Posts Tagged teaching

The Power of Change

I’ve seen an increasing number of articles recently speaking about how the poor management of this country is leading folks to tighten their belts. People are worried, the future is uncertain. I’m sure most of you will know what I mean. Sadly, it’s not unique to the UK either.

But I’m also seeing something else… that started small, before all of the Brexit trouble. It’s now really picking up speed and developing in a good way. It’s exploring what we can do to improve lives, as individuals and small communities.

What started as a pastime or hobby has (often through necessity) become self-employment or a small business. I had to pursue my Druidry professionally after being forced out of my NHS job, but never has there been so much demand for what I do.

I’m so glad that people call on me for ministry, to perform rites of passage or speak and teach publicly. I’m often asked to be a guest on a media show or to write a magazine article. I’m especially touched that some friends look to own something that I’ve created! Life is busy.

I see so many people transforming their lives by taking on their passion projects and sharing them with others. Sometimes this is because there’s no other option; or it may just mean taking that leap into the unknown, beyond the ‘normal, everyday’ life that’s expected of us.

I wanted to write this as a gentle reminder. When you see a negative story about the world right now, seek out a positive one to balance it. Or try to look deeper into those stories – certain tabloids show a very slanted view, and tales aren’t always as simple as they may appear.

Support those independent businesses, be they friends or recommendations. Word of mouth has been the best marketing method for me! I do my best, and those I work with/for share that with others.

We work with our own communities at an immediate, local level, and we can make change there. But with the power of social media, we can plant seeds, make ripples, help actively improve lives.

I’ve often spoken about fair energy exchange – otherwise known as Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is! Don’t like a company’s practices? Don’t support them. Grateful for the work someone has done for you? Tell them – and then tell others!

One of the loveliest things about working with individuals is that you can see the changes. All authors love reading happy reviews for a book you’ve enjoyed; creative sellers will be touched by a positive piece of feedback for their services on a website. Even leaving a message of thanks for a helpful member of shop staff makes a difference.

And then? Relationships are born! I follow several makers who originally worked from their homes while trying to hold down a job and family. Now they’re internationally known! Still working hard, but doing what they love, because those who supported them in the early days have provided the foundation for them to do their work.

Of course, I hear many stories too, of bad buyers who rip off the good hearts of creatives. I’ve experienced piss-takery too. Entitlement is definitely A Thing. But the 99% of those who come to me are wonderful people, and it truly is those that make it worth striving on.

I write this post with gratitude for all of the friends who’ve helped me get this far… and looking forward to the paths which open up in the months (and years) ahead, for myself and all of us.

The larger world is changing. Let’s hold on to that 99% of goodness that I’ve seen; hold it and share it.

Ways to Support

If you’d like to help me personally, I have a Patreon page (where followers receive unique content just for them!). Alternatively, buy me a virtual coffee at Ko-Fi – a rather lovely idea! This is directly helpful, but also means I can offer greater support for those who can’t give much themselves.

If those aren’t viable options, links to my books are in the sidebar of this site, or they can be purchased anywhere that books are sold. Perhaps tell your local independent bookshop about me, and I can try to organise a visit with them?

Leave reviews! Like it or hate it, Amazon is far-reaching. Or why not start your own blog, where you can explore ideas that you’ve found along your own path?

Keep doing your thing. Get in touch with me and I’ll share your creativity. Working together is how strong foundations get built.

It’s easy to feel powerless in the world today, but we can all make positive change, every one of us – and that energy is definitely what I’d like to see more of in these difficult times.

Business Cards

Business card design by Catherine Winter-Hebert. Printed by Essential Print Services, Derby.

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Blood Sacrifice

I’ve been a little lax in my posting of late. This isn’t for lack of ideas. I think it’s purely that winter is now beginning to bite: the blink-and-you’ve-missed-it short days, the extra layers of clothing, the need to stockpile kindling and food in case of snow… and the urge to hibernate.

Life, of course, goes on. I’ve been out and about, less than usual perhaps, but still doing. A little Druidry here today, and a little slice of life, if I may.

Last week, a talk at Sheffield University Pagan Society; yesterday, a guest speaker to a Sociology lecture at the University of Derby. One informal, one formal, but both requiring me to get out there, put my professional hat on (metaphorically, before you ask) and tell my tale again…

Each time, it’s different. A different audience, a different flavour to my words. New challenges, new questions, new faces. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, and will ever do – and yet, I love it. Connection, sharing, inspiration. And bearing all.

Because one of the questions that always seems to come up in some form or another is that of Sacrifice. I’ve spoken of it before on here, but while winter is the time of fire festivals, burning the old to make way for the new, it’s not really the time to get out in public and get naked (again metaphorically, but physically too!). You don’t want to bear your soul to total strangers. Stand up and say ‘listen to me, I’m interesting?’ Nope.

So… perhaps that is my sacrifice to this season? While crawling out from a cosy bed/home/sofa to work is something that we all have to do just to pay the bills, my work is so intrinsically tied up with my own personal story, my soul-truth, that to walk this path at all during this season is the most challenging thing. It’d be much easier to take the easy route, that of the toddler whining ‘but I don’t want to!’ Tough. Wrap up warm on the way out, it’s nippy.

Sacrifice is giving up something that is valuable to you. At this point, that’s very much my Self. My time, my energy (not in abundant supply), even my smile some days. The black dog bites and holds on, and I’ve had panic attacks in the middle of crowded places. So standing up in front of crowds… you can probably imagine how nervous I get. Even answering emails is tricky right now. Writing this has involved a LOT of deletion and rewriting to get the tone precisely correct (and I’m still not sure I’ve quite managed it).

But it’s not all about my fear – that’s a constant, burning away in the background, to be overcome daily. My sacrifice is also giving up that sense of self, the very act of bearing all… but in a manner that can be understood. The balance of listening to what is asked of me, as a Priest, a teacher, a representative of my spirituality, and truly hearing. Going beyond the words of the question to see the eyes of the querent, what they want to know, what they can’t quite put into simple language but strain, hope, need me to understand.

I’ve promised, over and over again, to do my best, to walk my truth, to tell my story as honestly as I can, and to help for as long as I’m needed. I presume that if nobody were listening, then this blog wouldn’t get any hits, my inbox would just contact requests for money from overseas diplomats, and I could say what I liked because nobody would be listening… but currently, this isn’t the case. More and more people are asking. I’m amazed and awed that so many fellow Pagans, of any path, are rising to meet this growing group of seekers. I have no doubt that come Spring, my every weekend will be busy again. This is why I keep talking, writing, doing.

But in the meantime, sometimes it’s a battle day-to-day. I sacrifice and I survive.

A while ago, I told a good friend that I tried to do something creative every day. Even a tiny thing, but something, so that the day hadn’t been wasted. This is still true. Writing is best (when I haven’t written anything for a while, I think I’m unbearable to be around), but knitting, baking, some form of random creativity… all good.

This week, as well as the talks, I had more colour added to my right arm sleeve tattoo. Now this isn’t a very active creativity on my part – essentially, I lie there and let an artist draw on me with needles, paying him for the privilege of several hours of pain – but that ink will stay with me for the rest of my life.

 

Tattoo Equipment

(The preparation table. All of these colours went into one small area of skin, with those needles…)

 

I’ve had a lot of positive comments on my tattoos over the years. When I was younger, I never dreamt I’d ever have so much of myself covered – but every single one has meaning. And much of it is to do with my Druidry.

My first tattoo was a triskele, in the safe, quiet, hidden base of my back. My second: surrounding it with silver birch leaves, hand-drawn by one of my oldest friends. The statement of my learning, my stepping into the woods, joining with the trees, indelibly feeling my own connection to the wild world.

Since then, I’ve an Awen hand-tapped into the top of my back (after dreaming that Bobcat was doing it – I think her hand was more drilling it into my head), and both arms covered with leaves, flowers, seeds… the old joke being that sooner or later, if you push me over in a field, you’ll lose me.

Although the tattooist chats happily as he works, with conversation a good distraction, the flow of endorphins, adrenaline and sheer physical reaction to the needle creates an interesting effect. I’ve not undergone ceremonial or ritual tattooing as such, but every single sitting could be considered to be that. Your inner self reacts to the battering that your skin is taking, and there is an inevitable effect.

The tattoo is a statement, certainly. But it could also be considered a sacrifice. The blood, the pain, the wearing of an image with a deep meaning behind it, honouring your own body through the act of pain for the goal of adornment. To me, it’s far more than vanity.

Every tattoo on my body (except the triskele, my initial ‘baby-step’) has been paid for with money earned from my Druidry. I used to be able to pay the bills with my day-job, thus allowing me and my partner to permanently mark the relationship between our public rites and ourselves with ink. Now, that money is needed for those bills – so this work was even more of a luxury… and a statement.

Reading this post back, my black dog friend is telling me that this post is full of whining, self-righteous, indulgent justification for my work, my decisions, my irresponsible frivolity of ink. Perhaps.

To me, my life is currently filled with sacrifice. The sheer standing up each day to live my life, my spirituality, my job, with integrity and responsibility. Overcoming the ‘oh Gods, you can’t do this, why are you even trying’ voices. The sense that I’m not as strong as I think I am. Yet the beauty of my path is there, indelibly marked into my body. Present in the messages of thanks from those who hear my words.

I stood before my Gods in a crowded classroom and called to them, sincerely – and they listened. I honour them in my actions, my decisions, even my cock-ups (provided I learn from them). I honour them in my moving forward, not giving up, even when the black dog urges me to take that ultimate step and just give up, stop. My life is my sacrifice at this time, my giving up of self when I really do not feel able.

Things will calm down, of course. The season will turn, the light will start to join us more frequently, and I’m certain that I’ll be reminded regularly that I’m actually doing ok. I walk this path because I’m called to, and that’s by real people as well as spiritual entities – both of whom keep me moving in the right direction, kicking me if I stray or stay still too long.

So. My challenge again. What am I doing?

Moving forward. Slowly, in the dark, sometimes painfully, but moving.

Tattoo Nov 2012

All art here was inscribed by the founder and creative genius that is Andy Bowler of Monkido Tattoo Studio, in Belper, Derbyshire.

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Unity

Right, be warned, folks. The following post contains jokes that may be seen as contentious. They aren’t intended as offensive, but to challenge and provoke thought. Comments are, as always, very welcome, but I’d rather have debate than argument. No abusive behaviour will be tolerated.

Still with me? Lovely.

Today, the lovely blogger Mrs B posted up her ‘Question of the Day’ on Twitter: ‘What’s the most frustrating part about being Pagan?’

I’m certain this received some colourful responses, but let’s face it, being a public (or even just ‘out’) Pagan is not all sweetness and light; nor should it be, especially if you’re living in the real world. Interesting to see what people say.

I responded in jest: ‘Surely the weekly requests for Guru-style teachings from those unwilling to make any effort whatsoever…?’

This is an old bugbear of mine, as some of you will know. It’s inevitably become worse since my book became popular and known, and it’s not actually something I object to – as I’ve often said, I’m happy to help and advise, and would rather questions be asked than suppressed because of fears of Appearing Stupid.

Frustration arises (as I’m sure any social, spiritual or psychological advisor will agree) when seekers appear seeking ‘quick fix’ teachings or help. When they discover they have to play an active and responsible hand in their own life-changes, they often then vanish quickly. The degree of time-wasting involved in such cases is variable, but this seems to be just something which happens – again, as a public/out Pagan.

‘Gerald Gardner’ (also a fairly ironic Tweeter) responded with a very thought-provoking reply: ‘Unfortunately modern Paganism still breeds these people because we lack unity in order to make progress.’

Now there’s an intriguing statement.

First off, is this an inevitable symptom or consequence of modern Paganism being the way it is? Is this over-simplifying, or describing with an overly-broad generalisation? Or is there a point here?

A while ago, I agreed to write an article about Pagan Leadership for a UK publication. It’s been germinating away, as I consider the evolution of this topic since Gardner himself first put pen to paper back in the 1950s. We’ve come a long way.

I said at Pagan Pride this year – while addressing several dozen people under a huge and beautiful tree in Nottingham’s Arboretum (surrounded by about a thousand more going about their business as public Pagans) – that such an event would have been unthinkable even 10 years ago. Out and proud or just local and curious, Pagans are a social group to be counted. The Census issue has proved this, as has the publicity surrounding The Druid Network‘s Charity status.

But Paganism is essentially still finding its way. It is made up of many disparate groups, with leadership based around those who stand up to take on the job. Paganism is inherently tribal. From the multitude of beliefs, to the shading within those faith paths, even different local characters – ‘Pagan’ will never be as simple and clear-cut a spirituality as one of the more mainstream religions.

I’ve seen full-on arguments about whether Paganism is even a religion (not getting into that today, thanks). What qualifies someone to be a Pagan Priest. How ‘valid’ is Paganism. All the old questions, that boil down to ‘who do you think you are?’ We aren’t taught philosophy these days; complex ethical questions can be tricky. It’s far easier to get passionate and kick out/back.

We are a generation that challenges, that has the confidence to speak out – and this is no bad thing. We are curious, willing to explore, to ask those questions that need asking. I’m a firm believer that any religion has to be able to stand up to scrutiny (and to have the strength to laugh at itself). My old Catholic RE teacher was quizzed by me on numerous occasions, and even the response of ‘ultimately, we don’t know – but I just have faith that it’s true’ is absolutely valid… and yet for some, that’s not enough. But that leads into fundamentalism, which is also not a topic for today.

I’ve been flamed online before for suggesting that faith paths have more in common than they do difference. To mel, this is because we are all humans, trying to make sense of the world. Again, those who follow the ‘I’m right, you’re wrong’ path don’t like that, because it stymies the ‘Us/Them’ arguments that hold them up, but I think I’m safe in that simple truth.

The difficulty with Paganism is that it’s a group with a label – which is made up of very individualistic people. Some wish to come together to learn, socialise, whatever, and that’s fine. They still retain their individuality. Others wish to remain solitary in their practice. Both will fight tooth and claw to do this (and rightly so). This all leads to the difficulty of a truly ‘Pagan’ unity or identity. We are a faith like no other. As far as I’m aware, nothing like this has been seen before: no doctrine or set text, no hierarchy… and an awful lot of unproductive bitching as personalities collide. But that’s humanity for you.

As I’ve said before, the issue of leadership seems to be one where Priest (as spiritual servant) clashes with Priest (as Power Tripper). Those willing to teach, to pass on skills and information, versus those seeking authority over others. Obviously this isn’t just a Pagan thing, but it’s there, a problem to be acknowledged and worked upon. How are we, as Pagans, represented – and how do we wish ourselves represented? The fact that we’re talking about it, having a public voice, means that we’re out there in the world, with no going back.

(I’m pretty sure that because I can string words together and speak about my spirituality openly, some do think that I have ultimate cosmic secrets that I can tell, which will then make their lives better. I have yet to encounter any way of life that holds such information. Sorry about that.)

While simplifying a little, Spiritual seekers – as I’ve seen them – are Genuinely Curious (willing to learn) versus Quick-Fix Answers (abdicating responsibility). Both are fearful; some are braver than others. Again, very human.

The positive thing about Paganism that I’ve perceived is that it takes all of these groups (good or bad) and challenges them. I’m not sure that any are ‘bred’ to act a certain way, but a decent Pagan path will make practitioners prove their worth, to their supporting spirits, ancestors, deities and immediate community. Why? Because unlike a lot of other faiths, we aren’t actually interested in converting anyone. We aren’t out for numbers. We’re just out to do our thing, our way. That’s enough, most days.

Every single life path requires you, as the one living it, to play an active part. This is a key tenet of my Druidry. If I were just paying lip-service to it, I’d be caught out in no time. I’m happy to admit things that I don’t know, and am always seeking out new and interesting information (hey, I’m a bookworm). I’m also entirely happy for others to live and practice in a way that best suits them – so long as they don’t mind questions either, should they be asked.

I doubt Paganism will ever have its figurehead, its ‘one true leader’ – we’re too individual, and yet too tribal as well. Eclecticism has become the norm. We have taken traditions and evolved, adding our own ideas, our particular shadings to the overall picture, our notes to the song. And this, I believe, is what makes Paganism so wonderful. We do (really!) have a unity… it’s just something we haven’t really quite got to grips with yet. Wild as nature, and as varied, after all, constantly fluctuating as we test its boundaries – and our own.

So. Are we working together in our differences yet…? And how much do those seekers really want to be part of a spirituality that can be felt in its evolution as it’s happening?

Is it worth it? Well it’s hard some days, for sure. But that just makes life interesting. I’m still here, after all. Coming with me?

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Druidry as Relevant

Apologies for the large pause since my last post. Life has been interesting.

In the last week, my life has changed dramatically. As the frequency of paid work has been low, I resolved at the end of 2011 to take a step that I’d been considering for some time, but which had somehow not seemed ‘viable’ before.

I now have my own little work-place at a beautiful ‘Healing Rooms’ business 15 minutes from my home. From there, I’m offering my services as a Druid – from multifaith advice to planning of ritual, teaching, support, and generally Working in the Community.

It’s exciting. But also terrifying. Because as far as I know, this has not been done before. I’m entirely treading new ground.

Except I’m not really, am I? I’m doing precisely what those ‘ancient’ Druids did – I’m in my locality, offering my skills as needed, in return for enough in return to keep myself and my household going (or at least, that’s the plan).

The level of support I’ve received has been astonishing. Friends have donated gifts to help, word of mouth is entirely positive – this really¬† does seem to be something that is both wanted and needed, not just another woolly ‘New Age’ fad.

The challenges, however, have started to come in the form of the ‘real’ working world. Insurance to cover ‘spiritual services’. Renewing CRB accreditation. Trying to find out what certification I have to do what I do (there is none, nor any auditing body!).

Issues have struck me that would never have occurred before. Insurance implies that I may be sued by unhappy ‘customers’. I’m not sure how I’d deal with that (and hope I never have to). Charging for services, with all the attached politics – how much, how do I justify costs, how do I balance my survival needs with expectations of the work? Once money’s involved, the entire playing field changes.

And yet, at the end of it, I’m sitting here in my beautiful little room, while outside is a busy street. School-children on their way to lessons, shoppers heading into town. I’m here. I’m really doing it.

When I go home, there’s still more. Review books to sort (and read!), research to undertake. And that’s as well as basic housework!

It’s all setting a foundation. My book is on schedule for publication in the Summer, I’m being asked to perform talks and workshops around the country. There’s talk of a signing tour. More public rituals are being planned. But it’s all amorphous, in the future. I know it’ll come soon enough, but in the meantime there are bills to pay.

We get by, but I’ve been cutting back. This really is living with awareness of the practicalities of life, the necessities, what needs to be done. I must do my work well, otherwise I won’t get paid, because nobody will be interested. Simple relationships of supply and demand.

And therein is the lesson. I’m now working actively and intentionally with my Druidry for others every day on a much stronger basis than ever before. My awareness of energy has increased hugely; my connection to the world around is constantly reinforced. My learning curve has shot up, as my life and my work truly do combine.

It’s been exhausting. I almost bottomed out last week, just from doing as I usually do – giving my all to whatever I’m working on. But doing that every day means that I’m left with only just enough for myself afterwards. New routines must be established, new personal modes of practice to take care of myself.

There’ve been comments that I’m ‘lucky’ to be doing this. Not really – it’s necessity. If I wasn’t here, I’d be at home, keeping busy but mainly looking for other jobs to pay the mortgage. I’m out in the world, working hard.

And it’s the energy exchange, that giving and receiving, that keeps me going.

I truly am learning – and I’m very glad of the lessons. Because the wonderful response I’m getting so far is proof that I’m doing something right.

Onwards indeed.

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Beyond ‘Paganism 101’

As most of us know, the vast majority of books on paganism out there are ‘101’ books. Beginner-level texts, full of charts and associations for anything you can imagine, from candles to clothing. Things must be done in this way, using these tools (themselves prepared appropriately) on this day – or it won’t work. Don’t even bother. Spells = chemistry exercises. Yes, they can be done by anyone with the proper training and knowledge, but you wouldn’t let a beginner work the Large Hadron Collider (I hope). Which is why those beginner textbooks exist.

Interestingly, however, in the last few years, there has been growing investigation and active questioning of ‘what next?’ In an experiential faith, books can only take you so far before you have to get out there and do. So what sources do you go to with your questions about the results? And how do you advance in areas that take your fancy?

Ideally, you would then visit a pagan/New Age store and talk to people, look on the internet, follow up the advertisements in ‘Pagan Dawn‘ and suchlike, so you can actually meet some other like-minded folk. But again, that only takes you so far. It can be very hit and miss, as the diversity of this (and any) faith means that you might not necessarily encounter others who practise in the same manner. Or even follow the same ethical code.

I’m being nice here, as the majority of pagan folk I’ve met have themselves been welcoming and friendly. Yes, we don’t all think alike, but it’s actually pretty refreshing to get new perspectives – spiritual practise can all too easily become ‘stuck in your own head’ work. It’s just that as in every group, there are those whose worldviews are so dramatically removed from your own, that there’s just no talking to them. Or there’s the bad folk, the exploiters, the power-hungry; as mentioned famously in Isaac Bonewits’ wonderful document, ABCDEF. Humour is needed, but seriousness and sensibility too.

If you’re lucky, you’ll find a teacher. If you’re really lucky, you’ll find a teacher that you connect with, who speaks in terms that you can understand, who makes the magic (and the point of doing all this) real and applicable.

But then what? You’ve passed Paganism 101-110. What are you doing with it?

I’ve been practising for over ten years. I started out reading Scott Cunningham and the Farrer texts, Starhawk and Margot Adler, practising quietly in my own bedroom when I had a quiet moment, seeing what worked for me and what didn’t. Realizing how much I hated reading ritual from a script. Learning how to really specify my meaning and focus after having the universe actually provide what I’d asked for… just not in the way I expected. Getting lost while pathworking. Meeting deity for the first time. Learning how to make a candle flame change colour.

Now, here I am. I’ve a popular blog, and am finalising my first book. I’ve spoken and worked publicly as a priest. This month, I held my first day’s training workshop. I’m living my path and learning so much from those who themselves are seeking me out.

Now I’ll be the first to admit that teaching isn’t for everyone. I’d love to be an actual schoolteacher, but I’m afraid I’d be a bit too ‘Dead Poets Society’ for OFSTED. And I prefer to address those who actually want to be in the room with me.

At the ‘Pagan Pride‘ event this summer in Nottingham, I remarked to my beautiful associate on the Druid Network stall that if another person asked for information in the local area about Druidry, I’d have to do something myself. Of course, I should have known better – the universe was listening, and another person did. Quite a few people, actually. And those who’ve left comments here. And contacted me privately.

People are interested. They’re asking. Am I stepping up to answer?

I’ve spoken elsewhere about how difficult this has been for me. But I finally plucked up the courage. Pieces have fallen into place, and it’s almost a month since just under a dozen people gathered in a historic building in Derbyshire to listen to what I had to say about Druidry.

I haven’t stopped being inspired since.

The questions, the challenges, the discussion… all flowed freely on the day, and have continued online after. The group came together far more easily than I ever could have hoped, and amazing things have already started to come from it.

And I found something that I’d read about, and knew intellectually, but now have properly felt for myself. The teacher is herself being taught.

Everyone in that room basically said that they were beginners, they had very little experience of paganism, and certainly not Druidry. But every one brought their own stories, their experiences, the way of seeing the world. Their goals and wish to truly listen and participate. They might even have been as nervous as I was.

Each perspective is challenging me, to explain more effectively how I follow my path, live my spirituality and connect to the world around. At the same time, I’m seeing through others how they want to live, to find their own way of working, to be informed and reinforced by a group that truly is like-minded, but at the same time, made up of truly unique individuals. Our truths, our honest sharing and relationship, is teaching and inspiring each other.

More workshops are being requested and planned, but not just the ‘beginner’ introductory sessions – now it’s more in-depth, focused work. Everyone is becoming involved, finding out for themselves that a spirituality which calls to them so persistently can translate from page to reality, from basic questioning to real, lived experience.

From beginner’s grounding to a small but very personal rite, we’re all discovering and learning, finding new questions and new ways to communicate, exploring new sensations that we somehow knew at soul-level, but are now actively working with. New tools for life.

I marvel at the paths we take, from that simple curiosity of picking up a ‘Paganism 101’ book all those years ago. To pinch the words of Douglas Adams, via one of those workshop attendees today: ‘I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.’

We move on down the path together.

And I wonder why it took me so long to step up.

So I ask again: Why are you here? And what do you hope to do with what you’re learning? Find your freedom and explore… who knows where you’ll end up.

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