at Imbolc. I’ve performed ritual to set intention and ask for guidance, but it’s almost as if I don’t need to. I know what I’m to do, because the Lady is there, smiling as I twist that first loop onto the needle.

Silk yarn Brigid

I’m sure some may sneer at this, as if I’m making more out of a simple knitting commission than I should. But the purpose here is key. This is a prayer shawl, to be valued for what it is as well as what it does. Practical – warm, enveloping, soft to touch and beautiful to the eye – but also blessed throughout its creation. This is real magic, flowing through my fingers. I’m one of those working to make it come to life.

I’ll be working on this as the days grow longer again, the buds burst into flower, the inspiration starts to flow again with the new life. This creation will blossom too, and I’ve no doubt that I’ll learn things along the way (including the likelihood of tinking back occasional mistakes, especially with beading!).

The water around us is not stagnant. We needn’t let ourselves drown in it. We work with it, learn from it. Without that flow, we would die. That is how I feel about my creativity. I’m the tool through which it is directed, to make something nourishing, warming… alive.

Oh, and the pattern? From (you guessed it) yet another creative lady, called Boo, who allows magic very much into her designs.

It’s called ‘Rainshine‘.

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What Am I Doing…

As many of you know, it’s been a hard few months. As we head towards Yule (tomorrow), I feel the long darkness in my bones, and the need for rest. However, this has been manifesting in rather scary ways.

(This is not intended to be a self-indulgent, whiny whinge of a post. Bear with me. Writing helps the thoughts work through.)

So many things have happened in the past 3/6/12 months (I lose track) that the need for rest is becoming a real need. I know that I’m not alone in this, but my inner balance feels like it’s tipping to the point where stopping to reassess is not just a nice indulgence when I get time – it’s absolutely necessary. Here’s what I mean.

Things are affecting me too deeply. Yes, I’m what some would call sensitive (others just a worrier), but some of the flotsam thrown at me lately has hit rather harder than it should. I feel very knocked back, which makes it hard to move forward.

It’s becoming more common that some days, I just don’t care. About anything. Every act is a slog, a battle, with no motivation. OK, that’s depression – but now it’s more often become not caring about myself, at all. That old question ‘What’s the point?’ – with its’ friends Hopelessness and Loneliness lurking in the background – stifle anything that I try to do, including basic necessities such as eating and looking after myself. This is scary.

This means that the stuff that fuels me, that bring me joy and inspiration, is missing. I’ve not been able to write much at all. Recent events have been great, but they’ve knocked me out for days with sheer exhaustion. I feel as if I’m letting people down by my inactivity, my lack of energy. The self-berating voices grow louder, making things worse.

And I know I’m not alone. The world is a hard place right now.

Why is all this happening? What can I do about it? Generally, it’s hard to know. But I’m getting ideas from various places.

The writings of friends, truthful and sincere, about their own ups and downs. Joanne and Nimue especially in recent weeks; just a few words in a brief post can strike such powerful chords. Or the silliness and beauty of Veronica Varlow. Provoking a sincere smile is a real blessing.

My students. The brightness of their work, the freshness of their ideas, the sheer inspiration… one fine example being the stalwart and brilliant Naomi. I cannot thank them enough for what they bring to my life (so I’m embarrassing them here instead). ;)

Randomness. Small things that catch my eye and make me pause, as reminders of what’s important. Re-Connection.

Here’s what inspired these thoughts and this post today, bringing together a LOT of randomness from this week:

The solstice is always a time of change, reset, release of the past, and a movement into a new cycle. This solstice is about anchoring in pragmatism your dreams and intentions.

Your desires should be given top priority. Remember you cannot fix or create intentions for anyone else. Don’t be afraid to dream big. If you are still feeling the weight of what you have carried, changed, released, processed, started or created in these past months, release it somehow in a fire or other ceremonial way. Then take your vision and ground it in pragmatism and practicality.

A quick thought from a mailing list. But I read it, over and over, as other words have snagged in my head recently. This could be dismissed as selfish New Age witterings… or it could be explored. I could let it inspire.

My own ‘magic’ has always been grounded. While ‘escapist’ playing can be fun, when something is heartfelt and sincere, worked with honour and intention for practical effect… well, the difference is quite clear.

The next few weeks are relatively quiet in the calendar. Ideas have been quietly forming. I’m going to take time, to reestablish my own connection to my work, my practice – what used to energise me, make me smile and bounce and run to find a pen. I’m not entirely sure what will come out of this, but it clearly needs doing.

I’m going to start a journal again, longhand, in a notebook. It’ll probably hurt, physically – my hands aren’t what they used to be, and I’m long out of practice! But time has to be set aside for this, space made. The ideas are then invited as the marks are made on the page. And not so easily deleted.

Fires will be made, to warm the household and bring us together. Good food will be made to nourish us. The darkness won’t be a place to get lost in, but somewhere to seek out inspiration. Intellectually I know this – in practice, however, it can prove a tricky quest.

My old question: What am I doing? Actions are to be taken with intention, purpose. I’m holding on to my own magic, recharging it, reforging into something new. That old adage of ‘physician, heal thyself’ rings true – when the time comes again to minister to others, I’d better be ready.

What dreams do I have for the new year? Let’s find out. I’ve no idea where 2014 is going to find me – but I’d rather face it truly alive.

Icy Woods

From

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What’s Your Story?

[Note: I found this in my 'Drafts' folder today. I'm sure it's been published somewhere, but I can't remember where - and I rather like it, brief though it is. Stories have been on my mind a lot lately... so more on this topic may follow.]

Stories are such an intrinsic part of our lives. From tales around a campfire to soap operas, we define ourselves by our tales – whether moral fables to aid the understanding of wider issues, or simply the biography of another to compare ourselves against.

We often speak today of this ‘Age of Entitlement’ in which we currently live. That the wealthy Western world has certain expectations: of a home, family, health, standard of living, basic rights… as if we are, in fact, at the centre of our own story. Perhaps certain children are brought up to believe this, before reacting in fear and anger when they find out it’s not the case. Perhaps it’s just too much to take in, that so much of the world is out of our comprehension or control.

Either way, our stories are confused, uncertain, shouting to be heard. On Facebook, Twitter or in print, conflicting accounts and opinions are reduced to soundbites, muddying the issue even more. We don’t have time to listen to the full story, so we take what we can get and then act… becoming even more confused, scared and reactionary when the consequences reveal what we should have known all along (had we taken that time to listen).

One of the most contentious areas of learning in modern Paganism, I have noticed, is the Druid notion of the Bard. People don’t really know what to make of this idea, or even if it’s relevant in the 21st century. Is he a storyteller or a musician? Should he be contemporary or focusing on the ancient myths? Does the Bard necessarily have to be confined by gender, or even geography?

I’ve heard people say that modern musicians can’t be Bards, because… well… they’re modern! Do they have to be folk singers, like OBOD’s current Pendragon, Damh the Bard? Why not? But I would also ask for consideration of David Bowie with his concept albums, the Sex Pistols, Nirvana or Oasis as they reflect on the cultures in which they lived, or even Lily Allen or Lady Gaga satirisng that same society.

We’re nervous about setting racial boundaries, or ‘stealing’ the cultures of others through their beliefs – so many are cagey about even exploring the myths of their ancestors. The so-called Celtic myths are anathema to some, irrelevant to others. The tales of each land seem almost eager to be forgotten by their own people, from the British to the current Romans and Greeks… except as tourist attractions.

I maintain that while outwardly we may turn up our noses at our heritage, we still reach for the stories that are part of our human ancestry. We haven’t changed all that much over the centuries – Robin Hood is still spoken of as relevant, Merlin and Arthur still struggle on television with issues of love and war, and the Gods of many lands are now being transformed by cinema into superheroes.

We still need the Bards, the storytellers of our people, because we need someone to cut through all that noise of social media – even if just for a moment. 90 minutes of a movie; 4 minutes of a song; 400 pages of a novel. We pause, as our ancestors did, to pay attention. We read reviews, chat amongst ourselves, discuss relevance and deeper meaning. We take certain characters as favourites, then ask ourselves why this is so. Is it not telling that Loki, the ‘Avengers’ villain, is more popular than any of the heroes? Or that tales of fantasy and magic are seeing a surge in sales, from Pratchett back to Tolkien?

As Pagans, we can acknowledge this connection, this need for a Bard, to guide us and inspire us, to kick us and provoke us to think. No ‘X-Factor’ hero – the Bard is wild, unfettered, roaming where he (or she) pleases, uncaring of public opinion. Joss Whedon, Stan Lee, Stephen King and Alan Moore carry on writing, through rise or fall, critical success or slate. I’ve no doubt that we can all name smaller, quieter names who perform, write or present their art regardless of ‘fame’ – monetary return helps, but they would still scribble, sing or paint, because they feel that call inside to do so. When the Awen flows, or the Muse calls, the Bard must respond.

I also firmly believe that we have this ability within us all. No matter what our creativity, we need to demonstrate our perception of the world somehow, getting it out onto page, canvas or musical vibration just to express our connection to the world with the world. We may be nervous of showing that innermost secret work… but if truly told, the spirit of the Bard is clear, creating understanding as others see their own thoughts in your creation. They may then even be inspired to make their own.

So, now, I ask you to consider your own story. Are you proud to tell it? Why – or why not? It’s your story, after all. Would you rather truth or a fable? Can the two not merge into something fantastic and memorable? When you take your place among the ancestors, how will your tale be remembered?

Dare to listen more deeply to the stories around you. And then, please, be brave enough to add your own.

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