Trust Your Experience As A Guide

Spiritual Practice: Uniting Heart, Mind, and Body
Practice-Based Spirituality: Beyond Belief
A Different Way of Knowing Prayer
Practice: Drumming
Practice: Walking Meditation
Practice: Ecstatic Dance
Practice: Om
Practice: Centering Prayer
Practice: Lectio Divina
Practice: The Welcoming Prayer
Practice: The YHWH Prayer
Practice: Pranayama
Practice: The Four Limitless Qualities

Trust Your Experience As A Guide

As you continue to meditate and pray, our hope is that you will open your heart, mind, and body to new ways of thinking and being. Sometimes you may feel as if you’re rediscovering something you already knew to be true. Sometimes you may feel uncomfortable or confused. Whatever your reaction, we invite you to be present to this feeling and let it be your teacher. Along with Scripture and your own faith tradition, trust your experience as a guide. Reading with your whole being, not just your rational mind, will reveal deeper wisdom.

Spiritual Practice: Uniting Heart, Mind, and Body Richard Rohr Unedited Transcript
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Almost 10 years ago, a member of our staff here at the center in New Mexico came to me and said what about if we start putting online some of the many things you talk about. I am afraid I talk about too many things, and he said, let’s try to get them down into smaller pieces and offer them to people on a daily basis, and I thought, well, I don’t know who is going to listen to that, but it grew from there. And every year it seems more people checked in and the staff encouraged me by drawing from more of my writings and talks and little by little we had a full-blown set of daily meditations, and I know that they introduced a lot of ideas that sometimes at first blush probably seem scary, edgy, new, dangerous. I don’t think they are. Believe it or not, I pride myself in being a traditionalist. I would never have the courage to say the things I do or say them with any kind of self-confidence if I couldn’t draw from scripture, from the whole 4000-year tradition of Judaism and Christianity and find them bookmarked throughout that tradition in saints and mystics and profits and counsels of the church. That’s what tells me, okay Richard, you might be on the right course, at least somewhat right course. So, that’s what we are going to offer you. I think it amounts to a mini course in mystical Christianity. Now don’t be scared by that word mystical. For me, mystical simply means experiential, that it’s not all up here in the head. It’s not just sentimentality in the heart. It’s not just body feelings, but it’s somehow putting all of those together, and when I mean experiential, that’s what I mean and that’s what I want you to be able to experience where head and heart and body and soul are all working together. So, when you hear words like non-dual consciousness, mysticism, don’t be scared. I am really plugging in to that Christianity that most of you first learned maybe as a little child, but probably you understood it, how could you not, with the mind of a little child, and if we are talking about experiential Christianity, we also want to introduce you if you don’t mind me saying it to adult Christianity. Nothing less is going to feed this world. We don’t have time for religious baby talk just to make us feel secure. We need to say what does that really mean, what does that really mean for me, and what does that really mean for the world? So, I’d love to invite you into that journey and it is a journey, and I promise you that we are going to go together to some place very good. Thank you for your trust.

What is contemplation? Many equate it to prayer or meditation. You might be surprised, however, to discover that you can practice contemplation while mindfully washing dishes, singing, being with a friend, or walking in a park. Contemplation is simply being fully present—in heart, mind, and body—to “what is” in a way that allows you to creatively respond and work toward “what could be.” Contemplation is both personal and communal, internal and external. It helps us let go of our usual, egoic way of thinking and doing things so that our compassionate, connected, and creative self can emerge.

Many Christians and Buddhists practice forms of silence like Centering Prayer or observing your breath. Other expressions and cultures emphasize community experiences (like sharing meals or speaking in tongues), movement (for example, dancing or yoga), and music (drumming, ecstatic singing, or chanting). You may resonate more with some practices than others. Whichever practice(s) you choose, we invite you to stay with them for a while. Through contemplation and life itself, God works on us slowly and in secret. Contemplative practice gradually rewires our brains to perceive and respond to reality with love.

Fr. Richard explores practice-based spirituality and prayer in these two short videos.

Practice-Based Spirituality: Beyond Belief Richard Rohr Unedited Transcript
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Some have predicted that the future of Christianity cannot be just belief based. We’ve pretty much tried that for most of our history. We have to be also practice based. We have to find something that rewires this and reconnects this. We call that practice. There is nothing to believe, there is nothing to disbelieve. Our fight against it’s just do it, try this, and see if this practice does not force you to think or feel or see or hear in a different way. So, oft-times if you are not used to practice based Christianity, I’ll be honest, they sometimes feel oh this is silly, oh this is childish, or you are playing with me, but don’t knock at it till you’ve tried it, and you might even ask sometimes why am I afraid to do this simple almost childlike thing. That might be our very indication of our resistance and the line that we have to cross, so I just offered to you as an invitation, and I think at the end of a few months you will see for yourselves there is nothing to believe here. There is only something to experience and then you will know for yourself. You will feel for yourself. It’s not Richard’s feeling. It’s now something that has emerged out of your own body and soul, mind and heart, and that is the way Jesus said we are supposed to love both God and our neighbor. You can’t do it just with your head, or even with just your willpower or your behavior. Somehow they have to act as one, and that’s what a good practice teaches you. Trust me on that.

A Different Way of Knowing Prayer Richard Rohr Unedited Transcript
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Let me offer you just one example of what I might mean by a practice. Probably, the most universal and common one is what we call prayer. Now, you’ve all heard that word all your life, but we largely thought of it as talking to God, or making announcements to God, and when we say practice, we are not talking about a merely mental exercise or even a verbal exercise, but somehow something that includes embodiment, physicality. So, here at the center, for example, we practice a form of centering prayer, where we sit together for 20 minutes in the morning in a somewhat disciplined posture, there is not a perfect one, but you sit there not in your ideal world, not in your identity world. In fact, that’s exactly what you let go off. Just this morning as we did, I looked around the circle, which I probably shouldn’t have been doing, and I said, you know, what, we are all absolute equals now. We are just naked beings sitting in our nakedness without our identity, without our smarts just being in the presence of God. Now, that might seem like that’s almost nothing. Actually, it ends up being almost everything, because you have to get back to what Thomas Merton called beyond the shadow and beyond the disguise, where you knock on the hard bottom of your own reality. That’s what practice does for you. It gives you the discipline to get out of your head and much more in your soul, in your body where you frankly, you learn in a different way, you know in a different way. It really is practice is a different way of knowing the moment and therefore of knowing yourself. I hope that makes sense, but don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.


Drumming: Practicing surrendering the mind and attuning the body through rhythm

Practice: Drumming

Seemed to me that drumming was the best way to get close to God. —Lionel Hampton [1]

There are many forms of body prayer—for example, chant, walking meditation, dance, yoga, tai chi, pilgrimages, prayer beads, gestures, and breathing exercises. From time to time in Saturday’s “Practice” I’ll invite you into an embodied form of contemplative prayer.

Today I’d like to share with you the practice of drumming, which I have used a lot in men’s work over the years. Every human culture has developed some form of drumming, the repetition of a steady beat, to encourage and inspire what writer Barbara Ehrenreich calls “Collective Joy.” [2] While drumming often supports dancing and musical performance, it also has a long history as contemplative practice.

The mental and physical focus required to drum stills the mind and shifts the drummer’s state of consciousness. Barbara Holmes, one of our CONSPIRE 2018 presenters, writes:

There have been studies that link alpha brainwave states to drumming. The alpha state refers to a dreamlike detachment and physical relaxation. The pattern of drumbeats seems to calm and focus the mind. “When the mind fixates . . . a profound state of Silence ensues.” [3]

Silence is an odd word to use in the midst of the cacophony of many drums. Yet the stillness referenced is akin to the intense spiritual engagement that marks the contemplative experience. [4]

Native American pow-wow and shamanic traditions use relatively simple rhythms to evoke a unified state in players and listeners. For indigenous people, the drum represents the universal heartbeat of Mother Earth that inspires the community to dance, sing, socialize, heal, and honor their culture.

Throughout the continent of Africa, drumming uses complex rhythmic patterns for communication, healing, entertainment, and prayer. As ethicist Peter Paris writes:

African arts are to enhance the everyday life of the people, not primarily to change their conditions but to enable the people to see and hear and feel beauty. As long as the people enjoy beauty, they do not succumb to the tragic elements in their midst. Their spirits are uplifted, and in that way the arts preserve and promote the wellbeing of the community. [5]

Drumming helps us return to the wisdom of our natural rhythms, spontaneity, and joy. Even if you don’t think you “have rhythm,” I invite you to let go of your inhibitions, pick up an “instrument” (a pot, bucket, sticks, or a beautifully toned drum). Start with a simple rhythm and just continue the beat. Trust your body to move intuitively and playfully. Another wonderful way to drum is to join a drumming circle. There are many all over the world—look for one and don’t be shy!

Enjoy this short video from drumming teacher Christine Stevens. Christine talks about why drumming is a powerfully transformative experience for mind, body, and spirit. [6]

[1] Lionel Hampton and James Haskins, Hamp: An Autobiography (Harper Collins: 1999, ©1989), 8.
[2] See Barbara Ehrenreich, Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy (Holt Paperbacks: 2007).
[3] Dorian Friedman, “Drumming to the Rhythms of Life,” U.S. News & World Report 122, no. 22 (June 9, 1997), 17.
[4] Barbara Holmes, Joy Unspeakable: Contemplative Practices of the Black Church, second edition (Fortress Press: 2017), 40.
[5] Peter J. Paris, Virtues and Values: The African and African American Experience (Fortress Press: 2004), 47-48.
[6] Christine Stevens, Your Life on Drums Used with permission. See also Christine Steven’s curriculum, The Healing Drum Kit (Sounds True: 2005), and her short video Drumming for Meditation

Practice: Walking Meditation

Jonathon Stalls, a Living School student and founder of Walk2Connect, writes about learning how “we share a common journey of wanting to love and be loved; that we want to feel safe, comfortable, and connected; that we want to belong—somewhere. . . . We’re afraid of exposure and vulnerability. We’re afraid of the unknown. We’re afraid to be wrong. We’re afraid of abandonment. We’re afraid of weakness, of truly trusting, and the fragility of letting go.” [1]

Stalls offers this wisdom from Thich Nhat Hanh:

When we practice [mindfulness], we are liberated from fear, sorrow, and the fires burning inside of us. When mindfulness embraces our joy, our sadness, and all our other mental formations, sooner or later we will see their deep roots. With every mindful step and every mindful breath, we see the roots of our mental formations. Mindfulness shines its light upon them and helps them to transform. [2]

Stalls continues:

I can’t think of a better way to bring mindfulness practice into our body and into the outside world than through walking, strolling, or rolling at one to three miles an hour. It changes everything. It trains us, both on the inside and the outside, to begin seeing God, the Great Spirit, in ourselves and in others in such foundational ways. This humble posture invites us into the fragile details behind our own breath, the curious creatures high in the trees, and the struggle in being a pedestrian in today’s time. Whether it’s twenty minutes or four hours, mindful walking can invite new ideas, new ways of seeing, and new ways of understanding with every step. [3]

I invite you to step outside and walk mindfully, present to God’s presence in all things.

[1] Jonathon Stalls, “What Really Frightens Us?” “Evolutionary Thinking,” Oneing, Vol. 4, No. 2 (CAC: 2016), 99-100. Learn more about Jonathon’s work at
[2] Thich Nhat Hanh, The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching (Berkeley: Broadway Books, 1999), 75.
[3] Stalls, “What Really Frightens Us?”, 100.

For Further Study:
Richard Rohr, CONSPIRE 2016: Everything Belongs (CAC: 2016), MP4 download
Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 2003)
Richard Rohr, How Do We Get Everything to Belong? (CAC: 2004), CDMP3 download


Practice: Ecstatic Dance

God cannot be known by thinking but by experiencing and loving. As you read about the theological framework and practical implications of Trinity, I hope you will take many opportunities to explore this concept in your lived experience.

Here’s one way you might play—with a childlike spirit—and feel Trinity’s flow in your body. You may even lose track of where you, the dancer, end and the dance itself begins.

Choose a favorite or new piece of music—classical, world, contemporary; anything that calls you to move!—and find a place in which you can listen and move without inhibition, barefooted if possible.

Allow your body to lead, following the invitation of the music. Let your mind take a back seat and tune in to the sensations of each part of your body.

Feel your feet connect with the ground. Let limbs and joints turn and bend as they will. Swing and sway your head, shoulders, hips. Sink deep into your body, remembering what it is to be a human animal.

Dance until you are pleasantly tired and then gradually slow your movements, perhaps to another musical tempo. Continue moving in smaller, gentler ways: breathe deeply, stretch your arms and legs, roll your head.

Come to a seated position and rest in stillness.


Practice: Om

Chanting as contemplative practice naturally draws our focus to the present and calms the dualistic mind. The very physical act of breathing and forming sounds brings body and mind together. Chant has a place in many sacred traditions, from Gregorian melodies to Native American drumming to the polyrhythmic chants of West Africa. There are as many ways to chant as there are bodies and vocal cords. You may enjoy exploring different kinds of chant, or even creating your own, as a way of meditating and strengthening the non-dual mind.

Perhaps the simplest, most familiar chant is “Om.” In the Hindu tradition, Om is the original and basic vibration of the created world, the sound that holds all other sounds. The mantra is also called pranava in Sanskrit, meaning it infuses all of life and fills our prana, breath. Om represents the fullness of reality and encompasses all things; it has no beginning and no end.

You might practice chanting this single syllable alone or in a group, from five minutes to more than twenty, followed by a time of silence. Begin by sitting tall and straight so you can breathe deeply. Inhale, and on your exhalation vocalize the three sounds of Om, AUM, on a single tone. Feel the sound moving upward with your breath: beginning in your belly—aah; moving to your chest—ooh; vibrating your lips and nasal cavity—mm. Take another deep breath, and sing AUM again, slowly shaping the vowels and closing your mouth to a hum.

Repeat the chant as many times as you wish, letting all other thoughts and sensations disappear. If you are distracted, return your focus to breath and sound and the way it feels in your body. When you are ready, let the chant subside into silence.


Practice: Centering Prayer
This is what you are to do. Lift your heart up to the Lord with a gentle stirring of love, desiring him for his own sake and not for his gifts.
—Anonymous, The Cloud of Unknowing, Chapter 3

In the 1970s, drawing from The Cloud of Unknowing and other Christian mystical writings, three Trappist monks—William Meninger, Basil Pennington, and Thomas Keating—developed a simple method of silent prayer. This method came to be known as Centering Prayer, referencing Thomas Merton’s definition of contemplation as prayer “centered entirely on the presence of God.” (You can learn more about Centering Prayer through Contemplative Outreach.)

Centering Prayer is simply sitting in silence, open to God’s love and your love for God. This prayer is beyond thoughts, emotions, or sensations. Like being with a very close friend or lover, where words are not required, Centering Prayer brings your relationship with God to a level deeper than conversation, to pure communion.

Because our minds are so attached to thinking, Father Thomas Keating sometimes suggests choosing a sacred word, with one or two syllables, “as the symbol of your intention to consent to God’s presence and action within. [Then,] sitting comfortably and with eyes closed, settle briefly, and silently introduce your sacred word. . . . When you become aware of thoughts, return ever-so-gently to your sacred word. At the end of the prayer period, remain in silence with eyes closed for a couple of minutes.” [1]

Two sessions of 20-30 minutes of Centering Prayer are recommended each day, but if that is too much for you, begin with five or ten minutes. Let go of all expectations or goals during this time. It is not about achieving anything, whether emptying your mind or finding peace or achieving a spiritual experience. There is no way to succeed at Centering Prayer, except to return again and again to love. Allow thoughts to come and go without latching onto them, without judgment. “Ever-so-gently” bring your sacred word, the symbol of your intention, back to mind and return to resting in Presence.

[1] Thomas Keating, Open Mind, Open Heart: The Contemplative Dimension of the Gospel (Amity House: 1986), 109-115.


Practice: Lectio Divina

Lectio divina is a contemplative way to read short passages of sacred text. With the first reading, listen with your heart’s ear for a phrase or word that stands out for you. During the second reading, reflect on what touches you, perhaps speaking that response aloud or writing in a journal. After reading the passage a third time, respond with a prayer or expression of what you have experienced and what it calls you to. Finally, rest in silence after a fourth reading.

I invite you to practice lectio divina with this ancient love song:

My dove is my only one,
perfect and mine.
She is the darling of her mother,
the favourite of the one who bore her.
Girls have seen her and proclaimed her blessed,
queens and concubines have sung her praises,
“Who is this arising like the dawn,
fair as the moon,
resplendent as the sun,
formidable as an army?”

I went down to the nut orchard
to see the fresh shoots in the valley,
to see if the vines were budding
and the pomegranate trees in flower.
Before I knew . . . my desire had hurled me
onto the chariots of Amminadib!

[Y]our palate [is] like sweet wine
[f]lowing down the throat of my love,
as it runs on the lips of those who sleep.
I belong to my love,
and his desire is for me.

Come, my love,
let us go to the fields.
We will spend the night in the villages,
and in the early morning we will go to the vineyards.
We will see if the vines are budding,
if their blossoms are opening,
if the pomegranate trees are in flower.
Then I shall give you
the gift of my love.
The mandrakes yield their fragrance,
the most exquisite fruits are at our doors;
the new as well as the old,
I have stored them for you, my love.

Set me like a seal on your heart,
like a seal on your arm.
For love is strong as Death,
passion as relentless as Sheol.
The flash of it is a flash of fire,
a flame of YHWH himself.
Love no flood can quench,
no torrents drown.
—Song of Songs 6:9-12, 7:10-14, 8:6-7 (New Jerusalem Bible)


Practice: The Welcoming Prayer

Earlier this week, I wrote about how Francis entered pain and suffering rather than trying to avoid it. This wasn’t an act of moral achievement or heroic obedience. It didn’t feel like winning, but more like losing, dying, and letting go. The religious word for letting go is forgiveness. Forgiveness is giving up your investment in and identification with your own painful story. This comes from a deep place of inner freedom and awareness of goodness—God’s, your own, and the goodness of the person you choose to forgive.

I’d like to offer you a form of prayer—a practice of letting go and forgiving—called The Welcoming Prayer.

First, identify a hurt or an offense in your life. Remember the feelings you first experienced with this hurt and feel them the way you first felt them. Notice how this shows up in your body. Paying attention to your body’s sensations keeps you from jumping into the mind and its dualistic games of good-guy/bad-guy, win/lose, either/or.

After you can identify the hurt and feel it in your body, welcome it. Stop fighting it. Stop splitting and blaming. Welcome the grief. Welcome the anger. It’s hard to do, but for some reason, when we name it, feel it, and welcome it, transformation can begin.

Don’t lose presence to the moment. Any kind of analysis will lead you back into attachment to your ego self. The reason a bird sitting on a hot wire is not electrocuted is quite simply because it does not touch the ground to give the electricity a pathway. Hold the creative tension, but don’t ground it by thinking about it, critiquing it, or analyzing it.

When you’re able to welcome your own pain, you will in some way feel the pain of the whole world. This is what it means to be human—and also what it means to be divine. You can hold this immense pain because you too are being held by the very One who went through this process on the Cross. Jesus was holding all the pain of the world, at least symbolically or archetypally; though the world had come to hate him, he refused to hate it back.

Now hand all of this pain—yours and the world’s—over to God. Let it go. Ask for the grace of forgiveness of the person who hurt you, of the event that offended you, of the reality of suffering in each life.

I can’t promise the pain will leave easily or quickly. To forgive is not to forget. But letting go frees up a great amount of soul-energy that liberates a level of life you didn’t know existed. It leads you to your True Self.


Practice: The YHWH Prayer

A rabbi taught this prayer to me many years ago. I write about it in the second chapter of my book The Naked Now. The Jews did not speak God’s name, but breathed it with an open mouth and throat: inhale—Yah; exhale—weh. By our very breathing we are speaking the name of God and participating in God’s breath. This is our first and our last word as we enter and leave the world.

Breathe the syllables with open mouth and lips, relaxed tongue:


During a period of meditation, perhaps twenty minutes, use this breath as a touchstone. Begin by connecting with your intention, your desire to be present to God. Breathe naturally, slowly, and deeply, inhaling and exhaling Yah-weh. Let your focus on the syllables soften and fall away into silence. If a thought, emotion, or sensation arises, observe but don’t latch on to it. Simply return to breathing.

You may be distracted numerous times. And perhaps your entire practice will be full of sensations clamoring for attention. Contemplation is truly an exercise in humility! But each interruption is yet another opportunity to return to Presence, to conscious participation in God’s life.


Practice: Pranayama

Raja yoga, one of Hinduism’s four paths to enlightenment, follows eight sequential steps, including pranayama (controlled breathing). Ginny Wholley, Mindfulness and Yoga Teacher, offers this description of pranayama.

Prana is life’s force or energy. Pranayama is willful changing of one’s energy, often through the breath, using variations of inhalation, exhalation, and sometimes holding the breath. From God’s breath we were created, and from breath, life continues.

Prana as breath is inhaled into the body, carrying with it the essence of the life. Within our being it is transformed, as well as transforming. Exhaled, it carries our essence, our unique energetic print; it is all one breath.

I invite you to follow Ginny’s simple steps for the pranayama practice Ujjayi, ocean-sounding breath:

This breath is slow, deep, and deliberate. Focusing on the sound is an effective technique to quiet the mind. It is very helpful in reducing mind chatter and preparing for meditation or relaxation.

Sit comfortably with your feet flat on the ground and your hands relaxed on your thighs.

Close your eyes or lower your gaze.

Through your nose, slowly breathe in and out while partially restricting your throat.

It may help to imagine your throat as the size of a straw. This breath creates an audible sound, at least to you.

An alternative image is to exhale out of your mouth as if you are fogging a mirror, making a long “haa” sound. After trying it this way, close your mouth and repeat the exhalation through the nose.

Put it together slowly, drawing the breath in and out of the nose.

Imagine you are on the shore. The water draws back into the ocean on the inhalation and rolls onto the shore as you exhale. Use your breath and limitless imagination to hear the ocean sound.


Practice: The Four Limitless Qualities

Buddhism identifies Four Limitless Qualities: loving kindness (maitri), compassion, joy, and equanimity. Loving kindness and compassion may appear to be the same, but there are subtle differences. In Buddhism, compassion includes a willingness to identify so fully with someone that you would be willing to carry a little of their suffering. Equanimity may be close to what Christians mean by peace. These four qualities are limitless in that they increase with practice and use. If you don’t choose daily and deliberately to practice loving kindness, it is unlikely that a year from now you will be any more loving. The qualities are also limitless because they are already within you—which beautifully parallels the Christian theology of the Holy Spirit. There is a place in you that is already kind, compassionate, joyful, and equanimous.

Last week’s practice, Tonglen, focused on holding the suffering of self and others. Today I will paraphrase Pema Chödrön’s practice for loving kindness, maitri. I invite you to set aside a quiet period to go through these simple steps with intention and openness.

  1. Recognize the place of loving kindness inside yourself. It is there. Honor it, awaken it, and actively draw upon it.
  2. Drawing upon the source of loving kindness within, bring to mind someone for whom you feel sincere goodwill and tenderness, someone you love very much. From your source, send loving kindness toward this person and bless them.
  3. Awaken loving kindness for someone who is a casual friend or associate—someone not in your inner circle, but a bit further removed, someone you admire or appreciate. Send love to that individual.
  4. Now send loving kindness to someone about whom you feel neutral or indifferent—for example, a gas station attendant or a cashier. Send your blessing to this person.
  5. Think of someone who has hurt you, who has talked evil of you, whom you find it difficult to like or you don’t enjoy being around. Bless them; send this would-be enemy your love.
  6. Bring all of the first five individuals into the stream of flowing love, including yourself. Hold them here for a few moments.
  7. Finally, extend this love to embrace all beings in the universe. It is one piece of love, one love toward all, regardless of religion, race, culture, or likability.

This practice can help you know—in your mind, heart, and body—that love is not determined by the worthiness of the object. Love is determined by the giver of the love. These steps can be repeated for the other three limitless qualities. Remember, spiritual gifts increase with use. Love, compassion, joy, and equanimity will grow as you let them flow. You are simply an instrument, a conduit for the inflow and outflow of the gifts of the Spirit. You are “inter-being.”

[1] Richard Rohr, Jesus and Buddha: Paths to Awakening (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2008), disc 4 (CD, DVD, MP3 download). 


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