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Posts Tagged ‘contemplative prayer’

Great ( Holy) Monday, March  29, 2010

Here in the Northeast, this day has been one of incessant rain and cold: a thoroughly raw and inhospitable day. While the first buds of Springtime have appeared and the forsythia are in partial bloom, it feels as if Springtime has been put on hold,  in stasis for a time. A sheet of dark clouds fills the sky.

I also discovered today that one of the large evergreen trees in our yard fell unnoticed into an adjacent one in a storm of several weeks ago. It is being supported by the other tree but can, with another windstorm, fall and destroy the fence and a shed that it now is just grazing. Other smaller evergreens also fell to earlier storms and the debris is abundant. The task of Spring cleaning will be time-consuming this year.

Inspecting the property for damage and assessing what needs priority attention was well-timed to today’s celebration of Holy Monday.

This is the day on which we recall both the life of Joseph, one whose loving heart made possible the care and nurture of a soter, and also the fruitless fig tree cursed by Jesus: a symbol of Pharisaic and official religious who are full of words but bear no fruit. This day is a time for meditation on who we are, striped of all the public and quasi-public masks. It is a day to contemplate authenticity and what it means to bring ourselves daily to the work of being found fruitful when the Bridegroom comes as Joseph surely was. We are invited by the Spirit to live joyfully and productively in the service of true compassion in the world.

We prepare today, at the opening of Holy Week, with reflection on where we are inauthentic, not truly ourselves, dishonest, uncaring and narcissistic. We are invited to inspect our inner “yard” to identify the priority debris that needs Spring cleaning.

So, the weather today is perfectly well-suited to its mystical import as I meditate upon my own shadow:

  • What fruit have I produced that radiates the Light of Christ?
  • What thoughts nourished such fruit, and what thoughts rob them of needed nutrients?
  • In examining my behavior within the last 24 hours,was I a vigilant steward of the essential teachings?
  • What distracted my vigilance?
  • How will my reflections today shape Holy Tuesday? How do I envision living tomorrow?

Troparion of the Bridegroom

Behold! The bridegroom approaches in the middle of the night,
And blessed is that servant whom He shall find watching;
But unworthy he whom He shall find careless.
Beware, therefore, O my soul.
Be not overcome with sleep,
lest thou be given over to death and shut outside the kingdom.
But arise and cry:
Holy, holy, holy art Thou, O God!
Through the Theotokos have mercy on us!

© Brother Anton and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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On a visit last week to Fort Lauderdale, I visited the Butterfly Garden with my wife and daughter. The weather was on the warmer side, the sun shone brightly, and the butterfly aviaries were a delight. We spent a few hours walking through the extensive property made up of a small bridge over a well manicured pond, colorful plant life and trees, and, of course, quite a few separate aviaries dedicated to diverse species of butterflies and one set aside for hummingbirds.

The best part of the experience was to sit quietly on a bench surrounded by tens of butterflies and letting them settle on my arms and clothing. Fortunately, the aviaries were not crowded with people so it was easy to sit for a while and appreciate the amazingly rich array of color and patterns. These are among the most fragile of life forms but few are as inspiring. Just before Easter, they served as a marvelous metaphor for resurrection and rebirth given the metamorphosis from caterpillar to taking flight on breathtaking wings ranging from pure white to spotted, turquoise, various pastels, full yellow, and a striking red and black variety ( see the picture above).

It is hard to imagine  being anxious (barring phobias) in such spaces. A sense arises of the inter-connection of all things. What a privilege it is to be conscious and able to savor for days weeks and months to come the experience of a quiet afternoon in the Florida sunshine with creatures such as these.

As I walked and took my many pictures using my cellphone camera (which, surprisingly, captured some wonderful shots), I came upon a white butterfly that sat on the ground in harm’s way already clearly having suffered wing damage. I became immediately saddened at the sight and then pensive at the scene as one tries to reconcile the tragedies of life with its glories. What came swiftly to mind is the rosary and the important juxtaposition of the Sorrowful, Glorious, and Luminous Mysteries. Almost without a thought, I felt compelled to pick up the butterfly and return it to a nearby leaf. It was clear that it was dying, and it felt right that it should do so on a leaf and not against the cold, unnatural pavement.

I am a panentheist and this moment brought that home to me once again. The Spirit runs through all the created. Each natural form is a face of the mind of Ein Sof, the otherwise unknowable. Once again, as creatures with personhood, we know the Divine Presence personally. We feel the Presence more so than we can adequately think the Presence. This is the Gnosis Kardia, the Knowledge of the Heart.

So, on a quiet March day, just a week ago, I was visited by a butterfly who stopped me in my tracks to consider my own mortality, the mortality of others, life’s mysterious transits, and the power of regeneration, resurrection, renewal and the true heaven that emerges in every moment illuminated by authentic compassion.

This is Holy Week in the Western calendar. May this week be a time for you of profound revelatory moments, of transformative experiences, and a deeper dive into the Heart of the Cosmos.

© Brother Anton and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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“Kill him!”

So goes the saying.

In other words, to find him as uniquely resident in another person is to objectify him and engage in idolatry. Makes sense in the context in which the saying arises but, in another sense, this is, tragically, the way humanity tends to typically react on meeting a remarkable spirit, a Mahatma, a Soter, or a Buddha. We kill him.

In meeting the Christ, the prevailing political powers were inspired to homicide. “Crucify Him!” the crowds screamed. “Crucify him and release Barrabas.” Better a criminal be released than the Prince of Peace for Jesus was seen as far more dangerous.  Jesus, like prophets before him and prophets who came after, was persecuted for the very wisdom for which he was initially extolled. Why? What is the great danger that so stimulates fear in lesser hearts?

It is authenticity, presence, authority, and intimate connection with the divine source, the infinite wellspring. The prophets do not suffer fools with political or diplomatic grace. They don’t tell us what we want to hear. They don’t congratulate us for our astuteness and prideful qualities. They don’t bathe us in praise for our genius and our goodness. They don’t thank us for magnanimity and goodness nor do they tell us that we’re ok.

On the contrary, the soters (saviors) tell us what we don’t want to hear. They force us to look in the mirror without blinders on. They speak of our sin. They tell us about our delusional and illusionary egoistic state. They exhort us to do better and to live more sincerely. They ask us to repent ( and they do so with a sense of keen urgency).

In claiming an innate greatness, not with hubris but with enlightened self-knowledge, the saviors and spiritually authentic teachers and sages are critiqued by the fearful as blasphemous. Truly, there is no more fearsome thing than to be required to enter the “inmost cave” where we meet our true face and our real condition. Unfortunately, the need to reject takes many clever forms but, in the extreme, that rejection translates into murder.

As we approach Easter, we are urged by the Calendar of tradition to look at ourselves and ask:

  • How many times must we crucify him?
  • Am I complicit in any way in cleverly dodging the inconvenient and difficult teachings?
  • Do I play politics with the Word, cherry-picking the Gospel to fit my own preferences and comfort, refusing to embrace the difficult wisdom that passes all understanding?
  • Where around me are those who are even now yelling at the top of their lungs in abject terror of the truth — “Crucify Him!”

© Brother Anton and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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A slow poison has gripped the planet, a toxin far worse than greenhouse gases, the chemicals leaching into the water table, and those fouling the oceans. This is an invisible poison known principally by its effects: spiritual blindness, narcissism, solipsism, ideological extremism, jihadism, and unbridled capitalism.

The toxin is fear, and its manifestation is hatred and unthinking speech and action. Each day we are heavily dosed with this poison in diverse form, including:

  • news of dying soldiers and civilians,
  • renewed threats against innocence,
  • resistance to repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell” and the continued march of homophobia,
  • violence committed by opponents of “a woman’s right to choose” against clinics and licensed physicians ( including a recent case of murder in the name of “saving the unborn”),
  • Congressional appetite to invest more money in support of two wars while demonstrating cold reluctance to act swiftly in support of fellow citizens dying for want of health care insurance, and
  • unthinking enmity toward our President by those predisposed to demonize and mythologize his character, personal history, and intent out of irrational fear, and the hatred it engenders.

The radicalization of the marginalized and the psychically fragile, and the actions of the misguided few possessed by evil intent, march forward with incessant resolve to harm. It has always been so. It is the march of Mordor, Saruman, Sauron, the Ork, and the Nazgul, Ringwraiths of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. It is the dark advance of the White Witch and her minions in the land of Narnia imagined by C.S. Lewis in The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe and its inspired sequels.

It is easy to fall into the pit of despair over these realities as one perceives the dying of the light. Yet, into the shadows burns brightly the flames of the hearts aroused by true fellowship, enlightened purpose and authentic love. This Light grows undaunted to meet the challenge and as the shadows rise so too does the Fellowship of the Ring and Gandolph, and the Pevensie children guided by Aslan of Narnia.

The Light is unquenchable and the more stark the darkness the more luminous is its radiance. The more cacaphonous the din and stench of hatred and evil, the more sonorous and mellifluous are the psalms of the loving.

It is good to dose ourselves each day in these psalms of love as a preventive against malaise, anger, and dejection, all of which weaken us and play into the Shadow’s game plan. Each tradition offers its own poetry in praise of the perpetual Light as treatment for anguished souls under siege.

Among them are the precious and illuminating songs and sayings of  Sufi masters such as Shaykh Sidi Hamza el Qadiri el Boutchichi whose admonitions to the penitent and inquiring heart include these uplifting and illuminating entreaties:

Love all creatures, whatever their religion might be or their race and opinions. Everyone has his place in the divine pattern. It is not for us to judge.

When love inhabits the heart, nothing is difficult and everything which happens to one can be turned to spiritual profit. This is because, thanks to love, the veil separating us from reality becomes ever thinner. One experiences thereby a deep joy from this proximity and one becomes flooded with a profound perception of beauty.

Everyone issues from the same light. There is no distinction.

Whether we look to the words of Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, or their prophets and disciples, the simple truth of the powers of real love are repeated time and again in diverse forms. Without authentic love, all expressions of spirituality are bankrupt and false. Wisdom begins and ends in the heart aroused by true compassion — not the usual and all to easy sentimentality and saccharine Hallmark-card expressions typically exchanged on Valentine’s day, but the love expressed through true Knowing of the Other as Oneself.

Indeed, let us be each other’s “Valentine”!

© Brother Anton and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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Clean sheets, smelling of recent washing and the touch of cotton to sooth us,

Feet curling to get the full experience of being wrapped inside safe haven;

Skin and fabric kiss in recognition of right meeting and prepare for sleep,

No worries, no tears, no fears, waking soon into the deep;

Rise up great heart, my soul’s Odysseus, and vigilant commander,

I hear you in me, I feel your presence, and I know we are One;

There is nothing to lose, to loose, to miss, to secure, to nail down, or to hide,

All is moving on to someplace new, something different, ever greater,

yet  appearing always ordinary;

Too few songs are sung in praise of sheets and the loving work they surely do,

Embracing so that we too may embrace the great surround in the boldest tenderness.

© Brother Anton and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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I am lonely without you,

I am unable to breath as if a great weight sits on my chest.

I fret at the dying of the light and the long shadows,

I tremble at the creaking boards under my feet and the cold.

When it ends will you be near me or away,

Will I whither unbeknownst to all who know me?

Or, will the time be gentle, a sweeter passage to the other side,

Where the ocean meets the sky and the invisible temple doors are swung open?

How I quiver and wonder and writhe under the spell of days I’ve come to treasure,

How plaintive I’ve become for solace and consolations.

My sweet lover, fair partner, true, and constant friend,

Excuse my melancholy dreaming, a rambling ignorance of an aging man.

For truly it is not so dramatic as emotions frame it,

In no measure so dark as this darkness I project.

It is the sickness, True beloved, the dis-ease of thinking to preserve,

Where the cure is letting go to wild, untamed adventure.

It is the sickness of pensive rumination, a fiery, fevered imagination, and

The great forgetting of where I’ve been, of who I am, and of where I am going!

© Brother Anton and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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Liminal consciousness is that odd state when we emerge from sleep but not fully. In this state, we cannot be sure if our experience was dream or reality. In a real way, this is the truest state that we can experience. The answer to the question: Did it happen or did I dream, is yes. Such is the story of our lives. The liminal state of mind is a perfect rendering of our existential dilemma. We are and yet we are not.

Mind creates moments of compelling and credible theater that are indistinguishable from “real” events. For mind, they are certainly real. We have all the emotions we would in the scenario conjured in the dream state. My wife dreamt yesterday that she heard mens voices somewhere in the house as she slept in it alone while I traveled. She awoke and listened and wasnt sure if she had imagined the voices, or if she had heard them. She locked the door and couldn’t sleep for the rest of the night.

I dreamt some time ago that I was falsely arrested and awoke to fear that criminal charges hung over me. On another occasion, I heard the voice of my mother, now deceased, calling my name. It was audible; clear as a bell. I experienced it as coming into my ears from outside my room. Dreaming or real?

The character of Segismundo in the play, “Life is A Dream” ( La Vida es Sueno) by Pedro Calderon de la Barca, says, at the close of the play:

I dream that I am here
of these imprisonments charged,
and I dreamed that in another state
happier I saw myself.
What is life? A frenzy.
What is life? An illusion,
A shadow, a fiction,
And the greatest profit is small;
For all of life is a dream,
And dreams, are nothing but dreams.

Each day, I imagine what people are thinking. I hear their thoughts and those thoughts are mine. Are they thinking these thoughts too, imagining mine? I interact with people who share my language, yet do I know if they hear what I say as I hear it?

On holidays, the air is different. Saturdays are very different from Sundays and most certainly both are different from Mondays and Fridays. Of course, they are all just days. The day doesn’t know that it’s Saturday. The day is the day, and yet it isn’t.

The diurnal cycle defines so much of life. Night follows day but that isn’t real either. The Sun always shines somewhere. Night is always present somewhere. The sun’s rising and setting are not real, but a mere convention. I approach my next birthday. I am a year older. Right? Meaning what? We enter our forties and we think differently about our lives. We hit the fifties and we say “more han half of my life is behind me.” Says who?

We dream ourselves alive. We dream ourselves happy. We dream ourselves sad. We dream ourselves into states of  anxiety. We dream of endings. What we prophesy comes true.

When am I dreaming and when am I wake? Maybe I am awake AND dreaming now.

Oh my! I am confused.

Or am I?

© Brother Anton and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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When studying in the mid-80’s for my doctorate in psychology, we considered it a fact that brain cells are the only ones in the body that do not regenerate. At the time, I thought it an odd feature of physiology given the centrality of the brain over the course of human evolution. It seemed absurd that brain cells would be so fragile and irreplaceable given their adaptive significance.

Two years ago, then 20 years after the doctorate, I took a post-graduate course in biological psychology as a refresher, and everything had changed: a change that is continuing and accelerating. Now, thanks to improved technology such as fMRI (fluorescent magnetic resonance imaging) it is the overwhelming weight of the evidence that neuroplasticity is fundamental to brain physiology. In other words, neural networks and pathways are freshly laid down and altered as we learn and grow and as we are challenged muscularly, emotionally, and cognitively each day.

“Positive neuroplasticity” is the capacity of the brain to regenerate functioning that has been impaired by stroke, dementia and the aging process, severe head trauma, or as a consequence of other CNS ( Central Nervous System)  diseases. There are now cognitive training exercises that neuropsychologists present to patients that can significantly improve diverse functioning, including balance in the elderly, memory functioning, and even offer support in the self-regulation of chronic pain.

All this being said, I am thinking about the alchemical treatise attributed to Hermes Trismegistus, The Emerald Tablet, also known as the Smaragdine Table, Tabula Smaragdina, or The Secret of Hermes. Sources of this document are traceable to 650 AD. It was regarded as the central document of the Hermetic tradition.

In it, one passage has especially captured my imagination as I consider the revelations of brain science.

It reads:

That which is below is as that which is above, and that which is above is as that which is below, to perform the miracles of the one thing.

This ancient alchemical principle adds further framing to a better understanding of the mirroring in human nature of the core nature of the Cosmos. If the “above is as that which is below,” then neuroplasticity is an epiphenomenon of  Cosmic Mind. In other words, what we are learning about the temporal mind tells us something about the infinitely extensive and timeless “neuroverse”.

(more…)

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December 8th is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception in the Western church. The “Immaculata” emerged early in the history of the Church.

Among certain ancient Christian sects, the “Mother of God” was, from the outset, given a very high spiritual station, as there are arguably none more intimate with a son’s soul than his mother.

So great was the Spirit of Christ, that she who bore the Anointed One would naturally be set apart as especially blessed. The universe brought forth a soter (or savior) from the womb of a common woman of Jewish faith.

She bore him, bathed him with unconditional regard and support, and, in the end, bore the unimaginable pain of his passing.

In the Orthodox tradition, they refer to her Ascension as “the Dormition of the Virgin,” or the “Going to Sleep”. The Divine Mother archetype is the soft blue image of infinite patience, attention, and conscious silence. She is eternally alive within us.

Lutheran theologian Rudolf Bultmann revealed that the sacred mysteries documented in the Gospels are in no way diminished when we cut away the mythic story-telling appended by later writers.

He insisted that instead of the super-naturalizing that was grafted onto the texts,  an existential reading, in the way of philosopher Martin Heidegger, was truer to the essential kernel of the teaching.

In doing so, the intersections of the teachings with those of other Eastern religious systems become more visible. In both Buddhism and Christianity, at a mystical level, there is an androgynous quality in experiencing the Divine Presence.

There is an implicit marriage of male and female forming a new alchemical union (e.g., the trinity and the rise of Mariology, yin and yang, Buddha & Kwan Yin).

Where Bultmann erred was in failing to see the significance of the full mythic image for the psyche. To contemplate the Immaculate Conception is to open up to what cannot be fathomed by discursive intellect and reasoning.

In effect, the mysteries of the Rosary are also koans that cause us to recognize, in moments of luminous insight, the true depth and inconceivable beauty of the mystery of being.

Since we are persons, we can only experience personally. Our devotional lives need divine persona to represent the sacred entanglement, the cosmic dance, from which all life and meaning derive. Theology gets me to the edge of mystery, then I come to a point at which I need to leap off into the chasm of unknowing.

I experience the mystery of the “Immaculate Conception” in this way:

She who was clothed in the Sun is the one who knew the nature of Christ from Within. She is the emblematic Christic, aglow with the Light of Christ. She offers us a powerful manifestation of the Gospel teaching in action.

As is the case with all good mothers, Mary and her son have an inseparable bond. Mother is the ground, the earth, the tie to the real and the moment.

Mother calls us to quiet reflection and kenosis, or emptying (in the way of the Magnificat) to see that we are truly great in our meekness. The good mother teaches us to open our arms in the spirit of radical love, and to do what is right without self-consciousness. Her commitment knows no frustration or turning away.

The good father, the heavens, calls us to aspire, and feeds our quest for meaning in action. But without mother, our spirituality is about works without a solid grounding in prayer, contemplation, and mysticism.

Looked at in terms of a physical metaphor: mother is centripetal force, causing us to move toward the center, where Father is the centrifugal force that calls us out of our depths to the circumference, where life’s chores and assignments, conflicts and complexes arise to be managed.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus was deeply troubled, and he was terrifyingly alone. Yet, at the same time, he was in touch with the fullness of His Priesthood. He was consoled by the tenderness in the moment also, by the unconscious echo of his Mother reciting deeply in his consciousness: “Be it unto me according to Thy will.”

And so, the son finds his mother in the depths of his own Spirit, as the Mother, too, later consoles the disciples on the death of their master, and emboldens their message with  transcendent caring.

In entering the silent space and timeliness of the recitation of the Rosary, meditating on the emblematic mysteries of the Church, we find the “Mysterium Tremendum” awaiting us. “In Christ there is no male or female.”

Yet, in this life, while we contemplate a unity beyond appearances, we do commerce with the customary, the appearances, and the day-to-day. Contemplation of the Immaculate Conception brings our thoughts and senses to attention around the great Sophia, or Wisdom, that is all around us.

Sophia’s presence is often drowned out by the noise and distractions of activities at the circumference, where the masculine takes on an unbalanced and pre-eminent status in our consciousness.

It is a wonderful conundrum that numbs the mind; the mind that must keep seeking after clarity while, at the same time, recognizing that the “Cloud of Unknowing” is a veil through which we will forever be gazing as we live in this state.

© Brother Anton and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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Russian Orthodoxy was a nursery for remarkable and controversial mystical practices. One sect, later declared heretical by the Russian Orthodox Church, is known as the “Name Worshippers”.

Their adherents, with early prominent members also making significant contributions to the mathematics of infinity and set theory, held to a discipline of continuously repeating aloud, or inwardly, the name of Jesus. This has connections to the Hesychast tradition and the “Prayer of the Heart” of the Philokalia: ” Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”

The Western manifestation of such a practice is the Rosary, albeit the prayers recited are greater in number and the process more involved. Hesychasm was bound to run afoul of the Orthodox Church.

Many mystical movements and the mystics themselves have historically been punished or censored in one fashion or another. Meister Eckhart, and extraordinary mystical preacher, was misunderstood and found himself in trouble with the Church. The list is fairly lengthy and includes teachers and adepts among us today.

The rejection is, however, understandable, as the mystic speaks a transcendent language that goes underneath and beyond canonical interpretations, formalisms, and dogma. They speak from a direct lived experience of the scared. Their language is consequentially more often richly metaphorical and visual, sensual, and appears to cut through the many distinctions and debates of exotericism.

There is great value in Hesychasm fro us today in the practice of continuous repetition of simple mantra. It is also a matter of spiritual taste whether this approach will bear fruit for you, but I, for one, find it remarkable in its effects.

Having practiced the “Prayer of the Heart” for many years, I find myself reciting it automatically as a centering prayer, and especially in times of great trouble or stress. In undergoing medical procedures, I catch myself reciting it, or, more correctly, I find it being recited within me.

Some object to the prayer as it appears to place emphasis on one’s identity as a sinner. It’s important to discriminate between the Eastern Orthodox and western meanings of “sin.” In the west, sin is all about mistakes for which one needs to seek forgiveness and attached to which there is a piper to pay. The attributions of sin are more judgmental, and punitive in character.

Here, again the East excels in seeing farther and in more nuanced ways. Sin, for Orthodoxy, is illness. It is recognition that one is in need of re-balancing, healing, and the restoration of a wholesome spirit by the Grace of the Beloved.

How wonderful is that?

It doesn’t surprise me that the Russian mystics of the Name Worshippers would also be tied to the mathematics of the Infinite. The two speak to each other in intimate ways. In these instances, their math was an outer sign of an inner spiritual grace.

© Brother Anton and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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