Journeying Toward Wholeness

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Three Truths about Mortality and Life Transitions

September 29th, 2013 · life, life transitions, Transitions

Our growing awareness of mortality in the second half of life can spur us to major life transitions.

life transitions

While some life transitions just occur to us, others require some element of decision.  Those are the ones that I want to reflect on in this post.

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The Shortness & Infinite Preciousness of Life

The issue of mortality came home to me this week in a vivid personal way, when, sadly, I learned of the death of a woman I know in her mid-50s.  I cannot, of course communicate any identifying details about this wonderful person, other than to describe her as an engaging, young-looking woman with a quick mind and vivid sense of humour, who apparently passed with incredible quickness.

Certainly, anyone who knew this competent, vivacious, woman, who apparently had so much ahead of her, must have been deeply shocked by this turn of events.

This is a difficult truth, but an incredibly important one: none of us knows how much time we actually have to live, and to become aware.  That makes each day, each new awareness, each new choice, infinitely precious.

There are Life Transitions We Need to Make Happen

In keeping with the theme of those life transitions that we have a role in bringing about, we need to ask some searching questions.

1.  Are there experiences that I need to have?  I don’t mean this in the sense of fulfilling some entertaining “bucket list” of diversion.  Rather, are there experiences that are soul work, that my inmost being cries out for?

2. Have I found people with whom I can connect in a meaningful way?  Are there people with whom I am truly at home?  Where in this world can I find a welcome?  And…

3. Perhaps most profoundly and fundamentally. are there ways in which I need to explore and be aware of myself?  To embark on a path of increasing self awareness — this can often be the profoundest life transition of all.

Go for Soul

For many, as life moves along its course, it becomes essential to have experience of the true depth of life within ourselves.

Here is a Zen Buddhist parable on mortality:

A man traveling across a field encountered a tiger.  He fled, the tiger after him. Coming to a precipice, he caught hold of the root of a wild vine and swung himself down over the edge. The tiger sniffed at him from above.  Trembling, the man looked down to where, far below, another tiger was waiting to eat him. Only the vine sustained him.

Two mice, one white and one black, little by little started to gnaw away the vine. The man saw a luscious strawberry near him. Grasping the vine with one hand, he plucked the strawberry with the other. How sweet it tasted!…

life transitions

The following recounting of a dream by C.G. Jung in Memories, Dreams, Reflections seems to me to sound many of these same themes, as does the accompanying song by, of all people, Jimmy Buffet:

Jungian therapy concerns itself with the key importance of life transitions, particularly in the second half of life, and emphasizes the need to pour ourselves fully into the things that want to draw us into life.

PHOTOS: Attribution Share Alike  Some rights reserved by deejayres ;
© 2013 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Life Transitions: 4 Truths about Seasons of the Heart

August 27th, 2013 · life, life transitions, Transitions

Life transitions are at their most readily apparent in the late Summer-early Fall period: we feel the turning of the seasons — in nature and ourselves.

life transitions

I’ve certainly felt this personally this year as the days move towards early September.  My youngest child is heading off to university this fall, and so this seasonal turning matches the turning of the seasons in my own life. Who knew there were so many seasons, so many life transitions in adulthood!

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Seasons of Adulthood

Well, it turns out psychologist Daniel J. Levinson did, or at least knew more about it than most of us.  His groundbreaking work on the seasons of men’s and women’s lives postulated four stages, overlapping to some degree, that run right through the life cycle: 1. Childhood and Adolescence (birth to 20);  2. Early Adulthood (17-45); 3. Middle Adulthood (40-65); and, 4. Late Adulthood (60 and up).  life transitions

According to Levinson, each stage has a stable period, and transitional stages between it and the other stages.  Whether or not he gets these precisely right, it ‘s hard to avoid his basic intuition that life consists of stages and seasons — an intuition shared by Jung.

Discerning the Time

It’s essential to discern the season of our lives.  What is it that life is bringing to us at this time, right here, right now?  Can we see it?  Can we let it be what it is? Or are we straining to return to some long past reality, trying to fit the present into the mold of a now non-existent past?  Or, striving in some grim, relentless way to bring an as-yet non-existent future into existence, and, in the process, missing what life is bringing to us now?

Or, am I stuck in a major life transition, knowing that I can’t remain in the past, but unsure about how to move into the future?

Life Transitions: Embrace, Let Go

September is a time that really brings home the realities of the seasons of our lives.

Sometimes it’s hard to embrace the present moment and its meaning.  We’ll see this reality powerfully mirrored in the faces of some of our children as they face the reality of going back to school!  Still, we have to accept what our lives are, and what we face at the moment, in both our inner and outer worlds.

We also have to be strive to be aware of the feeling response of our inmost being to the season — whether it is anxiety, acceptance, grief, yearning, or any other reaction.

life transitions

Life Transitions of the Fall

Here comes September, a reminder of the changing seasons and of the life transitions of men and women.  Here comes September, mirror of all the seasons of life, and of their call to us, as the Byrds remind us in the beautiful song “Turn, Turn, Turn”, with the words of the Bible sounding remarkably like the words of Lao Tzu:

 

 

Life transitions, especially major life transitions, touch our depths.  Often depth psychotherapy can help us find meaning, healing and direction in the midst of the seasons of our lives.

PHOTOS: Attribution Some rights reserved Nicholas_T ;  VIDEO: © 2006 Sony BMG Entertainment (UK) Ltd.
© 2013 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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5 Ways Major Life Transitions Can Bring Up Shadow

April 19th, 2013 · life transitions, major life transitions, Transitions

Major life transitions are events that reach deeply inside of us, and they can often bring out our shadow, that portion of the psyche of which we are unaware, and which we resist.

major life transitions

Here are 5 ways  in which the Shadow often shows up amidst the stresses and strains of major life transitions.

1. Persona (Social Mask) Gets Thin.

Very significant emotion and distress can accompany major life transitions.

As we experience such things, aspects of our personality may become apparent that are different from the ways that others think about us, and the ways we normally think about ourselves.  We may also experience reactions that are different from those that we conventionally expect.

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At such times, social masks or personae often become so thin that aspects of ourselves that aren’t regularly seen show through.  This may be a time to learn important things about ourselves.

2. Complexes Get Activated.

A complex is an inter-related cluster of unconscious contents that is part of the shadow.  As Jung reminds us, they are strongly accentuated emotionally and incompatible with the habitual attitude of consciousness.  When a complex is activated, we often powerfully re-live something from the past.

3. We May Tend to Split Off Difficult / Painful Contents.

Because major life transitions are times of strong affect, we may not remember as accurately, nor think as clearly, as usual.

We may find that many memories will not come to mind at all.  We may also be surprised, later on, when others tell us how we have acted, and what we have said, during such times of trial, transition or crisis.

So, we need to exercise great care when dealing with major life transitions.

4. We May be More Receptive to the Unconscious.

On the other hand, during major life transitions, we may be more receptive to the unconscious aspects of ourselves, and what shadow might be bringing to us.

major life transitions

At one point, a client experienced this powerfully.  He was at a point in my career when he was feeling pressure and striving very hard  to present a “tough guy” image to meet the challenges of the business world.  He was never more surprised than when the  realization came up from the unconscious that, actually, the last thing he really wanted to be was that kind of guy, and that he really wanted to be compassionate, affirming and open.  In the words of James Hollis, “Whodathunkit”!

What might be waiting for you in shadow, the unknown parts of yourself?

5. We May Be Open to New Possibilities…

Major life transitions may actually open up possibilities in our awareness and our lives.  We may find  that we become less reliant on conventional ways of seeing things in our lives, and on conventional pat answers, and more open to something new.

Individual therapy may contribute dramatically to the discovery and opening up of new possibilities within ourselves, and in our outer lives.  When therapy is creative, receptive and deep, it can make a real difference.

PHOTO: Attribution Some rights reserved Nono Fara ; ShotHotspot.com  VIDEO: “Shadows” © Lindsey Stirling
© Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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Help for Anxiety in Major Life Transitions: Security

November 24th, 2012 · Anxiety, help for anxiety, life transitions, major life transitions

In major life transitions, as we see in Jungian therapy, whether an individual obtains effective help for anxiety often depends on whether he or she can find a rooted, deep sense of security.

help for anxiety

We all want to feel secure…

There are some ways in which a Jungian perspective on security closely aligns with the perspective of attachment theory.  But there are also some important additional factors.

For Jungians, as for C.G. Jung himself, the image of the tree with deep roots is a symbol of the security, rootedness and groundedness of the individual psyche.  How is your tree doing?

External Security

One aspect of help for anxiety that is necessary in major life transitions is to ensure that the individual feels secure from external threat.  With some major life transitions this is superfluous, but for others, it’s very important.  Do I have a basic feeling of safety from external threat?

An extreme example of this concern someone who has been through deep trauma, such as physical abuse or the death of a loved one — these, too, are major life transitions.  Sometimes an individual triggered or re-traumatized by external situations that in some way or another remind the individual of the original trauma.  Doing what can be possibly be done to restore a sense of safety can be essential.

Internal Security

By this, I mean something that  many people would not consider when they think about the aspect of personal security.  Am I secure in who I am?

Am I able to value myself — or are there inner critics in me that tear me apart with contempt and self-criticism?

I able to deal with my weaknesses, and accept who and what I am — because I have moved past expecting perfection for myself.  Or, do guilt and shame within me continually engage in self-attack, self doubt and resultant anxiety?

Symbols of Security

There are also important symbols of security, and these involve the archetypal layer of the psyche.  Symbols, many of them “religious”, spiritual, artistic, or from nature, may be essential in providing me with a sense of being secure in the universe.  Am I aware of which symbols are meaningful for me, and resonate with my inner life?  They can provide powerful help for anxiety.

Help for Anxiety: How Do I Experience My Sense of Security in the World?

A therapy relationship can be a key place to enhance the experience of a sense of safety in the world.  Jungian therapy knows that the therapeutic space contributes greatly to help for anxiety.

I also need to ask myself, “Does my story about my life make me feel secure?  or less?  Do I even know what the dominant stories or narratives that underlie my life are?

Have I taken possession of my own personalized, deep story?  The story that brings value and meaning to my life — what Jung would call my “personal mythology“?

Jungian therapy provides concrete help for anxiety on all the above levels, in the midst of major life transitions.

Next in series: Transition

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Help for Anxiety in Major Life Transitions: Rage

November 9th, 2012 · Anxiety, help for anxiety, life transitions, major life transitions

You or I might find that major life transitions can lead to intense rage; and, oddly enough, we might also find that the need to deal with our rage is closely related to our need for help for anxiety.

Rage isn’t a popular emotion, nor an emotion that many people feel comfortable with admitting that they have.  How do we deal with it, if we find it accompanying major life transitions?

 1.  Hard to Acknowledge

Rage has a very bad reputation.  In some ways, it’s deserved, but therapists sometimes make a serious mistake when it comes to rage.  So often, it gets associated with immaturity — even by therapists, who sometimes describe adults’ rage as “having a tantrum.”  In my opinion, such language is not useful, and offers little help for anxiety associated with latent rage.  The raw power of rage deserves more respect than that.

It can be hard to acknowledge our rage, because we’d have to own the vulnerability underlying it: pain so intense that we feel rage about it.

There are people who are rage-o-holics — who rage because they are addicted to the feeling of power in rage.  But there are also people who experience rage because they have been outraged.

2.  Major Life Transitions Can Foster Rage

Clearly, some major life transitions don’t trigger rage.  Equally clearly, some do.  Consider the person who is laid off unexpectedly with insufficient benefits after many years of loyal service to an employer.  Or,  a devoted spouse who comes to divorce counselling as a result of suddenly discovering that a partner is killing the marriage after years of deception about infidelities.

3.  Feeling Totally Justified — & Making Huge Mistakes

The big trouble with rage is it produces a state of God-like inflation — and God-like self-righteousness.

In such a state, I can feel that whatever I do is justified.  Consider the tale told by Buffy St. Marie, in the song “Smackwater Jack” — a grim, ironic tale of two states of rage, that seem like opposites, but that share a sense of out-of-proportion moral justification.

Such attitudes may have had survival value at a an earlier evolutionary stage — but not now.  As individuals, we can’t violently act out our rage anymore.

That can be a problem — because the feelings are so intense!

4.  Yes, but What Do I Do About It?

A rage state must be made conscious, and acknowledged.  Whether help for anxiety is effective often hinges on realizing the incredible intensity of what is there boiling below the surface.

Equally essential is not letting the rage or anger own you.  It’s vital to get some conscious distance from the rage, rather than being possessed by it, despite the sense of power, control and vindication that it may bring.  Often in major life transitions, this means expressing the rage, and bringing its power into conscious awareness and relaionship to the ego.  Often it is the journey of Jungian psychotherapy to bring soulful handling of rage to major life transitions.

Next in series: Security

PHOTO: Attribution © Sergey Galushko | Dreamstime.com |   VIDEO: Buffy St. Marie ,  “Smackwater Jack” ©

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Help for Anxiety in Major Life Transitions: Loss

October 23rd, 2012 · Anxiety, grief, help for anxiety, life transitions, major life transitions

Grief and loss are often fundamental aspects of major life transitions, and individuals confronted with such situations often need help for anxiety of the type associated with such experiences of loss.

help for anxiety

No one wants to experience loss with respect to something that is valuable to him or her — that is, in some sense or other, treasured.

1.  Can I Grieve for What is Gone?

Whether a major life transition is anticipated or feared, there will be feelings about the loss of the old way of life or old state.

Most often, major life transitions involve a big alteration in the way an individual experiences his or her own life.  Even if the change is for the better, there is still often a great sense of loss that accompanies these fundamental changes. Sometimes the loss will be as tangible as losing a home, a workplace or a key relationship.  Sometimes the sense of loss will be just as real, but less easy to identify or describe.   In any case, such a loss will likely be something that we will carry either consciously or unconsciously.

2.  Who Was I Back Then?

In many cases, the sense of loss may pertain to the attachment that I have to an earlier version of myself.  Perhaps I have a sense that I was happier or more secure than I now feel as I undergo a major life transition, and I may yearn to go back to that state.

These feelings may be accompanied by a deep resentment toward any person or situation has disturbed my connection with this earlier time.

All of these feelings may be associated with a question that may provoke a lot of anxiety:  who am I now?

3.  Have I Lost My Innocence?

As the section above suggests, often, often a major life transition leaves us with the sense that our world is now more complex, or more difficult.  Or perhaps, it’s just that I’m now living with certain kinds of consciousness of my world that I wish I was not.  The dominant myth may be that of Adam and Eve cast out of the Garden: innocence lost, and a world suddenly full of shades of gray.  And it’s painful.

4.  Have I Lost My Connection to Others?

In the midst of major life transitions, part of a sense of anxiety may stem from the fact that my experience leaves me feeling that I cannot connect with others in the way I once did.  It may well be that it’s not easy to relate to people who haven’t confronted this type of situation, who simply do not know what it’s like to live through this type of thing.

Is There Something to be Found in My Loss?

Part of the help for anxiety that we need in dealing with major life transitions may stem from coming to accept that such situations combine loss — and finding.  Along with what is lost, the opportunity for new consciousness develops in us, promising a new awareness of the world and a new, deeper sense of our own identity — and of our own personal myth.

PHOTO: Attribution SomeRightsReserved | John-Morgan

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Help for Anxiety in Major Life Transitions: Denial

October 15th, 2012 · Anxiety, help for anxiety, life transitions, major life transitions

Denial is one of the more characteristic reactions to major life transitions; a key part of help for anxiety is enabling people to gradually move beyond denial into acceptance.

help for anxiety

Denial has been defined as “the refusal to acknowledge the existence or severity of  unpleasant external  realities or internal thoughts and feelings.”  How can it manifest in our lives when we are undergoing major life transitions?

“It Just Doesn’t Exist”

Denial may take the form of a plain and simple lack of acknowledgement that a given situation or set of facts exists.  Sometimes the extent of this lack of acknowledgement can be absolutely breathtaking.  Individuals in the midst of major life transitions may deny the type of plain and straightforward facts, that at any other time they would never dream of denying.  They may even forget important facts that they have been told.

“It Just Doesn’t Matter”

Denial can also involve denying the emotional significance or impact of a state of affairs.  We may acknowledge intellectually the facts of the major change in our life, but still deny its emotional impact.  For example, a spouse may tell us that they are divorcing, or we may learn of the disability of a child, and even though we understand what we have been told, we go on acting as if nothing has changed, and we didn’t know.  An important part of the help for anxiety that individuals need at a time like this is help with facing this emotional impact.

The Gift of Denial

The ability to deny serves an important role in protecting the psyche.  It is a mechanism in the psyche that protects us from the overwhelming pain and anxiety that might otherwise crush us.  In Jung’s terms, we effectively dissociate from what we otherwise know to be the truth.  In this way, our capacity to deny may serve the Self, for a time.

Denial and Individuation

Denial manifests those parts of the psyche that seek to keep us in a good place, and safely away from psychological harm.  The broader Self is at work here, as is the unconscious mind.  However difficult it may be, when the time comes that we are ready to accept the denied into our conscious minds, we become more conscious, more aware …more ourselves.

Meaningful help for anxiety works with denial, supporting us in the pain of that which is denied, and helping us to move into the acceptance we need to move into life.

Next post: Loss.

PHOTO:  © Bortn66 | Dreamstime.com

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Help for Anxiety in Major Life Transitions: Shock

October 9th, 2012 · Anxiety, help for anxiety, life transitions, major life transitions

Major life transitions are often a very important time for individuals to seek out help with anxiety .

help for anxiety

This often includes help with the sense of shock and overwhelm that can surround such events.

 What Is Shock?

Psychological shock is not the same thing as physiological shock, but it can have a profound effect.

Shock occurs in highly emotionally laden situations in our lives.  Situations where shock comes together with major life transitions can include:

  • death of a loved one, or loss of a key relationship;
  • a traumatic event, such as accident, or serious crime, large financial loss, or sudden loss or dramatic change of employment;
  • sudden discovery of major life changing illness, or learning of the serious mental or physical illness of a loved one;
  • spiritual crisis; or,
  • suddenly feeling the emotional impact of apparently positive or neutral major life transitions (e.g., moving to a new community or country, finishing a serious program of academic study, empty nest, retirement)

What Happens in Us When We Experience Mental Shock?

Numbing.  When people confront the kind of overwhelming emotional impact that can be associated with major life transitions, it can often result in a kind of mental numbing.  We may simply find it hard to feel any of the emotional impact the event is causing for us.

Detachment.  Akin to numbing, we may find ourselves completely removed from the event, as if it had happened to someone else.

Derealization.  Even more, we may react to the overwhelming character of major life transitions by a strong sense that the whole event is just unreal.  Events can seem as if they were in a play, or happening to someone else.

Avoidance.  Whether consciously or unconsciously, we simply avoid the situation, or avoid contact with others that might bring us to acknowledge what we have been through.

Moving Beyond Shock

It’s essential that I get the help with anxiety that will enable me to move beyond the shock that can be so powerfully associated with major life transitions.  Shock is a kind of a liminal state or “between” state where I stay until I am ready to absorb and accept the emotional impact of major life transitions.  Ultimately, I need to incorporate these events and to make meaning out of them, as a part of my journey into the mystery of the self.  But the immediate need may be to acknowledge that I am in shock, which often reflects the magnitude of the impact of major life transitions.

Next post in the series: Denial.

PHOTO:  © Dphiman | Dreamstime.com

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What Helps Depression During Major Life Transitions? #3

July 10th, 2012 · depression, life transitions, major life transitions, what helps depression

What helps depression, in terms of concrete practical steps you can take, when you’re “stuck in the desert” during major life transitions?

what helps depression

Here are 5 concrete observations about what helps depression of the kind into which major life transitions can often bring us.

1.  The Best Way Out is Through

This may sound completely counterintuitive, but it’s essential to acknowledge the existence of depression, and to face it head on.  Very often, people try to avoid the reality of their depression, or to talk themselves out of it.  However, the only way to truly be able to come to terms with depression is to look straight into it, and to acknowledge, “Yes.  I really am depressed.”

2.  Work Concretely with the Depression

This extends point #1.  Rather than just passively enduring depression, it’s essential to actively enter into it, to dialogue with it, and to try and understand what is going on with it.  Journaling about what is going on, and about what one is feeling and thinking can be useful.  So can the active use of techniques like painting; working with clay, and even creating pictures with collage.  All of these techniques can yield important insight and awareness, although working with a good properly trained therapist to understand what is coming up or appearing in this work is essential.

3.  Don’t Fall Into the Trap of “Self Help Alone”

This point is related to point #2.  Many people adopt a “Lone Ranger” strategy, and rather than seeking out a good therapist, try to cope with the desert of depression during major life transitions using only self-help books.  This strategy has an awful success rate.  Recognizing that you’re human, and reaching out to someone who has the skills and compassion you need often makes all the difference in the world.

4.  Believe That the Depression Has Something to Give You

I know that this idea might seem bizarre, even scandalous.  However, it’s true: there’s something valuable at the heart of the depression.  If you can find it, it will help you on the journey to becoming more yourself.

5.  “If You’re Going Through Hell — Keep Going!” ~Winston Churchill

Churchill’s famous quote has a great deal to do with the realities of psychotherapy for depression.  If we can face the particular crisis and challenge created by major life transitions, and try to open each one up and engage creatively with it, it will not last forever.

Wishing all of us the strength and support to “keep going”,

PHOTO:  Attribution    Some rights reserved by szeke

 

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What Helps Depression During Major Life Transitions? #2

July 3rd, 2012 · depression, life transitions, major life transitions, what helps depression

There are key elements of psychological and personal growth involved in getting to what helps depression of the type that occurs during major life transitions.  What helps depression starts very often with a deeper level of emotional honesty.

what helps depression

Dealing with What We Can’t Sort Out

Sometimes, major life transitions are just overwhelming.  We can have a certain image, idea or feeling of ourselves and our life situation, and then find out that it gets completely undone by some development or crisis in our lives.  Although we really need to find some new way to approach our lives in such a situation, our initial reaction can be to try and return to the past, and to simply pretend that the new situation doesn’t exist…

Regressive Restoration of the Persona

Jung used this term particularly with the major life transitions associated with the second half of life, but it also applies to quite a number of other, similar transitions.  It pertains to situations where we essentially try to go back and live in the persona, or the way we presented ourselves to the world, that we had prior to the commencement of amajor life transitions.  We strive to convince ourselves that we still are that very same person.

Yet, despite our very best efforts, we can often find that we are simply not able to pull it off.  We go through the motions of living as we once did, but we seem to be only a shell of who we once were.  We simply can’t go back.

Yet, in Our Depths…

We may be in a state of conscious denial of the emotional impact and life impact of major life transitions, or even in a state of conscious depression, blankness or feeling bereft.  However, this doesn’t mean that the unconscious mind is not engaged with the impact of major life transition in its own ways.

Changes in My Identity and My Way in the World

It may be extremely difficult to come to terms with the pain, grief and loss that we encounter in major life transitions.  Yet often, it is only through surfacing these feelings that we begin to move towards the deeper understanding or attitude emerging from the unconscious.  Often, only this will allow us to accept life as it is, to find what helps depression, and to move forward, perhaps even haltingly.

Who, then, am I now? How do I now think, feel and relate?  Often, only through exploring our inner reactions in a process such as Jungian therapy do we begin to accept, move forward and create our lives again.

PHOTO:  Attribution    Some rights reserved by dpape

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