Jul 24

A Guided Mindfulness Retreat

This Guided Mindful Retreat is an Extended Weekend Event being run by The OPAL Foundation at

Ards Friary, Creeslough, Co. Donegal, Ireland  –  Friday 29th August to Sunday 31st August 2015

(Arrive for 5pm start on Friday & depart from 3pm on Sunday)

Ards Friary - From Beach

On this relaxing and re-energising retreat we will look at the benefits of using Mindfulness in our daily lives and how to live in harmony with life – whatever life brings. You will be introduced to, and have the opportunity to practice, both formal and informal Mindfulness processes including Mindfulness Meditation, Mindful Eating, Mindful Walking and ‘Being’ fully connected in the moment.

To find out more about this event and to reserve your place visit http://www.opal.ie/guidedretreat.html

Apr 26

The Psychology of the Awakened Heart

The Psychology of the Awakened Heart

Compassion, Love, and Joy—The Mindfulness Psychology of Well-Being

An eight-session course on the Mindful psychology of well-being commencing on 29th April

Normal course fee = €115  Save over 30% – only €85 if you pre-book & pay online before 29 April!

(offer ends at midnight on 28th April – http://www.opal.ie/awakened_heart.html)

Whatever our situation and circumstances are, the key to happiness and harmony in our life is the way that we live it.  The Mindfulness meditation practices that you will be introduced to and practice on this course are beautiful, time-tested ways to awaken a compassionate, joyful, and loving heart. Mindfulness psychology and research from modern neuroscience both show enormous benefits from using these methods as a regular practice or in conjunction with conventional therapy.  

Whether you are a therapist or health professional looking to explore how Mindfulness may benefit your clients, someone who wishes to develop their meditation practice or you are looking at alternative ways to improve your well-being The Psychology of the Awakened Heart, is a course that you should attend.  The content is designed to meet the requirements of those new to Mindfulness and experienced practitioners alike.

The course is delivered by OPAL’s founder, Ray Sawyer-James (a Cognitive Psychotherapist and Mindfulness Teacher). Ray invites you to join him on this eight-session course on the Mindfulness psychology of well-being. Each session, Ray will present life-changing practices, wisdom teachings, and healing stories—offering a rich mix of practical and scientific information, as well as experiential exercises based on the timeless principles of Mindfulness psychology.

Embodying both mindfulness practice and psychological insight, the teachings of the awakened heart will show us how to work with ourselves and others to keep the heart open especially in times of suffering, when we often shut down. You will learn:

techniques and practices to befriend and forgive ourselves and others

the personal and clinical benefits of the inner science of joy

how to practice the transformative art of forgiveness

ways to awaken the courage to be happy; and much more.

Join Ray for eight sessions of powerful practices, heartfelt reminders, clear teachings, personal skill-building, and clinical tools, including:

The Four Foundations of healthy living: love, compassion, joy, inner peace (equanimity)

What modern neuroscience has shown to be benefits of these practices—healthier immune function, faster healing, improved brain and cell health

Guidance for cultivating love and respect for yourself and others

Awakening the heart of compassion—an act of courage, vulnerability, and the willingness to see deeply

The practice of forgiveness—letting go of blame, recrimination, and the need to be right

Understanding the mind’s role as story-creating engine—and how this faculty both helps and harms us

The many forms of self-delusion and how we can awaken from them

Guided practices for equanimity, peace, joy, and much more

Apr 16

Reflection at a Time of Loss

When someone we know dies, especially those who are close to us, who hold a special place in our heart – we often feel a sense of loss.  This is a natural part of our grieving process and we should not try to mask any of the feelings and emotions that we have when experiencing a bereavement.

Instead, we use mindfulness to accept that things are as they are.  The physical presence of the loved one has departed and there soul has journeyed along another path.

At such a time we can sometimes struggle to understand that we are all as one and as such we are all connected, wherever our souls journey takes us.  The following poem written by Cannon Scott Holland may be of comfort to those who are bereaved.  I came across this when I was on retreat a number of years ago and found it very comforting.  I hope others will too.

Death is Nothing At All

Canon Scott Holland

I have slipped away into the next room.

I am I and you are you: whatever we were to each other, that we still are.

Call me by my old familiar name, speak to me in the easy way which you always used.

Put no difference into your tone, wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.

Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes we enjoyed together.

Play, smile, think of me, pray for me. 

Let my name be forever the same as it always was.

Let it be spoken without an effort, without the ghost of a shadow on it.

Life means all that it ever meant.

It is the same as it always was; there is absolutely unbroken continuity.

I am but waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near, just around the corner ….. All is well.

Mar 20

Discovering Inner & True Happiness

Happiness is one of the most misunderstood words in our vocabulary. Yet, we search for this intangible state our whole lives. If I only had this or that, if I met the right partner, had a big house, a new car, the job I’ve always wanted – then I would be happy!  However, when we achieve these perceived wants, we often find the happiness they bring to be short lived and start the ‘if only’ process all over again.

Mindfulness practice teaches us that happiness is real only when we let go of seeking material and transient things and discover the lasting joy that is within. Every time we see a giggling baby or young child we’re reminded that we are all born with this natural and innate sense of happiness. We learn about suffering or unhappiness as we grow older, more externalised and as circumstances change.

Here are some of the ways you can ‘re-kindle’ the happiness you are born with:

Don’t take yourself too seriously. At times of hardship, it’s easy to lose your humour, and even easier to get involved with the negative aspects of what is happening. Remembering not to take yourself too seriously brings a lightness and acceptance to the weight of circumstance around you.

Not to confuse your suffering, loss, or illness, as being who you are.  When we experience suffering, a loss or illness etc. we can often see this as ‘who we are’, identifying ourselves as a cancer survivor / widow / recovering addict, or whatever it may be. Instead we need to ask ourselves who we are without that label or identity. When you don’t identify with the negative issues, then who you really are has a chance to shine.

It’s OK to be you, just as you are, flaws and all. You may think you’re imperfect, a mess, falling apart, hopeless, or unable to cope. But true perfection is really accepting your imperfections. It is accepting yourself, complete with all the things you like as well as the things you don’t like. In this way you’re not struggling with or rejecting yourself. Each one of us is unique, a one-time offer, but we can’t know this if we are facing away from ourselves.

Make friends with yourself. Your relationship with yourself is the only one you have that lasts for the whole of your life, and you can be the greatest friend or the worst enemy to yourself. So it’s very important not to emotionally put down or beat yourself up. Just be kind.

Feel everything, whatever it may be. When you are suffering, it’s easy to want to deny or repress your feelings, as they get huge and overwhelming. If you can really honour whatever you are feeling then it will bring you closer to the inner happiness beneath the suffering or grief. Acknowledging and making friends with your real feelings is the greatest gift.

Forgive yourself. Love yourself. Treasure yourself. These are big steps, but each one liberates the heart and sets you free. You can forgive yourself for feeling angry, for getting upset, for all things you think you’ve done wrong. They are in the past and who you are now is not who you were then. You can take any guilt or shame by the hand, invite it in for tea, and open yourself to self-forgiveness.

Meditate. There is an overwhelming amount of research showing how meditation changes the circuits in the part of the brain associated with contentment and happiness and stimulates the ‘feel-good’ factor. Meditating on love and kindness makes you much, much happier! And the only way to know this is to try it, so don’t hesitate.

A particularly effective form of meditation is Mindfulness Meditation.  OPAL have a number of books and CD’s on Mindfulness and Meditation.  These are available at the OPAL On-Line Store.  I also run a number of courses on Mindfulness and a weekly Mindfulness Meditation class at The OPAL Centre.

Mar 08

A Celtic Pilgrimage – Free Event at The OPAL Centre

Join us for a FREE showing of A Celtic Pilgrimage with John O’Donohue

Optional donation of €2.50 invited.

Being shown at The OPAL Centre, Donamon, Roscommon Ireland on 12th April at 2.30pm. Places limited so contact us to reserve yours now!

 

 A Celtic Pilgrimage with John O'Donohue John O’Donohue explains “In the Irish psyche, landscape has a unique presence. One of the wonderful insights of the Celtic imagination is that landscape is alive.”With A Celtic Pilgrimage, you have the opportunity to walk with Irish poet and philosopher John O’Donohue through the breath taking landscape of western Ireland.

Weaving ancient wisdom with personal history and stunning imagery, this documentary reveals the Ireland that gave rise to the spiritual wisdom of the Celts—and inspired John O’Donohue throughout his remarkable life.

“A pilgrim travels differently,” observes O’Donohue. “Always in a pilgrimage, there is a change of mind and a change of heart.” With mischievous humour, keen awareness, and a poet’s gift for the truth, O’Donohue invites you to see the landscape of Ireland through his eyes—as a living source of wisdom, beauty, and transformative spiritual power.

 

Mar 01

Free showing of the video ‘A Celtic Pilgrimage with John O’Donohue’

Following the positive feedback received on the free showing of the video ‘A Celtic Pilgrimage with John O’Donohue’ at The OPAL Centre in Donamon, Roscommon, we are currently exploring the viability of offering a further showing at OPAL.  We would also consider showing this at regional locations (such as community groups, clubs, halls etc).

Initially, we want to assess whether there would be sufficient interest.  If you would be interested in coming along, please reply to this post.  We will then set up dates if there is sufficient interest.

Thanks

About the video:

A Celtic Pilgrimage with John O’Donohue

“In the Irish psyche, landscape has a unique presence. One of the wonderful insights of the Celtic imagination is that landscape is alive.”

With A Celtic Pilgrimage, you have the opportunity to walk with Irish poet and philosopher John O’Donohue through the breathtaking landscape of western Ireland. Weaving ancient wisdom with personal history and stunning imagery, this documentary reveals the Ireland that gave rise to the spiritual wisdom of the Celts—and inspired John O’Donohue throughout his remarkable life.

“A pilgrim travels differently,” observes O’Donohue. “Always in a pilgrimage, there is a change of mind and a change of heart.” With mischievous humour, keen awareness, and a poet’s gift for the truth, O’Donohue invites you to see the landscape of Ireland through his eyes—as a living source of wisdom, beauty, and transformative spiritual power.

 

 

Feb 21

Events, Courses & Workshops at OPAL: March – June

Mindfulness Meditation Sessions: Every Friday 8pm – 9pm.  at The OPAL Centre Donamon, Roscommon.  Suggested donation of whatever you can afford up to a maximum of€7.50 – All welcome.

A different guided meditation each week + time to sit and reflect.

 

Living in the NOW – A One Day Workshop:  Sunday 29th March 11am – 4.30pm at The OPAL Centre Donamon, Roscommon.  Cost = €25 (includes lunch and refreshments).

Attend this workshop and get Essential Teachings, Meditations and Practices that will aid you to something of Life Changing Significance.

 

A Mindful Life – A 4 session course on Mindfulness:   Commences on Wednesday 08th April 7.30pm – 9pm at The OPAL Centre Donamon, Roscommon.  Cost = €40

This course is run every Wednesday from 08h April to 29th April 2015.

A Mindful Life will provide you with insight into the benefits of Mindfulness and teach you Mindfulness practices that you can apply to your daily living.

 

Walking the Mindful Path – A One Day Intensive Workshop on Mindfulness: Sunday 12th April 11am – 4.30pm at The OPAL Centre Donamon, Roscommon.  Cost = €27.50 inclusive of lunch and refreshments

Walking the Mindful Path will teach you how to remain Mindful even in times of struggle and adversity.  It is equally suitable for those new to Mindfulness as well as those who use Mindfulness in their daily lifestyle.  During the day, we will explore how to use both formal and informal Mindfulness practice

 

A Springtime Mindful Retreat: An Extended Weekend Event at The OPAL Centre, Donamon, Roscommon, Ireland.  Friday 08th May to Sunday 10st May (Arrive for 5pm start on Friday & depart from 2pm on Sunday).

On this relaxing and re-energising retreat we will look at what to release from the past and how to live in harmony with life – whatever life brings.

Using a range of creative mindfulness processes plus guided meditation, silence and sharing of experiences, we will reflect on our own lives.  No previous experience of activities required.

Cost = Non-Residential: €125 includes lunch and evening meals. Residential: €225 includes accommodation and full board – €50 reduction on the price if you share a room with a friend, another guest or partner who is also on the course (€175 per person).  Advance booking with €50 deposit required to secure place

Although there will be periods of silence, this is not a totally silent retreat.  A ‘Silent Retreat’ is being run in June and information is listed below.

 

A One Day Mindful Retreat: at The OPAL Centre, Donamon, Roscommon, Ireland.  Sunday 31st May – Arrive for 10am to 5pm  Cost = €35 includes lunch (Advance booking with payment required).

On this one day retreat we will use a range of creative mindfulness processes plus guided meditation and periods of silence to develop our abilities to live mindfully and connect fully with the present moment.  No previous experience of activities required.

Although this is a non-residential retreat, accommodation is available if required at an additional €25 per night for a single room or €35 a night for two people sharing (includes breakfast, an evening meal can also be provided).

 

Staying Focused in the Age of Distraction: A Weekend Event at The OPAL Centre, Donamon, Co. Roscommon
Saturday 16th & Sunday 17th May 2015  Cost = €57.50 includes lunch on both days

Do you find you are often distracted from your focus or that your concentration is broken by what is going on around you?  Staying Focused in the Age of Distraction explores how you can improve dramatically improve all areas of your life when you focus on what really matters to you.
On this empowering event you will be shown ‘step by step’ techniques you can use to focus on your true values, practice meaningful activity and develop a deeper sense of your own inner values.  You will learn insightful and engaging ways to:
● Pay Attention to What Really Matters to You
● Learn How to Avoid Empty Activities
● Develop a Deep and Meaningful Sense of Life
● Enrich Your Life and the lives of those around you
● Create and carry out your own personal plan for focused awareness

A Spring Time Silent Mindful Retreat: A Weekend Event at The OPAL Centre, Donamon, Roscommon, Ireland
Friday 19th June 2015 to Sunday 21st June 2015 (Arrive for 5pm start on Friday & depart from 2pm on Sunday)

This Silent Retreat is designed to enable you to connect with your inner self and re-vitalise your connection with ‘being’ fully present.

During the retreat there will be an opportunity to use a range of creative mindfulness processes including meditation, mindful movement, and other practices to assist you in being Mindful in everyday life. No previous experience of activities required.

Although there will be periods of instruction, participants are required to embrace a commitment to total silence throughout the retreat.

Cost = €195 includes accommodation and full board (Advance booking with €50 deposit required).  €45 reduction on the course price if you share a room with a friend, another guest or partner who is also on the course (€150 per person).

 

For More Information or to Book on any of the above events, go to www.opal.ie or phone 0894 212350

Feb 16

Mindfulness Meditation Sessions

On Friday evenings between 8pm and 9pm, there is a Mindfulness Meditation group at The OPAL Centre in Donamon, Roscommon, Ireland.  The aim of the group is to provide a welcoming, relaxed environment where people can meet and practice their Mindfulness Meditation.  You can join in group meditation and / or use the time to meditate on your own.  The choice is yours.

The group is led by Ray, who also runs a number of the Mindfulness courses at OPAL.  Anyone is welcome – you don’t need to have any previous experience and Ray is always happy to meet with those new to Mindfulness (he makes himself available between 7.30 – 8pm) or those wanting to ‘touch base’ about any difficulties they are having with their practice.

Although the sessions are run weekly, you do not need to attend every week.  You can attend as many or as few sessions as you wish.  We ask for a donation of €7.50 per session but if you cannot afford this, please do not let it stop you from attending as we are keen to make the group sessions available to all.

If you want to attend, you can contact Ray by e-mail (rsj@opal.ie) or phone / text (083 1120044).

Feb 13

Four Myths About Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness meditation has gone mainstream. As more research is published about the benefits of mindfulness meditation, the general public, healthcare organisations, and corporations are seeking ways to incorporate this ancient practice into everyday life.  I have seen a growing interest in Mindfulness within the work that I do as a cognitive psychotherapist and also on the Mindfulness Meditation classes that I run.  I have also found that there is a growing interest by organisations and companies in exploring the viability and benefits of ‘Mindfulness in the workplace’.

The Mindful Revolution was featured on the cover of the February 3, 2014 issue of TIME Magazine and in other magazines, newspapers and media over 2014 .  Corporations including Google, General Mills, Apple, and Aetna have introduced mindfulness programmes for their employees. Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) training programmes for healthcare professionals and holistic therapists are becoming increasingly popular and in greater demand, as are courses on Mindfulness practice by the general public.  OPAL run a range of these courses at The OPAL Positive Psychology Centre in Ireland and at regional venues throughout Ireland and the UK.  Some events are also available on-line through the OPAL e-Centre.  During 2013 and again in 2014, I had the honour of being invited to run a number of Mindfulness workshops for The Multiple Sclerosis Society.  It was great to get such positive feedback from participants as to how Mindfulness practice has helped them.

Mindfulness meditation has shown multiple benefits to health and well-being. A sample range of benefits includes a decrease in stress, anxiety, depression, and pain. Additional benefits include an increase in immunity, concentration, weight loss, compassion, axonal density, and an overall felt sense of well-being. (Reference 1)

Mindfulness meditation is the practice of paying attention to the present moment without judging it. This seems simple enough, but the actual practice of learning to be fully present in mind and body with open acceptance can be a challenge. For most mindfulness meditation students, it is an unlearning process. After decades of social conditioning, distraction, stimulation seeking, and striving to achieve, learning to be still through the practice of observing thoughts, emotions, and sensations without acting upon them takes a lot of patience and self-acceptance.

In fact, patience and acceptance are two of the seven pillars of mindfulness as outlined by MBSR founder, Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD. The other mindfulness pillars are non-judging, trust, non-striving, beginner’s mind, and letting go. (Reference 2)  Embodying these seven pillars lead meditators to less reactive states and an increased sense of compassion and connection to themselves, others, and nature.

7 steps of Mindfulness

Mindfulness meditation takes practice and willingness. As healthcare practitioners increase the frequency of recommending mindfulness meditation to their clients, patients, and peers, it is important to address common myths that may arise about mindfulness meditation.

Myth #1: Mindfulness Meditation is a Form of Relaxation

Mindfulness meditation is not a form of relaxation. Instead, mindfulness is the practice of waking up – learning to be fully alive and embracing the joy, sorrow, boredom, grief, and triumphs that life brings to every human being.

Relaxation is a sought after sense of relief.  Mindfulness teaches to release the tight mental grasp that hopes for a specific outcome.

By constantly seeking relief and distraction from troubles, humans perpetuate suffering by not learning to be in compassionate relationship with what exists within and around us. If one learns to openly witness and accept negative symptoms and feelings, one has greater access to choice. Turning away from discomfort may offer short-term relief but often leads to long-term dysfunction.

The stress reduction benefits of mindfulness meditation are not from relaxation. The benefits are from the freedom of the incessant identification of thought, feeling and sensation patterns that limit the openness of the heart.

Myth #2: Mindfulness Meditation Conflicts with Religious Beliefs

One does not have to accept or deny any religion or creed to practice mindfulness meditation.

It is true that the practice of mindfulness has roots in Buddhism, but it is commonplace for mindfulness meditation teachers and programmes in the west to teach a secular approach.

Mindfulness meditation is safely available to people of any religion or no religion. My clients with religious faith often report mindfulness enhances their spiritual path by being able to slow down, pay attention, and live in harmony with their values.

The teachings of mindfulness welcome diversity and love. There is no request or need to adopt or change religious beliefs to practice mindfulness meditation.

Myth #3: Mindfulness Meditation Requires Thoughts to Stop

Mindfulness meditation does not require one to stop thinking. One is not doing it right or wrong if one has less or more thoughts. Instead of ceasing thought, mindfulness meditation asks the student to observe thoughts without judging them or labelling them as ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ It is this tendency to constantly label, attach to pleasure, and avert from pain that prevents humans from the experience of moment-to-moment presence.

Constantly seeking pleasure or avoiding pain limits one’s ability to connect with the present moment, and the present moment is where each of us experiences life. The present moment is the only time there is to embrace the opportunity to connect, choose, transform, or accept.

By learning to observe and be the neutral witness of one’s thought patterns, it increases the capacity for self-awareness and self-regulation. With heightened awareness, there is a significant shift in the ability to choose – to respond thoughtfully in accordance with our values instead of on autopilot, and to connect with what is really happening in the present moment in lieu of stressing over what may happen or ruminating over the past.

Myth #4: Mindfulness Meditation Takes Too Much Time

Most people report being pressed for time. The last thing someone wants is another item to add to the to-do list, and approaching mindfulness as another task to check off this list is ill advised.

Mindfulness meditation does not have to take a lot of time. One can have a formal sitting or walking mindfulness meditation practice in as little as five minutes a day. The goal is to not achieve a certain length of time in meditation. The practice is to be comfortable without an end result, to be accepting in the space of not knowing, and to experience the presence of being.

Mindfulness teaches we are meant to be human beings, not human doings.

The experience of being trapped for time is an experience of constant doing. By taking both time and awareness to practice being present, my clients report a healthier relationship to time. The constant busyness fills a false sense of self-importance and is a distraction to their core values.

One can take as much or as little time as desired to start a mindfulness practice; the peace is in the quality of the attention itself.

REFERENCE LIST

1 Scientific Papers from The Stress Reduction Clinic and The Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society. 2012-1982. (Editors Saki F. Santorelli, Ed.D., M.A. & Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D.)

2 Kabat-Zinn, Jon. (1990). Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Pain, Stress, and Illness. New York: Bantam Dell.

Feb 05

The Power of Pausing

We live in a world that operates at an ever increasing pace. If we’re not careful, we can feel like we’re running a race every minute of the day.

In the hustle and bustle that many of us experience in our everyday living, it is easy to momentarily forget the poetry of pausing, even if you (like me) have experienced the serenity and power that conscious pausing brings. For me it is the peace that passes beyond understanding.  It is the leveller that brings sanity and reasoning in moments of chaos and frustration.  It is a reminder of how much I have to be grateful for, even when I experience loss or things don’t go as I had envisaged.  It re-connects me to the strength of gratitude and how much saying, “Thank you,” out loud brings me back to matters of primary importance.  May I never get so caught up in my own ridiculousness that I lose clarity of vision and forget to express my gratitude.

Something about pausing and honing in on gratitude helps moderate the imbalance we sometimes feel and helps us to focus in an age of ever increasing distractions.  Being focused and conscious of the present moment allows us to become fully aware and to live ‘in the now’.  Consciousness is like the sky, it may be covered by clouds or troubled by heavy storms but in the end, this does not affect the sky itself.  It remains unaffected, open and unlimited.

What does this teach us? It teaches us that everything we experience, be it good or bad, is only an experience.  It’s not something permanent, it’s not who we are.  We shouldn’t let our inabilities and flaws define us, but we shouldn’t let our successes blind us either.  We have to go the Middle Way.  So, by being conscious, by living ‘mindfully’ we can let go of the past and stop worrying about the future.  It is only then that we are able to be really present.  It is only then that we find our true self.

Let us explore the difference between the “false self” and “true self”.  The false self, as I understand it, is rooted in conditional statements of self-worth such as, “I am worthwhile because I am well liked” or “I am worthwhile if I get praise” or “I am worthwhile if I do well” etc.  The problem with such beliefs is that they are rooted in fear and lead to rigid thinking.  They make our self-worth conditional on the belief always being true.  If we discover, for instance, that someone doesn’t like us or that we didn’t do well in an exam or on a piece of work etc, then our self-worth is thrown into question.  The point of mindful living (mindfulness), then, is to look beyond the false self to the TRUE SELF underneath.  The true self knows that “I am worthwhile because I am.”

So what can we do to affirm and develop our ‘pausing’ in order to reconnect with the present and evoke a state of conscious awareness and gratitude?  As a starting point, it may be useful to link your practice to a particular activity that you carry out every day – eating.  It is something we all need to do to survive and yet we often do so in a fairly unconscious state.  We frequently take our food for granted and show little or no gratitude for having it.  I am not talking about thanking the person who prepared the meal, although of course I encourage giving thanks to that person, even if it was you!  I am talking about recognising how fortunate we are to actually have the food on our plate and being grateful for this.  Pausing to do so before a meal enables us to focus on our abundance and brings us into a deeper understanding of what is.  Religion has become such a point of contention amongst people that we as a society no longer really say grace.  But one doesn’t have to be of a particular religion to ‘give thanks’ and realise that some have abundance where others have none.

So, what are your “false self” beliefs?  Take notice of them this week and begin to practice letting go of them one moment at a time.  Use the ‘Power of Pausing’ to live fully in the now!

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