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March 1, 2012

A Demonstration of Real Faith

Nyla had been raised by parents who "loved her" conditionally. They convinced her that their conditional praise, acceptance, and kindness were truly love. When I first described to her what Real Love looked like, her reaction was far from positive. She defended her parents, resisted the notion that she might not be perfectly happy, and vigorously resisted any hint that she might be imperfect as a wife and mother.

But she also knew that something was missing in her life. Her husband had had an affair, her teenage son was using drugs, and her daughter was in a miserable relationship. She began to realize that all her life she had been manipulated by her parents to be a "good girl" in ways that benefitted them. She finally made a choice to exercise faith in the power of truth telling and love. Faith isn't about words. Faith is demonstrated by what we do.

Nyla chose to believe that I loved her and that she was worthwhile, contradicting what nearly everyone in her life had told her. She chose to believe that with that love and sense of worth, nobody could hurt her. She chose to believe that being loving and responsible would always make her happier than anger or blaming or controlling people--the latter behaviors being quite familiar to her.

With these beliefs firmly in her soul, she apologized to her husband for being bitter and withdrawn on many occasions, and she expressed her understanding about why he would have an affair--since being with her had become so unpleasant (not to minimize his mistakes in any way). She chose to accept and forgive him, rather than waiting for him to sufficiently apologize and "make up" for his mistake.

She recognized that she had always controlled her children with guilt and by giving them whatever they wanted--spoiling them--so they would like her. She was terrified to give up these behaviors--for fear of losing their approval--but she simply did it. Initially, her son threw a fit that she would "take" from him the privileges he "deserved." He had a tantrum after the fashion of a four-year-old, which lasted for months, during which he called her terrible things, refused to speak to her, and involved the entire extended family in his uproar.

But still Nyla made choices to love him and teach him, even though he spewed venom at her for any attempts she made to alter his leisurely lifestyle. In his defense, who wouldn't like to be taken care of in every way: free apartment, car, insurance, food, and more. All his life he'd been treated like a baby, and--understandably--he liked it. He was in heaven--completely irresponsible, to be sure, but nonetheless enjoyable--and he was not about to let that go without a fight.

In the past, his disapproval would instantly have caused Nyla to stop her efforts and to resume pleasing her son. But she chose FAITH. She didn't just talk about loving and teaching. She DID it in the face of extreme opposition. That's the very definition of faith. Gradually Austin began to assume responsibility for his life. He got a job, his own apartment, and a sense of pride and confidence from being able to survive on his own. He was happier, and it all happened because of the faith of his mother. She had faith that loving and teaching would work better than manipulating and trading. She also had faith in her son, that he could really make it on his own. She proved her faith with her behavior.

At almost the same time that all this was happening with Nyla and Austin, I had similar conversations with Kara, whose daughter was in a position very similar to Austin's. Kara expressed her belief in Real Love, and in the importance of learning responsibility, but then she never did anything about it. She anguished over her daughter's pain. She prayed and wished for things to be different. But she was too afraid to change her own behavior. She had no real faith, so she stayed the same--as did her daughter, who remained miserable. The condition of their family deteriorated steadily.

Faith isn't a principle we just talk about. It's a choice we demonstrate. If we don't, we're guaranteed to stay the same. Lack of faith isn't just a problem. It's a living death.

As much as we might wish it, we cannot GIVE people faith. We can describe it. We can encourage it. We can provide an atmosphere so filled with love and safety that choosing faith becomes much easier. But we can't provide the faith. Nyla chose faith and found happiness, while Kara chose to stay in her fear. Kara protested that she couldn't make the difficult choices because she was afraid. But faith is moving forward WHILE we're afraid. Without fear, in fact, there is no real faith.

These two women are a cautionary tale for us all. We all have sufficient REASONS to be afraid--we've all been disappointed and hurt--but all our reasons don't JUSTIFY our staying in fear and denying the potential miracles of faith.

March 5, 2012

Love Gives Us Voice

I once talked to a teenaged girl who had been emotionally neglected by her father and physically abandoned by her mother. She felt so discarded and alone that she had no sense at all of her worth. In her eyes, her facial expression, and her posture, I could see that she felt like a piece of insignificant piece of garbage. She curled up in her chair, knees to chest, and was unable even to look at me as I spoke.

I asked her a question about herself. No response. I tried another two questions. Still nothing. I reached out and touched her knee, leaving my hand there for quite some time without any expectation that she would respond in any way.

"I know that it's difficult for you to speak," I said. "You're in a great deal of pain, and you have been for a very long time. Is that not true?"

Almost imperceptibly, she nodded.

"And in this moment, how do you feel?"

After a pause that seemed like the end of the conversation, she squeaked--in the tone and pitch of a mouse--"Better." Only barely could I understand the word she had spoken.

"More peaceful?"

She nodded.

"How else do you feel?" I asked.

"Safe," she said, and there followed the slightest smile, but one that lit up the room. Step by step we had a conversation initially distinguished by almost indecipherable squeaks and squeals that escaped reluctantly from her lips. Eventually, she spoke longer sentences, unburdening and cleansing her soul.

This tender child was rendered mute by fear. She was so occupied with protecting herself, that who she really was simply disappeared under the bristling armor of silence. But then the anticipated attack did not occur, nor the abandonment. Nobody told her she had to be different. Nobody coerced or even persuaded her. I just loved her, and she felt it. The need to protect herself was gone, so gradually she expressed her genuine feelings and thoughts.

It is love that gives us voice. It is love that frees us from the chains that imprison who we really are. We must trust in the power of that love, rather than trying to get what we want from others by all the other means available to us--intimidation, guilt, persuasion, anger, and more.

March 7, 2012

Forcing People vs. Standards

Erica said to me, "When Justin and I got engaged, we made agreements about how we wanted our marriage to look. We wouldn't use drugs. We'd be sexually faithful to each other. There'd be no yelling or hitting. That kind of thing. But now Justin smokes marijuana almost every day, so he's zoned out and hardly here with me. And I learned that he texts this other woman like twenty times a day, and I read some of them. It's pretty sexual. I tried to talk to him about it, but he yelled at me that he could do whatever he wanted, and I had no right to control him. We couldn't have a real relationship if he felt like I was trying to force him to do what I wanted. I don't know what to say to that. I don't know if I even want to marry him now."

My response to Erica or anyone in a similar position:

When you try to talk to people about their behaviors that are hurtful or wrong, they often attempt to distract you by claiming that you're trying to control them. Then they don't have to be honest about themselves. You feel so defensive about the accusation of being controlling, that you let go of any discussion of the issue you originally brought up. And the other person continues to engage in the behaviors you find hurtful.

It can be helpful to distinguish clearly between forcing people to do something and simply setting a standard for people who wish to interact with you. Imagine, for example, that you walk into a store. No one will force you to give them your money. What they will do, however, is price everything they have as a statement of their standard for its purchase.

If you decide to meet their standard for a particular item--if you pay the stated price--you may take it home with you. You're not forced to pay anything. You just decide whether you will meet the standard, and if you do not, the store will not willingly allow you to take what they own.

Of course, you can make a decision to break the standard. You can steal what you wish, but then you are exposing yourself to the potential unpleasant consequences that the store or the law chooses to impose--imprisonment, for example.

In relationships, we have a similar right to set standards. There are no standards for unconditional love--by definition--but I do have a right to set standards for who I will interact with. I have a relatively firm standard, for example, that I will not spend time with people who are drunk. I would not stop you from drinking--it's none of my business--but after a certain point of intoxication, you're simply not here anymore. Who you really are is chemically suppressed to the point where continued interaction becomes unproductive, sometimes even harmful. When your behavior falls below my standard, I choose to leave. This is not arrogance, just a choice I make to maximize the love and productivity of my own life.

Erica has standards for what a true partner--in this case, a husband--will be, and Justin agreed to those standards. She didn't force him to do anything. He then decided not to live by those standards, which means that Erica now has three choices:

1. She can continue to accept him as a partner who violates her standards of partnership, which will almost certainly lead to increasing resentment and conflict. This choice rarely leads to happiness in a relationship.

2. She can change her standards. Perhaps her original requirements were too strict, even though Justin agreed to them. Sometimes when our ideals meet reality, we discover that some of our ideals need to bend a bit. In this particular case, however, the standards--sexual fidelity and an absence of mind-altering drugs--are probably not unreasonable.

3. She can leave the relationship. If you don't have standards for a relationship, you might as well choose companions and partners randomly out of the phone book. Standards enhance our growth and happiness. Then you compare each potential partner to these standards, and if you accept as a partner someone who significantly deviates from your standards, you will be inviting certain conflict.

Establish standards for those you associate with--standards that will promote your feeling loved, being loving, being responsible, and feeling happy. Be reasonable with these standards, and first ensure that you live within them yourself. On many occasions we simply cannot avoid association with people who don't share out standards--family members and coworkers come to mind--but we can limit that association, and we certainly can avoid long-term relationships with them.

March 9, 2012

Love from One Person

Matt called me to complain about his wife. He said she avoided him, wouldn't have sex with him, and seemed to dislike any conversation with him.

"I'm miserable," he said.

"Do you have a Real Love group?" I asked.


"Do you attend at least once a week?"

"Well, sometimes."

"Do you talk to people from the group every day?"


"Because what you really want is love from your wife."


"Then I suggest that you follow your wife around all day and complain that she's not giving you the love you want from her. Follow her every move. And remember to do lots of whining."

"But that will just irritate her. That won't work."

"Odd, then, that you do exactly that. She hates to hear your complaining and pressuring--hates it a lot--but you keep doing it. You've proven beyond all doubt that trying to get love from your wife never works, but you keep trying. Does that strike you as smart or stupid?"

"Not very smart."

"Because she can't love you in the way you want. She simply does not have it to give, so for now why not give up that effort entirely and get it from the people who have it? Like from the members of your group."

"What about my wife?"

"Like I said, you've already proven there isn't anything you can do about that right now. Demanding loved from one particular person doesn't work. For one thing, if you demand it, you can't feel it as unconditional love. Second, the other person--in this case, your wife--really hates the pressure of your expectations. You think she's not sick of your complaining and pushing her?"

"I suppose."

"I promise you she is."

"So you have absolutely nothing to lose by getting love from people who have it. You'll be happier yourself, and then you'll finally have something to give your wife. If you do, there's a chance she might even learn how to love you too."

Most of us have lived without love all our lives--which really isn't living, just surviving. In our pain, it's understandable that we try to squeeze every drop of attention we can from the people closest to us--understandable but deadly. We must learn how to stop buying and selling "love" and let the real thing simply flow to us without manipulating it.

March 12, 2012

The Subtleties of Power

Glenn was annoyed when he said, "Nobody listens to me."

"Really?" I asked. "Give me an example."

"Yesterday I wanted to go out to eat with Misty (his wife), instead of eating dinner at home."

"Did you tell her you wanted to go out?"

He paused. "Well, yes."

"Your pause would lead me to believe that you might have been less than crystal clear in expressing your desires. Exactly what did you say to Misty--the precise words."

"I asked her if she wanted to go out."

"Ah, so you didn't really make a clear request that she go out with you. Instead you asked her what she wanted to do."

"But I wouldn't have asked her about going out if I didn't want to go."

"I understand that, but you didn't directly ask for what you wanted. You required Misty to figure out what you wanted. Why did you not ask more clearly for what you wanted?"

"I'm not sure."

"Because if you're vague, you avoid being directly rejected, which you hate. That is the primary reason people don't clearly ask for what they want. You were simply afraid, and then when Misty didn't respond in the way you wished, you were offended. You put yourself in a place where you could accuse her of being insensitive or uncaring. You enjoyed the power of being offended. By accusing her of not listening, you also hope to pressure her to listen in the future."

"I never saw it like that."

"You need to have the courage to clearly state what you want. Real power comes from controlling your own choices, not from controlling or criticizing the choices of others."

March 14, 2012

Judgment--By What Standard?

Not a day goes by without my hearing people expressing pain about what they've done with their lives, what they're doing now, and who they are. At every turn, guilt and self-criticism seem to reign.

Although the individual expressions vary, they tend to dance around just a few themes:

1. "I should . . ."
2. "I should have . . ."
3. "Compared to XX (another person), I . . ."

Let's look at how we judge ourselves--which has a great deal to do with how we feel--and assess whether the criteria are valid.

1. "I should . . ."

We say this in many ways:
"There's so much that needs to be done, and I'm just not doing it."
"I need to be a better parent."
"I should be doing more with my life."
"I feel so overwhelmed by all that I'm supposed to do."

Somewhere--usually at the hands of our parents--most of us were taught that if a thing needed to be done, we had the responsibility to do it. In other words, we were taught that need = should. This made sense under many circumstances: If our room needed to be cleaned, it was our job to do it; if our homework needed to be completed, it was our duty to attend to that task. But this correlation between need and obligation ("should") often breaks down.

In many cases, even though a need exists, we have neither the ability nor the responsibility to fill the need. The world needs better health care, fair administration of justice, greater availability of clean water, and much more, but the existence of these needs does not confer upon me the ability or the responsibility to attend to all of them. Closer to home, I may need to be a better spouse, but if I was raised in an environment without Real Love, and without any instruction about how to be a healthy spouse, how could I possibly expect suddenly to be such a partner?

In short, the needs of people and circumstances are often not a reasonable criterion by which to judge the "rightness" of what we are doing, what we have done, or who we should be. So, we need to stop beating ourselves up with what "needs to be done." Need does not define what we should do.

2. "I should have . . ."

How do we say this?
"I should have known better."
"I shouldn't have made that mistake."
"I should have chosen A instead of B."

With rare exceptions, we act according to the best knowledge we have. In the process of learning, it is utterly unavoidable that we will be required--not just asked--to make decisions and to take action based on information and preparation that is far less than what we will have in the future. In other words, we're almost always acting on flawed or incomplete information, experience, and ability.

Under those circumstances, mistakes aren't an occasional and unfortunate occurrence. We make mistakes all the time. It's inevitable. We must make mistakes, but then we say, "I should have . . ." What we're really saying is, "When I was younger--whether by decades, years, or even days--I should have been able to make decisions and act according to the information and experience I have now." Or, more simply, "When I was sixteen I should have been able to act with the maturity I have now at age forty." It's a ridiculous thing to say, and yet we continue to judge ourselves badly for what we "should" have done.

3. "Compared to XX (another person), I . . ."

We say this when we say:
"I'm just no good at this." (The implication is always that we can't do it as well as others, not that we can't do it at all.)
"I've done so little with my life." (compared to others)
"I wish I were as smart/beautiful/talented/wealthy as XX."

We think we know other people. We don't. We don't know their genetic composition, the effects of toxins and diet on their bodies, how their parents and others treated them in childhood, what secret traumas have affected them, what talents they were born with and which they developed, whether they are truly happy, or anything else. And yet we compare ourselves to these people we do not know.

Ironically, we know almost as little about ourselves as we do about everyone else. We don't know how much our genes affect our choices. We don't remember--certainly don't understand--all the "little" events of childhood that have continued to effect us in ways that often nearly control us completely. And yet we compare ourselves to others.

Dropping the Judgment

So, we don't know ourselves or others. We couldn't possibly have done in the past what we're capable of now, and just because something needs to be done doesn't give us the ability or responsibility to do it. In our vast ignorance, we might consider dropping the accusatory and demeaning judgments of ourselves, which cause us to feel so guilty and unhappy. Instead we might consider being satisfied with doing our best to learn and to love in the moment--this one.

March 16, 2012

Stop Hurting Me!

Years ago I took a group of young men on a canoe trip down a swift river. Although everyone was carefully instructed in how to safely maneuver their craft, one young man, Dean, felt out of his canoe, and we soon discovered that he had not properly fastened his life jacket, which was floating down the river away from him. Struggling in the water, Dean was obviously afraid.

I paddled over to him and asked, "Want a lift?"

Immediately Dean grabbed hold of the gunnel, which is the upper edge of the side of the canoe. "Help me in," he said.

Canoes are not rotationally stable. If you lean much at all to either side, you'll tip the canoe over and fall into the water--as this boy had done. Once in the water, getting back into a canoe can be a most frustrating experience--impossible for many.

I grabbed both of Dean's arms and began to pull him over the gunnel, while leaning back myself to counter-balance Dean's increasing weight on the one side of my boat. The gunnel is a narrow, hard piece of aluminum, so it can be fairly uncomfortable to have one's body weight dragged across it. As I pulled, Dean shouted, "That hurts. Stop."

So I let go of his arms, and immediately he fell back into the water. "Help me," he repeated, as the pitch of his voice rose.

"So, which do you want me to do? Help you? Or stop hurting you? Because if I help you, it will hurt--only for a few seconds, but I know it still hurts. Or I can avoid hurting you, and you'll stay in the water. You choose."

Dean opted for the help, and in a few seconds he was sitting in my canoe, chest heaving. After we recovered his canoe a mile downstream, he was much more careful about fastening his life jacket and about balancing himself as he paddled.

In life, we all lose our balance. We fall into the water. We struggle to breathe. We often discover that without the help of others, we can't get out of the churning current. Getting back into the boat may require temporary discomfort, but the alternative is to stay in the water and drown.

March 19, 2012

The Perpetuation of Fear

When you're afraid, fear becomes the center of your universe. Everything you see, think, and do is filtered through and distorted by that fear. You can't help it. It's just the power of fear.

When you're afraid, you're deep in the jungle on a moonless night. Lost and blind, every sound--each rustling branch or animal call--becomes an imagined source of danger and injury. Each touch of a leaf or vine becomes a potential claw or tooth. Everything we hear and feel confirms and magnifies the fear that already consumes us. And then we freeze, our hearts racing, or we bolt wildly down a path obstructed with real roots and branches that can genuinely hurt us.

Most of us live in a jungle of fear all our lives, making judgments, experiencing feelings, and making choices based on lies we were taught from childhood. Thus entangled, we are certain to hurt ourselves and others.

As we feel unconditionally loved, we lose our fears. The sun breaches the horizon, and then we can see the truth about the people and circumstances around us, further dispelling our fears and elevating the sun to its zenith. Only love purges our fears--not reason or techniques or all our protective efforts to ensure superficial safety. With love we can see clearly, judge accurately, and make loving decisions.

To learn more about gaining freedom from our fears, click here.
Or here.

March 21, 2012

Open-Minded vs. Self-Conscious

Sarah called and said, "I just don't know what to do with my mother."

"In what way?" I asked.

"When I tell her anything about myself, or what I'm doing, she comments on it, and makes suggestions, and every single time she misunderstands me. She assumes the worst about my motivations, my choices, everything."

I laughed before I asked my question, already knowing the answer. "Have you tried to explain to her your true motivations and reasoning? Have you tried to get her to really understand you?"

"A million times, but she--" self conscious 2.jpg

"Sorry, kid, I was just joking. I know you have. And how has it gone when you've tried to do that?"

"She doesn't hear a single word I say. In fact, it just makes it worse."

"So does your mother understand you?"


"Is it likely that she will in the near future?"

"I guess not."

"No, not likely at all. So what should you do with her opinions?"

"I don't know."

"Would you characterize your mother as peaceful and unconditionally loving?"

"Not at all."

"Then she is empty and afraid, so she would be utterly incapable of seeing who you really are. She could describe you only in terms of whether you gave her what she wanted, or whether she perceived that you were trying to hurt her. She wouldn't be able to see you at all. So how closely should you pay attention to what she says about you?"

"Probably shouldn't, but I struggle with wanting to keep an open mind about what she says. She might be right about something I'm doing that's wrong. But I don't want to feel bad about myself because of what she says either."

"Well stated. Always be willing to examine what people say for any element of truth--no matter how distorted their opinions--but don't let them tell you who you are if they speak from a place that is less than loving."

Even selfish, angry people may have observations about our behaviors that we cannot see. We must be willing to listen, but not to accept what they say without examination from a perspective of Real Love.

March 23, 2012

The Hole in the Door

For years Donna and I have been regularly associated with Rita, an elderly woman in town. Because of a lifetime of poor decisions, she can't work but subsists on a meager income from disability and social security. We assist her with shopping, laundry, transportation, and the like. Always demanding and seldom cooperative, Rita can be quite difficult. She never thinks ahead, instead consistently choosing to minimize her immediate discomfort, so she lives from one crisis to the next.

Lately we moved her to an apartment in a reasonably priced a hole in the door 80.jpg and safer part of town, but her neighbors sometimes took advantage of her absences by breaking the windows of her door and helping themselves to her belongings. We responded by installing a solid door, but then one day she took so many of her "nerve pills" (sedatives and narcotics) that she couldn't get up from the floor. Using her cell phone, she called the police, who punched a hole through the solid door in order to reach her.

The ambulance personnel helped her, but then the hole in the door made her more susceptible to the next robbery. We installed heavy plywood reinforcement to the door, but then she overdosed again, called the police, and once again there was a gaping hole in her door.

Most of us live like this, emotionally speaking. We've made so many bad decisions that we're on the edge of emotional survival all the time. We try to minimize our pain, but this creates yet other problems. In our attempts to solve these, we create even more problems, and so on.

We can't go back and change the decisions that led to our present precarious position, but we can ask people who are loving and happy to show us how to see ourselves and others differently. We can learn to make different choices, ones that will build genuine happiness, rather than simply solving crises. The process will occasionally be painful, and often unsettling, but until we're willing to really change how we live, we'll keep getting the same unhappy results.

March 26, 2012

But What if It's All Taken Away?

When I met Matt, he was one of the most frightened and lonely people I'd ever seen. After working together for some time, he began to trust that I loved him. But one day he said, "I'm afraid."

"Of?" I asked.

"I'm beginning to believe that I can be loved, but what if it's all taken away?"

"Everybody in your life who has promised to love you has taken it away, haven't they?"


"So it's understandable that you would have that fear. But let's look at whether it's true. Tell me how it could all be taken away. How would that happen? If you can't describe how it would happen, it's not likely that it would. Make sense?"

"Well, I don't know. My wife can be pretty ugly to me." love gone.jpg

"Do I love you?"


"Do you have people in your Real Love group who love you?"


"How many?"

"Oh, probably a dozen or more."

"That's a lot. So, in the past you've had nobody you could depend on to love you. Now you have me and a dozen other people who do. On any given day, some of us might not be full enough to love you, but what are the odds that none of us will be able to?"

"Probably low."

"And no matter how ugly people are to you--your wife, for example--they can't take our love from you. Individuals can withdraw their love, but they can't take away anybody else's. So what do you really have to fear?"

"Not much, I guess."

"No, you really don't."

We want to develop as many people as possible who can see us clearly and love us. Then we'll always have a supply, and we don't have to fear being alone anymore.

March 28, 2012

Laws of Happiness

Sometimes as I'm counseling people I say things like, "Your anger is destroying your life, your marriage, and your children."

Commonly, they respond with something like, Happy Family 2.jpg "Are you telling me I shouldn't be angry? It's not like I try to be. It just happens. I can't help it."

In many other places (click here OR click here) I have explained that other people don't "make" us angry, so I won't address that here. But when people feel like I am telling them what they should do, I explain that I'm only describing to them the inevitable consequences of their choices.

The degree of our happiness is a natural consequence of laws as immutable as the laws of physics--like gravity. You may jump off a cliff any time you wish, but you WILL experience the consequences of the law of gravity. You will die on the rocks below. In a similar way, the Laws of Happiness always exact a price for the choices you make. If you choose to be angry.

If you make unloving decisions, you CANNOT be happy, anymore than you can fly if you jump off a cliff. Every day I talk to people who want to be selfish, angry, and manipulative, all the while denying their behavior. And while making these choices, they want to be happy, usually by controlling the responses of others. Impossible.

If we wish to be happy, we must learn the laws that govern happiness. We must be truthful, find love, and share it with others. As we make these choices, the Laws of Happiness will guarantee the peace and emotional rewards we seek.

March 30, 2012

Remove the Obstacles--Now

Throughout our backyard forest are shallow ditches that allow rainwater to drain downhill to the creek. Without them, the backyard would become a marsh, punctuated by puddles and small ponds.

The many trees drop a great number of leaves all over the place, including into the drainage ditches. ditch 2.jpg Here and there the leaves and silt create obstacles in a ditch, and the water behind the dam backs up, where even more leaves are trapped, increasing the size of the blockage. Upstream from the dam, the water moves very slowly, which allows the leaves to sink to the bottom of the ditch and create more blockages.

Periodically, the blockages have to be removed, allowing the water to flow freely again. Recently I replaced the six-inch pipes that ran under the walkways with half-sections of eighteen-inch pipe, and that eliminated a couple of places where the leaves consistently became stuck.

In our lives, we all experiences similar obstacles to the flow of energy and happiness: fear, anger, and more. If we don't attend to their removal, the flow stops, and the obstacles increase.

About March 2012

This page contains all entries posted to Greg's Real Love Blog in March 2012. They are listed from oldest to newest.

February 2012 is the previous archive.

April 2012 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.