The Need For Better Questions

comments 23
Course Ideas / Reflections

Lately I’ve been listening to a few more podcasts and reading a few more op ed pieces in the media than I ever have before, and one really interesting observation has become clear to me. We are (all of us) biased in ways I think would surprise us were they actually understood. While it may seem obvious, nevertheless this had the feel of real discovery to me. And I think there is a reason for our collective myopia: the world rewards perception.

The world validates perception.

I think it’s worthwhile to consider that the “world” does not exist as an objective reality like we suspect it might. And in the case where there is no objective reality, then the very concept of bias is meaningless. You simply have people describing their vantage points. Everyone has a particular view, and while all of them are more or less biased with respect to all the others, very few are actually mutually exclusive. The world as I see it is more like a web of partially overlapping perceptions than a fixed subject that reveals itself to careful scrutiny. Because of this, I think we mislead ourselves whenever we make sweeping claims.

But is the world simply what we make of it then? Can I simply declare how much money I have in my bank account? Who will love me? What my job title will be? How long I will live?

Of course not. But it simply doesn’t follow from the fact that we do not control the world, or our specific place in it at any given time, that it must be the fixed, objective and singular “thing” we wish/suppose it to be. What’s interesting to me is that if there is any veracity to this claim that the “world” as we think of it simply doesn’t exist, then our relationship to the world changes. Our responsibilities change. Our experience is no longer simply a report on the world’s condition, but the return on our perceptual investment. I want to explore what this could mean, but first I’d like to clarify what I’m suggesting.

For my purpose here it’s fine to declare that water flows downhill and electrons radiate light when they shift places within the atom. I don’t dispute these notions. What’s more interesting to me is how the world’s utterly reliable mechanics mislead us into thinking that our experiences are the result of particular and finite causes—of the world being a certain way. This idea compels us to identify the factors at work around us that have led to the conditions in which we find ourselves. As to what these are, or which are most relevant, we simply do not agree. If half a lifetime of observation is any clue, we’ll never agree.

If the world were as objective as we’ve hoped, meaning that the experiences it engendered were due to orderly causes whose underlying mechanisms were more or less amenable to our tinkering, then it would be meaningful to think we could modulate the world’s dials and change the quality of our existence. But if, instead, there are fundamental relationships between the modes of perception with which we seed the “world” and the sorts of evidence, or experiences, that it returns, then no amount of tinkering with the dials will lead to sustained transformations of experience. This, I believe, is the reality of our condition.

Why does this matter? Well, let us suppose that what we call “the world” exists only as an experiential engine that returns evidence to us of precisely what we have chosen to perceive. If this is so, then 99% of the strategies we find ourselves seeking to implement will fall short of the promised return. This would be important I think. Also, this discovery about the world would suggest we possess capabilities we’ve simply not understood.

Perhaps the most essential argument against what I’m proposing would be this: I can’t wake up tomorrow, flip a switch on my perception, and end poverty. In fact, I can hardly flip the switch on my own life, and if you’re talking about the power of positive thinking… then I can’t believe I’ve even read this far. So let me be clear: I’m not talking about the power of positive thinking.

I’m talking about hereditable, self-reinforcing conditions of perception universally active in the collective human population so fundamental we don’t know how to interrogate them. So fundamental they may even be hard-wired in our biology. One such perception might be this: we exist in a zero sum game. Another might be this: our existence is fragile. Or this: I can draw upon only on what I own. I’m talking about ideas so fundamental, and so ubiquitous, they appear to us as givens. We can’t imagine how they could be outcomes instead of facts. We’ve baked them into the world engine in spades.

If these notions I’ve suggested about perception were so, then what would be the rational response to the world as we “see” it? It would be simple, I think. Being the smartest or most astute would be useless, really. Being “right” about policy would be secondary. What would be most important would be the inner act of perceptually undercutting these hereditable traits of perceptual orientation that have produced the word as it appears to be, and of making other possibilities real to ourselves and others. I think we’d recognize with little to do that any contributions we can make to supplying evidence of the possibility for genuine transformation would be of lasting value. What other response would compute?

Instead of mud-slinging, shouting one another down, insisting on our version of the “truth”, or focusing on achieving the greatest degree of control over external conditions, we’d recognize the greatest resource we have is one another. We might even recognize that policies or actions we take that enable others to perceive the world anew are the ones that matter most, for these contributions would in essence contribute to the lasting cessation of needless suffering. If the gift we wished to give the world each day was the gift of evidencing the idea that the world does not need to be as it is, it would not be so hard.

I don’t have all the answers, not even a fraction of them, but I’m not sure it’s answers that we need. I think we need better questions.

23 Comments

  1. Thanks for this intriguing piece Michael. I had thought of you recently and here you appear in my reader, like magic! There comes a time for many of us on planet Gaia when we discover that there is no objective “world”. It reminds me of when it first dawned on my that my parents are not heroes, but just people who happen to have birthed me into physical form ( short version).

    I am reminded of a favorite quote by Wayne Dyer: When you look at things differently, the things you look at begin to change.

    peace to you, Linda

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thanks, Linda. I love that quote you shared. The shift in awareness you described with your parents is pretty similar, I think, to what I’ve tried to describe here. It’s hard to realize we have perspectives that are likely to continue to evolve and flower over time…

      Peace to you, too–
      Michael

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Ah! I hate technology sometimes, Michael! My (very long) response just disappeared into the ether of ‘I lost my connection when I pressed send!!!’

    The condensed version would be that I agree with you, we need to ask better questions. But then I went on to say that I have to believe that, in response to this quote, (The world as I see it is more like a web of partially overlapping perceptions than a fixed subject that reveals itself to careful scrutiny.) that the reason there is so much upheaval in the world right now is because so many lightworkers are banding together to create that perception in reality. Whatever we want to call the ‘other’ is hanging on for dear life because it feels this shift and wants to survive.
    It makes me feel better to think this way 😉
    I hope you are yours are well

    Liked by 3 people

    • Hi Lorrie!

      I’m sorry you lost your opus! I appreciate your thoughts on light workers and the influence of our changing energetic conditions upon the trajectory of events–both individually and collectively. This isn’t to discount that. What does it really mean to be a light worker, anyway!? I think someone probably has a good definition, but to me when we’re holding or carrying a new perspective, particularly one rooted in loving kindness and unity, we’re fitting the bill. And that certainly ties in with what I would like to foster here, though this piece ran a little philosophical perhaps… 🙂

      Hope you’re enjoying your summer as well!
      With Love
      Michael

      Liked by 2 people

      • Absolutely! That is what I thought you meant 😉
        I, too, wonder what the definition of lightworker is…I think your definition is pretty spot on to what I think, although there is probably a technical definition that applies to ascended masters.
        I can’t believe it is almost the middle of August. It has been a very different summer for me, but that’s okay. I am learning to live in the moment and not dwell in the past…or try to predict the future. It has been a lesson in humility, that’s for sure.
        I send you all good wishes and hope that you are able to have some time for fun!
        💜

        Liked by 2 people

  3. I can empathise with such a view as I can with our prevalent materialist view. What I do feel is this view in itself is also a sweeping claim. A hardliner materialist would obviously ask you to ‘prove it’ or say ‘where’s the evidence?’ etc. Doing that means trying to subject it to standards of materialism which is obviously absurd since materialism is exactly what this is not. I won’t go down that route.

    What I will ask is if even this view isn’t something to hold onto, something that gives us a degree of certainity a sense of grounding, meaning etc. ?

    Something this reminded me of is what I was discussing on my blog earlier with you about human orgins. Views seem to gain momentum making them difficult to oppose at the micro level until they are toppled or radically changed at a macro level. For example if 10 pieces of evidence over time start building a particular narrative then if a 11th piece doesn’t fit in there isn’t usually a radical change in the narrative but rather that new piece of evidence gets greater scrutiny and skepticism. The original momentum carries a bias against the 11th evidence. And by evidence I’m not confining to material evidence.

    I think that’s all there is, we have ideas some have more momentum than others. Your idea has to face the huge momentum of materialism if it is to become more widely embraced. You could either call this a momentum of truth or a momentum of bias.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Hello Fizan,

      Thanks for this great reply. What I’ve got here is a lot to try and pull off in a single post, particularly if the goal is to prove anything, which it really wasn’t. As regards materialism, I’d be quite happy with acknowledgment of the possibility that materialism is a choice one makes, and not the only one possible. As to your question, I’m not exactly sure what you are asking. Are you asking if the intent of proposing this view is ultimately to establish a framework of meaning for the human experience?

      In terms of my sweeping claim, I’d say my one sweeping claim is that the world may not be what we think it is. I’ve kind of got two things going on here at once, Fizan, so it’s a poorly conceived article in that regard. The first thing is the day to day differences of perception/opinion we face on issues like: the impact of religion in the world, or the impact of immigration on society, or sweeping notions like conservatives aren’t compassionate people, or liberals are unrealistic and naive. Whatever it may be. Claims related to these topics can be made all over the map, with examples to support them. There simply isn’t one condition in which we all exist at this level; there are many simultaneous and perpetually changing conditions. And so there really can’t be any sweeping statements made. Our reluctance to deal with nuance and complexity hinders us I think.

      But then there’s a deeper level I shifted to later in the piece, as I wondered if there might not be an underlying cause of these surface level differences of perception and opinion. And of course my writing relates to the core ideas in my own view that bias my thinking and imagining, which is that a pre-historical choice to experience life as separate, disconnected and objectively instantiated individuals holds a profound sway over our worldview and experience in ways we don’t realize. I think it’s enough, as a beginning, to admit that this fundamental orientation is not a given, or could never be otherwise. Enough in the sense that it’s pointless to try and convince people of something, but maybe it’s sufficient to open the doorway to new modes of experience for those who are interested.

      Ultimately, there is little in what I’ve described that I think our daily experience necessarily contradicts. In the end it will boil down to the relationship between our ideas, our choices and our experience, and whether we find consistency there or not, and lasting satisfaction.

      Michael

      Liked by 4 people

  4. Thank you for visiting my blog recently.

    Your post here reflects to me as an Advaita type of non-dualism, non-separate subject/object relationship as a of way of beingness. I haven’t been listening to podcasts lately in general, but I have been listening to Francis Lucille. As I was attempting to find the link to the most relevant video, as it seemed to me, the link was buried in the abyss of “not-now-ness,” and it wasn’t saved in my history cache. A new theme that’s been emerging in my world is that “thinking” gets a bad rap in the spiritual world, referencing “Your Life Becomes a Vacation” YouTube video of Francis Lucille’s. Also Matt Kahn has a few ideas about the similar notion in his book, “Everything Is Here To Help You.” It’s a book that I’m finding to be brilliant. One day I was driving in my car, and I was having a definite triggered/upset moment and thinking my thoughts had been biased and second-guessing myself, I realized that all thoughts are information and advisors – there’s the “investigation” as per Francis Lucille, that helps create the space from the thoughts or biases that are less resourceful, and underneath that experience, a type of freedom emerges that’s sort of beyond the mentation, as Lucille says “a commitment to Truth.” Even the seemingly unhelpful biased information as thoughts our worldly noise can have ultimately a purpose of leading to greater clarity for the one who chooses.

    Specifically in your writing piece here, to me is the heart of it,

    “I’m talking about hereditable, self-reinforcing conditions of perception universally active in the collective human population so fundamental we don’t know how to interrogate them.”

    So here we are with questions that are purposeful and ones that are inner, and help us get clear – what would that look like collectively? Or could it be that by each of us in our own minds finding the truth, leads to the possibility for more universal clarity? Is that possible?

    Liked by 3 people

    • Hello Ka,

      Thank you for visiting here, too!

      I am not familiar with Francis Lucille, and while I have enjoyed a number of Matthew Kahn’s videos very much haven’t read Everything Is Here to Help You either… So I’m having a little trouble following what you’re saying here. I think you’re saying that thinking gets a bad rap in spiritual circles and that even the thoughts that don’t seem to be all that helpful in their first presentation can lead to fruitful places, discoveries and understanding. If so, those ideas do make sense to me. I think these ideas work well with what I describe here, too. We don’t all need to think the same, and if we realize that we’ll never all think the same anyway, then we are perhaps empowered to “trust the process” that is unfolding in our own thinking, living and responding.

      The idea of universal clarity is an interesting one, isn’t it? What would that even mean? I suspect a shared sense of belonging–to one another, to the condition of being even–along with the mutual desire for freedom and meaning would be innate to a lasting form of universal clarity. It strikes me that we don’t need a ton of new information to achieve this. But some good questions never hurt! Ha! I do think our individual unfolding makes a meaningful contribution to the collective, and to the whole…

      Peace
      Michael

      Liked by 3 people

  5. oh, i see, Michael!
    i was wondering why others
    don’t seem to share the same
    perceptions as myself.
    and most really do
    have a lot of misperceptions, imho.
    i imagine that govt’s
    plan to create future
    citizens on conveyor belts
    with the same AI programming.
    then, wallah!
    perception is irrelevant 🙂

    Liked by 5 people

    • Oh, I love it, David. So you were wondering, too, eh? Hahaha!

      I knew you would understand, my friend. We see things the same, you and I… 🙂

      Peace!
      Michael

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Such an interesting perspective on perspective Michael! I do enjoy how others are joining in the conversation and sharing. It makes me pause, smile and shake my head.
    My perspective? So much to figure out. So little time. 💛

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Val! You don’t strike me as the type to think too hard about it (to the point of losing one’s footing), or to be too preoccupied with time… When I wrote this, I thought, I can never do this justice in a post but hopefully despite my long absence here, I’ll get a comment or two that helps explore the ideas a bit further. Thankfully, we’ve had a bit of that.

      With Joy
      Michael

      Liked by 4 people

      • Yes. I enjoy reading the thoughts of yours Michael, and those of others. Particularly when they are well thought out, and based on knowledge as well as personal experience. Figuring out things doesnt really preoccupy my mind these days .
        I am grateful…. or perhaps I am lazy. 😉
        Peace and love 🙏

        Liked by 4 people

  7. Firstly, Michael, let me congratulate you on this superb piece, which I think is one of the most powerful and far-reaching I’ve seen appearing on your fine site here over the past four years. Thank you.

    ‘I think it’s worthwhile to consider that the “world” does not exist as an objective reality like we suspect it might.’ This sort of talk has gotten me into a few long-winded exchanges on my own site, because it tends to get (mis)interpreted as if a claim is being made to the effect that the world has no ontological status whatsoever, that it simply doesn’t exist. A lot of (neo-)Advaitan discourse becomes similarly corrupted to the point where it is said by many of its adherents that only consciousness exists, that the world is no more than a creation of consciousness. (One then might ask, what distinguishes consciousness from this non-existent world?)

    It seems to me that what we (you) are saying (tell me if I’m wrong) is what any neurophysicist would say, which is that what we take to be ‘the world’ is either purely a mind-construct, or is in part reliant upon some mind-construct — that the human brain and nervous system are a means of re-presenting ‘the world’ (which includes ourselves) in a way that is peculiar to the human, in the way that the bat’s world is peculiar to the bat’s, and so forth for all forms of sentience. This seems to be true even if we see consciousness as Enactivism at work, or some kind of Radical Externalism where consciousness extends beyond the cranium and can’t be said to located ‘here’ or ‘there’.

    Okay, so that’s all fairly clear(?) and easy(?) to accept — if ‘only’ on an intellectual level whilst we continue to treat (and believe in) our perceptual world as if it were the world itself, which it never is of course. In accepting this (again, only intellectually, by reasoning, that is) then how do we escape the bind of being fooled or distanced so? Is there any point in even trying to find some putative Reality or Truth when all mind-constructs are (to a greater or lesser extent dubious) re-presentations of sensory data sources that we are forever distanced from, as if peering into a clouded mirror which can only face one direction at any moment?

    I think you answered this here: ‘What would be most important would be the inner act of perceptually undercutting these hereditable traits of perceptual orientation that have produced the world [typo corrected from ‘word’ to ‘world’] as it appears to be, and of making other possibilities real to ourselves and others.’ That is why I think there is tremendous value in practicing some phenomenology that stands as your proposed ‘undercutting’. Husserl was a great advocate of this, and disclosed a method, as many others have, including reductionist contemplative analyses from orthodox Buddhism through Pyronnhism through the Christian mystics’ Via Negativa, to name but three.

    In pursuing these undercutting paths, then (so I would argue) what we ultimately aim for, and perhaps may arrive at, is the complete rejection of notions of Truth and Reality, for any of the same could only ever arrive through our given perceptual mechanisms, meaning that the arrived at Truth or Reality would be naught but percepts. In other words, there is no valid answer as to what is True and/or Real, but the realisation that this is the case, is itself a liberation from delusion — some would claim a liberation from suffering, too.

    Great article, Michael, really superb.

    With love and respect, Hariod.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Hello Hariod,

      Thank you for the kind and unexpected complement! I’m glad you connected with this piece so fully.

      So… yes to your first point, as to the world being either a mind construct, or that our experience of “the world” is reliant upon a mind construct. I agree with this completely, but also was aiming to suggest that the totality of this experiential construct we manufacture–which involves our perceptual mechanism as the neurologist may describe it, as well as the content of our relationships to the greater “world” beyond ourselves, including the events that arise in our lives–functions, somehow, in an almost circular way to provide evidence of our perceptual orientation. One way to look at this would be to say that the external world is what it is, utterly independent of who we are, and that all of this circularity is engendered within our own minds. Another way would be to say that the supposedly external world is not, in fact, utterly independent of who we are, and so a symbiosis of projection, event and interpretation occurs to create this loop. I prefer the latter explanation. I don’t think that utter independence of the content of our experience from who we are is quite possible, but let me be clear that I don’t mean to say the externalities are meaningful in and of themselves either. It’s hard to say what I’m trying to say, but the simplest way to say it may be that the words you and I use have no inherent meaning: to an alien they would just be sounds and shapes. So, in between us there are these meaningless devices that serve to convey a meaning. The world is equally meaningless, and yet it can serve to convey the meaning of our relation to it, a relation that I feel is not one way. What is on the other side I couldn’t tell you–but something related to the second part of your comment I suspect.

      I think there’s Truth and Reality, but not in any arbitrary set of words, or concepts, or even in any particular world-as-language. It can only be known in a sense, not proven. It can be passed from one to the next, but it cannot be written down. So I would agree with you that we cannot reasonably hope to land upon a universal conceptual understanding. In this sense, we can never point to a particular description of truth, or event or circumstance, and say this–! This is truth. This is reality. But in accepting this I think we end up realizing the inextinguishable “reality” or our relatedness, and the illusory nature of this and that.

      This is important to me because I do think as our comprehension of world-as-relationship deepens, the possibility of ending suffering at large becomes a relevant possibility. Another way to say it might be that when we are stuck in our fixed positions of objective selves, independent of an objective world, this relationship is dormant. And we want to awaken it somehow, that the world might loosen and become a bit more supple. Of course this is all impossible to describe, but let me just agree with you on one more point before I go here.

      I want to note that I agree it is difficult to turn materialism on its head by saying there is only consciousness. And the reason is that, in part, we are undoubtedly confounded by our inability to grasp what consciousness would have to be, in the ultimate sense, to make this so. What I mean is that while we are intimately familiar with human consciousness, and in my opinion we are able to receive insight and inspiration from the greater web of relatedness in which we participate, still those insights and inspirations arise in the context of our humanity. And so, to say it is only consciousness, and to suppose that consciousness is similar to what it is to be human, is to make a muddle of this. I’m not under the impression that electrons, for instance, are thinking as we are. I’m not even sure if there is something that it is like to be an electron. But that doesn’t mean, to me, that it would be impossible to assert that the electron is precisely what it is and not something else because of a primal relation to an idea. Don’t ask me who or what holds this idea. It’s not a room full of human beings with clenched teeth, wills of iron and laser-like focus. The point is, it would have to be so distinct from what we call human consciousness as to render the idea all but useless. I don’t think the whole world exists wholly in our minds, with the whim of a dream, or that it isn’t there at all except as our sense organs construct it. I think it’s really there. I’m just saying it’s both really there, AND, it’s deeply related to us, as we are to it. It’s movement is responsive to us, as we are responsive to it.

      I’m pleased now to conclude what may well be your least favorite comment, to your most favorite piece here. Ha!

      With Love
      Michael

      Liked by 2 people

      • Thank you, Michael. And now I ask myself, how do we permit of any ultimate Truth or Reality if (as you appear to be saying) they are dependent upon relationship, and by definition relationships are conjunctions of disparate entities (at least, the apprehending subject-party always differs), hence the relationships themselves differ? How is any ultimate Truth or Reality arrived at based on the characteristics of our personal (unique) relationship to the world, or is it a matter of inference derived from different (let’s call it) ‘evidence’? My own response to this apparent conundrum would be to say that the question (I put) is wrongly put, and that the division into a subject-party and a world is a false dichotomy — actually, a mind-construct with no ontological status beyond that — and that to see this is as far as we can reach into what may be deemed Reality or Truth.

        Liked by 2 people

        • P.S. I read Virginia Woolf’s Orlando this week and it’s sensational. Unusually, the film of it — though necessarily quite a different thing — I also thought fabulous.

          Liked by 2 people

        • Hariod,

          It’s tricky business here… but interesting to try and parse out in language. There are a couple ideas I’d like to express. The first is that we can think of relationship as being that which involves direct, local interaction between two seemingly independent entities, or we can think of relationship as being something like the sharing of a common ancestry and blood, or we can think of relationship existing due to a commonality of ideas, or we can further think of relationship as being that fundamental cord that links each of us to the all of all, which I concede gets into metaphysics.

          When we think of a flock of birds navigating, seemingly as one, we know (I think) that they may be able to do this fully by tracking only a couple of birds nearby. So there is the illusion of a group mind or something, but it may not really be there. It takes but a few relationships to create this illusion. So clearly these relationships do not express the Truth or Reality of the flock, at least not completely. But we could continue to look at this and see other forms of relationship. We could see that some forms of relationship do unite the flock, though those relationships are of a different nature than local ballistic observations.

          What I’d say is that each of the relationships we discover at work may express something about the Truth or Reality of the flock, but no single relationship would be quite all of it. At the same time, without relationship there simply would be no flock at all. And somehow, I think it’s a bit like that. Relationship is part of what enables the Truth or Reality of our being to be expressed, but any one relationship we may tease out cannot be held up as that the total Truth or Reality.

          That said, there is also, I think, a form of relationship indelibly linking all to all. This would, in a sense, link any individual instantiation of being, in whatever form, to the Truth or Reality of which all partake. I don’t know if this clarifies anything, but I don’t like to say there isn’t any Truth or Reality because if there is not, then in what I am attempting to describe, we truly would be separate, and it truly would be possible that creation is a zero sum game. If there was only relationship of the type that allows one bird to adjust its flight based on the bird next to it, and no underlying, extensive relatedness, then I would agree there is no ultimate Truth or Reality. But I don’t think that is the only form of relationship there is.

          So in the analogy, if the only relationship is one bird to the bird next to it, you have the illusion of Truth or Reality only. And if there are deeper, non-local relationships at work–if for instance, each bird is flying through relationship to the bird next to it, but also an extension of a common and living ground of being, and if one bird’s coming or going does not change the content or magnitude of this common and living ground. Then you start to have the possibility of Truth or Reality.

          Such a Truth or Reality would actually be the natural condition of our being, as close to us as we are. That doesn’t mean we live by this, or experience it, or don’t adopt other perceptual conditions through which to parse experience that remove its existence from our experience. But our choice to see the world from other chosen views–to see the world as having only the relationship of one bird to the one next to it–is perhaps one of the factors contributing to the fact that it is precisely such a world we generally experience. Our freedom to make such a choice does not mean that Truth or Reality cannot be experienced as the content of our being, were other choices to be made.

          Michael

          Liked by 2 people

  8. The older I get, the less I am certain about “reality”. I’m at the point where I can’t even speculate anymore, but I feel relieved rather than terrified at realizing that little is under control. More people need to step out of the maelstrom and ask better questions, as you have. Shake things up on a fundamental level. Thanks for your hard work, Michael.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Julie. I share your sensation of feeling relieved rather than terrified that the world works as it does. No matter how we try to package it, it seems perfectly able to crack our concepts apart. For that I’m grateful, and also I know many have worked much harder than I to bring those cracks to light. I feel lucky to be able to write and think as I do… and to share such musings with others…

      Peace
      Michael

      Liked by 1 person

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