Category Archives: Zen Buddhism

When you let go of… words

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Since starting Minimal Student almost three years ago now, I have never taken more than a few weeks off at a time, but after coming back to England and settling in my own place, and no longer travelling as much as I used to, I felt that my writing had run out of steam. In January, I took a hiatus so that I could rearrange my thoughts and priorities, and hopefully come back a better writer.

To achieve this, I took the rather unusual approach of learning how to reflect about myself – without using any words at all.

Words are concrete, specific and tangible, but in reality, our emotions and feelings are not. I realise now that it is very difficult to convey even a fraction of who and what we are and how we feel in words – most people can only speak or write well enough to reveal the tip of the iceberg of themselves. And even if we could, we can never guarantee that others would understand. Humans are complex and irrational creatures, many of our actions are self-justified, illogical, unreasonable, or simply make no sense to others but ourselves.

So I decided to go back to the beginning, scrap all I knew about writing and start again. I emptied my cup. I turned off the computer, and sat my ass down on a pillow for a few moments each day. It wasn’t easy at first, I helplessly watched my mind jump around like an agitated squirrel trapped in a cage. But eventually I learned to embrace my energetic mind, and to observe myself without attachment or judgement – I learned to let go.

My break from writing taught me that there’s a lot to be said for putting down the pen and just being. Without words, there are no expectations, preconceptions, nothing to show or prove to anybody else, no gray areas and nothing to hide behind.

After a few months, my journey led here – back to writing again. But this time, it is clear that my style has evolved into a way of expressing myself that I feel touches something much deeper within. With practice, I hope I can continue to grow enough to be able to make sense of topics that are very difficult to explain, but too important to ignore.

It’s an ambitious task, but I like to think of it as a challenge.

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On Mindfulness

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Three years ago, since starting Minimal Student (on a whim – like most of the things I end up doing), my life has gone through some very distinct phases – I moved away from home, I spent a year abroad in Japan, I came back to England and got my own place… and during these phases I began to take interest in topics that I could relate to minimalism, such as travel or technology. Over time, my interest in different subjects waxed and waned and this blog grew to encompass more topics such as health, relationships, happiness and last but not least, Zen Buddhism.

The ‘Student’ part of this blog title is supposed to mean more than the fact that I was literally a university student when I started it. I wanted to emphasize the Zen teaching of emptying one’s cup, having an open mind and being constantly mindful. I’ve touched on these subjects before, but now I feel is the right time for me to start putting them into focus.

mindfulness at the center

It has been a few years now since I started reading, putting into practice, and learning from experience about Zen and Buddhism. Yet, I still would not call myself an expert. Heck, to be honest I still wouldn’t call myself a ‘Buddhist’ – I wouldn’t want to degrade a term that is reserved for people much more dedicated and knowledgable than I would ever be – but I have taken their wiser words to heart and put together some of the very best teachings that I feel have helped me move onwards in my everyday life.

There are so many different things to write about, yet, in my mind they all somehow come back to minimalism. Here are a few teaser topics for the future:

  • Beginnings
  • Monkey Mind
  • Finding Balance
  • Mistakes
  • On Striving
  • Effortlessness
  • The Beauty of Silence
  • Attachment
  • Learning
  • Just Being
  • …and more! (Come back to this page for links as each one is published!).

These will be shorter posts that I can publish more often than the usual longer articles. In the meantime, I still have some in-depth topics waiting in the pipelines and I’ll be back on twitter taking in your ideas and sharing other miscellaneous quotes and thoughts that pop up during my day – follow @MinimalStudent for immediate post updates! (I am also on google+, follow me and we can hang out! If there is enough demand I shall begin be posting on there too 🙂 ).

Thank you to all my wonderful readers for you unwavering loyalty, it means more to me than you’ll ever know.

Oh, it’s great to be back.

 

Spiritual Revolution

 

What I propose is a spiritual revolution”  ~ Dalai Lama

As political freedom spreads to more people and technology integrates into our lives, one would think that man’s quest for happiness is more obtainable than ever. And yet, there is still so much suffering in the world. There is still discrimination, war and violence. People are still hungry or ill when it can be prevented. Even those that seem like they have everything have their own stresses and worries.

Contrary to popular belief, money isn’t the answer to everything. We can try hard to fix the economy, invent new stuff to make our lives easier, even make environmental or political advances, these aren’t bad, but they’re not enough. What the world needs is a spiritual revolution.

By ‘spiritual’ I don’t mean in a religious way, rather that change needs to come to the hearts of people. We can try to fix external factors as much we like, but unless real positive change is made on an individual level, things will be different, but they won’t be better.

People need to want suffering to end. And they can start by trying to not create it for others. Even just doing a few little things can make a big difference.

Similarly, you can talk all day about how great minimalism is but without changing how you fundamentally think you’ll still be unhappy. Switching from consumerism to minimalism isn’t just a superficial act where you just get rid of stuff. It’s more than that. You have to be willing to change some of the most fundamental things you’ve been taught and really believe that the changes you have made were for the better.

Everybody has the power to change the world, even if for now it’s just their own.

Happy New Year everyone, may 2012 bring you the happiness and joy you deserve.

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A bell for mindfulness

 

Just outside my window, a beautiful clock tower chimes softly every hour.

To me, it’s a bell for mindfulness. A reminder that time is passing, and that I should not waste a moment of it.

The things that seem like a big deal now, one day I shall forget about them, and realise the things that really do matter.

In the end, it’s the things that have done that I want to remember, instead of regretting that which I haven’t. It’s the things that I do have, and the people that I do love that my world is made of, not what could have, should have or might have been.

As each day begins, the sun rises over the tower and as each day ends it sets behind it. The hands on the clock turn regularly, not stopping for anyone or anything.

Likewise, I should strive to move through my life with the same determination.

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If you play with fire

… you might not get burned.

Sometimes the fear of fire is worse than the actual danger of it. This doesn’t mean that you should be stupid or underestimate it’s destructive powers, but you shouldn’t live in fear of it either. A little mindfulness can go a long way in judging whether something is really worth the risk.

If you’re special (and all of us are) then you can work out how to be smart yet:

  • crazy
  • adventurous
  • fearless

The worse thing to do is make excuses (“it’s not safe to go there…” , “I don’t know if I’m good enough…”, “what will people think of me?“) and then let those excuses rule your life. Living in fear pushes you further back into your comfort zone, and you know you’re in your comfort zone when everything around you and everything you do is void of:

  • challenge
  • chance
  • danger

And if you stay there too long, you’ll just keep wallowing around in a barren land of boring. No, seriously, there’s a whole world out there waiting for you to take it on and if you’re just going to hide behind a wall of excuses, you’ll miss out on some amazing things, and not to mention you’re wasting your one chance to make a difference – to make your life really worth living.

I know that there’s something you want to do, but you’re scared to. Something or someone is telling you “no” or “you shouldn’t/couldn’t!” .

I know this because everybody has a dream being trampled on like that. Even the greatest men and women in history had the same feelings as you.

But the difference is that they weren’t scared of getting burned. Are you?

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Life is the journey.

Life is what goes by as your waiting for it to happen.

It’s too easy to mistake ‘life’ as the moments when we’re having a good time. When we’re doing something amazing like travelling, lying on the beach, sailing on a cruise boat or only when the weather is nice and sunny.

It’s also easily mistaken only as the big milestones in your life, like when you graduate, get married, get promoted or watching your kids grow up. We think that the times in between are something we have to put of with before we get to the weekend or our planned vacation when we can finally ‘live life’. But what many of us don’t know is that we’re already doing it.

Life is happening right now as you’re eating, working, waiting, breathing. It’s a miracle and yet it’s the easiest thing in the world.

We forget that life happens in every crevice of our existence. It penetrates every part of your mind, soul and body. Life is amazing. Life is the happy and sad times and all the moments in between too.

Life is the train journey before you reach your destination.

Life is waking up early, or sleeping in late.

Life is sitting back with a good book.

Life is waiting in line at the supermarket checkout.

Life is running until your lungs feel as if they’re about to burst.

Life is the moment you turn your bedside lamp off.

Life is when a good song comes on the radio.

Life is getting caught in the rain.

Life is staying up late to watch trashy TV.

Life is the smell of good cooking.

Life is every gray morning.

Life is every smile, every tear, every hug, every touch.

Life is every moment of everyday. It is right now, waiting for you to embrace it.

If you liked this post, you can find more awesomeness via Twitter.

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the border of a new generation

In my last post, I talked about what it means to be part of the digital generation.

When I was growing up, I never had much technology, until at least my late teen years. I did all of the ‘childhood things’ – played outside, went to the park, learned to ride a bike. My toy box contained things like dolls, cards, marbles and lego bricks.

My little brother, over a decade younger than me, is growing up with handheld consoles, computer games and internet TV.

the digital revolution

In my opinion, one of the most exciting times to live is on the edge of a revolution – whether it be religious, scientific or any new and radical way of living or thinking. Right now, we’re on the border of the digital generation. I grew up without knowing the what the word ‘gadget’ even meant, and yet today I’m blogging on my laptop connected wirelessly anywhere I go, with my iPhone in my pocket and my Kindle in my bag.

We are the transitioning generation. We are the ones that are on the border, the frontier.

We lived behind the border, and now we’re living after it. We have a bit of both worlds – when I was little, I handwrote my journals, now I type them into the cloud. When I was a teen, I used to listen to CD’s on a stereo player, now I stream music wherever I go. When I was younger, I read paper novels, now I read digital ones.

My little brother never knew the days when handheld consoles only had two colors, or when cell phones were bigger than his head. And I’ll soon forget about those days too.

the minimalist revolution

Now, again, I’ve realized we are in the midst of another revolution – the one of minimalism. Our parents worked long hard hours at the office to get the nice houses we grew up in, or to fund those piano lessons or those expensive clothes we thought we needed to be popular when we were teenagers.

And now, things are changing with us. As much as we are grateful for everything our parents have given us, we realize that that’s exactly all that they have been doing – giving. My parents gave me so so much that I wonder, when did they have time for their own lives?

We are the generation that is changing. We’re not becoming selfish or self-centered, we just don’t want to see the good things that were done for us go to waste in creating another ‘just-ordinary’ life. I honestly don’t want to see my parents set up such a great life for me, so that I could get a good education and so on just for me to become another working zombie.

We’re taking life by the horns and living a life worth living. We’re taking it upon ourselves to help others, not waiting for somebody else to do it.

And soon there will be the next generation. Just like what happened with technology, perhaps in a few decades they won’t know any different. They won’t know that there were so many people that slaved away at jobs they hated, put ‘work’ before others, or that people gave up on their dreams so easily.

The internet and everything it can do seemed impossible just two decades ago. Let’s see what ‘impossible’ things minimalism can bring to the world two decades from now.

Minimalism is building momentum. This isn’t the end, it’s just the beginning.

PS. This is Minimal Student’s 100th post! I’m updating the ‘most popular posts’ section, tell me your favorite posts from the past! You can comment here or find me @minimalstudent .

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the digital generation

This is a continuation of a previous blog post: Minimalist Meditations – Technology.

I’m often asked how technology helps minimalists.

My answer is that without technology, there would be very very few minimalists.

My thoughts are stored as words on 750. My most radical ideas are stored as post on this blog. My music and films are stored as files on my hard drive. My memories are stored as photos in the cloud.

All of this information amounts to gigabytes of data that can be stored on something about the size of my hand. Without technology, we would have to sacrifice all of that stuff just so that we’re not weighed down by junky folders, albums, diaries, books and CD/DVD’s.

Does this mean that minimalists are technology?

I know that there are people that are scared of technology. They’re scared that if they convert their lives into digital format, then none of it would be tangible and all would be lost.

But my question is, what is it exactly you are afraid of?

Admittedly, there’s a minuscule chance that you’ll lose some things in the cloud. But which is more likely, every single computer, server, storage unit and hard disk gets destroyed and/or wiped out… or you have a house fire? Or you are robbed? Or you simply lose or forget where you’ve put something? I hope it never happens, but nobody in their right mind would think “Oh my god my diaries are gone, now I have no thoughts or feelings!” or “Oh no, my photo albums are gone, now I have no memories!”

People who are scared are getting mixed up with putting their information online, and putting themselves online. They’re two different things.

I’m not made from the photos I took or things I wrote down, I’m made from what I learned from doing that stuff. My memories aren’t the things that I upload onto the net, they’re stored in my head, those things are just prompts or pieces that we took to remind us of them.

As a traveller, technology is invaluable to me. I need search engines, maps, tips, reviews, recommendations and all of the advantages of digital storage to lighten the load.

We are the digital generation. Never before has so much been available to us. Even just a few decades or even 5000 days ago what we have now would be a dream come true, let’s take advantage of it shall we?

Editor’s note: I found this video by Amber Case circling around after writing this post, it’s a great follow-up to this discussion, check it out!

http://video.ted.com/assets/player/swf/EmbedPlayer.swf

want more?

Check out my Twitter which I now update daily with what I’m up to, minimalist tips and awesome links!

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minimalism 101

I’m very happy to announce that this week, I was featured in the UK The Times newspaper magazine.

It’s the biggest thing I’ve ever done in my short lifetime, and it’s incredibly humbling to realize that there are people who will listen to someone like me has to say.

So, with honor, I would like to say, welcome The Times readers!

This post is for you, but also for my current readers as well as my friends and family who I have kept this blog a secret from for so long. It’s a complete definition of what in the world ‘minimalism’ is, I predict that only a small percentage of people will actually read this post from beginning to end, but I can guarantee that you will be a different person by the end of it if you do.

If you’ve never heard of minimalism before, I should warn you that I’m going to make some pretty bold statements, but if there is anything this blog has shown me, is that there are also many people apart from myself who absolutely believe them to be true.

what is minimalism all about?

The secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less.”
Socrates

Minimalism is all about having enough. It’s about having only what you need, no more, and especially no less.

‘What you need’ can refer especially to your possessions, but can also include your commitments, relationships, work and lifestyle.

All our lives we’re told that we want to have more money so that we can achieve ‘our dreams’ of owning a big house with a pool in the back, a fancy sports car and expensive shoes so we can gain the label of ‘success’. We’re told to know the latest gossip, watch the latest shows, know what everyone is doing on facebook, and jump from relationship to relationship otherwise we’re labelled ‘loners’. We’re told that we should always be ‘busy’, because if we’re not busy we’re being lazy. We’re told all of these criteria and more about how we ‘should’ live our lives and what we should have so that we can be ‘happy’.

But that’s not the whole story. In real life, there are people that have and do all of these things, and yet they’re no happier than the people who don’t. And there are people who have none of these things and are very happy with their lives. Clearly this means that it can’t be the above things that make people happy.

But despite this, there are people who wake up in the morning only to look forward to an hour of sitting in their car in bad traffic, then sitting at their desk doing a job that makes them bored or tired, then going home exhausted and sitting in front of the TV, then spending their weekends spending the money they earned to buy things that ‘make them happy’ when all they’re really doing is perpetuating the cycle.

If you ask these people what they look forward to the most the answer is usually something like their next vacation abroad, or they’re saving up to buy something big and special, or they’re waiting for their retirement… all of which are things that only occur occasionally, whilst the rest of the 90% of their lives are spent… just waiting.

a new way of thinking

You have succeeded in life when all you really want is only what you really need.
-Vernon Howard

What’s the secret to happiness? This topic has been researched extensively, but I know many people have already found the answer.

It’s minimalism.

Do you think I’m making a pretty bold statement here? It’s up to you, but here are my reasons.

Essentially, minimalism is about breaking out of the mould of always wanting more. It’s about finding happiness in what we have already, instead of chasing something that is always out of reach. Once one gains something they’ve wanted for a long time, they only find temporary happiness.

Think about all of the times you’ve gotten what you wanted, do you still want them now? Of course not, because you got it. But my guess is that you want something else right now. So you have moved on from that thing you orignially wanted so badly. Don’t worry, everyone does it, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing, but minimalism helps you break out of exactly this vicious cycle.

Why do people want things, like the latest gadget, car or in-season clothes? Most of the time it’s to boost their ego, or to show off how much money they have, or to fit in or to confirm that they are doing well in life. These people aren’t bad or selfish, in fact, I used to be exactly like that because we hadn’t been taught any other way. But now I have, and I’ve stopped worrying about what others think of me and started making some real friends who love me for who I am, not what I have.

realism or idealism?

Well that’s all well and good, but I have to pay the rent and my credit card bills“. I get this remark a lot, because people are focussing on the the wrong issue. They think minimalism is about being practically homeless – with few possessions, looking ugly and hoarding all of their money, but that’s not it at all. I have always said that minimalism is different for everyone, and it cannot be measured in set rules like that. Sometimes, it’s impractical for people to give up their jobs, especially if there are people who rely on them. If you have kids and you’re wondering what this has all got to do with you, I would suggest checking out Becoming Minimalist by Joshua Becker (somebody who I’ve looked up to for a long time and had supported my blog in it’s early stages), who manages very well with being a minimalist and a parent.

But there is always something you can do. If you downsize from a huge house, you can probably afford to live in a better location. If you just get rid of the clothes you know you’ll never wear, then maybe it won’t be so hard to open and close your wardrobe. If you spend less time watching trashy TV shows you’ll forget about in a week, or films you’ve seen before, then you can spend more time with friends and family or developing a skill or doing a hobby. If you spend more time cycling than driving, you can spend less time worrying about traffic, your health and the environment.

You don’t have to give up everything, it’s about reducing to what you really need. You can still dress fashionably without wasting money on brands, watch TV that is actually worth watching and drive a car when you need to. Just do what feels right for you. If you know me, or any other minimalists, you’ll just see a regular person. We’re not that different on the outside, just the inside.

Some people think that minimalism is against human nature. They think that if humans stop wanting more, things will stop progressing. If people have no ambition and drive, then ideas and innovations cease. People will stop working hard and just stick to their lowly jobs. This is not true. You can be happy with everything you have, and still improve yourself and society. The difference is this: as long as you are happy right now and not basing your happiness on obtaining the next thing or stage, then you’re practising minimalism, because you’re already happy. From then on, you’re working because you love what you do, not so that you can obtain happiness – because that kind of thinking never works, you will always be hanging on for ‘the next thing/stage’ , and when you get there, there will be another thing and then another thing… We should have more faith in human nature than thinking it is to be greedy.

Every human being is born to be happy. That is our life purpose. From those born poor or rich. Even the bad villains we see in movies are just trying to find happiness in their own way.

We deserve more than to be constantly waiting for happiness.

happiness

Live simply so that others may simply live.
HH Dalai Lama

A post that has been consistently popular since I published it is ‘Why minimalism brings happiness‘. People are looking for an answer.

But what is happiness exactly? How do we know if we are ‘happy’?

What happiness means is different for everyone, and in my opinion there isn’t one complete definition, but for me, happiness means that

I am feeling how I want to feel, I am doing everything I want to do, and I am at peace.

How do I want to feel? I want to feel good about contributing as little as I can to the waste and pollution of the Earth. I want to feel good that I have enough time and money to give away to people who need it more than me. And finally, I want to feel that I’ve made a positive impact, no matter how small, on the people around me and thus a difference in the world. No matter what, I’m determined to leave this world in a better state than how I entered it, that is what happiness means to me.

why I became minimalist

Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.
Confucius

So let’s keep it simple. Apart from being happy, I became a minimalist for three reasons. For my:

1. Health. Minimalism keeps me healthy. Just check out my previous posts on a minimalist diet, my minimalist kitchen, minimalist exercise, cycling, runningand so on.

2. Study. I am a student, who is in love with her major. Through minimalism, I’ve been able to be where I want to be. If you want to find where I am, check out ‘the big reveal – my year abroad‘.

3. Dreams. Finally, I became minimalist so that I can eliminate distractions from my life. Without things that don’t matter cluttering up my life, I can focus my time, efforts and money on my dream of being able to travel the world because I am a firm believer of experiences over possessions.

I am happier now than I have ever been. And I predict in the future that I will be even happier than I am now. Hopefully, my happiness will never stop because I find myself wanting something I can’t have, or because I put my life on hold to get something I want. Of course there will be ups and downs, but what can I say, I’m an optimist.

An optimist is a person who travels on nothing from nowhere to happiness.
Mark Twain

make a difference

When I started this blog, I did it anonymously because I thought it was so that I could chat about minimalism with people who felt the same. But in the Times article, my identity has been revealed to everyone, including my family and friends who had very little idea about what I was up to. Why did I agree to reveal myself in the article? Believe me, it wasn’t for fame or recognition or anything like that, I don’t care about that stuff.

This blog is my way of expressing the message of minimalism. It isn’t a cult, or a religion to follow, and I never preach or push about it in real life. Minimal Student blog is my way of spreading the word and to making the small change in the world that I have always wanted. I just want others to be happy, and if this is the way they’ll find it, that makes me even happier.

where to go from here

I’ve linked to a few of my past posts above but they are by no means all of them. If you want to read more, check out my most popular posts or read a little about me. You can also check out a few series I’m currently working on Simple Philosophies, 5 Life Lessons and Minimalist Meditations.

I have already mentioned some of these blogs above, but just in case you didn’t check them out, I want to thank the following people who have inspired me:

Finally, I just wanted to say thank you to everyone who has supported me so far. Thank you for reading and thank you for your helpful comments and encouraging emails. If you find any of the posts helpful to you in some way, please help me keep Minimal Student going by making even just a tiny teeny donation.

If you can’t see the donate button, please click here!

Have you changed even just a little since the beginning of this post? I look forward to hearing from you.

The biggest challenge

In this post, I’m going to say a few controversial things that I’ve believed for a long time but haven’t had the courage to say outright. I think this blog (and me) has finally at a place in where I can confidently say how I feel. Not everyone will agree with what I’m about to say, but I guess you wouldn’t be reading my MS if we didn’t have something in common 🙂

I’m often asked what the hardest thing about minimalism is. In the beginning, I had no idea, various things were hard – getting rid of stuff I had gotten attached to, resisting buying things I wanted to, finding alternatives that were just as good … and so on.

But, after a few years I’ve gotten so used to such things and they’re no longer very hard to do. Over time, I’ve come to the conclusion that the biggest obstacle a minimalist has to overcome is to challenge the collective mindset that society has been based on since human history.

You’ve got to overcome always wanting more.

The constant hunger for more than we need is so deeply ingrained in our minds that we have come to think of it as human nature to be greedy and that there’s nothing we can do about it. There was a time when being greedy was good. It meant that you ate more than you needed to so that you can survive the winter. It meant you took more than you needed to so you wouldn’t waste energy walking all the way back. That time was the Stone Age.

But even today, how can one possibly imagine not wanting to live in a huge house? Who wouldn’t take a Ferrari if they got it free? Why would anyone pass on brand-name clothing if they had the money for it?

For us, the house-with-a-white-picket-fence (plus everything in and around it) is a symbol of achievement. It tells the world that we have ‘succeeded’ in the game of life. That we ‘won’.

It may be true for very few people, for the most part, nobody ‘wins’ when they get everything they want. Because there’s really no such thing. Even if you get the ideal house and car, there’ll be something else that you’ll want, like a more understanding spouse, better friends, fame or more leisure time. And when you get those, there will be something else that you’ll wish for like a special talent, clever children or a ‘beautiful’ body. Think about all of the people that look like they have an ‘ideal life’. It seems they have everything, but in your heart you know they don’t.

There are an infinite things you could want, but you could probably count the things you actually need to make you happy with just your hands.

The biggest challenge about minimalism is realizing that almost everything you’ve been told as a child isn’t necessarily true – you don’t have to succeed in school, you don’t have to be popular, you don’t have to find a job that pays well. I’m not saying one should live on the street or never aim high, but if only people could be just be content with what they have, instead of chasing lies like a donkey with a carrot on a stick, they may actually find satisfaction and lifetime happiness.

One you’ve realized this, the next biggest thing is making it your philosophy and living by it. We’ve come a long way from the greedy and uncontrollable animals we were in the Stone Age. We’ve upgraded to humans now, who can overcome this way of thinking and choose our own way.

So that’s the biggest challenge. I’m challenging it, are you?

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