Just a short note to let all of  you know that except for a small few (about 55) I have eliminated most of the comments on my blog.  I was getting nothing but spam from people, and it was so voluminous that is shut out my legitimate readers.  Thanks to my wonderful computer guru, that problem has been eliminated, and now all comments can go through.  I will be posting another blog shortly.

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Intelligence and Brilliance – Where Do We Draw the Line?


Yes, yes, I know – it has been a looong time since my last blog.  I’ve been busy – fixing up my house, which came just before Open Studios.  Then more house stuff, then a brief break followed by acting in  a short play, which is now done.  So I apologize to those of you who have written and asked when I would continue, and my answer was always, “soon.”  Soon is finally here…

This may be a bit rambly, because I’ve been thinking about this topic for a while now, and had a lot of different angles that came up.  So I finally narrowed it down to looking at when intelligence crosses over into brilliance, and how to discriminate when calling someone “brilliant.”  A narrow topic, I know….

Intelligence, as I see it, has to do with what one does with knowledge.  You can have a lot of knowledge, or capacity, and still not be too intelligent, mostly because you don’t do anything with what you know, or with your potential.  To me the most important thing about intelligence is how it is applied, how it is used to create, to make something new, imagine a new idea.  We learn something and we build on it. That’s a real demonstration of intelligence.

Intelligence and knowledge are highly respected in this world. And in the developed world, it seems they are most respected as the means of gaining something.  Intelligence, that rare and wonderful gift humans are graced with, is often rewarded with money, fame, recognition and respectability.  Thus, it should be respected and honored most by those who possess it, and put to good use.

Lately I’ve been thinking about intelligence with regard to how we discriminate – or fail to discriminate – with regard to how intelligence is applied.  We often grant kudos to some smart people, but fail to take into consideration the effects they have created by using their intelligence.  I think it’s important that we look at this.

Take, for example, the highly intelligent (called brilliant by some) young (and some not so young) men of Wall Street, who consciously used their knowledge in order to cheat and deceive, bringing down not only the economy of the United States, but that of many other nations as well.  These men were really, really smart, but they used their intelligence and their knowledge to gain for themselves, and didn’t look once at the long term effect their actions would cause. Their knowledge was used without a thought to the destruction that would be wrought.  To me, not looking down the road at the effect one’s actions will have is not intelligent at all – it is the mark of unconsciousness.  Many people lost entire life savings, college funds for children, their homes, their futures, while these highly intelligent people were – to use their own words –  “making a killing” (an apt phrase) on Wall Street.

What a pity.  These men were – and still are, in come circles – called brilliant.  Amazing strategists.  The problem is, they were only thinking of themselves, their own gain, and not anything else. And they brought darkness into the lives of so many.  Think about what could have happened if the same very smart people had applied their knowledge, intelligence and consciousness to change the economic scene around the world for the better.  Then, in my opinion, they could be called brilliant.

I think there needs to be real discrimination when it comes to calling people “brilliant,” because brilliant to me has a completely different connotation.

What’s the difference?  Brilliance shines a light on others.  Brilliance illuminates, makes things brighter and better for everyone.  Brilliance utilizes not just intelligence, but that rare quality called wisdom.  One aspect of wisdom is the ability to use intelligence intuitively, so that the outcome is a positive one for all, not for a few.

When I think of brilliance, I think of a man like Muhammad Yunus, founder of the Grameen Bank.  His innovative approach to solving economic problems among the poor of Bangladesh is inspired.  And he didn’t just have the idea – he implemented it.  I think of a man like Dr. Depak Chopra, who uses his mind to illuminate the minds of others, and of architect Louis Isaac Kahn, about whom architectural teacher and critic Vincent Scully said, “Nobody ever gave off so much light.  It was a physical light that came from his imagination and the aliveness of his intellect.”

And when I think of brilliance, I also think of some of the unsung heroes in our world – those extraordinary  teachers who are so intelligent, and so bright that they shed light, not on themselves, but on their students.  The teachers who innovate, encourage, see the light inside their students, nurture it, and then send them on their way.

I know – this is probably such a narrow topic that it won’t make much difference to many, but I am really fed up with hearing people called “brilliant” when in fact they are simply really smart, but often unconscious.   I think it would be a good idea to apply the word brilliant with more discrimination, so that it comes to mean something that is tied to wisdom, and to future good.

The next time you call someone brilliant, think about whether they’re just really smart, or whether their intelligence contains within it a spark of wisdom that shines from them onto others, and whether that intelligence will affect the future by lighting the way.   Illumination is the mark of brilliance.

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Happiness and Joy

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A friend recently related a conversation with a colleague, who said, “I am so happy right now.  If only it would last.”  Well, chances are pretty certain that it won’t.

Now before you start thinking of me as a grouch, or pessimist, or simply bad-tempered, look at the comment realistically.  Life is not, for most people, a wonderful, happy, smooth ride.  There are bumps, ridges, difficulties, heartaches.  But those things happen in between the happy times – or maybe the happy times occur between the bumps.

What I’m trying to say is that happiness is fleeting – it isn’t a lasting condition.  But the good news is that sadness, difficulty, heartache and irritation are also impermanent.  And we have to remember that most of the things that occur in life are impermanent.  Storms pass over.  A day is sunny, and the next day is rainy, or cold, or way, way too hot.  Life is not a straight road.  And even in the little things – that sweater that you love so much will someday be a castaway; your close friend may move; a love changes and shifts.

So the thing is, we cannot expect to be happy all the time, though I have a sneaking suspicion that there are many who think that if they’re not happy, then something is really wrong with them. But if you remember that happiness is a temporary condition, you can also remember that the bad times are also temporary, and weather through them.

So all that being said, there is something that is permanent.  It’s called joy; it is similar to happiness, but it isn’t a temporary thing; it’s a thing of spirit.  Spirit is you.  It is not your body, not your mind, not your thoughts.  It is above, beyond, and all around you.  If you hold on to that in the middle of difficult times, you can remember that everything that is happening around you is not permanent; but you are.

In the midst of sorrow, failure, illness, distress of any sort – you are permanent.  Not the events, the outer shell of things.  Those are not permanent.  But you, and I, we are permanent.  Our bodies, the things we use to let people know we’re here, may get a bit run-down; our feelings may get hurt, or we may get angry, frustrated or feel alone; a loved one may be ill, or die, or leave.  These are events, and their effects are temporary.  But behind all that is the permanent part, the part that remains forever.

All of us live through many experiences, both good and bad, happy and sad.  And I have learned that though I may be happy at a given moment, or though I may be suffering at a given moment, I can participate in whatever is happening, with the certainty that it is temporary, and that things will change. And knowing that, being able to see clearly through all the temporary events, fills me with a different kind of peace and comfort.  That is joy.  That is spirit telling me that I will prevail through all things.

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That’s Life

Before I post this blog, I want to mention a few “housekeeping” tips.  Some people have asked me to have a link to facebook, twitter, etc.  If you click on the title of the post, you will see only that post, with links  at the bottom of the page.  Responses with the same words as another reader’s won’t be posted.  And to those who are reading the posts, sharing with friends and adding them to social media sites, thanks!

“That’s Life.”  People use this phrase all the time, and always for unjust or generally negative situations.  A man loses his job. “That’s Life.”  Someone fixes up a house, gets ready to move in, and a flood hits.  “That’s Life.”

I have always found this a bit disturbing.  That’s not to say that negative situations aren’t part of Life, but they’re only part of the whole picture.  Birth is Life.  Winning an award is Life.  Feeling happy enough to dance around is Life.  My walks in the park show me Life everywhere – trees whispering in the puffs of breeze, birds chirping and fluttering between them, dogs chasing Frisbees or running up to say hello and get petted – all of it is Life.

You know, it’s rather interesting that we talk about Life as if we know exactly what it is.  And yet nobody has a firm grasp on what Life actually is, not even physicists or biologists.

The thing is, Life is an abstract.  When I used to teach my students about abstract nouns, I explained to them that an abstract noun names something that you cannot see, except if it’s in something else.  So, for example, you can’t see Love walking down the street, or sweetness, or anger.  Only when these qualities are embodied in something are they visible to us.

You can’t see Life all by itself, but Life is in everything – it’s in stars and starfish, pencils and pineapples.  Every atom, molecule, creature and plant is full of Life.  Life pervades everything.

When I plant a tiny seed, and green shoots rise up our of the earth, that’s a demonstration of Life.  And when I devour the fruit from those seeds, that, too, is Life.  Rain and rainbows, sun and sandstorms – all of it is Life.  Butterflies, snowflakes and slugs.  Life.  A young child crying her heart out for a pet who has died is full of life, even if it is not the part of life one wishes to manifest all the time.  Even Death is part of Life, and we don’t really understand that, either.  In fact, if we really understood what Life is, we might have a better grasp of what Death is, and not be so afraid of it.  And maybe even vice versa.

I was thinking about what it means to be “full of Life.”  Well, the trees in the park are full of Life.  Little kids playing soccer are full of Life.  I think a person who uses all of his allotment of energy during the time he has on Earth, who develops his mind, body and spirit and uses his faculties to create, and expand the lives around him, is full of Life.  Someone like that seems to create more energy wherever he is.  Clint Eastwood comes to mind. At 80, he is writing, producing, directing and starring in films, as well as writing the musical score for them.  Every actor in Hollywood and elsewhere wants to be in a Clint Eastwood film.  He creates a sense of joy, of accomplishment and cooperation, and each of his films is about deep truths.

People who are full of Life seem to bring Light with them.  (And, as physicists will tell you, we don’t really know what light is, either!)  Gandhi, Mother Teresa, The Dalai Lama, Barbara Marx Hubbard, Jesus and Mohammed, Byron Katie, Jean Houston, Carolyn Myss, Andrew Cohen and Craig Hamilton, – all are light bearers, and all are full of Life.  They illuminate, and Life is their most important product.  So I think being “full of Life” means one is full of light – uplifting, joyful, and illuminating.

Now, we can’t ignore the other side – darkness, fear, anger, sorrow and other such emotions.  They exist.  People who see nothing but their own need, and who will do anything to get what they want, seem to travel in darkness.  They breed fear and contraction rather than courage and expansion. And yes, they are part of Life.  They are using the energy Life has given them, but they do not bring more Life to those around them.   This is so, so sad.  These people seem to feel they have to suck the Life out of things, as if they don’t think there’s enough for everyone.  We don’t have to look far for these people.  They’re around, and in much evidence, thanks to all the news reports.

But despite what the media would have us believe, they’re only a tiny fraction of what Life is.  Life is everywhere; it’s impartial.  It doesn’t pick on one person to have a lot, and another to be in want.  Part of that is choice, and part of that is luck and circumstance.  But Life fills us with potential, with light, and with possibility for good.  Every day we get the gift of Life; how we live that day is our thank-you note.

So the next time you see a sunset, say to yourself, “That’s Life.”  The next time your child gets an ‘A’ on a test, tell him, “That’s Life.”  When you see a hummingbird flutter its wings right in front of you, whisper to yourself, “That’s Life.”  Affirm Life by giving it its due.  And if you read this and feel good, tell yourself, “That’s Life.”

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Love and Loving

This is my first blog in over a month.  Thanks to all of the people who have sent responses, and encouraged me to write more.  I have taken it to heart, and will write another blog in a week.  This has been somewhat hastily put together, so I apologize for any apparent rambling.

Several nights ago I had a dream.  I often don’t remember my dreams, so this dream was unique in that I remembered it very clearly.  In the dream I was speaking to someone, and telling him to remember that I loved him.  It was not a romantic event, but those were the words I spoke.

And then, in the dream, I was told – or perceived – that I wasn’t speaking from my authentic Self.  I found this very interesting, and in the dream I began to ponder what that meant, and what loving really was.

When I woke, this was still on my mind, and I thought about it for some time.  I actually think that maybe in the dream some Higher Self, or Intuition, was guiding me to look at this and come to some understanding regarding love and loving.

George Bernard Shaw once wrote, “You can only love others when you love yourself.”  That, or a variation of it, had been a well-known platitude long before Shaw wrote it.  Some might say that advice  is just an overused bromide.  But the thing about platitudes is that, while we may have a habitual response to them, there’s a reason they’ve been around for so long, and are so oft-repeated.  It’s often because they express a deep truth, and there is a great deal of value in the advice they offer.

So I looked at this truism. “You can only love others when you love yourself.”  I spent an hour in a meditative/contemplative state in which I went deeply into the question of self-love.  I took a walk in the park near my home, and on the walk every tree, rock, bird and all the other walkers (and their dogs) seemed full of love to me.  The birds were so happy to greet me; the trees were lush and full of life.  The dogs all wanted to say hello.  I was full of love, and I saw love in everything.

A small digression here.  Have you ever been an observer of an event, and then later heard someone relate the event in an entirely different way than you heard or saw it?  You observe an exchange between your friend and another person which seems pleasant enough, and then later your friend relates the exchange, describing the other person as totally rude and unpleasant.  You wonder whether you and your friend were in the same room when this event took place.  I think this kind of thing happens often, and it made me look at perception, and how it colors all we experience.

What I came to see with full clarity on my walk and in my meditation is that, if everything I perceive is  filtered through my perception, then it is all an aspect of my nature.  So in loving myself, truly and really appreciating all the aspects of myself, including imperfections and difficulties still to be surmounted, then I see the world as full of love, and I come to love everything else, or at least have compassion or understanding.

Our ideas about what this world is about are all our own creation, because those ideas emanate from our perceptions.  So each person, tree, animal, or rock we come across is viewed from our own lens, our own experience of it.  This made me realize I create everything from my image – or, perhaps more precisely, everything is as I image it.  It also means that everything is a mirror for me, to hold up to myself, and see.  If I dislike someone, then there is a mirror to look at, and learn from.  (This may be why experience is the best teacher, if we are willing pupils.)

Now I realize that this may sound self-centered, but I don’t mean that the world is all about me.  I mean that the world each of us lives in is the world each of us creates.  So every idea and perception in your life is created from your perceptions, and can be a mirror for you.  If you see a lot of unpleasantness, unkindness and negativity, maybe it’s a good idea to look at yourself in that mirror, and see how much of what you perceive is created by the lens you’re looking through.

“You can only love others when you love yourself.”   I could have repeated that saying a thousand times, and I have known it intellectually for years, but it became real and true from my heart on that morning a few days ago, and everything opened wide.

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City Wakes – A Painting from My City Series

A City Wakens to Sunlight

Some people have asked where I got the painting for my home page.  It’s one of mine, called Cityscape.  Here’s another city, called City Wakes.  I hope this comes out on my blog – it’s the first time I’ve tried to post any art – let’s see what happens!





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The Blog

I will post a new blog topic in the next few days, but because quite a few people have requested information about the blog and my site, I am answering them here.

1.  The theme for the site is my own painting, “Cityscape” which is owned by Susan Schnebly.

2.  I am not interested at this time in guest bloggers.  This site is specifically for my own thoughts and ideas, and if you wish to comment on what I write, you may do so.  Many people who know me are sending comments to me personally, but I answer comments wherever they come.  I appreciate all of the comments except the spam and repetitive comments.


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April 18, 2012

Before I begin this entry, I want to say something about the topics I write about.  I suppose it’s actually a form of caveat.  I write about things that I have struggled with, learned about and am still learning about.  I am not an expert, have not achieved as much as many others in many of these areas.  So I am really writing what’s on my mind with regard to these topics, and what I have experienced and learned about some things.  I don’t write every week simply because sometimes I don’t have much to say about anything, but when I do write, it’s not from the vantage point of an expert, but of someone who’s traveling the road and reading the signposts.

* * * * *

Silence.  To me it means more than just quiet; it means a sense of peace, of stillness, and of strength.  The silence I’m speaking of is not simply the absence of external noise.  One can always turn off television, close doors and windows, and rid oneself of outside noises.  But there is a silence that goes deeper than simply the absence of those sounds.  It is the inner silence that comes when we are able to still the mind.

The mind is probably the noisiest place of any we encounter.  It never seems to let up; it’s always chattering and blabbing.  You can turn off television, radios, phones – but turning off the mind is a whole different thing.  It takes work to still the mind, to reach that point of inner quiet that surpasses just the absence of sound.  And once one achieves that inner quiet, it is even more difficult to carry it with you into the noises of life.

Meditation is the only way I know of to achieve a deep silence that brings quiet, calm, and something more – something magical, which is the realization that I am not my mind, and I am not the thoughts my mind creates.

In meditation I become the observer of the mind; I learn that paying attention to the mind is not the same thing as getting lost in my thoughts.  The more I simply observe the mind, the quieter it gets, until I am alone, sitting in no time, no place.  Quiet.  From this vantage point behind the mind I can see the impermanence of anything that troubles me, because in the stillness it is obvious that those things do not matter.  They are temporary.  The stillness, the silence, has a permanence to it that endures past all the petty occurrences of the day.

Many years ago I talked to a Buddhist monk who was a Tibetan refugee living in India.  He came with a group of monks to my town, and one afternoon I said to him, “When I meditate, I have trouble keeping my mind still.”  He looked at me directly and asked, “Why should you be any different from the rest of us?”

Yet just because it’s challenging doesn’t mean I don’t do it; I meditate every day.  Some days are miraculous; the outer world disappears, time falls away, and there is a peace and stillness that is like a deep, deep well of joy.  Other days my meditation might be filled with chatter that takes a long time to die down; some days it never does,  But when the silence comes it is a blessing.  And the reason it is a blessing is because I realize that all my thoughts do not define me; I am the thinker of the thoughts, but not the thoughts themselves.  I am the observer of my mind’s meanderings, but I am not my mind.  I simply am.

In the silence of meditation, I know that I am the Knower, the Perceiver.  And I can change my thoughts, or ignore them, or use them.  The more I meditate, the more I come to see that my mind does not control me, I control the mind.

And if this essay gives you the notion that I’ve ever achieved Nirvana or its equivalent, please read the first paragraph above.  I am a work in progress.

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It seems that almost no one likes change, unless they decide to change for themselves.  Which is rather ironic when you think about it, because change is happening every moment – atomic, human, cosmic – all levels of consciousness have built in change.

Everything changes.  No matter how many pictures you take, children will grow and look different tomorrow.  They will outgrow their clothes, their games, their needs.  The restaurant you loved last year on your vacation – the one on that little side street  -will have a new chef, a new menu, or may be a tattoo parlor when you come back again.  You cannot hold things still.  If you try, you are out of sync with the flow of time, and you are not participating in the flow towards the future.

But people get attached – to circumstances, relationships, places, cars, clothes.  If it’s part of the material universe, people can figure a way to get attached to it.  But attachment, if you think about it, equates with immobility.  Everything is always in flux, so being attached means trying to hold on to something that isn’t really there any more – it’s in the past moment.  So attachment doesn’t permit you to enter into the stream of life.  The moment you try to hold on too hard to something is the moment that you become stuck.

Detachment, on the other hand, allows you to enjoy each moment, each person, to the fullest. And when I speak of detachment, I am not speaking of it in the sense that you don’t fully engage, and sit on the sidelines watching.  Quite the opposite.  True detachment allows you to engage in the fullest sense in any activity or relationship, and yet be able to let it go and move on when you choose.  The key words here are “move on.”  Attachment doesn’t let you move on; detachment allows for motion and action towards the future.  Real detachment is a sense of being both the observer and the participant, living in the moment completely.  It is not a state of aloofness;  nor is it a foolish consistency, continuing to want things  that used to be good, or workable, or fun, or convenient.

In short, detachment allows you to experience and move on, not get stuck in the way things were.

This is especially true of “enlightenment” experiences.  If you have an experience during meditation that opens you up to broader vistas of consciousness, and then you try to “get that feeling” when you sit down to meditate again, then you are not meditating – you are trying to recreate something, rather than being in the moment, and allowing yourself to be conscious in this new moment.

Attachment fools you into thinking that if you “go back” you will experience the same thing you did before.  But that isn’t possible, if for no other reason than that you are different.  Detachment affords you the opportunity to be present, every moment, living that moment, and then the next.  It allows you the luxury of moving consciously in the stream of time.  This is how you contribute to the future – by being present each moment, learning from the past and looking toward the future.

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Free Choice

When I began writing this piece, I had pretty much worked it out in my head.  But then I began to challenge my own thinking.  Rather than simply eliminating the whole piece, I decided to rewrite it, and it became something else altogether…

Many years ago at a work retreat at Asilomar, a speaker said, “All your time is free time.  You are free to do whatever you choose.  And right now in your life, you are doing exactly what you want.  It’s your choice.”

“Now that is ridiculous,” I thought when the idea first hit me.  It was 1972, I was working at a job I didn’t care about, and I wanted to move back to New York but I couldn’t.  To me there was no freedom of choice – I couldn’t find a teaching job, I had to keep the job I had to stay solvent, and I had to stay in California because…well, because.  The fact is, I could have gone back to New York, gotten a teaching job, and slipped right back into the life I had before I left.   Yet when I look back at that time, I see that the speaker was correct.  I was doing what I wanted; I was choosing how to live my life, and I had chosen to change it. The fact that things were difficult, and not how I had envisioned them, did not make the fact of my choices any less true.

We do what we do because we think it is the best choice for the moment, or the one that will get us what we want, or the one that agrees with our self-image.  Sometimes we don’t choose, which is itself a choice.  Sometimes we do  things simply so we won’t be challenged, or won’t put ourselves in a position to fail.  We make choices in order to avoid consequences that we don’t want to deal with, and then later we’ll justify the choice by saying, “I had no choice.”

But we also do things because our sense of ethics, of right action, compels us.  A parent with three children doesn’t just up and quit a job she hates, because she has a sense of responsibility.   She’s decided that what she wants to do is to be a good provider and do the best she can.  This doesn’t mean it’s the only choice; it means it’s the only choice that allows living with the principles and ethics that guide her life.  She might complain, bitch and moan, but if someone came along and said, “Hey, we’ll take your kids off your hands – go live a happy life with lots of stuff,” you would see her bristle.  “Hell no!”

We decide how we will live based on our ethics, our sense of self, our expectations – and a host of other factors.  But when we do something, it’s we who have made the choice.  (Even as we say, “But, I don’t want to do this…I have no choice…”)  Our choices are what give the framework to our lives.  The most important aspect of this is that we have to be willing to live with and be responsible for our choices.

So now I can see that the speaker back then had definitely expressed a truth.  But only one truth. Because then I asked the question,   “Does a woman sitting with three dying children in a refugee camp out in the desert have a choice?  Is she doing what she wants?”  One would tend to doubt it, and so the idea of universal free choice gets called into question, because choice involves living  in circumstances which afford you the freedom to make choices.

And when I started to think about the freedom to choose, I realized that what people in the United States (or perhaps the developed world) consider freedom of choice is actually very tightly regulated.  Sure, people have many things to choose from.  Just go to a supermarket and walk to the shampoos – an overkill of choices.  But do we get to choose whom to vote for?  Actually, not really.  We only get to choose between the choices someone else decides for us.  We get to choose the evil of two lessers.

The more I started to think about the idea of choices, and freedom, the more it came down to this: The only choice over which we all have complete control is our decision to be conscious.  This is the most important and life-affirming choice there is.  For once I am conscious, the choices I make regarding any other issue are obvious.  Once you are conscious, you can never avoid responsibility – no one who is conscious would ever want to avoid responsibility, because that means one is not fully conscious.  If you are fully conscious, whatever choices you do make, you do them with the knowledge that the consequences are your responsibility, and you accept them.

We live in a world in which most choices are so irrelevant to the core of our lives that it’s okay for us to make them.  But when it gets down to real choice – the only truly significant one is this: Will I be conscious?  Will I wake up to the truth?  Will I live my life facing everything rather than avoiding?  Will I be responsible for what my consciousness dictates I do, or will I just go back to sleep?

Am I awake, fully conscious?  At times.  But it is a full time job, and I often don’t make it.  I hear myself say things that are just automatic, or unnecessary. I find myself doing something that actually has no significance or importance, just because it’s something to do.  But as I work at being more awake, more alive, more conscious on a daily basis, I realize that being conscious is the only real job I have – the rest is just commentary.

Enjoy your day!

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