“The invitation”: my favourite treatise on love.

Posted on June 30th, 2011

Today I simply share this. A poem by Oriah. I’ve been thinking a lot about the kind of love I seek in my life. And then someone recited this to me.

I found it interesting to read the poem as a message to myself, rather than as something I impose on to an “other”. It’s always better to do this when you stumble across something that strikes a chord….

The Invitation

It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for, and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.

It doesn’t interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dreams, for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon. I want to know if you have touched the center of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life’s betrayals or have become shrivelled and closed from fear of further pain! I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it or fade it, or fix it.

I want to know if you can be with joy, mine or your own, if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful, to be realistic, to remember the limitations of being human.

It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling me is true. I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself; if you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul; If you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see beauty even when it’s not pretty, every day, and if you can source your own life from its presence.

I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine, and still stand on the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, “Yes!”

It doesn’t interest me to know where you live or how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up, after a night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone, and do what needs to be done to feed the children.

It doesn’t interest me who you know or how you came to be here. I want to know if you will stand in the center of the fire with me and not shrink back.

It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you, from the inside, when all else falls away.

My favourite bit (at the moment) is this last line:

I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.

It speaks to me right now. Yours?

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  • Lisa

    Sarah, your key words yesterday were “for now”. You are alone “for now”. People come in & out of our lives when they’re meant to. And you have distanced yourself considerably from Sydney & I’d say family & friends, so I guess you have to spend time alone. But then it’s a good chance to meet new people.

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    Jane Reply:

    It’s a great chance to meet you :)

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  • http://www.MyMindCoach.com.au Kylie Ryan

    Love this. It reminds me of a more personal one on one version of the Rudyard Kipling poem “IF” http://www.kipling.org.uk/poems_if.htm I love them both. Thanks for sharing.

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    Mia Reply:

    “IF” is my favourite poem. I have it printed out & sitting in a clear sleeve in the front of my Filofax, so I can read it whenever I am feeling contemplative.

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    mum of four Reply:

    I am glad to hear that someone else has a filofax! I have a gorgeous chili red one that smells fantastic and I love the fact that it holds all those little notes, poems, thoughts, and scraps of paper that I seem to accumulate. I am glad that I am not the only one who has not wholeheartedly embraced e-diaries!

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    Mia Reply:

    Heavens no, I persisted (and struggled) with electronic reminders on my phone for a while and then just accepted my pen-and-paper-loving nature. My Filofax is bright pink and holds inspiring things like pictures of Paris, quotes from Cary Tennis, and that poem by Rudyard Kipling. It makes me happy. xx

    Alex Reply:

    I get teased by some of my more intellectual friends for this but I unashamedly LOVE Mary Oliver. One of my favourites is ‘Wild Geese’. Especially the first 5 lines.

    You do not have to be good.
    You do not have to walk on your knees
    For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
    You only have to let the soft animal of your body
    love what it loves.
    Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
    Meanwhile the world goes on.
    Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
    are moving across the landscapes,
    over the prairies and the deep trees,
    the mountains and the rivers.
    Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
    are heading home again.
    Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
    the world offers itself to your imagination,
    calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
    over and over announcing your place
    in the family of things.

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    Alex Reply:

    Oops, sorry, I didn’t mean for that to be a reply!

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  • http://www.viendamaria.com Vienda

    What a beautiful, heart wrenching poem. It totally and completely speaks to me, where I am at right now as well! Thank you for sharing!

    (I wonder if anyone has ever placed this into their profile on a dating site! Hahaha!)

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    Dani Reply:

    LOL, that’s a brilliant idea!! Love it :D

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    Joss Reply:

    You don’t think it might scare some people off if you saw it on a dating profile? As lovely and sentimental as it is, I’d run a mile.

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  • Aurora

    Definitely speaks to me – thank you.

    Personally I find it hard at times to rest peacefully with the emptiness of my solitude. I find that the quietness can be a harsh reminder of the struggles I have within myself. The voices of my most awful critics finally have their platform, in the quiet.

    Wow – how grim! I know that I am just going through a hard time right now, and in better days my strength speaks to me in the ‘empty moments’.

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  • Jess

    It can be very confronting spending time alone. From experience, there are times I hate my own company and give myself a hard time. But on the whole, I like who I am and enjoy a certain freedom. Not to say I wouldn’t like a partner. That will happen when it’s meant to.

    I have gone through several major breakups after long term relationships, and believe what got me through was being spending time alone and surviving those dark, unsettling moments. It’s a character building exercise! I’d say a lot of people are in dull or dead end relationship merely for the companion factor and the idea of being alone is terrifying. It’s not that bad, really!

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  • Anastasia

    Those last four paragraphs are powerful. They speak to me in many ways right now, and put into words, in a way I could not, how I am feeling and viewing life right now.
    Thanks for bringing so many confronting topics to light in your blog Sarah.

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  • Mel

    Oh Sarah, I’m sure the right man is out there for you. Just don’t settle for second best to fill a void.

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    Joss Reply:

    You are more likely to find someone living in BB with similar lifestyle values and interests than you were Sydney. Many people move up there for the same reasons as you, so there’s already one thing you have in common.

    And if you haven’t got one already, there’s no shame in having a vibrator. Quality alone time!

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  • Selena

    thanks Sarah, this poem speaks volumes to me right now. I feel as though I am suddenly 30 with all my friends and family happily coupled-up and having children, and I am alone wondering where on earth is my true companion.
    I am told I have high expectations and for the first time ever someone actually asked me yesterday: “Well, what do you expect?”
    hmm, that got me thinking…I love this poem and I feel it sums up my ideal partner; but maybe I need to first embrace ‘the invitation’ myself.

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    Dani Reply:

    Heh. I am so in the same boat! Also, I’ve started to laugh a little too nervously when people make jokes about biological clocks and freezing eggs, which freaks me out even more. You know what though? I say we enjoy this freedom & independence while we have it instead of wishing for something else…coz I’m sure there’ll come a point where the tables will turn :)

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    Selena Reply:

    Thanks Dani,
    I like your thinking and it is important to live to the full hopeful that all we wish for will come….eventually :)

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  • Chris

    This poem is a bit gay. You’d be better off cracking open a beer and cranking some tunes than wondering if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments. Bloody hell. Sounds like something from Mix 106.5 love song dedications with Richard Mercer!

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    Mia Reply:

    What do you mean by gay? I see no homoerotica contained within.

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    Mel Reply:

    Written by a bloke! But it did make me smile.

    And Mia, I don’t think Chris meant ‘gay’ in that sense.

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    Mia Reply:

    Obviously. I was just curious as to how he would defend the use of the word gay to mean, something negative/ weak/ pathetic. I shouldnt be poking bigots this early in the morning though, my apologies to you both.

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    dan_hillier Reply:

    Mia, please don’t apologise. Thanks for standing up and speaking your mind. We shouldn’t use the word ‘gay’ to mean something negative/weak/pathetic!

    Thanks!! :)

    Sam C Reply:

    Lighten up Dan. Get over it. It really is no big deal. More important things in life than getting upset about that pal.

    Mia Reply:

    I actually think using gay as a slur is one of the most offensive things a person can say, its one thing that really grates on my nerves. My apology was actually in my confrontational attitude, I hadnt slept the night before and my typing fingers were working faster than my brain. You know, where you type and hit post and then read back later and go, shit, wish I could take that back, I sound like a jerk. Right sentiment, wrong execution.

  • Mia

    I loved the part where you said, “I found it interesting to read the poem as a message to myself, rather than as something I impose on to an “other”.” I wish more single women would spend the time you obviously have to make themselves feel good and complete, instead of wishing for a man to do it for them. The world would be a more beautiful place.

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  • Ian

    Beautiful Sarah…thank you..

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  • Dani

    Sarah, your post today and yesterday really spoke to me, especially as it’s the second time in a week this poem has popped up.

    It’s scary when you realise you’re no longer going to tolerate ideas, things and relationships (romantic or platonic) that aren’t authentic: what if you go somewhere new and it doesn’t feel right? What if no one gets you? Relax. It will probably be absolutely fine. And if it’s not, you’ll just move on to somewhere where it is. Too easy, right?

    I’ve also been thinking a lot about connection lately, as I’m planning some big changes and a location move after recently (finally!) ending an on-off five year relationship with the bloke I was engaged to; owned an apartment with; planned to travel the world and have magnificent adventures and children with.( I realised the quickest way for me to be with someone who wants all those things with me is to stop putting all my energy into a situation with someone who doesn’t.)

    My point is, I’m a glass half full girl, but even I know that if your glass is half full of water and you want champagne, well, you’ve gotta tip everything out first and start afresh!

    Here’s to being perfectly, contently, gloriously alone!

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    dan_hillier Reply:

    Dani, I love that analogy of the glass half full cliche! LOVE IT! Thanks!

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  • liz

    I am always fascinated by the synchronicity of life. I was telling my uncle about this poem today and then I opened your blog to find it there! I also was talking about moving cities and how I like myself more in certain places.. I then saw your piece from yesterday. Really bizarre… Your piece on AI was also very timely. Another reminder that we are all connected. Thank you for everything. You bring so much richness and comfort into so many peoples lives.

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  • Patricia

    I believe that
    Knowing yourself and who you are
    Understanding of yourself and who you are
    Total acceptance of yourself and liking who you are
    Only then can you have a successful relationship with another.

    Then you have something to give to the other person, not solely relying on them to give to you.

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  • Jem

    “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you might find, you get what you need” Rolling Stones.

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  • Sue

    I was given this poem by a previous lover at the start of our relationship. It was powerful then however now its power has diminished as unrealistic expectations created too greater pressure to sustain.

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  • http://www.blessedhealth.com.au narelle

    wow – this really touched me, I had not read it before now. beautiful words!

    THANK YOU for sharing it!

    One of my favourites(aside from the odd one i write) is Desiderata…

    Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
    and remember what peace there may be in silence.

    As far as possible without surrender
    be on good terms with all persons.
    Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
    and listen to others,
    even the dull and the ignorant;
    they too have their story.
    Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
    they are vexations to the spirit.

    If you compare yourself with others,
    you may become vain or bitter;
    for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

    Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
    Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
    it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
    Exercise caution in your business affairs;
    for the world is full of trickery.
    But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
    many persons strive for high ideals;
    and everywhere life is full of heroism.

    Be yourself.
    Especially, do not feign affection.
    Neither be cynical about love;
    for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
    it is as perennial as the grass.

    Take kindly the counsel of the years,
    gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
    Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
    But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
    Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

    Beyond a wholesome discipline,
    be gentle with yourself.
    You are a child of the universe,
    no less than the trees and the stars;
    you have a right to be here.
    And whether or not it is clear to you,
    no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

    Therefore be at peace with God,
    whatever you conceive Him to be,
    and whatever your labors and aspirations,
    in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

    With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
    it is still a beautiful world.
    Be cheerful.
    Strive to be happy.

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    Mel Reply:

    Yes this is the poem for life, it is realistic, it knows there is not perfection. I carry this with me and every few years pull out my crumbling bit of paper, read it and feel in touch with myself again. Thanks for reminding me again.

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    anne purcell Reply:

    Love this, always have, I have a copy in my home, really speaks of what we need to focus on and learn what our priorities should be.

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  • viola

    Talking of beautiful poetry about living in the modern world, has anyone been reading Staying Alive, and the sequel, Being Alive? My dad bought me them for my birthday and he went through and earmarked the ones he thought were pertinent to my life. I have to say they have been some of the best, most emotionally reaffirming and uplifting reading I have ever done. Really brilliant, I highly recommend!

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  • Jem

    Nice poem, but how about a bit of reality! We can all live in hope of finding our ‘Ken or Barbie’, but breaking it down a little:

    It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. – living on social benefits and hasn’t worked a day in his life

    It doesn’t interest me how old you are. – 55 and not interested in having kids

    It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling me is true – would you trust this guy???

    It doesn’t interest me to know where you live or how much money you have – living in a caravan at the back on his parents house. Gets a social security check fortnightly. Might get a bit of cash in hand now and then

    It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. – I tried a few courses via correspondence when I was in jail but got moved to maximum security so couldn’t finish

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    Paula Reply:

    Hahaha! Where’s the “like” button?!?

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  • http://myonepercentaday.wordpress.com Nik

    My favourite is:
    I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it or fade it, or fix it.

    I love this piece and her book, The Invitation.
    I remember reading this chapter (in the sand dunes of South Durras beach) about Oriah listening to a friend, bitter about a long-term good for nothing husband, endlessly labouring her misfortune and victim state. Oriah stopped and asked
    What parts of this are you responsible for?
    How have you contributed here?
    What part have you been playing?
    Her friend insisted she was the innocent victim here, couldn’t Oriah see that and feel sorry for her? Oriah kept opening her up until she collapsed, weeping admitting she knew he was behaving badly but had turned a blind eye, resisted the truth, chose to stay and accommodated all his needs out of fear he’d leave.
    Once she took responsibility, she stood up for herself, kicked him out and moved forward and never looked back.
    I sat there in the dunes and cried for 3 cathartic hours realising I’d done exactly the same! Not being true to myself, choosing to stay and compromising myself whilst calling him every name under the sun to anyone who would listen – never stopping to think about my responsibility.
    Ahhhh turn-key moment!

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  • Paul

    Off topic: Hi Sarah, just saw your tweet on Dr. Brené Brown and have bought her two books on Kindle – what a great Phd topic! (vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and shame).

    From what I’ve read tonight I’d highly recommend these two books – the gifts of imperfection & i thought it was just me (but it isn’t).

    Looking at here DVD now too – the hustle for worthiness, and her 12 week e-course on shame/resilience.

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  • Kirby May

    I’ve had this poem stuck on my fridge for years. I love it!

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  • Anthony Porter

    That’s a beautiful poem Sarah. That poem says many important things, and it also demonstrates how well poetry speaks to us if we take the time to listen.

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  • Salbra

    Again, I don’t know how many times I can say it – just exactly what I needed. So the fact that anytime I need “stuff” like these powerful words, or a recipe for a breakfast smoothie that won’t spill in my handbag – it comes to me (often via Sarah!) just like the true things I need to sustain my soul. In the midst of a testing time of faith.. This was what I needed to read. Grateful thanks.
    Xxx

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  • Kelly

    This is just gorgeous and so uplifting. I will be printing this off and pinning it to my wall!

    With regards to enjoying one’s own company – I’m working on it!

    We are all “stuck” with ourselves for the rest of our lives. What better friend to have than someone who’ll always “be there”?

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  • Patricia

    Comment #2

    The thing that will get us through life and relationships is “emotional intelligence” and
    “resilience”
    Not to let our identity or sense of self worth be defined by having to be with another person or another person’s approval or opinion of us.

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  • Stephanie

    There’s a lot of food for thought in that poem. I like this line: “I want to know if you can see beauty even when it’s not pretty, every day, and if you can source your own life from its presence.” This is something I think about every day these days. This also gives me pause: “If you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy.”

    I hope you feel much better soon and that your more complete move proves an illuminating/comforting/refreshing one! Not exactly related, but I was reading this piece in the Economist recently, comparing the stress reactions associated with city living versus country living (and location of birth) and thought of your blog (not to suggest that you have an anxiety disorder or anything (I do!)), but it strikes me as a tentative line of research that might interest your readers): http://www.economist.com/node/18864354

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    Mel Reply:

    I looked up that article and it was interesting. The brain is of course infinitely interesting but as I grew up in the country and now live in the city which I love at the moment, I still always get to a tipping point where after a few years when I just need to move back to the country. Even though I really do love city living, it is just an urge. I wonder if my brain is ordering me back!!

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    Stephanie Reply:

    I can definitely relate, Mel. I’ve long had a dream to buy an apple orchard and move back to the country, but the charms of the city also have their hold on me. I currently live in the city to be close to my job, but I literally live where I live because all of the windows of my apartment look out upon a cathedral of trees (and the birdsong every morning is marvellous! I have a wonderful balcony for meditation.) I had an opportunity to move to a beautiful place in the same building, with better structure overall and some nice design features, which is when I realized that I live in my current apartment for what is outside rather than what is inside! The study is preliminary and the sample sizes small, but the results (and potential implications) make sense intuitively to me! – perhaps our brains do “order” us back! :)

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  • http://www.erinna.com.au Erinna

    I too read this poem as a message to myself, rather than something I would give to another. Perhaps it is too common that we look to others to give us what we really desire.

    All these attributes and longing that we look for elsewhere, when really, it is within ourselves that we most seek them. We look outside and see our ideals outside of us, rather than being content with who we are, right now.

    As individuals, we don’t often believe we are strong enough, or good enough, to be complete within ourselves. Often it comes down to loneliness; we are a social being, and like having others around and to share experiences.

    However, as my mum has told me many times, there is a difference between being alone, and being lonely.

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  • Paula

    Funny. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what is truly important when considering if a person could be a good match for you……

    I mean, I completely agree with above statements about needing to be stable on your own two feet; loving and being completely OK with yourself first, before you can even be open to the possibility of intertwining your life with another…. But, from that place, when someone comes along, I feel like there are two forces at work. One is attraction/ chemistry/ spark/ butterflies. The other is compatibility. So. They make you feel good, but are they really good for you? Are you good for them? I think it’s pretty easy to fall in love, and too often people fall in love with someone who is just not good for them.

    This compatibility question is the one I’ve really been pondering. I feel like some things are less significant than we might think. Of course there should be some common ground and shared interests – but I think having differing tastes and beliefs and opinions is OK as long as each person:

    1. Has a desire to understand, to not judge – Is respectful
    2. Can take a good hard look at them-self and own up to faults, weaknesses, being wrong – and being OK with that while talking measures to improve, to apologize when necessary.
    2. Realizes that few things are static or certain. Life, people, feelings and ideas evolve over time. Is capable of change, rolls with it, embraces it. Is OK with not having all the answers and actually kinda loves that there is mystery in life and the universe.

    SO, I think that if you have those three things in common then you are compatible!
    In a perfect world we’d hold the chemistry, the “I want to kiss you!” feelings in reserve and figure out the compatibility thing before we go falling head over heels!

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  • Claire

    On Wednesday night, I had to give a speech to a room of people I didn’t know, and I introduced myself via that poem: I said that instead of reciting them my resume, I’d rather people got to know the real Me, just as I want to get to know the real You: “I want to know what you ache for…” And then I talked about what lights my fire and the experiences I’ve had with that… to exemplify how we can all grow from learning about ourselves, our passions, our motivations… The speech was very well received!

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  • http://sashagoldstyleblog.blogspot.com sasha

    i love that part too…. its always been my goal to be happiest where i’m standing at the present moment. If I’m not I gotta make moves.

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  • Anna

    I gave a copy of ‘The Invitation’ to my husband when he first proposed. It really highlighted the the feelings I had about myself and him and our relationship! I love it and I always keep a copy close at hand. I also aspire to ‘like the company I keep in the empty moments’

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  • Anthony

    That is a very beautiful poem about love, Sarah. It really scrapes away all the superficiality that people get trapped into thinking about love, and digs deep into the question, are you up to love? There is no straight road to heaven, and will you be there tomorrow after after the storm of the night before.

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