Scent of the Divine

 

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What can we learn from those deprived of fully or normally functioning senses about accessing other ways of being? How can we avoid the domination of visual processing, the consequent ownership of everything we see, and the blind instinct to pin everything down into permanence in the realities we create in our minds? Everything, and often everyone, we see we want to possess and fossilize, preserving them in aspic, making them permanent. These collections often become our reality and naturally, we fear their loss.

For urban dwellers in the developed world, the allure of millions of visual signals pulls us out of our true nature. We are provoked by their sight to make choices, to possess or reject. In modern life, the monopolizing visual sense can generate synthetic conditions in which we ‘see,’ but more importantly ‘are seen,’ and we interpret everything to suit us, on our terms. Whereas the non-visual senses – listening/hearing, tasting, smelling, feeling – receive concrete data from the environment, e.g. sound, scents, textures and shape, flavours and temperatures, etc. that need no interpretation as they are un-seeable, invisible to most humans.  In a series of articles soon to be made into a book, I will explore these ancient senses that I believe link us with our innate divinity.

Our true nature is both visible and invisible, never limitable to man-made concepts like space and time, to merely seeing and being seen. Our sacred responsibility while inhabiting the visible world is to live out our unconditional love and compassion so we can convey the lessons of humanity to others. As well as to revive our divine energy in these days of shocking social deterioration and urban isolation. In simple terms, our senses are out of balance in modern life so by closing down the visual sense and ‘going inside,’ we can make contact with our higher self and the vast magical land of the invisible.

The ‘I,’ the ego, and the physical eye operate in a similar way. As mentioned, the visual sense is the most dominant in our consumerist acquisitive societies, manufactured diversity and pluralism overwhelm us with choices, alternatives, get-out clauses, and so on. If we cannot see something, there is a possibility that we consider it not to exist, or at the very least to have no validity. We need proof either with the naked eye or in writing to make things valid because our trust in others and in our perceptions of reality is so weak.

It is no wonder then that we cling desperately to the ‘self’ as evidence that our flesh and blood actually exist. But in that clinging, there is a possibility that we may have lost all contact with our true self our true nature; that our divine flame is either guttering or has extinguished altogether.

In respect of the above, the visually impaired are fascinating. If we take away visual data from human existence altogether, then how do we make sense of the world? I have had the privilege of working with visually impaired children and adults as a Music Therapist. They have taught me so much about concrete communication, contributing to my own spiritual insights and helping me to step beyond the straitjacket of duality which most of us wear.

 

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Before writing in detail about my professional experience, I would like to recount a film which movingly depicts how a person deprived of sight as an adult, makes sense of his new world. The title is ‘Scent of a Woman’ 1992, based on an Italian film released in 1974 Profumo di donna, (director Dino Risi, leading role Vittorio Gassman, based on the story Il Buio e il Miele by Giovanni Arpino).

A colonel is injured in an accident, losing his sight entirely. He adapts badly to his disability by drinking heavily and lashing out obnoxiously at everyone around him. He sees no reason to go on living so he employs a young student paying his way at a local university to accompany him to New York to take his final pleasures before shooting himself, his pristine gun in his suitcase, his practice at assembling and cleaning it copious.

Booking into the best hotel, he lavishes them both during their stay. In the hotel, there is a dance floor, a small band playing Latin American music in the afternoon where guests are dancing formally. The colonel senses the fragrance of a woman sitting nearby them and somehow knows that she is alone. He goes to ask her to join them for a drink, and then to his helper’s incredulity, forcefully invites her to dance the tango with him. He knows the steps intimately and the floor clears to watch the spectacle. His helper is nervous at first but soon relaxes as they stride out together confidently, victoriously.

 

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Personally, this scene has incredible nobility because of my experience of visual impairment. Apparently, all the visually imapired colonel needs to achieve the impossible is the fragrance of a woman, his healthy body receptive to vibrations, and his kinesthetic memories of dancing the Tango, all of them concrete data.

Is it possible to reconstruct a visually accessed environment in terms of sound and movement? I know first-hand that this is what the visually impaired do to make sense of their world. A young female client blind from birth had never seen anything or anyone; unusually, she did not experience even faint patterns of light or shadow. She had no choice but to utilize sound and movement as her environment, making mountains out of piano chords and snowy summits with her agile voice. She could create a journey in a ship by jumping high to make wave patterns and the rocking of the vessel, using her fingers and voice as the people on board.

She was happiest without words, entirely nourished by the vibrations of sound and sensing them in her body. I often envied her freedom from intellectual assessment or interpretation, craving only spontaneous integration with the stimuli.

Jiddu Krishnamurti, spiritual teacher and visionary, said, “The description is not the described; I can describe the mountain, but the description is not the mountain, and if you get caught up in the description as most people are, then you will never see the mountain.’ Of course, my young client had never seen a mountain and never would be able to do so, so instead, she could sense it made of sound and smells combined with her own bodily movements in space. This can demonstrate just how attached the sighted become to words and their meaning. Being receptive to only the sound of the word and not its meaning can liberate us, so we are able to revert to our true spirit nature beyond mere symbols. As we listen to music, imbibe the fragrance of toasted bread, taste a freshly picked ripe plum, finger fabric made from silk in the dark, words become redundant and shockingly inadequate except in the hands of a talented poet.

Colonel Slade on the other hand, had seen many mountains and had actually experienced their descriptions but was now dependent on memories of mountains. Would he be content with this vagueness when he had made mountains so permanent in his life? Would his awareness of mountains gradually dissolve if it could not be refreshed? Would his sense of loss, of the living reality that everything is impermanent, finally hit home and bring him to an awakening, or would it be utterly unendurable. Perhaps he was now consumed by the description of himself as a blind helpless and pitiable being and failed to see that he was not the described. It would seem that his decision to kill himself in some way represented the final irreversible permanence.

 

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Although occasionally troubled by the language and words of her carers and therapists, which she was often unable to interpret, my young client was completely happy and reasonably well-adjusted in normal life. But she became aggressive if she was not allowed to move her body through the air or blocked from feeling the vibrations of sound because this was the only way she could be certain that she existed. So, in terms of her inner spiritual life, she was not beleaguered by dialogue from either her demons or her false angels, not attached to concepts and theories, and not hampered by the acquisitive ‘I’ or ‘eye.’ Whatever she needed to affirm her identity came from sounds and smells, touches and tastes. Words were not symbols which developed an intellectual reality of their own to her and caused her to live in an abstract world of the mind.

The visible. The invisible. A famous blind and deaf phenomenon Helen Keller, who eventually learned to live in the visible and audible world said, ‘the best and the most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt in the heart.’ This spiritual view of life comes from a grueling heart-breaking training as a child to be able to live in the world of the sighted and the hearing. Her complete adaptation is testimony to our ability to overcome anything if the divine flame in the heart is strong and we do not allow our senses to be out of balance.

As the world is designed for the sighted, it is impossible for the majority of the unsighted to make sense of it. They experience existence more directly, more concretely, often from the higher self. This is an inspiration. Many of us have learned to access the higher self through meditation or prayer, which invariably entails closing the eyes and focusing our listening. But how we struggle with distractions in the form of words – notions, speculations, justifications, judgments, criticisms, ad infinitum.

We naturally want to escape from this relentless barrage of concepts, so look for a path leading away, taking us out of ourselves. It is ironic that all we need is already located inside us if only we can quell the noise of our minds and just be in silence and stillness. The blind cannot escape and have no desire to usually. They are content to finger the complex textures of an item on and on or jump continuously to experiment with their balance or to mingle with concrete energies.

In spiritual practice, we aspire to go beyond words and other habitual interpretations of reality. We can learn to sink down into the firm yielding of now and here, of the great still silence where we too, like the unsighted, can detect vibrations and use other tools accessible to humans such as clairvoyance, perfect pitch, telepathy, that we once utilized. Colonel Slade’s tango with a beautiful fragrant woman almost pushed him over the edge, sending him to lock himself into his room and prepare his gun. Then he felt the love of his young accomplice in an angry invective about his cowardliness and self-pity and knew he could play a useful role in his young life. He could settle for concrete stimuli in time and found wisdom behind his irascible intolerance, and he could still believe in questions and their answers, somnambulating around the visual world learned from memory, at least for a while longer.

The questions the congenitally blind may pose are mere sound-play empty of meaning: hearing their own voices, imitating other voices, projecting the sounds their being can create to chart their environment. They are not desperate jabs at understanding existence, of ‘seeing’ through or behind impressions, of ‘understanding’ and interpreting everything as those of the sighted, because they know there are no questions, so there are no answers.

They are not separated away from existence because they cannot see to measure and compare, to judge and sort, to speculate or criticize. We sighted need to accept everything and step beyond duality to reconnect with our divine origins. Whereas the blind are embedded in existence; they cannot easily move around in their concrete environment as we do in the virtual worlds we invent.

It is difficult for those who have always been able to see the world to imagine the world of the congenital blind. They are like ghosts using their body form as an instrument to detect their environment. They themselves become concrete in the same way that what they perceive best is concrete. They do not take what is visible and transient deep inside them and make it invisible in order to learn lessons and connect with the invisible world. They are invisible already.

They are usually calm and steady because everything is already lost in their world; they can hold onto little and describe nothing. Voices come and go and textures and temperatures are continually changing beyond their control. There is no light or shade. There are no models to imitate except vocally which means they are often excellent mimics because of their exclusive audio focus. We often pity them, their deprivation of the treasures of the visual, but their insight into life is extraordinary and their link with the divine I believe functions strongly.

My blind client knew my inner thoughts as I worked with her. She had the gift of clairvoyance without doubt, and she could predict my future. As a music therapist, I was one of the few people she wanted to be with all the time because I could make soundscapes for her and with her, and she could use instruments and her voice and body to act in them.

Our environment can provide concrete data such as resonances, smells, textures and temperatures, tastes and kinesthetic awareness, none of which are open to the same kind of interpretation as visual data perceived only by the physical eyes. These data are invisible, the dimension and substance of our spiritual origin. The shaman in primitive tribes enters into a trance to connect with the world of spirits to access wisdom of the elder ancestors. He or she can no longer ’see’ in the physical sense. Soothsayers and seers have traditionally been visually impaired. We are told by Buddhist Masters that during our time in human life we are living in a dream world in which everything is impermanent and created by our minds.

 

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The blind colonel on the dance floor moving his own body and his unknown partner’s through space to the majestic rhythms of the Tango inspired by the fragrance she is wearing is a moving feat to the sighted. There is no hesitation, no speculation, just beautiful bodies moving trustingly through space, responding to resonances and scents. This is surely an unconditional act. At first, he intends this performance to be his swan song – resonance, rhythms, fragrance, bodily accompaniment- all that he needs to shift to the invisible world. But soon he realizes that he can adapt and at the same time can find peace with his true self.

 

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Inside

 

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They had never actually met until that moment as they worked on each other. Their hands were unknown in the same way as their births and their deaths were and would be. 

‘It’s strange that this is called “a turn,” isn’t it?

She giggled in school-girl-like way though her female maturity was well-established and uppermost in almost every situation. A senior teacher and professional, she found the role of ‘pupil’ of becoming alien and yet amusing. I took my place, arranging my stance, legs hip-width apart, shoulders matching, and each second of this preparation meant that increasingly more of the soles of my feet were spreading across the woodblock floor, grounding me into the Earth.

She walked behind me slowly laying her Parisian scent as she turned, her brilliant raised white shirt collar blasting my peripheral vision with its snow. Taking up the identical position behind me we became one, drenched in the voice of our guide, the voice without a god, without faith or thought.

 

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‘Gravity is not an external force which we whimsically notice or not…………………..’

‘It is not outside, to be possessed or its presence invited……………………………….. .’

‘You are gravity and it is your embodiment of it that brings us to notice its eternal existence. Your Earth needs you as much as you need it……………………………………………………………………. ‘

We were ready, inverted mirror images of each other, fully embodying our breath which had deepened in tandem with our listening.  Your arms raised in slow motion from emptiness. There was nothing to be done.  There would be no outcome. Your widened palms and lengthened fingers with their bitten fingernails would at some universal ‘moment’ make soft contact at the base of my neck. We breathed together without distraction.

 

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‘You have made Earth rich, a different kind of tree…………………………………….. ‘

There would be no end to this feeling, this state of lightness every man-second of which was newly experienced, its mystery a raindrop.  For we were firmly treading the path away from the smallness that man has become squatting in the shadow of a god, away from the arrogance of ‘being’ to our rightful place in the dignity of ‘becoming.’

Endlessness. Integration.

‘…….and each human tree is a mighty individual that can step into the full light and gaping sky……………………….. ’

Later, our ‘tree-ness’ continued on as we sheltered draped along the Earth instead of standing perpendicular to it.  Your fingers with their rings were inside my womb moving slowly and softly and we breathed the eternal one breath.

‘I’ve never been inside before. It’s such a relief that there is no outcome, just becoming.’

 

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Words and images by Linden Thorp

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River Daughter by Charley Linden Thorp

あじさいと一緒に修正

 

I remember the day we died together on the green river in every single detail. It is not a memory or a dream, but a repeated reality. I turn away to repeat it like a mantra when everything in this war seems so hopeless.

I am the river and the river is me. Papa is me and I, Papa. I am the river and the river is me. Papa is me and I, Papa.

Our boat moves slowly despite the danger, the authorities pursuing us down both banks. I take a single thick hair of your moustaches between my teeth, you smile and I feel its bulge against my bulge and we gaze at the same rolling dark green waters and the waters gaze back at us. This airy bliss is our death.

But soon, our cheeks are torn apart to play out other scenes by uniformed arms. Our roles? I play the Madonna. You, Christ’s soldier. The setting? A country where all religious beliefs are outlawed.

Since our green river day, I have become a teacher and nurse, rearing more soldiers for “beloved leader” to deploy, then caring for them when injured and dying. This is my way of being myself.

One day Papa, a city plaza is bombed from the air. Spindly death machines swing through space, their bombs are kicked off rusting underbodies by pert jackboots. The wounded are my pupils so we bundle them and their limbs into the hospital ship and leave dock immediately. The aerial pests shipwreck us and we become specks in the flaming ocean!

I help an injured soldier to keep afloat, holding him on to a black spherical mine. His blood spills out, his legs are pulp below the waves but eventually, the enemy-swarm moves on to other flowers.

We sleep, then wake with a start to check our pale grip. The soldier’s time is up so he pulls aside his studded collar to reveal a chain, dragging it up to show a beautiful crucifix, encrusted with gems; a glorification of God, number one enemy of the state!

He hands it to me, asking me to use it to get through the madness of this war. He calls me ‘Madonna,’ asking for my blessing so he can go to ‘heaven.’ I put it on quickly for fear it will sink like everything else and when I look back at him he has slid away.

Now, I am the only survivor bobbing on this black bauble, but I’m aware of my fingers moving slowly towards the crucifix. And then suddenly Papa, I see our wooden boat, the green body of the river moving steadily with it, and feel our cheeks resting together.

Now I completely understand the difference between sea-water and fresh-water. A great river is a large body, a substantial limb, while the ocean is many smaller bodies, made menacing by salt.

The crucifix wakes me. I take it in my fingers.

‘Papa, do I feel something watching me, protecting me? Is it you? Can this encrusted metal shape make me feel something? I have been trained to know that this is a phantasy and yet I can hear you saying, ‘Must we believe that there is nothing else except birth and death and suffering, and working for others in between? Nothing held in the wonders of nature and weather. Nothing more than H2O in a heartfelt tear?’

With such salty questions asked and allowed to evaporate, I find myself in a hot apple orchard in the mountains. The villagers have locked themselves into their houses in the valley because the enemy is near, but we, another fatherless daughter and me, are picking the apples before they drop and spoil. Authoritative foreign voices shout to each other below.

We listen, the still crucifix inside my blouse. The gipsies come, talking loudly, petitioning the officer. They have no fear, living in a flurry of violin vibrations and scintillating tambourine cymbals. Momentarily, the officer seems clasped by their hope, as we are, but then he dismisses them goose-stepping away.

They become silent, except for a small voice, shaking her quarter-size tambourine. She does not stop even when the machine gun is cocked. And even as it fires.

The rapid volley slaughters the adults. His fellow officers rebuke him but he laughs, saying, ‘Nobody in their right mind needs a gipsy.’ The small remaining gipsy has never learned fear or choked down the lessons of ‘time’ or ‘space’ or ‘form’ and she never will.

He spots the abundance of our orchard and swivelling his gun onto his back, starts to climb the hill. I stand rooted behind the green apple spheres but he finds my face hidden behind one especially large fruit.

He drags me down the hill looking for somewhere dark and muffled. In the barn, I escape his tight grip and run on ahead. He stalks me among the dark hay stalls but Papa I am saved. My ‘daughter’ friend is waiting with a pitchfork to pin his greedy eyes to the timbers. In time, his friends come looking for him and we finish the remnant enemy off.

And again, I feel the crucifix dangling between my perspiring breasts and again I feel some benevolent vigilance. I can even become the blessed apples themselves, just as I am you and our green luscious river! The agonized crucifix is somehow bringing me to an otherness.

At night, the battalion has moved on, so we start to walk, talking little so I can go to our river and check your cheek and eventually, in the middle of a burned hay field, we see the surprise of a basilica. It is deserted, the treasures pilfered, apart from the glorious Madonna in copper and bronze hanging high above the ruined altar.

We fill a tin bath with fresh water and harvest illegal ‘Our Lord’s Candle’ flowers growing nearby to make frothy shampoo. We scrub and cut out the combs from our matted hair. I remove the crucifix while I wash but it catches the light from the highest dome, reflecting the beautiful paintings inside and making us envious.

One day, I return from collecting blueberries, but see that the uniforms have found our holy camp. Prosaic bicycles thrown down hurriedly, a boneshaker motorbike and sidecar with warm tyres block the main double doors meant to receive robed processions and choristers.

As I move by night and sleep by day, tying myself high in a tree, ‘Papa I can feel you near! You are here, perhaps looking for me, perhaps to experiment with God.’

I end up back at the wheat field to see our basilica reduced to dust but the wondrous Madonna still hanging untouched and I know you were there stealing my combs in your filthy clothes.

Later, as I crouch by a stream munching on stale cakes from a bombed bakery, I hear a plane shot down. The crucifix becomes hot on my breast and I start to look for survivors.

I spot the burning plane wedged in rubble, shouting for survivors. Someone groans. Lifting away tin sheets and timbers, I find the pilot, leaning upright against the exposed bones of the matchstick plane.

I move in front of him. He tries to speak but his larynx is burned and only squeaks. I bandage his hand, inject him with morphine and as I reach around his wide chest with bandages, his eye fills with light. The unburned cheek bulges with a smile and he indicates something beneath my blouse with a nod leaving my eyes very briefly.

We both stop, acknowledging the crucifix, smiling to have shared it illegally. His broken lips ask me to show him what lies below it, deliriously enunciating the word ‘Heaven!’ ‘Heaven,’ another officially eradicated disease.

I begin to unveil my beauty to him freely, wondering if this is what prostitutes feel like behind glass? Morphine? Opium? What does it matter? He mouths the word ‘Madonna,’ repeatedly.

‘Papa, I have never felt so beautiful since that moment against you on the green river.’

I slowly undress, pulling multiple layers over my head, letting the plumpness of my breasts drop, the gleaming broken body of Christ lying across my breastbone caked in gold and gems.

My eyes return from inspecting myself to see if I am fully revealed to him, anticipating his joy like a beacon in his pain. But his eye is fixed, his mouth open as if about to speak. And a thin rivulet of saliva trickles down into the rubble and blood at his feet.

I remain still as wet snow starts to drop, aware that I am the only sentient being in this metallic-asbestoid scene.

Towards the end of the war, I find my regiment and put on my uniform again, but cannot be promoted for my work with triage because I can no longer speak to tell the authorities. We are camped on a hilltop near the enemy bunker, anticipating the reprisal in the trenches below.

‘Papa, the green river has never faded despite 12 years of daily horrors.’ It is the only reality, pinned against the sacred crucifix and the Madonna.

Opposite, the enemy spies through gun slits and plays gramophone records of mighty Wagner and Beethoven. Down in the valley, we see civilian men walking up in the direction of the bunker, moving confidently holding stout sticks. We wonder if we are dreaming as full symphony orchestras mount towards their climaxes? Then, more and more civilians appear with an army of accordion players, drowning out Arian goddesses with gipsy folk music.

‘I actually see you Papa in your full regalia as colonel at this moment. You are leading the surge of people moving steadily up the hill. I run, bursting out of the arms of my comrades, shouting at the top of my lungs, the first time I have uttered a sound from my mouth for several years. “Bapa!!”‘

At first, you do not hear me, glancing casually at the jackrabbit careering down the hill in your direction. But then you match fragments of sound and shape, realizing that it is your river daughter in the flesh. And you start to run on uneven boggy ground, your eyes lighting up, the tears rising.

We get closer, you slowing down, aware of some danger that I am not, me running on unbridled, always a child. And as we meet, you hold me still at arm’s length, trying to calm me enough to make me look down at my feet. I look down and realize that your jackboot is resting on one of my boots, which in turn has depressed the detonator of a land mine.

‘You speak urgently but calmly Papa, as always.’

No time to let the tears flood or our cheeks lock together. One of us will be blown up and you are determined it will not be me. You reach into your breast pocket and bring out my comb from the basilica, saying you knew I had been there with the Madonna.

Then, you order me in military fashion to lift my foot out of my boot and step away. Shout at me to turn and walk back up the hill, slowly and quietly without disturbing the ground. I protest again, trying to spit out words that have congested my body for so long.

I turn from the glorious site of you and we both wince at a huge explosion up at the bunker. One of your snipers with a working gun high in a tree has picked off the main bombardier and set off a chain reaction detonating all the ammunition stored there. The enemy is annihilated and I have found my papa, all in one of ‘time’s’ precious baubles!

As I slowly climb back up the hill, away from you and you make to move, you know that you will detonate the mine! If one moment can contain both the zenith and nadir of two lives, this is it.

You wait for me on the green river while it is clear that I must be a Madonna guiding my people to reality for some ‘form’ and ‘time’ and ‘space’ yet to come.

 

 

 

        Images by Japanese artist Mariko Kinoshita and megapixyl

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To say what has never been said

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Do you live your own truth? Or are you living someone else’s truth?

 

 

 

Artistic expression is perhaps your only opportunity to express your individual mind and the only opportunity others have to hear or see what they have never heard or seen before.

Modern human beings are heavily conditioned the moment they are born. They emerge from the womb usually a round peg fitting into a round hole. Their family and inherited ancestry, their language, their culture, their gender, their social class, their intelligence quota, etc. are the ground they have been assigned to grow in. It is difficult not to lose touch with one’s True Nature in the midst of all these givens.

 

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Only the truth that is uniquely your own liberates. Anybody else’s truth becomes a bondage and you a slave.

We may fall into the trap of comparing and judging art works by abstract criteria but it is being true to our own inward flights of consciousness that is part of our mission in being human.

 

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Michaelangelo was an Italian painter, architect, sculptor, inventor and poet of the High Renaissance. His True Nature exerted an incredible influence on the art of the world. He allowed no limitations to be placed on himself despite the ground he was assigned to grow in. He fearlessly took risks and followed his heart in all things, a veritable warrior of self-expression.

His True Nature dazzles the world even now 700 years later.

 

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I’m longing to hear what I have never heard and never seen before. How about you?


images courtesy of Mariko Kinoshita, Linden Thorp and Megapixyl.com