Archive for the ‘spiritual practice’ Tag

Moon of Brighid   Leave a comment

Brighid--Patrick Tuohy

St. Brighid/Patrick Tuohy

For those of you incubating your own enchantment of Brighid to coincide with the upcoming 19 days of the goddess, you have the moon to aid you. Waxing now, it reaches full at nearly the midpoint of the 19 days, on the 31st of January — a fine symmetry, whether you choose to align with it or not.

The Solar Question for today, the 20th of the month, in Caitlin Matthews’ Celtic Devotional (Gloucester, MA: Fair Winds Press, 2004) asks “What is the source of your spiritual guidance?” The Lunar Meditation* for the fourth day of the moon (counting the New Moon, Jan. 17,  as day 1) is “the wonder of life”. If I’m facing a period of spiritual dryness, if I have no other ready guidance, “the wonder of life” is a fitting source. Watching and listening, I can find in something small as the sun sparkling on an icicle a subtly radiant doorway into the Enchantment of Brighid.

Because magic so often starts small, no more than a tickle, a spark, a whisper. Till it builds.

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Images: St. Brighid by Patrick Tuohy (1894-1930)

*The book includes a perpetual calendar displaying the 19-year lunar cycle, allowing a reader to find the appropriate Question and Meditation.

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Refreshing “Home”   Leave a comment

Keep refreshing “home” and your browser gives you different results, your Facebook feed changes, etc., my wife said the other day.

If I’m paying attention, an inner bell goes off for me at such moments, an aha! of illumination. Spiritual practice is my way of refreshing home, of choosing — or asking for — something else than what the apparent or obvious may be telling or showing me. Some animals and insects excel in mimicry as a defense, or to lure prey. So too the human world, with its heartfelt truths and its cons, its bullshit and its profound beauties, its “characters” and “originals” and its gold standard friends.

Refreshing home is a kind of alertness that many animals retain, honed senses not dulled by noise from talking self. Don’t get me wrong — human speech is indeed a gift. But like many powerful gifts, it’s double-edged. It’s true, peace to Walt Whitman, that animals “do not make me sick discussing their duty to God … Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago”*

So when I write, as in the previous post, about things like devotion to Brighid, and you’re feeling particularly agnostic about, maybe, absolutely everything, consider J M Greer’s observations about egregor(e)s, the energy of group consciousness that forms around any regular gathering and gives it a distinct character, and especially around magical groups that work intentionally with charging and exploring its potentials. Is Brighid an egregor? Does your local parent-teacher association or book club or university class differ from other groups in any way? Of course. But is Brighid “merely” an egregor?

Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris and other atheists miss a very large point here. I won’t spell it out — you already know it, or else you’re not interested in knowing it.

Greer says, writing about magical lodges:

… egregors capable of carrying the highest levels of power can only be built up on the basis of the living patterns of the realm of meaning, outside space and time. These patterns are what some religions call gods, and what others call aspects of God. They have a reality and a power that have nothing to do with the egregors built up around them, but they use the egregors the way people use clothing or the way actors in many traditional societies use masks. Skillful, intelligent, ethical, and dedicated work with these egregors, according to tradition, can bring lodge members into a state of participation with the primal living powers of existence itself — a state that is the goal of most religions, and as well as the highest summit of the art of magic (Greer, Inside a Magical Lodge, Llywellyn Books, 1998, pgs. 109-110).

It’s the part of those willing to work with and within a tradition not to stop at the level of belief in it, but to test and explore its possibilities. We’re worlds away from credal faith here. But you may, if you’re around a devotee of Brighid, especially this time of year, overhear or encounter a song or poem or prayer of dedication, service, and love.

 

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*”I think I could turn and live with the animals“; Song of Myself.

Nineteen Days of Brighid   2 comments

Imbolc, the February 1st or 2nd holiday, part of the seasonal cycle of the “Great Eight” Pagan festivals, has long been associated with Brighid. Goddess, saint, patron of poets, smiths and healers, Brighid is a potent presence for many Druids. Christian Druids can honor her in either or both traditions, and her legends and symbols — effective points of access to her — are many.

Among the traditions that have gathered around her is the significance of the number 19 — whether part of the ancient awareness of the moon’s Metonic cycle, or the Christian tradition for determining Easter, curiously associated with the full moon, or the 19 nuns at Kildare connected with Saint Brighid. Or the practice of 19 days of magic focused on devotion to the goddess-saint, which this post examines. As a Druid-Christian link, the number and practices associated with Imbolc and Brighid can join the others I’ve talked about in other posts here as yet another means to transcend argument or debate, and find blessing.

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Nineteen days with Imbolc in the center (on Feb. 1), the 10th day, begin January 23 and take us to February 10.

As this circle is cast, the enchantment of the apparent world fades … We stand together in the eye of the sun here and now …

So goes part of OBOD standard ritual. Why, you might be asking, if Druids say they wish to attune themselves to the natural world, do they practice ritual that sees the natural world as both enchanted and apparent?

Well, we still stand “in the eye of the sun”. Partly it’s “talking self” (see this and this post) that distracts us, that enchants us in the sense of holding us spellbound (and self-bound) rather than freeing us to grow. Circles concentrate energy and attention, contain them for the duration of the ritual, and can help charge us as instruments of the divine in order that we may “know, dare, will and keep silent”, as the old adage goes. So we circle alone and together to watch that particular enchantment fade, so that others can manifest more clearly. It’s a choice of enchantments. Do you like the current ones at work in the world? “She changes everything she touches, and everything she touches changes”. Sign me up!

Spending the interval from now till the beginning of the 19 days, a week from today, determining what service to offer, what magic to work, is time well spent.

I’ll be following up here with my experiences.

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Image: Brighid. My preference is for deity images that aren’t sentimental or “airbrush pretty”. Contemporary artists often portray sexy gods and goddesses, which is fine, but as an image for meditation I’d rather not use soft porn.

Applied Druidry: Cleansing after a Rough Day   Leave a comment

“What does Druidry do for you?”

Here’s an edited compilation of responses to a recent online question in a forum I follow, with wonderful suggestions for cleansing and purifying after work. I’ve removed all identifying personal information.

Q:

I have a challenging job and need to leave it behind, along with all the emotions and difficulties people around me have to deal with. What kinds of practices do you all do to cleanse and purify yourself after work?

A:

I find that something I can touch, smell, hear in a way that relaxes me and centers me is a comfort. Ritual object, drinking goblet, sacred stone, etc.

A quick “light shower” exercise — visualizing/feeling light pouring down on the top of your head and washing off the energies of the day. Combine it with a physical shower for fuller effect.

Or the “snowball” exercise — another visualization — balling up everything you don’t want/need, packing it tightly as you would a snowball, and then tossing it into a golden river to be washed away. Sometimes I do a more intense version of this, raking, shoveling the stuff and bulldozing it into the river. Doing a version physically with a piece of paper (“write the crap away”), stone, etc., and then burying/burning it, letting the elemental energies take it and transmute it. Or some combo of these — these are among my quicker go-to strategies.

I find the entrance to my home is an important transitional portal. I keep things around the door that mean something to me. These may include crystals, Medicine Wheels, fresh and dried herbs and plants or flowers. I get a visual and spiritual boost from these items when they greet me each day returning to my sanctuary (home).

One Native custom is to leave a basket outside your door where guests and yourself ‘dump’ any negative or burdensome thought into the basket before entering. (It’s considered rude to enter a Native’s home and start spilling your problems on them.) Hope this helps in some way.

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I also have a small covered porch at my front door and I load it up with seasonal greenery, plants, statuary, crystals, sage, sweetgrass, cedar etc. — all the things that bring me peace.

There are a couple of areas I jokingly call “psychic car washes” on the drive home — mainly white pine groves — that I use to recenter myself. As I drive through, I imagine the energies of the trees enfolding me and pulling away any gunk collected during the day. Tunnels and places where there are high rock walls on either side of the road also work well for this.

I always intention where “it” goes when it leaves me — body of water or into Mother Earth as fertilizer — not leaving it for an empathic type to stumble upon it!

You could clap around your aura to break up any stagnant energy and loosen up anything you want to release. Then do a body shake to shake it off. You could do this before you step into the house or upon entering the front door after you take off your coat and boots.

Some wonderful ideas here! Reading through all this, I had the feeling it is also good to get into a give/take balance. How about after getting rid of the stuff you say a prayer / blessing over a water bottle and drink it? For recharging yourself as part of the rite.

I love the idea of water as healer/cleanser — I like to charge up water in the 3 nights of the full moon!

Set up a “coming home” shrine. Add stuff to it you find soothing, Feathers, seashells, beach rocks — stuff that speaks to you about relaxation. When you get home, light some joss, spend 3-4 minutes with it.

I have so many inspired ideas from this great sharing. Here’s a variation on the ancient Jewish custom. Put something meaningful to you on the door frame. Kiss it each time you enter or leave your home!

I picture a ball of white light at my sternum and expand it quickly to the edges of my field — clearing away and neutralizing the negative and the energy that is not mine. At the edges of my field it dissolves.

I also sweep across myself cutting and removing all that doesn’t serve me and isn’t mine.

After either of these I ask the universe to neutralize the energy and release it.

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Please share your own techniques in the comments.

LPF — Listening, Prayer and Fasting   2 comments

In a post from last August I pondered “the wisdom of the Galilean Master, who counseled prayer and fasting. And to make it a Druidic triad, we’ll add listening, because listening is another face it wears. Listening, prayer and fasting. LPF.”

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front door view, 5 Jan 2018

And though it’s a Triad, each component works well by itself, if I’m not up for practicing all three as a package deal.

I have Druid friends who practice a regular weekly media fast — priceless counsel in these days of overloud and unhinged media assaulting our sensibilities. It’s not a fluke, or an indulgence. It’s simple self-preservation. No matter your affiliations and allegiances, it fits — it serves your highest good: the noise has gotten louder, more obnoxious, intrusive, demanding. How, I ask, is my spiritual armor holding up?

I find one version of LPF particularly useful if I’m about to fire off that tweet or Facebook post I could easily regret in five minutes or less. Or the quick retort to a co-worker or partner that has an unwonted, and unwanted, edge to it.

“Sit, sing, and wait”, to put it in words that practitioners of my other spiritual path commonly use. (The “sitting” is focus; I can “sit” while walking my favorite three-mile loop on a nearby dirt road. Sometimes sitting is doing just one thing. I build a fire. All I do is build a fire. No need for anything else. A fire meditation-in-action.)

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Yes, go ahead and get down in words what I’m feeling. In itself that can be perfect response to anger, despair, whatever is dancing along my nerves and sinews. Print it out if it’s onscreen. Burn it. (Toss it in the woodstove.) Do the same if I’ve handwritten it in a journal or notebook. Let  flames alchemize it back to the elements. Let it go even as it goes.

But then, says wise counsel, chant, sing, turn on your favorite CD or meditation track, restore your perspective through practicing joy. Yes, my friends remind me, you really do need to practice joy. Firegazing. Humming an octave higher or lower as I vacuum than the tune of the motor.

And in the ensuing re-calibration, re-balancing, re-equilibration that’s going on, wait. As with sitting, I can wait by turning down the inner and outer noise as I do something focused. Carry wood into garage, the night’s supply.

Welcome a chance for silence.

Sit, sing, and wait.

We know so little of silence that waiting without the muzak of all five senses firing, even for a brief interval, can seem oddly intimidating.

“You mean do nothing?!”

No — I mean wait. Let the dust settle. Let the moment clarify. A job of work in itself. Sometimes thirty seconds can be enough. Sometimes I need the full hour of that three-mile loop of dirt road, hills and trees. Sometimes a contemplation asks for sitting in a chair, unplugged, listening, alert, attentive to what is coming. Not the noise I carry with me. The song outside, the deeper song within.

My other spiritual path sets a high premium on a weekly fast as well, whether physical or mental. Both can be difficult, but wonderfully revealing of just where I expend energy.

Because what I think my priorities are, and how I actually spend the day’s energy and attention, will always show a gap. My practice for that day, whatever else I’ve got going on, is noticing and then closing the gap. (I’m cleaning the house. No, actually, I’m sitting in front of a screen most of the morning. Or I’m letting go the past. No, actually, I’m just rehearsing it instead.)

Even a little practice is “more than before”, my go-to mantra for progress. And just the effort to practice is in itself progress. To use bowling imagery, the skill to take down a single pin is just as great — just as useful and valuable — as the skill to make a strike.

More than before.

But fasting can also be ongoing, a powerful technique against the demand for our attention, one of the most valuable attributes we possess. “Where your treasure is, there will be your heart also” — so true. I need the reminder; everyone wants my attention. Advertisers and politicians depend on grabbing it and holding it long enough to get me to buy and vote. Rabble rousers just want the satisfaction of rousing my rabble — they want my attention any way they can get it, as psychic food. Getting and spending, I lay waste my powers. Wordsworth, old bard, you knew and wrote this 212 years ago.

Opt out, whisper the trees rustling outside my window. Druid, listen when the trees speak. Better than talking at them.

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clearing the solar panels

A blessed thaw has come, after the bitter last two weeks. The eaves are dripping, and the sheathe of ice and snow on the solar panels finally loosened its grip enough I can roof-rake it off, and the panels can begin to receive the sun fully again.

Stamp off your snow, counsel Wise Ones in my morning meditation.

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Gods, Porn, Methods   Leave a comment

End of year thoughts.

The caption of the photo below has a mini-spoiler — skip as needed.

tradition-books

Yoda has good counsel about books in “Last of the Jedi”

“I do not believe in God any more than I believe in Hamlet”, writes author, Buddhist and atheist Stephen Batchelor, “but this does not mean that either God or Hamlet has nothing of value to say” (Batchelor, Stephen. Living with the Devil. New York: Riverhead Books/Penguin, 2004). I gotta ask you: Doesn’t that deserve its own t-shirt?!

What are some of the things that God (or Hamlet) says to us? For the sake of foolishness or efficiency, let’s lump them together, prince and deity.

As late incarnations of the Fisher King, Hamlet, his father and his uncle all share a corruption also infecting their land itself: “something rotten in the state of Denmark”, indeed. Any sources of healing? A grail? There must be something.

Hmm. Fratricide, regicide, suicide — really no good options there. Hamlet at over 400 years old isn’t quite yet as immortal as a god, but it’s on its way, and even a god might well draw the line at three such wretched choices. There may be “special providence in the fall of a sparrow”, the prince reflects, recalling Scriptural assurances of a Divine Plan behind things, but you can tell when such lines have their own threads in our online fora, with people asking “What does it mean?” that the current beta version of the Divine Plan has sent all birds south for the winter of our play. No birds to save us here, no dove for any Ark, wren for inspiration, Eagle of the West to airlift us out of Mordor.

In a word, things suck. It’s gotten to the point where the Prince selfishly denies even his best friend Horatio the “felicity” or happiness of suicide: “Absent thee from felicity awhile/And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain/To tell my story”. But, I ask Hamlet and God, are any of our stories worth that? Have things always sucked this much? Do we have any overarching story that can make sense of this world for us? (Three questions, Existential Triad #26.) In all its delicious suffering and gloom and razor wit, we could fairly call Hamlet (the play) a piece of Renaissance theater porn.

Is a spiritual search pornographic? Do we play out spiritual scripts to arouse ourselves in ways others (or we ourselves) deem destructive? (Is that a rhetorical question?!)

Horatio says, speaking of Hamlet — and speaking of all of us, too, because that’s what great cultural achievements do, after all — “he was likely, had he been put on/To have proved most royal”. Yes, along with the dead prince, we’re all “put on”, and all “likely”: life as a matter of the odds.

The “royal” part, though — we just can’t accept that yet, even in the face of stories trying their level best to show us, and teach us how. That identity — it implies too much, the gap yawning between what we are and what we could be, an open wound. So we reject it whenever possible, saving such inward knowing for our most unguarded moments with our favorite music, books, films, crafts, people, waking dreams. (Yes, these things rank nearly equal in my life.) Or “children’s movies” we watch with the kids, that may get it half-right, half of the time.

A 27 Dec. ’17 article (film spoiler alert!) in The Atlantic gets in on the Game.  (We’re all playing.) Writing in “Why The Last Jedi Is More ‘Spiritual’ Than ‘Religious'”, Chaim Saiman begins:

For at least two generations, the Star Wars saga has served as a kind of secularized American religion. Throughout the series, the Force is a stand-in for a divine power that draws on a number of mystical traditions, representing the balance of good and evil, the promise of an ultimate unity, and the notion that those learned in its ways can tap into the infinite.

As Saiman scrutinizes the distinctly contemporary sensibility pervading “Last of the Jedi’s” attitude towards tradition, he concludes “… even a fictional secular religion will likely reflect the spiritual economy of its time”. Our tendency to value experiences over learning, or feeling over wisdom (not that these pairs equate) means we often hold traditions suspect without ever having immersed ourselves in them to learn them from the inside. So we often run from one workshop or neo-tradition or guru to another, collecting them like trophies or merit badges. Unlike Rey, we don’t come with a Force chip apparently pre-installed and active as a standard factory setting. (“Oh yes we do!”, say the stories.) Sci-fi porn?

If there’s a shift in the philosophical and religious tone in “Jedi” from the 1977 original Episode IV “A New Hope”, Saiman asserts, it’s that traditions have failed, and we’re thrown back on ourselves. Self-help porn?

So what, in turn, does that mean for our “spiritual economy”?

The great critic and author Harold Bloom told his students, referring to literary criticism, that interpretation is another form of more or less “creative misreading”.

Let’s extend Bloom’s insight where he never intended it, a popular form of magic in itself. How often we misread our lives and each other, the influences they bear on us, and our own motives and desires! Particularly well-done misreadings fill our theaters and earphones, climb our playlists and Top Tens, shaping the zeitgeist ever since zeits became geisty.

Bloom was famous for telling his students “There is no method except yourself” as far as criticism is concerned, and that too feels more widely applicable to our lives.

Or at least to mine. So here goes. Traditions exist, wisdom exists, we encounter them and decide out of all that we are what we will choose and value. In a pinch, we even creatively assign responsibility for our choices to any and everyone else, out of all sorts of motives, honing and refining our method.

Truth is never OSFA, “one size fits all”, though we recognize reflections everywhere, shards of what often feels like an original Mirror. Human traditions often grab hold of a single shard and — terrified they’ll lose even that one — erect it as the sole truth. Maybe this is our original and only idolatry.

So Hamlet instructs the actors for the play-within-the-play, stand-ins for all of us: “Hold the mirror up to nature (or, we might say, existence), to show … the very age and body of the time his form and pressure”. If there’s one thing true wisdom does, it’s to show us such forms and pressures. Not only the holes of a culture and civilization at any given moment, especially our own, but also the rebalancing factors and energies we can apply to survive and thrive in that civilization, and when it starts to falter, after.

In the end, the problem isn’t tradition or ritual, but dead tradition and rotting ritual. The soup of spirituality needs the pot of form, or we go about a life or five with vague intentions that ultimately give us little and fail us at need. “I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man’s”, wrote William Blake.

Almost right.

St Augustine caravaggioFor once I’ll trust old Auggie, St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430), with the last words this time, with a few annotations. Words suitable to conclude this blog for 2017, and open the way for a new cycle in the new year.

So, then, my brothers, let us sing now, not [only] in order to enjoy a life of leisure, but in order to lighten our labors. You should sing as wayfarers do — sing, but continue your journey. Do not be lazy [unless you need to!], but sing to make your journey more enjoyable. Sing, but keep going.

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Images: tradition; Caravaggio’s St. Augustine.

 

Seven Druid Advantages   4 comments

Edited 10 Jan 2018

[No, I’m not talking about the “open-source analytics data store designed for OLAP queries on timeseries data”. How the word Druid ever got patented and copyrighted, I’m not sure. Imagine trying to do the same with Christian or Hindu or Muslim!]

Recently the word “privilege” has accrued all manner of emotional loading with connotations of wokeness and political correctness, while one of its primary meanings — advantage — remains largely untouched. While I do see the seven points below as privileges, an accurate synonym is advantage, and so it’s this sense I want to examine here. Note also that I’m not claiming these advantages belong only to Druidry. But in my experience, Druids seem aware of them in uniquely Druid ways that contribute much to the experience of Druidry.

LA -- J Babin

Gulf Coast Gathering ’17 — photo courtesy Julie Babin

Seven Druid Advantages

1–Druids (and Pagans generally) are so clearly a minority in the West that they enjoy a built-in remedy against arrogance. The misconceptions about Druidry and Paganism still rampant can, at their best, make a person laugh. Yes, there’ll always be individuals who try on an inflated self to see just how far such a blimp will carry them. The cosmos deflates most swollen and bloated things in its own good time. But for the rest of us, humility is a useful place to begin almost any human activity. Except maybe politics. Minority status points Druids naturally towards humility and humor.

2–Druids do community about as well as anyone. (Visit a Druid camp or Gathering and test this firsthand.) While acknowledging the valleys and caves and hermitages our solitaries occupy — many community folks are solitaries, and vice-versa — we get plenty of practice in loving others. Because in the end, that’s why we connect. The currents and energies of the cosmos also dwell in other people. Looking to power a rite or discover a richer truth or share the inspiration of awen? When we attempt these things, we draw on each other at least as much as on the sun, moon, stars and spirits. Living things make up much of “the power of the land within and without”, as the OBOD invocation puts it. Druid community is practice for love.

3–With the practice of Druidry comes a discovery of the need for discipline. No one checks up on us. If we want something to happen, we need to be open to it and also help set it in motion. Achievement takes work, a basic truth we seem in danger of ignoring in Western culture. Through making a choice for a particular practice of discipline, we gain increased self-respect. We’ve earned what we know. (If we haven’t, someone will probably point it out to us.) The opportunities Druidry offers to practice self-discipline also build self-respect.

4–Because of the diversity of training, experience, location and heritage among Druids, our practices help keep us open to surprise. Whether we meet in community or keep in touch through books and online, we’re always encountering new insights, ideas, perspectives and techniques. We’ll never know it all, and that’s part of the wonder of the path. We gather in circles, and they always open into spirals. The path doesn’t stay the same, and neither do we. Druid practice helps keep us open to surprise.

5–An experimental mindset powers much of our practice, as it does our gardening and beast-craft and spiritual exploration. “If it’s operational, it’s true” goes the old tag from the 60s, and it still has validity for most Druids. From this attention to reality comes a particular integrity in the Druid experience. Dogma still creeps in from time to time, but attention to what’s happening to the land, to what the spirits and guides are showing us, to what our studies reveal, and what our dreams and visions and hunches direct us to consider, mean that unlike religions that center on professions of faith, Druids are busy exploring to find out for themselves. Once you know, you no longer need to believe. Belief’s often a useful tool, but it’s just one among many. The experimental mindset that Druidry encourages promotes spiritual integrity.

6–Druid teaching, ritual and practice spark many Druids to explore their artistic and creative sides. Yes, Druidry is a spiritual path that specially honors and fosters creativity. Meet and talk with Druids and you’ll also discover how creative people are drawn to Druidry because they seek a path where imagination plays a primary role in spiritual experience, rather than a suspect behavior leading to heresy, diabolic influence and poor choices. Druidry knows passion and vision and creative exploration are spiritual gifts.

7–The Great Mystery that lies at the heart of the manifest and unmanifest is what powers Druidry. It sparks humans and other creatures, burns at the heart of planets and stars, and shines out of the cosmos whenever we pay reverent attention. The open-endedness of Druidry, its sense of a new horizon beyond the next hilltop, make it both  welcoming, exciting and challenging. The heart of Druidry is both spiritual welcome and provocative challenge.

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