The Shaman's Way

the Shaman's Way

personal transformation Featherancient wisdom


A Perfect Day 31 March 2017
Action & Belief 17 November 2015
It's Complicated 14 November 2015
Selfish Compassion 15 October 2015
Pest Intentions 14 January 2015
I May Be Crazy But... 14 November 2014
Spilling the Beans 20 October 2014
All In The Mind 22 September 2014
What is Meditation? 14 September 2014
Good on ya 3 September 2014
Get Out of the Way 11 July 2014
Shaman Everywhere 8 July 2014


A Perfect Day

Nothing is perfect. There is always a problem, a flaw and usually more than one. Practicing Mindfulness is no exception. In particular there is one very specific and problematic flaw in our well meant intentions to be present and in the moment and that flaw stems from our idea of what it means to be alive.

It is strange; isn’t it? That our idea of the most seemingly fundamental aspect of our being, our life, is just that, an idea? Because of course, while we are still alive our life is necessarily incomplete. Most, some, a lot or, perhaps, only a tiny fraction of it has yet to occur (we don’t really know). That unlived part has not yet happened and therefore it must remain in the realm of ideas. It cannot be in the realm of perceptions as we cannot perceive what has not happened and it is certainly not in the realm of memories, which are themselves also just ideas. So we are left with this imperfect idea of our life made up of what we perceive now, what we remember we perceived in the past and some vague, general and largely unformed idea as to what we may perceive in the future.

So this thing that we talk and think about all the time, our life, is really just a semantic confusion, a mish mash of ideas and conceptions that we cobble together to form a path we imagine we walk upon from our birth to our demise. When we talk about “my life” we could be referring to “my life so far” and to some degree this is right. But even when we are focusing on what has happened so far, there is always this underlying assumption that this life of ours is not over yet and there is more to come. We are always incomplete; part way through the story; in the first, the second or the final act.

We always know the sun is going to rise tomorrow morning and this is the heart of the problem. When we go to be mindful or to meditate, when we enter into our daily practice or just take a mindful moment, our intentions will be genuine and honourable but they will be flawed. This is important as the intentions that we have when we commence our practice naturally and unavoidably weave their way through our practice, flaws and all. 

The flaw is that mixed in with our good intentions, however faintly, will be this idea of our life as something that has occurred up until now and that will continue during and after our practice, or after the moment. This is what we will return to when we are no longer meditating or being mindful, this incomplete and, frankly, unhelpful and poorly formed conception of our vital existence. It would be so much better if we had not formed this idea in the first place. Then we would have nothing to return to and we could stay in the moment, as where else would we have to go? But this is not our experience.

Perhaps one solution is to replace this idea of a life spanning, well, a lifetime with another idea. Because that is what we can do with ideas, right? We can change and form them, bend them to our will , shape them to our prejudices and our desires. So let’s replace our notion of a life of years with the notion of there being only the present moment. How hard can that be?

Well, as it turns out, very hard. There is so much resistance that we will have to look for another idea that, when we bring it home to the family of our mind, will not be rejected. Otherwise our mind will counsel us that this idealistic notion of the Now is just a fad; a phase we are going through; not practical; and not really the idea we want to settle down and, literally, make a life with.

There is a compromise. Another truth that is just as radical but still sufficiently dressed in the familiar clothes of our current experience that it might be acceptable to the whanau of our psyche. This is the idea that we are born and we die every day. This is even a better idea than that impractical one about a lifespan of years. It has more immediate truth and is more relatable. Instead of burdening ourselves with this interminable cycle of morning-noon-night over and over again, day after day after day, watching the bloody sun traversing the sky repeatedly in its predictable and tedious pattern of up-over-down, up-over-down, we can treat each day as complete within itself. Born in the morning, live through the day and sleep as death at night. One day. That’s it. Game over. Every day a new game. Every morning we can ask ourselves, “What am I going to do with my life?” and every night in bed we can look back, reflect on a life well or poorly lived and promise ourselves “In my next life, I’m going to do better than that”.

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Action & Belief

There is a simple, logical, empirical fact that seems to always be lost whenever it is needed the most. This is true right now in the wake of the Paris ISIS attacks. This fact is that never in the history of the human race have a person's beliefs harmed someone else. Actions hurt people, but not beliefs and, no, this is not just semantics. This isn't "guns don't kill people, people kill people".

The popular narrative is that these men perpetrated these appalling acts because they believed in a radical form of Islam, or perhaps they were disenfranchised angry young men. However, it only takes a moment for us to reflect on our own mental processes to appreciate that their actions were not generated by a single idea or belief. No matter how they might have simplified things in their own minds, and who actually knows what they were thinking at any given time, we know that their final decision to act would, in fact, have been generated and preceded by a complex cocktail of experiences, ideas, emotions, memories, fears and desires. This is the human condition. In face of this, to tell ourselves that we can have any real knowledge of what actually went on mentally for these men is misleading, to say the least. To theorise that the mental causes can be distilled down to one or two ideas or beliefs is delusional. The reality is that it is impossible to know the 'why' of each or any of the individual perpetrators with any useful certainty or accuracy.

So, does this let those men off the hook? We can't know the inner workings of their minds so we can't judge them or condemn them, let alone try to stop others like them? No, not at all. What we can do is focus on what we actually know. We know what they did. They chose to cause extreme harm to others who had no idea they were in danger and who were not themselves threatening or dangerous in any way. Such actions are inexcusable and repugnant in the extreme.

So we can, and should, rightly condemn them. We should do everything in our power to stop those who perpetrate, encourage or facilitate them. Were the men in Paris with the explosive vests and Kalashnikovs radical Muslims? Irrelevant. They were killers and murderers. Should we arrest and suppress Muslim clerics? Yes if they encourage or support such actions, no if they don't. The same for Republicans and Democrats, Fox News and Al Jazeera, the Klu Klux Clan and the NAACP, Christians, Jews, Buddhists and Bahais. Condemn violence, condemn harm. Take action against those who are party, before or after the event, to such crimes and there is some chance you will get to the root of the problem. Focus on ideas or beliefs and you are flailing at thin air.

By talking of religion and beliefs we miss another opportunity. If the narrative generated by these attacks was focused on the vileness of violence and murder, rather than, for example, religion, then all those with Muslim beliefs that do not promote harm to others, and who do not carry out acts of harm (and that would be nearly all of them) would not be caught up in any unwarranted and undeserved negative association. It wouldn't make sense to decry peaceful people in response to acts of violence. It would be seen for the nonsense that it is.

Lastly, focusing on what actually happened, the acts of violence, rather than the myth of the mindset that caused it, is also more likely to protect us in the future. Without being distracted we can use our energies and resources to discover and deter those who are really a threat to us and then, when they have been disarmed and detained, who really cares what they believe?

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It's Complicated

As humans we have a remarkable ability to ignore the truth of our own reality. We live in a physical world with millions upon millions of species of animals, plants, insects and so on. There are countless natural formations comprising soil, rock, water and other aspects of the earth's surface and, on occasion, what lies beneath it. We know that each tiny piece of each of these things is comprised of cells, or grains or miniature organisms or inorganic matter and these break down smaller and smaller into the weird concoctions of particle physics. Taking our awareness outwards we encounter the incomprehensible scale of the observable universe and all it contains, or might contain. Distances, speeds, temperatures and other properties at all points of a vast macro physical spectrum.

When it comes to us as people, we each have our histories and our experiences, our genetics, our unique physical form, languages, emotions, predilections, fears, loves, phobias and desires. Break any of these down further and more and more layers are revealed.

So, faced with this boundless complexity how do we approach our social or political lives? We are so keen to avoid complexity and embrace apparent simplicity. The politician or leader who says "The answer is this!" or "The answer is that!" is the one that we vote for. Common sense; simple solution; us and them; black and white; good guys and bad guys.

We do this with labels. Lefties and right wingers; victims and criminals; good for the economy; bad for the environment; terrorists, freedom fighters. All so simple, so easy to understand and pick sides.

Yet the idea that any part of our existence can be broken down into such simplicity is clearly nonsense and a gross denial of our reality. People are complex, as are families, groups, countries and all combinations of humanity. Wisdom is the ability to perceive this complexity and find a way through without losing sight of the reality. The result, what must be done, does not have to be complex. Stupidity is ignoring the complexity and feigning simplicity. Appealing in the short term, but it never ends well.

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Selfish Compassion

If I had to define what compassion is, I would say it is a feeling of loving openness to another where you are willing to feel their loss and pain without judgment. This sounds very altruistic and worthy and something that might seem to indicate that I am a good person or, perhaps, an average person in a good mood.

It is also possible that by demonstrating my compassion I will get the approval of others, improve my social status (at least for a little bit), and feel good about myself for a while. Even better if someone else manages to record my compassionate act and spread it around, such as happened recently with the boy on the bus who held hands with the man with cerebral palsy.

There are even physiological benefits to me acting in a compassionate way. When I act compassionately it is likely that my body will release extra Oxytocin which is one of the chemicals in my body that make me feel really good. I can even get an Oxytocin hit by watching someone else be compassionate - like when I look at the bus picture. The benefits go on as increases in Oxytocin and the other physiological effects that come with it assist my immune system to operate more efficiently so I am healthier and I may even live longer.

So, do all these benefits I get when I feel or act compassionate to another mean that I am not really being altruistic and selfless at all, and that I am really being selfish? Well, yes. And that's good news and makes good sense.

If feeling and acting out of compassion required personal sacrifice and the depletion of my resources, then compassion would, by necessity, be a limited commodity. We could only afford to be compassionate every now and then and in between we would need some 'me time' or self-indulgence to recharge. Fortunately the opposite is true. When I place my intention on feeling or experiencing compassion for others I am recharged in an authentic and lasting way. I experience less separation between myself and others, I get all the physiological and neurological benefits that are on offer and I become more peaceful, positive and less stressed and agitated. So the more I practice compassion, the more energy I have and the more able I am to be even more compassionate.

So, it is not limited resources that cause me to limit my compassion. Instead, what stops me reaping the benefits of true compassion are my fears. My fear of vulnerability when I eliminate the space between myself and another, what that might mean for my ego, what others might do to me while I am vulnerable. These fears are all constructs of our mind that can and need to be overcome but that, as they say, is another story.

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Pest Intentions

As you probably know there is a Vedic precept called Ahimsa. This is non violence and it is a practice with great depth and meaning. My understanding of it is very limited and I see it as simply avoiding harm to other beings, be they human or animal. Harm includes physical harm and also harm by thought or intention.

Clearly a very challenging precept to follow but on holiday in the South Island of New Zealand I have found the perfect teachers to assist me with my understanding of Ahimsa. They are called sand flies. They are small, numerous, everywhere and they bite.

At first I swatted and rubbed my legs and arms to rid myself of these little pests (or so they were in my mind). This, of course, did not help. It did not stop more sand flies biting and it required me to have a mood of irritation and minor aggression. So not good for me either.

Noticing the effect on me, and feeling within me that killing these little darlings cannot be right, I started to change tack.

First was an alteration of mindset. Essentially this required an acceptance of the presence and nature of the sand flies. They were here and this is what they did. Next were some practical physical steps, covering up and other sensible measures to minimise their impact. While non violence is a state of mind, it doesn't mean we have to be physically passive or to simply accept a difficult or unpleasant situation.

Along with these measures comes a requirement for vigilant mindfulness. How easily I would unconsciously scratch or rub my ankles, killing off whoever was feeding there at the time. At other times the irritation became too much to resist and I would intentionally swat and squash them in futile attempts to relieve myself of the annoyance I felt.

But between these moments there were moments of acceptance of their presence, even allowing them to have a few bites before trying to harmlessly brush them away. There were even moments of appreciating the sensation of pleasure I felt when scratching the bites they had made and of taking time to remove as many as I could from inside my tent, one by one, without harming them.

To say I am grateful to the sand flies would be a little trite, and probably not entirely true. But, for a slightly greater understanding of the challenges, physical and mental, posed by the practice of Ahimsa, I really am grateful.

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I May Be Crazy But...

Things do not always turn out as you might expect them to. From my side of things, as a shaman, the practice of Shamanism has nothing to do with logical or rational thought processes. In fact, it is the ability to separate out the thinking, linear mind from the intuitive mind that gives me the ability to practice as a shaman in the first place. Shamanic healing and journeying are spontaneous and guided from somewhere other than thoughts.

I also meet people with all sorts of concerns and experiences that don't add up for the thinking mind. People who have seemingly excessive reactions to ordinary situations; people with fears of apparently harmless things or activities; people with inhibitions or desires that they cannot explain and that have no apparent cause. They might say "My family (partner / friends / work mates) think I'm crazy." or "I think I'm going crazy".

Working with such people over many years has brought me to a somewhat surprising realisation. These people, some of who might be labelled 'crazy' by others or by themselves, are all behaving perfectly logically and perfectly rationally. The problem, and it is a problem if it interferes with their happiness and their day to day functioning, is that they and others are only seeing part of the picture.

If you saw someone driving down the road and then they slowed right down, then sped up, then stopped, then went again, then slowed down again etc. you might say "Crazy driver! Get off the road!". However, what if you had missed the road markings and the driver was simply obeying the Give Way and Stop signs that you hadn't seen? Not a bad driver at all.

And so it is with many people who come and see me. Like all of us, their experience of the world is not limited to just the physical and the obvious. Their thinking mind is also reacting to fears and events that have historic causes but that are present, right now and right here, in their ego body. These causes might be from earlier in life, from past lives, or from somewhere else. What matters is that these unseen causes are driving the thinking mind to do its job which is to preserve and protect the ego body.

So when I freak out and 'ruin' the family fun day at the beach when somebody playfully flicks sand at me it seems I am overreacting and being irrational. But then, if we take into account the presence in my ego body of a past experience of my being buried alive, things change. My reaction - to scream, run away, flight or fight, high adrenalin, mistrust - is now perfectly rational. My thinking mind has sensed the danger, from a past event but one that is still alive in me right now, and is taking all the necessary, logical and rational steps to keep me alive.

I come across many extreme examples of this phenomena in my work. Examples where a person's day to day life is severely affected, causing them to despair. But the remarkable thing is, when we look a bit deeper, their experience is not unique. It happens to nearly all of us, nearly all the time. That's right, everyone. Always. But that's another story.

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Spilling the Beans

There is always some new hot topic in the public eye when it comes to understanding ourselves. Many years ago the new magic insight to the way we tick was body language. There was a raft of books and articles describing the different body postures that people adopt and what they mean. This was supposed to give us insight into others and in social and business situations it was promoted as giving us an advantage as we could 'read' what the other person was really saying regardless of their words (the underlying idea here that we should use our understanding of the human condition for personal gain is a matter for another time!).

As, I think, with all these fads, there was a significant underlying truth to the concept of body language, which was then watered down, hyped up and distorted to make consumable news stories. In this case the truth was that our bodies really do not lie and we constantly, moment by moment, reveal who we truly are by the way our bodies behave. Unfortunately for the marketers of "Body Language" books and courses, the reality is that these combinations of body postures, movements and conditions cannot be drawn together into some common universal human language. Instead, our bodies express our personal truths and realities through a unique combination of shape, movement and energy. To interpret this unique body language we must develop the ability to intuitively connect with the message of this particular body, in this place at this time, rather than use some abstract general concept of what bodies say.

As a crude example, let us think about what tapping our foot means. A classic body language interpretation might be that it means we are impatient. So when I say "That's fine. I'm happy to wait" while tapping my foot you might interpret that I am actually annoyed at you for making me wait, despite what my words say. You might be right, but equally my foot tapping might be simply an expression of my own excitement about what we are going to do, and have nothing to do with my feelings for you. Or it might be from my anxiety and, in fact, I am grateful to you that I have to wait so the dreaded event is put off a little longer. Or I might be bored and I am simply tapping along to the song playing in my head. All these, and many more, are possibilities.

To get to the truth we need to tune into the messages that a body is giving in an intuitive way. Doing this, we do not have to sort through endless theoretical possibilities of interpretation, instead we are immediately drawn to the truth that the body has revealed and believe me, your body knows everything about you. And it can't stop spilling the beans.

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All In The Mind

I was riding my bike the other day when a guy in a large shiny SUV yelled at me " ... you motherf*&%^#$". These were just words, there was no physical danger and he was gone in seconds. But the wound stayed.

This seems melodramatic or overly sensitive, to say that I was wounded by some stranger swearing at me. But the wound was real. The attack, and this was certainly an attack, was not in the words but in the energy behind them. They were meant to hurt, to dominate, to threaten and I reacted accordingly.

I started with derision of the guy who yelled. How arrogant he was, some young rich prick who probably had a miserable life. I thought of revenge. Catch up to him and threaten him back. Scratch his expensive new SUV. I went political. More needs to be done to separate bikes and cars on the roads. This age of wealth and entitlement must end. And all this time I watched myself in amazement that some random interaction could transform my mind from being centered, present, alive and open, as it had been as I peddled along, to being a helpless emotional puppet with my ego pulling the strings.

There are three responses to this situation.

One is to do nothing and (now I am being melodramatic) continue life as a hapless jellyfish swept along by the currents of my karma.

Another is to remove the vulnerability that allowed the wounding to occur in the first place a.k.a toughen up; take a concrete pill. This works on the surface but is damaging to the soul. Vulnerability is important and is necessary if we are going to really be our self, and being our self is the only way we are going to be truly happy.

The third and best response is mindfulness. It is mindfulness that strengthens our ability to separate the mind from the ego, opening the way for real connection, intuition and happiness. By practicing mindfulness every day in the small and big things in my life there is every chance that if again someone yells at me " ... you motherf*&%^#$" it will be but a momentary distraction and I'll just keep peddling.

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What is Meditation?

I have a strange relationship with meditation. I guess it begins with the fact I don't really know what meditation is. It then gets worse, as the more I read about meditation, the more techniques I learn about and the more I attend meditation sessions, the less certain I become. It seems the more I know, the more questions I have.

Where does meditation begin, and just sitting quietly in a room end? What about visualisations, do they count? Does my mind need to be quiet, or can it be actively watching me meditate? Can I be aware of my physical surroundings and any external (or perhaps internal!) noises? Do I need to have my eyes open or closed? Or doesn't it matter? And, the constantly perplexing question, is what I am doing really meditation at all?

The trouble is, as meditation is something that takes place inside our own consciousness, it seems we can never really know what other people's experience of meditation is and therefore we can never know if their experience is the same as ours. It is a bit like that mind bender of whether the colour yellow that I see is the same as the colour yellow that you see.

Things are not made any easier by the fact my own experiences of meditation have differed greatly. On some occasions there is a lot going on, different images come and go. On others I experience a different perspective on reality, seeing the world from the eyes of a bird or animal for example. On other occasions my experience is decidedly abstract and entirely nonsensical. There are also moments of great peace and calm, but also times of great fear and movement.

So, you can see why my relationship with meditation is troubled. Despite all this I am still content with my meditation experiences, if that is what they are. The practical difficulty arises when I am asked "Do you meditate?". I never feel confident answering this question because I don't really know what it means.

Perhaps the most useful description I have had of meditation is that it is a practice through which we experience the non-physical nature of our being. And perhaps that is the best answer, to meditate is to experience non-physical reality and it is that experience of our true nature beyond our physical ego self, that can profoundly change our perspective of the world.

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Good on ya

I met a friend yesterday who I had not seen for some time. On a physical level she still looked the same, but her energy was quite different.

We got to talking and she explained to me all the personal work she had been doing, taking real and active steps to heal herself. She appeared to be a happier, more content and, perhaps most importantly, she was certainly more present than I recall her ever being in the past. Then she started telling me about how hard her journey had been.

This is nearly always the way. Profound and lasting change is not easy, and how could it be? We spend years of this life of ours, and often lifetime after lifetime, accumulating positive and negative energy forms. The negative energies and behaviours that we want to heal the most are the ones that are the most powerful and influential in our lives. So how could they be simple or easy to change? Healing these aspects of ourselves takes effort and time and, often, persistence.

Reading this it might be easy to think, "ooh, I don't have the courage or self-discipline to achieve healing of this kind". That is simply not true. We all have the capacity to heal what is presented to us in this life, no matter how great or small it may be. Spirit is not vindictive and does not present us with spiritual challenges that we cannot meet.

It is often looking back, not looking ahead, that we see the path we have been on. It is upon reflection that we see our healing journey in a more complete form and we can reflect on the challenge it has been. However, while we are on the path we often only see the next step and, sometimes, not even that. That is how it should be. In this moment we only need the courage to do the next thing, to take the next step, no matter how tiny it may be. And, if we cannot see the hardship or difficulty that might, for a while, ensue, then all the better as this would only serve to put us off.

I admire my friend greatly for the healing she has achieved in her life. I also admire how she is now giving back to others in a way that perhaps she never could before, but that is another story.

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Get Out of the Way

Language is often going to be inadequate when we talk of Spirit, but it is revealing nonetheless.

So often when Spiritual matters are discussed there is talk of seeking, of finding, of attaining. In the context of our day to day world it makes sense that Spiritual connection is something out there that we need to find and that we can be guided to, or given. Spiritual seekers are looking for some knowledge or key that will allow them to unlock a cosmic cabinet that contains the secrets of the spiritual and psychic worlds.

Things look diffrent from a Shamanic perspective which sees that our Spirit nature is with us at all times. Spirit is in constant communication with us, and us with it, although we may not, for the most part, be consciously aware of this. Spirit is like the wetness of a cloth or sponge that permeates through every part of the cloth and affects its very nature. The difference is, with a cloth, whether it is wet or dry seems to be something we experience objectively and that is not influenced by how much or how little we use our mind.

With Spirit, however, although we are constanty saturated with it, how aware we are of Spiritual presence, how wet or dry we perceive the cloth to be, depends entirely on how much we allow our thinking mind to get in the way. The more our mind is in the way, the less our conscious connection to Spirit.

Shamanic practice is therefore not so much about gaining something but about losing. Losing the obstacles and blockages, the distractions and diversions, that keep us from experiencing Spirit directly. What we work on when we train in a Shamanic setting is how to control or avoid the thinking mind and the other aspects of our ego nature that maintain the illusion that we are separate from Spirit. In some ways Shamanic training is not really training in Spirit, but instead it is an un-training of our ego and our thinking mind as it is these that keep our consciousness confined to the physical world.

In our society, and in this time, there is much emphasis on controlling ourselves and the world around us. Self development is promoted as being about gaining skills and abilities. In this context the idea of unfolding our Spiritual development and of accessing intuition and other aspects of our Spiritual selves just by getting out of the way may seem too simplistic. Simple does not, however, mean easy as avoiding the thinking mind is like trying to tame a monkey when the monkey is nearly always in charge.

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Shaman Everywhere

Shaman are everywhere. We are in every country and every culture. We always have been. We are different races, different colours, cultures. We come from different backgrounds and we speak different languages. We wear different clothes, use different objects and instruments, sing different songs, or don't even sing at all. However, what we do is fundamentally the same, we mediate between the world of Spirit and the physical world for the benefit of our communities.

In some cultures shaman are respected and even revered. In others we are hounded and persecuted. In some places we are commonplace and ordinary, plying just another trade, in others we are largely ignored. These cultures and societies change. They evolve and they develop and the practice of shamanism can look very different on the outside but, where it counts, its essence stays the same.

In New Zealand shaman come in different forms. There are Maori shaman, indigenous shaman following a shamanic tradition going back to Hawaiki. A tradition that is persistent and commonplace yet hidden from the eyes of most New Zealanders.

There are traditional shaman from other cultures who have made this country their home and brought their practices and traditions with them. These shaman still perform the same service to their community as they have in their countries of origin for time immemorial.

Then there are shaman like me. Shaman who are not born into an established culture or tradition. Shamanism has come to me spontaneously from within. A surprise to my mind and a relief to my soul, but out of context in the society I am used to, a society where the material and physical worlds dominate and where it is geneally believed that if you can't count something, it's not of any value. Sometimes I feel like a weed that has popped up through a crack in the pavement of this society. But isn't a weed just a herb that we haven't learned the proper use for yet? And aren't weeds impossible to get rid of? We just pop up somewhere else.

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