Forgiveness is the Inner Sage
[Reposted from thewellcraftedmom.com]
Last year, I met with a girlfriend, the lovely and wise Aubri Tallent. We ate a Covid-safe but chilly dinner outside in downtown San Mateo and spent way too much time talking about the company we both worked for—and left—in 2021. The last time I had seen Aubri was before my last day at my old job, where I was doing HR for a small company, and we had a lot to talk about. Over dinner, though, I spent way too much time talking about the company we both had worked for. I had liked the work I was doing at my last job and loved nearly every single one of my co-workers, but the overall work culture had changed and was no longer a healthy one, sadly.
While I talked with Aubri, I realized that despite working for a new company, one that's filled with lovely, supportive people, I was still holding on to resentment, disappointment, even anger over the loss of my last job.
I had worked remotely in that position and I’m currently working remotely at my new job, so while my job has changed, my physical environment hasn’t. It feels odd to be staring at the same monitor, my hand on the same mouse, looking out the same window. To spiritually and energetically cleanse my home office, I’d been burning sage, a Native American practice to expel negativity. At dinner with Aubri, I talked about my incessant sage-ing and joked that I needed some kind of sage to clean my inner psychological landscape, too.
My lingering negativity wasn’t funny, though. At odd times, I was drawn back into memories of psychologically unsafe meetings, the cycles of idealization-devaluation-rejection from a certain person, and how I'd be filled with dread when that name would light up on the Slack app, telling me there was a new message from her, waiting to be read. While cleaning up my office, I found notes I had written in a shaky hand, documenting one particularly bad meeting at my last job. I took the pages and a book of matches into the backyard and ritually burned the notes, sweeping the ashes into the dirt at the base of a tree. But even with the destruction of this “Horcrux," I didn’t feel better.
I leaned into my spiritual practice—meditating, reading the Tarot cards I pull each morning, and listening to the wisdom of my therapist—and discovered something new: Forgiveness is the inner sage. Forgiveness is uplifting. Forgiveness blows away negativity. Like smoke from burning sage can clear the dark corners of a room, forgiveness can purify the mind, too.
As Maya Angelou said: “It is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, to forgive.”
Since then, forgiveness has been the focus on my spiritual work. Recently, I had a long phone call with another dear friend who's still at the company where I used to work. We talked for more than an hour, only mentioning the company once to express gratitude for the skills and experience I gained while working there. The dark corners of my mind aren't 100 percent cleared yet (memories still have the power to pull me in occasionally), but I feel so much freer.
There's a sign that my husband Bill bought me that hangs in my so very well-saged office that says, "Only look back to be grateful."
I'm getting there.
Is there someone in your life who you’re ready to forgive? Someone you’re ready to disconnect from, both physically and emotionally? Ellie Grace’s guided forgiveness meditation on Insight Timer is a beautiful 25-minute journey to peace (and it's free, too!)
Photo by Ginny Rose Stewart on Unsplash
Tuning in to Love
A little while back, author Elizabeth Gilbert shared her mental health self care routine on Facebook. She wrote her morning begins with prayer and meditation and dancing and then maybe some yoga or therapy and then continues on with love and even more love throughout the day.
I was struck by the audacity of Liz's list. Her unapologetic recital of the tasks she takes daily for the care and feeding of her soul.
And, after justifying why Liz can take care of herself in this marvelous way and why I'm unable to (she doesn't have kids, she has more money, she's a successful writer - all of which have everything to do with me and absolutely nothing to do with her), I asked myself what would I do if nothing stood in my way? What would I build into my schedule? How would I care for myself?
My first thought was that I'd sleep longer into the morning. Immediately, a part of me countered, "But what about the dog that needs to go out and pee? And the hungry-hungry-hungry cat that starts crying at 5:45? And the teenagers, who are starting school in just a week and the older one has a zero period that starts at 6:45?"
I wouldn't even let myself imagine a schedule in which I took even a little bit better care of myself.
I realized what gets in the way is not the animals, kids, responsibilities, and obligations.
What gets in the way is me.
I'm the one who chooses what to expect from myself. I'm the one who fiddles with my inner tuning knob so I can clearly hear the voices that tell me that what I want is impossible and so far out of reach.
As my kind friend/life coach buddy pointed out so gently to me the other day, I'm a pleasure denier.
I'm a bully who doesn't allow myself to enjoy herself.
The thing is, I don't need to do anything extra to allow more pleasure into my life. I don't need to schedule massages or book weekend getaways to the coast.
Neither do you.
We're always in the moment making choices of what we do and how we think and whether or not we give ourselves permission to take pleasure from what's right in front of us.
Like smelling the eucaplyptus trees at Beresford Park while on my morning walk with Jasper. Or taking the time for little longer snuggle fest with Traviesa the cat. Or luxuriating in the sweetness of sliding under the covers and resting my head on my pillow after a very long day.
Psychologist Rick Hanson says that our brains are wired to be Teflon for the positive and Velcro for the negative. It's called negativity bias and it's a natural – but now mostly unnecessary – protective perception of the world in which we automatically look for and remember the negative. It's a mindset that kept us safe when a rustling in the bushes could mean that we're at risk of being a predator's next meal.
You can shift your mind to see the world from a more positive place with Rick Hanson's four-step process he calls HEAL: have a positive experience, enrich it, absorb it, and then take the optional link step, essentially overwriting a negative memory with a new, more powerful positive one.
You can start right now, in this very moment. You can make choice after choice after choice (because building a new habit takes many tries) to firmly turn your inner tuning knob to a new station, switching from the negative playlist to a brand new one, listening instead to the curious, joyful, and eager voices within you.
Photo by Alex Blăjan on Unsplash
Joy From the Inside Out
The cashiers at the grocery store always raise their eyebrows when they see my overflowing shopping cart. With two teenage boys, my family goes through a refrigerator and freezer full of food a week.
On Wednesday, the cashier asked the ages of my boys, now 17 and 14. She has two sons, too, ages 39 and 34. "Tell me it gets easier," I asked. I didn't think she heard me as she attended to another customer. As I began to walk away, she turned towards me and said, "It gets different."
I spent my kids' infant and toddler years wishing for different. Less crying, fewer disagreements (between the boys and between my husband and me), more sleep, more of the quiet joy I felt watching my boys as they slept.
I missed so much, wishing for different.
Parenting is hard now. Again. In a different way than when the boys were little. I can't mom-handle my way to what I want. I have so little control of the outcome when it comes to my kids.
And I spend so much time wishing for different. Hoping for easier. Crossing my fingers that there won't be an argument this evening, that I won't get pushback this time, that it won't be another complicated negotiation.
Those quiet moments of joy are even more elusive.
I've realized they're elusive because I've relied on my outside circumstances to infuse my inner feelings with joy. And my outside circumstances can't be controlled. They never could but, bless my heart, I carried the illusion that I wielded more power as Supermom than I actually did.
I'm working on finding joy from the inside out these days. It's not easy to break the old habits of telling myself "I'm happy because everyone is getting along," "We had a good day because there wasn't an outburst." I've restarted meditating, a long, slow journey of inner change. I'm finding brief moments to practice Tai Chi. I'm working on acceptance of what is, the good and the bad, hard and easy, and everything else in between.
"Peace doesn't require two people; it requires only one," writes Byron Katie, author of Loving What Is. "It has to be you. The problem begins and ends there."
The Well-Crafted Mom
Photo by Hu Chen on Unsplash
I’ve been going through a rough patch lately and all of my tricks to pull me out of my funk aren’t working so well.
I feel like I’m doing everything right - walking three to five miles a day with Jasper the dog, eating well, meditating, and journaling - but I’m still having a hard time finding how to get my wheels back on track.
I turned to the internet for more ideas to add to my feel-better-soon activity list and found many research studies extolling the virtues of a gratitude practice. Every lifestyle guru worth her salt has a video or blog post about using gratitude to generate more happiness, including Danielle LaPorte, Gabby Bernstein, Oprah... The list goes on and on.
They say a regular practice of gratitude may improve physical and mental health, increase self-esteem, boost positive emotions like happiness, optimism, and enthusiasm, and can even reduce anxiety and improve sleep. Sounds great! Sign me up!
So, after a long night of waking at 12.56, 2:33, 4:14, and 5:21, I stood in the shower under a stream of hot, hot water and said to myself, “I’m grateful for this shower.” Then, I started thinking of the times when I didn’t have hot water, like camping, and the Grand Canyon adventure in the RV with a shower that didn't work, and years ago, when the hot water heater in our home broke on the Friday before Memorial Day weekend and we couldn’t get anyone to come until Tuesday and then they needed to order a new heater and then something was wrong when they came to install it so it was 10 whole days before we had hot water again.
Standing in the shower, I realized that when I practice gratitude, I always add in a “because” ...
• I’m grateful for hot water because I've lived without it for 10 days.
• I’m grateful for clean drinking water because there are people all over the world – even in this country – who can’t drink safe water straight from the tap.
• I’m grateful for my life because it’s everything I ever wished for and I should be grateful and satisfied with what I have.
I’ve been doing gratitude all wrong.
It's like adding in the “because” cancels out the gratitude.
It’s the same way the word “but” works:
• I love you but we’re not right for each other.
• We’re proud of you but you need to be working harder to get that physics grade up.
• I know you’re upset, sweetie, but I can’t pick you up right now.
No one remembers what was said before the “but.”
In the same way, your soul cancels out the gratitude, only listening to what follows the “because.” Instead of a wonderful mood booster, your gratitude practice becomes a shaming exercise.
“I am grateful” becomes “I should be grateful” and you end up "should-ing" all over yourself.
Instead of a nonstop flight to happiness, you’ve climbed aboard a slow train to disappointment, with frequent stops at resentment, unhappiness, and despair along the way.
The next time you sit down to reflect on the tiny, taken-for-granted, or extraordinary things in your life for which you are thankful, try leaving out the buts, the comparisons, the shoulds, and supposed tos.
Be in this moment. Be grateful, just because.
The Well-Crafted Mom
A lot of times, we assume that feeling bad is, well, bad. That being angry, lonely, sad, disappointed, resentful, and the link is something to be avoided.
So, when those feelings rise up, like when children test your patience or a friend lets you down, we try to sweep our negative emotions under the psychological rug. We try not to notice them and definitely not feel them. They're too big. Often too scary. Too much to handle.
We say things like, "I shouldn't feel this way." "I'm making a big deal out of nothing." "I'm overreacting, as usual."
But feelings that are pushed down and covered up don't go away. Like guests who have outstayed their welcome, they're loud, irritating, and in the way, affecting every bit of your daily routine.
What would it be like to befriend your "bad" feelings? Maybe the feelings that get us riled up or battened down aren't bad at all. Maybe they're simply moody friends passing through.
By sitting with our feelings and noticing that resentment is here or anger is definitely in the room, we acknowledge our emotions. When we take time to be present with what is - not by picking a fight with a loved one or complaining to a friend - simply by sitting with the discomfort, we can notice and name the feelings without a story: "I'm feeling sad," "I'm lonely," "I'm really mad right now."
Then, like a friend sitting next to you on the couch, you can sweetly say, "Of course you're feeling sad." "It's fine to feel lonely." "Anger can be a sign that your boundaries are being crossed."
Sometimes, it helps to be creative with our feelings. Artists, musicians, dancers, and other creative folk entwine emotions into their work, creating art that connects us all.
You, too, can link your sorrow, fear, disappointment, even anger to your own art. Whether it's a scribbled entry in your journal, fingerpainting beside your toddler, or a freeform dance in your living room, you can use whatever art is available to be with what hurts, stand next to what disappoints, and put your arms around what doesn't feel good at all.
Then, once you and your emotions have had a little chat - or enjoyed a soul-clearing dance party - you can let your feelings go. Acknowledged and accepted, your moody friend can find their way out the door and be on their way.
And you can be at home with yourself again.
What Dims Your Light?
The holidays are coming - fast - and everyone has expectations of how the season is supposed to go.
What presents will be under the tree? Do you buy everything your child desires? Which set of grandparents will you disappoint with the holiday visiting schedule? How will you get your children to behave when they're up way, way, way past their bedtime - and not incur the rolled eyes and pursed lips from the relatives who obviously think you're not doing your best as a mom?
There are heavy expectations resting on your shoulders.
And even if you have help, the responsibility for putting the happy into the holidays is most likely mostly yours.
But what if you're already exhausted? Already stretched thin?
The expectations and responsibilities that fill your holiday season can take all the joy and fun out of it for you. Every autumn when my kids were little, I would dread what was coming: shopping, cooking, scheduling, baking, planning, managing, returning, wrapping, calming, scolding, reviewing, hedging, reality checking, standing in line, waiting in traffic, looking for parking...
I didn't know how to manage myself or my time and so the holidays were a long string of obligations I didn't enjoy. I couldn't wait for January, and felt constantly guilty for not having a happy holiday season.
It's different now. I figured out a plan that was a lot like fixing a string of holiday lights. Now the holiday season is a lot more sparkly for me - and my family, too.
I narrowed it all down to a three-step process:
1. Find the bad bulb (What's dimming your happiness?)
The first step making any kind of change is to notice what is and isn't working. Pay attention to the thoughts that careen around inside your head. Are you telling yourself stories that are making the everyday moments even harder? What are the obligations that you truly dread? Making a list is always helpful. Start with a prompt like "The things I really don't want to do" and see what ends up on your list.
2. Replace what isn't working (with new ideas, new self-coaching tools, or new choices to do nothing)
What showed up on your list? Can you brainstorm ideas on how you can drop what you truly don't want to do? Or, can you make what you don't want to do better somehow, like going shopping with a friend?
One of my girlfriends is overwhelmed with circumstances in her large extended family, so she's dropping the drama and celebrating the holidays in Mexico with just her spouse and children. A coaching client and her partner decided to shorten their holiday time with his parents to only three days instead of a whole week, spending the rest of their time on a ski trip with their kids. I'm working on ways to simplify gift-giving with my family which I hope will ease my stress significantly this season.
Look at your "Don't Want to Do" list and see what you can do with dreaded tasks and obligations and either ditch the don't want to's or do something to make them better.
3. Shine, shine, shine
Once you've replaced what's dimming your happiness, give yourself permission to enjoy the bits and pieces of the holidays you love: lighting the candles, the quiet of Christmas morning before everyone wakes up, the sweet smell of your home once the tree is up and decorated, your kids' sticky fingers and faces as they decorate holiday cookies. (Mom tip: give each kid a sheet pan with raised sides to contain the cookie decorating mess.)
Shine the light on what's dimming your happiness and make your holiday season sparkle.
Everything We Do Matters
“The art of being helpful is behaving as if everything we do matters -
because we never know which ones might."
It’s been a crazy week. Whether you spent Thursday live streaming the Senate hearings or not, there was no avoiding the drama unfolding in Washington D.C. For so many women I know, getting through the week felt like trying to stay upright in hurricane force winds.
The crazier the world feels, the more I want to hunker down and wait out the storm in the safety of my home with family, trusted friends, and my beloved pets.
But that helps no one.
And I want to help.
I'm offering $30 off your massage or coaching session until election day.
If you need nurturing and a place to relax, come find your sanctuary with me in a life coaching session or a massage (use coupon code SANCTUARY when scheduling for your $30 discount).
Massage therapy appointments* are provided in San Mateo.
Life coaching sessions** can be in-person at my home office, over the phone, or via video conference call, whichever you prefer
“From what we get, we can make a living;
what we give, however, makes a life."
Schedule your session here. Use coupon code SANCTUARY to receive your $30 discount.
I hope to see you soon.
* My life coaching/massage therapy practice is women-centered. I work with men who are referred by friends or trusted clients.
** In my life coaching sessions, we focus on current issues and find ways to work through obstacles that are in the way of making a life you love. If you’re feeling the need to process through old hurts, you may need the help of an experienced therapist. You can do an online search to find one here: findapsychologist.org
Photo by Chungkuk Bae on Unsplash
Where is Your Happiness Hiding?
We adopted a dog in December, a little rescue poodle from DPS Rescue in Palo Alto, that we named Jasper. In her early explorations of our home, Jasper found Angry Bird stuffed animals, discarded and forgotten under the boys' beds. She carried the toys one by one to the family room, delighted by her discovery.
As Jasper made our home her own, she found balls, more stuffed animals (some determined to be off limits by their human owners), a rope dog toy that I had bought for a previous foster dog, and a cat toy discarded by Traviesa the tabby cat.
Jasper likes to collect her toys in one place. If I'm working in my office, she'll bring an Angry Bird stuffed animal upstairs with her. On her next trip up the stairs, she'll bring the cat toy. Then, the ball. One by one, all of her toys end up where she is, whether it's upstairs in my office, in the family room, or on the rug in the hallway.
Watching Jasper surrounded by her toys, joyfully launching an Angry Bird stuffy into the air, a long-time massage therapy client asked me if I had anything in my life that brought me as much joy as Jasper's toys bring her.
I had to stop and think. In my coaching work with moms, I teach them a self-coaching tool called the Five Delights to help them figure out what brings them happiness and joy. It's been a while since I've done the exercise myself, though, so here's my Five Delights list for today:
My Five Delights:
1. My bed at the end of the day with my two perfect pillows and warm comforter
2. Bergamot essential oil (its citrusy scent eases stress)
3. Rubbermaid stainless steel travel mug (it keeps my chai tea hot for hours!)
4. OverDrive app connected to the Peninsula Library System on my phone so I always have something good to read, for free!
5. My box of vintage buttons
Now it's your turn. What delights you? Take a moment and write down five things (or people, furry critters, or activities) that bring happiness into your life.
The Five Delights self-coaching tool is a gratitude practice, of sorts, allowing you to focus on the happy things that are already present in your life. Research shows that gratitude is a powerful shortcut to happiness. A gratitude practice can increase your happiness set point; make you more resilient to psychological, mental, and physical stress; and even improve your sleep.
A gratitude practice like the Five Delights is simple: take a few minutes a few days a week to discover what's already good in your life. Just like Jasper the dog uncovered joy in the stuffed animals hidden under the bed, your happiness, too, is waiting to be found, waiting to be brought into the light, to surround you with so much joy.
Interested in learning more self-coaching tools to help you to build the life you love? Schedule a life coaching session with Kathleen Harper, certified life coach and author of The Well-Crafted Mom and Signs of a Happy Baby. Use coupon code NEW30 for 30 percent off your first session!
Bloom Where You're Planted
“Are you sure the wisteria is still alive?” I asked my husband, Bill, as I peered through the screen door, looking out to the backyard.
"I think so. It’s the plant next to it that’s dead, but the wisteria is okay,” he replied from the kitchen.
I let the dog out into the backyard and followed her to the back corner of the yard where the wisteria grows. The branches of the wisteria were dark and spindly, twisted around the pergola and tangled across the top. Cracked, empty seed pods hung down over the flagstone patio. I was accustomed to the wisteria looking barren during the winter, but this year, the plant looked like it wasn’t coming back.
Over the next two weeks, I started a little ritual of checking on the wisteria. Whenever I let the dog out in the backyard, I walked to the back corner to see if there were any changes to the plant, watching and waiting for signs of spring when the vine explodes in purple flowers and dark green leaves, an incredible, beautiful sign of the season.
Bill was right: the bush alongside the pergola didn’t survive the winter and it’s definitely dead; the gardener will have to take it out. Last week, however, tiny buds appeared on the wisteria vine, dotting the topmost branches that get the most sun.
Spring is coming, not just for the wisteria, but for all of us.
It’s been a long winter. Just like the wisteria vine, you may be feeling dark after unexpected (and perhaps expected) disappointments, hardships, or grief. You may be a bit twisted and hung up, knowing that it’s your destiny to flower but not feeling strong enough to blossom right now. Perhaps you’re not getting enough care – or giving yourself enough self-care – to grow into whatever comes next.
Here are three steps to give you a little more spring in your step and help you to blossom:
• Dream. Give yourself permission to daydream about what you want. Believe outside the tiny box of parenthood that your dreams are valid and important. Grab a notepad and keep a list of ideas that give you shivers of excitement, cupfuls of curiosity, and handfuls of joy.
As best as you can, turn off the part of your brain that wants to draw fat black lines through the items on your list that don’t seem practical, aren’t financially feasible, or will take up oodles and oodles of time that you just don't have.
Dreaming big and outrageously is necessary to create happiness right here, right now.
I’ve been dreaming about the Master of Applied Positive Psychology degree at the University of Pennsylvania. Is this dream practical? Nope. Is it affordable? Not one bit. But unwrapping my big dream gives me ideas on small ways I can be happier now. I’ve realized that I’ve missed learning in a structured environment, like a school or ongoing class. I’ve always felt happiest when I’m learning, whether it’s life coaching school, massage therapy school, art classes, or university. My dreams are telling me to look for more learning opportunities besides tap dancing and Tai Chi.
• Set boundaries. It’s hard to grow a happy life when you’re busy taking care of everyone else. Taking care of everyone else’s needs before paying attention to your own is like siphoning off your water supply to feed all the plants around you (that already have their own sprinkler system).
“Feed my soul, feed my family?” is the question I ask myself when I receive a request for a speaking engagement, when the kids’ school asks for volunteers, when a commitment falls outside of my regular working hours. There’s only so much of me, and only so little time and energy to share. The answer to feed my soul, feed my family? shifts my response from ambivalent to unequivocal. “Each time you set a healthy boundary, you say ‘yes’ to more freedom,” writes Nancy Levin, author of Jump ... and Your Life Will Appear.
There’s no doubt that it’s hard to say no. Research shows that women have a harder time saying no than men do, a difference that is present even when personality factors like agreeableness and conscientiousness are taken into consideration. But if you do that hard work of saying no to what doesn’t serve you, you’re left with more time and energy for what unequivocally feels like yes. Determine what is necessary for you to grow into the life you want to live and figure out ways to say no to what doesn’t nurture you.
• Find pleasure. What can you do every day that brings you happiness, joy, delight, or pleasure? People often believe happiness needs to come in big chunks of time or that joy costs as much as a summer vacation. Delight can be as quick as a text to your dearest friend or as fulfilling as an interesting article from the New York Times.
Mother Theresa said “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” Start a practice of doing small things with great love for yourself every day. You’ll most likely find it will then be easier to do the bigger things for your family.
Just as the wisteria needs water and sunshine, you, too, need basic essentials. Dreaming, setting boundaries, and finding pleasure in your day-to-day routines will nourish you. Pluck the weeds of what creates unhappiness and nurture what generates joy. In the process, you’ll grow. You’ll bloom where you’re planted.
How to Harness Your Superpower
Your brain is an evidence-making machine. When you have a thought, whether it’s positive or negative, your brain starts searching for evidence to support it. If you tell yourself that you’re not doing enough for your kids or that you're a bad mom or that you're lazy, you can probably rattle off a long list of the many ways that your thought is true.
The stories that you tell yourself about your life end up creating your life. They can keep you in the pit of despair, in the same room with resentment, and holding hands with unhappiness.
When you change your story, however, you change your world, one little bit at a time. If you can reframe your stories to turn yourself into a heroine who overcomes daily challenges, your brain begins to recognize the truth – you are a superhero.
I have a feeling that you don't believe me so I'm going to give you a homework assignment. At least once a day, I want you to complete this sentence, “Today, I was a superhero because …”
Find a time that you can answer this question regularly. You can add it to your bedtime routine, like right after you've brushed your teeth, or you could answer the question when you're in that mid-afternoon slump when it seems like the day will never end. You could also make the question part of dinnertime with your family, giving everyone a chance to talk about their superhero moment of the day.
Here are some examples from everyday superheroes:
Today, I was a superhero because …
• I managed to prepare dinner even with an unhappy three-year-old hanging onto my ankles.
• I fought my way through rush hour traffic without losing my cool, even when an idiot cut me off and nearly caused an accident.
• I mastered a shopping trip to Costco (with kids in tow), loaded and unloaded the car singlehandedly, and put nearly everything away in the span of one day.
Let this be your superpower: changing your life, one story at a time.
Join me and a small group of moms at The Well-Crafted Mom's mini-retreat for moms. In October, we’ll focus on how to go head-to-head with your inner Mean Manager who keeps you mired in mommy guilt. The Mean Manager is the voice in your head that says it’s selfish to want what you want, the chores need to be finished before you can take time for yourself (and when are the chores ever finished?), and how everyone else needs to be happy before you can pursue your own happiness. In a unique coaching + crafts workshop for moms, you’ll learn how to grapple with mommy guilt and outsmart your inner Mean Manager so you can build a life you love. For more information, visit thewellcraftedmom.com/mini-retreats.
I'm a mother of two incredible boys, wife to Bill White of Happy Baby Signs, author of the books The Well-Crafted Mom and Signs of a Happy Baby, and an intuitive life coach. I like to blog about my adventures with my family and the life lessons I'm learning along the way. I hope you'll join me on this journey.
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