Riders on the Storm: Finding the Hidden Gift in Chaos


storm3Every now and then life twists and turns with all the grace of a roller coaster half off the rails. Things feel perilous, unpredictable and wobbly. And that’s just your life. Never mind the recent uptick in conflict simmering in geo-political hot spots like the Ukraine, the middle-east and riot-ridden Ferguson, Missouri.

Add to this, the astrological crunch of Mars (warrior) and its impending impact (conjunction) with Saturn (status quo) on Aug 25th and you get the recipe for a catalytic breakdown-to-breakthrough both out there, and in here.

I have been watching with interest how my inner landscape remains a muted version of the cacophony around me. Yet I have friends who are ready to jump ship—from their marriage, their careers, their homes—from anything that feels constraining, even if that jumping means swimming in waters that are completely unknown.

This urge for momentous personal change that seems to be storming through people’s psyches is more accurately an unleashed desire for transformation. What is being stoked by inner and outer chaos is the impetus to shed the old skin, leaving the dry husk of our finite identity behind for our boundless true self.  Simply, the craziness around us is a call to discover the sanity inside of us.

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When at age 39, I got the call the my mother had been hit by a car and killed, I was struck by two recognitions. One, that my life would change dramatically from this axis-tilting news. And two, that the change would be wrenchingly difficult but ultimately soul-saving.

We can stop asking, “Why is this happening to (poor) me.” Instead, we can dig deep into our soul with this new question: “Why is this happening for me?”

Within two years of her death, I was out of my 17-year-marriage and back on the path of the seeker–a journey begun in my early twenties, but abandoned in the stale confines of a marriage I allowed to shackle my desire for truth. My mother’s death was a shock-loss that was also a catalyst for my freedom. I was gifted with the ability to see this even as it happened, even as I grieved.

When we see that everything conspires to wake us up—that events blessed and cursed are equal contributors to the story of self-remembrance—then we can stop feeling victimized and paralyzed by life events. We can stop asking, “Why is this happening to (poor) me?” Instead, we can dig deep into our soul with this new question: “Why is this happening  for me?”

Because underlying that question is an assumption there is order and purpose behind all apparent chaos. Or in the lingo of A Course in Miracles, “The universe is a friendly place.”

◊♦◊

In the last week I have heard about two friends who had terminal cancer experiencing miraculous shifts of prognosis–specifically having tumours disappear and blood counts make astounding and medically impossible recoveries.

These kinds of miracles are a part of the chaotic shaking up we are collectively experiencing. When structures begin to tumble, not only do institutions and governments topple, but also edifices of belief.  It’s one big shake-down.

The fractures that happen in this soul-quaking allow for new possibilities, new paradigms and new selfhood. We are being asked to let go of the old structures right now. That includes surrendering the self we have imagined ourselves to be.

And by the way, we don’t need to kill our egos–we need to grow them up and let them expand into (and be transformed by) the Remembered Self.  You can call this Remembered Self by many names: soul, Atman, no-self, One-self, Truth, true nature. The naming is irrelevant—it’s the direct recognition that matters.

So, let this chaos around you be the wave you ride rather than the wave that drowns you. See that there is a gift in the tornado–it took Dorothy to the land of Oz and chaos can take you to the land of Your True Self if you choose to engage with trust instead of hide out with fear in the cellar of your limited self.

How to engage? Be still. Go inward. Listen. Respond.

Awareness is here, at the still and vast center of all storms.

Video bonus: You know you love this one….

Lori Ann

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Feature Image: Flickr/Kristaps Bergfelds

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The Mental Trap: There’s No One Here to be Enraged…or Blissful


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What is with the contemporary non-duality crowd who love to pretend they are not really here? They keep insisting “there’s no one to awaken”  and “there’s no me to get enlightened.” And because your thoughts and feelings come from this imaginary you (that can never wake up), there is no need to worry about having them run amok through our unreal lives as emotional reactivity and polarized thinking. 

When last week I posted on Facebook about the equanimity I experienced in the face of my husband’s stroke (When You’re Okay and Everyone Else is Not), a few hard-hitting “there is no me (or you)” types (who for some reason tend to be men) had enough of something intact (could it be a me?) to post endless comments correcting my wayward perceptions about awakening and peacefulness.

As one of them said, “So, the story in the blog was just that. A story. Seems as if someone had an awakening experience. That someone stayed calm in an emergency. But it’s no different than Goldielocks and the 3 bears. The characters in the story, have no idea that they are in the story.”

It’s somewhat tiring to go the rounds with those who claim there is no one here, yet go around acting as if they are not only here, but here to police those who don’t see that they (and you, and me) are constructs that are not here. I suppose the irony of this is lost on these ardent no-selfers.

I know this: Awakening is termed awakening by ancient and contemporary sages alike because the shift of perception is tectonic: there is a dramatic shake up of reference point that is a lot like jolting awake in bed from a dream (or nightmare), to find you are not that character in the dream, but the self that dreamed it into being. And it’s both a sweet relief and a delightful sense of “of course this is who I am and have always been.”

illusionSo yes, in a way as the non-duality crowd insist, the self that seeks enlightenment is unreal–but it would be better to say it is partial, or incomplete. It’s a fragment of our totality, rather than unreal.

I used to describe the “awakening shift” as suddenly identifying as the black background vs the white foreground in this classic vase/face illusion. It’s not that the vase (read limited self) is unreal–it is just a matter of perspective. From the black faces background the view is bigger, and the vase (“ME”) is seen as an artifact of consciousness. It’s not unreal. It’s just incomplete.

This black background is the reference point of a stillness and vastness that is unexplainable, really. You wake up to what contemporary spiritual teacher Adyashanti calls “the radiant emptiness of spirit” and “the silence that you are.” But ultimately, words fail to convey the magnitude of this shift: It has nothing to do with “being calm” or “feeling peaceful.” It is beyond those emotional states because it is a quality of being, not feeling.

Alan Watts says it provocatively: “Jesus Christ knew he was God. So wake up and find out eventually who you really are. In our culture, of course, they’ll say you’re crazy and you’re blasphemous, and they’ll either put you in jail or in a nut house (which is pretty much the same thing). However if you wake up in India and tell your friends and relations, ‘My goodness, I’ve just discovered that I’m God,’ they’ll laugh and say, ‘Oh, congratulations, at last you found out.”

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I see it like this: pre-awakening I am convinced I am the fictional self who lives in the story. It’s the equivalent of watching a movie and being so smitten with the film, that one enters the fabrication so totally as to forget oneself. Simply, you forget you are the watcher (and ultimately creator) of the film and become for a short time, immersed fully in a character.

But awakening  from this character is not just a mental override, the catchy ideas “no one is here” and “the self is fictional” that you tell yourself and everyone around you, all the while going on your merry way justifying your angry, sad and fearful states and actions as “just a part of the unreal projection.”

Awakening is like coming back to the you that watches the movie, the you that sits on that seat completely unthreatened despite the mayhem befalling the screen character.  Just as when you walk out of the movie theatre–shaking your head, even laughing at the “story” you just fell into while watching–when you leave the dream self for the awakened reality there is a new reference point. (Yes, you can argue this new reference point is not real either, but I’d suggest rather, that this new awakened viewpoint is real but not ultimate…there are further refinements in perception post awakening–for instance, the Maharishi called these Cosmic, God and Unity consciousness).

A sure fire quality of a true awakening shift? It’s rare this new reference point suffers. It would be like leaving the theatre and crying, raging or celebrating for days over something that happened to a character on the screen.

awakeningNot only do reactive emotional states and mental anguish dissolve, but what is eventually revealed beyond the silence and stillness of true nature is the bliss of being.

Even as I repeatedly describe this abiding delight and equanimity (or causeless joy) in my Awakened Dreamer blog posts, one FB commenter wanted me to know this:

What you are describing is the urban myth of waking up: That after some point of epiphany or event, all would be a rose garden and only love would flow; you would like/love everyone else (and surely they would return it). All unpleasant emotions would somehow be vacuumed up never to return again and only joy, peace, and perfect understanding would now be the daily experience.”

But it’s not a myth.

◊♦◊

Though it may seem unreal for those who have yet to taste the nectar of bliss consciousness (and it’s not a state that comes and goes but hums beneath all that is), it is the only thing that IS real.

At a retreat event recently, teacher Igor Kufayev described bliss as something that permeates to such an extent, that even while he experienced physical illness (pneumonia), bliss was still a “visceral” element. Says Kufayev: “Bliss illumines every experience, even pain itself.”

As the Maharishi, founder of the Transcendental Meditation movement, said:

“This is the glory of the nature of the Self. Having come back home, the traveler finds peace. The intensity of happiness is beyond the superlative. The bliss of this state eliminates the possibility of any sorrow, great or small. Into the bright light of the sun no darkness can penetrate; no sorrow can enter bliss consciousness, nor can bliss consciousness know any gain greater than itself. This state of self-sufficiency leaves one steadfast in oneself,  fulfilled in eternal contentment.”

So, when one of these non-duality types tell me that yes, they are still having regular angry or despairing or fearful states of being, but they just no longer believe in the self that is experiencing them, I can’t help but want to still ask this basic question: But are you at peace? Does bliss permeate?

Sure you can “witness” the crazy antics of emotional turmoil and even as it rages on, tell yourself it’s not real. But what if there is another possibility beyond the detachment of seeing your rampaging feelings as unreal. What if those noisy patterns of reaction and contraction cease all together?

Simply, if you are are still riding the waves of emotional highs and lows (or the mental shenanigans of worry, doubt and despair), consider that perhaps you have stopped your inquiry far too soon.

Now, on a funny note (those non-duality debaters are so damn serious, a sure sign of missing the enlightenment pub on the way to truth) here is my before and after picture. Before Awakening…After. Note the change in hair colour. Awakening has it’s perks.

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Awareness is here, playfully red-headed for now,

Lori Ann

 

Feature Photo: Flickr: lisawiderberg

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When You’re Okay and Everyone Else is Not


woman2My healthy, athletic 60-year-old husband had a stroke four days ago. He collapsed while visiting his elderly parents in a a small town at least an eight hour drive from Vancouver–as the story goes, he stood up from the sofa to head toward the dining room for dinner and felt dizzy.

Next thing he knew he was regaining consciousness on the floor, bleeding from a head wound that would later require stitches. He soon realized he could not move his right arm and leg. Needless to say, his parents called an ambulance.

I got word of what was happening almost immediately–his mom called his son, who Facebook messaged me. (One of the blessings of FB, I suppose). A flurry of calls ensued: I spoke with his distraught mother. I called his daughter. I emailed a few of his closest friends. And I reached out to all the healers we know for long-distance healings.

During all of this I found myself in a state of calm.

I don’t mean post shock numbness. I have been in shock before–at the sudden death of my father, mother, near death of my son twice, sudden death of a dear friend. All of these events had a surreal quality — the gut wrenching adrenalin rush on receiving the news. The racing heart. The shallow breathing. The detachment that follows the first wave of angst.

No, this is and was simply a peaceful state of acceptance. That doesn’t mean I was not concerned for my husband’s well-being. But it does mean I was not suffering from emotional turmoil or mental anguish. I was just experiencing the what-is-happening without reaction but with measured and effective response–(I managed to contact all of my husbands family and close friends, including his ex wife).

Yet now, four days later, I am seeing how this state of equanimity does not fit people’s views of how a wife should be acting when her husband has been felled by what turned out to be a blueberry-sized node of brain death. (Thankfully, he has recovered 80 percent of his sensation and movement and continues to recover daily).

When it happened, it never occurred to me to reach out to my friends for “emotional support.”  When my husband posted from his hospital bed yesterday on FB that he’d had a stroke, my friends (I mean real life friends) saw this and soon a flurry of calls and emails hit me. Why hadn’t I called for support? How was I? Wasn’t I upset? What do you mean you’re ok?

It’s hard to explain to people (without sounding like a robot or alien) that there comes a time when you no longer find yourself tossed and churned in the storms of emotional distress. That there comes a time when the “peace that passeth all understanding” is a lived reality, not a transient state..

I mean, I’m okay. (Though I did manage to fold a whole lot of laundry as a Zen practice while I awaited new medical updates from afar–you should see how clean the house is too).

It’s not the first time I’ve noticed just how awakening can pull the plug on the habit of emotional reactivity. Just a day after my awakening in 2011, my husband wanted to call the relationship quits. He was upset. He wanted out. I remember I was simply at peace. If that is what he wanted, then that is what he wanted.

It’s hard to explain to people (without sounding like a robot or alien) that there comes a time when you no longer find yourself tossed and churned in the storms of emotional distress. That there comes a time when the “peace that passeth all understanding” is a lived reality, not a transient state.

And I am not talking about the “love and light” spiritual persona version of peaceful — I know that one all too well. I used to be it. It’s the mask of super-chill-all-is-well, while underneath a cauldron of upset seethes.

And this state of peace goes the other way too. The events in life that might have created a supercharged happiness, are met instead with a kind of serene contentment. It’s like when a friend of mine years ago read the Four Agreements book and understood the agreement to “take nothing personally” to mean to not get all bent out of shape by criticism…but I said to him: “It also means don’t get all euphoric over the compliment, none of it is personal.”

In this way, this deepening awakening has a quality about it of neutrality. But it’s not flat like soda without the fizz…rather it’s a different kind of fizz. It’s a fizz that’s there all the time, bubbling away no matter what the outer circumstances and events look like. You could say, it’s an effervescent well-being that just-is.

This bubbly well-being has been a key feature of post-awakening, but it has deepened and become even more present in the six months I have been in the presence of Igor Kufayev, a man who I consider a friend, but who I’ve discovered is my teacher at a level that fills me with wonderment. (For more on that, see my post : Why I Have a Spiritual Teacher Post Awakening.).

So, to all my lovely friends who worry that I must need support (or there might be something wrong with me), I say this: I do have support. It’s in the deep knowing that there is hidden perfection in the seeming chaos. It’s in the experience of expansive abiding peace that is always here when the noise of the contracted and fearful mind subsides. And that peace is available at all times for the simple reason that peace is an essential quality of who I am…and who you are.

On that note: Keep Calm, and Be the Peace that You Are.

~ Lori Ann

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Why I Have a Spiritual Teacher Post Awakening


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I’ve been mostly silent for much of last year when it comes to these ‘dispatches from beyond the dream” I’ve been playing hard to get, giving Vast Stillness the slip by being so damn busy I’ve looked a lot like a human doing, running on the old achievement treadmill at a breakneck pace.

For, one, I have been chopping a lot of wood, carrying a whole lot of water in my every day life as an editor at the Good Men Project,  heading up a new section I created called Good for the Soul.

And in the early half of the 2013, a whole six months were spent in a failed launch of a magazine called Rebelle Sex, devoted to “reclaiming our inherent sexual innocence.” In that whirlwind, I was swept up in the healing of an ancestral line rife with the whole range of shadow material, from rampaging frigidity on my mother’s side to cover-ups of the homosexual, pedophilic elements a few generations up the patriarchal line.  In that family system script, I’d cast myself in the antiscript role of the one championing “freedom of sexy speech” just to balance it all out.

Even though the foot goes off the gas pedal of “me” the vehicle of our limited self identity still has momentum..

Looking back, I can see how the orchestra of my ancestral “karma” kept on playing even as the Titanic of the Personal Identity had already sunk. It reminds me of Adyashanti’s comment that post awakening, even though the foot goes off the gas pedal of “me” the vehicle of our limited self identity still has momentum.

And then, just when I began to wonder if I’d veered into a swamp of re-identification, just when the way was looking foggy at best, I bumped into a guide. It’s Hero’s Journey 101, that moment when a wizard/good witch/wise old man or woman shows up to re-orient our hero who is lost in the maze.

In this case, the guide looks like a teacher named Igor Kufayev, who I dreamed of in great detail in March of 2012, the day before I “discovered” that this dream figure was a real life person being interviewed by Rick Archer on his Buddha at the Gas Pump show. (The show was posted the day after my dream).

And isn’t it suffering that animates the seeker seeing relief? To me, a spiritual guide or teacher seemed redundant.

In the wake of this discovery, I email corresponded with Igor (whose spiritual name is Vamadeva, or “preserving aspect of Shiva in his peaceful, graceful and poetic form”) for almost a year, on and off. I considered him an ally on the awakening journey, but as my writing and editing began to take off, and I followed up less and less wth our connection, he gently suggested perhaps I was not really seeking guidance or was not ready to engage with a teacher.

He was right. I was so sure I had it all figured out. Because for me, at least, the magnitude of the awakening had decimated the seeker in me, and had (even as I was so darn busy doing) pretty well also ended the suffering self. And isn’t it suffering that animates the seeker seeing relief? To me, a spiritual guide or teacher seemed redundant.

And yet, this teacher kept appearing in my dreams (over the months without real life contact) with messages and more. Finally, through a Facebook message from Igor’s wife suggesting I attend a retreat, we met in California in December where he was leading a three day immersion. My decision to attend was sudden– and everything lined up effortlessly, including my usually hard to book airmiles plan.

It’s six months and two retreats later as I write this. I’ve been hosting Igor and his family in my home for the last month, having brought Igor to Vancouver to teach. Having your enlightened teacher live with you is a whole other order of experience. It’s like an intensive immersion the field of Grace while at the same time, so utterly and beautifully ordinary.

What I am seeing for me, is this: There is a momentum toward integration that happens post realization of true nature (which is a doorway, not a destination), and this movement can be stopped, slowed or accelerated depending on the circumstances. Ideally, post awakening, there probably should be a spiritual nursery for newly hatched beings, but Western contemporary non-duality makes no provisions for this tender time. (In fact, the non-duality crowd like to pretend there is no awakening, because there is no-one to awaken, but more on that another time).

Having a teacher who has travelled that path of integration, who is spiritually literate and this case, a vessel for grace, is a blessing. It’s like winning the spiritual lottery and this is one jackpot of crazy good fortune that fills me with overflowing gratitude.

I will be writing about more in the next few weeks from this chapter of my story, where I get to play the role of student, a role filled with discovery, devotion and gratitude.

Awareness is here, with a guide by her side….

Photo: Igor, his beloved wife Emma, and me.

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The Awakened Beauty


moondancerThis Space emptied
of him, her, this and that,
deleted of doing and wiped
clean of what ifs and should haves,
this place of thundering
silence is refuge.

Here I fall freely
into the mystery,
surrendered to the velocity
of Truth.

You see, the dream of me
has lost its enchantment
and sober among the drunken
dreamers, I wait.

For us to dance
to music only God’s
ears hear, to tango
to the tempo of angel’s
wings in full flight
and to twirl to the spent
ardour of Her heart.

Are you dazzled yet
by the majesty of this dance,
this chorus of love?

By this solo performance
so beautifully disguised,
a mirage of many
spinning in place, worlds
born from each turn?

It’s timeless time to
take your superstar bows.

The audience of  You
has leaped from the seat,
cheering.

—-

copyright Lori Ann Lothian
July 5, 2014
Dedicated to my superstar teacher, Igor Kufayev-Vamadeva

—-

Illustration/Moon Dancer Energy, art by Julia Watkins

 

 

 

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God 101: Don’t Forget to Start and Stop.


girlwater

When you are so quiet you feel like you are deep underwater, deeply removed from the noisy world above, it can’t stay that way. Like a swimmer, you surface.

October, 2011 an awakening to true nature smashed the walls of the self I imagined myself to be, and with tidal wave force turned my reality into a quiet landscape I barely recognized.

Reactive and angsty personality traits I called Lori Ann were smashed to bits. What remained was a serenity that was truly the calm of a post-apocaylptic storm. Nothing could upset “me” but nor could anything “excite me.”

I thought this silence would last forever.

But this silent stillness was not sustainable. As if God itself, could not forever hold its breath….sigh.

Eventually (about two months after a profound empty quiet) sounds began to emerge. They sounded to me like muses, whispering ideas and poems and songs and creations.

These notes sounded like life, singing to itself.

I am sure, God sings. That even as there is the in-breath, there is always the ahhhhh of the outbreath. I am telling you this because I had a dream.

In the dream, a guru came to me. Well, it looked like a man, but he had a halo. I recognized his “awake-ness” and asked, “How long have you been awake?”

He said, “Ten years. But I want you to know this.”

And then he proceeded to draw a picture for me. It looked like an hour-glass, but more angular. Like two upside down triangles meeting in a narrow waistband of a juncture.

He said. “This is how it works. You are vast wakefulness. Then you condense into a point of embodiement. And then you expand again…and so on.”

I woke in my bed, and knew he meant that each awakening to the vast stillness of being, would be followed by a contraction to the busy localized self…and then, woosh, back out again. And I suppose, in again. The breath of life, in and out. Infinite and finite. Vast and condensed.

Life.

So…I am in the midst of vasting out again after condensing in. I feel it daily, in the awe and stillness, the absolute delight in simply being. It took going through a cataclysmic phase of re-identification, to come back home to the still point. But I know this:

God is moving. Still point is simply home base in the game of life. God loves to start as much as She loves to stop.

Let me know. Have you found the joys of both the stop and the start. The empty and the full? The End and the Beginning?

Awareness is here, Learning as She Goes.

Lori Ann

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My Sex Obsession & My Lust for God


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When self-proclaimed teachers and students of enlightenment say to me,  “Why are you so obsessed with sexuality, you can’t be awake if that is the case,” I think: Really?

I think first off, why is a curious, playful, engaged stance toward sexuality an obsession? And why is it not inclusive of God and the light that we are?

nunsIt’s old school beyond old school (I am thinking Jesuits or radical Islam and female-body obscuring burkahs) to imagine that our intimate humanness,  our lovely genitalia and how they connect in love and lust, is somehow excluded from our Divinity. It’s all included.

Otherwise, separation is here. What we deem as not allowed, that which we judge as wrong, is a symptom of the mind. The truth of our nature, has no such discrimination. Our true nature allows. Our mind disallows.

Sometimes, I wish I had the pithy answer to those righteous and fearful ‘awake ones’ (or teachers of awakening) who want to know why sex is here for me, the Awakened Dreamer. And trust me: No one would bother to question why I do yoga (I do); why I work at a bank (which I don’t) or why I bother to volunteer as my daughter’s soccer team manager (which I do). Money, sports, health would be somehow exempt from scrutiny. Sex. Well. Watch out.

To those who say my professional interest in sexuality is somehow at odds with my lack of suffering (which I called awakening) I want to reply without quoting sexy Osho or some wise juicy sage of sexually liberated self realization.

I know that married and likely sexually active Ganga-gi, my teacher (pre-this-apparent-awakening) had no issues talking about sex and the truth of what we are. I know that many sages and poets through the ages have used sexual imagery to invoke the truth of our union with the beloved now.

bookYet still, I get emails and public Facebook messages that condemn or snidely (yes snide in the realms of enlightened folk commentary) remark that I should not be so into the sex theme, and even one public comment of late: “Observation over many months, you seem to be totally obsessed with sex and your own sexuality as an aging woman… get over yourself.”

But what if I am over myself?

What if in being over myself, I am now blessedly into whatever arises?

(Tip: when you are surrendered, you are co-opted to serve and you don’t always if ever get to choose how and where.)

It’s hard to explain to people that the very thing that is here, is here.

That sexuality is coming to me to write about, and create a magazine about, even as I am not in real life, really all that sexual. Just ask my husband. I am damn well menopausal…and nowhere is the thought that my sex will save me, awaken me, fulfill me or even ruin me. I am just playing in this realm of sexuality, like a curiosity driven alien who wants to know: WTF is with the sex thing?

Let’s investigate it with a smile of unknowing. And above all have fun. This is after all Lila. If you are serious, you just might have missed the Laughing Buddha part of waking up.

Thank you Sheryl for this post. Your comments have been a lovely catalyst.

Lori Ann

(Sort of sexy, kinda old, still here in awareness. Please check out my FB page Rebelle Sex and look for the launch of the magazine this June! )

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