I have practised various forms of self-empathetic innerwork over the years. In the past, my personal method has been a distillation of, and a combination of, the innerwork approaches of Eugene Gendlin (Focusing), Ann Weiser-Cornell (Focusing), James Hillman (Jungian Innerwork), Marshall Rosenberg (Nonviolent Communication), Richard Schwarz (Inner Family Systems), Jerry Donoghue (Inner Presence Coaching), Steve De Shazer (Brief Solution Focused Therapy). While I continue to draw on the specific methods of these innovators in the fields of psychology and psychotherapy practice, I have more recently found it helpful to set these learnings in the context of the non-dual mandala-wisdom that we find in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, and which Carl Jung helped to make so much more available and accessible in the West. Hence my own personal name for the form of self-empathic innerwork that I now practice, is ‘Mandala Innerwork’, reflecting the fact that it is essentially a form of Buddhist self-enquiry.
The Buddha’s Self-Enquiry / Self-Empathy Dyads
As I have developed my approach to self-empathetic innerwork, and studied the various other self-enquiry dyad models that I have mentioned above, I have increasingly found myself coming back to the Buddha’s approach and to the Buddhist terminology of the Five Skandhas, the Five Realms, the Five Wisdoms, and the brahmavhāras. I have begun to outline the details of how these fit together in various articles on this website. By making these connections we can bring the richness and power of the Buddhist wisdom tradition to our Western approaches to psychotherapeutic innerwork, while also bringing a much needed psychological sophistication to Buddhist Mindfulness, meditation and self-enquiry practice.
In this article however, I will be avoiding the complexity that arises for us when we try to use the Sanskrit terminology of ancient Buddhism – by mainly using the language of the self-empathy aspect of Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication (NVC) model.
In the language of Nonviolent Communication, we can conceptualise Mandala Innerwork as a self-empathy practice, and the person doing it as a ‘self-empathiser’ and the person holding space is the ’empathiser’. In Eugene Gendlin’s Focusing model the activity of self-enquiry came to be called ‘focusing’, and the person turning their attention inward was called the ‘focuser’, and the person holding space is the ‘companion’. In the context of Mandala Innerwork, I prefer to think of the activity simply as ‘doing self-enquiry’, but I acknowledge a debt to Eugene Gendlin by using the terminology of ‘focuser’ and ‘companion’ for the roles.
The Buddha had his monks do meditative self-enquiry dyads, the details of which got lost down the centuries. The modern Buddhists and historians of Buddhism understand the practice as some form of ‘confession’, which is an unfortunate projection of Christian cultural practice onto the much more complex and subtle culture of early Buddhist self-enquiry. It is my belief that these early Buddhist ‘Confession’ dyads would have more closely resembled the self-empathy / self-enquiry dyad practices of today, and my Mandala Innerwork model has in part been an attempt to recreate the sort of Buddhist self-enquiry that would have characterised them.
The notion of ‘Confession’ is not completely illegitimate – of course. It just needs to be freed from the assumptions that tend to attach to it. I shall be sharing more of my thoughts on this in future articles, but the main thing I would like to highlight here is that in a confession process we are addressing that which is incongruous with our deeper true nature. In other words, not merely incongruous with an external religious creed, but incongruous with our deeper ethically and aspirational sense of ourselves, which is felt to be more essential and more authentic. So, ‘confession’ is always about our inner relationship between this deep inner knowing (which I like to call Consciousness) and something more superficial which is incongruous with that.
Resting as Consciousness; Relating to Psychological Parts
Their are two close related features in my approach, and they are both rooted in the profound early Buddhist psychology of the five skandhas and the four brahmavihāras. The first, could be characterised as ‘resting as Consciousness’: a focus on familiarising ourselves with, and learning to ‘rest as’ the ’empty’ impersonal Consciousness (the ’empty’ vijñāna skandha), that is capable of witnessing our experience objectively, and ‘relating’ to our experience with a warmly accepting quality of Presence. In my articles – especially those on meditation and self-enquiry that are to be found under the Meditation’ menu above – I have been highlighting the fact that the character of that the ’empty’ field of Consciousness, as it becomes embodied in us as Presence, is beautifully and comprehensively described by the four brahmavihāras.
The second feature of my Mandala Innerwork, or ‘Buddhist Self-Enquiry’ model, is based on our development of a deep familiarity with the other four skandhas – essentially the conceptualising (rūpa), sensing (vedanā), evaluating (samjñā), and volitional (samskaras) functions of Consciousness – and this involves learning to ‘work with psychological parts’. By working with psychological parts I mean, essentially, that we look at our experience closely, and learn to recognise that our conventionally experienced self never does actually have the character of a self at all. Rather, on close examination is it found to be an aggregation of cognitive-perceptual processes and cognitive-perceptual data that are assembled into the appearance of a self. What’s more, when we engage in this enquiry, we also become keenly aware of the fact that the egoic self is certainly not single. Rather, it is multiple – each of our separate egoic selves or ‘psychological parts’ are an adaption, in the course of our development to particular developmental stages and challenges.
I have come to regard these two features: resting as Consciousness; and working with psychological parts, as inseparable. Whether our focus is on learning to be self-empathetically present with yourselves for the purpose of self-knowledge and psychological healing; or we are spiritual seekers wishing to know the ultimate nature of mind, we cannot avoid acknowledging these two features of the process. It is one of foundational paradoxes of the process of spiritual integration and psychological healing that in order to become more unified and whole, we need to acknowledge that our egoic self is made up of many psychological parts; and need to develop a sense of the inner relationship between Consciousness and those psychological parts.
To the Trikāya, which is the true nature of all Dharmas, non-dual, limitless, profound and vast, I make obeisance. I worship the unmade, the unlimited, and the eternal. I make confession of the sin of not knowing that my own mind is the Buddha. Rejoicing in the natural state, the self-aware, I request the Buddha to revolve the ungraspable, omnipresent and all-accomplishing Dharma Wheel. I pray that the mundane and the transcendental may be established in oneness. Whatever obeisance and worship I have performed, I transmute into the great shunyatā. May all beings attain both shunyatā and great bliss.
I hope you enjoy my articles. The various inter-related categories of my writing are described below, and my coaching and teaching work is described below that. Keep scrolling to find links to my most recent articles. On a computer you can hover your pointer over the categories in the menu bar above to reveal the sub-menus, and listings of my previous articles. On a mobile, the articles are best read in a ‘landscape’ orientation.
Current Mandala of Love Projects:
I have not been able to find time to add much to the Mandala of Love website in recent months, as I have been in a full-time caring role taking care of a close family member. Below are a few of the projects that I have either been working on recently, or hope to be returning to before too long:
In the limited time that I have had available, in the last year, I have been working on a small book called ‘Buddha, Dharma, Sangha and the Five Wisdoms Mandala’ – I hope to have the book completed by the end of this year. I have for a long time felt the need to write a book that will provide a fairly compact but comprehensive overview of the philosophical and practical approach that I have been presenting in my articles, and I hope that this book will serve that purpose. You can read my Preface to that book here.
I have recently created a new page for email subscriptions (here), and would very much encourage you to add your email to the Mandala of Love list. In addition, if you are interested in the online course program that I have outlined below, please consider subscribing to that list also.
I am currently preparing material for a Zoom-based group training program, so that those who want to engage more deeply with the themes that I have been presenting on the Mandala of Love website articles, can do so. I have chosen to call the program of courses Five Wisdoms Mandala. Click here for more details. The program will be presented via weekly group-Zoom sessions, which will each run for two hours with a short break. The courses will be structured into a series of modules – the initial course will probably have at least three six-week modules, making eighteen Zoom sessions altogether. It will include guided meditations; powerpoint presentations; self-enquiry dyad exercises; group discussion; and group question and answer sessions.
For those interested in these Zoom-based group trainings on the Mandala of Love themes, I have provided a summary of the main components of the program here.
You can sign up for email notifications here if you would like to receive information about these courses.
Those who have followed my writing on meditation and self-enquiry closely, may know that I give particular importance to the individual and collective psychology that we find symbolised in Buddhist tradition by the archetypal asura Realm. The asura Realm is associated with the green, northern quadrant of the mandala, where we see that our innate human potential for empathy and compassion, and for the fearlessness that springs from confidence in the beneficial power of the Transcendental, is lost due to our personalising identification with the samskāras skandha (the volitional energies). This identification leads to the egoic power-drive of the klesha of irshya (envy), and to dominant, conflictual, and manipulative ways of being. For more on this, see my articles here and here.
The Buddhist tradition is telling us, in the language of an archetypal psychology, that our personalising identification with the volitional energies , is personally and collectively very dangerous indeed, because it can lead the world to become lost in a particularly dark, violent and unconscious style of embodiment. The asuras are the powerful and obsessive ‘war gods’ of ancient Indian mythology, who are eternally at war with the benign devas, who are associated with refined ethical sensibility and positive emotion. It could be argued that, more than any other, it is the asura archetype that shapes human history – and yet it is very little known, and given very little attention, even by most Buddhists. While we need to be vigilant regarding the asura tendency in our own nature, I believe that we also need to be recognising it, naming it, and pushing back against it when we see it in our external world. While I have recently begun to write a few anti-war articles on this website, which you can find listed here, most of my anti-war writing can be found on my personal Facebook page which is here.
My ethical and compassionate response to the tragedy of the Ukraine crisis is complex, and is likely to be misunderstood by many people. While I recoil in horror at violence of this sort, or any sort, my training in nonviolence, mediation, and Buddhist meditation and self-enquiry, leads me to be more interested in understanding the conditions that lead to violence, than in mere condemnation of it. Rather than simply rushing to judgement, and joining the calls for more weapons for Ukraine, and for the punishment of the population of the Russian Federation through sanctions, I take a much wider historical perspective on the conflict than we are currently being presented with in the mainstream media. I prefer instead to ask what awareness we can bring, which might contribute to understanding, to resolution, to mediation, and to a break in the cycle of violence rather than a further escalation of it. This seems particularly necessary, since a major cause of the original escalation of the civil war in Ukraine into a direct Russia-Ukraine conflict has been the confusion and misinformation, much of it deliberate, that has surrounded the crisis, and has accompanied the deeply irrational and provocative actions of the US and NATO.
My extensive study of the historical and geopolitical background to this war, leads me to see this as a war in which Russia has, in absolute desperation, used military force to protect its own security, and the security of the Russian-speaking people of eastern Ukraine. The military confrontation that we are seeing was predicted 28 years ago, and it was perhaps inevitable, given NATO’s determination to expand to Russia’s borders, and its complete unwillingness to consider Russia’s reasonable security needs. It was brought very much closer, and perhaps even made inevitable, by the reckless US-facilitated coup in Ukraine in 2014, and by the passivity of the international community as 14,000 Russian-speaking Ukrainians were killed (and 50,000 were injured) by the sniper attacks and shelling from the Ukrainian army and its associated neo-Nazi militias over the 8 years from Feb 2014 to Feb 2022 – over a thousand people were killed by landmines alone. The fanatically anti-Russian neo-Nazi militias have been a minority element in Ukrainian society since WW2. US intelligence services have worked with these groups since that time, but it is the more recent actions of the US, that have allowed them to become the dominant political force that they have become in Ukrainian society today.
The actions of both Ukraine and the US and the other NATO countries, can be seen as expressions of the violent and manipulative spirit of the asura realm playing out very concretely and extremely destructively on the geopolitical stage – as it always will until we learn to recognise it and challenge it. Ultimately, in my view, the resolution of this horrific conflict is to be found, not only in an honest enquiry into its economic and historical causes, but also in reflection on its spiritual/psychological causes. I would like to provide a little of both in the articles on this website.
There are currently 43 articles in my introductory series on meditation, self-enquiry, and the psychology of the mandala, which I initially chose to call ‘Meditation Guidance’. I generally recommend this initial series of articles to anyone who is new to the Mandala of Love website. I have now written summaries for the first 37 articles in this series and this listing is available by clicking here, or on image below. For more information on this ‘Meditation Guidance’ series, please see my description further down this page.
Click on the title above to read the first article in a series of twelve articles, which together take a very deep, broad and detailed look at what recognising the emptiness of the rūpa skandha, the ‘form-creating’ skandha, might mean in practice. This series is part of a larger series of articles, which can be found under the ‘5 Wisdoms’ menu above, and in which I will eventually be covering each of the five skandhas in turn. To read from the beginning of the ‘5 Wisdoms’ series click here.
The fact that the rūpa skandha is associated, in the Bardo Thodol (the so-called ‘Tibetan Book of the Dead’), with both the Mirror-Like Wisdom and the Buddhist ‘Hell Realms’ (with their archetypal imagery of inhumane mental judgement, condemnation and hatred – leading to horrible tortures and punishments), establishes very clearly that the rūpa skandha is best understood to be referring to the Thinking function of the mind. The rūpa skandha however, is usually rendered, not by more accurate and descriptive words like ‘conceptualisation’, or ‘conceptual form’, but simply by the word ‘Form’. This introduces a confusion in which the rūpa skandha, the concretising, form-creating dimension of the mind’s cognitive functioning, and the corresponding ‘form-data’ of mental experience, is frequently associated with ‘the body’ in the concrete, sensory, and corporeal sense of the word – an association that is best reserved for vedanā, the skandha of Sensing, or the perception of Sensation. These articles aim to recover the great power of the Buddha’s ‘Five Skandhas‘ teaching by addressing this area of confusion.
During the last couple of years, I have had very little time for writing, but have begun work on a series of longer articles on the ten deities of the Dharmadhātu mandala that were described by Padmasambhava in his Bardo Thodol teachings. I have taken as my starting point, the central five verses in Padmasambhava’s ‘Inspiration-Prayer for Deliverance from the Dangerous Pathway of the Bardo’ (which you can read here). I have found these verses inspirational ever since I was introduced to them nearly 40 years ago, and I hope you will find them the same.
In this series, I am aiming to show meditators how each one of the five male Buddhas and the five female Buddhas of the Dharmadhātu Mandala can be felt in the fields of the body as profound suprapersonal sources of somatic healing and wisdom. Those who read the whole series of articles – and it is intended that these articles should be read in sequence – will be able to incorporate these reflections into their meditation practice in a systematic way. The first article in the series can be found here, and brief summaries of all the articles that I have written so far, can be found here.
The introductory series of 43 articles on meditation and self-enquiry, which I chose to call the ‘Meditation Guidance’ series, and which is listed under the ‘Meditation’ menu above, was my main focus in 2017 and 2018. I tried to write these articles in a way that would make them accessible to anyone who might have a general interest in meditation, self-awareness, and spiritual development. My approach to meditation and Mindfulness is distinctive, and perhaps idiosyncratic, because, although it is based on the Buddhist psychology of non-duality, and on the mandala-wisdom of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, it also makes use of the translations of the Buddhist skandhas that we find in the English translations of Carl Jung. Jung borrowed very heavily from Buddhism in the development of his own mandala model of the psyche – unfortunately without acknowledging his debt. I am borrowing back from Jung – and I certainly acknowledge a great debt to him.
An important source of inspiration for these articles was my deepening appreciation of the meeting of Quantum Physics and Quantum Biology with Neuroscience, which is now taking place. I find this to be most fully articulated in the brilliant Penrose-Hameroff hypothesis in regard to the nature of the brain-Consciousness interface – a hypothesis that is steadily accumulating experimental support.
Brief summaries of the articles in the ‘Meditation Guidance’ series can be found here, or by clicking the image below.
I am most strongly influenced by Buddhist thought, and my approach could be characterised as a ‘Western Buddhist’ one – and one in which I have tried as much as possible to address the general reader. Where they can serve to illuminate and ground the deep non-dual psychology of the Buddhist mandala wisdom, I therefore make connections with other psychologies that share the same inspiration. I engaged in intensive study of Carl Jung concurrently with my Buddhist studies in my twenties and have drawn heavily on that knowledge. I have more recently been a passionate student of the deep humanistic psychology of Marshall Rosenberg (founder of Nonviolent Communication – NVC), and of Eugene Gendlin (founder of the ‘Focusing‘ self-empathy/self-enquiry dyad practice) and, since I have found these to be of enormous value in my understanding of Buddhist psychology, I have woven these perspectives into this Mandala of Love approach to meditation and self-enquiry.
This ‘Meditation Guidance’ series of articles, does not in fact present any detailed explanation of specific meditation practices, but aims to bring fresh insights to several common approaches to meditation – the Mindfulness of Breathing, Mettā Bhavana (‘Cultivation of Loving Kindness’), and the Zen ‘Just Sitting’ practice for example. The initial framework for the Mandala of Love approach, and for this whole series also, is provided by the four brahmavihāras (Loving Kindness, Appreciative Joy, Equanimity and Compassion) – a four-fold meditation-cycle and self-enquiry practice from ancient India, which was given a very important place in the Buddha’s teaching framework, and in the subsequent development of the Buddhist tradition. Central to my approach is the conceptualisation of meditation practice as ‘resting as Consciousness’, and the recognition of the brahmavihāras as ‘attitudes of Consciousness’. I find ‘resting as Consciousness’ to be more descriptive than the traditional Buddhist term ‘Mindfulness’, with which it is essentially synonymous.
The word Consciousness as I use it in its capitalised form in these articles, refers to the ’empty’ vijñāna skandha of Buddhist tradition, which we find placed at the centre of the Buddhist mandalas. To know Consciousness is not easy, since Consciousness is the ‘knower’ of our experience – the awareness that is aware of being aware. Our engagement in self-enquiry and familiarisation with the phenomenon of Consciousness is absolutely key to spiritual practice however – the Buddha told us that “Mindfulness is the Way to the Immortal”. As with all of the skandhas, the Buddhist tradition speaks of the vijñāna skandha having ‘internal’ and ‘external’ aspects. As I understand it, the ‘internal’ aspect is the non-personal experiencing subject – the spaciousness that is the centre and the circumference of our experiencing; and the ‘external’ aspect is the quality of ‘knowing presence’ that is orientated outwardly towards our cognitive-perceptual experience.
By re-framing meditation and Mindfulness practices as expressions of ‘resting as Consciousness’, and acknowledging the ’empty’ and impersonal nature of all the components of cognition and perception that arise in Consciousness (the skandhas of Buddhist tradition), there is an opportunity to set these practices in a non-dual context – one that is, I hope, much more true to the Buddha’s teaching than many of the modern derivatives. The Buddha bore witness to the impersonal nature of all psychological phenomena, and to the ’empty’ and non-locatable nature of Consciousness, and urged his students to take these insights as the foundation of their practice. When we step out of the egoic perspective, we can re-discover meditation as an activity whose purpose is to reveal our true nature and recover our natural state – the compassion and intelligence of our natural humanity.
Since the beginning of 2019, I have been aiming in my articles, to provide some in-depth analysis on the Five Wisdoms; on the Buddha’s ‘Emptiness of the Five Skandhas‘ teaching; and on the closely-related ‘Four Foundations of Mindfulness’. I have created a new menu category for some of these articles, which I have called simply, ‘5 Wisdoms’. Under this menu you will find a group of introductory, or overview articles on the five skandhas. This will eventually be followed by five groups of articles – one for each of the five skandhas. I have begun the first group, which is one focused on the very important, but much misunderstood, rūpa skandha – the ’empty’ conceptualising, or ‘conceptual-form-creating’, function of the mind.
Find this series of articles listed under the ‘5 Wisdoms’ menu, or access brief summaries of the articles in that series by clicking here. You can access the first post in the series by clicking here.
I have been a passionate student of Marshall Rosenberg’sNonviolent Communication (NVC) model for over twenty years, and have taught several courses based on his work and on the closely-related work of Eugene Gendlin, the originator of the Focusing self-empathy dyad practice. I have also developed an innovative approach to the NVC model, which I call the NVC Mandala, and which sees the ‘four components’ of Rosenberg’s model as a beautiful example of the universal mandala wisdom that we find in Tibetan Buddhism, and in the psychology of Carl Jung – although Jung, it should always be noted, borrowed much from Tibetan Buddhism in the creation of his mandala model of the psyche.
The ‘NVC Mandala’ that becomes clear when Marshall Rosenberg’s ‘four components’ model is arranged with Observations and Feelings at east and west, and Needs and Requests at north and south, is all the more remarkable for the fact that he developed his model without any knowledge of Tibetan Buddhism or the work of Carl Jung. The obvious connections between the non-dual psychology of the Tibetan Buddhist mandala and the practical psychological analysis of thought and language that is provided by Marshall Rosenberg, provide the basis for an extremely rich synthesis of ideas and very profound support for the Buddhist practice of Mindfulness.
I have placed Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication and Eugene Gendlin’s Focusing under the same heading because I have found it helpful to combine them into a single model. The outer clarity of communication, which the Nonviolent Communication model aspires to, requires a foundation of deep Presence and self-empathy – and these qualities can be more powerfully cultivated and more fully understood through self-enquiry dyad practice of the sort that Eugene Gendlin showed us when he presented his Focusing model.
I hope that the articles in the ‘NVC/Focusing’ series will be thought-provoking for anyone with an interest in bringing harmony and compassion to their relationships and communities; in the psychology and spirituality of everyday life; and in the Buddhist ideals of nonviolence, loving-kindness, and creativity. I would like to find the time to write some in-depth reflections on how both Nonviolent Communication and Focusing can support a deepening of Buddhist practice; and how Buddhist insights can support a deepening of the practice of Nonviolent Communication and Focusing.
You can access the first post in this series by clicking here, or via the ‘NVC/Focusing’ category in the top menu.
The Mandala of Love website started as a book project called A Mandala of Love: Consciousness, Ethics and Society. I have published some of the drafts of the early sections of that book (from 2016) in the form of articles in a ‘Book Sections’ series, which can be accessed by clicking on the ‘Book’ menu above.
Alternatively, you can access the first post in the ‘Book Sections’ series by clicking here.
The earliest piece of writing in the site, this is a longer piece from 2012. Even though it is not quite complete, it covers the most significant events on the wonderful Hui Neng story. To access it click here, or on the title above. I am hoping that this article will provide inspiration and guidance to students of both meditation and non-duality. I find the story of Hui Neng to be one of the most beautiful and illuminating in the whole of the Buddhist tradition. Among the many deep themes in this rich and multi-dimensional autobiographical work, you will find, I believe, the essence of Zen.
Those who have been reading my articles on the mandala wisdom on this website, will find that Hui Neng’s story brings us back, in a fresh new way, to the traditional point of entry into the mandala: the blue Eastern Quadrant; the ’empty’ rūpa skandha; the Mirror-Like Wisdom; and the brahmavihāra of Equanimity.
Individual Coaching, Mandala Innerwork, and Meditation Teaching
Although I am currently very busy with personal commitments, I may be able to provide individual meditation guidance and coaching sessions via Zoom to people who are interested in my work. My Mandala Innerwork approach to coaching is a form of self-enquiry that students of meditation will find very supportive. These sessions are also especially valuable to students of the Nonviolent Communication (NVC) model, since these sessions focus on the development of the attitudes and skills of self-empathy, which is foundational to that model. I am particularly keen to work with those who are interested in the Mandala of Love approach to self-enquiry, meditation, and self-empathetic innerwork, and who would value my support to apply the principles that I have been outlining in my articles.
My approach to innerwork draws on various sources of inspiration, but makes extensive use of the work of Eugene Gendlin, and his student Anne Weiser-Cornell. I have also completed the Inner Presence Coaching training of Jerry Donoghue, an NVC teacher who is based in Ashville, North Carolina, in the USA – an NVC teacher who, like me, is engaged with integrating NVC with the non-dual wisdom of the Buddhist tradition.
Jerry Donoghue and I also share the conviction that the practice of self-empathy, which is a foundational element of the NVC model, requires the acknowledgement of psychological parts – a theme that I have addressed frequently in my ‘Meditation Guidance’ articles (including here, here, here, and here). Indeed the self-empathy / self-enquiry approach that I have come to call Mandala Innerwork is founded on my observation, over several decades of my own innerwork practice, that the ability to self-empathetically recognise and work with psychological parts is an essential self-awareness skill, and a necessary skill if we wish to become more conscious; to recover an authentic self; and to integrate non-dual wisdom.
In the context of my individual coaching sessions, I like to integrate my meditation and self-enquiry work with my facilitation of self-empathetic innerwork. Both skills take the idea of ‘resting as Consciousness’ as their starting point. Indeed, my coaching work is best characterised as a form of self-enquiry facilitation, or of Mindfulness with the goal of Insight – seeing through the self-illusion. The depth of that enquiry depends on the choice of those that I am working with, but my own personal framework is rooted in the rich and powerful psychology of the Buddhist non-duality teachings.
If you would like to read more on my approach to NVC Self-Empathy work and Mandala Innerwork, please consider looking at the articles that can be found under the NVC/Focusing menu above. A brief summary of my approach can be found here.
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