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Consciousness

Scientists Show How Gratitude Literally Alters The Human Heart & Molecular Structure Of The Brain

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In Brief

  • The Facts:

    Scientists have discovered that feelings of gratitude can actually change your brain. Feeling gratitude can also be a great tool for overcoming depression and anxiety. Furthermore, scientists have discovered that the heart sends signals to the brain.

  • Reflect On:

    Every time we struggle with depression, why are we constantly encouraged to take prescription medication when mindfulness techniques actually show more promise?

Gratitude is a funny thing. In some parts of the world, somebody who gets a clean drink of water, some food, or a worn out pair of shoes can be extremely grateful. Meanwhile, somebody else who has all the necessities they need to live can be found complaining about something. What we have today is what we once wanted before, but there is a lingering belief out there that obtaining material possessions is the key to happiness. Sure, this may be true, but that happiness is temporary. The truth is that happiness is an inside job.

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It’s a matter of perspective, and in a world where we are constantly made to feel like we are lacking and always ‘wanting’ more, it can be difficult to achieve or experience actual happiness. Many of us are always looking toward external factors to experience joy and happiness, when really it’s all related to internal work. This is something science is just starting to grasp as well, as shown by research coming out of UCLA’s Mindfulness Awareness Research Center. According to them:

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Having an attitude of gratitude changes the molecular structure of the brain, keeps gray matter functioning, and makes us healthier and happier. When you feel happiness, the central nervous system is affected. You are more peaceful, less reactive and less resistant. Now that’s a really cool way of taking care of your well-being.

There are many studies showing that people who count their blessings tend to be far happier and experience less depression.  For one study,  researchers recruited people with mental health difficulties, including people suffering from anxiety and depression. The study involved nearly 300 adults who were randomly divided into three groups. This study came from the University of California, Berkeley.

All groups received counselling services, but the first group was also instructed to write one letter of gratitude to another person every week for three weeks, whereas the second group was asked to write about their deepest thoughts and feelings about negative experiences. The third group did not do any writing activity.

What did they find? Compared to the participants who wrote about negative experiences or only received counselling, those who wrote gratitude letters reported significantly better mental health for up to 12 weeks after the writing exercise ended.

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This suggests that gratitude writing can be beneficial not just for healthy, well-adjusted individuals, but also for those who struggle with mental health concerns. In fact, it seems, practicing gratitude on top of receiving psychological counseling carries greater benefits than counseling alone, even when that gratitude practice is brief. (source)

Previously, a study on gratitude conducted by Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D. at the University of California, Davis and his colleague Mike McCullough at the University of Miami randomly assigned participants to be given one of three tasks. Each week, participants kept a short journal. One group described five things they were grateful for that had occurred in the past week, another group recorded daily troubles from the previous week that displeased them, and the neutral group was asked to list five events or circumstances that affected them, but they were not told whether to focus on the positive or the negative. Ten weeks later, participants in the gratitude group felt better about their lives as a whole and were a full 25 percent happier than the troubled group. They reported fewer health complaints and exercised an average of 1.5 hours more. (source)

Researchers from Berkeley identified how gratitude might actually work on our minds and bodies. They provided four insights from their research suggesting what causes the psychological benefits of gratitude.

  • Gratitude unshackles us from toxic emotions
  • Gratitude helps even if you don’t share it
  • Gratitude’s benefits take time & practice. You might not feel it right away.
  • Gratitude has lasting effects on the brain

The brain part is very interesting. The researchers at Berkeley used an fMRI scanner to measure brain activity while people from each group did a “pay it forward” task.  During the task, the participants were given money by a “nice person.” This person’s only request was that they pass on the money to someone if they felt grateful.

They did this because they wanted to distinguish between actions motivated by gratitude and actions driven by other motivations like obligation, guilt, or what other people think. This is important because you can’t fake gratitude, you actually have to feel it. If you don’t feel grateful or practice trying to feel grateful by taking the necessary steps like keeping a gratitude journal, you may not experience as much joy and happiness.

In a world where emotions aren’t really taught in school and the importance is put on striving for high grades, it’s not abnormal to have difficulty feeling grateful. This is especially understandable if you’ve been brought up in the western world, which is full of consumerism and competition, a world where we’re constantly made to feel we are lacking so we need to strive for more.

Participants were asked to rate how grateful they felt toward the person giving them the money and how much they wanted to pay it forward to a charitable cause as well as how guilty they thought they would feel if they didn’t help.  They were also given questionnaires to measure how grateful they felt in general.

We found that across the participants, when people felt more grateful, their brain activity was distinct from brain activity related to guilt and the desire to help a cause. More specifically, we found that when people who are generally more grateful gave more money to a cause, they showed greater neural sensitivity in the medial prefrontal cortex, a brain area associated with learning and decision making. This suggests that people who are more grateful are also more attentive to how they express gratitude.

Most interestingly, when we compared those who wrote the gratitude letters with those who didn’t, the gratitude letter writers showed greater activation in the medial prefrontal cortex when they experienced gratitude in the fMRI scanner. This is striking as this effect was found three months after the letter writing began. This indicates that simply expressing gratitude may have lasting effects on the brain. While not conclusive, this finding suggests that practicing gratitude may help train the brain to be more sensitive to the experience of gratitude down the line, and this could contribute to improved mental health over time.

It’s also interesting to note that a recent study just discovered a brain network that “gives rise to feelings of gratitude. The study could spur future investigations into how these ‘building blocks’ transform social information into complex emotions.” (source)

What About The Heart?

The work and research above is great, but where do we actually experience these feelings? They are clearly not a product of our brain, they are products of our consciousness, and when we feel them the brain responds.  Researchers are now discovering that the heart also responds and that it might actually be the heart that’s responsible for sending these signals to the brain.

A group of prestigious and internationally recognized leaders in physics, biophysics, astrophysics, education, mathematics, engineering, cardiology, biofeedback, and psychology (among other disciplines) have been doing some brilliant work over at the Institute of HeartMath.

Their work, among many others, has proven that when a person is feeling really positive emotions like gratitude, love, or appreciation, the heart beats out a different message, which determines what kind of signals are sent to the brain.

Not only that, but because the heart beats out the largest electromagnetic field produced in the body, the Institute has been able to gather a significant amount of data.

According to Rolin McCratey, Ph.D, and Director of Research at Heartmath,

“Emotional information is actually coded and modulated into these fields. By learning to shift our emotions, we are changing the information coded into the magnetic fields that are radiated by the heart, and that can impact those around us. We are fundamentally and deeply connected with each other and the planet itself.” (source)

Another great point made below by the Institute:

“One important way the heart can speak to and influence the brain is when the heart is coherent – experiencing stable, sine-wavelike pattern in its rhythms. When the heart is coherent, the body, including the brain, begins to experience all sorts of benefits, among them are greater mental clarity and ability, including better decision making.” (source)

In fact, the heart actually sends more signals to the brain than the brain sends in return. What’s even more amusing is the fact that these heart signals (from heart to brain) actually have a significant effect on brain function.

Research findings have shown that as we practice heart coherence and radiate love and compassion, our heart generates a coherent electromagnetic wave into the local field environment that facilitates social coherence, whether in the home, workplace, classroom or sitting around a table. As more individuals radiate heart coherence, it builds an energetic field that makes it easier for others to connect with their heart. So, theoretically it is possible that enough people building individual and social coherence could actually contribute to an unfolding global coherence. –  McCratey

So far, the researchers have discovered that the heart communicates with the brain and body in four ways: neurological communication (nervous system), biophysical communication (pulse wave), biochemical communication (hormones), and energetic communication (electromagnetic fields).

“HeartMath research has demonstrated that different patterns of heart activity (which accompany different emotional states) have distinct effects on cognitive and emotional function. During stress and negative emotions, when the heart rhythm pattern is erratic and disordered, the corresponding pattern of neural signals traveling from the heart to the brain inhibits higher cognitive function. This limits our ability to think clearly, remember, learn, reason, and make effective decisions. In contrast, the more ordered and stable pattern of the heart’s input to the brain during positive emotional states has the opposite effect. It facilitates cognitive function and reinforces positive feelings and emotional stability.” (source)

Gratitude and Positive Feelings Can Change The World

It gets deeper:

Every individual’s energy affects the collective field environment. The means each person’s emotions and intentions generate an energy that affects the field. A first step in diffusing societal stress in the global field is for each of us to take personal responsibility for our own energies. We can do this by increasing our personal coherence and raising our vibratory rate, which helps us become more conscious of the thoughts, feelings, and attitudes that we are feeding the field each day. We have a choice in every moment to take to heart the significance of intentionally managing our energies. This is the free will or local freedom that can create global cohesion. – Dr. Deborah Rozman, the President of Quantum Intech (source)

Overall, this type of work suggests that human consciousness in general can change the world.

One study, for example, was done during the Israel-Lebanon war in the 1980s. Two Harvard University professors organized groups of experienced meditators in Jerusalem, Yugoslavia and the United Sates and asked them to focus their attention on the area of conflict at various intervals over a 27-month period. Over the course of the study, the levels of violence in Lebanon decreased between 40 and 80 percent each time a meditating group was in place. The average number of people killed during the war each day dropped from 12 to three, and war-related injuries fell by 70 percent. (source)

Another great example is a study that was conducted in 1993 in Washington, D.C., which showed a 25 percent drop in crime rates when 2,500 meditators meditated during a specific period of time with that intention.

This type of information is heavily correlated with quantum physics, as many experiments in that area as well as parapsychology (telepathy, remote viewing, distant healing) indicate similar findings. (source)

This holds true as far back as 1999. Statistics professor Jessica Utts at UC Irvine published a paper showing that parapsychological experiments have produced much stronger results than those showing a daily dose of aspirin helps prevent heart attacks. Utts also showed that these results are much stronger than the research behind various drugs like antiplatelets.

This type of work has statistically significant implications, yet is heavily ignored and labelled as pseudoscience simply because it conflicts with long-held beliefs we have trouble letting go of … But times are changing.

“For many years I have worked with researchers doing very careful work [in parapsychology], including a year that I spent full-time working on a classified project for the United States government, to see if we could use these abilities for intelligence gathering during the Cold War… At the end of that project I wrote a report for Congress, stating what I still think is true. The data in support of precognition and possibly other related phenomena are quite strong statistically, and would be widely accepted if it pertained to something more mundane. Yet, most scientists reject the possible reality of these abilities without ever looking at data! And on the other extreme, there are true believers who base their beliefs solely on anecdotes and personal experience. I have asked debunkers if there is any amount of data that would convince them, and they generally have responded by saying, “probably not.” I ask them what original research they have read, and they mostly admit that they haven’t read any. Now there is a definition of pseudo-science-basing conclusions on belief rather than data!” – Utts, Chair of the Statistics Department, UC Irvine (Dean Radin, Real Magic)

The Takeaway

Emotions and other factors associated with consciousness have the power to transform our inner world in ways we don’t fully understand yet. These findings show how consciousness can actually transform the physical/material world, and that’s huge. This validates the idea that if we can change our inner world through gratitude, empathy, compassion, and meditation, we can make our outer world more peaceful.

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Consciousness

How To Stay Present & Calm Throughout The Day

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In Brief

  • The Facts:

    A simple process to bring you back to presence and freedom throughout the day.

  • Reflect On:

    Can we expect our world to change if we don't change our inner states of everyday being?w

Do you notice yourself feeling tense shoulders? A cleansed jaw? Perhaps you’re holding your breath in some ways and you don’t even know it? Maybe you feel a clenched tummy from time to time and have tricky digestion. You might notice yourself rushing through life, tasks, wanting to get to the next thing. You may not be paying full attention to your life and everything feels like autopilot.

If this is the case, you’re not alone.

This is a very calm state of being for most people in highly developed countries who are living the ‘average everyday life.’ You wake up, go to your job, work all day, come home and then either veg out or spend time with family and go to sleep. This is the ‘modern life’ that we have accepted as ‘ a good life’ and yet almost every aspect of it presents a challenge to our health and well being. But, at this time, money is required to live our lives, and so we must play within this system in some way or another as we actively change it.

The good news is, you have ultimate freedom within yourself to perceive your reality as you wish to perceive it. When we are unconscious, or allowing our programmed states of being to run our lives, we typically move through life on autopilot, moving from one habit to another.  However, when we begin to gain presence, and pull ourselves out of all these unconscious habits, we begin to gain some freedom back. This builds over time.

Before we get to the exercise, I want to add that for those that pay a lot of attention to the news and media side of our work here at CE, using these practices to gain more presence and self-awareness in your life will play deeply into the CE Protocol which is designed to help us gain more clarity on what’s happening in the world, and be an active part of changing it. Skipping the personal transformation end of our journeys only holds us in our current state of being and understanding.

A Simple Process

One powerful thing you can do to begin seeing the subtleties in life, noticing the magic and incredible beauty around you and within you at all times is going back to the breath. Combine that with a few processes in releasing tension and getting into your heart, and you’ll truly begin waking up to who you truly are on a daily basis. The best part is, this muscle grows with time, the more you practice, the more present you become, and the more your monkey mind goes into the passenger seat instead of the driver seat.

Approx time needed: 5 mins

1. There are two ways to initiate the exercise, either you do it when you notice yourself tense or not present, or you set an alarm that goes off about 6 times per day. If you choose the first method, you want to know that your awareness already catches yourself about 6 times a day so you can make sure you are doing this enough.

2. When the alarm goes off, or when you notice yourself, stop what you are doing and take a couple of deep breaths. In through the nose and out through the mouth. Do this slowly and controlled. Nothing too fast and nothing too out of control.

3. After about 2 to 5 breaths, allow yourself to breathe normally, making sure it is still through the nose. Begin to say within yourself. ‘I am releasing all tension in my head, my neck, my shoulders, my jaw, my stomach, my fists, and my legs.” This is like a mini mantra if you will, but don’t take it too seriously in that it has to be said any particular way. You’re simply noticing and instructing the body to relax.

4. After you have gone through the releasing, and you notice your body is more relaxed and your breathing has brought you back to the moment. Sense yourself in your chair or where you stand. Feel the air around you, notice any breezes on your skin or any scents that you smell. Notice all the various sounds around you, not focusing on anyone or feeling any as a distraction, but noticing them and allowing them to be. This is presence, while in this state. Noticing.

If you happen to have any rampant thoughts or feelings of stress arise during this at any point, simply notice it and say within yourself “OK stress or OK task I have to complete, I see you, I will take care of you momentarily” and allow it to pass.

5. Once in presence, turn your attention to the area of your sternum, the heart centre. You may put your hand or fingers on this area, and simply focus your attention on this space. See your awareness moving into this space as if you yourself are moving from your mind to your heart. However that looks or feels to you is OK. It doesn’t have to be anything mystical. This is a common mistake of overcomplicating simple methods.

6. Finally, allow yourself to be in that space for as long as you like. 1 min, 10 mins, whatever works. Usually I say this exercise is meant to be done as a check-in for about 5 mins.

Repeat this each time your alarm goes off or when you notice yourself tense. Through this, you are gaining more awareness of self more regularly. You are also beginning to realize you have a lot more control over your state of being than once thought. This is a key step to emotional freedom. In this space, your mind does not run you, nor do your emotions.

Bonus: As an extended tip, once you gain a sense of what that short meditation felt like. Even if you notice yourself for a moment 20 or 30 minutes later being tense, just take one deep breath and recall the energy and feeling of your meditation.

The Takeaway

When will things like full disclosure happen, or big changes in our world? When people focus deeply enough on personal transformation that our consciousness becomes ready to hear what’s being hidden and becomes ready for a world that is grounded in a state of peace, love, and freedom as opposed to monkey mind behavior.

 

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Consciousness

Brené Brown Explains The Crucial Difference Between Sympathy & Empathy

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In Brief

  • The Facts:

    There is a difference between sympathy and empathy — although many of us don't realize it, in an attempt to help we may unknowingly be making things worse for our loved ones.

  • Reflect On:

    When someone is hurting, we often try to "fix" the situation. What if we just sat with others who are struggling . and allow them to feel their feelings and offer them the space to do so?

For the most part we strive to be there for our friends and family members during difficult times. However we don’t always realize that in an effort to assist, often using positive reinforcement, or comparison techniques we might actually be making things worse. Sometimes, we are unintentionally showing up in all the wrong ways for our loved ones. It’s important to know the difference between sympathy and empathy and how these reactions could either create more pain from unmet needs for those who are struggling or allow the space for a deeper connection and understanding by offering the space to others to feel their feelings.

Brené Brown is an expert on the topics of vulnerability, shame, courage and empathy. She has written 5 New York Times Bestsellers and offers us all a deeper insight to the potential for much deeper authentic connection with others and to ourselves as well. The following video contains a cute little cartoon paired up with Brené’s words describing the difference between sympathy and empathy.

Sympathy Vs. Empathy


“I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.” ~ Brené Brown

It’s funny how we think we are being helpful, but as it turns out we are unknowingly brushing off the feelings of others. Offering sympathy instead of empathy is similar to when we tell people to “think positive,” as it bypasses actually allowing ourselves to feel our emotions. When our loved ones are having a hard time with something, we are quick to try and fix or change the situation instead of just allowing it to be.

It’s as if we are all just so afraid of letting the pain be there, that we try to brush it off as quickly as possible. Unfortunately as described in the video, this isn’t actually helping, but providing a temporary band-aid instead. In turn, the people who are in pain often don’t feel emotionally met and can feel even more upset, even though they know you have good intentions. To be fair, for the most part we haven’t been taught these emotional skills so many of us are lacking in that department.

The Importance Of Feeling Our Feelings

This is a good reminder to not only allow others the space to feel their feelings without trying to change them, but for yourself as well — to give yourself the time and space that you need to feel what’s happening inside of you.

If something comes up, and emotion is starting to build up inside of you, instead of grabbing your phone, eating something, or using a substance — try feeling it fully instead! It can be very helpful to label the emotion you’re feeling, i.e. I feel hurt right now.

Then feel it, feel it fully, cry if you need to, feel where it hurts in your body, do whatever you need to do to allow yourself to actually feel the emotion.It will help to process and release it, that way you won’t have to hold onto it, or store it in your body.

As a good friend once told me,

“See what there is to see, feel what there is to feel and you will heal. “

This might sound simple, and that’s because it is! It’s a lot easier to process and feel our emotions than to stuff them down and ignore them, which inevitably will cause more pain and suffering down the road.

Feeling our feelings, who would have thought? 😉

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Alternative News

Our Biology Responds To Events Before They Even Happen

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In Brief

  • The Facts:

    Multiple experiments have shown strong evidence for precognition in several different ways. One of them comes in the form of activity within the heart and the brain responding to events before they even happen.

  • Reflect On:

    Do we have extra human capacities we are unaware of? Perhaps we can learn them, develop them, and use them for good. Perhaps when the human race is ready, we will start learning more.

Is precognition real? There are many examples suggesting that yes, it is. The remote viewing program conducted by the CIA in conjunction with Stanford University was a good example of that.  After its declassification in 1995, or at least partial declassification, the Department of Defense and those involved revealed an exceptionally high success rate:

To summarize, over the years, the back-and-forth criticism of protocols, refinement of methods, and successful replication of this type of remote viewing in independent laboratories has yielded considerable scientific evidence for the reality of the (remote viewing) phenomenon. Adding to the strength of these results was the discovery that a growing number of individuals could be found to demonstrate high-quality remote viewing, often to their own surprise… The development of this capability at SRI has evolved to the point where visiting CIA personnel with no previous exposure to such concepts have performed well under controlled laboratory conditions. (source)

The kicker? Part of remote viewing involves peering into future events as well as events that happened in the past.

It’s not only within the Department of Defense that we find this stuff, but a lot of science is emerging on this subject as well.

For example, a study (meta analysis) published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience titled “Predicting the unpredictable: critical analysis and practical implications of predictive anticipatory activity” examined a number of experiments regarding this phenomenon that were conducted by several different laboratories. These experiments indicate that the human body can actually detect randomly delivered stimuli that occur 1-10 seconds in advance. In other words, the human body seems to know of an event and reacts to the event before it has occurred. What occurs in the human body before these events are physiological changes that are measured regarding the cardiopulmonary, the skin, and the nervous system.

A few years ago, the chief scientist at the Institute of Noetic Sciences, Dr. Dean Radin, visited the scientists over at HearthMath Institute and shared the results of one of his studies. Radin is also one of multiple scientists who authored the paper above. These studies, as mentioned above, tracked the autonomic nervous system, physiological changes, etc.

Scientists at HeartMath Institute (HMI) added more protocols, which included measuring participants’ brain waves (EEG), their hearts’ electrical activity (ECG), and their heart rate variability (HRV).

As HMI explains:

Twenty-six adults experienced in using HeartMath techniques and who could sustain a heart-coherent state completed two rounds of study protocols approximately two weeks apart. Half of the participants completed the protocols after they intentionally achieved a heart-coherent state for 10 minutes. The other half completed the same procedures without first achieving heart coherence. Then they reversed the process for the second round of monitoring, with the first group not becoming heart-coherent before completing the protocols and the second group becoming heart-coherent before. The point was to test whether heart coherence affected the results of the experiment.

Participants were told the study’s purpose was to test stress reactions and were unaware of its actual purpose. (This practice meets institutional-review-board standards.) Each participant sat at a computer and was instructed to click a mouse when ready to begin.

The screen stayed blank for six seconds. The participant’s physiological data was recorded by a special software program, and then, one by one, a series of 45 pictures was displayed on the screen. Each picture, displayed for 3 seconds, evoked either a strong emotional reaction or a calm state. After each picture, the screen went blank for 10 seconds. Participants repeated this process for all 45 pictures, 30 of which were known to evoke a calm response and 15 a strong emotional response.

The Results

The results of the experiment were fascinating to say the least. The participants’ brains and hearts responded to information about the emotional quality of the pictures before the computer flashed them (random selection). This means that the heart and brain were both responding to future events. The results indicated that the responses happened, on average, 4.8 seconds before the computer selected the pictures.

How mind-altering is that?

Even more profound, perhaps, was data showing the heart received information before the brain. “It is first registered from the heart,” Rollin McCraty Ph.D. explained, “then up to the brain (emotional and pre-frontal cortex), where we can logically relate what we are intuiting, then finally down to the gut (or where something stirs).”

Another significant study (meta-analysis) that was published in Journal of Parapsychology by Charles Honorton and Diane C. Ferrari in 1989 examined a number of studies that were published between 1935 and 1987. The studies involved individuals’ attempts to predict “the identity of target stimuli selected randomly over intervals ranging from several hundred million seconds to one year following the individuals responses.” These authors investigated over 300 studies conducted by over 60 authors, using approximately 2 million individual trials by more than 50,000 people. (source)

It concluded that their analysis of precognition experiments “confirms the existence of a small but highly significant precognition effect. The effect appears to be repeatable; significant outcomes are reported by 40 investigators using a variety of methodological paradigms and subject populations. The precognition effect is not merely an unexplained departure from a theoretical chance baseline, but rather is an effect that covaries with factors known to influence more familiar aspects of human performance.” (source)

The Takeaway

“There seems to be a deep concern that the whole field will be tarnished by studying a phenomenon that is tainted by its association with superstition, spiritualism and magic. Protecting against this possibility sometimes seems more important than encouraging scientific exploration or protecting academic freedom. But this may be changing.”
 Cassandra Vieten, PhD and President/CEO at the Institute of Noetic Sciences (source)

We are living in a day and age where new information and evidence are constantly emerging, challenging what we once thought was real or what we think we know about ourselves as human beings.  It’s best to keep an open mind. Perhaps there are aspects of ourselves and our consciousness that have yet to be discovered. Perhaps if we learn and grow from these studies, they can help us better ourselves and others.

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