Treading lightly the path to enlightenment.

Posts tagged ‘understanding’

Chow Zen #3

The wisdom of Chuy The Wonderdog


Friends Always

Friends Always


To have a Friend,

You must first be one.

– Chuy


Cape 027

Little Bit on the Cape

We build these castles of sand

With those we love,

With our favorite companions,

Though we know our constructs are to be

Reclaimed by the eternal tides,

The joyful feet of passing children,

The loyal paws of joggers’ dogs.


The joy is in the building.


Seek peace,






Wilderness Road

Wilderness Road



Several lives ago,

drenched in myself,

wrapped in myself like an onion,

I followed the dark clouds,

And built a life on lies.


Lies are not sustainable,

and the construct collapsed

in on me

and those I love.


When the clouds cleared,

I was naked before the universe,

dowsed in sin.



This would be my drive

for thirty years

to sponge away this mark,

These stains,

the scar.


Time passes and

three lives later

I am not

The Same Man.


Those born since

and those walking alongside

and those that “know me”

do not know

or may not remember.


But from behind these eyes

there is hardly ever a day

I don’t look out through

stains and scars,

shading my vision.


You look and see me.

As I look in the mirror

I may as well have

a red “L” tattooed

on my forehead.


Someday, when I die,

there may be those that do not know,

and there may be some who will cry.

Sweet ones, do not cry.

The world has not lost,

but has expunged

The Liar.


Seek peace,




Happy 15th Birthday Chuy!

Happy 15th Birthday Chuy!

Getting a haircut at the Schuyler Barber Shop. Mia has been here the last couple of years, and we have that familiarity one develops with their barber.

“So, any New Year’s resolutions?” Mia asked. “Mine is losing weight. I packed on a few pounds this year.”

“Not really any New Year’s resolutions.” I replied. “I started a long time ago to just add one thing each year. Practice it and keep it. Things like shaking hands. Reaching out and shaking hands “hello”, “goodbye” or “thank you”. Like looking folks in the eye when we’re conversing. Deciding to be the person that always lets the other go ahead, in traffic, in the checkout line, at entrances and exits.”

“That’s a cool idea.” Mia commented. Then I stopped talking to listen to her. Another “resolution” of years past. She talked of her engagement, of her daughter’s absentee father, whatever else was current and interesting.

“You know how everyone says “Why can’t every day be like Christmas?”, and “Why can’t we be as thankful as we are on Thanksgiving, throughout the year?”, I asked, rhetorically.

Mia acknowledged.

“That’s me.” I stated. “I try to live every day like Thanksgiving and Christmas in one. To see beauty in the everyday world around us. To remember the only really important things in this life are the people we cherish. To give whenever possible and take as little as needed. To remember that each day is a gift with something wonderful in it, if you’ll just open your eyes to truly see.”

As it turns out, every day can be like Christmas, and for me it is.

I realized only recently that I have achieved a certain plateau. Perhaps I climbed right past the summit? (an old MST3K joke)

I found myself driving home in congested traffic after a long day at work, smiling like the proverbial village idiot, for no reason other than being happy to be here.

In each exchange of every day, I found my “me2” subconscious coaching me. What’s the best outcome for all parties? What is the honorable, noble, kind-hearted way to approach the situation? What’s the most caring toward the people involved? What would Buddha do? How would Jesus handle this? What would a cowboy do?

I am following all the “cowboy rules”: Cowboys don’t drink, smoke or swear (still need to be vigilant on the last one!).

Cowboys are kind to children, the aged, and animals.

Cowboys don’t shirk the hard stuff. “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” When you stand up, to speak for those that can’t speak for themselves, when you stand your ground on ethics, morals, forgiveness and loving-kindness, when you stand beside those who have fallen, you may find you stand alone.

With right mind, an inner peace, a sense of belonging in the cosmos, speaking truth, I will stand my watch until the time comes for me to return to the earth from which I was made.

In the meantime, it’s a beautiful ride through a wondrous world, and I am drinking in every moment.

May peace and good fortune follow you each day through this New Year, and each new year after.

An old Irish saying: May you live as long as you want, and never want as long as you live.


Seek peace,



Our Own Pot o' Gold

Our Own Pot o’ Gold



They Have Names and Faces

Syrians. Refugees.

What I call healthy democratic debate some call controversy and conflict.

People are polarized and incensed over the nameless, faceless commodity known as refugees.


The faces of "Refugees"

The faces of “Refugees”

Some people need to look into these faces. I see my wife, my sister, my son, my daughter. These people are somebody, and they are somebody to someone else.


Schoolboys – with names

If you sat on a bench next to them, would you tell them to their faces?

Here I live in the land of liberty and plenty, the richest country in the world. In my big, warm house, driving my big shiny car to the huge supermarket to buy whatever I want.

But you can’t come along. Oh, sure, I know my brother-in-law’s sister’s husband is Iraqi-American. Sworn in as a citizen the year before they married in 1982, when no one knew anything about Iraq. Yes, one of my pals at work was a Greek citizen until the age of five. Now he’s American, same as me.

My grandfather? Well, do you mean the Irish one or the Italian one? Technically two Irishmen and an Italian, since my mother’s dad abandoned the family.

My wife’s family? Yes, we go every year on memorial day to place flowers at the graves of Sina and Olaf and Waldemar. They dropped an “i” and one “l” when they changed their names to “Nelson”. Born in Sweden, Sina Kristina wanted a more Americanized name. Or maybe she didn’t. Maybe the folks at Ellis Island spelled it that way when they wrote it down, and the Neillson family was renamed henceforth.

My son-in-law? They’re mostly of German descent, but who can tell now? My daughter-in-law’s family was all English, but her first marriage brought me a granddaughter with an Italian last name, and Julie is now “honorary Irish” with her married name taken from my son.

My friend Mohammed Zhabzavari, an Iranian, gave me one of the funniest real-life stories about language I retell often. He was a student, and worked with me selling vacuum cleaners door-to-door. The hours were flexible and fit around school, where he studied engineering when he wasn’t home with his wife and kids.

My friend Cecil was from Barbados. We worked together at the fabric mill, and he drove a ’73 Nova I admired. He left his wife and kids behind on the home island to come to America and work. With his smooth island accent he would tell us of the rich life he and his family would have. He just needed to work five years or so to save $10,000, worth ten times that at home.

Mishu Yarkony? How I loved that man, running a hotel in our home town. He reminded me of my grandfather. Everyone in our family worked for his family. I did some electrical and communications work for the hotel. My wife and daughters worked in the bath houses. Sons were bellhops. I loved to listen to his accent. Every now and then his shirt sleeve would pull back as he reached out with his left hand. A lump would form in my throat every time I saw the serial number tattooed on his forearm.

Here are their faces

Here are their faces. What will you tell them?

The Buddha said to his monks “Go out and walk the earth for the good of many. Out of compassion,  for the happiness and benefit of gods and men.”

Notice Buddha did not say “if it’s convenient for you.”.

Generate the wave.


Seek peace,



The Gentleman May Be Excused

I don’t claim to have multiple personality disorder, but there seems to be several of me inside my head. In ACZ, we talk about You and You2.

You is the outward conscious person we all know, and You2 is the other side of your brain. Call it the Id, call it subconscious, call it Spongebob Squarepants if you want, we all have this inner and instinctive self. You2 interprets things based on the data stored in memory banks, typically personal experience.

Your conscious and active brain deals regularly with You2. In fact, the decision-making process in your brain is actually a debate between You and You2. How is a decision made? Why don’t we just do the thing we’re thinking, the thing we want to do? What makes us stop and assess?

When you get an idea to do something, there’s an instinct in your brain that makes You2 play devil’s advocate. You2 squares off with You like two barristers in court. You2 will start thinking and generating all the reasons you should not do this thing. The rest is a natural process of your brain saying “Yeah, I’m pretty sure this is what we want.”, and You2 saying “Well, did you consider [fill the blank]?”. This sparring will take place on a scale equivalent to the importance and gravity of the decision. This is why we may agonize for hours, days or weeks over some decisions, while others seem to get processed quickly.

Back to multiple personalities. Maybe that’s not the right term. Maybe “many voices”, but that sounds a little like auditory hallucination. Maybe there’s some “inner self” and “looking-glass self” terminology that fits. To me, it seems like “the many me’s”. Perhaps it’s moods, perhaps everyone does the same thing.

Sometimes,  a member of the cast of characters pops right into my head. There’s the bristly old guy most likely to be worried. About money, about work. About repairs and chores and things that go unfinished. There’s the Armchair Zen Master, able to breathe deeply and transit troubles with philosophy, inner peace. There’s the cranky old bastard that still jumps out now and then to proclaim annoyance with a driver that doesn’t follow the rules.

Lately I’ve been training myself to recognize these voices, these me’s, these You2’s. First I started to try to bar the undesired ones. Change the subject. Cognitive behavioral therapy. When the worst would try to sneak through, I’d say “Don’t bring that guy.”.


Then along came a post on dhamma footsteps ( where the author, tiramit, explains metta.  In Loving Kindness for the Critical Mind, and Loving-kindness For The Unloved, the concept of thinking and expressing loving kindness, acceptance and forgiveness for one’s faulted inner self is conveyed. It never occurred to me to use my own armchair zen on You2 and the Many Me’s. Since then, I’ve tried to “see them” as being equally deserving of the compassion and understanding that would be extended to others.

The battle continued in my cognitive behavioral therapy. Now, instead of “Don’t bring that guy!”, as if in court, I’d say “The Gentleman may be excused.”.

This worked okay for a little while, until I heard myself repeating “The gentleman may be excused!”, often out loud. It seemed that it would be a long, long haul, working constantly on the conditioned response, expelling the inner voice only to have it return. This particular “voice”, this component of the Many Me’s inside my head, is a remnant of young adulthood. It is the memory and guilt associated with shameful behaviors of the time. Still, it was me. We’ll call him MOB (for miserable old bastard).

This kept up for a considerable time. Expelling MOB, his return, repeated expulsion, finally rising to “The witness is expelled! Barred from the proceedings!” Now that would work in the physical world, but since MOB lives inside my head, where could he go? I thought more about metta, and tiramit’s examples and observations of extending loving-kindness to the unloved, and the unlovable. Poor old bastard, he has no where else to go. He’s done his time for his sins, and has a regular life now. Why does he still wear his prison stripes and hang his head? Sure, he was guilty. Admitted guilt when called out. Done all the right things since then. Has he no one to love him? If he can’t go anywhere, don’t we need to learn how to tolerate and understand him?

Then, the imaginary voice in the imaginary courtroom inside my cognitive behavioral workshop decreed (I swear I don’t know where it came from—well, yeah, I do, it came from deep within You2. A place and person that is in some ways much wiser than myself) He is a ward of the court.”

For a moment I was nearly speechless. Stunned. Dramatic, yes, but also so simple, and in fact, the real truth. I can’t silence MOB, nor can I ban him from my mind. I can, however, understand that I am responsible for “him”. There is no where else to go and the past can’t be changed. “We” simply need to figure out how to accommodate MOB moving forward.

Well, maybe I am a little unmoored in this area. Imagining a court in which the Many Me’s may be judged, or bring witness against those that must be. And the judge? Demanding and grueling on the bench in spite of flaws in “his” personal life. Straightest arrow we can get.

Like writing a screenplay, the scene plays out. In remanding custody of MOB, the court has drawn the 30-year case to a close. MOB suddenly has a home and a resolution of the accusations repeatedly flung. No more trial. No more sentencing. The gentleman may be excused, but is not required to leave the court room.

MOB sits in a chair off to the side, between the bailiff and the jury box. For a moment, his countenance displays a sudden confusion. “What just happened? It’s over? And someone is willing to take me, accept me as I am, as I have come to be?”

The gavel raps. Bang, bang. “Court dismissed!”.

MOB hangs “his” head and cries.

“I” place a hand on “his” shoulder.

We retire from the courtroom together.


Be at peace,



Rural Zen: January

Welcome January!

Welcome January!

Some folks live on tropical islands, where the weather is the same every day. Sunshiny mornings, breezy noons, afternoon showers and beautiful red sunsets. It sure sounds pretty.

I have fallen in love with the visceral experiences of my Northeast home, the changing seasons.  My son is fond of saying “Without winter, we wouldn’t appreciate the spring.”, and there’s some truth to that I suppose.

Winter is a reminder (when it’s 12 degrees and the wind is whipping snow in my face) that the cosmos is cold. Absolute zero they call it, which represents something like 400 degrees below zero on our Farenheit scale.

Let's Go!

Let’s Go!

A glance at the thermometer, and Chuy looks at me. It stands to reason if you wear a fur coat all the time, you’re not so inclined to notice the cold. Unable to disappoint my furry friend, I don the gear of January. Long johns under pants, double socks, three layers of shirts & sweaters. Hat(s), scarf, Ranger boots, insulated gloves, and finally, snowshoes.

We strike out, my four-legged cohort and I, as if we have been called to rescue alpine skiers, so eager are we to be out in the magic of the season. The snow is beautiful, breathtaking, gorgeous…choose your own superlative. Unsure precisely why, I love the look of the snow. Heaped on pines, drifting in the driveway, painting the hillsides and valleys of Engleville. Perhaps it’s the freshness, the clean-ness, the pure white powder like a coat of fluffy paint, making everything look bright and new. Perhaps it’s the transient nature of the elements. The snow, the ice, snow birds, the crystal clear starfield at night, the red spire of a sun rising through a light snow shower, all these will be memory before we know it, when we round that corner to spring.



There’s something more, something driving me, calling me out into the pristine winter world. Like a child impatient to go out and build snowmen and ride my sled down anything resembling a hill. Chuy is just a catalyst, a good excuse to go do something that seems imprudent. To go take a walk in the winter wood when most normal folks are trying to hide inside, throwing more wood on the fire.

There are other participants in this insanity. Sure, the folks on the snowmobiles are behind windscreens, gripping heated handlebars. Across the valley I can hear loggers felling trees. Chainsaws and skid steers, work and movement producing heat. Folks out on the frozen ponds auger holes to fish through fourteen inches of ice.

Fishers of Ice

Fishers of Ice

On the trail, chickadees seem to follow our progress up the hill. Now and then a rabbit may be seen, chewing off the tops of plants buried in a foot of snow. At the intersections of foot trails the ground is littered with prints of every kind. You can stand in one place and count the tracks and marks of a half-dozen animal friends. Big, comic bird feet prints left by wild turkeys, scratching through the snow to get to grasses and ground. Tiny paw prints that seem almost unreal, tracing the path of a wee deer mouse as he transits what must seem like a vast wasteland above the snow. Immediately below, tunnels, burrows through the snow where mice and moles may make their rounds without the need to come “to the surface”. Rabbit tracks race about, sometimes leaping great five-foot strides eluding predators. Coyote tracks, on the move, not far behind the rabbit, willing to settle for the mouse.

Colors are striking against the white backdrop. Or would it be a foreground? Whatever we call this coating of crystallized frozen water, it highlights and contrasts every subtlety and nuance of a winterized world. Pinebark looks red-brown, lichens hanging on tenaciously sport bright green sprigs. The blue of the spruce, the lighter green of the fir. Red-osier dogwoods and remnants of last year’s Staghorn Sumac add a dash of crimson, unmatched by the cardinal that stops briefly in a nearby pine.

Chuy takes to the south loop, where we rarely trod, though for no real reason. He takes me to the treeline between the pine stands and Widowmaker Hill. In places, the pines, concord grape vines, undergrowth and overgrowth are better suited for those that don’t walk erect. Better suited for four-legged beings standing less than lowest-pine-branch tall.

South Loop, January

South Loop, January

In the snow is found artwork. Sweeping gestures, with a rhythmic pattern, a dozen brushes marking the snow with impressions. At first, it looks like wind painting. Aside from drifts, swirls, and snowbank formations of every kind, the grasses and weeds arching in the wind will sweep back and forth, leaving arcs of myriad sizes, breadths, lengths. This is a wing painting. There is a story here, where there are two wing impressions and no footsteps.

Here, a sharp-eyed Red-tailed Hawk, a Barn Owl, or a Northern Harrier spotted something in the snow, or perhaps beneath it. Pointed into the wind, with the sun positioned so it will cast no shadow on the trail, on steady wings it glides, eyes and instincts fixed on the moving morsel. Wings and tail make the slightest corrections on entry. Keep the speed, a little to the left, swoop around the vine-entangled hedgerow, drop vertically between the pines and the bare apple and hornbeam trees, open talons…BAM! With one clutch of claw the rodent is doomed to be lunch. With a single, powerful thrusting revolution of light-as-air bones and feathers, the wings bear both victor and victim aloft, retiring elsewhere to enjoy the victuals.

Story in Snow

Story in Snow

Lost in these simple moments. Only writing about it afterward brings realization that in that moment, all faculties are invested. There is no here or now or next or tomorrow or yesterday. There is this. I am a child of the universe, one alone and yet simultaneously part of the whole of many. Animals carry no baggage around labeled “yesterday”, “today”, “now”, “tomorrow”, “Ten years ago”, “when I retire”. Concepts of me and you and them do not exist.

There is this.

And I am a part. Of the pines and spruces. Of the snow and trail. Of the hawk and mouse. Of the dog and human. An infinitesimal piece of an infinite universe.

The sun is setting. We walk on.


Be at peace,



Lesson from a Pooka

In the movie Harvey, James Stewart tells an acquaintance “You can be ‘oh-so-smart’, or ‘oh-so-nice’. I choose ‘oh-so-nice’.”

It’s a great and simple lesson if you can hear it.

Think of the people you love and admire.

How many are “oh-so-nice”?

While we may admire many smart and successful people, when it comes to those we would want to spend time with, don’t we choose “nice”?

In Armchairzen world this means accepting others as they are.

Not being the person that has a comment or opinion or advice (unless you ask for it), but the person who sits and listens.

Not being the person that starts most sentences with “I, me or my”, but the person who talks about you and “us”.

Not being the person to ask “why?”, but being the person that says “why not?”.

In Stewart’s role as Elwood P. Dowd in the film Harvey, the Pooka is a 6-foot rabbit named Harvey, a sort of spirit companion, that only Stewart can see.

It never bothers him that others think he’s crazy. He knows he sees and speaks to Harvey, and easily understands and forgives others for not seeing him.

His sister, concerned for her brother’s mental health, is convinced to commit Elwood to a psychiatric hospital.

In this Pulitzer-winning drama by Mary Chase, when Elwood finds out that his committal is his sister’s desire, he readily submits, simply to please her.

Ultimately, Elwood’s sister realizes that his craziness is just the thing we need in this world. Not someone all wrapped up in themselves, their career, their success.

Without the Elwoods of the world, who would pursue beauty and kindness, forsaking selfishness, meanness and short-sightedness?

You must see the play or the movie sometime to experience the niceness of Elwood P. Dowd. It’s infectious.

Some of the best advice I’ve ever received in my life comes from a fictional character described as insane, talking to a six-foot invisible spirit rabbit.

Crazy or not, I  too choose “oh-so-nice”.


Elwood P. Dowd

Elwood P. Dowd



Be at peace,



The amazing brain, and You 2’s reign



If you haven’t fully realized this yet, you should be aware that there are two of you.

There’s You you think of as you, the you that thinks conscious thoughts, makes conscious decisions, and the like.

Then there’s the second you, in Armchair Zen world referred to as You 2.

Perhaps a number of other psychometric or philosophic names are given to You 2. The alter ego, the Id, the sub-conscious, etc.

I’m no expert on that stuff, so we’ll just talk about You 2 as if you know what I mean.

Folks talk about how we only use six percent of our brain’s capacity, or something like that.  All that brain tissue in there and we’re not really sure what it does. Real science has discovered some wonderful stuff with machines examining brain activity. Others have done volumes of work studying the subconscious, the “unused” sections of the brain, ways in which the brain functions, etc. You should read that stuff some time and see if it interests you.

Meanwhile, let’s look again at your amazing brain, and its ability to work just fine without (or in spite of) your conscious efforts! Actually, we’ll be looking at your brain working the way it’s supposed to, which is really amazing and uses (in my opinion) most of that space much of the time.

One of the most amazing things about our species is spoken language. Clearly, the ability to assemble a bunch of symbols like the ones you’re reading now, and having others, many others, be able to receive information from those symbols, is a great advantage. This allows us to teach one another without every lesson being one-on-one in real-time, the way other animals do. In fact, even the one-on-one teaching of other animals pales in comparison, as purely visual lessons can be misunderstood or missed entirely.

Some written languages, Chinese as an example, use a picture symbol for each word as opposed to words made up of letters. We think that it must be difficult to learn all those symbols and remember them, recall them as they’re needed.

Cut to the fun stuff! Okay, here’s a little exercise that will have your amazing brain amazing you in minutes! In past presentations, we’ve talked about your brain’s ability to take in information, seeing, hearing, feeling, and so forth, and retain those events for retrieval later.

(See Archives: Creativity & seeing Nov.2012, Seeing 2: the amazing brain Dec. 2012, You can predict the future! Dec.2012, You times two, Apr.2013)

Now we’re going to discover a cool way to “bait” your brain and make it retrieve stuff from that vast mass of gray matter in your head! This is really simple, so that’s why we had to get all the good descriptive dialogue and such out-of-the-way first. Here’s the drill:

I’m going to give you a trigger word, and you’re going to have about a half-dozen words on average come flying in to your conscious brain from the subconscious side!

How? Rhyming. Yes. I’ll give you the first word, but after that you can pick any word you want (except orange) and your brain will instantly provide you with rhyming words!

So, maybe you think this is infantile, a game played with second graders to improve their literacy. But if you stop and smell the amazing roses, you’ll find your brain (or You 2’s brain) is lightning fast with this. It really is amazing when you get on a roll! Okay: here’s your trigger word. Count how many rhyming words you come up with in about 30 seconds. Most folks, with most words, will almost-instantly produce about six rhyming words. That’s your instant-fast brain. There’s much more in your brain, but You (not You 2) need to “send” a request to get more. After your initial six words, start actively thinking and let your brain find other words that rhyme. that’s where it gets really fun, as you start to think of multi-syllable words, words in foreign languages, and homonyms that sound the same but are spelled differently. Ready? Here’s your first trigger word, think of rhyming words for:


You’re already amazed I bet!

I got the idea for this post from something even more amazing! I am an armchair poet and singer-songwriter. If you write or read poetry, or even the verses on greeting cards, you’ll know that this uses meter, a number of syllables that are the same length as other corresponding lines in the poem or song. Not all poems (or songs for that matter) follow a meter, but it’s the most common. Written music, another set of symbols that amazing brains can learn, read and instantly decipher, is set to a specific meter, in beats or bars if you’re familiar with the terms. You can try this, too, and be even more amazed at your amazing brain! Make up a rhyme. Let any words at all come into your head and just let it flow. Some of the lines will be somewhat nonsensical, but you’ll be amazed at how quickly your brain can come up with ideas that fit the meter and rhyme the end word. (Called end rhyming, not unnaturally)

I’m going to start a silly diddy. You can use the same line to start with. I’m going to let my brain write the next three lines and I’ll leave them in the post just the way they came out.

I went outside on a beautiful day.

Hoping to find someone to play

And run with me through fields of hay,

And send my cares off and away.

Okay, so my brain stopped me and made me backspace the last line, but I threw this up in about twenty seconds!

Try this! It will make you appreciate your brain’s speed and power! (It won’t make You 2 appreciate anything, as far as I know. typically You 2 thinks it knows everything already. More some other time on why You 2 brain thinks it is always right, when it argues with itself, and why these things are healthy as well as amazing!)

Be at peace,



Dangling Thread

So, this is the way it will end for us?

Amid anger and resentment, bitterness and judgement?

Not between you and me, but by some imposed and imposing imposition.

Slamming metaphorical doors.

Wielding swords of words, shields of insult, fear and anguish.

Not between you and me. We agreed long ago to forget the past.

Deny the past, shun the past, pretend the past did not exist.

Pretend the past was just a play about someone else’s life.

Someone Else let loose the line that bound us, and sailed off into the sunset.

Someone Else built a life on tangled webs and veils of secrecy, codes and cryptics.

Now we have no more time to survive this. We have no time to let this blow over and add it as another act to the play.

Marvel at the heartbreak, the karma of it all, the two sides to every story, the be-careful-what-you-ask-for.

So this will be the play’s final act, because the clock tolls, time will not wait for us again.

It will be a wild tale that swings from ecstasy to admonition, from heartswell to heartbreak, with adventure and drama and music.

But you are on the stage. You are Someone Else. You are the star, streaking across the atmosphere, bright and recognizable.

These three seconds are all the time we have. We know what happens to shooting stars.

I am in the front row, and behind the proscenium I see stagehands with their hands on the fly, ready to ring down the final curtain.

I am awestruck and dumbstruck. It is a beautiful tragedy.

The hero, or whatever you want to call him, dies.

And I cry.


Be at peace,



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