The TAT Forum: a spiritual magazine of essays, 
poems and humor.

October 2016 / More


Convictions & Concerns

TAT members share their personal convictions and/or concerns

The Tao of Improv

Finally, a spiritual exercise which brings joy, one I look forward to every week. And I won't have to stretch or bend anything to explain the reasons that Improv Comedy is its name.

About a year ago I learned of a free Improv class at the local Unitarian Universalist Church. I was curious but it took me a year to actually show up. It turned out to be the most unexpected and exhilarating experience. And also stupefying, because I've had severe stage fright since an early age. I felt as if I had found my outlet, after being stuck for some time in a cryogenic state. It was a huge release of repressed energy – and there had been hardly any panic or inhibition once I stood up. I remember Richard Rose telling people to simply let go of their cowardice, and then they'd realize what a really little thing it was to lose. Overall, my experience with Improv has been marked by an unfamiliar willingness to submit myself to uncharacteristic and outlandish behavior. I have to give a lot of credit to the considerate, non-judgmental group and its leader. The message there is: We are all in this together.

Exploding Fish Improv Varsity Match against Bangor Comedy 2013 (Wikimedia Commons).

Much has been written about Improv in relation to psychology and spirituality. The one commonality germane to both is mindfulness. Here are some of the main tenets of Improv:

These things are very effective in getting a person out of their head, and through commitment/engagement, not distraction. You really do have to be Present in Improv. You can't be thinking about anything else, including what you had planned to say or plan to say. Listening in general has become a dying art. How often do I Respond to what is actually said, and not to the muddle of my thinking about my experience and off-loading my two bits of wisdom? How sweet it would be to kill the Buddha of perfection and Start Anywhere one is at. Isn't each new day or hour or minute like a fresh slate if one dares to concede the real possibility? And once you realize you control nothing, what other sane option is there but to Embrace Uncertainty, to will whatever happens? Kindness and Generosity don't have to be false sentiments or secret agendas. When you're out on the trapeze swing with a partner and no safety net, you learn to help them, knowing how you need help too. And make them shine.

We start off each class with an exercise to loosen and soften the ego's armor, which helps to bring us to more trust and less inhibition. One time we'll each get up and tell a story of our greatest failure that day, and with the cheers of others, proudly own it. We jazz scat-sing about what transpired in our day. We dance to music, awkwardly but with a silly abandon. We pass around a common object like a candlestick holder and everyone gets to describe what it is to them, no matter how ridiculous (why, it's meant to hold my chin up during boring committee meetings), and all exclaim how fabulous our object is! It's all about learning to embrace the idiosyncrasies and imperfections of our human nature. Out in the open. No cover ups. To de-control, as Alfred Pulyan said. Ego beware. Ego be gone, at least for an hour or two.

The meat of the meetings is someone getting up to do a monologue to a word or phrase suggested by the audience. The monologist riffs on it in any way he/she wants. The theme might be fish tacos and the spiel veers into a rambling jam about the sea and floating plastic garbage forming an island. And then pairs of participants get up to do dialogues on whatever associations they got from the monologue. Someone might be a real estate developer who wants to sell off lots of the plastic island to a sucker buyer, à la Florida style. Or a fisherman reeling in a fish and getting slapped so hard he suffers a concussion. This monologue/dialogue exercise is just one of many scaffoldings for Improv, which in its rudimentary form generates laughter. But the higher aim is not about laughter for laughter's sake. That's a bonus offshoot of good Improv. The ideal is to work with others in an ensemble process to reveal something new about life, our human condition and connections to others. One's blind spots become visible in the oddest moments.

The Golden Rule of Improv is "Yes, and…" (The Answer to How Is Yes). Which means to take whatever baton is handed you, no matter how improbable or unwelcome, and run with it. The big no-no in Improv is saying, 'No.' You can disagree with some proposal, but you have to make sense of it within the context of the scene and characters present. If someone walks up to you and says they're visiting from Pluto, and you say, "That's impossible," you kill the scene.

Facing Fears: The whole stuntman/daredevil act of Improv will kindly permit this if you make the nod. In this venue you are not alone. Your partner or the audience is encouraged to support and rescue you if it gets too harrowing. During and after a free fall of failure, one can still count on the solidarity and empathy of the group. As a bonus, I've begun to enjoy a new confidence intermingling with all stripes of people in everyday encounters.

Self-observation: We are asked to practice observation of others and ourselves throughout the week. Perhaps while we're stuck in traffic, we come up with a list 5 things we'd do or never do if…. In class we practice miming the use of an object – like a steering wheel, or drinking a cup of tea – and then practice at home using real objects with renewed awareness. We really notice how we put on our clothes, and then don a shirt in a different way every day, or as another person might. Or we observe how we and others play various roles in real life, the hero and his seconds and adversaries. Thus we can acquire new perspectives about habits and patterns.

Spontaneity: For a blockhead such as myself, enough can't be said about the virtue of this gift. In Improv, you never know where the stream is going to whisk you. The other person (life) just won't let you. I remember my second time in the class. I wanted to be as funny as the first time, and had scripted out a scenario with a certain individual. All day before I was a nervous wreck about all the possible monkey wrenches that might throw my spectacular idea out of gear. Fortunately, the teacher changes the format up for each class, so that I couldn't use it anyway. And what a relief. I was back to zero and something new and more amazing had a chance to air. So I'm learning to allow the unexpected. To suspend my mind and trust the matrix of creation.

Empathy: No schadenfreude allowed unless you want to get winged by this boomerang. I often find myself tightening into a nervous ball as I watch others when they're hanging or stuck in a scene. I'm actually pulling for them. Because I know the fear and courage involved while one inwardly and outwardly trembles before a group without a change of clothes in case you wet yourself! And as time goes by, you will really see behind others' eyes in a startling fashion.

Day Dreamwork: There are certain eureka moments during Improv when seemingly random and forgotten fragments are reinterpreted and clarified in a skit, just like in a dream. (And I'm positive certain dream material can be processed in this spontaneous art form.) One indirect example comes to mind. When swimming one day at a community pool, the place reverberated with the non-stop screams of children. Every time I raised my head to breathe I would be hit by the blast of shriek!, then silence as my head went underwater, then coming back up to shriek! The syncopation amused me at the time. So, during one Improv skit, a couple of players were chickens strutting around. And before I could think, I was on my hands and knees and shooting forward, a farm dog yapping away, running circles around and between the chickens. Somehow it was my turn to express my own shouts of glee by channeling a farm dog.

Intuition: One time a lady from the class asked me if I had ever been in trouble with the law. I asked her what gave her that impression. She said because of a scene where I was being apprehended by a cop. She said she became very afraid for me. I had no idea my 'faking' arrest was giving off an authentic vibe from my actual past. So no matter how much an Improv player is pretending to be in character, his own life – the sub-conscious, unconscious, and perhaps collective consciousness – is informing the creation. You can only draw on your own experience anyway to clothe personal and found imagination. And since I believe we are all creatures of fiction, there's no real dividing line between acting and being yourself, so to speak. Sometimes when you're crossing boundaries in good faith with others, you find yourself picking up where the other is going before they even commit, and vice versa. There is the extreme satisfaction of being in an almost timeless flow when two become one in direction and purpose.

Effortlessness: In my opinion, Improv is a higher art in a certain sense than scripted comedy or acting. Though it is often a training platform for future comics and actors, its inherent nature is more innocent, for it is not a platform for ego, but an alliance with others. It does not call attention to itself, and therefore avoids the usual adversities. Its performance, sometimes reaching zeniths of genius, is in the end a one-time one-off. Built on the spot, and erased by the next tide. It works best when it follows a flow. If you watch some now successful comics during their Improv days, you will notice a certain quality of understatement and receptiveness. They are not forcing anything and are content to allow their partner and scene to lead and find its own rhythm.

Play: On a very personal note here, Improv has allowed a long tucked-away kid to come out and play. Of all the above benefits, this one takes the prize. I am a little more whole as a result. It's a huge relief to be goofy sometimes.

In closing, Improv may likely wake you up a little more than you're accustomed to. Each week I go to a class, I may be tired and afraid, but afterwards I'm brimming with energy and possibility. It's a new entry to a life more real. If I had a meditation or self-inquiry group, I would set aside a time at the beginning or end to do Improv. I would highly recommend any existing group to give it a try. There's plenty of material on the internet to get you started. At the least try improvising in your regular life. I'll wager you will glean ample material for profitable experimentation and self-revelation. For it blurs the boundaries within ourselves and with others, because we're not relating as divisively or mechanically.


~ Thanks to a TAT member who wishes to remain anonymous. Comments? Please the Forum.

Return to the main page of the October 2016 TAT Forum.


TAT Foundation News

It's all about "ladder work" – helping and being helped

Downloadable/rental versions of the Mister Rose video and of April TAT talks Remembering Your True Desire:

"You don't know anything until you know Everything...."

Mister Rose is an intimate look at a West Virginia native many people called a Zen Master because of the depth of his wisdom and the spiritual system he conveyed to his students. Profound and profane, Richard Rose was not the kind of man most people picture when they think of mystics or spiritual teachers. Yet, he was the truest of teachers, one who had "been there," one who had the cataclysmic experience of spiritual enlightenment.

Filmed in the spring of 1991, the extraordinary documentary follows Mr. Rose from a radio interview, to a university lecture and back to his farm, as he talks about his experience, his philosophy and the details of his life.

Whether you find him charming or offensive, fatherly or fearsome, you will not forget him, and never again will you think about yourself, reality, or life after death in quite the same way.

3+ hours total. Rent or buy at tatfoundation.vhx.tv/.

2012 April TAT Meeting – Remembering Your True Desire

Includes all the speakers from the April 2012 TAT meeting: Art Ticknor, Bob Fergeson, Shawn Nevins and Heather Saunders.

1) Remembering Your True Desire ... and Acting on It, by Art Ticknor
Spiritual action is like diving for the Pearl beyond Price. What do you do when you don't know what to do or how to do it? An informal discussion centered around the question: "What prevents effective spiritual action?"

2) Swimming in the Inner Ocean: Trips to the Beach, by Bob Fergeson
A discussion of the varied ways we can use in order to hear the voice of our inner ocean, the heart of our true desires.

3) A Wider and Wilder Vision, by Shawn Nevins
Notes on assumptions, beliefs, and perspectives that bind and free us.

4) Make Your Whole Life a Prayer, by Heather Saunders
An intriguing look into a feeling-oriented approach to life.

5+ hours total. Rent or buy at tatfoundation.vhx.tv/.

Return to the main page of the October 2016 TAT Forum.

Founder's Wisdom

Richard Rose (1917-2005) established the TAT Foundation
in 1973 to encourage people to work together on what
he considered to be the "grand project" of spiritual work.

Introduction to the Albigen System

The following transcription features rare material from an early lecture of philosopher, poet and author Richard Rose. The talk, based on the speaker's own experience, describes a way of life aimed at understanding that life … a self-directed retreat from untruth … a common-sense, non-dogmatic approach to spiritual realization.

Part 2 of a 1977 talk given by Richard Rose in Cleveland, OH (continued from the September 2016 TAT Forum):

The first thing I got into then was raja yoga, because I could see that we had to go directly to the mind. And what system do you use? You use something that appeals to you; that's the only thing you can do.

I don't mean that everybody has to go the Zen direction, or that anyone has to go any particular direction. There's no direction that you should endorse for everyone. As an old farmer said to me one time, "There are many paths to the top of the hill, that the cows make, but they all come to the barn."

I've written a book, and in it I explain this, and I don't think you'll find it in too many other books. The system is very simple, in one respect: You cannot approach the Truth, because you don't know where it is.

This is the fallacy of a tremendous lot that's going on today. And this is possibly where Zen leads; up until now I've said that you can reach illumination by a Christian method, a Mohammedan method – any method as long as you're sincere. But most of these postulate something. Zen postulates nothing.

So you might get hung up on the creation or reinforcement of a concept that was handed to you.

But regardless, I'll run you through – with an apology to those who have heard it before – my reasons.

Consequently, you'll still accept some little system. Now yoga is seemingly impersonal – of course in India there are gurus that become personal teachers and that sort of thing, but if you get a book you don't have to worry about worshiping a person. You can follow the system or interpret the system, and let your intuition be your teacher to a great extent.

And of course I had no money to travel to India, or I might have gotten snagged. But I went to the library and got systems from books on yoga and mental exercises, like Rudolph Steiner put out, or certain yogis. I looked at them all and worked out my own system of meditation.

The first thing I noticed – I don't know how many of you have done meditation and noticed this – was that something was coloring my findings. That I would come to a certain conclusion and six months later realize that I had come to that conclusion because of the very same thing I mentioned a little while ago: I wrote into it what I wanted to hear. I wrote into it what one of my appetites wanted to hear.

Why do you pick a church? You pick a church, perhaps, because there's somebody in the church that you'll benefit from in your business. People's businesses are expanded by being church members. Their politics have been bettered by going to church.

I remember back on the farm when I was a kid people lived about a mile apart. They very seldom saw each other in the wintertime. One man had quite a large family, and I said to him, "How did you ever meet your girlfriend that you married? There's so little commerce between these families."

And he said, "Oh, very simple, we went to church on Sunday." So while the older people were inside snoring, the kids were out chasing each other around the trees.

But regardless, that was their purpose for joining that particular church.

We have a little group, and I've watched people that come into the group. Some of them come in because of philosophic interests and some come in because they're sick. They intuitively feel that if they get in there where things are a little healthier, they'll eventually pick up a better state of equilibrium.

Now – that person isn't writing into it what they believe, but occasionally you will get people who do write into it. For instance, Zen itself today has a lot of stuff written into it by people who want to write their current political theme. Which is possibly a current degradation.

There are certain systems that encourage degradation, spiritual degradation, and they tie it in with spiritual activity. For instance, the guru will say, "I don't care what you do as long as you pay me the initiation fee and repeat this mantra over and over. That's all you have to do, and you'll go to heaven eventually, or to realization."

So if you aren't careful, you will do as I did. You will write into the philosophy you're studying that which you want to hear. So that any two people can sit down and read for instance a certain passage or verse in the New Testament, and one will say what it means – and you will find out you can fight a battle over the difference in definition.

And this is because they have an ax to grind. And they're using the New Testament as an ax, to chop you with. This can happen in anything that you read. I know that certain yoga sayings and lifestyles have been interpreted with an amazing breadth of meaning.

Also I have heard people say they had read the New Testament and picked up a certain meaning from it – then ten or twenty years later read it and said, "Now I understand it."

So the mind as we know it is an obstacle. We come to realize this, that the mind is full of tricks. And this is something that you don't particularly encounter in let's say the established faiths, such as Christianity. Christianity does speak of mental obstacles, they speak of the seven sins; and this is true – they are obstacles. But the idea of ego – there's not much mention of it except Pride, and the other six of course.

But there are all sorts of egos that are very legal. The ego of importance. That isn't necessarily Pride – you have to have a certain amount of self-pride in order to keep alive. But there's a degree of desire in which we desire God to be a certain way, or we desire life after death to be a certain way…. [break in the tape]

… To get around that unreliable mind, you have to become a super-psychologist; you have to know when you're outwitting yourself. Now this may sound difficult to some of you – if you haven't done any spiritual work on yourself you may not know what I'm talking about – but anybody who has tried to do any type of spiritual work will know they outwit themselves. It's that simple.

You can even identify voices. For every action, there's a voice, and for every counteraction, there are always two voices. If you're overweight something says, "Eat fruitcake," and another voice says, "Hey – you're going to kill yourself."

Now both of these are egos. One of them is the ego of appetite and the other one is the ego that you believe you should exist forever. That all you have to do is keep yourself in hand and keep your body going, and this is all that's necessary.

Well, of course, it's not good to kill yourself off by getting too fat, but also – you're not going to live forever. The idea is to take care of your health, but don't make a big ego out of the importance of that health.

But this is written into everything. And there are more egos than just appetites, as you know. There is the power ego; we like to have power over our fellowman. And this is as dangerous possibly as any of the seven deadly sins they talk about. But these are written into our theology and our study of theology.

And I find another one that's written in is this idea of pleasure. Pleasure is a relative thing. But everybody defines heaven as a pleasurable place. People define spiritual systems as being blissful or else they're no good. I get this a tremendous lot: "You mean to tell me that in the final experience there is no bliss? Well – I don't want any parts of it."

They have no choice. It isn't what you want, it's what is. But in the final realization there is no bliss. The final realization is an absolute condition; and bliss and sorrow, pain and pleasure, are the polarity of relative experience.

They don't stop to think about that – that in an absolute condition there would be no polarity. They want to write it in, and if a system doesn't say you're going to be happy, well….

And the people who do go in for the bliss trip wind up mumbling to themselves. And eventually they wear out.

I went through it. I went through seven years of something very similar to TM. We used the word "OM" – it's as useful as any of the mysterious syllables they give you in TM, and you can get it for nothing. Just take it from me. Leave a nickel in the basket on the way out. Just chant "OM", and it'll do just as much for you as angh or bang or bong.

It'll put you to sleep, in other words. It'll make you quiescent if you're turbulent. It's good to quiet people who are turbulent and traumatic – but try to wake yourself up before you get too quiescent.

This, incidentally, is an ego. The desire for sleep, the desire for peace. Life is a battle. We were talking about this in the car today as we drove up from Wheeling. The conversation got around to this business of pleasure, that everybody is looking for.

I had been talking to a young lady who was trying to marry my son. And I said to her, "What do you want out of life?"

She said, "I want to be happy."

I said, "You're a hedonist, then."

And she said, "What's that?"

Well, I didn't explain to her. Because her happy cruise was legitimate that far, but if she found out it was a disease she might have felt bad about it.

But measure the moments of happiness that you have in a lifetime. In comparison to the amounts of tears or troubles that follow or precede it. We are baited; our happiness is a bait, basically. I think the pursuit of happiness is programmed in. If there weren't some bait, we wouldn't go chasing. And there has to be something of a reward, or we wouldn't continue chasing.

But to think that there would be any greater proportion because we suffered here, because we didn't get what we chased: in another dimension we're going to get what we chased. Forever and ever and ever and ever. And it would get so damned monotonous you'd wish you were down in hell someplace – and that's where you go, I think, after awhile.

You go into the after death experience with too much of a concept of pleasure, you'll eventually wish for a comparison.

In finding a method, then – we're going into the mind; and the mind being imperfect. Not a good vehicle. And if the mind isn't perfect – what are we? Are we the mind?

And somewhere along the line, as I said, you become a psychologist, and you reach some conclusions that you wouldn't get out of a book. And one of them is that you are the awareness behind the mind, not the mind.

As soon as you are aware that you are thinking, the awareness, to me, is a superior consciousness to the mind. The mind has the capacity for what I call five or six types of visions, imposed upon it. Witnessed by our awareness. We're aware of them.

Now the physical mechanics of this I don't know. Our awareness is not in our synapses alone; our awareness exists after the synapses decay, or are knocked out of commission say by a narcotic on an operating table. But regardless, there is an underlying awareness, when the body is inert or dead, so to speak.

This whole process becomes then the method of using the mind – that's the only vehicle we have – to find that which we really are, in spite of the mind itself.

Community Building on the Richard Rose farm.

The whole system of Zen – if I can wrap this into a package for you, and show you that it is necessary to watch yourself in a particular manner – I'm not saying that you have to follow a particular formula – is a continual challenging of your reasons for thinking what you think. A continual pursuit.

Now Zen is a very old system, and we have many types of Zen floating around the country today. But I would like to quote to you Bodhidharma's four principles of Zen, and without going to any particular sect that exists in the country today – if you are well read on Zen, there are different books – you can compare this to them, and see which of them deliver.

Zen is a special transmission outside the scriptures. No dependence on words or letters. Direct pointing at the soul of man. This goes beyond the mind. Not direct pointing at the mind; it's the direct pointing at the soul of man. Seeing one's nature and the final attainment of Self.

Or as was written in those days, Buddhahood. "Buddhahood" means the Supreme Self. Of course, Bodhidharma lived many years ago, but this is attributed to him in the writings of D.T. Suzuki.

Now here is a system that enables you to go directly into your mind. Of course, the system isn't written in those four letters, but the different schools have them. But I want to go through them once more, while we're on them:

A special transmission outside the scriptures.

A special transmission outside the scriptures means that there's a way of putting this inside another person's head. There is a way of realization, by being associated with a person who has reached the goal of knowledge of Self.

Unless your system of Zen has that, it is not a true system of Zen. If you have a teacher who cannot do it, you don't have a teacher who can take you.

No dependence on words or letters.

And this means writings on Zen, this means my book, anybody's book.

You can get sutras, if they inspire your intuition to further labor. You can get notes on the path – the book I wrote, I wrote as a handbook. Here's some help, here's some hints, here's some obstacles you'll run into. The direction is generally very personal. Everybody is different, everybody has a different trap of egos, which have to be indicated to them personally.

No dependence on words or letters also goes clear back to fundamentalism. You cannot get the truth by verbal communication. That is, books, preaching, something of that sort.

There's no proven language. There's no fundamentalistic language that proves itself as being the Word of God – these are all postulations.

Of course, if you believe that – if you believe that there's a literature – that's your prerogative. I take no argument with what a person believes – that's your path.

Direct pointing at the soul of man.

How do you find your soul? By talking about it? By saying prayers? Well, maybe the prayers will help you; maybe the guidance, the hints, and so forth….

But you must look directly into yourself. Now you might say, "That sounds easy, but that's very difficult, to look inside yourself."

But it is not so difficult. When you look at your actions you're looking at part of yourself; you're looking at the effects of yourself. When you look at your thoughts, you're on what I consider a "ray" of sorts, that goes back to your awareness. And when you're one with your awareness, then you're pretty much in tune with your soul, the soul of man.

Seeing into one's own nature.

This is pretty much the same thing, of course. And in the "direct pointing at the soul of man," you inevitably have to go into your own nature.

Now there's an implication behind this: That the whole system is seeing into your own nature. The whole answer is inside of you, not outside. The real realization of that which you may have postulated correctly before you started, meaning the Absolute, or God, or whatever you want to call it, is inside yourself.

But it has to be a realization, not a belief. Unless you're content with blind belief, with taking somebody else's word for it.

Behind all of this and through all of this work, or time that is taken, methods that are tried – you may try different systems…. I don't say any system that is sincere is detrimental. I think that people latch onto a certain technique because their intuition tells them that that technique is good.

I take issue with systems that charge. I don't believe that there should be a price upon a priceless thing. I think it's degrading when a man eats on the altar. So any system that is too wrapped up in money, to a point where people are financed in lavish style – I somehow write it off. And I did this from the time I was a young person.

I met quite a few gurus when I was younger, chasing around, and lots of them were connected with powerful groups, financial groups, moneyed groups – and I could see where there was more respect for the money than there was for the freedom of the person. Of getting the person loose from their shackles.

There are a number of things, if you care to take note of them, that I found were necessary in my search. Why? Because we don't have two thousand years or two hundred years. We have to take some shortcuts. We can't examine every cult and every religion on the face of the earth. So you have to cut through.

This is what I think they refer to in Zen as the sword of prajna – cutting through the garbage.

The path to wisdom begins with common sense. Common sense is the faculty or intuition that sorts out our experiences and to some degree, promotes or prohibits our reactions. Wisdom is basically the skill which is manifested in correct reactions. The greatest product of our common sense is that we recognize our potential expansion with our type of reaction that apparently approaches wisdom. The greatest individual mental reaction occurs when he witnesses the vindication of his intuition.

Common sense prevents us from wasting years in unprovable philosophies or theologies. It also prevents us from making a frontal assault on imaginary devils, sins or damnation, or from an impatient embrace with the first promising path which we encounter.

Common sense picks for us the path of the reversed vector, in that we make no postulation of Truth or its hiding place, but instead, guides us away from all lies, rationalizations, and all psychological and theological garbage that is patently more foul-smelling than other systems under scrutiny.

With the development of intuition, we are able to discover milestones that mark our progress on the long road which is AWAY-FROM. Unfortunately many who have discovered such a milestone immediately believe that they have found the Absolute Truth, or final monument, which is the God-dimension. The ancient Zen writings indicate a knowledge of those profound states of interior growth, which cause the weary seeker to rest in the shade for decades.

A lesser type of example of this would be the young man who decides to join a church. On the first Sunday, a very pretty girl smiles at him, and he makes her acquaintance. Immediately he feels that God has also smiled at him, and produced the girl for him to show him that he has been taken into the exclusive club. The young man may never get beyond this egotistic delusion, but will become an ardent member of the congregation.

Zen has a milepost which is called Satori. Sometimes I think that the word Satori relates more to Japanese Zen (Soto or Rinzai), than to the Enlightenment indicated by Huang Po, a Chinese sage.

To be continued….

~ Transcription by Steve Harnish of a talk given by Richard Rose in Cleveland, OH in 1977. for information on the transcription project.

Return to the main page of the October 2016 TAT Forum.

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