Ken & Elizabeth Mellor

Practical spirituality is the subject of this workshop. We intend this paper as a background document to the workshop conducted at the conference. We take a spiritual orientation throughout. This means an orientation to dealing with the whole person in practical ways.

In what follows, we present:

  • our basic positions and perspectives on spirituality,
  • our understanding of some important aspects in the genesis of problems,
  • some phases we have identified in the way we live through major crises,
  • what helpers can do from a spiritual standpoint as people deal with crises, and
  • three exercises.

Our purpose is to enable you to learn our orientation for helping people spiritually as they live through major crises. Many practitioners have tested everything presented.

The first thing we want to do is to consider what "the spiritual" is. From a practical point of view, this is not easy in so little space. We could discuss every point at length. Diverse views and positions are the norms. As a way of dealing with this, we simply present aspects of our own orientations.

We would like you to see this paper as a contribution to the wider debate and exploration. We also would like you to understand that what follows is only part of what we think important. Finally, we think it is up to you to explore the validity and helpfulness of what we present by testing it in your own experience.

Summary Statement
Taking an overall orientation, the spiritual is in every dimension of consciousness and awareness. It is the "basic substance" out of which everything forms; it is the "stuff" of anything manifest in physical reality; and it is everything between. An apt description is "self-luminous, intelligent substance". Each aspect is important. Those who are aware of "higher" spiritual dimensions,often refer to the living or luminous nature of the light that seems associated with all phenomena;they point to the consciousness, or intelligence in every dimension of existence; and through every level of density they experience a substance-like quality present. Common names for the level of existence of this basic substance include God, the Ultimate, the Sublime, Nature, the Void, and the Beyond.

Considering things more specifically, the whole Being that each of us is, spans the full range from the Ultimate to the worldly. We form from the self-luminous, intelligent substance that underlies all things. The first appearance of our own individuality involves the focussing of this substance in "I AM", the formative spark in each person. This is one step away from Ultimate refinement, clarity, and purity, towards greater density. From this first step, layer after layer of consciousness forms, each layer more dense than the one before, until finally we reach the layers directly related with our bodies and our worldly lives.

Several further general points are also relevant. First, the aliveness of the Life that we live,resides in the "self-luminous, intelligent substance" out of which we form. Second, that aliveness,or energy, flows from its source "deeply within" us, out through all the layers of increasing density until it reaches the body. It then flows out through the body into the world. Third, a flow comes back from the world into the body as well. Fourth, from the Ultimate through to the dense physical reality of bodily and worldly life, there is increasing differentiation as the dimensions become more dense. That is, there are more bits and parts, the more dense are the dimensions that we consider. Fifth, our internal physical senses, link our awareness to inner physical states. Sixth, for each of us, our five physical senses make the final link between the "inside" and the "outside". They form, as it were, a five-pin plug that enables us to plug into the world.

[Diagram 1]Diagram 1 is a partial attempt to give you a simple map of some of these general statements. The formless substance out of which everything manifests is, in the diagram,the space behind the lines. "I AM" is the first appearance of personal consciousness. The diagram does not show the layers that become progressively dense, until they reach the body and body-related levels. It does show the bodily dimensions as the area between the two circles. The short arrows depict the "inner senses" that connect our consciousness to the bodily aspects of awareness, while the long arrows depict the connections made by our senses to the physical world around us. Overall, the map shows that Life, the vital force that animates us, flows from the Ultimate out into the world, by being focussed first through"I AM" and then through all our other layers and dimensions, until it flows through the body into the world.

Our impression is that most people still live, locked into their bodies and body-related processes,such as, feelings, thoughts, memories, and actions. These people are often unclear about the spiritual dimensions of their lives. Because they experience life as essentially a bodily phenomenon, they inadvertently cut themselves off from awareness of those aspects of life that lie beyond dense physical sensations and perceptions. Physically based experiences can form an effective veil that keeps us on one side of life and shields us from what else is available beyond that veil. In Diagram No.1, their orientation catches them within the veneer created by the two circles.

At the same time, many people have awareness that extends "beyond the physical". These people experience forms of direct spiritual awareness. Their systems are different, because of their having achieved a refinement, a cleansing, or a distilling of normal human processes. Along with these results, they have developed a balance, poise, integration and freedom of action and consciousness that is necessary for open awareness. To show this type of development, we make the lines of the circles dotted and thinner, as in Diagram No.2. We remove the dotted lines altogether for "highly evolved" people.

[Diagram 2]Many experiences in life can make this veil thinner. Some experiences pull it back completely. Meditation and other spiritual practices can do both, as can major crises. They stimulate the cleansing and the development of the poise necessary for awareness to open significantly. People become released into experiences and dimensions of understanding that were previously outside their awareness.

Whatever our experience, whether or not we are currently aware of spiritual dimensions,the spiritual is in everything. We mentioned this in another way earlier. This means that we do not have to reach beyond ourselves or our current experience for what is spiritual. It is right there within everything. All we need to do is to pay attention to it. Grounding, or physical awareness,is a key to developing the necessary awareness involved to perceive this sort of thing. The awareness works in two ways. The more we become physically aware, the more spiritually aware we become as well. Also, the more fully aware of the spirituality inherent in every aspect of life,the more we appreciate that everything is spiritual, including the physical.

Think of the way that shining white light through a glass prism, spreads that one light into a"colour rainbow" of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. Life works similarly. Life, the "Light of Being", shining through a person, spreads the one Life into a "bodily rainbow"made up of the body itself, actions, feelings, thoughts and spirituality. Using this analogy, just as saying that an aspect of white light is in each colour, is true, saying that each aspect of a person is an aspect the Life, or the deep spirituality that produced it, is also true.

It turns out that the spiritual dimensions of life are behind only the thinnest of veils, an over commitment to the physicality of life being one of them. Yet, although this veil seems to prevent us from experiencing these dimensions directly, it does not succeed in separating us from them. The separation turns out to be an illusion.

Practitioners plan their activities according to what they understand is responsible for, or contributing to problematic conditions. A significant influence on our own practice is our understanding of how major crises develop in people's lives. In what follows, we present several factors that we consider particularly important, continuing the emphasis as before on the spiritually significant aspects.

The first is that optimum functioning is intrinsic in human beings. In our natural state, we are extraordinary beings. We are alive, creative, free, healthy, integrated, expressive, open, poised and balanced. Our systems seem to have both a basic propensity to produce aliveness and all that goes with it, and a basic capacity to deal with everything that gets in the way of that aliveness. Our ability to do these things is awe inspiring. The way to support and promote these abilities is to allow our natural processes to assert themselves fully, as needed. Realising our wholeness as spiritual beings, promotes this.

The second aspect is to do with the challenges that occur occasionally that demand more of our systems than they can deal with at the time. When these experiences block or inhibit our natural processes significantly, our systems suffer. At these times, our natural processes are unable to[Diagram 3]digest and release all that we experience.Something gets held in our systems that causes unfortunate consequences. As shorthand, we call what gets held in "energy". Once held in, our subsequent experiences build around what is held, usually aggravating the original difficulty and always tying up vital force, or further "energy", to keep in what is held. While this process remains significant throughout adulthood, it is particularly significant in our development through childhood.

To understand this more, think of a time when you were feeling something intensely and you would not allow yourself to express that feeling. If you were unable subsequently to release the emotional energy from what you were feeling, that energy would have stayed in your system. It would take energy to keep it there and its presence would lead to further changes. For example,when holding onto sadness, we tend not to feel happy as easily, or spontaneously, or for as long as we would, if we were free of the sadness.

The third aspect is a "rule of thumb". The earlier in our lives that we hold in some "energy" that we needed to digest and release, the more likely it is to lead to a significant crisis later in life. For example, a problem that we never resolved in our first two years is much more likely to lead to a major crisis later in life than a problem that occurred during adolescence. It sees to us that these early developmental origins are always present in people experiencing major crises. Having noted this, noting that current and recent events can similarly influence our lives, is important too.

The events that could be involved vary greatly: feelings that we could not express or release,traumatic physical experiences that left a trace in our bodies, thoughts that we held inside,memories that became lodged in our systems, decisions we made about ourselves and others in our lives that closed us down in some way, events that repeated often, or one-off highly charged events that became anchored in our systems. All of us have gone through this sort of thing.

The fourth aspect is that, when we hold energy in, a predictable chain of consequences follows. The chain is very similar to the body's response to dirt in a wound. Its moves into a natural process to take care of what needs to be done. If, however, it cannot clean out and deal with the dirt, infection begins. Swelling and other reactions occur. Pus starts to collect. With this turn of events, it is most important for the pus to dissolve or release in some way. The release may occur naturally, or artificially. When naturally, the swelling breaks through the skin itself. When artificially, we do something to lance the site. The release is important, otherwise blood poisoning and even death may follow.

[Diagram 4]
Our energetic processes are very similar. Our systems generally deal very well with the energies from our thoughts, feelings and other experiences. However, any "artificially" held energy can begin to "fester" energetically. For example, people can build up over the years, stores ofsensations, feelings, thoughts, impulses, desires, prejudices and other energies. These continue tobuild as time passes. They may break out spontaneously in some way, for example, throughminor physical illnesses, emotional outbursts, or "mental instability". When breakouts do notoccur, or are not sufficient, we need to lance the site. We do this by "provoking" a crisis in ourlives that is significant enough to release what is still caught. Diagram No.4 shows a pictorial outline of this process.

The fifth aspect is to do with awareness. It is important to remember that most people do not provoke these crises while knowing that this is what they are doing is important. If left to their conscious choice, many would not do so. Some people do have an inkling, however. They sense that there is more to what they are experiencing than simply the accident, illness, emotional crisis, difficult situation at work, or whatever they are living through.

Last, over the years we have developed an awed respect for this process. People have the capacity somehow to choose the perfect way of provoking all the feelings that need provoking, of stimulating the very actions that are needed, of shifting the very perceptions and the very decisions that need shifting, to recover their inner freedom. We seem to know intuitively, the very things we need to experience to "lance the boil" and to know how to organise our lives to produce them. Helping people to identify what they are living through in these terms is usually very liberating and helpful. It also influences how we might go about offering treatment and, at times, what treatments we do offer.

We have noted identifiable phases in the way people live through major crises. Knowing these phases helps us to modify our responses according to what people need. In presenting these phases, we are only offering our point of view. You may find that a different division is more helpful for your work. In what follows, we identify what we regard as core spiritual issues and make some general suggestions about how to approach people living through them. Remember that in this workshop, we are particularly interested in what occurs with people with physical challenges, however, in general terms the principles apply to most crisis events.

There are six phases:

  • crisis event & immediate aftermath
  • ongoing attempts to help
  • dealing with life/death issues
  • changing life decisions
  • completion - recovery or decline
  • life goes on
This order is common, however, progress through the phases is rarely strictly as given. Often you can find several phases being dealt with simultaneously.

Crisis Event & Immediate Aftermath
The actual crisis occurs in this phase. It may be something like illness, accident, marriage breakup, "nervous breakdown" (breakthrough), fire, flood, tempest, economic hardship,unemployment, divorce, death, or birth. The actual nature of the crisis is significant and our understanding of what people have to deal with needs to include the important facts. Sometimes facts temper fantasies that are built on over pessimistic attitudes or false hopes.

In this phase, everyone needs to take practical action to manage what has occurred and is occurring. Securing life and well-being as quickly as possible is often the highest priority. While we do what is necessary, we need also to stay aware of the more general implications of the plans. This awareness helps us to keep a sense of perspective on what we are doing. We need to avoid getting locked into dealing with a crisis as if its events alone set the agenda.

The people themselves usually need:

  • to know what will secure their survival,
  • to evaluate what action is possible,
  • to identify the implications of the various options,
  • to identify what they want for their own lives and in the lives of others involved,
  • to decide what to do, and
  • then, to get started.
Part of helping people consider and deal with these issues, involves helping them to deal with their feelings and other reactions to all aspects of their crises. The time is ripe during this phase and discussing the issues is a natural way to open things up. As we proceed, we are best to concentrate on facing important issues, and on release and expressiveness.

Ongoing Attempts to Help
In this phase, ongoing programs are generally in place and people are participating in them. Various issues are important with this phase.

First, the effectiveness of the program is of common concern. Helpers need to pay attention to this and to what can be done to make the desired outcomes more likely.

Second, people's usual personal patterns in response to challenges need managing. These patterns have often contributed to the development of a crisis, in the first place, and may continue to aggravate what is going on. They need interrupting and replacing with other patterns that will help deal with things effectively. For example, think of the need for previously busy people, who have difficulty stopping, to learn to stop and rest, because they are unwell.

Third, many people have a dual motivation during their efforts to deal with crises. They want to resolve what they are facing, and they do not want to deal with the discomforts and problematic challenges involved. For example, some people with cancer are "very pleasant", a pleasantness that prevents them from experiencing or expressing dissatisfaction, anger or other feelings of discontent. Yet to recover as they wish, these may be the very feelings and desires that they need to express so they can. When facing major crises, our willingness and ability to face everything with full awareness can make the difference in whether we live or die. This is a time when people can be encouraged to learn that the only full solution in life is to live through things. There is no way around them, no way to avoid doing so, if they are to resolve whatever the issues are. What we avoid only comes back in another form. What we face leaves us freer to get on with our lives. Fourth, while encouraging people to face all that is there, we need to stay aware of people's capacity. Some will have little tolerance for the discomfort involved and little understanding of the value of the undiminished experience. They may seek medication and other treatments thatdull awareness and so block or inhibit the awareness necessary for the spiritual resolution that comes from healing the whole person. Some people know this and want minimal medication, or none at all; others want no pain, no matter the other consequences. We need sensitively to help people make balanced, practical and realistic decisions that take account of these various dimensions.

Fifth, commonly when crises challenge people's lives significantly, many feelings, thoughts and other experiences arise. Some people start to act in completely uncharacteristic ways. As well,memories surface, and old impulses, emotions and past ways of acting reappear. All of this is a natural part of the clearing process their systems need, the need for which helped to prompt the crises in the first place. Some of what arises would have been repressed previously and some would be current. Whatever their sources, people need the chance to express what is occurring and to resolve the related issues. They also need to accustom themselves to living with a new intensity that usually accompanies the process.

Finally, during this phase, along with facing the specifics of their lives, people need to review the general patterns. They need to consider how to replace old patterns that led to the crises with new ones that promote life and fullness in everything. For example, perhaps they need more loving contact with others, more time for family and friends, more recreation, or perhaps more discipline, more flexibility, more physical exercise, or less work. This phase provides ideal opportunities for starting to make these types of changes.

Dealing with Life/Death Issues
During serious crises, many people go through a phase of assessing the value and significance that their own lives have for them. While doing so, they live the feelings, thoughts, impulses, desire sand all associated aspects. It is no purely intellectual exercise. As we approach "the edge", trivia drop away and leave us with a much clearer view of many things. At this time, those who have previously unresolved life and death issues are likely to face them directly. Through the challenges of the crises some may decide to value life more highly than previously, while others may find the "exit" for which they have been, or are now looking.

The review usually leads to significant decisions and we, as helpers, need to be alert to the decisions made. People may decide, among other things, to continue to live, to die, to live well,to die well, to keep living no matter what, to give up, to live every moment and make the most of it, to sit and wait for the inevitable, or passively or actively to suicide. As helpers, we need to learn to recognise this process and to respond in ways that help people go through it and make decisions that are right for them.

Changing Decisions
People change many decisions while dealing with crises. Just as current decisions influence future outcomes, past decisions have influenced current conditions and situations. We made many decisions in childhood, some even when we were babies. If these decisions are freeing and life affirming when we make them, they are likely to serve us well. If not, they may become the heart of some later crises. Early decisions are often both binding and limiting, particularly when made in situations of extreme difficulty or trauma. People can change all these decisions.

We see crises as attempts to change limiting decisions by bringing them to the surface of consciousness. The crises reactivate in the present, the pressures, influences and reactions that were current in the past, when the people involved first decided. At the point everything seems as it was when they originally decided, they can change the decisions. By experientially returning to their starting points, they have a second chance. However, not everyone changes what they did. Some confirm their original decisions, not always wisely. Helpers who are aware of this phase can stay alert and ready to encourage people to use the rigours they are experiencing to free themselves.

A fascinating side effect of some curative programs is they way they build up a healing pressure on the people in crisis. The extreme discomforts some of these programs stimulate, can bring old decisions to the surface. Radiotherapy and chemotherapy are two examples of this that often reawaken life and death decisions made early in life.

These new decisions determine many outcomes. People who decide for life, usually live; those who do not, usually do not live. The most helpful decisions have a distinctive quality about them. They are accompanied by a definite quality of alignment and certainty and a sense of resolution. These people experience a knowing rightness about what they decide and an absence of any fundamental desperation, struggle, or uncertainty. We can help people to live, or live well, by encouraging them to make a clear, committed decision to do so. In this phase they are ripe for this kind of intervention. Much discussion of the meaning of life, of what awaits us after death, of how to live well, and other issues, occurs quite naturally in this phase.

Completion - Recovery or Decline
This phase heralds the completion of the crisis. Once those involved decide either to resolve their crises, or not to do what is necessary, what happens is usually inevitable. It may take months to materialise, but the outcome generally follows the decision, unless the person changes it in time. Whatever they decide, our spiritual job as helpers remains to encourage people to live through what they are experiencing as fully as possible, to integrate and release all mobilised energy, to come to terms with reality as it is, to make their decisions with as much awareness and information as possible, and to find meaning in as much of what they are living through as they can.

Life Goes On
The aftermath of a crisis is another phase. Life continues. This phase involves all connected with those that were in crisis: family, friends, helpers, medical staff - everyone. All that accompanies a crisis and its aftermath influences their lives. Everyone can benefit from the spiritual lessons they have faced during the encounters. We think that every aspect has as much significance spiritually for all the practitioners involved, as for the people going through the difficulties. As practitioners,we can get better and better at claiming for ourselves the learning that is available for us, too, and of learning how to convey this value to others.

As helpers, we all have our areas of expertise. We need to apply what we know as best we can. In this section, we highlight the additional things that can promote the fuller dimensions of resolution that a spiritual orientation might produce.

First, perhaps the most significant act we can take, is to "stop doing". That is, we need to move from "doing things for and with others", to "being with them". We need to learn to accompany them through the life processes in which they are engaged. This involves our learning to be who we are in ourselves. Only being truly present in ourselves as we remain aware of others, succeeds in helping them use extreme crises as a lesson in being. To do this, we need a way of focussing in the here-and-now that will work. Grounding is the process we use and we will take you through it during the workshop.

Second, unconditional acceptance is another quality to cultivate. We need to practise accepting whatever we experience, no matter how stimulating or uncomfortable that might be. Our experience is that those who can accept their own experiences unconditionally are of much greater help to those in extreme crisis than those who cannot. It seems easier, if others are available who can tolerate anything and accept everything.

Third, we need to be acutely aware of what we say and do. Both during crises and during their immediate aftermath, all involved are usually very suggestible. This makes them prone to being hypnotised by events. People often take what others say, or the modelling of what they do, as inevitable programs that they then unconsciously fulfil. Any exchanges involving likely outcomes,usual outcomes, causes for optimism or pessimism, can offer such programs and act like hypnotic suggestions that powerfully influence things from then onwards. To afford some measure of protection from this, everyone needs to be very careful.

Fourth, we can use our own experience deliberately. As we cultivate unconditional acceptance of ourselves and others, we stay both grounded in ourselves and open to the others. When we do this, we resonate with what they experience. This is a real asset and we can use our experiences at the time to help, by taking our own reactions as possible indicators of what others may be experiencing. If people need drawing out, we can engage with them in a manner similar to: "I am feeling (thinking, experiencing) X, is it like that for you?" or "If I were in your situation, I'd be ------. What's it like for you?"

Fifth, expressing ourselves is important too. Living through crises with people always stimulates feelings, thoughts and other reactions. Expressing these thoughts and feelings is very helpful. Of course, we always need to take account of what is appropriate for us to do, given our jobs. We can express our delights, regrets, hopes, disappointments, or dreams. For people who are in crisis, most of whom feel intensely for much of the time, this personal expressiveness is a way of connecting, a way of knowing someone is available who is sensitive and caring. Just as importantly, it offers an example of what they need to do with their own feelings, thoughts and experiences, and may give them confidence to start.

Sixth, meditating in some way is often very helpful. Our experience is that it is the most powerful way for anyone to access their "inner" dimensions, without creating a crisis. Meditation gradually dissolves "the veil", until it is no longer there. The process gives the meditator an increasingly direct access to the consciousness, meaning, understanding, capacities and aliveness that are beyond body-bound awareness. When in crisis, many people really take to meditation. They sense immediately that it will help them to produce the outcomes that their crises have materialised in their lives. Meditation can teach them how to "be" with themselves, to make themselves available to what they need to learn as quickly as they can. Also, it is a powerful healing tool that impacts many dimensions of life.

Seventh, from a practical point of view, it is best that the meditations recommended are simple,produce observable results, and make sense to the people doing them. We find a combination of the Grounding Meditation and a simple breathing meditation is a good start. If someone has time to learn them, there are other meditations, too. There are mantra meditations, meditations involving light, sound, fragrance or taste. Some are general. Others are specific to healing (theComplete Health Meditation) or problem resolution (the Creative Release Meditation). People's preferences and capacities vary. If you do not have experience in this area, then having someone with the necessary expertise to whom you can refer people will help.

Last, as the veil dissolves, whether through the crisis, meditation, or another means, remember that everyone's perceptions become heightened. In this state, we see through what used to be opaque, we hear the harmony behind discordance, we feel the validity and reality of what others do with us. Helpers need to remain caring and scrupulously honest with themselves and others. We, as practitioners, can learn to share in states of heightened awareness by concentrating on our own spiritual nourishment and expansion. Our experience is that the rewards are high and well worth every effort.

In summary, we find advantage in considering the whole person and the wholeness of each person. To do this, we remain alert to the natural processes that encourage digestion and release of energy in an on going way, and to the emergency measures used to release what has festered because it became caught, sometimes many years before. Our orientation is to support those natural processes and to help with both the "lancing of the energetic boils" and the necessary healing that follows. This general orientation provides the context for more specific approaches that are to do with the various phases people seem to go through as they live through major crises.

During the two hours of the workshop, we will do three basic exercises that will get you started with what we have presented. They are exercises, or meditations, that you can do yourself and that you can teach other people. If you are going to teach them, we strongly recommend that you master them first, so you become a living exponent of what you teach. As we discuss these meditations during the workshop, we will consider the application of them in relation to people in crisis and discuss their respective merits.

Grounding MeditationSit or stand and notice physically what is happening inside your body. Notice the sensations: how do they look, sound, feel, taste, or smell to you? At the same time, once you are ready,notice what is physically near you. Look, listen, touch, taste and smell what is there. Do all of this together, if you can, and if not, do each bit one at a time. You might move your attention back and forth between the "inside" and the "outside". Gradually, you are likely to find that you can do them together. Be patient because, while you are likely to get results quickly, the full learning can take from minutes to years to complete.

When you have done the exercise for about five minutes, answer the following questions: What changes to do you notice in what you are experiencing? Are you feeling better than when you started? What other differences are there?

Awareness Meditation
Pair off with someone you do not know or do not know very well. Then, taking turns, each of you recounts to your partner an incident from the recent past about which you had intense feelings. Take about five minutes each. Before you start, get yourselves as well grounded as you can. Then start the story. The listener is to stay both as grounded the whole time and as open to the story teller as possible. Except to stay simultaneously grounded and open to your partner, the exercise requires nothing in particular of you as you listen to the story.

Before the end, you will have five minutes to discuss the exercise with each other. As you do,consider: What was your sense as the story teller of the attentiveness of your listener? What was it like to listen and to be available in this way? Was there anything different from your usual experience?

Breathing Meditation
Sit comfortably. Become as well grounded as you can. Then guide your awareness to your breathing. You allow yourself to continue to breathe as before; you do not try to alter your breathing. Simply notice what you are already doing. You might listen to your breathing, look at your breathing, feel your breathing, talk to yourself about your breathing. In whatever way is easiest for you, notice your breathing and keep doing so. Whatever you think, whatever you feel,whatever you notice on the "inside" or the "outside", keep noticing your breathing as well. Occasionally, also ensure that you are well grounded by noticing the contact of your body with what is supporting you.

Remember in what you do with people, that spiritual practice deals with the whole person and with helping people to restore their wholeness.


Life After Life - Raymond Moody, Bantam Books,1976
Reflections on Life After Life - Ramond Moody, Bantam Books, 1978
A Path with Heart: A Guide Through the Perils and Promises of Spiritual Life - Jack Kornfield, Random House, 1993
The Tibetan Book of the Dead - W.Y. Evans-Wentz (Editor), Oxford University Press, 1960
The Tibetan Book of the Living and Dying - Sogual Rinpoche, Random House, 1992

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