The Sources of Suffering and Meditation for Cultivating Self-Compassion

I have talked about self-compassion and how powerful it can be in relieving suffering. It is not the answer to all suffering but it goes long way towards helping us to live well and flourish.

Sources of Suffering


There are numerous sources of suffering and here’s one way of categorizing them: –

1.It could be physical, such as when we continue to eat even after we are full, or when we drink too much and then get a hang over the next morning or when we spend hours surfing the internet sitting and getting a backache.

2. It could be mental, when we have thoughts of ill will towards ourselves or others or when we ruminate about something.

3. It could be emotional, when we feel depressed, sad, angry or fearful.

4.It could be relational, when we are unable to connect with others authentically.

5. It could be spiritual, when our values are undermined or when we don’t nurture them.

The pathway to self-compassion is to mindfully look at these areas and start to recognize and accept the suffering that maybe present. We can then use mindfulness based meditative practice to address the suffering.

Meditation for Self- Compassion

Good place to start self-compassion practice is by sitting quietly with spine straight and head held high but slightly tilted downwards.

Once you assumed a comfortable position notice your own breath going in and out your body. The breath maybe noticed going in and out by the sensation at the nostrils or by the movement of the belly going in and out or you might notice it at some other part of the body. It doesn’t matter where you notice the breath going and out of your body but the important thing is to notice the breath all the way in and all the way out of your body. Almost certainly your mind will wonder to other thoughts or images but just acknowledge that the mind is somewhere else and gently bring it back to the breath.

After two to three minutes turn your focus inwards and start to notice sensations in your body. What sort of feeling you experiencing right now?  Is there temperature differences or discomfort in different part of the body? Is there muscle tightness or tension anywhere? Is there pleasant sensation anywhere? Is some part of the body feeling lighter than another part? You may notice other experiences.

Just notice these sensations or experiences and accept them without judging whether they are good or bad. Continue this for 5-6 minutes.

Then with all your heart say the following words:-

May I be safe

May I be happy

May I be healthy

May I live with ease.

You may repeat these wards as many times as you like and when you are ready open your eyes, but try to carry any good will feeling you may have experienced during the meditation as long as you can for the rest of the day.

The idea of this meditation is not to necessarily feel good but to feel the suffering, witness it, accept it and to show compassion towards yourself. In this way we are concentrating on addressing the suffering we feel and are not engaged in blaming or calling others or ourselves derogatory names or planning how to get even with others who may have done us wrong. The wise say it’s no point wishing our enemies death because they are going to die anyway. Therefore lets just concentrate on addressing our suffering with the right thinking and right action.

It is important to have regular formal mindful practice to experience the benefit, just reading and knowing about meditation or mindful is worthless. The research confirms that the beneficial changes in the brain only occur with consistent regular practice.

Until the next time, may you be safe, may you be happy, may you be healthy and may you be at ease. I will put up some more mindful based self-compassion meditation in the future posts.

Resources: –

C.K. Germer – Open Heart, Open eyes: Practicing the Art of Self Compassion. for the photos


Skills of Compassion.

In the last blog we looked at what it is to be compassionate. It is now time to look at the skills we need to be compassionate. Lord Buddha thousands of years ago recognized this and recommended the following. Science is now catching up and suggesting the same skills.

Skill 1. The right view is knowing that suffering is caused by viewing the world in a way that’s not serving us and causes us to live in an illusion. We have to remind ourselves that we are not independent of everything; we are dependent on animals, plants, earth, sun, moon, water for our survival and well-being. To be independent of all this would mean we are like god himself, omnipotent. We all know we are not and yet we behave and act like we are. When we truly realize that we are not independent our behavior may change in a way that’s respectful towards others and our environment; we may not pollute the earth and the air, we may look at our fellow humans as fellow travelers in the same boat; what frustrate our needs will also frustrate theirs.

Skill 2.  The right concentration is that which allows us to focus in a way that is life-giving or life flourishing for all rather than self-motivated focus that doesn’t account for the needs of others.

Skill 3. The right intention is when our sole intention towards everyone is to relieve suffering even though there may not be any benefit for us.

Skill 4. The right speech is a communication in a relationship which is non judgmental, comforting and helpful. Non-judgmental does not mean giving up discernment.

Skill 5. The right action is one where we strive to help satisfy human needs that is life-giving or helps us to flourish.

Skill 6. The right livelihood we are lucky if we are doing a job that is promoting healing and human spirit. There are some jobs that are very bad for human spirit and people doing them become numb and “hardened”. In these jobs there is little opportunity to show kindness, promote healing and human flourishing. These jobs are bad for those that do them and for the human spirit as a whole.

Skill 7.  The right effort we have to make the right effort and be dedicated to learning and practicing the skills of compassion.

Skill 8. The right mindfulness we have to learn to be present in the moment so that we are fully engaged in life and not dead in the past or not yet born in the future.


The Compassionate Mind  by Paul Gilbert

Self Compassion is a Definite Advantage to All.

If we want to be compassionate to others we first have to learn how to be compassionate to ourselves. It is not uncommon for people to quote these kinds of statement when someone is being overly hard on himself or herself. There is a certain amount of truth in these statements because it is difficult to be really compassionate to other when we are being hard on ourselves. I said there is only certain amount of truth in that statement because we can train ourselves to put others needs before our own or if we operate from a competitive orientation where winning is all important we may end up ignoring our needs at the expense of winning. One may not even be aware that by doing that they are harming themselves and those close to them.

When we are harsh or violent towards our selves it is genuinely hard (as I said ) to be compassionate towards others. When we are taught to be judgmental towards ourselves it prevents us from seeing the beauty in ourselves. We lose connection with the divine energy that is our source. If we can learn moment-to-moment evaluation of ourselves without being violent to ourselves, we can then learn from our mistakes and make choices that serve us without ever losing self-respect. Unfortunately the way we have been trained to evaluate ourselves often promote more self-hatred than learning. We can all recall an incident when we done something we shouldn’t have done or made a mistake; immediately afterwards it is not uncommon for us to treat ourselves harshly and tell ourselves “that was stupid”,” how could you do such a stupid thing” or “what’s wrong with you”, “you are always messing things up” or “that was selfish thing to do.” We have been taught to evaluate ourselves in a way that’s not very helpful and leads to devaluing ourselves. What if we evaluated the situation in a way where we can learn from our mistakes and gain new insight; wouldn’t that would guide us towards growth? We can do this by being compassionate to ourselves.

What is it to be compassionate and why is it important? Compassion can be defined as a deep understanding of ones difficulties or suffering without judgment and then helping skillfully to relieve that difficulty or suffering with the sole purpose of enriching life. Being compassionate is important because it pattern our brains in such a way that our behavior and way of being in the world becomes a catalyst for healing and enriching life for others and us. The practice of being compassionate overtime will generate in our minds’ and bodies’ experience of well-being because how we view the world and ourselves in that world would have changed to one of nurturing and caring rather than one of fear and aggression. The compassionate behavior requires a number of different skills and attributes. It requires us to have sensitivity, sympathy, tolerance for distress, empathy, non-judgment and care for well-being. This will allow us to direct our attention compassionately, to think and reason compassionately, to generate compassionate images and imagining, and to work on creating a bodily sense of compassion. These skills and attributes will infuse our attitude with warmth rather than cold detachment; thus generating nurturing, healing, happiness and contentment within others and us. It becomes a way of being which allows us to connect to others and ourselves that enhances life. It allows us to identify our human feelings and our human needs; then compels us to behave or act strategically in such a way that both ours and others needs are satisfied. If we practice being compassionate to ourselves first then we can be compassionate to others. With practice it becomes our natural way of behaving as our brain pattern for behaving and seeing the world becomes profoundly different. We are less likely to be influenced by the old primitive patterns we inherited through evolution and our popular cultural.

In the words of Mahatma Gandhi “Be the change you want to see in the world.”.

In the next post more on developing compassion.


Nonviolent Communication: a language of compassion by Marshall B. Rosenberg.

The Compassionate Mind by Paul Gilbert

Can the brain be trained to cope with suffering and bring about feeling of contentment?

In the last post I talked about how we feel inside, depends on how we view the world . We produce stress hormone if you see the world as hostile and healing hormone if you view the world as friendly.

It would be nice to live in a world where we feel safe and nurtured. You may wonder if such a world exists in reality; for most of us it probably doesn’t.  Even the father of the young Buddha tried to create such a world for him  but he failed. Later the Buddha himself realised that we cannot live without unpleasant things happening to us; in fact he thought life was suffused with suffering and that it was not just periodic good and bad events in life. The continuous suffering from ordinary life events ,such being late for work , getting a speeding ticket , weather either too hot or too cold , seasonal allergies , burning the tongue with hot beverage, argument with a colleague etc  can all contribute to the ongoing suffering; and chronic suffering will eventually give us ill-health. Buddha suggested minimising this suffering by being fully aware of it at all times; by being aware allows us the opportunity to react appropriately when we do suffer so that our behaviour or our reaction to it doesn’t produces more suffering to us or others.

The obvious question is if we can train our brain to always come up with the right action so that we cause no or minimal suffering to others and ourselves. The answer is yes; we can train our minds to do extraordinary things. We train our soldiers to kill when in combat. The training they get prepares them to kill in the war zone, if they don’t they will put their selves and their comrades in danger.  If mind can be trained to kill in certain situations why can’t it be trained to come up with right action at the right time? The right action is generated by cultivating compassion for all living being. It is the compassion that ultimately matters and guides us towards the right action. The science, with the new technology have studied brains of Buddhist monks and who practice cultivating compassion for all living beings. The part of the brain that is involved in compassion is markedly more developed than the average person who led an ordinary life. The monks have the ability to show compassion even to a psychopath. That does not mean they condone their bad actions or behavior, rather that even when they see how bad their behavior has been they still don’t want to cause them more suffering. The compassion they show is by seeing the situation as it really is, yes the psychopath may have lied, cheated, harmed others but after seeing all that their action is going to be based on how to prevent further suffering to psychopath and others. They do not believe (like most of us have the tendency to) that punishing and causing more suffering to them can avoid further suffering. Rather they believe that change in psychopath’s behavior is going to come from behaving differently towards him so that his view of the world is slowly converted to one where the world looks lot more friendly and caring. When one feels cared for and feels safe in the world then one will be predisposed to acting in a beneficial way to himself and to others. Of course the behavior of the psychopath is not going to change from one interaction but it may give him pause to think that there is another way of acting which maybe more beneficial to all concerned. With repeated showing of compassion his behavior may change.

When one is showing compassion to others don’t forget there is also a great benefit for to the one showing the compassion. As I suggested in my last posting they act from place where the world feels and seem friendly and their relationships are better; their level of stress hormones are lower and their feel good brain chemicals higher and their immune systems are more robust. The same is true when one show compassion to themselves.

So how can we learn to be compassionate and receive/give these good benefits? I said in my last posting I will go over some exercises to enhance the system that controls the feeling of contentment, but before I do that we need to know more about compassion; which will be the topic of the next posting. Until then may you see and find the world friendly.


The Compassionate Mind by Paul Gilbert

Being Nice

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama brings togeth...

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama brings together Buddhists and Western scientists every two years. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dalai Lama through his talks and writing says:- Not only is compassion good for you because it will help you feel good and organize your mind in such a way that makes it more open to happiness, but it’s good for others, too, and being good for others mean that we live in a happier world.

In my previous posting I have written about how evolution first found a way for life to just survive, then went beyond that so as to allow individuals to live better within group settings, without grievously harming each other. Evolution continues to adopt or incorporate ideas that are successful through the gene pool of those who practice and are successful with living and reproducing. Those who are successful at living (I like to say living well) pass their genes to the next generation; and the wisdom and the practices of their ancestors gets carried forward to the next generation. Evolution over millions of years continue to refine and adopt useful practices. We maybe at an “evolutionary stage” where we are beginning to appreciate that ‘being nice’ is a better way to live well.

Todays I asked a group of my friends how many people they know who feel content with their lives. The answer was “not many.” There are many reasons for this and I will elaborate on this point on another occasion. Today I want to explore how we can develop sense of well-being and purpose, resulting in contentment and feeling of living well. I think Dalai Lama is wise in recommending compassion. If compassion had bad consequences like shortening your life or causing illness or discontentment I believe he would not recommend compassion. Having practiced compassion all his life, he knows first hand, what the benefits of compassion are and now even the new research is confirming what Buddhist have been saying for thousands of years, that compassion is good for both ourselves and others. The fact is that evolution has provided us with brain system that makes the ‘ the experience of compassion’ possible , and that compassion can organize our brain patterns in certain ways so as to  allow us to be nice. This cultivates within us a sense of well-being and purpose. It will allow us to have and feel compassion more deeply and for much wider group of individuals than just our family and friends.

Paul Gilbert writes:- Throughout the world, people want to care for others, to become nurses, doctors, social workers, teachers and alternative therapist. Throughout the world, people put their lives at risk to save others – think about such services as the police, peacekeepers, fire, sea and mountain rescue services. If we take the capitalist view, or look at how our history has been shaped by the darker sides of our nature, clashes of tribes and dominant males, it’s easy to forget that, although many of us want to have good lives ourselves, we also want to help and make a difference to others. When we fully acknowledge that we’ve woken up in a world of beauty but also one where many live in hellish conditions, we can see that there’s much we need to do with our science, social polices. and legal systems. In the heart of many is a genuine desire to improve the conditions of humans and , indeed, of all living things.

Our patterns of living will need to change if we are to be happy, healthy , able to love and be loved. Our current way of being; with our stress, striving and competitive social mentalities are getting us into trouble – not to mention what we are doing to the world around us.

Compassion, it seems, is our potential antidote.

Compassion is Consciousness...

The Compassionate Mind  by Paul Gilbert

Related articles

Did you know people on the other side of the world are patterning our minds.

Can we live without being influenced by our surrounding and be an island to ourselves where no outside influence can affect us? I don’t think so. If we believe that we cannot  BUT be influenced by our environment, our culture, our neighbours, our leaders, our religion, our family, our friends  by the media than doesn’t it make sense that we conduct ourselves in such a way that its beneficial to both our society and ourselves? ( or if you like ourselves and our society?).

In my previous posts I mentioned how by interaction with others we are patterning our mind to react or behave in a particular way. But our quality of interaction and the kind of relationship we have with each other is dependent on the kind of cultures and societies we live in. This means our cultures and social structures can activate and pattern our minds, too. In our fast paced , competitive society we are going to be interacting and stimulating different patterns in each of us than if we were in slower , more contented societies.

Does it not than follow that we have to think about ourselves radically differently than “island among ourselves.” It would be more accurate to think about ourselves as “mutually influencing beings” ? So on individual level, our irritation with each other will raise our stress and increase our vulnerability to range of health problems and to social discord, while our kindness to each other will lower our stress and impact positively on our well-being and increase our social safeness. At a societal level mental illness and criminality are born from complicated genetic, social mentality and cultural/ social interactions. At international level , the ways in which our societies operate, seek goods and services, secure trade agreements and enable international companies to extract huge profits from stock markets will greatly affect the lives and pattern the minds of people far away. Clearly we are all connected , even to those we have not met and are far away on the other side of the world.

So we have a choice of either encouraging selfish tribal behaviour in ourselves and try to be an ” island among ourselves” or we can choose a compassionate approach that’s more thoughtful of others.  Ideally, of course , we want to  blend our interest and interest of others. We will have to reflect and think carefully about our values and try to be the ‘best we can be’ but at the same time, not ruthlessly exploitative.



The Compassionate Mind by Paul Gilbert.

Jungian Archetypes – another way to understand ourselves.

Is appearances and current fashion important to you? Do you need social approval ? Are you open to being loved and cared for or do you feel anxious about losing the love of others and need constant reassurance; or do you avoid close relationships ? These and many other questions of our behaviour may be better understood in terms of Jungian archetypes.We have already discussed how evolution has shaped our mind , brain and behaviour. The archetypes are further refinements in trying to understand ourselves.

The idea of archetypes have been around since the time of antiquity, in the days of Plato; but Carl Gustav Jung used the term ‘archetype ‘ in a particular way. He suggested that our behaviour towards different themes in our lives is directed by  special systems in our mind, which organizes our motives, thinking, feelings and fantasies. He called them archetypes. They are like inner guides that orientate us towards certain things and motivate us in certain ways. They have evolved over time and helped us navigate through the basic tasks of life. These tasks include children becoming attached to parents and obtaining care, adults forming relationship with peers, becoming sexually interested and engaging in procreation, caring for off spring, growing old, seeking meaning, becoming wise and coming to terms with death.

Lets look at some examples. Mother archetype represents a caring figure and makes us respond to being cared for or mothered. The sexual archetypes, anima in the man and animus in the woman, gives us sense of the desire and behaviour towards the opposite sex. The persona influences our social orientation and tries to keep our reputation clean so that we will find acceptances socially. The shadow represents those aspects that exclude information from consciousness about our true intent or motives. the hero archetypes motivates us to take risk, excel in the eyes of others and propel ourselves forwards. It can be linked to social motives such as helping others or  to darker motives such as wanting power to control others.

Jung suggested that archetypes can over or under develop in us. For example people with over developed persona organize much of their behaviour around the need for social approval. They think only of current fashions and their appearances; often losing sense of their own individuality. A person with deflated Persona care not at all for what others think; they either become courageous changers of the world or anti-social.





Jung suggests that the way an archetype matures and functions is affected by both our personality (genes) and our experiences. For example, we can have a stunted mother archetype if our relationship with our mother didn’t work out; we would not have been inspired and guided towards love and comfort in the arms of our mother when we were infants. As adults, we might spend a lot of our life searching for mother or father figure who will love and protect us like a parent. Or we can completely shut down our need for care and love and not want anything to do with close caring.

Like all archetypes, hero archetype can also develop in different ways that could be either good or bad depending on your perspective . The point is the archetypes are just a ways of describing and thinking about different aspects of ourselves. Because the archetypes are evolved predispositions, they are shared with all human beings and , in this sense , are  our ‘collective consciousness‘. They are largely unconscious but we feel them in us when caring for others, our desire for sex, our desire for friends and to belong to groups or our desires to destroy our enemies.


The compassionate mind by Paul Gilbert

Has Our Brain Evolved Enough To Show Us The Way To a Better Life?

In the last post we looked at how the reptilian brain evolved to solve problems of survival and how we are still influenced by that pattern of behaviour; since what is encoded in our genes cannot be changed, future life forms can only evolve by building onto what we have already inherited from the previous life forms. I also mentioned how the  mammals attempted to adapt to new situations and what some of the drawbacks were  associated with their strategies. Today I want to look at how humans have evolved, what strategies have been adopted by us and if they are working for us to live a good life.

Remember with primitive brain, as I mentioned in my previous posting, there is a quick, aggressive and  automatic response in a given situation; either to satisfy a desire or to protect oneself or to protect a territory . These are strategies that got evolved and developed over millions of years; and have a survival value. That’s why we still carry them in our genes today. They have become like a game plan for life. Overtime these game plans or strategies have become very elaborate and there are components in our minds that are quick to pick on certain types of information and then helps direct our attention, feelings, reasoning and behaviour. These patterns of behaviour can be activated quite fast and sometimes become active before we are even aware of them and you find yourself asking ” why did I do that, what was I thinking ?”

Lets looks at some of the strategies/ archetypes and how they influence us in everyday life. Quite often some of these guiding strategies and archetypes have element of a seductive quality to them because we like the way it makes us feel and its mode of thinking. Let say for example we belong to a particular religion, we like the way we feel about it and its way of thinking. This suggests that we have accepted the archetype of the religion and identify ourselves as belonging  to it. It also means that this religious archetype will fill us with passion and direct our thinking so that we believe and follow all its teaching. So far so good. Now, suppose another religion who we had been working with for many years on joint projects, suddenly started to advocates for having abortion in certain situations and your religion thinks allowing an abortion in any situation is a serious error.We will automatically , without thinking , starts to condemn this new position taken by the other religion because we have already endorsed the archetype of our religion. When we first endorsed  the archetype of our religion no one at that time advised you of the risks of losing your own individuality or the potential of violence due to disagreement with other religious groups. One simply gets infused with the desire to belong, be part of , follow and conform. We forget we maybe limiting our way of being.

Lets take another example of girls with blonde hair. You say “she is starting a new job and she is a blonde.” Immediately image of this person flashes across our minds without even giving it a thought. Or a blonde girl may say I can’t do mathematics because I am blonde and we immediately understand her reasoning. It’s because there is an archetype about girls with blood hair. You can see these strategies and archetype limits our thinking and therefore our behaviour ; but they do communicate information which can either be accurate in certain situation or very distorted in others. We can also see we can easily fall in with archetypes of  feeling and thinking; which doesn’t allow us to think critically about the assumptions we adopt. Knowing this can lead to some very important insight about the whole nature of our minds.

Let us see now see how the human brain has been improved so that our behaviour is not just a destructive reaction triggered by impulses of our desires? The major new abilities are the use of language and symbols, to think things through, to reason, to reflect, imagine new possibilities and even impossibilities. These new abilities allows us  to stand back from and reflect on what is going on in our minds, and in what we are feeling and doing,that we can do things differently then what our impulse dictates. This potentially  gives us a great flexibility in how we choose to enact different desires and motives. For example, we can separate sexual pleasure from the consequence of the act by using contraception; acquire status and put off having children altogether ; or become celibate in pursuit of enlightenment.The point is than that the desires may not have changed that much over time but because of  our human brains, we can invent thousands of ways to act them out or to refrain from them,which is both a blessing and a curse.

So what can we do to improve ours lives so that we are at peace, live without fear and with ease ? We can learn to understand how the old strategies and archetypes influence us. We can then learn to stand back from identifying with any archetypal process and instead, first think of ourselves as sentient life form that owe our current existence, experiences and competencies to the millions of other life forms that have gone before us. Next, we can identify ourselves with other human. We have all ‘simply arrived here’ and are trying to do the best we can with the brain we neither designed nor, to some degree, understand. We can recognize that we have enormous capacities for being benevolent or malevolent,which we need to understand with compassion. Only then should we start to think about ourselves in more local terms, such as our religious or political group. Our mind seems to be wired in the opposite direction, to stir up strong passions of identification with our local group. BUT it is understanding how we work against those passions generated by selfish interests AND by identifying ourselves as human being in the flow of life that can become key to our action for a better life.


The Compassionate Mind  By Paul Gilbert 

Communication in Relationships

Relationships can be viewed as sharing of energy and information flow. How is that some relationships are happy and lasts for ever and others are always in turmoil and has a very short life ?

The relationships in which each individual respect the internal world of the other without judgement; and has a sense of openness and allows for the possibilities of the others internal world; and also allows it to unfold in its own special way, then these individual will cultivated a loving-compassionate connection that will carry them through good and bad times. This is known as integrative communication in the field of neurobiology; it promotes the development of healthy relationships as it honours the unfolding of the other as a unique person in their own right without trying to change them the way you want them to be; and it fosters a special bond of trust, imbued with love.

When we compassionately help a child to cultivate her own passions and interests as she grows we are helping her to understand herself, so she has a sense of herself as a unique person. During this process we are promoting parent-child relationship which has a healthy elements of integrative communication.When we are connecting with others with feeling of compassion we  share our internal emotional world with theirs. This is how we learn from each other, this is how the child learns from her parents. We continue to grow and learn all our lives in a supportive – nurturing relationships, where vulnerability is respected and truth honoured.

When we are in a truly integrative relationship we not only care for the other during times of stress, but we also take joy in others’ joy and pride in their accomplishments.

To some this form of integrative communication come naturally, but for some it maybe necessary to first develop an internal state of presence. If we are filled with doubt and uncertainty, envy or hatred , then it is hard to achieve the integrative communication that is needed for a joyful and lasting relationships.

We can teach ourselves with mindfulness to become aware of our internal states; we can learn to check inside of ourselves to see if we are in internal state of receptivity or reactivity. If we are in reactive state we have no internal space to be compassionate, to see others point of view or be respectful. We are instead ready to fight – flight – or – freeze. These are not conditions for communication, let alone integrative communication. In contrast, when we are in receptive state our muscles relax and our minds become open to others and to our own internal experiences. We are now likely to be able to engage in integrative communication.

It will not come as a surprise if I tell you that integrative communication is linked to longevity, health and even happiness. The relationships that are integrative thrive and promote a creative expression and vitality.


Pocket Guide to Interpersonal Neurobiology  by  Daniel J. Siegel.

Inspirational Video On Love

Sandra sent me this beautiful inspirational video on love . It is always good to be reminded of love and its  awesome power; but especially on the long family weekend. Here is the link:- ENJOY.

Power Of Love

Sandra also sent me a link to visualization meditation event coming up (free) with The Chopra Centre.

Meditation Registration

Have a great family day weekend. May you all be blessed with love ,kindness, compassion, caring, hope, joy , patience, peace and good health.

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