Category Archives: inspiration

Lighting Lamps – Jyot se jyot

As I light oil lamps, one from another, alongside millions around the world, a song and story spring to mind.

Jyot Se Jyot Jalate Chalo
Prem Ki Ganga Bahate Chalo
Raah Mein Aaye Jo Deen Dukhi
Sab Ko Gale Se Lagate Chalo

My own loose translation

As you go along light another’s lamp with your own
Let the river of love flow as you go
If you meet anyone with sorrow along your way
Embrace him as you go


I am reminded of a story I read long ago, yet cannot find.  Here is it paraphrased (which I know is not as beautiful as the original).

A man made the long journey to the sacred fire.  He crossed rivers and went over mountains.  With his candle lit, he began the journey home.  Along the way, he came across a women with an unlit lamp, who asked him to light her lamp with his own.   Not thinking of the pains he took to light his lamp, he put his candle to hers.   As he continued, the rains came down, extinguishing his light.  But he had shared his light with another.  So instead of having to take the long journey to the fire, he made his way back to the woman and lit his lamp from hers.

As you light your lamp, embrace the nature of its fire that does not diminish when shared with others.

Jyot se jyot jalate chalo.



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Aal izz Well

I saw 3 Idiots last week, basically after the entire town had already seen it.  I was further motivated to write a post I’ve been thinking of writing for a long time that touches upon stuff in 3 Idiots.  I generally don’t write about movies or books, but came to feel that the movie deserves a post of its own and the other post I’ll get around to.

After a serious drought of commercially successful Bollywood movies, 2009 really ended with a bang with Paa and 3 Idiots.  All around whether it be in class or via facebook friends from around the world, everyone was talking about 3 Idiots.  Even though, I don’t watch many Indians movies, even fewer in theatres (though movie watching and eating out are the top two recreational activities in Ahmedabad), I was determined to see this one in a theatre.

First I must acknowledge the awesome theatre.  I saw it in the club class of Wide Angle, where they have fully reclining leather chairs.  Very comfortable and if its a boring movie, you could easily sleep.

BUT 3 Idiots is not a movie to sleep through.  Some said it was another Lago Raho Munnabhai, but I beg to differ.  Yes it has its comedy, but not to the extent of Lago Raho.  The second half of 3 Idiots actually has much less comedy than the first half and tear-jerking scenes (yes I am one of those people that cries in movies…)

I love the “message” of the movie.  I am really glad to see a mainstream movie really talking about following one’s passion and not doing getavruti (acting like a donkey – aka doing whatever the mass does).  I sincerely hope that Indian parents especially take this message to heart and are more open to allowing their children to do what they want, not what the parents think they should do.  The film of course hit home with me as I’ve had to personally face the music about doing something very different, but that and more in another post.

Aamir Khan really has done it again.  His films offer great variety and he is really doing a great job in creating entertaining and educational movies.  Commercial Bollywood films can be a phenomenal outreach medium as they reach thousands around the world and he is using it as a social education tool.

Besides the film itself, you have to also give him kudos for the very unique marketing techniques used to promote the film.  But the butt chairs in theatres, morning shows with free breakfast, “Where is Aamir Khan” game across India – he put fun into film promotion.   The 3 Idiots quiz (CIT) on the Idiots Academy website reminded me of Brain Teasers I used to do as a kid.  Want to see if you think outside the box?  take the quiz =)

If you haven’t seen it, go see it.

If you need a push to go follow your dreams, go see it.

If you need help convincing your parents to support you as you follow your dreams, go see it with them.


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Wishing you the best!

As I sit here in India, I send out a prayer and thoughts full of love to two dear people – Rahul and Asha who are taking their first steps together as a married couple today. They are two inspiring people and film-makers, who are using their creativity and media to spread goodness in the world and uplift the underpriviledged. It’s a pleasure to know them and I look forward to seeing all the things they come up with in the future.

Some examples of their work:
– Asha helped found INSPIRE – short term service trips to India that give participants a chance to experience India in a whole new way as they visit organizations all over the country, participating in service projects in slums, working on an organic farm and more. What’s more, this year INSPIRE went gift-economy!
– Both of them headed a pilot project in Ahmedabad which I got to see firsthand called Lok Darshan – a weekly video broadcast of news and stories created by the community for the community
– Both of them spent time in Orissa working with Gram Vikas creating these amazing films on the work that they do, not only is the video inspiring, but their experiences there were incredible
– Rahul has created wonderful videos on many topics, including a fantastic project he worked on to bring together children from Pakistan and India called Friends without Borders, his videos posted on his youtube channel and stories about them on his blog

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Transcendental Freedom (By Osho)

Freedom from creates the politician, the reformer, the social servant, the communist, the socialist, the fascist. Freedom for creates the artist, the painter, the poet, the dancer, the musician. And just freedom for its own sake creates the sannyasin, the spiritual person, the truly religious.

The real freedom is the third kind, the transcendental freedom. It is neither from nor for; it is simply freedom. It is just freedom. That is moksha: just freedom. Neither against anybody — it is not a reaction; nor to create some future — there is no goal. One simply enjoys being oneself, for its own sake; it is an end unto itself.

“Freedom has to be understood. It is a very delicate matter, a very subtle matter, one of the most profound, because freedom is equivalent to God.

That’s why Mahavira refused the existence of God, because he accepted the existence of freedom, and that was enough. He called ultimate freedom moksha. Moksha means absolute freedom, ultimate freedom; then there is no need for God. Freedom is another name for God.

Three things have to be understood. First, there is a kind of freedom that you are acquainted with: that is freedom from. A child wants to be free of the parents. The slave wants to be free from the master, from the boss. This is freedom from; it is a reaction, it is the ego asserting itself. And I am not saying there is anything wrong in it; you just have to watch the different colors of freedom.

When you are seeking freedom from, sooner or later you will fall into another trap — because it is a reaction and not an understanding. That’s what happened in all the revolutions in the past. In 1917 the poor masses of Russia revolted against the Czar, wanted to be free from Czardom. And they became free just to become slaves again, because they had no positive idea of freedom. Their idea of freedom was negative. Their whole interest was how to be free from the Czar. They forgot, they completely forgot, that just to be free from the Czar was not going to help; some other Czar would be waiting.

The moment you are free from the old Czar, the new Czar will jump upon you — and the new will be more powerful, and the new will create a far more dangerous slavery, because the new will know that you can revolt. You have revolted against the old: he will have to make a better, stronger structure of slavery so that you cannot revolt anymore. He will be more cautious, obviously.

Now it is possible, scientifically it is possible, to fix electrodes in your head. You will never be aware of them, because deep inside your skull there is no sensitivity. So if something is put there you will never know about it, you will not feel its presence. But it can go on reporting what you are thinking to the headquarters, what kind of thoughts are moving in you; it can give signals. And there is every possibility that it is going to be practiced on people in communist countries.

So when you are seeking freedom from…. For example, if you are searching for freedom from the society, the established society, then you will fall into the trap of some alternative society. You will become a hippie or a yippie or something, and there you will again be in the same trap. If the established society wants you not to wear long hair, then in the hippie community you will be asked to wear long hair. If you do not have long hair you will look odd. People will laugh at you, they will think that you are a square. They will think that you are stupid, that you are not a rebel. So if you are trying to escape from one slavery, you are bound to fall into another, because your inner mechanism is already conditioned to being a slave. You can change masters, that’s all.

The Christian can become a Hindu, the Hindu can become a Mohammedan, the Mohammedan can become a Jew — it doesn’t matter. You only change masters, you remain the same. First you Were dependent on the Hindu priest, now you are dependent on the Christian minister. First you were dependent on the Koran, now you depend on the Geeta, but dependence continues. This is not true freedom.

Freedom from is not true freedom.

Then there is another kind of freedom: freedom for — the second kind of freedom, which is far better than the first. The first is negative. The second is positive: one wants to be free to do something. For example, you want to be free of your family because you are in love with music. You are not really against the family. You are for music, and the family creates a hindrance, so you escape from the family. You are not against the family, against the parents, but they want you to become an engineer and you want to become a musician.

And it is good to be a musician even if you have to suffer for it. It is better to be a musician if you really want to be a musician, if you have a passion for it, than to be a successful engineer, rich, comfortable, safe. You can be safe, rich, comfortable, secure, but you will be dead if you do something which you never wanted to do. If you want to become a musician or a dancer or a poet and that is your passion, then go for it. You may be a beggar, you may never become known, you may never be rich — because the society does not need much poetry.

The society does not need much music, it needs more weapons to kill. It does not need poetry because poetry cannot be of much use in War. It needs atom bombs, hydrogen bombs. It needs soldiers, not sannyasins. It is a society based on hate, it is a society which is rooted in violence. It is a society which is greedy and lives through greed, ambition, lust — lust for power.

If you become a good ladder climber your parents will be happy — although the ladder leads nowhere. One day suddenly when you have become the president of the country, on the last rung of the ladder, then you see the point: that you have come to the highest and now it looks as if your whole life has been a wastage — because the ladder leads nowhere. You are just in the sky, hanging. You have not arrived anywhere.

But now to say this is not right… because at least the people who have not arrived believe that you have reached. To say, “I have not reached,” will need great guts.

That’s what Buddha did when he renounced his kingdom. He said, “There is nothing.” That’s what Mahavira did when he renounced his kingdom, what Ibrahim did when he renounced his kingdom; he said, “There is nothing. ” But these people are really courageous people. Otherwise it looks so stupid; when everybody thinks you have reached, why say it? Why not let the illusion continue? And what is the point in saying that you have been after something which was absolutely absurd, ridiculous, that your whole life has been foolish? Why Say it, why confess it? Just keep quiet. Go on holding on to the top, remain there till you die, but never tell the secret to anybody because that will prove that your whole life has been just a life of utter mediocrity, unintelligence.

If you want to be a musician or a poet, be a musician, be a poet. And this is a second kind of freedom: you will be at least happy that you are doing your own thing, not somebody else’s thing.

And this is my experience: that to be doing one’s own thing is the greatest joy in the world — whatsoever that thing is appreciated by the society or not, valued by the society or not, whether it can be sold in the marketplace as a commodity or not. If it is the thing that you passionately desire, intensely desire, then do it; and whatsoever the cost, sacrifice yourself for it.

This is the second kind of freedom: freedom for. This is a positive approach, better than the first. The first type of person becomes a politician. The second type of person becomes a poet, a painter, an artist. The first freedom is negative, the second freedom is positive — but remember, they are aspects of the same thing.

Even the first type of freedom at least pretends that there is some goal. Even the politician says, “We are fighting to be free — from this kind of society, this kind of structure, this kind of politics. We are fighting to be free from this society just to create another society. We are fighting for some goal, some value, some utopia, some ideology.” Even he has to pretend that, because the negative cannot exist alone; at least the positive has to be talked about. So communism talks about a classless society, utopia, where everything will be beautiful, where paradise will have descended on the earth. It will take infinity, but that goal has to be given. Otherwise people will not fight for a negative freedom.

So the negative implies the positive; and vice versa, the positive implies the negative. When you want to become a painter and your parents are not agreeing and your society thinks it is foolish, you have to fight with them. So freedom for will have something to do with freedom from; they both are together.

The real freedom is the third kind, the transcendental freedom. What is that? It is neither from nor for; it is simply freedom. It is just freedom. That is moksha: just freedom. Neither against anybody — it is not a reaction; nor to create some future — there is no goal. One simply enjoys being oneself, for its own sake; it is an end unto itself.

Freedom from creates the politician, the reformer, the social servant, the communist, the socialist, the fascist. Freedom for creates the artist, the painter, the poet, the dancer, the musician. And just freedom for its own sake creates the sannyasin, the spiritual person, the truly religious.

Pagal, your question is, “We must be free. Yet where does freedom end and selfishness begin?” The first two are selfish, ego-oriented. The first, freedom from, is very egoistic because it has to fight against. It is violent; it has to be very egoistic. It has to disobey, it has to destroy, it has to conspire against the status quo. It needs great ego. The politician is nothing but pure ego.

The second, freedom for, also has ego, but more delicate, more subtle, not so gross as the politician’s. The musician also has the ego, but more delicate, softer, more gentlemanly. The poet also has the ego, but nice, sweet, not so bitter as the first. They both are ego expressions.

Only in the third, pure freedom — neither against nor for — is there no ego and is there no selfishness, because the third freedom happens only when the ego has evaporated. If the ego is still there, the freedom may be either the first or the second. The third requires as basic the phenomenon of the disappearance of the ego :FANA. One has to understand the ego to attain the third freedom.

Watch the ways of the ego. Go on watching. There is no need to fight for, no need to fight against; there is only just one need: to watch and be aware of how the ego functions, its mechanism. And slowly, slowly out of that awareness, one day the ego is found no more. Because the ego can exist only in unawareness. When awareness comes and the light comes, the ego disappears like darkness. And then there is freedom. That freedom knows no ego.

And that freedom is love, and that freedom is God. That freedom is nirvana, that freedom is truth. In that freedom you exist in God, God exists in you. Then nothing wrong can ever happen through you. Then your life is virtue. Then your very breathing is meditation. Then you walk and it is poetry. Then you sit silently and it is dance. Then you are a blessing to the world. You are blessed.”

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My friend wrote this fantastic post, which she calls a “Darpana Moment”. The topic: life.

It begins like this:

How many times do we forget that the life we live is the life we choose to live. Many people feel that some of the decisions that they have to make are based on family obligations, and perhaps some are, but sometimes to achieve the great we have to break out of the norm. There is a saying that goes along the lines of being scared of our endless possibilities. How true can that be? How can one be scared of the endless possibilities? Are we scared to dream big because we do not want to disappoint ourselves or others? Why are we so scared to dream big? To achieve greatness? What holds us back?

The first sentence highlights an important point. Namely the life we live is the life we CHOOSE to live. As humans beings we are placed at the top of the animal kingdom because we have intellect. We have the ability to make decisions based on reason and understanding, we have the ability to CHOOSE. The sad part is that the world or so-called society does not create an environment that promotes choice. After all, order is needed for so many billions of people to co-exist.

But what does that mean for the individual?

What is life?

If we have the ability to choose the way we live, why are the majority of people unhappy? Why do they feel like something is missing?

Pick up any self-help book, listen to motivational talks, hear inspiring stories and you’ll find a common theme through them all. The people who succeed, the people who set themselves apart and can say that they are happy, realized that they had the ability to CHOOSE and CHOSE to make their lives according to their own wishes. Though they may have failed (many many times for that matter), they held on to their vision of the life they WANTED to live and did everything to make that life a reality.

The conversion from a dream to reality doesn’t happen on its own. It takes conviction, it takes determination, its takes the ability to continue on despite all the obstacles.

It’s ironic when you look at it. Society (now this is a vast generalization I know) idolizes those who achieve great heights, but does not provide the support or encouragement for someone to reach those heights. God, the universe, whatever you want to call it, has given each soul a talent, a gift, a capability. But as that soul moves along with the normal practices of life, if it does not tune itself to its abilities or if there is not someone around who can help one recognize these capabilities, the soul continues in the circle of average life, while feeling that something is missing, having a dullness over their general being.

The system is not meant for those who want to be more than average. Understandably, it would be scary every person was trying to realize their potential and continually living with uncertainty about whether or not success will be achieved.

It is the UNCERTAINTY that makes people afraid.

Why marriage? Legal security. But does legal security guarantee mental security?

Why a “respectable” steady job such as that of a doctor, engineer or lawyer? Job/ financial security, but does financial security guarantee happiness or job satisfaction?

We get degrees, etc to qualify ourselves for certain positions, but what piece of paper tells the world of your passion and determination, which turn out to be two of the biggest qualifications for success?

The first challenge of life is to find that passion, find that god given gift. The second is to follow through on it. It is not only the responsibility of the individual to find one’s own passion, but also to support others in the pursuit of their own.

In his last lecture, a young professor in the last stages of cancer asked the audience to do one thing for him – allow their children to decorate their rooms however they want – let them scribble on the walls, do whatever they feel. Allow their inner creativity to come out.

The talent exists. The creativity is there, but often the outlets for its expression are blocked. We are too busy trying to make people like ourselves to allow them to be themselves.

Khalil Gibran has a beautiful quote on children, which can be applied in general.

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself….
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts…..
You may house their bodies but not their souls…
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.

So it is a challenge to me, you and everyone else.

Instead of trying to mold someone into our personal model of ideal life, which often is that of the life we wished to have, but don’t have; let us support each other in one’s personal journey to realize one’s own life purpose, to uncover one’s talents and gifts and make them in a way that they become the life we live. Success may not be guaranteed, but one will be better than the average.


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An ode to women of Safai Vidhyalay

The month of February was the month of international volunteers.  We had an influx of volunteers from the US and UK who came to serve for the month. These women each have so much to offer. I learned a lot from living with them all. Here’s an ode to these fabulous women.

The volunteers

It’s really hard to describe Lax because you don’t know where to start. She always has a smile on her face. No matter how many things she is doing, when she talking to you, she’s focused on you. She has taught me so much about dedication and the small things. She didn’t work on any large project, but did all the litte things that can get easily overlooked. Daily tutoring for Raghu and Yogesh in English, spending time with Herama and Kantima in the tekra, two elderly women who bloomed with her companionship and love, tutoring Sandeepbhai for exams, etc. Laxmi took time off between jobs in the UK to come to India for 3 months to volunteer, I love her dedication to this dream of hers and the perspectives and grounding that she offered me. It was when Laxmi came home with her guitar that I really got the kick that I should start pursuing my other goal of taking up tabla or Kathak while in India. I mean if she could follow up on her dream while her for 3 months, I had already let 6 months pass by. The push to start something came from that day.

So I met Krupa last year at Miles for Smiles, a CharityFocus event, where we stood at intersections holding up signs that asked people to smile. The eldest of the volunteer (not counting Laura), Krupa just came with a desire to serve as she waited to hear back from graduate programs. A philosopher at heart, she has a lot of knowledge and is a true seeker of knowledge. She kick started the solid waste management program in the slum, where she installed waste bins in the homes and taught about proper garbage disposal. She’s super meticulous in her work and really gives everything a lot of thought. Krupa’s avid interest in music has been a big force in music becoming a larger part of my life. I learned a lot from watching Krupa and seeing her open up over the course of the month. This is really is a place where you can learn to trust your heart because there is so much love and support.

We had quite the myriad of volunteers. Snehal is the first married volunteer that I have met. Her maturity and level-headedness are things that really stick out. It’s what made it so easy to talk to her. She worked primarily with the women’s cooperative teaching classes on mental health. She instantly connected with the women and it was so awesome to see her take such a sincere interest in their lives and well-being. Snehal’s love for animals cannot be forgotten. From the bhes (water buffalos) behind Safai, to the baby bakri (goat) and “jadu padu”, a puppy she nicknamed, at the tekra, her face lit up when talking about her animals. Snehal also came to India with a desire to take intensive Kathak classes. While most people say they want to something like that, they don’t follow up. Snehal did, which helped keep me going in tabla pursuit.

Hailing from New Jersey, Payal has been volunteering in India for 4-5 months, working at two very different organization on opposite sides of Ahmedabad (one  called Sahyog in Jamalpur and MS), splitting the week between the two). Payal is a model of focus. As it is, it can be hard to focus while working just at MS, but Payal was able to find her focus at both orgs. She’s very focused and organized, continually working away to get whatever needs to be done done. After overcoming the initial hurdles of teaching tuitions, she found a her own of working within the system and left behind great documentation and suggestion for improvements. Despite her persistent cold and other hurdles, she persisted in her work and her own journey.

Taking a gap year between high school and college, at the age of 18, Binisha took the leap of faith and came to India on her own to serve for a month and travel, something that takes a lots of guts. You don’t find many high school graduates doing that. Binisha has a ridiculous amount of energy and often reminded me of me a few years ago (tho it seems like YEARS ago when I was 18). She did capacity building work at Utthan and UK marketing work with Gramshree and of course served religiously at Seva Café. She carried her enthusiasm and smile everywhere she went and soaked up everything that was through at her.

As with Binisha, coming to India at such a young age to serve is really inspirational. A friend of Binisha’s, hailing from Malawi, studying in the UK, Ekta thought the India trip would be interesting so came. Pretty cool. Ekta’s heart is what draws you to her. She’s full of compassion. She became good friends with the girls in the Young Doctors, youth who don’t get to interact with international volunteers. To hear her talk about the girls, her learnings was really powerful and she even got interested in toilets! Ekta loves to dance and she channeled this energy into teaching dance to girls at the local hostel girls, even if it was only for 2 weeks. The girls adore Ektadidi and I remember her last class. I nearby office and heard “disco” music. I looked and saw Ekta and all the girls were just jamming to music. You could find Ekta amidst all the girls who were all over her. Ekta also has a beautiful voice and really sings Jiya Dhadak Dhadak Jaye from the heart, making it the theme song of Safai. (she also the one who taught me the words).

Laura, amongst other things, is an extremely loving, huggable mom, who is spreading seeds of love wherever she goes. Literally she is a mom to everyone. She is a mentor, a great listener and very wise from the heart. Truly working from heart, listening to the voice of the Divine and moving the music of the universe, Laura is an beautiful soul, infusing the universe and people with more love and positive energy.

A friend of Guri’s, Sandy was traveling through Asia for over 3 months, technically alone, but of course has found many companions. After Asia, she came into India and wanted to make way to Dharamshala, but didn’t have a travel buddy, when she met Linda (see below) and the two were traveling through India together until either got sick of each other. Sandy came to Asia with a desire to travel, no other set plans and a whole lot of courage and fearlessness. She simply has been following the winds of the universe, with a few places in mind that she wanted to visit. Over 3 months of traveling alone, leaving everything behind on a journey that inevitably teaches one about self. Sandy always had a smile on her face and really took everything in around her. She shared her art of tarot reading (which she just picked up and knew how to do), her wisdom and of course heart with all of us. Inspiring us all to take that journey into the unknown for ourselves. I def got inspired to backpack an unknown part of the world.

Another woman with a desire to explore the unknown, Linda also set to India to discover its beauty and found its love and depth. It’s takes so much to just pick up and leave without a set time frame of return and the fact that Linda was going to a place that she had no visible ties to is remarkable. Her enthusiasm and desire to do whatever she could in her short time was great to see.

Her class came to Ahmedabad to take a two week course at Darpana, Maria decided to spend those two weeks volunteering. Armed with experiences in orphanages all over the world, this Alaskan, has seen a lot of the non-so cold parts of the world. The amazing thing about Maria was her willingness to literally do anything that needed to be done. She wasn’t fussed about working in the field, she just wanted to do whatever would be of use to the organization.

Not really a “women at Safai”, but nonetheless needs to mentioned. Last year, Ankur did the Dandi March with zero rupees and two pairs of clothes he made. A world citizen with an Indian soul, Ankur is a powerful soul seeking out truth in the world. A fabulous cook, all about healthy, grounded food, I met Ankur last year two days before he headed back to Washington State where he has started the foundations of an ashram. Ankur is a great listener and has something in him that makes you want to share with him and he plays the flute with great heart. The stories that carries with him from his travels and interactions really reassure you that you are not alone in your journey and experiences.

Of course, a side perk of all these international volunteers is that when I do travel, I have potential travel buddies and of course couches to crash on all over the world ; )

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Being the Bridge

“I have realized that it is not about creating bridges, but being the bridge. Creating bridges is political, being the bridge is pure.”

As I sat across from Sonia, my heart was overflowing. She was back. Calmer, even more grounded and at peace. Sonia had discovered what it was all about for her: reconciliation. She experienced what Verma (her father) had been telling her for so long; reconciliation through art was her. More focused than before, greater clarity and depth. Both of us have traveled on a journey in the three months we spent apart, growing and learning.

“It is not about creating bridges, but being the bridge. Each of us needs to become the bridge.”

Creating bridges is political. It involves working with others to create a structure to cross chasms and oceans. It requires outside materials, inputs. Creating a bridge involves creating a third party that connects the two together.

But what about being?
Being the bridge, that is neither side, yet both. Being the supports, being the trusses and the beams. Making thyself the most perfect instrument through which the Divine can flow. Being the metal and rock through which love and compassion move freely. Being means changing yourself to suit the situation. Moving one support a little to the left when the bank seems to erode. It’s changing oneself and giving of oneself. Our experiences, emotions, knowledge and most importantly, heart are what we can give to the world. Utilizing them to bring people together is being the bridge.

Creating bridges? I think I prefer being the bridge.

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