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Stanislav Grof in 1985 : Transpersonal Psychology and Quantum Physics.

Stanislav Grof in 1985 : Transpersonal Psychology and Quantum Physics. An interview with Stan by Perry Holloman at Esalen

“I had the privilege to interview Stan in 1985 about the Quantum/Relitivistic Paradigm and its relationship to the evolution of  psychology into a fourth force in our understanding of psychological and spiritual development. Psychology often stops where our spiritual development begins. Listen to Stan discuss the history of Transpersonal Psychology and why traditional approaches have left many of our deepest experiences of extraordinary states unexplained.”  Perry/2020

Click Here to Listen!

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Understanding Acute and Chronic Back Pain

Here is a link to a short article I wrote for the Esalen Newsletter on how to deal with acute and chronic pain  both as a bodywork practitioner and as anyone experiencing this very common, often debilitating experience. Separating fear from the actual experience of pain is the key!

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Yoga for Bodyworkers: The Shoulder Part Two

Johanna applies the principle of “the shoulder loop” (stabilizing the the head of the humerus in the glenoid fossa of the scapula) to the practice of Esalen Massage and Deep Bodywork. Working with proper body mechanics lessens the risk of injury, and allows the body to become a conduit both for gravitation, as well as “chi-energy”. Working in this way is not only more effective in terms of the results we will see with our clients, but also is nourishing to the body of the practitioner.

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Yoga for Bodyworkers with Johanna Holloman

Johanna demonstrates yoga poses in this post which help massage practitioners understand how to stabilize and strengthen the shoulder joint. The shoulder is one of the most frequently injured areas of the body in bodyworkers who are working full time, and often on clients who outweigh them. In this and Johanna’s next post, she demonstrates proper body mechanics of the shoulder while working. She demonstrates some simple poses which if practiced properly, can add strength, flexibility and awareness to your bodywork practice.

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Discussions with a Physicist: Part II, by Perry Holloman

In part I of this article, I recounted my discussion with a physicist I had the good fortune to meet after having worked on a member of his family at Esalen’s Carmel office. We talked about the interconnectedness within the basic fabric of our universe, a fact which quantum theory describes mathematically, and has been demonstrated experimentally. This fact has radical implications for our theoretical understanding about the nature of reality itself. As I wrote in part I, confirmed by my physicist friend, matter, energy, space, time, and mind are interwoven into an unbroken wholeness. Anyone involved in the healing arts needs to consider the relational nature of our universe and it’s component parts as we assess our work and it’s effect on both our clients and ourselves. Following are a few details which get a bit heady, but are crucial to understand in order to grasp the above ideas. Please bear with me while I try to explain them clearly.

In 1964, an Irish physicist named John Stewart Bell became interested in a debate between Danish physicist Niels Bohr, and one of the 20th centuries’ most brilliant minds, Albert Einstein. At issue was a peculiar aspect of quantum theory called ‘quantum entanglement”. Quantum entanglement involves the interaction of sub-atomic particles. When they interact, they become “entangled”. Einstein’s dilemma was his attachment to a universe made up of ordinary objects. Quantum theory as a whole, and quantum entanglement in particular, demonstrates that the objects we perceive as normal with our five senses are hardly normal at all. Objects that have become “entangled” respond to changes in each other’s state instantaneously, across space and time at faster than light speeds. This occurs no matter how far apart they are. Quantum entangled particles of light on opposite sides of our galaxy literally sense, instantaneously, shifts experienced by the other. Einstein spent a great deal of time trying to prove, through a famous thought experiment called the EPR experiment, that this “non-local, faster than light” aspect of quantum theory had to be wrong. Bohr was convinced that any notion of “ordinary objects” was absurd. Quantum theory demonstrates that “objects” come in and out of being, moment to moment, according to quantum probabilities represented by waveforms. Non-local, faster than light relationships are a curious feature of a theory representing a reality based on the rules of quantum probability. Einstein, convinced that some “hidden variable” had yet to be discovered to complete quantum theory, uttered the famous phrase “god does not play dice” to express his distaste for this feature of quantum theory. John Bell entered the fray to settle a central question in this debate: is the universe a collection of discreet, separate parts, related by “local forces” only, like gravitation, electro-magnetism, and the strong and weak nuclear forces, or is there a “non-local” interconnecting web, capable of faster than light signaling as suggested by quantum theory? To make a long, very complex story short, Bell discovered a mathematical proof that demonstrated reality to be non-local, as suggested by quantum theory. In 1972 at the University of California, Berkeley, and again in 1982 at the University of Paris, what is now known as Bell’s Theorem was experimentally verified. It means that we live in an interconnected universe which responds to changes anywhere in it’s web instantaneously, at faster than light speed (enormously faster).

All of this was information I was familiar with, and had pondered deeply over many years. In my conversation with my new physicist friend, he said something which made me look at all of this from a deeper perspective. It was truly a “click, light goes on” moment in my thinking. What he said was: “At the dawn of time, when the universe was born in the Big Bang, everything was quantum entangled. All of the matter, energy, and space created in that process is inextricably linked, forever. The atoms making up your body, and the hydrogen in the cores of distant stars sense each other at a level that is so subtle most people never experience it. Our minds are made up of the same stuff, and have the capacity for self-awareness. A part of their nature is the reality of quantum interconnectedness. It is possible to directly experience that. It creates a feeling of the human mind being connected to a greater living, self-organizing intelligence. I think this experience is what some people call god.” Wow! My mind was totally blown at that point, so blown that as they left, I forgot to ask him his name.

I ask myself the question if quantum interconnectedness is in some way involved with the intuitive capacity to empathically connect with our client’s in a way which can be therapeutically beneficial. Watching Milton Traeger work at Esalen in 1979, it was clear to me that he had this capacity. It is a capacity that can be learned, and taught. As I have stated in previous blog posts, slowing down, and allowing sensing and feeling to become primary in our field of awareness are keys. Providing our students with opportunities to practice developing these capacities is an important part of our work as teachers, if our intention is to train practitioners of the healing arts, rather than “massage technicians”. (I’ve always disliked that term.)

On a final note, some people are convinced that the experience my physicist friend was describing is one of “the divine”, or god. Others, like myself, believe that the universe is possibly a living, learning, ever evolving process, integrating into some kind of “meta-intelligence”. This meta-intelligence might be the sum total of all intelligent beings and processes existing within the boundaries of this universe. Quantum interconnectedness may be an organizing, connecting factor, which makes it possible for seemingly disconnected processes and individuals to intuitively connect. We can never know for certain which explanation fits the facts most neatly. Even a scientific explanation requires a great deal of faith. The following comment, from an old friend, on my “Therapeutic Aggravation” post points to the issue quite clearly:

“…well put and supported what point does a correction become divine healing..I know you’ve been there and have witnessed it. How do you know as the manipulator when the healing touch becomes divine ? you know me never an easy question…” les

Great question Les. I can only speculate as to the answer.


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Esalen Massage Demonstration by Perry Holloman at the Findhorn Foundation

I’ve gotten a lot of feedback that this massage video expresses the qualities I described in my 2 blog posts “Healing Physiological Effects of Esalen Massage”. We shot this 2 years ago during our monthlong certification class at Findhorn, where we will be again from June 25th to July 23rd. Hope everyone enjoys!
For more information about the monthlong course, click here.

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Discussions with a Physicist: Part 1, by Perry Holloman

Today, I had the pleasure of working with a mother and her daughter, on this day before mother’s day, with a colleague of mine at Esalen’s Carmel office. I noticed they had a bit of a southwestern accent as they spoke, and as we talked, they told me they were on vacation from Dallas, Texas. They were with a very unassuming gentleman who, as it turned out, had spent time on the California coast throughout his adult life. Interestingly, I made a number of assumptions about who they were without knowing them at all, like:

-He works in the oil industry
-Receiving massage is a part of “the California experience”
-They probably feel like they’ve landed on a strange planet
-They are most likely very conservative, etc.

After I finished my work, I had a moment to sit and chat with this gentleman, who revealed that his trip had a deeper purpose: To sit in Ed Ricketts’ laboratory in what is now Cannery Row in Monterey, because of his deep admiration for his holistic approach to science. He then told me that as a physicist, he understood the science behind the interconnectedness of all elements composing our universe. He also discussed his deep admiration for empirical scientists like Ricketts, who well before modern physics had proven that all things are interconnected, intuited this fact and was able to study the ocean’s ecosystems from this perspective. He cited poet Robinson Jeffers, and writer John Steinbeck as artist-philosophers grasping the same intuition as Ricketts. He then said how much it meant to him to simply be on the same piece of earth, Carmel, California, that had meant so much to these men he held in such high esteem.

At this point, I was completely mind-blown by the depth and breadth of knowledge of this unassuming person. I was also hoping our massages had been good enough to keep our clients asleep for 5-10 minutes, so that I could pick the brain of this very brilliant man. This is where it got very interesting! About thirty years ago, I made a trip to Brasil to visit healers getting extraordinary results via means not explicable through the physics that Isaac Newton described, nor through any science that I was familiar with. I became interested, as a bodyworker, in what explanations of reality might be behind the procedures I witnessed, and the results which I observed. I was introduced to the ideas of Quantum-Relativistic physics, which describe a universe containing interconnectedness as a fundamental feature. Mind, furthermore, is interconnected with, not separate from, matter and energy. On the basis of this knowledge, I began to ask myself the following questions:

-If everything that exists within this universe is interconnected, from the gross (matter and energy) to the subtle (processes of mind), can an intelligent being learn to focus mind in such a way that focused interactions of mind, matter, and energy become possible?

-Might something like that be what I was witnessing in the hands of the healers in Brasil?

-As a professional bodyworker, how does my inner state influence the quality of my work, and are the remarkable results I have witnessed in the sessions of master bodyworkers (Milton Traeger comes to mind) a result of their ability to focus mind in such a way that matter and energy respond in a self-organizing manner?

As a teacher of bodywork, these questions are of crucial importance in regard to how we train our students. Far too many schools emphasize a mechanical approach only to massage technique, which leaves little room for developing our students’ grasp of the intuitive side of this work. Since quantum theory demonstrates mathematically that everything within the boundaries of our universe, whether it be mind, matter, or energy, is interconnected, shouldn’t our methods for educating people about the nature of touch reflect that deeper reality? I will leave you to ponder that question, and apply it also to your work with clients in your private practices. Where do mechanical and intuitive approaches blend, and support each other in elevating the quality of our client’s lives? What is the role of training the mind through self reflective and meditative practices such that the interconnected fabric of this universe actually becomes palpable to us as we touch? Is it possible to develop that capacity, and is it then possible to teach?

In part two, I will recall more of my discussion with my physicist friend as I posed these questions to him.I will also discuss how some physicists view the universe itself as an intelligent, ever learning, evolving, and literally living process.
All the best to everyone!

Deep Bodywork

Understanding the Nature of a “Therapeutic Aggravation”, by Perry Holloman

This post was inspired by the following question I received by e-mail from a student a few weeks ago:

I have a question about massage that I think you can shed light on. I give my mom massage every few weeks. She has post polio syndrome and suffers from arthritis, migraines, chronic fatigue, and a lot of pain and tenderness. She cannot tolerate very deep work. The times that I work with her and her edge of the amount of pressure she can tolerate she will typically feel great in the hours following our session and then wake up the next day feeling like crap (headache, tense, pain). I remember you giving a great explanation of why this happens and I cannot remember all the details. Could you please enlighten me… again? Thank you!

This question relates to an important subject for anyone doing deeper therapeutic work with clients suffering from acute and/or chronic pain. By “deeper therapeutic work”, I mean not only methods which reach physically into the body’s deeper soft-tissue layers, but interventions such as acupuncture and osteopathy, which affect an individual’s energy system. Often, within 48 hrs. of receiving Deep Bodywork®, or an Esalen® Massage, patients will experience an aggravation of their complaints which can last for up to 48 hours. (On rare occasions aggravations can take up to 72 hrs. to appear, and last more than 48 hours. These cases are exceptions seen by practitioners working frequently with people suffering from acute and chronic pain.) This process can be disconcerting for clients because the body appears to be signaling that it is getting worse rather than better.

What is happening here, and why does the symptom picture of a client often worsen in the short term before improving? I have come to understand this process in the same way that I understand how the body produces fever or local inflammation as it battles microbial invasion. Although these processes are painful, they are an indication that the body’s immune responses are functioning effectively. The therapeutic aggravation experienced after an effective bodywork session is similar. As lesions within muscle, connective tissue, and bone are unwound, the body will focus energy, primarily in the form of increased fluid exchange, to the area(s) in question. Because these areas have become tender due to their acute or chronic distress, increased fluid activity will aggravate the sensations of pain in the short term. As tissues heal through an increase in this self-organizing activity, the pain will subside, and within 48 hrs. after the beginning of the aggravation, the actual healing result of our work becomes measurable. If your clients’ initial complaints have improved from what they were before you touched them, then they have experienced a classical therapeutic aggravation. If their complaints remain as they were before treatment, then one of two things may be happening:

A) You are dealing with a very complex case that requires long-term treatment, and involves the unwinding of organismic distress on many different levels. Trauma victims often exhibit this type of complexity, involving emotional as well as somatic barriers to healing. Improvements will be, particularly at first, very gradual, and test the practitioner’s ability to understand and appropriately unwind, layer by layer, the barriers to healing as they arise.

B) This is a case where some other organic process is involved that requires a different approach. Examples are undiscovered auto-immune disorders like Rheumatoid arthritis, Lupus, and Fibromyalgia which can generate recurring pain that responds quite differently to touch than in cases where such processes are absent.
Following are three examples from my clinical practice where therapeutic aggravations where apparent, but indicative of different pathological conditions responding differently to treatment with Deep Bodywork and Esalen Massage:

1) A client comes to me with severe lumbar pain, and I treat him once a week over the course of six weeks with deep bodywork. He aggravates according to the 48 hr. rule mentioned above, improving after the aggravation subsides, but the improvement doesn’t hold. The following week we are back to where we started. I suggest to him consulting with his physician to investigate if some other organic process might be involved, acting as a barrier to improvement. The results of his blood work show him to have rheumatoid arthritis.

2) A client comes to me, also with chronic back pain, this time so severe that he can barely stand and walk upright. He has been told by a specialist that he will need a spinal fusion to deal with the condition. He comes to me as a last resort in order to avoid surgery. I work with him over a nine-month period, once a week. Each session is followed by a very difficult aggravation, following the 48 hr. rule. Progress is very slow for the first three months. The client however reports that he senses the work is “doing something positive”. Starting around the fourth month, my client begins to report a marked change in his amount of pain, and his posture begins to improve. By the ninth month, his pain is almost completely gone, and his posture is almost normal. He still cannot tolerate strenuous physical activity, but spinal fusion surgery is no longer a consideration.

3) A woman in her early sixties comes to me with severe hip pain, and has been told she will need a hip replacement. I work on her, discovering an extremely tender trigger area in the Tensor fasciae-latae of the hip. I focus on this area, which creates an immediate aggravation, lasting about 24 hours. The pain in the hip completely disappears, as do any considerations of hip-replacement surgery. The hip has remained pain-free for ten years now. This result was achieved with 1 session lasting 75 minutes.

The above examples demonstrate how a therapeutic aggravation can occur in a variety of different situations, giving us, in each case, different information. In the first, the lack of improvement, despite the aggravation, indicated the probability of other organic factors involved in the client’s pain. In the second, progress was slow, yet steady, indicating the level of complexity of the case. A therapeutic aggravation occurred with each process of unwinding over a nine month period. The third case was a dramatic recovery after only one session, accompanied by a very uncomfortable aggravation of symptoms over a 24 hr. period, indicating a lesion, while very uncomfortable, of lesser complexity.

As a final caution: Be careful about working with cases of acute and chronic pain, because therapeutic aggravations can be difficult to guide people through. It is important to inform potential clients about how such aggravations work and to allow them to decide, on the basis of that information, if they wish to be touched or not. Second, be clear as to your own capabilities of guiding people through this process. If you have any doubts, it is probably better to refer individuals in acute or chronic pain to a more experienced practitioner.

Please feel free to post your comments and/or questions.

All the best to everyone!


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Healing Physiological Effects of Esalen® Massage: Part II, by Perry Holloman

In part I of Healing Physiological effects of Esalen Massage, I talked about the remarkable power this method, and others, like Deep Bodywork, possess to stimulate a process called unwinding within our clients. We defined unwinding as the restoration, either partial or complete, of autonomic flexibility, the capacity within the nervous system to move appropriately between sympathetic and parasympathetic control, depending upon circumstance.  I also hypothesized that a loss of autonomic flexibility is a meta-process behind the stress related illnesses we see in many of our clients, and in a significant percentage of the general population. The deep states of relaxation produced by Esalen Massage and Deep Bodywork are remarkably effective tools in dealing with these types of stress related conditions, and in gradually restoring autonomic flexibility within our clients.

Can we identify the components of Esalen Massage and Deep Bodywork primarily responsible for supporting the unwinding of stress within the nervous system and restoring autonomic flexibility? In my experience over the last 30 years as a practitioner and teacher the answer, I believe, is yes. We can identify them, and we can teach them to our students. Let’s name what some of those key components are:

1) Slowing down the pace of our work.

This is an essential element in creating the conditions necessary for the restoration of autonomic flexibility. There are at least two important reasons why. First, the more archaic structures within the brain, the limbic system, and the brain stem, are designed to respond to unknown stimuli with suspicion, which has obvious survival value. As bodyworkers, if we work too quickly, we can trigger defensive responses that operate at unconscious, reflexive levels, limiting the depth of relaxation our clients can access during our work. Secondly, for similar reasons, our clients will tend to bond less deeply with us if their nervous systems are preoccupied with defensive activity. For unwinding to effectively occur, a bond of trust must be formed between practitioner and client. We can make the comparison between an overly stressed, “tightly wound” client, and an animal which through whatever circumstance is similarly “tightly wound”. If we move too quickly to make physical contact with such an animal, we are likely to be met with a growl, scratch or bite. Approaching our clients with sensitivity, through slowing the pace of our work, raises the potential for them to receive the full benefit of our touch without the filter of defensiveness.

2) Working with gravitational energy, rather than our own muscular energy.

Johanna and I spend a great deal of time during our seminars teaching people to let their bodies become conduits for the flow of gravity, from the fabric of the universe into the bodies of or clients. The difference in the quality between gravitationally applied, and muscularly applied touch are clearly palpable to our clients. Gravitational touch does not trigger defensive activity when applied slowly. Muscularly applied touch often does. The difference appears to be related to the “groundedness” required in the application of gravitational energy while working. Transmitting gravitational energy requires establishing a “base”, from the pelvis, through the legs and feet and into the ground. This type of “base” is similar to that taken when doing Tai-Chi, Aikido, or in many standing yoga postures. Working from this type of stance, and “falling” into our clients automatically transfers gravitational energy through our bodies into those of our clients. Practitioners working in this way automatically slow down, and the feel of gravitationally applied work is reported always as more “substantial”, as “flowing” and “relaxing”.

3) Learning to move like a Tai-Chi master, embodying “flowing stillness” in our practice.

As we slow our work down through connecting to the gravitational field, embodying the rhythms of “flowing” and “stillness” greatly increases the potential for catalyzing unwinding within our clients. Many years ago, when I first came to Esalen, I had the privilege of dancing with Gabriel Roth while she was developing the “5-Rhythms” movement form. Gabriel was also head of the Esalen Massage crew for some time, and the rhythms of “flowing” and “stillness” at the core of her movement work are apparent in a competent Esalen Massage. If we can learn to embody these rhythms while touching, treating our massage work like a movement practice, then a synergy of elements begins to occur: slowing down, connecting to the gravitational field, and moving with the qualities of flowing and stillness, like a tai-chi master. For some reason, when one human being touches another while embodying these three elements at the same time, the effect is that a process of unwinding begins to happen in the person being touched. The person practicing enters a palpable state of deepened “presence” which, if we could find a way to monitor brain activity while touching in this state, is probably measurable.

In summary, the central nervous system is designed to self heal, like any other part of the human body. Because the central nervous system is the conduit for, and therefore particularly effected by powerful emotional experience, it can, and does get “wound-up” in the course of living life. We call that process “stress”. When a certain threshold of stress is reached, the CNS can lose it’s capacity in varying degrees to self-regulate and heal. This is one way of describing a “loss of autonomic flexibility”. This process I hypothesize to be at the root of many of the stress-related conditions we see in our clients. Esalen Massage and Deep Bodywork, when applied with the elements described above, are powerful tools which can slowly restore the self regulating capacity, or autonomic flexibility, to the autonomic portion of our nervous systems.

I hope this blog post is helpful to everyone in their work!


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Healing Physiological Effects of Esalen® Massage: Part I by Perry Holloman

I just finished teaching the final section of an Esalen Massage Certification Training in Dortmund, Germany, and had another opportunity to witness the profound effects of this work on our trainees. Because they had had a year to develop competence in this approach, many different aspects of the healing power of this work were observable. Some of those are: Increased fluid exchange in localized areas of the body and throughout the body in general (people would report local or generalized sensations of pulsation, lasting sometimes hrs. after treatment); A profound sense of relaxation that participants only achieved rarely during the deepest hrs. of sleep (more about this phenomenon below); A clear sense of the interconnectedness of the body’s different segments, and of the periphery to the thorax and spine; The return of flexibility to stiffened joints, and the local areas surrounding them; Lastly, as I discussed in previous articles, the emergence of buried trauma-related experiences which were contributing factors to different pain-related symptom-pictures exhibited by some of our students.

For the purposes of this article, I want to focus on one of the above subjects only: The remarkable power of this work to effect deep relaxation in almost everyone, and people suffering from stress related illnesses in particular.

During an Esalen Massage, people often report a profound sense of relaxation that is unlike relaxing experiences with which they are familiar. I frequently hear the following types of descriptions from my clients and students:

“It was like being asleep, yet I was completely aware of everything you were doing.”

“Time seemed to stop. I thought you had been working on me for a few minutes, and 1 ½ hrs had already gone by.”

“I was dreaming, yet completely awake at the same time.”

I have noticed that in these states the presenting symptoms of a client become more available to the potentially healing effects of this work. For example: A painful area where a client exhibits a heightened sense of “hyper-vigilance” toward touch is unusually available for contact; A client who normally would experience great sensitivity toward deeper touch is remarkably open to it; Clients who have asked me to stay away from a defined problem area “for fear of making it worse” actually ask me to put my hands on those areas. These are some of the typical differences I experience in clients who have entered deeper states of relaxation. Two of the primary physical indicators of the arising of this state are: Sudden physical “jerkings” of the body of the client;  Increased gurgling of the digestive organs, indicating increased peristaltic activity of the intestines.

So the question that interests us as bodyworkers is: Are these indicators pointing toward something that can be viewed as a valuable “meta-process” within the experience of the client, and the “client-practitioner field”? The answer to this question in my view is an emphatic yes: We are witnessing the manifestations of one of the most important meta-processes arising as a result of competent bodywork, and that process is often called “unwinding”. This term is used rather loosely not only in bodywork circles, but often in general vocabulary to denote either the process of return-to-normal-functioning of a body part or system from aberrant functioning, or the generalized releasing of stress and/or tension from the system as a whole. Here I mean all of that, plus something much more specific: The return of “autonomic flexibility” within the nervous system of a living system, no matter how primitive. As an end to part I of this article, I want to define autonomic flexibility as that essential process of being able to switch back and forth between sympathetic, and parasympathetic processes within the autonomic nervous system, appropriate to what is really happening moment to moment within the field of the individual. The loss of this capacity within stressed individuals and trauma victims is something that I see more and more in my practice, and can be described, I believe, as one of the great maladies of modern society. All of the great stress related illnesses, and problems such as sleeplessness exhibit a loss of autonomic flexibility as a meta-process behind the presenting symptoms. Esalen Massage and Deep Bodywork are two of our greatest tools in reaching living organisms at a level where these problems can be addressed.

In Part II I will discuss important clinical considerations for identifying and supporting processes of unwinding as they occur in our clients.

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