Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Practice report, Confessions of a Yogic Prude

First, a little practice report. I did full primary and second series up to Pincha Mayurasana this morning. Practice was great. And I did it on less than 4 hours of sleep: I went to bed at my usual time last night, but some agitating thoughts (too involved to go into here) kept me up for more than a couple of hours. So it's possible to have a great practice with very little sleep. Probably not something to be done often, though...

On a different note, I've been noticing that there has been a lot of... (how should I put this) sexualizing of yoga in both the blogosphere and in the mainstream media lately. At the risk of sounding like a highly repressed prude (well, maybe I am a highly-repressed prude, but if so, I am what I am...), I'm going to say that I find all this sexualizing both rather amusing and... unnecessary. I mean, I really don't see what all this sexualizing talk is supposed to add to our understanding of life and the practice (but then again, I might be a repressed prude, so what do I know?).

What are you referring to, you may ask. I'll give a couple of examples. The NYT style section, for instance, features a recent article by Emily Rueb about the experiences of yoga students and teachers with adjustments. The article opens by relating the experience of Claire Dederer. Remarking on the awkwardness with sexuality that can arise in a yoga class, Rueb writes:

"This is especially true in yoga class, where getting into a camel pose, for instance — thrusting your hips forward while kneeling — can feel, well, a bit “porny,” as Claire Dederer put it in the prologue of her memoir, “Poser: My Life in Twenty-Three Yoga Poses.”  The self-consciousness that Ms. Dederer felt performing said porny poses is one hurdle that can get in the way of achieving inner peace."

Before I give you my humble comments on this passage, let me share another excerpt. This one is from a recent Elephant Journal article by Brooks Hall. In this article, Hall relates a couple of sexually-charged experiences she had during yoga:

"I remember discovering my nipples hardening in Warrior 2 (I was/am fascinated with how this yoga pose—shown in the above picture—activates the energy of my body!), and another time seeing a guy trying to persuade his boner to go down after a hands-on adjustment from the teacher in a Mysore-style (self-guided) yoga class. Yoga can be exciting on many levels.

Is sex totally removed from yoga and everyday life? Sometimes it seems as if that is what’s supposed to be true."

At the risk of being the yogic prude who is guilty of trying to totally remove sex from yoga and everyday life, I am going to stick a certain part of my body out (I mean my neck; gosh, what are you thinking?!) and say a couple of things. I respect everything that Dederer, Hall, and Rueb are saying. As I will mention later, I think that Hall, in particular, makes some very insightful points in her article.

At the same time, I have some... reservations about the above examples. I certainly can't argue with their experiences; different people have different bodies, and so feel different things in their different bodies. I'm just going to talk about my own experience with my own body. I have never felt "porny" (does this mean feeling like one is in a porn movie? Or feeling like one is a porn star?) in Ustrasana, or any other backbend. But now I'm starting to wonder if it might be possible for some people (or for me at some point in the future) to feel porny in kapotasana. I find that hard to imagine. When I'm getting into the posture, my body and mind are working so hard, that being "porny" is the very last thing on my mind. Well then again, I suppose anything's possible. For all I know, tomorrow's practice might feature my first ever porny kapo. I'll keep you guys posted on this.       

As for nipples hardening in Warrior 2, I've definitely never felt that... but wait, I'm a guy! Okay, never mind, forget I said that. Again, I can't argue with Hall's experience, but it looks like in order for her second experience to happen, two conditions would have to obtain: (1) She would have to be looking pretty closely at said guy-with-boner, which would constitute a drishti violation (but then again, I'm not the drishti police...), (2) She would have to be looking so closely at a certain part of the anatomy of said-guy-with-boner that she actually notices the boner. Granted, not all boners are created equal. Some boners are probably easier to notice than others, for obvious reasons (need I say more?). But still, I would imagine that it must take a certain amount of attention to certain things (and a noticeable lack of attention to other things in the practice) to notice things like this. Or maybe I'm just missing out at all the action that takes place under the seemingly-placid surface of mysore classes. Well, as I said, I'm probably a prude :-)

But to be fair, Hall does make a couple of insightful points. She concludes the article by saying:

"Sex permeates life; we can use sexual energy for sex, or we can use it to fuel other passions like our good work in the world, but this energy is working in the background of all of life’s activities."

If "sex" here is simply another way of saying "creative energy", then it looks to me like the same point can be made by using the word "sex" only once. Consider this:

"Creative energy permeates life; we can use creative energy for sex, or we can use it to fuel other passions like our good work in the world, but this energy is working in the background of all of life’s activities."  
 
Don't get me wrong: I have nothing against the word "sex" or sex itself. But maybe you already think I am a prude, and this isn't helping matters. Well, it is what it is... To me, all this just seems to reinforce the age-old adage: Sex sells. And yoga (and yoga-blogging) is no exception.

24 comments:

  1. oh, God, why do i have to be the first one to comment? Owl would be the best one to share her wisdom on this. i might channel her a bit, maybe. there are some poses that put you in tender positions. do we need to point out to yoginidrasana? that might be sensitive for women but it is also for men. there are people who feel crazy and somewhat sexually charged by all the inversions of third or towards the end of 2nd. we are human, so our bodies act normally. i haven't had unusual experiences such as the ones you describe because if i'm in a room, i don't wear my glasses and can't see a thing, so i am not going to lose a dristhe because what i see is not clear. what i have experienced is something different, such as waves of love or affection for someone in the room, but not sexual, agape, or pure love, not eros. when we are in intense poses, there is a lot of blood flowing everywhere, and it is possible that more blood would flow to the reproductive organs. if they inflate a little i would not see that as a sexual thing, but as a physical thing. take for intance swimmers after a competition. sensitive teachers know how to touch properly. the teacher i worked with the longest (about 3 years) had the confidence of being able to reach and put one finger to my tailbone when i was in a position such as kapo, so that i would lift the pelvis up. there has to be the element of trust between the student and teacher, understanding that the teacher is doing this expertly to help the student. our yoga is intimate. did i digress from your point?

    now i'm going to express an opinion. i think it's possible that someone new in yoga might experience arousal after an adjustment, unintentionally. i am digging my mental banks and i do remember being aroused once, but it was when i was a month in to mysore style yoga; it was 5:00am in the morning and my body misinterpreted an adjustment. i was also the only student in the room that day. the teacher was embarassed and stepped away. afterwards i understood that adjustments were part of the practice and it was not right for me to interpret it differently.

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  2. Arturo, I don't know why you are the first one to comment, either. Maybe there are more prudes around than I thought :-) Yes, Owl would probably have something wise and "inside-ful" to say. Let's hope we hear from her soon.

    I can certainly see how a posture like yoganidrasana can make one sexually charged, with all the bloodflow to the perineal region. I'm digging my memory banks too... come to think of it, there were a couple of occasions when I came pretty close to being aroused. Once was when I was practicing next to this woman whom I found attractive. She was in Utthita Hasta Padangusthana, and I was in some reclining posture in primary (probably Supta Padangusthasana, but i can't be sure now). I happened to look in her direction (actually, it probably was Supta P, because only that posture would allow you to look in that direction), and allowed my gaze to linger on her a moment too long. She must have sensed my gaze, because she turned and looked back at me, and I was so embarrassed :p

    The only occasion was when this woman was assisting me in Supta Vajrasana. She was wearing this somewhat low-cut tanktop, and when she reached over to grab my hands, I couldn't help noticing her cleavage. I probably also allowed my gaze to linger a second too long, but somehow she didn't notice (or at least did not manifest any outward signs of noticing). The interesting thing in this instance was that I actually noticed that I was noticing her cleavage (if this makes any sense), and was able to bring my attention back to Supta Vajrasana almost immediately. I certainly didn't allow the noticing to turn into a full-blown arousal/boner.

    Great. Now nobody is going to want to assist me in Supta Vajrasana anymore... But generally, when I am practicing, I am too caught up in the flow of the practice to linger long enough to get aroused. Besides, I think that the engaging of the bandhas in the practice tends to pull the prana in an upward direction, which is not conducive to sexual arousal. As I understand it, the physiological mechanisms associated with sexual arousal tend to involve a downward/apana movement. I don't know if this is true, but this is my sense of how things work from my own experience of practicing. Any thoughts on this, wise yogis and yoginis out there?

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  3. Hi, well, now I am actually curious about what owl may say too!!!

    Here is my two cents, I think having sexual reactions is normal in the beginning, however, as the practice progresses and we focus more on bandha, breath, dristi, and "the infinity" meaning, as we get to u derstand the practice at a deeper level, then it is less likely we might encounter this.

    In my own experience, I will confess that I did get confused by the signals I thought I was receiving when I first started, and sometimes I though maybe adjustments meant someone liked me or did not like me... What can I say I am human, maybe I should write more about this as I find the topic fascinating....

    As per sex and yoga selling, yes, and there is nothing wrong with that diner, I am a firm proponent that whatever brings people to the mat is good, eventually all the rest comes, and all the rest is good regardless of the starting point.

    Thanks for the great topic Nobel! And thanks for sharing Arturo... Now as per Owl... Hmmm....

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  4. Hi! I really enjoyed reading this—especially the part about how I might have come to see the boner! How funny!

    Well, I want to say that both memories (nipples/boner) I described are from 10 or so years ago. And I was definitely looking around. I was fairly new to the Mysore practice.

    At the place where we were practicing at that time, we were in two long rows (pretty close), and in Samasthithi we faced one another.

    I don't think that I'm describing a moment of perfect practice, but those experiences were very real for me at the time! That said I think that it's good to be open to seeing whatever is happening in the body during practice even as we cultivate ourselves—including sexual awareness if that comes into it.

    Thank you for your thoughts and continuing conversation!

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  5. Hi :) I am not sure I have much of an interesting perspective. Genuine questions here...

    Is sexual energy a type of feeling that is supposed to be put away during yoga?

    What if practice refined all aspects of ourselves, but not the sexual aspects?

    Supta kurmasana before yoga nidrassana, right? And then, there's tittibasana C.... :-)

    What is shakti, and have you practiced with senior teachers who channel it? Is it sexual?

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  6. If yoga really is that sexual wouldn't way more guys be practicing it? :P I think some of the poses do look "porny" to people who have never tried it. If they did try the poses they'd know they doesn't "feel" porny because yoga nidrasana (and other asansa) are frigging difficult!

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  7. @Claudia, "I think having sexual reactions is normal in the beginning, however, as the practice progresses and we focus more on bandha, breath, dristi, and "the infinity" meaning, as we get to understand the practice at a deeper level, then it is less likely we might encounter this."

    I totally agree with you on this! I look forward to any upcoming posts you are writing on this topic.

    I am quite ambivalent about the "whatever brings people to the mat is good" line. I think it is probably right; I myself started yoga because I wanted to meet hot chicks! But I am still ambivalent about it. Not sure why... Have to think about this some more.

    @Brooks, thanks for commenting. I'm glad you found what I say funny. I have a rather shoot-from-the-hip style of blogging, and I'm glad you do not find me abrasive. Well, nobody has a perfect practice (at least, I don't know anybody who does), and we're always working on stuff, and as you said, being aware of anything that comes up (sexual or otherwise) is a first step.

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  8. OvO, very insightful questions you bring up :-) Let me take a shot at answering them:

    "Is sexual energy a type of feeling that is supposed to be put away during yoga?"

    Maybe it's not that yoga puts away sexual energy (or that we are supposed to put it away); rather, maybe the practice converts what would otherwise be sexual energy into some other kind of creative energy that we can then use in other areas of life. I have noticed that over the last couple of years, I have been feeling less sexual desire in general (at least, I seem to feel horny less often), but at the same time, I seem to have more energy in general. Or maybe I'm just getting old :-)

    "What if practice refined all aspects of ourselves, but not the sexual aspects?"

    Hmm... depends on what one means by "refined." If by "refined", we mean something like "changed into something that is less... raw", then maybe the practice can't refine the sexual aspect of ourselves: It seems to me that sexual energy will always have that distinctively raw aspect to it. Otherwise, it probably wouldn't be sexual energy.

    "Supta kurmasana before yoga nidrassana, right? And then, there's tittibasana C.... :-)"

    I'm not sure I get this part... Can you explain in more detail? :-)

    "What is shakti, and have you practiced with senior teachers who channel it? Is it sexual?"

    I don't think I've ever practiced with senior teachers who channel it, at least not to my knowledge. I remember that Timji once said at a workshop that the purpose of practice is to awaken the kundalini and cause it to rise from the pelvic floor. So maybe shakti is sexual, but it is more than sexual, because the same energy that makes it sexual also "powers" our "higher" creative drives. At least, this is what I understand. I am getting out of my depth here :-)

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  9. @Yyogini, "If yoga really is that sexual wouldn't way more guys be practicing it?"

    Well, I think many guys have this idea that yoga increases sexual prowess (and that interview that Sting gave a few years ago probably contributed to this impression :-)). However, at the same time, they probably think that it is too much trouble: I mean, who wants to go to the trouble of mastering yoganidrasana when there's viagra? :-)

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  10. Continuing to the central practice:

    Mulabandha... sexual?

    My sense of MB (which has a lot to do with lifting the cervix, all this anu-talk around Mysore this week notwithstanding) is that yes, sexual. But only rarely in the "gotta get off" sense... and potentially, after that bringing shakti up to shiva stuff has really happened, sexual in a general ecstatic (or, like you said, creative) sense.

    .............

    I am so tickled to hear Tim said this.

    It is really weird to me that so few ashtangis have what could be described, in Tim's terminology, as kundalini consciousness or kundalini rising. Or that when it is there, it is transitory, repressed, or regarded with dislike. So weird.
    .................................

    About supta, nidrassana, and titti c. They are all the same shape. What changes is that at first, one's crotch is firmly grounded. Second, one's crotch is pointing to the heavens. And in the third expression, you're looking in to your crotch.

    Sorry Arturo! Please forgive me for taking it to such an explicit level. xoxovo

    P.S. Tim's wonderful. I don't know him well, but to my experience he's beautiful on all levels.

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  11. Noticed the previous comment...

    There is a hilarious and informative discussion about yoga and sexual prowess in the EZ Board archives. If I remember, OKRGR made a few contributions for the ages.

    I should hope it would make one a highly conscious lover. God, I should hope.... But maybe not if it makes one an asanahole (seg. Rebecca: one so obsessed with asanas and inattentive to mulabandha that she loses her head up her own bum) first.

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  12. Sex to sell yoga not wrong, Claudia? OK Wont say it is because that's just another can of worms but it's crass oh so crass.

    The odd sexual imagery or story making might come up occasionally in meditation but I never experienced it in my asana practice quite the opposite. Only been to a shala twice of course but again can't imagine a less sexual environment but then it was AYL and not a gym, workshop or ClubMysore, everyone just seemed so wrapped up in their practice, they could have been stark naked and I don't think anyone would have taken a blind bit of notice.
    Perhaps that's one of the reasons the Yamas and brahmacharya come before asana, so we get all that out the way before supta kandasana. We don't get to pick and choose between them do we? Never quite bought the householder argument for brahmacharya, either your celibate or your not, calling it marital fidelity seems a bit of a cop out.
    But then i'm no longer twenty and thinking Sex is oh so important or thirty and thinking it worthy of intellectual consideration, glad Merleau-Ponty and Foucault reintroduced the Body into philosophy but tend to feel they over cooked it.

    Doesn't the whole Kundalini thing come from the Tantric era a later yoga period? hazy on this, tend to glaze over where Kundalini is concerned mainly out of scepticism but hey, I used to be the same about bandhas.

    Always though Sting was an idiot back in his Police days, may he be happy, well, safe.......

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  13. Hi! I wrote a pondering about "sexual" and "creative" energies at mulabloga.

    Cheers!

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  14. I don't think it's the placement of the hands, or the position of the posture, that makes a teacher's adjustment sexual. It's the 'charge' of the touch that makes an adjustment seem sexual, in my experience. No matter where or in what pose the hands may be touching.

    In 12 years of practicing, I've had all sorts of adjustments where teachers have had their hands in interesting places, or I've had really close views of a teacher's crotch in my face during UD adjustments... but these situations have never seemed sexual. There's a neutrality to the person's touch, so that no superfluous story can be made out of it. It is just an adjustment.

    BUT... only once, I have had an adjustment from someone who was new to assisting a class, and the touch had a sexual charge to it. It happened out of nowhere, caught me by surprise, but it was very clearly sexual... and I'm sure it was accidental, that the person just did not have much control yet... The touch was in a sexually benign spot too, like on my mid back, or knee, or something. It was awkward but at the same time no big deal.

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  15. @OvO, yes, I like what you said about how the sexual energy that results from bringing shakti up to Shiva is ecstatic rather than "gotta get off" in nature. Very insightful.

    I don't know Tim well either (I've only taken one workshop with him). But I like his energy and perspective on the practice.

    "It is really weird to me that so few ashtangis have what could be described, in Tim's terminology, as kundalini consciousness or kundalini rising. Or that when it is there, it is transitory, repressed, or regarded with dislike. So weird."

    I don't know enough about kundalini to know what kundalini consciousness or rising is supposed to feel like. Is it one of those "you know it when you feel it" types of things? Any thoughts or perspectives or this?

    I guess, like Grimmly, I am also a little hazy on kundalini. I'm not skeptical, though. I'm open to the possibility of its rising; it's just that, to my knowledge, it hasn't happened to me before.

    "About supta, nidrassana, and titti c. They are all the same shape. What changes is that at first, one's crotch is firmly grounded. Second, one's crotch is pointing to the heavens. And in the third expression, you're looking in to your crotch."

    Interesting. Never thought to notice this change in crotch orientation between the three postures before. Is this particular order of crotch alignment supposed to help the kundalini rising?

    This is getting interesting, OvO. Maybe you should write a post on this :-)

    "Asanahole", hahaha! Sounds like a provocative name for a new blog: "Confessions of an Asanahole" :-)

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  16. @Grimmly, as I mentioned in an earlier comment, I am ambivalent about the whole using-sex-to-sell-yoga-thing. I suppose there's a sense in which it is cool, in that it can be seen as just one instance of getting the practitioner to go from the superficial to the profound. After all, Krishnamacharya himself went around giving yoga demonstrations, performing spectacular feats of strength, control and flexibility to attract people's attention to yoga. In this sense, he was also getting people into the door of yoga by exhibiting its superficial benefits. So why would exhibiting other superficial benefits of yoga (those associated with having a sexy body and sexual prowess) be necessarily unyogic? I don't know the answer to this question. I'm just thinking.

    It's true that the yamas and brahmacharya come before asana, but it's also true that the eight limbs are mutually integrated, in the sense that doing asana consistently helps one to build up and better conserve shakti, so that one can practice brahmacharya more effectively.

    Or maybe (and this is the cynical part of me speaking) it's just a matter of growing older: Maybe the whole idea is to get young people to practice lots of strenuous asana and in this way divert what would otherwise be excessive sexual energy into another physical outlet, and help them to stay out of trouble. By the time they get to the point where they start to learn about kundalini/shakti and all that good stuff, they are already older and the "danger" isn't so clear and present anymore. Probably not a very PC way of seeing things (then again, I've never been the epitome of PC-ness), but one can't rule out this hypothesis.

    "everyone just seemed so wrapped up in their practice, they could have been stark naked and I don't think anyone would have taken a blind bit of notice."

    Hahaha! Funny! Maybe I should try stripping in the middle of some posture the next time I get to practice in a shala, and test this hypothesis (probably need to have a few drinks before that to work up the courage :-)).

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  17. @Brooks, thanks for the headsup. I'll go check out your post soon.

    @Stephanie, I think you are right that it is not so much the placement of the hands or the position of the posture, but the "charge" of the touch that makes a teacher's adjustment sexual. I can't remember any particular experience of my own that speaks to this, but I can totally see what you are saying. What's more, very often the teacher himself/herself may not even realize that there is a sexual "charge" to his or her touch. Interesting.

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  18. @Brooks, that is you? I've been recommending your blog all over the place. You're in a beautiful phase of your practice. Very inspiring; and I like your style too.

    @Grim, my brother. God, totally. The cave saddhu version of brachmacharya is the ONLY way to go. I'm sure Foucault would agree.

    @Nobel, the wonderful teacher I finally found to work with on inner energies would say that not all awakenings are the stereotypical "chi sickness" episodes or crazy explosions at the base of the spine. He'd say that, if done gradually and with the right sort of purification as you go, you might not even realize how much energy (he talks about kundalini energy as a distinct force) you are beginning to channel. I think I need a LOT more esoteric practice and inner awareness before I begin to write about this stuff on (0v0), but I am diligently working on it. And I'm not the only one among us.

    Much love from a gorgeous full-moon morning in Mysore. For seven years I resisted coming here (finishing the PhD, and believing this place was probably an Orientalist, tourist joke). When I did finally come (there are some posts in Jan/Feb 2007 that explain why), I discovered a deep well of nourishment for my practice. XOXOXOXOXOVO

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  19. P.S. Grim, just kidding. Yoga not serious. It appears that we all need to get laid and stop name-checking Merleau-Ponty on the internet.

    Myself included: http://twitter.com/#!/insideowl

    Take advantage of your full moon if you can, everyone! (7 weeks apart from my husband and counting...)

    :-)

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  20. I find sex to sell anything a little crass Nobel not just yoga, think I'm with Don Draper on that, it's lazy and unimaginative.

    I agree with you re the mutually intergrated approach to the limbs does that also mean we can work on Pranayama,Dharana and Dhyana from scratch too?

    I admit caveyogi appeals to my more extreme side at times, doubt M. would go for it or the Brahmacharya for that matter but that's a little too much information.

    Nice MP quote on twitter, isn't it around there that he talks about the body not being enough and that's why we invent culture, something like that, at work so can't check. Allowed to name check him here, Nobel is Philosophe.

    You sound ecstatic Owl, practice seems so intense over there (and early) that I imagine Moondays must feel like mardi gras...or spring break.

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  21. @OvO, thanks for sharing. So kundalini awakening can be a gradual purificatory process. Interesting.

    I love the Merleau-Ponty quote! "The body is our general medium for having a world." (Have taken the liberty of pasting it here for all to savor :-))

    This quote really speaks to me. I think I really took to yoga because without realizing it, I was so disenchanted with the "living-from-the-neck-up" existence of so much of academia. Indeed, we are all embodied beings in the world. How can we have any authentic world divorced from our bodies?

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  22. @Grimmly, "does that also mean we can work on Pranayama,Dharana and Dhyana from scratch too?"

    I am of the opinion that we can work on these 3 limbs at least to a certain extent in asana practice. Ujjayi breath is pranayama, strictly speaking. Certain postures like Supta K and yoganidrasana encourage the cultivation of pratyahara, which might put the practitioner in a better position to work on Dharana and Dhyana. But does working on all these limbs from within the asana practice yield the same results as working on these limbs "purely in and of themselves"? I honestly don't know the answer to this question, although I tend to lean towards "no"; why else would there be a need for a separate pranayama practice otherwise?

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  23. @OvO Thanks, I am honored to read that!

    @Nobel Thanks for your comment at mulabloga! It stands on it's own, and I appreciate your thoughts.

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  24. The pleasure's mine, Brooks :-)

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