Friday, August 17, 2012


Because of the mechanistic paradigm our spirituality has atrophied to the point where we don't have a clear and contemporary understanding of what the word might even mean. Before we can reach a definition we have to make some adjustments to our perceptions that have been skewed by the mechanistic paradigm. So, before we can continue on towards actually understanding religio-spirituality we have to have a model or a framework upon which we can hang our ideas. Human experience is so complex, so full, that we need a tool to help us organize what Aaron Gurwitsch calls the "copresence of data."
Thus, we use a "Field Model" of the human. A Field Model acts like a "map" it is a tool that allows us to organize the abundant variety of human experience. It helps us resist the tendency towards reductionism (both professionally and personally). It allows us to understand "holism" in a valid and meaningful way. The Field Model is an excellent tool for clinicians to use with clients.
Eric Voegelin was a historian who undertook a massive study entitled Order and History. He was led by his studies to conclude that all human experience has a four-fold, or "quaternion" structure. This is the basis for a Field Model and a valid basis for "holistic" thought. (See also other text files here such as the unpublished manuscript with Jeff Wilson, my dissertation, and Formative Spirituality.)
All human experience can be seen through the filters of four main perspectives: physical, social (both interpersonal and systemic), subjective, and spiritual. The key to understanding this is that any change in any one area will necessarily result in some change in the other three. Thus, in order to make a change in any one area you will also have to change the other three.
The "Field Model" is a model of the human experience of reality. Tthe Field Model is a practical way of organizing our experience of ourselves and of our life. Usually, when we look at any human problem or issue, or when we conceptualize ourselves we think only in terms of two parts of ourselves: our mind and our body-- the Newtonian-Cartesian mechanistic understanding.
To use this model will keep us from being able to understand spirituality. We need to add two more things: a social and a spiritual component. We now get a picture like the one on the left.
SUBJECTIVE: This is what goes on inside of us. It would include psychological states; thoughts and emotions; memories and anticipations; dreams and fantasies. It also includes our awareness of bodily states such as hunger or pain. The subjective area is largely private. Others do not necessarily know what is happening in this area of experience unless we share it. One practical way to understand this area is to think of styles of thinking. For instance, if someone gives me the finger what goes on inside? Do I think "Ohmygod! What did I do?" or "I wonder what her problem is?".
PHYSICAL: This is the physical realm. It is our bodies and their chemical interactions. It is also our environment--the world as a whole. When we think of "health" we tend to think only of this area.
SOCIAL: This is the fact that we have to deal with each other! It is divided into two parts: interpersonal and systems. Interpersonal is how we deal with each other--our social style. For instance do you say "Shut the @#!* up!" or "Please quiet down"? Systems happen whenever people come together in a group such as a family, fraternity, workplace or society. We must always negotiate through a social system. For instance, negotiating through a university social system as a student entails going to class, getting financial aid forms in on time, studying (well, to a degree anyway) and so on.
SPIRITUAL: Well, this is what this section of the web site is about! Suffice it to say here that it is not necessarily the same as religion, but deals with purpose and meaning in life, and creativity. Soon, you will have a valid understanding.
The key to understanding the Field Model is this: any change, good or bad, in any one area will necessarily show up in the other three areas.
This is very different fromhow we usually look at ourselves. Whenever we are faced with some kind of problem, whether as individuals or as a society, our tendency is always to reduce our understanding of the problem down to just one area of the field. This rarely helps us when we must deal with life as it is actually lived, rather than as a theoretical construct. For instance, how many of you have attempted to diet or start an exercise program and failed? I know, I know, me too. You see, we tend to think that a diet or exercise program is only a question of what is happening physically--in the natural area of life. When we use the field model though, we realize that if we want to make a change in the natural area we will also need to make some changes in the other three areas.
Here are some examples of how this model works. Let us say that there is a change in the area of social systems: dad loses his job. Now, our tendency would be to reduce our understanding of this change to only the area of social systems. Dealing with this change would entail getting a resume together, looking at want ads, perhaps some new job training. But in the Field Model any change will necessarily show up in the other areas and also demand an appropriate response. Interpersonally (part of social experience) we see an increase in domestic violence and relationship problems among those who lose their jobs. Physically we see increased use of drugs such as alcohol. Subjectively we might see depression and stress. Do you begin to get the point?
Let's give another example. Suppose a woman has breast cancer. Cancer is a change in the physical area. Our tendency is to reduce our understanding of this problem to only the physical. Let's say the woman has a mastectomy. Afterwards the doctors discover that there is no more cancer. There is no need for chemotherapy or any other treatment. The woman is free to go home. "Great!" we say. "She's fixed!" But there has been a change in the physical area of experience which will show up in the other three areas and also demand some type of treatment or adjustment.
What happens subjectively? Well, the woman may now feel "less of a woman". Her thinking may become kind of paranoid--concerned with the cancer coming back. She may be depressed.
Socially, what does her husband, lover or boyfriend do? Perhaps he or she rolls over in bed, or even ends the relationship (breasts being so important in our culture). Perhaps she used to love to hang out at the pool at her apartment complex in a bikini. Now what will she do? It is not so true today, but in years past cancer was a great stigma (think of someone with HIV however). Let's say one of her close co-workers still feels this way and now no longer wants to work with this woman. How she negotiates through the social system that is her workplace will need adjusting.
Spiritually, if she is religious, she may think that the cancer and loss of her breast is a punishment from God because of some real or imagined sin. "God is against me!" she says. If humanist, she may begin to feel that life just sucks, it is unfair and pointless and so she is tempted to hopelessness and meaninglessness. The treatment of the cancer demands more than just physical treatment. It needs psychological, social and spiritual treatment as well. Get it?
The use of the field model rather than the mind-body model represents such a change in perception that it bears further discussion. The field model is much, much more than a simple collecting together of four parts of human experience. After all, that would be a mechanistic way of understanding ourselves! To see the field model as a collection of parts is not that much different than using the mind-body model. The field model represents a whole within which we distinguish certain areas. These areas do not have distinct boundaries, but interpenetrate each other. As said, the key to understanding the field model is that any change in any one area will necessarily show up in the other three areas.
This gets at the very issue of how we identify ourselves--what it is that we think we are. You see, we tend to identify what we are as only the combination of the subjective area and parts of the natural area. I mean, our experience is that "I" am somehow "in" my head and "behind" my eyes. That is subjective. In the field model we redefine the natural to include all matter. Our experience in this area is that "I" includes only my body. You know, some scientists think that this is not necessarily the way it must be. Some claim that ancient societies, and many groups today (ones we might call a "tribe") identify what they are as the combination of the natural area and the social area, rather than the subjective. That is, their very identity itself is not primarily "I", but "us"! This is quite difficult to imagine. Almost as difficult to imagine as a true and honest switch from the old mind-body model to the field model.
When we use the field model rather than the mind-body model we are saying "this is what I am". It sounds simple, but the field model is a demand for a total restructuring of perception and a restructuring of how we understand what we are ( you think I might be talking about a paradigm change?!?).
The field model actually requires its own book-length discussion. However, here are some key points about it and its use:
1) Because any change in any area will have an effect in the other three the field model is incredibly dynamic. You see, there is always change happening in some part of our life. This model would be best pictured on video that could convey the movement of changes as they travel throughout the field.
2) The field model makes us look for unforseen consequences. Whenever we are faced with, or contemplating a change in our life, or as professionals attempting to elicit and support change in others, our tendency will be to reduce our understanding to one area (which is encouraged by the mechanistic paradigm). While the change desired might be best understood as primarily in one area (i.e. dieting in the natural area) it will need changes and have repercussions in the other three. While professionals do need to specialize in one area of life (i.e. a physician/natural), and even then have a sub-specialty (such as a cardiologist), the field model keeps them from mistaking their area of specialty as the whole (as sometimes happens in psychology).
3) The very idea of human health is different in the field model. When we think of our health we tend to think only of our bodies. Health is also often understood as some strange state of physical perfection. Of course, this is impossible to achieve. It is even impossible to attempt without neglecting some other area of our life (i.e. the idea that if you did everything that is good for you you wouldn't have any fun!). In the field model health is the balance between all four areas. This means that there will always be a give and take, and an element of compromise. Plato called this balance "metaxis".
4) Clinicians these days are often described as "eclectic" in their therapeutic approaches. The field model is an incredibly useful tool to guide your sessions, organize your impressions of a particular client, and communicate your intent to the client. Younger people seem especially receptive to it and the non-reductionistic type of thinking it engenders. I think you should have a great big poster of it on the wall of your office and use it!
This is a much better way to think about our lives than the old Cartesian mind-body model. If you take any issue in your life and utilize the Field Model you will begin to see things in a vastly different way than usual. The Field Model is a practical way, and a practical tool, to understand and act holisticly.

Balance and Health Using The Field Model

The Field Model is a dynamic model that can incorporate both the Newtonian-Cartesian mechanistic aspects of experience such as is studied by the natural sciences, as well as the non-mechanistic aspects of experience such as beauty, justice, love, meaning, and so on, that are studied by the arts and human sciences.
This dynamism can be pictured in a number of ways. Meaningful social, subjective, physical and spiritual phenomena influence the whole field as is symbolized by the small spheres moving around. The individual's sense of identity-- of "I"-- can be represented by moving the figure. These two are off balance, one, in a typical Euro-American fashion, emphasizes subjective and physical experience in the manner of the individualist. The other figure, in a manner common in many other cultures, emphasizes the social aspects of experience such as family or ethnic group.
If we were to move the figure up towards the sphere representing spiritual experience we might have a nice graphic of what we could call a "holy floater!" Regardless, such imbalance results in a skewed sense of what it is to be human.

Ok. We have just one more correction and then the pieces will be in place to get our definition of spirituality. Well, there is one little catch. This next section deals with the topic of ontology!


Ontology is the study of being. You begin to get at ontology when you ask the famous question "why is there rather not nothing?". It is the mysterious fact of why is there anything at all?--and what the hell is it?!? Now wait. Before you skip this section bear with me for a little bit. Some of you are thinking "its too abstract, too esoteric, not practical". Some of you are thinking "its too heavy, too deep, too intellectual". WRONG! This is one of my pet peeves. I mean, math is abstract, until it is used to build your house. Biochemistry is abstract, until it is used to save your life. Topics such as ontology, spirituality and philosophy are very practical for everyone. They help determine--are maybe even the basis--for what you do and how you live your life. Don't let me hear you raise those complaints again.
Our ontological view of ourselves--what we think we are--hasn't changed in many, many centuries. It came out of our basic intuition that we are made up of two parts: our bodies and whatever it is that seems to leave at death. This view was reinforced by Plato, strengthened by Christian thought, and updated by Descartes. It results in our automatic use of the mind-body model. However, in the first half of this century someone brilliantly challenged Descartes.
Heidegger wrote a profound book called Being and Time. He begins this work of genius by saying that true ontological thought had not really been done since Plato. Heidegger did not like Descartes, to say the least. In fact, his work begins with the promise that he will demolish Cartesian thought. Descartes leads us to think that there are two parts of reality: things in the world, and us. We tend to experience the world and think of it as something "out there" while I am "inside". It is "not me". Two separate parts: a development from the mind-body model. Heidegger said that this is not true.
Now wait though! Other people have also said the same. BUT! They would say it isn't true because the stuff that seems "out there" is only a projection of my mind. In philosophy this is called "idealism". Another group of people go the opposite way. They say there is no mind--it is only a result of chemical interactions. This is more popular today and is called "materialism".
Heidegger said that very way of looking at it is all wrong. You simply can't have the "mind" part without the "stuff out there" part and you can't have the "stuff out there part" with out the "mind" part. You can not just have "the thing that spews lava occasionally" without also, always, at the same time, having an "angry god" or "plate tectonics" and vice versa.You cannot have "things" without also having something that knows them. You can't have knowledge without things to know. We have already learned that our knowledge of things is always understood through the filter of a paradigm. We interpret things and events that appear to us.
Heidegger says that there is a type of creature where things in the world and interpretations of what those things are comes together. It is called a "dasein". A dasein combines, no--is the combination of real events in the world with the meaningful interpretation--the "knowledge"--of what they are.
Heidegger inquired about what we are. What he came up with was that we are a particular type of creature called a "dasein" which means "the there-being". What Heidegger means by this is that we are always there, in a world full of real things that then must be given some kind of meaning. The key here is that there is no world without a meaningful interpretation and there is no meaningful interpretation without a world. We are the "creature-that-interprets". Homo hermeneuticus.
So, for instance, a volcano is a real event in the world. A dasein is the creature that combines this with a meaningful interpretation such as "angry god" or "a mechanistic result of geology and plate tectonics". The things in the world and our interpretations are not two separate, mechanistic parts. They are one whole thing. You can't have one without the other. They are not two interacting parts. They are two sides of the same coin.
In general, most people interpret the world according to how they have been taught to interpret it. Daseins though, do have a small degree of freedom to choose how to interpret events. For instance, if you have a fight with your best friend how will you interpret it? What will it mean to you? Was she just having a bad day? Maybe he has the flu? Maybe you did something to anger her? Perhaps he has found someone he likes better and doesn't want to be your friend anymore? How will you interpret the fight? Only a dasein has such an ability to choose what things will mean. If you were abused as a child does that mean "you have an excuse", "need help", or "it doesn't matter now"? Everything we experience is a combination of real things and what they mean to us.
We never know things in themselves, as they actually are. We only know our meaningful interpretations of things, and we have some freedom to change interpretations. We interpret in ways no other animal displays. Other animals do not appear to be daseins. Their interpretation of events in the world appears to be solely a result of genetic programming and training (think of pet tricks). Basically, for animals that are not dasein, things are either "safe" or "not safe", "comfortable" or "not comfortable". Daseins, however, are not so constrained.
We live in a world of quarks and neutrons, pulsars and black holes. Other animals only have comfort, hunger, and such. Our relationships with others of our kind have frustration, justice, love, hate and infinite gradations of thought and feeling. Other animals have attraction or avoidance. We manipulate the natural world in unbelievable ways. I mean, we don't react to the moon by howling. We build a ship and go there! We display evidence of reflective awareness of our own existence and non-existence in monuments and art that is not seen in any other animal. We are distinct and unique. We are dasein.
Did you notice how some of the above followed our field model: social, physical and subjective? Are you wondering where the spiritual is? Well, now we are ready to put the pieces together. I know this was tough. You might want to read the above paragraphs a couple of times.


Identifying spirituality as an aspect of everyday human experience-- just like physical, social and subjective experience-- is astoundingly simple. Once it is pointed out most people have little difficulty understanding it. It has to do with our awareness of what I, following Adrian van Kaam, call mystery. (We could also call it transcendent, or the parts of reality that are always beyond our perception or comprehension. It is simply the fact that reality is more than us.)
This awareness of mystery appears or is indicated through our everyday bio-psycho-social experiences. We can picture this using a Field Model.

For instance, you can be married for years, talking and sharing all the time, but you will never fully know the other person completely. You encounter or become aware of mystery by means of social experience. Likewise, you can spend years in self reflection, introspection, counseling and analysis. You will never find the "I." You encounter or become aware of the mystery of reality by means of subjective experience. We also come up against mystery when we seek to apply our powers of reason and understanding to the physical world such as during scientific research. Mystery is the primordial human experience and underlies all specific experiences.
Thus, some write that "Mystery is the best name for Reality. It indicates not an absence, but an overabundance."
We experience reality as a mystery (if we foster the awareness) because reality presents us with an over-abundance of information. The complexity of reality-- the reason we utilize a Field Model of the human-- goes beyond our abilities to comprehend. Thus, by "mystery" we are indicating not an absence, but an over-abundance. Reality is just too much!

We can now define spirit and spirituality:
The human spirit is that capacity to be aware of, and respond to reality-as-mystery.
Human spirituality is the practice of, and application of skills that increase awareness of reality-as-mystery, and improves response to that awareness such that positive consequences are observed physically, subjectively and socially.
Spirituality is distinct from psychology or sociology
The mystery in and of itself is not something that is known. That is, it is totally transcendent. As a physicist does not conceptualize atoms as little "things" or particles, so too when we discuss the mystery we are not talking about a "thing." Atoms are understood as mathematical probabilities. The mystery is understood as what "lies behind," or is implied by actual events: physical, social and subjective.
People always interpret the awareness of mystery-- try to say what it is. This is what gives rise to religious traditions.
There are but a few combinations of interpretations of what the mystery actually is. The mystery is interpreted as benevolenthostile, or indifferentpersonal or impersonal, in relation to human life and its quest for fulfillment. In general, regardless of what we say we believe, we tend to act out of a combination of these interpretations-- called a "hermeneutic of the mystery."
No matter how much we learn, how great our understanding, we are always and forever surrounded by mystery. When the scientist says something to the effect that for every new answer there are numerous new questions he is indicating the pervasiveness of the mystery. Exactly what constitutes a boundary or limit for our understanding may change and fluctuate. What is indicated by the presence of boundaries and limits in human experience--the mystery--does not. With our awareness focused on this aspect of human experience we are enabled to understand religious language.
Do you grasp the enormous consequences of this? That we never really know anything? That we only have our interpretations? That our basic, primal, foundational experience is of a bald, naked mystery? How do you justify everything you do, how you react to what others do and how you live your life? What real, true reasons can you really give? Think of "mystery". It is a not knowing. It can elicit a lot of anxiety, anticipation, suspense. You experience mystery when a loved one is late coming home. When you wait for that important decision that's in the mail. You feel it when they draw the daily number. What about the mystery of evil? Is it evil, or just how we interpret it?? This is our reality. How are you going to deal with it? How you deal with it is your religion.
Now, for real, can't you relate to everything up to this point? It really makes sense to me. I can see it in my own life as it is actually lived. Cause you see, this reality and how we deal with it is what spirituality is all about. Ready? Here goes.
1) We are dasein. We are the combination of real events in the world with their meaningful interpretation. This distinguishes us from the other animals.
2) We always interpret through the filter of a paradigm. Paradigms and interpretations change. We do not have knowledge of things, others or ourselves in the strict sense--only interpretations of how they appear to us.
3) Because we only have interpretations we are able to see that our essential experience of life and of reality is an experience of overwhelming mystery. "Mystery is the best name for reality."
4) Mystery is always something profoundly unknown. However, because we are dasein we must interpret. This means we can never experience mystery as mystery. We can only experience our interpretations of it. The mystery always represents something that is beyond me.
The human spirit is that ability to be aware of this mystery as something always beyond me, recognizing it as Reality, and responding to it. Our reality is not just the natural search for food and shelter. It is not just the subjective search for fulfillment. It is not just our social search for community. It is also the search to not have life be a mystery. It is the spiritual search to go beyond the insecurity of interpretations into knowing. It is our spirit that wants to eat from the tree of knowledge--to know good and evil. The human spirit is that part of ourselves that primarily deals with this mystery that is reality. How well or how poorly we deal with it is the function of spirituality. Spirituality is the degree of ease with which I reinterpret events such that I become increasingly healthy and able in all four areas of life.
We can observe the functioning of the human spirit in a disciplined way. Spirituality is a skill and an art that can be developed. Just like we all have and use muscles, but some of us go to the gym to pump them up. So, too, we all have and use our spirituality, but we can strengthen it.
Why bother you say? Hey! Don't you say people should "deal with reality"? How about those who choose to "escape" from reality? If you aren't in touch with reality isn't that saying you are crazy? Get real! Spirituality is important!

Components of Religions

Spirituality is that area of human experience that treats of our awareness of, and response to the mystery of reality. In that we are potentially aware of this mystery by means of everything we experience our spirituality is of foundational importance to healthy human being. With this clear and I maintain, valid, definition we can begin to develop methods of religio-spiritual growth, as well as methods of assessing religio-spiritual health.
Many people stifle awareness of the mystery. It elicits a deep and primal sense of insecurity. The mystery of reality "goes beyond" us and what we know-- it transcends us. To the degree that you are aware of the mystery of reality as mystery you are aware of the Transcendent. Many people also mistake the religio-spiritual talk about the Transcendent-- that is, theology-- with the reality itself.

The Interpretation of the Transcendent and the possibility of revelation.

Assuming that one is even aware of the mystery of reality as a mystery we discover that there is always a basic, foundational interpretation of the Transcendent-- a statement about what it is. This takes only a few basic forms: the Transcendent can be interpreted as personal or impersonal, and then benevolent, indifferent or hostile to human fulfillment. THERE IS NO WAY TO PROVE THE TRUTH OF AN INTERPETATION OF THAT WHICH TRANSCENDS US. This is the realm of faith, pure and simple.
The importance of interpretation leads us into the field of "hermeneutics" which deals with how we interpret meaning. Hermeneutics has a foundational impact on just about everything we think we know. It is a main element in all art and science and has center stage in the post-modern consciousness.
So, if I choose a faith that calls the mystery "God" I'm intepreting that which is transcendent to me as personal and benevolent-- (even my use of, and capitalization of the word is already a couple of interpretive steps). A Taoist could be said to interpret the mystery as impersonal and indifferent to his fulfillment. A suicide interprets the mystery as hostile to his or her life project.
The three Abrahamic traditions claim that Revelation happened. That is, that which transcends us itself somehow communicated to us what it "is." According to these traditions, the mystery revealed itself as both personal and benevolent: God-- what we experience as mystery is not that "which" transcends us, but "Who" transcends us. There is no way to prove that Revelation really happened. It is a faith statement, pure and simple.

Scriptures: texts that relate foundational interpretations of reality-as-mystery.

Basic hermeneutic possiblities regarding the mystery are contained in texts we might call "Scriptures" such as the Baghavad Gita, Tao Te Ching, the Torah, the New Testament, and the Qur'an.
These texts make statements about what appears to us as the mystery of reality-- they provide a hermeneutic. They attempt to raise awareness of the mystery of reality. They claim that the transcedent is of foundational and ultimate importance to human life. They also provide guidelines for the proper behavioral response to the transcendent mystery as it is interpreted in the Scriptural text.
Now, every text must also be interpreted....
For instance, let us say we have a poem describing a tree and an excerpt from a biology textbook describing a tree. Imagine what each would say about the tree-- how would each text describe the tree? Would there be a certain tone or feeling particular to each? What types of words would they use? If you read each aloud would your voice have a different cadence and rhythm?
Now, having imagined these texts..... is each description true? Do both the poem and the biology text describe the reality that is the tree? I would say yes. Wouldn't you?
BUT--- they are two different literary genres-- both are true, but in different ways based on the genre. Now, imagine this: you read the poem thinking it is to be used as a biology text and you read the biology text thinking it is a poem. NOW are they true? Ack! You sure wouldn't want your kid to be reading poetry when he or she is supposed to learn biology. And you sure wouldn't want to read a poem that reads like a textbook! You need to pay attention to the literary genre to interpret the text correctly--get the truth about reality it contains.
This is the case for ANY text: book, magazine, usenet post...... Scripture.
Scriptures are texts of a particular literary genre-- that genre pertaining to human spirituality-- awarness of and response to the mystery. If you forget that the Scripture is talking about the mystery-- thus making a confusion of genre-- you will misinterpret the text. If you yourself have a low level of awareness of the mystery you may even forget what the Scripture is about-- and make some really big hermeneutical errors.

Dogma and mysticism; fundamentalism and gnosticism.

These are mistakes of interpretation of the text.
Fundamentalism: thinking all meaning, all valid interpretation, is contained in the "surface" of the text-- a fear of discourse that is overly symbolic, metaphorical, or imaginative.
Gnosticism: thinking all significant meaning is "hidden" in the text-- a rejection of actual phenomenon for a hermeneutical "floating off" into imaginative interpretation. "Only a select few can understand the Scripture."
Dogma arises from the fact that we are trying to talk about what can't really be talked about! The text itself is about mystery and so, in reality nothing can be said about the transcendent that does not immediately violate the reality of the experience-- and yet we must talk about it.
If we mistake our traditions' dogma about the mystery for the actual awareness of the transcendent mystery we have made a very big mistake.
We must remain "mystery-centered"-- that is, be mystics. However-- in that we have to talk about the reality of this we can't go floating off into mystic "space." Dogma can keep one grounded in actual phenomenal reality, but if we become dogmatic we lose sight of the whole subject of our religio-spiritual exertions. A dogmatist is a person who has mistaken his or her tradition's talk about God for God's transcendent reality.
So, we have
1) the human experience of reality-as-mystery
2) claims of revelation (or not)
3) Scriptures about all this
4) interpretations of the Scriptures
A religious tradition is comprised of faith statements about the mystery (personal, impersonal; benevolent, indifferent or hostile.) and behavioral guidelines (commands?) based upon that basic hermeneutic schema.
In this schema of religio-spirituality it is quite possible to be highly religious, but with a low level of spiritual development (one's awareness of and response to the mystery). Likewise, it is possible to be outside of a formal religious tradition but be spiritually quite healthy.

(See also other text files such as the early book with Jeff Wilson, my dissertation, and Formative Spirituality.)

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