Category Archives: Self-loving

The Power of Stillness

b-edit_MG_6892-1There was once an Indian sage who performed amazing miracles. One day a woman who was deeply distressed approached him. Her daughter was getting married and the family, who had no money, needed 15 grams of gold for her dowry. The sage reminded the woman that he was not a goldsmith, and advised her to sit in stillness, focus on her breath, meditate and wait patiently for a solution to her dilemma. In the meantime, a wealthy merchant and long-time disciple of the sage approached. He had just been given the news that he was in declining health, due to a pre-diabetic condition. He asked for the sage’s prayers and blessing. The sage told him to stop eating sugar and assured him that if he followed this advice all would be well. In gratitude, the wealthy merchant gave the sage a leather pouch as a gift. Without hesitation, the sage found the woman whose daughter was to be married and gave her the pouch. When she opened it she fell to her knees in gratitude, for inside the leather pouch she found 15 grams of gold.

b_MG_7446Sometimes being still is the most powerful thing we can do. Rather than acting on the advice, “Don’t just sit there, do something!,” we are better off taking the advice, “Don’t just do something, sit there!” That’s when we discover that just because we aren’t doing something, doesn’t mean nothing is happening.

We live in a culture that places more value on doing than on being. We attach our worth to our accomplishments. We value how much we do, and how busy we are, more than what we do or how we do it. We miss the point that sometimes doing nothing is more powerful and productive than anything you can do in a situation. But being still is an art that requires practice. It’s easier said than done.

Many of us have learned to associate being still with being lazy. We consider it a waste of time. Or we may worry that taking time to relax is selfish and end up feeling guilty. Sometimes we’re afraid to be still because when we stop filling every moment with activities, we encounter feelings and thoughts we’d rather avoid. Sometimes we are afraid to do nothing because our mind tells us we’ll never be able to realize our dreams if we take time out to be still.

Actually when you are still you are better able to quiet your mind and listen more deeply to your heart and soul. It’s in these moments that you can hear the still, small voice within that speaks quietly and with confidence from a deeper place of intelligence than your thinking mind. When you act from the depth of your soul, and deeper guidance, your actions carry a force and energy that bring you into harmony with life. You will likely find yourself to be the right person, in the right place, at the right time.

b_MG_7448Sometimes you have to slow down so that the world around you can catch up to your vision. There are certain moments in life and situations where there is nothing for you to do but be still. Acting out of impatience won’t necessarily make things manifest more quickly, but will instead cause you more stress and suffering. Rather than forcing things into existence, slow down, practice being still, silent, and waiting patiently. Connect with the flow of life that already is.

Silence has a sound of its own; listen for it. Stillness is just another form of action. Revel in it. The real power of living isn’t just in the actions you take, but also in your stillness. This is not an “either or” proposition. There is a time for doing something and a time for doing nothing.

Use the time you are doing nothing to reflect, restore, rejuvenate and to prepare yourself for action. If you don’t, when the time comes to do something, you may be depleted from all of your busyness and unable to be at your best when it counts the most.

Learn to trust life.

Slow down.

Listen to the silence.

Enjoy a meditation practice.

Try Restorative yoga.

Don’t just do something.

Sit there.

Be a human being, not just a human doing.

Namaste

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Behind Closed Doors

It has not been my habit to talk about myself in my blog posts, but because of the ongoing conversation about domestic violence in our culture I am inspired to share my story of how I survived domestic abuse even before it was considered a crime. This is a story about why I stayed and how I left.

It is only recently that domestic violence has been considered a violation of the law. Although men have battered, abused and mistreated their wives or intimate partners for a long time, historically, wife or partner abuse has been viewed as a “normal” part of marriage or intimate relationships. Only toward the end of the twentieth century, in the 1970s, has domestic violence been defined as a crime, justifying intervention by the criminal justice system.

I married for the first time in 1967. My first husband turned out to be a verbally, emotionally, and physically abusive man, and I was the object of his abuse. His violent rages seemed to come out of nowhere. I had grown to fear him and was as careful as I knew how to be not to trigger him – walking on eggshells all of the time. In 1967 no-fault divorce was not an option and blame the victim was the name of the game, so I stayed and tried to make the best of a bad situation. To set the stage, we were a young inter-racial couple, married the same year the Supreme Court ruled miscegenation laws illegal. I was 21 he was 26.

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We shared a car. Both of us worked. It was my habit to pick him up from work in the evening. One afternoon I made a decision to remain at work to complete an interview I was conducting. I had no way to reach him to let him know that I would be about fifteen minutes late (there were no cell phones then). When I arrived to pick him up, he was not there. My heart sank. Instead of waiting for me, he had taken the bus home in a driving rainstorm.

I knew he would be furious by the time I arrived home, and sure enough, there he was waiting for me inside the foyer of our apartment with a leather belt in his hand. When I walked through the door, he began screaming obscenities at me and beating me with the belt. As usual, I was totally unprepared for the assault. Afraid to defend myself, I felt victimized and helpless as usual.

Aside from the extremity of the attack, there was something different this time. I am not really certain how long the attack continued, but at some point during it, something inside of me literally clicked. Time slowed down, almost coming to a standstill, and I remember hearing a voice inside me say as clearly as if there had been someone in the room talking to me, “You know he’s crazy, but you must be crazy too for putting up with this.” In that moment of realizing my own insanity, I was transformed from the victim of an abusive husband to a woman who had choices, and I knew, even though I was not yet ready emotionally or financially, that I would leave the relationship.

I never said a word to him or lifted a finger to defend myself, but the most amazing thing happened. Immediately following, or maybe simultaneous to my thought and decision to leave, he stopped hitting me and screaming at me, dropped the belt, and walked away. We never spoke of the incident, and he never raised his voice to me or lifted a finger to harm me in any way after that. It was as if he somehow sensed that he would never be able to treat me that way again.

In a moment of profound awareness, I had taken personal responsibility for my own sense of well-being. In that instant I had changed on a deep, fundamental level. The shift in me completely changed the way I regarded myself and profoundly changed the way he interacted with me forever. I was no longer a victim. I had choices. Within months I had enrolled in graduate school, moved out of our apartment, and filed for divorce.

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This incident happened over forty years ago. Until I shared the story sixteen years ago with my students at the University of Michigan in a course I was co-teaching with professor Robert Quinn called “Change the World”, I had never told anyone – not my parents, my brother, my current husband, or any of my closest friends. I had buried the memory of that chapter of my life, and along with it the feelings of humiliation and shame I felt.

The premise of the course we were teaching was that through individual personal transformation you can effect positive change. The question that prompted me to tell the story came from a student who asked, “Can you change an abusive relationship organizationally or personally through individual personal transformation?” I told my story.

Before I could feel regret or embarrassment about what I had shared in a very public forum, Professor Quinn said the most amazing thing: “That is an incredibly powerful story. Thank you for sharing it.”

Shazaam! An incredibly powerful story? Not the story of a pathetic victim of abuse who had put up with it for years? Not a shameful story that should have remained a lifelong secret? I had made myself vulnerable by sharing a story that I had always regarded as a sign of my own weakness. In the telling, I watched the story transform into a story of courage and strength. In telling the story, which was in itself an act of courage, my perspective shifted.

The fundamental change in me, by telling that story, was my willingness to lovingly and wholeheartedly embrace those parts of me that I had for years regarded as flawed. This shift in perspective forever changed how I see and relate to the world. Clearly my clients have benefited from this shift, as I am much better able to help them embrace their weaknesses and flaws, which paradoxically transforms them into strengths. My family and friends also benefit, as I am much less guarded and defensive, more willing to be open and vulnerable, and have a greater sense of self-esteem, all of which allows for greater intimacy and closeness.

So the upshot of what occurred for me by finally telling this story was that a pathway opened to transforming what I had internalized as a shameful experience, to be kept secret, into a story of courage and strength that I can now use to instruct others and to be a more compassionate, open, and loving person. It also released me from a long-held but deeply buried belief that I am not “good enough”, which has opened many internal doors that were formerly locked away, freeing me to be more authentic, genuine, and efficacious in all that I do.

edit_MG_7184I hope telling my story helps you find the courage to tell your story, whatever it may be, and to experience the loving embrace of all those with whom you share it. Secrecy enables the continuation of abuse. Don’t get it twisted. There is no shame in being abused. The shame belongs to the abuser; to all those who blame the victims of abuse; and to those individuals and institutions who would have you cover it up, hide it behind closed doors, and keep abuse a secret. Unless you are a powerless child, being victimized by an abuser does not define you as a victim. No matter what you may think, you always have choices. There is a way out. I know. Find your strength. Find your voice. Tell your story. Stand tall. Stand proud. Change the world.

Namaste

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Gratitude: A Habit of the Heart

The most powerful agent of growth and transformation is something much more basic than any technique: a change of heart. ~ John Welwood

b2_MG_3119Gratitude is more than a feeling. It is a practice. In the Native American tradition elders begin each ceremony with a prayer of gratitude to father sky, and mother earth, to the four directions, and to the animal, plant, and mineral brothers and sisters who share our earth and support our life. A Buddhist monk begins each day with a chant of gratitude for the blessings in his life. Tibetan monks even offer prayers of thanksgiving for their suffering: “Grant that I might have enough suffering to awaken in me the deepest possible compassion and wisdom.”

As we mature, one of our tasks is to move beyond a purely emotional response to life and to cultivate positive emotions as habits of the heart. What this means is that we practice being grateful when we don’t feel thankful, loving when we don’t feel loving, and kind when we’d rather be mean and surly. This is how we turn feelings, which come and go, into conscious, intentional attitudes that guide our actions even when we don’t “feel” like it. Our attitudes then become habits of the heart.

What you discover through focusing on and practicing gratitude is this: The more grateful you are, the more joyful you become. You become more joyful for yourself, and for the good fortune of others. You find that you can be happy for the people you love, for bright blue skies, warm sunshine, the scent of flowers in bloom, the soft caress of cool breezes blowing–even for your own breath. Instead of feeling guilty about your own good fortune, you become able to embrace pleasure even when you are aware of the suffering of others. The more grateful you become, the happier you feel for no apparent reason. You simply love life and enjoy being alive.

There is much to be grateful for even if we can’t always see it. Author Dawna Markova says it best when she reminds us, “Gratitude is like a flashlight. If you go out into your yard at night and turn on your flashlight, you can suddenly see what’s there. It has always been there, but you couldn’t see it in the dark.”

When you shine the flashlight of gratitude on your life you can see all of the blessings both great and small that have always been there. Like the Native American elders, gratitude helps us acknowledge and appreciate everything that sustains our lives each day.

Gratitude is an expression of our confidence that life itself is on our side, that good things will come our way, and that even when unwanted experiences visit us, we regard them as merely bumps in the road that can help us learn to become wiser, more complete, and more loving. Gratitude helps us acknowledge that the life force that the poet Tupac Shakur identified as enlivening “the rose that grew from the crack in the concrete” is the same life force that enlivens each and every one of us.

An attitude of gratitude is not judgmental, envious or jealous. It does not compare itself to anyone or anything. It does not compete or disparage; rather, it is an attitude that openly receives what the Universe is offering, the sun, the rain, the air, and the earth as that which supports all of life. Gratitude invites us to become engaged in the excitement and wonder of life.

One caution: Telling yourself or others that you or they should feel grateful is not helpful. Guilt doesn’t work. Gratitude springs from either a conscious decision to notice what’s right with your life instead of what’s wrong or what’s missing, or from a spontaneous opening of the heart to life’s wonders. If you’re like most people there will be days when it’s impossible to feel grateful for anything no matter how hard you try. When that happens, be kind to yourself. The less guilt tripping you do to yourself and others, the more space you create for gratitude to sweetly and softly envelope your heart.

As you intentionally cultivate an attitude of gratitude, it changes the way you view the world. When you practice being grateful you feel connected to the abundant flow of life. The more you say “Thank You” the more you experience the feeling and the richness of spirit that gratefulness produces. At such times you don’t need to work at being grateful; you just are.

Dhanyavad Ananda

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Love Is Patient

“That could take some time.” –Dr. Gopala Aiyar Sundaramoorthy

In Chinese folklore there once was a wise and humble man who had the most extraordinary gift. He could relate to anyone and got along with everyone. He never argued with friends, family, co-workers, or even strangers. His marriage was happy and his children were well behaved, respectful, kind and polite. He enjoyed remarkable harmony inside his home and out.

News of this amazing man traveled to the Emperor, who was so intrigued by the man’s reputation that he ordered him to come to the palace in order to meet him in person. After their meeting, the Emperor ordered the man, by royal proclamation, to write a 10,000-word document describing how everyone in the Empire could create peaceful relationships as he had done. The man was then sent off to write.

Five days later he returned to the palace with a heavy scroll that was immediately taken to the great hall and rolled out across a huge table. The Emperor’s court stood silently by as the Emperor began to read the scroll. Much to everyone’s delight,  in just a few minutes he nodded his approval . The man had written 10,000 words as the Emperor requested – but it was the same word written over and over and over again: Patience, Patience, Patience.

Patience is the ability to experience difficulty or inconvenience without complaining. Love is its foundation. Every loving heart overflows with patience. It is the way a mother shows her love to a toddler having a melt down, or the love a husband shows his wife when she’s running late, or the love a son shows his mother learning to use the latest technological gadget. Love and patience go together, hand in glove.

Patience is the loving response to frustration. Have you ever watched a small child trying to pour a glass of milk with unsteady hands? Can you wait to see if he actually needs your help to avoid a spill before you grab the milk carton and pour it yourself? If your wife (husband) is driving to a destination and going a different way than you anticipated, can you wait to see if she (he) asks for your help before you offer directions? How much frustration can you tolerate before you intervene with a solution to someone else’s problem?

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Patience is measured by the ability to put up with something you’d rather not; falling in and out of a handstand before you nail it, waiting for the relationship you long for to manifest, waiting to hear the outcome of an important job interview, or for an injury to heal or an illness to abate. We wait patiently not for the sake of endurance but in the recognition that in a breath or two, “This too shall pass.”

A frustration, an unpleasant experience, or inconvenience does not last forever and it is the power of an open heart that gives us the strength to look toward a brighter future. Patience makes room for the power of love to work on a troubled relationship. It empowers love to care for a troubled child, and to take care of our selves when we are troubled.

Achieving a balanced mental outlook and inner-peace requires patience. Patience is the ability to remain open to love in every moment. It’s easy to love every moment when things are going well, but how do you do it when you are suffering?

To learn patience, practice being still. Slow down. Take a moment each day just to notice your breath. Is it fast or slow, deep or shallow? Slow it down. Deepen it. Savor it. Take the time to glimpse a rainbow, smell a rose, hear a baby laugh. Be still. Make a practice of waiting patiently. Love is patient. Just when you think you have come to the end of your rope and your patience has run out, love empowers you to endure just a little bit longer.

Namaste

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Let Bygones Be Bygones

A senior monk and a junior monk were traveling together. At one point, they came to a river with a strong current. As the monks were preparing to cross the river, they saw a woman also attempting to cross. She asked if they could help her. The junior monk, in keeping with his vows never to touch a woman, ignored her request for help and crossed to the other side of the raging river. The senior monk carried the woman on his shoulder, forded the river and let her down on the other bank. The junior monk was very upset, but said nothing. As they continued on their journey the senior monk noticed that the junior monk was suddenly silent and enquired, “Is something the matter? You seem very upset.” “As monks, we are not permitted to touch a woman,” the junior monk said. “How could you then carry that woman on your shoulders?” The senior monk replied, “I left the woman a long time ago at the river bank. However, you seem to be carrying her still.” This begs the question: What baggage are you carrying that you should have left behind a long time ago?

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The arrival of spring is a good time to do some mental and emotional housecleaning and to finish up unfinished business from the past. You can start by doing an inventory of old grudges you still carry, like the boss who kept you from getting that much needed raise and that much deserved promotion, the friend who never paid you back the money you lent, or the person you love who broke your heart. Your unwillingness, or inability to let go of past hurts stunts your spiritual and emotional growth and can cause stress that may lead to physical illness. Carrying old grudges weighs you down and keeps you stuck in the past. Dwelling on past grievances is a form of emotional and mental clutter and keeps you from getting on with your life.

Don’t let life pass you by. Forgiveness is an important step toward letting go of past offenses. It releases you and the other person. It creates opportunities for new possibilities either to form new relationships, or to transform the relationship with the person you feel has wronged you. If you have unfinished business with someone you need to release forgive him first and then let him go. If you need to reconnect with someone so you can begin again forgive her first and then push the reset button.

Forgiveness doesn’t happen all at once. It is a process that requires regular and consistent practice. If you are having difficulty forgiving someone who you feel has wronged you, start the process by forgiving yourself. Admit it, most of the time when someone has done us wrong, we not only blame them for the wrong doing, we blame ourselves for not being smart enough to have avoided the offense. “How could I have been so blind?” “Why didn’t I see that coming?” “What I should have done/said instead was…” Instead of blaming, shaming or criticizing yourself for something you wish you hadn’t said or done, or wish you had done differently, try forgiving yourself using this four-step process

  1. Identify what it is you feel you’ve done wrong or neglected to do right.
  2.  Allow yourself to feel the remorse that comes from having done something you regard as wrong or neglected to do differently.
  3.  Promise and mean that you will never do it again.
  4.  If you do it again, repeat the first three steps of the forgiveness process and then don’t do it again. Forgiveness is a recursive process, not something you do once and for all.

As you practice forgiving yourself, you will discover that it becomes easier to forgive others. Don’t be like the young monk whose rigid adherence to a rule blinded him to the senior monk’s kindness. Leave the past where it belongs, in the past. As Jack Kornfield reminds us, “Forgiveness is giving up all hope for a better past.” Practice forgiveness. Step into the present moment. Let bygones be bygones.

Namaste

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Ignorance Is Not Bliss

Yoga is a pathway to happiness. As more and more people have begun to practice yoga postures, some once or twice a week, others everyday, they find that yoga gives them more than a physical workout. It also offers a sense of peace, inner strength, and resilience. It encourages us to live in harmony with nature and to choose actions that are healthy not only for ourselves, but also for others and the planet as well. Yoga helps us cleanse ourselves physically as well as psychologically and find our inner smile.

But what happens when the peace you experience on your yoga mat is disrupted by life’s ins and outs, its ups and downs? How do you take your yoga off the mat and make it a way of life? One way is to practice accepting reality as it is, not as you want it to be.

Have you ever caught yourself wishing that a situation would be different than it is? How many times do you pretend everything is great, hoping the problem will just disappear? Sometimes reality makes us feel uncomfortable or frustrated. Life doesn’t always go according to our plan. When we get bad news or fall on hard times, we naturally wish the situation were different. Our unwillingness to face the situation head on, not the situation itself, is what causes us to suffer.

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Click on the cartoon to view it full size.

Yoga teaches us that ignorance, in Sanskrit it is called avidya, is not bliss,  that knowledge is power. When we avoid reality, it is impossible to deal with the situation. That’s when we feel helpless and start to worry. We can make the situation worse than it actually is. Think about the times you have avoided phone calls that you thought might bring bad news, and then worried all night. Or the times you’ve avoided opening mail you didn’t want to read and then tortured yourself all day with what it might contain. Or about the time you avoided seeking medical advice for fear of what might be wrong and suffered needlessly not knowing the truth.

Have you ever bent the truth to avoid a confrontation or tortured yourself with thoughts of what might have been to avoid feeling regret? “If only I had turned left instead of right.” “If only I had taken the job I turned down instead of the one I took.” “If only I hadn’t spent all the money.” “If only I hadn’t gone on an eating binge, a drinking binge or shopping binge.” “If only I hadn’t gotten married, had gotten married, had children, didn’t have children.”

If only I could change reality.

The “If Onlies” are a form of denial and defense against feeling helpless. You are capable of looking at every situation realistically, from  the most trivial to the most serious. As unpleasant as certain realities can sometimes be, avoiding, denying or ignoring reality is an energy drain, a waste of time and in some cases, as we see in the Calvin and Hobbs cartoon above, dangerous. Avoiding reality is the cause of our suffering not the reality itself.

To strengthen your resolve to face reality head on, even if you do feel helpless to change the situation, before you begin each day recite the Serenity Prayer: “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” And then remind yourself, whether you like the reality of your situation or not, – Reality Is Manageable. Knowing this can help you solve whatever problem you face, find your inner smile, and your place of bliss.

Namaste

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The Key to Happiness

The mind is a powerful tool. We can use it to love or hate, forgive or condemn, create or destroy, accept or blame, trust or doubt, respect or shame, despair or hope. How we choose to use our minds is entirely up to us. Every thought we think creates our reality. The mind affects how you feel, and what you do. All of your experiences are the outer effects of your inner thoughts.

Many of us think we have no control over our minds, but this is only because we have been taught to believe this is so. In fact, we are capable of controlling each and every thought we have. When we can’t change anything else, we can choose to change our minds.

KEY TO HAPPINESS

Human beings have what psychologists call a psychological immune system. It is a system of cognitive processes that helps us change our viewpoint, enabling us to feel better about our circumstances, conditions, or situations, no matter how undesirable. In other words, we are not dependent on getting what we want or having things go our way to feel happy. Instead of chasing after experiences that we hope will bring us joy, we can manufacture our own happiness by changing our minds. Our brains are hardwired that way.

Toni, (not her real name) a 29-year-old quadriplegic confined to a wheelchair for five years, was referred for therapy. She was depressed and acting out in self- destructive ways; resisting help she couldn’t do with out, firing her caregivers with regularity, and generally being non-compliant with her medical treatment. The story she told herself about her quadriplegia was, “God is punishing me. Before the accident I wanted to kill myself so God took the use of my hands from me.”  “Do you still want to kill yourself?” her therapist asked. “Yes, but now I can’t. That’s why I’m depressed.”

Being trapped in a body that did not move was bad enough, but being trapped in a negative mindset, which was there before her accident, was literally destroying Toni. Like Toni, many of us are trapped by negative or limiting thoughts. We distract ourselves from our negative thinking and its effects by searching for and relying on experiences to make us happy, never realizing that by changing our thoughts we can change our experience of any situation.

Toni knew she couldn’t change her paralysis but through therapy she discovered that she could change her mind. Through techniques of meditation, controlled breathing, and deep inner listening she learned to use her mind as a tool of awareness. She strengthened her psychological immune system and was able to develop the insight she needed to find peace of mind, hope, self-love, kindness, happiness, and forgiveness. She even became friends with the man who caused her accident.

Five months into therapy, Toni’s perspective had shifted from despair to hope. When asked, “Why do you suppose God kept you alive?” she corrected, “You mean why did God give me a second chance at life?” Her therapist nodded yes. “Because He knew I didn’t love myself when I had my accident and He wanted me to have a chance to do that, so He gave me a chance to rest and to use my mind to think, and to use my imagination, and to learn about myself.” Because she had no distractions and no other choice, Toni had to rely on her mind as a tool of awareness, which is the proper use of mind. Her efforts did not go unrewarded.

As her psychological wounds healed, Toni’s body and spirit also healed. She began to take good care of her body by complying with her medical treatment. She began to develop positive relationships with her caregivers and returned to the church where she had once sung in the choir. She began to experience a level of support she never imagined possible.

Your mind is a tool for you to use any way you wish. Instead of relying on winning the lottery, finding the man or woman of your dreams, landing that big contract you’ve been working hard to get, strengthen your psychological immune system. Tap into your ability to create your own happiness.

  • Attend personal growth workshops and go to psychotherapeutic counseling.
  • Make dietary changes and engage in various forms of physical activity such as yoga, martial arts, or other forms of exercise.
  • Do meditation and prayer.

It does not matter where you start. The key to happiness lies in cultivating practices that strengthen your innate capacity to create your own happiness whether or not you get what you want.

Namaste

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