Once a little boy told his mum that he reckoned there shouldn’t be any more wars, and that people ought to take care of each other and make sure everyone gets enough to eat. She smiled, patted his head and told him he was a sweet child.

The boy stopped sharing his idea as he got older, because it made bigger kids scoff and ridicule him. He learned about economics and foreign policy, and how war is often necessary to stop bad guys from doing bad things. He took on this new understanding so that he wouldn’t be made fun of anymore. Sometimes as a grown-up he’d think back on the juvenile thoughts he used to share with his mum, and he’d chuckle at how innocent and naive he was.

Then the boy got even older, and he learned that that perspective was naive as well. Actually it’s all a pack of lies, he discovered, and the politicians and pundits are deceiving everyone about what’s going on in the world for the benefit of a few wealthy ecocidal warmongers. He came to understand that everything is fake and everyone is corrupt, and he spent his remaining days scoffing at people and smugly knowing better than those who believed what the TV told them.

On his deathbed his mind did strange things as his body failed. One day, after spending an entire weekend in a non-responsive state, the boy sat bolt upright and startled his children and grandchildren who were gathered at his bedside, screaming, “Fuck! I got it right the first time!”

We are inseparable from the world we live in. This is self-evident in the breathing of air, the eating of food and the drinking of water. Ninety percent of the cells in the human body are bacteria, upon whose ecosystems the health of the entire physiological system depends. Science tells us that what we take to be separate objects are actually relatively loose clusters of tiny moving particles with no clearly defined boundary line, and when you reduce those particles to their smallest possible components it becomes difficult to say exactly what they even are or to what extent they even exist. The cells in our own bodies are constantly being replaced with proteins, minerals and other nutrients we extract from other organisms, to such an extent that it’s difficult to claim with any authority that you’re the same creature that came out of your mother’s womb.

And yet we think of ourselves as separate. We think if we destroy the planet we live on, if we destroy the ecosystemic context in which we evolved and into which we are inseparably woven, it’s no big deal because we can just become a space-faring species like in science fiction books. This despite the fact that our only ventures into space thus far have been glorified scuba diving excursions, with all resources imported from a planet with a fully functioning ecosystem. The difference between living in space independently of Planet Earth and visiting space with imported supplies is the difference between flying and jumping. We only think we’re remotely close to the former because we erroneously view ourselves as separate from the ecosystemic context which birthed us.

A human being is a swirling eddy in a flowing stream, with a mental soundtrack playing in the background saying “This stream and I, we are separate things.” Mental noises are imbued with the power of belief which describe a separate self in a separable world, despite the complete absence of any such thing that can be observed by science or by direct experience.

In direct experience there are thoughts, there are feelings and there are sensory impressions, but in none of them can a hard, tangible thing be found that can be accurately labeled “me”, no matter how hard you look. The closest you can get is to tell a story about a particular person with a particular name and a particular history, who inhabits a particular body, and then labeling that cluster of stories “me”. But that’s all they are. They’re stories.

Mental story is the only realm in which separation exists. It’s the only realm in which it makes sense to give all the stuff to Joe because Joe figured out how to make a talking dongle widget that works a bit faster than the other ones. It’s the only realm in which it makes sense to drop explosives on a group of human organisms because they are standing on the wrong clump of dirt. Without narratives about separate organisms who need to protect their interests from other separate organisms, fear and greed lose their foothold, and thus can’t be used to manipulate people toward certain agendas. The only thing that makes sense is peace and harmony.

This is what human awakening looks like. And, in my opinion, it is where we are headed. The simple, obvious truth you saw as a child was reality. You had it right the first time.


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Latest comments

  • Re: “Truth”

    “An awareness that reality embraces countless different levels of existence was common to all the cultures of classical antiquity and the Middle Ages, whether this was expressed in mythological form or in terms of philosophy. That the whole of reality should consist of the physical world which can be comprehended by our five senses is a very recent concept, and one which is basically contradicted by any knowledge of oneself. For man readily discovers that the “stuff,” as it were, of which his soul is made is different from that of his body, and that for all its ties to the physical world, it possesses qualities that the body does not have, such as perception, thought, and independent action. Endowed with these facul­ties, the soul is not, however, the only non-physical condition of human existence. For the soul, with its constant changes, is itself an object of knowing, and this pre­supposes that there is something like an inner eye that sees the soul, while itself remaining constant. This is the intellect in the medieval acceptance of the word. To try and comprehend it would be as hopeless as an attempt to see one’s own power of vision. It transcends thought, yet it lends all possible certainty to thought. All rational evidence would be nothing without the truths that are a direct “illumination” from the intellect. The medieval philosophers refer to the “active intellect” (intellectus agens in Latin, al-’akl al-fa’-al in Arabic), because the intellect consists, as it were of the pure act of knowing, and never itself becomes the passive object of perception.
    For man, the soul is his inner being, and the intellect is the innermost part of that inner being. The physical world “outside” him is, so to speak, received and trans­formed into something “inward” by the sensory organs and the corresponding mental powers. Common sense, the sensus communis, collates the external impres­sions, imagination translates them into images, the intelligence sifts and presents them to the intellect, which makes the final distinction between true and false. Accordingly, the various conditions or layers of the human nature can be thought of in terms of a varying number of concentric circles, with the outer circle corre­sponding to the physical condition, and the center to the intellect.
    The advantage of this schema, which was well-known to medieval philosophers, and to which we shall return later, is that it illustrates the order of basic realities in the simplest way. However, its limitations, and its partial fallacy are immediately evident in that the very element representing supra-personal and universal truth — namely the intellect — appears as the smallest thing — a mere point. The rea­son for this is that the entire scheme with its differentiation between “external” and “internal” is determined by an individual or “subjective” point of view. As the object of perception, the physical world appears comprehensive to subjective expe­rience, while the intellect, which is to the physical world as the source of light is to an illuminated room, appears as an elusive, invisible point.
    But taking the different levels of reality, as revealed in man, not in their subjective role, but in their actual existence, it becomes plain that the higher must include the lower, the knower must include the known, the universal must include the individual, and the free the less free. The applied schema can thus be reversed — the intellect then corresponds to the outer circle, because in its knowl­edge it encompasses everything (not in any spatial sense), just as the soul with its consciousness and its mental powers encompasses the body. This is the sense in which this system of concentric circles, one encompassing the next, was also applied by the medieval philosophers. They saw in it not only a reflection of the essential structure of man, but of the entire universe, for the various degrees of reality existed before the individual beings that share in it. Were the physical world not fundamentally, and in its very nature, included in the world of the soul, there would be no perception, and the impressions that we receive of the external world would merely be so many random coincidences. And if the physical as well as the psychical world were not encompassed by the intellect, then there would be no universally valid knowledge that surpasses the individual. One can thus speak not only of a physical universe, but also of a psychical and an intellectual universe, and of one encompassing the other according to the spatial symbolism which we apply metaphorically.
    In these same metaphorical terms, the infinite space surrounding the outer circle on our diagram, corresponds to divine knowledge. The outermost circle is itself the universal intellect, and the circles inscribed within it represent the universal soul and the entire physical world. In accordance with the teaching of Plotinus, univer­sal nature is frequently inserted between the universal soul, which comprises the individual souls as the sea contains the waves, and the totality of the physical world. It is to the purely physical condition, as is the power of movement to inert matter.
    The totality of physical existence is somehow designated by the all-encompassing celestial sphere. But within this, the hierarchy of different levels of existence is again repeated in the form of the planetary spheres, as they appear from earth. In this context Ibn Gabirol says: “Just as in its essence and form phys­ical existence mirrors spiritual existence, so the enveloping nature of spiritual qualities corresponds to a physical envelopment, since the lower level is always an imitation of the higher one . . . Thus it may be said of the spiritual substance that it embraces the physical, because — by nature of its existence — the latter exists within it, in much the same way that all bodies exist within the one body of the firmament . . .”
    This calls to mind Dante’s description of the heavenly spheres, and with reason, for in both there is the same vision of the cosmos that goes back through Avi­cenna to Plato, and even further. The orbits of the planets, which from the earth appear to move in ever-widening circles, offer a natural illustration of the levels of existence. The astronomic heavens do not themselves constitute these levels, but correspond to them, because physical existence, as Ibn Gabirol says, reflects spiritual existence; and Dante means the same thing, when he says: “The physi­cal orbits are wider or narrower, according to the measure of virtue distributed in all their parts. . . Therefore the greatest orbit, that includes the whole great uni­verse, corresponds to the (spiritual) cycle that loves most and knows most.” (Paradiso XXVIII. 64—72).
    the more profound meaning of this geocentric view of the world is in its very symbolism. If the Divine Spirit envelops this world, not spatially, but by virtue of its Being, then it is no fallacy to compare it with the all-embracing starless heaven, where even space comes to an end. And if this image is valid, then it is also true to regard the hierarchical order of the stars that appear to revolve in ever-widening orbits, as an illustration of the supra-terrestrial states of exis­tence or consciousness. It is no coincidence that the stars are not only a source of light, but also a measure of time.

    There can be any number of concentric circles, and the tri-partite division into the worlds of spirits, souls and bodies, based upon the inner structure of man, is only the simplest one. The world of the soul alone comprises innumerable levels of being or consciousness, and likewise the world of the intellect or Spirit can also be subdivided, into many levels, even if these cannot be defined verbally, for the differences within this world cannot be assessed in numerical terms.
    Likewise, there are any number of rays, radiating outwards from the center and intersecting the circles, may vary. Understood in terms of the rays of a single light, this light is no less than the universal or first intellect (intellectus primus, al-’akl al­-awwal), which, emanating from its divine source, illumines all levels of existence, and is reflected in more or less diffused form at every level. This, however, is a fun­damental feature of Platonic thought, as comprehended and developed further by the Islamic philosophers. The Intellect, that activates all perception, illumines all consciousness, and is revealed in varying degrees in every form of understanding, is one and the same. The individual souls are multitudinous and different, but not so the Intellect, even though it is reflected in different ways. The Islamic philosophers, even those closest to Aristotle, such as Ibn Rushd (Averroes), to whom we shall return later, all support this doctrine of the essential oneness of the Intellect.
    The philosopher, Ibn as-Seyid of Badajoz (1052—I 127) writes of the universal soul:
    “The existential degree of this soul is included in the horizon of the active (universal) Intellect, which embraces it on all sides, in the same way that it embraces the totality of the heavenly spheres (that is to say the totality of the physical world). It can thus be defined by two circles, according to the philosophers, even if only figuratively, since spiritual qualities cannot be qualified spatially. An outer circle touches on the all-embracing sphere of the intellect, and an inner circle sur­rounds the center of the world. Stretching between these two circles is a connect­ing line, which the philosophers call the “ladder of ascent,” for it is by means of this that divine inspiration reaches pure individual souls. Angels descend by it, and pure spirits ascend to the higher world. . .“
    This image of the ladder, with angels descending and spirits ascending, is an indi­cation that the Islamic and kindred Jewish philosophers of the Middle Ages did not merely regard philosophy as a mental discipline. The goal of wisdom (hikma), to which the philosopher (hakim) aspired, was union with the “active Intellect” (al-akl al-fa’ ‘al), which exceeds transitory existence.
    In all creation, the creative act encounters something passive and receptive, and this passive element can be likened metaphorically to a substance, out of which the world is “made.” In other words, and in order to avoid the false notion that God created the world of something outside Himself — what happens is that pure act and pure pas­sivity, which are indivisible in the Divine Being, encounter one another as separate entities in finite existence. Thus within the finite or the created can be discerned, as it were, two extreme poles, namely activity and receptivity, or activity and passivity, between which all creatures originate. Moreover, the pure activity is always on the side of unity, like a light that emanates from the one Source; whereas the receptive or passive pole, like a mirror that reflects the light, or like a medium that breaks it, is the root of all multiplicity. For this reason it is also called primordial matter (hyle in Greek, hayula in Arabic), by analogy with the ancient Greek distinc­tion between “form” and “matter” (eidos and hyle). This distinction is based on the model of the creative process in art, whereby a form (“active”) present in the mind is impressed onto a material substance (“passive”). All this should not, however, mislead us into thinking of primordial matter as something material, for much ear­lier Aristotle had said that primordial matter in itself, before it assumes a form, is neither visible nor imaginable. Aristotle is here referring only to the primordial mat­ter of this world, so that the definition applies all the more to what Ibn Masarra meant. The primordial matter of the universe is no thing; it is simply the receptive ground of existence.
    The hierarchy of the levels of existence results from the distinction between the active and the receptive poles, insofar as the two poles define each other. The union of the purely active pole with the purely receptive pole produces the first level in the hierarchy, namely a relatively active reality, followed by a second level, a relatively receptive reality. These levels could be described as “material­ized form” and “formed matter.” This union of the opposite poles repeats itself and graduates downwards as far as the physical matter, which is scarcely recep­tive at all, and which the Latin philosophers term the materia signata quantitate. Yet the two initial poles, pure act and primordial matter (materia prima), always remain the same, primordial matter being, in mythological terms, the eternal vir­gin mother of the universe.
    As a metaphor for the creation of the world from materia prima, Ibn Masarra uses the particles of dust in the sunbeam, which goes back to ‘Ali, son-in-law and spir­itual heir to the Prophet. Without the sunbeam falling on them as they float in the air, the minute particles of dust would not be visible, and without the dust parti­cles the sunbeam itself would not show; the dust atoms correspond to the pri­mordial matter, which in itself, without the reflection of the divine light, is with­out reality. This metaphor gives the doctrine of primordial matter a meaning that extends far beyond the horizon of philosophy, insofar as the latter is bound up with deductive thought. Ultimately, the meaning of the metaphor of the dust par­ticles in the sunbeam is that, by comparison with the absolute, the world is with­out being, it possesses no reality of its own. It is merely a reflection of the one absolute. This concept of reality is reminiscent of the metaphysics of the Hindus, of the doctrine of âtmâ, the highest self, and of mâyâ, as the cause of cosmic illu­sion, whereby the inherently indivisible absolute appears to be multiple. But Ibn Masarra had not borrowed from Hindu metaphysics; his spiritual viewpoint grows from penetrating the Koranic assertion that there is “no deity besides God;” the world possesses no independent reality of its own, otherwise it would be a deity besides God. Seen as itself, it is what it is; faced with the absolute, how­ever, it is nothing. This goes beyond the frontiers of rational thought, which is not to say, however, that the truth involved in this doctrine, cannot be comprehended intellectually.
    The earlier reference to Dante was an indication of how the doctrine of the levels of existence and its symbolic representation was adopted by Christian thought. A Latin text by an unknown Christian author provides a spiritual link. Today, the sole surviving copy of this text is in Paris, but by all appearances it was written in Spain and copied in Bologna towards the end of the twelfth century. It describes the ascent of the soul through the heavenly spheres, and also includes a diagram­matic survey of the universe, in which all the elements of the Arabo-Moorish cos­mology occupy their rightful places.
    At first sight, the work appears to describe the soul’s journey after death through the other world. However, in reality it is concerned, like Dante’s Divina Commedia, with the ascent of the contemplative mind through all the states of being and con­sciousness until it reaches the divine source. according to Avicenna, each of the astronomic heavens represents both a level of the universal soul, as well as a modality of the universal intellect. At the same time, the astronomic heavens are the expression of the natural forces that dominate this earthly world, and appear ominous and tyrannical to the soul that is exposed to them.
    In a diagram that illustrates the manuscript, the degrees of the physical psychi­cal, and intellectual world appear side by side as a continuous series of concen­tric circles. The outer circle of this hierarchy bears the inscription: “The first effect, the first created being, the origin of all creatures, in which all creatures are contained.” This is none other than the universal spirit (ruh al-kull) or the first intellect (intellectus primus, al-akl al-awwal) of the Islamic cosmologists. From the Christian standpoint, which is not emphasized here, it is the first reflection of the Logos in the Creation. Two more circles are drawn outside this one, the inner one marked materia in potentia, which corresponds to the receptive pole of the uni­verse, and the outer one marked forma in potentia, meaning the active or “for­mative” pole. This recalls the teaching of Ibn Gabirol, as does the inscription above the circles, which reads “Will of God” — a reminder of the ultimate reason for existence.

    “In purely logical terms something is possible if it may equally well occur or not. However, whatever actually happens arises out of the nature of the possibility concerned — out of that which this possibility is, in its timeless essence.” For every possibility derives from the mysterious self-determination (ta’ayyun) of the Absolute, and is like a locus in which it manifests its own infinite reality in a finite way [and there is no limit to possibility–the Real is All-Possibility].
    In one point, however, Ibn Rushd was more Platonic than Aristotelian, namely, in accepting the universal nature of the Intellect. According to this perspective, all knowledge — be it mental, supra-mental, individ­ual, collective, or cosmic — is operated by the one sole Light, the Universal Intellect. The Pure Intellect (intellectus purus) is the true knower in all beings, and without its supernatural unity, there would be no absolute truth transcending purely individual impressions.
    Starting out from the Aristotelian distinction between potency (potentia) and act (actus) which can be applied to all becoming or happening, Ibn Rushd conceives knowledge as such as a “passage into act.” Accordingly, the forms of things poten­tially contained in substance are brought to light by the intellect. it is only through the intellect that they acquire general, intelligible forms — and so are once more returned to unity — so that the intellect is, as it were, like a flame, in which the forms of the world are illuminated in the same measure as they are devoured by the flame.
    According to this system, the soul, as an individual entity, appears as a form which the intellect or spirit temporarily extracts from substance. Platonic philo­sophers, like Ibn Sinâ or Ibn as-Seyyid, however, think differently. For them, the primordial determinations of all beings, their essences, are already present in a non-differentiated form in the universal Intellect; they become distinct when the Intellect is refracted by the universal soul in much the same way as a beam of white light is refracted by a prism into a spectrum of innumerable colors. However, this conception is in contradiction to the Aristotelian view, which derives form from passive substance. How, then, can the soul, which by its nature is allied with form, be immortal? Ibn Rushd provides no answer. “I believe the soul to be immortal,” he says, “but I cannot prove it.”
    . In spirit all prophets are one with the highest, supra-formal, divine wisdom, yet the latter can only reveal itself by adopting the outlines of a certain form. Thus it is that water, which in itself is colorless, takes on the color of the vessel that holds it. But this is only one aspect of the relationship between divine wisdom and human form, for this form (which in the case of the prophets is necessarily perfect) represents the expression of an eternal “archetype” contained in the divine spirit, so that one might say divine wisdom — or divine reality — itself creates the vessel which it intends to fill.
    Spiritual law, which takes effect by revealing divine reality in different ways, depending on its human vessel, also applies to the various states of contempla­tion, which the mystic experiences on his spiritual path. The “vessel” in this case is the heart of the contemplator, his innermost consciousness, and the “form” of the vessel is his receptivity or preparedness (isti’dad). Depending on his pre­paredness, the divine light reflected in him takes on a different quality; thus here too “the color of the water is that of its vessel.” Put another way, the content of spiritual vision is always dependent on the nature of the perceptive subject, and this nature is unfathomable; the subject is not even able to comprehend itself. And yet, it can be comprehended, if, in Ibn ‘Arabî’s words, it is looked at “in God’s mir­ror.” Then it is no longer man’s innermost being, his “heart,” or his purely recep­tive consciousness which presents the mirror of divine qualities. God is the mir­ror in which the essential form of man becomes visible, for the divine reality is the pure “Self” which knows everything without ever becoming an object of human knowledge. In this respect it resembles a mirror, which reflects the features of the person looking into it and is itself invisible. it is impossible, says Ibn ‘Arabî, for a person looking at himself in the mirror to register the mirror at the same time, even though he knows that he only sees himself because of the mirror. This is a simile for the highest spiritual vision which man can attain, namely that he can know himself in God.
    It was in the same spirit that Meister Eckhart said: “The soul sees itself in the mir­ror of God. God himself is the mirror, which He uncovers or covers at will. . . The more the soul can transcend words, the nearer it is to the mirror. In it union takes place as pure, undifferentiated equality.” This declaration could have come, almost word for word, from Ibn ‘Arabî.”

    -T. Burckhardt

    • I’m sorry to be an asshole, but as intellectual narcissism, this is top drawer stuff. I’ll bet there isn’t a single person reading this that actually has a single idea what you’re talking about or could learn something from it. They couldn’t probably admit that either. And maybe they’re right. Who can tell? It’s sesquipedalian and supercallifragelisticexpialadocious. The Emperor is wearing no clothes.

      I don’t care, I’m not ashamed to say it. It’s exciting gobbledygook that probably gets you a lot of dates and impresses credulous friends. In fact, it’s pure nonsense. It’s pseudointellectual. As poetry, it’s sorta okay. And most importantly it’s completely off-topic and irrelevant to this discussion about truth and fiction.

      So, don’t hold back. Tell us what you really think, and see if you can say it in plain English so we can have some glimmer of an idea what it means. If you can do that, I’ll listen.

      • You should be sorry. You are a sorry fool. Because your crude and primitive intelligence doesn’t comprehend you spew your verbal diarrhea. Pathetic.

        • Oh, then you think you understand it well enough to explain it I suppose? Fat chance! It’s gibberish.

        • I’m talking about Matt. Not Caitlin, should have been clearer.

      • The best I can figure out is he’s trying to say don’t trust your intellect, don’t trust words, just go with your gut feel instincts and forget what you know.
        Doubt everything and believe nothing. Start from scratch every time you consider anything. Know nothing. Stand on your own ground floor, not on the shoulder of giants.
        I don’t support such a total abandonment of intellectual responsibility. It leads to whatever you want it to be. Going backwards to pre-civilization is not a good idea in my view. Words are analytical, insightful, rational. I like words. Words are the way we construct thought. It is fad philosophy, not worthy of wasting time. I’m not so easily led. If you want to call that crude and primitive, you’re only playing the rubber-glue game.

  • Very lovely

  • Very Zen.

  • Thank you ❤.

  • Bingo! Love the way you help open people’s eyes to the truth of the matter, blessings on you! ;-))

  • So many realities to choose from
    Aim for the one in the middle
    Have a good heart
    Don’t be naive
    Do something constructive

    Zerohedge was once fill with a wealth of enightening articles and some interesting comments (spiced with non-PC). All that knowledge flowed as stream of consciousness, but I think still available as archive or even way-back.

    All your good work needs to stick – education is the key that will lift us out of this mess.
    Where did we go wrong, what is right, how do we proceed?

  • Let’s hope so!

  • Great piece, thank you Caitlin. “Without narratives about separate organisms” – I think the question is how we move to overcome the dogma of scientific materialism, which is the creed of most self-regarding progressives and which has underpinned predatory capitalism to a horrifying degree.

  • “You had it right the first time.” So saith Timbuk3.

  • The story version of personal identity is gaining popularity with nervous scientists. I like this story.I try to tell different stories about myself. But something keeps unravelling them. Good story you wrote though. I will keep reading your stories

    • Yes. Well said. Muchy likey.

  • Thank you Caitlin for reminding me yet again that my instincts are accurate and that my conditioned mind is what leads me to feel so hurt, so upset and so out of place. The universe can be a friendly place, when we all wake up to the possibility. I’m so happy that there are folks such as you out there who are as clear as you are about the things that I am tentatively coming to believe … May my brain be re-conditioned to live from the place you encourage us to live. All the very best to you … ❤️ …

  • That is truly what it comes down to – how beautifully you have expressed. And yes the little boy as an old man lying on his death-bed has finally woken up to the confidence tricks played on us by the warmongering/dingle-dongle tricksters – all we need is love and kindness for all of us – and food to eat – and no bloody wars! Funnily enough I have just completed an update profile on my self for my alma mater (UoS) in which I was asked to envision how the world will be in 2050 (when I will be in my 101st/102nd year – should I last). (In 100 words or less): Unaligned politicians, no commercial-in-confidence between government and contracts, utilities working for the citizens, no fees for TAFE/university studies, no racism. If I had read this first I would have replaced my counting off-on-fingers-thinking with your three principles, Caitlin. Thanks!

  • Beautiful!! So much of what you write resonates delightfully in my bones. This essay in particular has parallels with a project I’m playing with in my spare time. If you have a few minutes I think you might enjoy it. ❤️

  • Caitlin, didn’t you get the memo? Get hip! We’re all supposed to be guided by 20th century philosophers Friederich Nietzsche and Ayn Rand now. You know, above bourgeois morality? Pity is contemptible? Caring is declasse? Selfishness is the ultimate virtue? Above good and evil? Get with it, babe! When all the nukes go off, you can join us rich folks in the underground cities we built and laugh at all those sentimental fools turning to dust on the surface? Why sweat it?

    What’s your problem?

    • (Sarcasm alert) The ONLY way to get change in this world right now is to convince the rich beyond a shadow of doubt that their projects are not in their own best interests. They don’t give a damn about us, but if you can absolutely convince them they or their children will suffer as a result, they will lead the revolution, like FDR did. It can work and it’s the only solution.

  • Perfect. ❤️❤️❤️

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