Posts Tagged intention

Constant Learning

One of the first things you learn when starting out in Paganism is ‘Be careful what you wish for.’ Otherwise known as ‘Don’t take magic for granted.’

A lot of the Paganism 101 books say this, but as beginners, it’s easy to ignore. Ritual is fun, right? An excuse to dress up, cast spells for what we want… and other stuff we’ve seen on TV.

Easy to forget that even movies like ‘The Craft’ and ‘Practical Magic’ show why this is a bad idea.

Even if you don’t follow the ‘Rule of Three’ idea (that whatever you put out into the world is returned to you threefold), if you put something out into the world with energy behind it, don’t be surprised when you get a response. But it may not be quite how you expected.

This is always the learning curve. Complacency is not an option.

Last week, I performed several Spring Equinox rites, two with quite large groups. Generally speaking, we  were bidding farewell to the passing Winter and welcoming in the Spring, but also wishing to be rid of those things we had no further need to take forward with us into the coming months. Positive, gentle, affirming… good stuff.

Then the day after the first rite, I was hit with a ridiculously bad bout of depression. I don’t talk about it much publicly in terms of how bad, but this time it was… Well, let’s say my Dr (nervously) asked ‘Are you having those particularly bad thoughts?’ Hard not to laugh. Yes, yes I was. I got through it. I love my infinitely patient partner and supportive friends.

I got on. Gently, but determinedly.

Then (again) less than an hour after the final rite of the week, I was home and falling over. The next day, I was in considerable pain from the back/joint condition that I suffer from occasionally, plus exhaustion, plus the beginning of a cold (or so I thought). I suspect now it’s somewhere between cold and flu. Either way, virulent and nasty.

I’ve now been basically moving between sofa and bed for several days. Work has been cancelled. I’ve been in severe physical pain, plus mentally fuzzy as all hell. I’m being forced to stop. 

The first day or so involved frustration, then self-pity, then my usual ‘bad patient’ attitude of crossness that I can’t get on regardless. But then I realized something.

I was getting precisely what I needed from those rituals. I had to stop, to take stock and reassess. The deluge of emotion had been and gone – I don’t feel at all depressed right now. The physical sickness is removing any amount of yuk from my body, which is clearly not needed.

I’ve had to prioritise. I don’t have the strength to do much, so what needs doing? Certain tasks are being jettisoned or at least set aside. Wise advice from friends about setting boundaries is ticking around my head.

I must face what needs to be left behind with the Winter, as my body Spring Cleans. I’m already looking forward to being well again, but with awareness – as best I can – of not getting so complacent again, or running myself down so badly. It’s nice to be wanted, but I’m not invulnerable or indefatiguable. Where does the energy need to go?

The last couple of nights have featured fever dreams, with interesting lessons. I’m being reminded of things I was taught years ago, but which I’d kind of forgotten – or rather, they’d been subsumed with the busy-ness. 

I’ve been asked a lot lately ‘do you do magic?’ And I’ve thought about it. Yes, yes I do. Perhaps not ‘spells’ as such (or at least, not often) but the causing change through will – yes, absolutely. We all do, to some extent. But it’s recognising what we’re doing with that, owning that intention, bracing for the consequences… we can’t anticipate everything, but we can trust that we get what we need, based on what we ask.

I’m riding the flow again now. As the nastiness leaves my body and mind, so those new shoots can bloom. I stepped outside this morning, barefoot, with the sun on my face. Just because.

I’m sure I’ll face this lesson again in future, in one form or another. But so we move forward. By noticing and acknowledging, so we can be part of those changes we are wishing for.

I do hope this post makes sense and isn’t just self-indulgent claptrap – my brain wanted to write it, so here it is. Now, if its all the same to you, I’m off to find more tea… 🙂

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Shades of Emotion

This is a Pantone chart:Pantone_Chart-2

It’s a basic version – a true Pantone book has many pages for each individual colour – but this single image shows some of the variations of colour that designers can use when choosing a particular shade of, say, yellow or green. No colour is simple; each subtle grade, each depth of saturation, makes it different… and so hints at a different response in the viewer. From cool blue to hot red, for example.

We rarely think of such things in our day-to-day lives (unless we’re professionally employed to do so – no disrespect to the hard-working artistic folks!). But we do all see those shadings around us constantly. From this:

LeavesTo this:

Sunset

From the yarn in my knitting to the shades of fur on my dogs, we are surrounded by varieties of colour. Even colour-blind people see the world vividly. Everything is shades – even grey. And yes, we are lucky to be able to see them.

This past few weeks, I’ve been increasingly aware of such shadings. It has mostly been in the skies that I love to look at as well as the natural world around, but paralleled in my own emotional state. Storm clouds dissipate into rainbows with the passing of so few breaths.

London Rainbow

It’s been an intense time in my world, rising from high mood to low with such speed that I’ve often been overwhelmed – seeing the world through the flickering images of an emotional zoetrope. The joy of seeing the happiness in the faces of those who’ve come to meet me for the first time after enjoying my work… to the sadness of pain and loss, over which I’m powerless.

It’s easy to feel out of control with one’s own emotions. They seem to come suddenly, in waves or bursts, with a thumping heart or chill in the blood. Physical and mental state are mirrored as both try to work out what’s going on, what is causing this reaction, what has to be done… and so the shadings are felt.

Pain – a sharp stab, perhaps, then fading to a dull throb, before numbness. Anger rising slowly, burning, before forcing itself to be expressed in a scream or hitting out. Happiness – from simple smile to uncontrolled laughter. We all have our emotional gradients.

I’ve read the Buddhist perspective, of simply observing emotions as they rise and fall within us, remaining unaffected. I’ve very rarely been able to achieve such a state, passionate lady that I am (born in the Year of the Dragon, in Sagittarius with Jupiter Rising, if you follow such things). I find myself caught up, forced to ride the waves – which has led me to get to know my own emotional Pantone chart pretty well.

I don’t often get angry, but when I do it’s with a hot rush of energy, which can be focused and directed if I catch it in time – before it flashes out to hurt. I feel tears welling within and know that they must be released… it’s being able to find a safe place first. Sometimes not possible.

We’re all expected to control our emotions to some degree, due to societal expectations (not laughing at an unexpected double entendre in church, for example), or simple politeness. For me, that awareness is another level of the shading – but more like a filter this time, through which others see my emotions. Behind which I still do my best to understand what they are and why I’m reacting in such a way. And, of course, what to do when that evil giggle wells up at an inappropriate moment.

I’m often shocked into gaping silence when others try to tell me how to react, how to ‘deal’. I have no idea how others understand or feel their own emotions, and so wouldn’t try to tell them how to act – at best, I can make a suggestion. But ‘helpful’ comments such as ‘oh, you don’t really feel that way, just calm down’ are guaranteed to have the opposite effect. Thus adding yet another societal filter.

Sometimes emotions just have to be felt. Like the brightness of a sunset, they can burn when focused on too intently, but by looking around, discovering how best to view them by the shades surrounding them, we gain perspective. By taking a deep breath and jumping into the sorrow, we can discover what we’re truly feeling, and where it may come from. Because the source of the emotion may not be what we expected. If we knee-jerk physically to that emotional stab, we may be kicking at the wrong target.

Look back over this post again, at those pictures. Leaves – simple. But what colour are they? Not green, not yellow, not brown. And the skies, full of clouds, so many shades of blue (and that quiet rainbow reaching down over London WC1). What emotions do they inspire in you? Pleasure, peace, annoyance, boredom… to what degree? And why?

We explore our emotions and discover more about ourselves. It might be fun or it might hurt, but it’s part of life, not to be blocked out or bottled up. I honour those mysterious forces inside me, even as I’m frustrated by them, or wish them away, or curse their bad timing. They’re all part of who I am, right now.

We experience, learn and move forward, as life goes on.

(All photos in this blog entry were taken by me – please credit me if used elsewhere)

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Changes

The year is turning. We approach Samhain. I’ve written about it before, but suffice to say, this time of year makes sense to me as a ‘New Year’, a time when the harvest is done, the latest season is concluded… and newness is on the horizon.

While life has still been busy for me recently, I’ve noticed more and more ‘writing on the wall’ – repetitive signs of what I need to be looking at, now and in the coming months. I get the feeling it’s a seasonal thing, as my connection with the wider world always flows strongly at this time of year. The spirit of Autumn, with its beautiful colours, scents and textures, has been my favourite since I was young. One of the first ‘tasks’ suggested to me as a baby Pagan was ‘get out there and roll around in the leaves!’

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While I’m being called to explore certain avenues in my personal practice, it’s been suggested (by a much respected, wise and (at times) extremely marvellous/silly friend) that I move this blog further as well. It’s been a few years now, and I agree: it’s time to move things deeper.

As you may have noticed from recent posts, I’ve been increasingly frustrated with certain aspects of the wider world, both in the Pagan and secular communities, and am less inclined than ever to suffer fools gladly. This may signal that I’m getting older and turning into a grumpy Crone before my time, but I suspect it may just be that I’ve now reached some internal limit with bullsh*t, and want to dig my heels in – to actively challenge, to encourage change.

My constant mantra of ‘what are you doing’ now has the well-known addendum of toddlers (and, rather significantly, philosophers) everywhere: ‘Why?’ So much of what I’ve seen around has made absolutely no sense to me lately – alleged adults acting in ways entirely contrary to their wishes and wellbeing, with the sense of ‘I do it because I should’ still in control.

Look around. Never before have we needed to challenge outmoded ways of living. We fancy ourselves Modern and 21st Century, yet we act in ways that would make our ancestors cringe. Including those recent ancestors, still within living memory, who fought (sometimes with their lives) for the ‘rights’ we take for granted today. Somewhere in our comfortable lives we’ve become complacent, and in doing so, forgotten our own power.

Please remember, though, that there’s already a lot of positive out there. Mutual feeling, desire for united change, growing communities (tangible and online) – we can’t stop evolving, learning. We just have to check our motivations and methods as we go.

I’m sure you know this already, Preaching to the choir. So:

Why are we doing what we’re doing? And, to inspire action rather than cynical giving up: ‘What do I really want to do?’ This isn’t selfish. This is looking inside, to consider oneself as well as those around – to see where those connect, personal boundary to wider world, rather than being subsumed by the mythical societal ‘should’. What are our real priorities? How are we bringing them to fruition over the next year?

Let’s trust ourselves, and move forward. The New Year approaches. I can feel it in my blood and my guts, smell it in the woodsmoke, feel it in the hard ground of new frosts. I’m excited to see where the path leads as I walk forward, both alone and as part of this community.

Oh, and by the way – this is also the time of gathering around the fire and telling stories, to nourish and inspire. Do feel free: comments are there for sharing 🙂

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Photos by bish – used with grateful thanks

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Magic, Spells and Creation

From time to time, I’m asked for information on How To Do Things in a Druidy Way. And inevitably, the topic of magic comes up. But there’s often confusion as well: do Druids even do magic? Isn’t that the preserve of Witches?

Now, belief titles aside, if we take magic to mean ‘creating change in conformity with will’, then yes, that’s a definition perhaps most closely tied to Witches. However, when you think about it, don’t we all do that on a daily basis? Without will, no tasks would ever be accomplished – the will to do the washing up, the will to go to work… it’s degrees of ‘will’, commitment and enthusiasm that make a job Magical.

To me, magic is the setting of intention and focus to accomplish a task using every means at our disposal. This means that folk of certain belief systems (including Witches and Druids) have different methods of accomplishing this to, say, a carpenter, bricklayer or vicar. A Pagan’s relationship to the wider world encourages practice in particular perspectives, enhancing focus in certain ways, creating definite ‘spells’ with specific tools and ingredients for a defined purpose.

However, that description could be used to illustrate me using my creativity to do a lot of things. Cooking, for example: if I set my intention, use the correct tools and focus, my cake/bread/fish and chips will be far better than if I just threw random ingredients (or pre-frozen meals) into the oven. Magic is therefore in the eye of the beholder, to some extent – a ‘magical’ creation versus something thrown together in five minutes without a care. Even the mundane or functional, if created with the right intention and effort, can still shine with its own particular magic. The mass-produced, however, does not.

Recently, I’ve been spending a fair bit of time knitting. I enjoyed it as a youngster, taught by my Nan (of course), and now getting involved in it as a creative adult. At base level, it passes the time, keeps my hands and mind busy… and results in something lovely.

But like any creative act, a lot goes on behind the scenes. Writing, baking, knitting… each of these is a ritual act. From identifying the need, choosing the tools, ingredients and method to actually getting on with the task of putting it all together in the right way, if you do it right, it’s a spell.

It doesn’t necessarily all work out perfectly first time, either. Things go wrong, substitute ingredients have to be found, interruptions, forgetting things… it’s all a learning curve, every time. We can write down what we did as a recipe to refer back to, but every situation is unique, with its own particular circumstances – we can’t be a slave to our spellbooks. My recipe books are the only ones that I ever let myself write in, with amendments, crossings out and notes everywhere.

If we find ourselves getting bored, becoming distracted, then something’s wrong. The result will suffer from our lack of focus/will. Do we give up and do something else, or find our determination and strive on? That intention and decision is one of the most crucial, as it determines the ultimate existence of the creation itself. Challenges exist for a reason.

Mary Poppins and Snow White had the right idea – using magic to create joy in the mundane act of cleaning the house. But Disney turned this into a wand-waving exercise in actually avoiding the work involved. That’s not magic, that’s lazy wish-fulfilment. (Of course I’d love Snow White’s animals to do my housework for me – but they’re not going to, and I’d actually never ask. It’s my job, not theirs!)

Having said this, I find that when you first start out as a Pagan, it’s all about the spells. You find books, look on the internet and so forth, questing for lists of ingredients and rhyming couplets to help you along in life. Then you learn to craft your own ways of doing things, and which parts of more important than others. Ethics enters the frame – to undertake work for another with their knowledge (could they not do it themself?), or without (would they appreciate it?).

In recent years, I’ve hardly used specific ‘spells’, preferring to make my own creativity. I’ve read books on writing, but have put my own work together as feels right to me. It’s infused with my energy, from start to finish.

However, being asked about spellwork has got me thinking, and investigating what’s out there these days for new Pagan seekers. From an ‘Encyclopaedia of Magic’ (good grief!) to the inevitable glut of Love Spells, there’s the usual mass-marketed rubbish.

But then I came across this: ‘Spells for Tough Times‘. Reading the introduction, a chord was struck. Why focus on all the Love and Money spells, when sometimes you just need something to help you focus on a particular problem, overcome a dark time or just rekindle the magic? It can’t always be Halloween around a bonfire, incense burning and robes flowing. Sometimes it’s just you, sitting amidst wreckage and feeling lost.

The intention of the writer is clear and brave, honestly stated. She tackles the hard stuff. She includes her own contact details. Her work and experience is put out into the world primarily to serve, to help where possible. As is my own, and that of many others

We all make our own magic. It’s the intention of living well, fully and honourably, putting our truth into each daily ritual, recognising the balance of the good and bad times as part of life. If the ancient Witches, Druids and Wise Folk had done a bad or half-arsed job, like any other providing a service, they would not have been called on very often. If books, recipes or workers do a bad job today, they’re left to gather dust or find another role.

If we want something to work especially well, that need infuses the intention and the creative act. Bread for ritual is very different to bread for everyday. A prayer shawl created as a meditation is different to a quick and functional scarf. All have a common link in usefulness, but the ‘magic’ is tangibly different.

How do we perform our everyday rituals? What about the ‘special’ ones, the dressing up for an event, the differences (wedding or funeral?) and feelings these evoke? That tiny act of lighting a candle and wishing someone well…

Magic infuses our lives, in the energy that allows us to live fully to how we use that for others. So today, not only ‘What are you doing’, but How, and Who/What for?

Go forth and create your own magic!

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Pagan Priesthood

It’s almost the Spring Equinox, and the world is waking up. We’re finally moving forward from that holding pattern between the colder nights and the lengthening days, and things are starting to happen.

Boy, are they.

The recent spate of interviews that I’ve undertaken have got me thinking all over again. Call it fortuitous coincidence, call it synchronicity, but whatever it is, certain topics have been coming up repeatedly, causing me to question myself and my own practice. All to the good, it keeps me aware and moving forward. So I thought I’d share.

Why am I doing this?

Year on year, my life has become increasingly filled with my practice as a Druid. This has mainly been public, to the point where it has become my primary livelihood right now. I’ve no doubt that more challenges will come as I become better able to meet them.

But what has this meant for my personal practice? Am I maintaining a good balance between my public work and my private spirituality?

I encountered a lovely turn of phrase in a book I encountered recently that summed my thoughts up very well:

‘We might say that the best spiritual writers are entirely at home in both the world of words and the world of silence.’
(Philip Zaleski, writing in ‘The Best Spiritual Writing 2001‘ anthology).

Initially I disagreed, quite vehemently. I love language, communication, storytelling – it’s an intrinsic part of me. You might have noticed.

But then I considered. ‘Silence’ here indicates the time when the talking stops, when you put yourself (ie your ego, your internal narrator) aside and simply BE. Meditate, assess, take stock, review. Become as neutral as can be, nonjudgemental, not critical or proud.

This is necessary for me quite often. Call it the cat in me, but it’s become ever more necessary for me to take time for myself, to retreat to a quiet place and do something personal, quiet, that allows me to reflect without external pressure. Time to recharge.

This is often that golden time when the inspiration comes. From the darkness and the quiet comes the spark, which must then be fanned – thus requiring time and attention.

The fire that I use to keep myself going, to itself inspire and help others in my work, requires care. My own personal practice must be maintained. While I’m working actively as a Priest, I cannot let myself become subsumed in service to others 24/7. This is true of most jobs, but perhaps even more so for those whose work is a vocation. This is, after all, my life. What use am I if I have nothing left to work with, to give?

Time turns and the busier seasons are ahead as the world wakes. My working life grows and evolves, as the call for me as Priest increases. This is not and has never been an ego trip – I’m not in it for the power, prestige and (Lord knows) the money! I detest the political power-games of some ‘religious’ groups; that’s missing the point entirely.

Some have seen the hard work behind the scenes, and so my integrity is assessed by others and found to be intact. This means a lot to me, as I’m often too close to my work to be truly objective. I sometimes need to be pulled back to reality!

But I have to ask myself my deeper intention as Priest. The answer is that primarily, I am there when called upon by those in need. I am standing up publicly: as an example to others, a demonstration of what is possible, giving permission to practice as a Pagan in the world today. I’m a guide, by the actions of my own life. This holds tremendous implications and responsibility, and is certainly not simple. Every statement can potentially be analysed for fault (including this one). If I wasn’t called upon, though, I wouldn’t be doing it. I work to help, because I can, and because others want me to.

However, I would hazard a guess that it’s also rather different to the clergy of other faiths. I speak to other Priests regularly, if only to share stories and laugh together, but as Pagans, there’s always that underlying truth that ‘we are each our own Priest’. Even if we don’t serve others in our actions as such, we communicate with our deities and connect with our spirituality in our own unique ways. That’s usually a strong reason behind choosing a Pagan path in the first place: we don’t give the responsibility of our own belief to another person to look after. Our doctrine is our own personal, evolving story. We have no hierarchy.

So we have the dilemma, the balance to maintain, between our own individual Priesthood, and that of ‘public service’, of Ministry. Different and yet very similar. Are you a Priest when conducting public ritual, or just sitting before your own altar in your home? Does it count as ‘Priesting’ when you explain your Paganism to a work colleague or family member? When you console someone, or encourage them with true intention? I would say Yes, to all of these. You are expressing your spirituality. You are representing the sacred, standing in your faith, your own truth.

The question then becomes: ‘Are you a good Priest?’ I don’t mean in terms of knowledge – nobody can know everything, nor have a perfect reply for every question. But do you work on your personal practice, explore more deeply, live in curiosity and wonder in order to strengthen your own connection with Deity… in the form of the wider world and everything on/in it?

It’s no small task. Often, it seems insurmountable. But as I said, the challenges come when you are ready for them – even if it takes everything you’ve got.

While I’m being called upon, I’ll be here. By the fire, keeping it warm for you.

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Looking Forward

This weekend, my partner and I journeyed South(ish) to meet up with my fellow Trustees of The Druid Network at our Annual General Meeting. While wonderful to spend time socially with folk who have become good and true friends over recent years (despite being scattered around the country), it was a time for work, for focused intention and decision. Where would our Druidry take us over the coming year, and where do we see the Network going into the future?

Now as this is a personal blog, I won’t be going into too much detail about the organisation. Visit The Druid Network website for more information; members can see the Minutes and Actions from the meeting.

But suffice to say, my thoughts of recent weeks seemed to coalesce in this organised setting. This year is now starting to really move as the earth around us wakes up to Spring (in this hemisphere at least), and the energy is rising accordingly. A lot of ideas sprang forth as we inspired each other, with shared goals, motivations and awareness of representing a larger number of people.

However, as I call myself ‘Druid’, I cannot possibly represent everyone who does likewise. Nor can any group, however inclusive. This is why the Network appeals to me – each and every person involved, whether they call themselves ‘Druid’ or some other term (if any) brings their own unique individuality to bear as part of a larger whole. A book of many themes, a picture of many colours. Nobody will be told how to practise their own faith. Challenged and questioned, yes, but that comes as part and parcel of the Druid deal!

Both I and my colleagues have to maintain awareness of that larger community, and gauge the needs and restrictions of the wider world that we work within. While our own personal practice may (and should) be individual, Druidry includes an awareness of the currents in which we flow. The world is moving forward and so are we. How are we setting our course within that?

No faith can remain static, or it stagnates. Paganism especially, as a relatively ‘new’ practice (despite its heritage) is still finding its feet, working hard to be recognised in an increasingly secular and cynical world, but also determining practical purpose. It’s all very well to call for ‘world peace’, but how are we helping that? If we spend our lives arguing and complaining, we’re working against our own dream, right there. Loudly proclaiming what we are not doesn’t really help us find what we are.

We have to stand as examples of our faith, our belief, our truth, while constantly challenging it to ensure that it remains relevant as we and the world change and grow. As I’ve said, people are coming to those public Pagan figures more and more often, whether to just shyly ask a question or to outright ask to be helped. Those of us who stand up have to be prepared to deal with whatever comes from that.

So where are the tides of 2012 (and beyond) taking us? More people are becoming interested in what this ‘Druidry’ thing is, as they wake up to the need to question and explore in order to find a little personal meaning in a fast-paced and busy life that seems almost dictated: birth, school, work, marriage, children, death. There’s so much more than that, as we’re all finally realizing. The old systems are failing; those institutions that we relied on so much aren’t giving back what they promised. We’re driven to look deeper.

Druidry doesn’t offer ‘all the answers’. No religion does – or if it does, it may be embroidering the truth just a little (yes, science, I’m looking at you too). The answer is different for every person. A hard concept to grasp, but true.

How do you live your life? That’s up to you. But to live it with awareness of your own needs and those within a wider community, as part of a family, bloodline, group of friends, neighbours, citizens, species, ecosystem… there’s so much more than we are told. We’ve grown afraid, then selfish, insular. It’s time to be brave and step up.

The Druid is an explorer as well. One who knows that if there’s a map, it may be wrong, but that’s ok – we’ve got paper and pen. And this map won’t just be visual: it’ll encompass all the senses, including that mental and spiritual awareness that science hasn’t really explored yet.

The ancient Druids filled so many roles in their communities. Ultimately, us modern Druids do our best for those we serve – both those official ‘members’ and everyone else who comes asking. We do this with awareness of the flows of life, the wider world (geographical, social, political, historical), with our feet on the ground but also between the worlds, known and unknown. Our faith sustains us: in ourselves and those who stand and walk with us, human and non-human, past, present and future.

Ultimately, we are human too, of course. And this thing called ‘Druidry’ means that we recognise our shared humanity, our connection, our similarities and differences. And with that, we chart a course, establish our aims, and move forward. It’s not about ‘quick fixes’, it’s about evolution.

We don’t know what will come, but we’ll ride it, whatever it is, doing our best: to represent, to serve, to bear witness, to guide. To live with honour and truth, as individuals within a larger Universe.

We can’t know it all, but we can learn to laugh and dance (and pause for tears) as we undertake our journies, both alone and together.

That ‘second star to the right’ is closer than we think.

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