The dark night of the soul: helpful information, and something the mind can try to find safety in

 

When we are in a dark night of the soul, or what seems like it, it can be helpful to have some information about the dark night of the soul.

It’s easy to think that something went wrong, so information about the dark night of the soul may help us see that it’s OK. I didn’t do something wrong. Life didn’t go wrong. It’s a natural phase of the process, for some of us. Others have gone through it and are going through it. I am not alone. This reframing what’s going on with us can be a relief. And we may also get practical pointers for how to relate to it.

Feel sensations as sensations, as much as possible. Notice and inquire into associated images and words, to make it easier to feel sensations as sensations.

Inquire into any stressful beliefs and limiting identities.

Find kindness for what’s here. Find kindness for the emotions, distress, sensations, wounds, trauma, suffering. Find love for it.

Rest with what’s here. Notice. Allow. See it’s already allowed.

Rest in a conventional sense. Take time to rest.

Be in nature. Go for walks. Garden.

Eat well. Drink plenty of water.

Nurture nurturing relationships and activities.

Find guidance from someone who has gone through it.

These pointers are helpful for anyone going through something challenging, or who is just living an ordinary human life. They are quite universal.

At the same time, it’s possible to create another (limiting) identity out of being in the dark night of the soul. It’s possible to make the dark night of the soul into a “thing”, something that seems real, solid, and “out there”. I may also identify myself as someone going through a dark night of the soul, and make that into something apparently real and solid. (It may be another inflated self, compensating for the deflated self this phase of the process tends to trigger.) I may get invested in it ending at some point in the future, and expect something to happen when it ends. (Awakening. Light where the darkness now is. A stable nondual realization.)

All of this is understandable. The mind wants to understand and conclude, in order to find safety. At the same time, it can be yet another way we limit ourselves and life. It comes with some drawbacks. It can even create more stress and suffering.

I can inquire into these dark night thoughts and identities as well:

What do I hope to get out of it?

What do I fear it means (about me) if this is not a dark night?

Is it true it will end? Is it true I need it to end?

Is it true [….] will happen when it ends? Can I know for sure?

I can see if I can find some of these things as something real and solid:

Can I find the “dark night of the soul”? Can I find “my process”? Can I find an end to it? Can I find [what I imagine is there when it ends]? Can I find me, someone in a dark night?

Can I find a threat? (In the dark night. In it not being a dark night. In it not leading where I hope it will.)

I can also rest with all of this. Meet it with kindness. Hold it in kindness.

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Bumpy and messy

 

When I write these posts, I am aware that the way I write can make what I write about appear simple and straight forward. Reality is usually not like that. Reality is often bumpy and messy.

Since it’s that way for me, I assume it’s like that for many others too. Most people who speak or write about different practices make it seem clear, simple and relatively straight forward. That’s understandable. We seek to present it in a clear and simple way. And that doesn’t mean it’s always that way to us.

For me, it’s certainly been a bumpy and messy path, with lots of apparent detours, mishaps, wrecks, derailings, and more. And that’s part of the process too. That’s life.

Open presence experiencing a me

 

First, there is apparently a me – a human self – experiencing presence.

Then, open presence is revealed as experiencing a me, a human self. (And experiencing the world through this human self, through its senses, emotions, thoughts and so on.)

This shift often happens first as one or more glimpses, and perhaps as a sense of “thinning of the veils”. Then, it may become more clear and stable, and there is an exploration of how this “new” realization is lived through our human self in the word.

During the transition, it may at times seem that the realization is “lost”. And here, there is an invitation to find here and now what was realized, independent of specific states and experiences. For instance, it may seem that “I am a me experiencing presence” but is that really so? Isn’t that too open presence experiencing a me?

It sounds simple when put this way, but the transition often involves time, maturing, a deep healing of the human self (bringing love and understanding to the wounds, pain and trauma), and life circumstances that require us to live with authenticity and from love and understanding.

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Rhythm

 

I see a cycle in my life these days, and it goes from resistance, to meeting, to rest.

(a) Wounds surface. There is resistance to what’s here. Complaints. Trying to push away. Distractions. Tantrum.

(b) It shifts into resting as what’s here. Meeting it. Feeling it. Perhaps seeing through it. Inquiry. It can also take the form of giving it all over to the divine. Or any other way of meeting, feeling, finding love for what’s here.

(c) This shifts into rest. Peace. A period of quiet.

And then it repeats.

It has a natural rhythm. It’s so easy to “forget” this cycle when I am in (a). And being a nine on the enneagram, it’s also easy for me to see (c) as some sort of “goal” or end point, and resist (a) when it comes up again.

Barry: Things will continue to fall apart until the death is complete

 

Things will continue to fall apart until the death is complete.  All this is taking to you to a place where there is absolute freedom, where the personal self sense has dissolved.  That doesn’t mean you can’t ask for help to get the basic human needs met. That is all part of love and truth. [….]

When this happened to me all I could do was pray to God to receive the gifts of this pain and suffering and see it as God’s grace and path to Christ.  It is hard, but it is the truth and the way through…Surrender, surrender, surrender, throw yourself body, mind, soul, spirit into God’s hands.  Remember Christ’s last words on the cross..”Father, into your hands I commend my spirit!”  Love, Barry

– Barry, in an email to me.

I have gone through a period where things seem to fall apart, often in amazing ways and (largely) outside of my control. It’s happened especially strongly the last 2-3 years, although it started earlier. It’s part of the dark night of the soul that I seem to go through.

These days, I notice a deeper rage and anger towards life, God, and perhaps – from my younger self – towards my parents. It’s probably an anger that has accumulated over a long time, and it feels very much like the rebellious and desperate tantrum of a child. It seems to be a hopeless, desperate anger. There are also thoughts such as: I didn’t ask for this. I refuse to be “taught lessons” in this way. I refuse to mature and find clarity if it’s going to happen through these situations. 

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Differences in the ease of the path

 

Why does some paths to/in awakening seem easy and some hard, and some quick and some slow?

This question sometimes comes to me since I know many who seem to have a relatively quick and easy path to what appears to be a stable awakening. And for me, it’s been long and – at least the last several years – painful and difficult.

Here are some things that come up for me:

For people with a lot of trauma in their system from this life, the process can be more painful and prolonged. As the wounds surface, the trauma can get retriggered, and we get into a cycle of surfacing wounds and reactivity. This makes it more difficult to see through it and allowing it to heal. It’s also possible that patterns from previous lives surface to be seen, felt and loved, and people may have more or less “baggage” here.

There are different “levels” or phases or awakening, or different “soul centers” that awaken. For me, the head and heart awakening happened relatively quickly and easily. And the belly awakening seems to be much more challenging. That’s where wounds surface to be seen, felt and loved, and that’s also where reactivity gets triggered on my part to what’s surfacing, which often makes a real resolution challenging and elusive. At the very least, the reactivity makes the process more painful and drawn out.

For me, there may also be some resistance to the process. I tell myself I didn’t ask for it. It just came out of the blue in my teens, uninvited. And I didn’t ask for life to give me “lessons” so I could “awaken” or “mature”. As I write this, I notice a deep resentment towards life for putting me in this situation. And all of this is good to take to inquiry.

A part of the invitation here is to question my ideas about it – my ideas of time, difficulty, ease, struggle, reactivity, delusion, awakening, an end point and so on. What do I find when I investigate my thoughts about it? (The Work.) Can I find any of these when I look? Can I find time? Struggle? Ease? Reactivity? Resistance? Awakening? An end point? Can I find the one who is having a difficult time? The one who is struggling? The one with reactivity? The one who is not clear enough? Another for whom it’s easier? (Living Inquiries.)

I see that it’s all lila. It’s part of life (Spirit, Buddha Mind, Brahman, God) exploring and experiencing itself in its richness, in always different and new ways.

And I see that I really don’t know. It’s a mystery. All of these thoughts, and any other I have about it, are just my own images and thoughts. It’s all created by my own mind, in an attempt to make sense of it and perhaps find a temporary sense of comfort and security. None of my images or thoughts about it are inherent in reality.

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Barry & Karen’s pointers for following the trail of crumbs

 

Here is an outline of the simple and natural process I (re?)learned from Barry and Karen:

  1. Notice when there is a loss of clarity.
    • Notice when there is confusion, contraction, reactivity, etc.
    • Any signs of being caught in beliefs, identification, misunderstanding.
  2. Locate it in the body.
    • Locate the area that’s most dense, most dark.
  3. Experience and breathe.
    • Experience the feelings and sensations that’s there.
    • Stay with the breath. Make the breath fuller if needed. The breath is your lifeline.
  4. Notice the images and stories that surface.
    • After a while, notice the images and thoughts behind the contraction.
    • Ask what images and thoughts are behind the contraction. What fears are there.
  5. Write it down, stream of consciousness style.
    • Write the beliefs/fears down. Let them come. Write all of them down.
  6. Examine them.
    • Do you know it’s true? Do you know for certain it’s true? What would the divine/Christ (your higher self) say?
    • Notice what happens when you believe it.
    • Stay with the belief, still using the breath as a support, in the knowledge that the belief is not true.
  7. Move on to the next area of the body.
    • Move on to the area of body that shows up most strongly. The one that wants attention the most, that appears most contracted and dense. Follow the trail of crumbs.

In general, follow your intuition and guidance. And sometimes number 5 may be skipped and returned to later. Number 6 may be done as just a simple question: Do you know for certain it’s true? And all of it is done while staying in contact with the current area of the body and the breath. The breath invites more spaciousness and awareness into the contraction. And the whole process invites the contraction (knot, belief) to discharge it’s energy and be seen through. It’s recognized as a part of the psyche, an object. It’s not who or what I am as a whole.

Notes from own process

 

Here are some notes from following the “trail of crumbs” earlier today. This is based on the very simple process I learned from Barry & Karen:

  1. Bring attention to the area of the body that seems most contracted and dense.
  2. Stay with the sensation and the breath. Make the breath more full if needed. The breath will support you in staying with the sensations.
  3. Notice any images and thoughts, any fears and beliefs, behind the contraction. Write them down, stream of consciousness style, if needed.
  4. Take these to a simple inquiry. Is it true? Notice what happens when you believe those thoughts. Stay with the fear in the knowing it’s not true.
  5. Repeat, find the next area of the body that asks for attention.

And the notes:

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Healing without diagnosis

 

When I go to a medical doctor, it’s appropriate and helpful with a diagnosis. It tells the MD and me what the next course of action is.

And yet, when it comes to the mind – or the mind/body as a whole – the most helpful approaches I have found (so far) all come diagnosis-free.

Process Work, Breema, The Work, TRE, walks in nature and so on, they all come without diagnosis at all.

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Practice: Following life

 

Now really Follow Life. If you can, lie down and close your eyes. Connect with and actively follow whatever physical sensations come into your awareness. Let your awareness go to the strongest sensation in your body. It will probably wander a bit at first, scanning multiple sensations, a pain here, an ache there, a twinge or a pulse of tingling. Just let your attention wander, actively following it, until it comes to rest on the most dominant sensation. Remember, the most dominant sensation will naturally draw your attention and be the thing that most wants your attention. Stay with the sensation until it shifts or moves on its own. Don’t try to do anything to it, make it go away or change it, just stay with it until it moves or changes on its own. It will. Staying it, your awareness may shift on its own to other parts of the body or bring up a thought, emotion or image. Stay with whatever comes without analyzing it. You are now entering the transformative process.

A great description of a natural and simple process from Revolution of Consciousness. The meat is in the section just below the diagrams.

Clarity and confusion, one within the other

 

From a previous post:

Both the “up” part – the clarity, and the “down” part – the healing, aligning and maturing of subpersonalities, is an ongoing process. It can always be more clear. The subpersonalities can always align and mature further. There may be some markers and sign posts on the way, but the process is free of goals or end points – other than in our thoughts.

Of course, reality doesn’t conform to any ideas or models, and certainly not to what I wrote here. It’s free to follow it’s own unfolding, which partly appears to fit and partly goes outside of any ideas.

The “up” and “down” are not only phases of the same process, but they are really the same. Even during the most dramatic “ups” – unabiding awakenings – our subpersonalities are there wishing to find release from their confusion and align with the reality that’s revealed. Often, they may not be heard or seen since it’s so easy to override them in this state. Their voices don’t quite reach up. And when the confused subpersonalities surface more obviously, the clarity, knowing and kindness is still here, although it may appear as an equally faint voice.

When one surface, the other is always there, although sometimes as a faint voice. So it may be helpful to ask a couple of questions.

When clarity is here, I can ask myself: Is it true confusion is not also here? What do I not want to see? What is this situation trying to show me? Which subpersonalities are confused?

And when confusion is here, I can ask myself: Is it true clarity (sanity, wisdom, knowing, kindness) is not here? What is it I know I don’t want to admit I know?

Meeting our confused parts as we would meet any being wishing for clarity

 

I keep returning to this topic.

What we are can awaken to itself and all is recognized as the play of awareness, as emptiness in the form of awakeness and it’s play of form. Everything is happening on it’s own.

At the same time, this human self is here and there may be many parts of this human self that’s still not aligned with reality. From it’s previous life within identification as an I, it has wounds, beliefs, stored trauma and more. And the movement is for all of these parts to come to awareness and align with reality. These parts – these voices or subpersonalities – still live partly within confusion, and seek clarity. They wish to be liberated from their suffering.

This can play itself out in several ways.

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The divine takes over

 

This sequence (the first one, up to 3:20) from The Fountain by Darren Aronofsky illustrates a process that’s getting to be more familiar to me than I – the surface I – wanted.

The conquistador really wants the tree of life and what it offers, and then realizes in terror that it requires everything of him and doesn’t look at all like what he expected. First, he chased the tree, then the process took over and he didn’t have a choice anymore – as if he ever had a choice.

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Cannonball sprouting

 

From a session with Barry:

The image and feel of a cannonball surfaces. It’s resistance, personal will. It’s what’s resisting what’s happening, resisting life. I see how I fight it, and it doesn’t work.

It’s in the forehead, head, throat. Then it falls, it sinks down into the belly.

I stay with the image and feel of the cannonball in the belly. The cannonball sprouts, green soft sprouts emerge out of it. The cannonball softens, becomes soil, nutrients for these sprouts.

I stay with the cannonball, the soil, the sprouts. A tree emerges from the cannonball and the sprouts.

Then my whole body sprouts. My whole body becomes soil, nutrients for these sprouts. All of me becomes soil, nutrients.

A while passes. Then the whole Earth sprouts. The whole earth becomes soil and nutrients for the sprouts and trees.

The cannonball, my body, the whole Earth are soil, nutrients for the sprouts.

I am gone. All of me is gone. All of me is soil. All of me is nutrients for the sprouts. It’s all one field of soil, nutrients and sprouts.

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A map: Some phases and facets of the path

 

The self-disclosure of God never repeats itself
– Ibn Arabi

God never repeats itself, and that seems true for how it awakens to itself as well. It’s an adventure. Always unique and different in each case.

At the same time, there are some common themes, and many of these are outlined in maps from different traditions and teachers. When reading any of these types of maps, it’s good to remember that these are maps of possibilities, not of limitations. They say something about what’s possible, what may happen, but not what’s necessary or what will happen.

What I am going to describe here is influenced by some of these maps, although it is mostly from my own experience – which is of course limited. I came up with five themes, and each of these can be seen as (a) a phase, and (b) a facet we can find at most or all phases of the path.

So here they are, as a rough draft.

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A more fluid inquiry, and going back to when I first had the belief

 

Over the last several days, inquiry has happened in a different way for me.

An emotion comes up. Lately, it has been dread & terror, or a deep sense of longing. I may lie down on the bed, or do this before falling asleep or just after waking up. I go back to when I first remember having had that feeling, often as a very young kid. I remember the situation. I then go into who I was in that situation, a kid of perhaps four years old. And there is a dialog, encouraging me – as a four year old or how old I may be – to gently and slowly explore what’s happening.

Look at the feeling in itself. Set thoughts and images on the shelf for a while. Just look at the feeling. Is it OK? What are you afraid may happen if you allow and welcome that feeling? Is it likely to happen? How bad would it be if it happened? How is it right now? Notice it is just an emotion. Is it OK? Is there anything to really fear about this emotion? How is it to allow it, welcome it? How is it to be it?

Now look at the stories and images behind the feeling. What are you afraid may happen? What is more likely to happen? What is the worst that can happen? How bad would it be if it happened?

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What happens after awakening

 

Awakening is just the beginning. It is the most important turning point in our evolution because it marks the potential to live more purely as Essence in the world and less as ego. However, for most people the ego isn’t gone after awakening and can resurrect at times or operate surreptitiously. Ego-identification still occurs after awakening, but when it is happening it is usually recognized quickly, and so it doesn’t last long or have the power to cause suffering that it did before awakening. Most people’s egos are intact after awakening, but because there is a realization of who you really are, the ego is seen for what it is and recognized to be not who you are. When ego-identification happens, it’s more like you are watching yourself be identified, while you continue to be aware of yourself as Essence. There is a much greater capacity after awakening to not identify with the ego and to remain as Essence, which is an easeful experience of being in the flow that includes love easily flowing from you toward everyone and everything.

From an excellent post from Radical Happiness on What Happens After Awakening.

It is a good to see that so many teachers acknowledge the grittiness of the awakening process. The different things that may happen before and within an awakening, and how it may look on the ground.

At the same time, it is helpful to do so in a way that does not set up too many specific expectations and assumptions. One way is to emphasize that it can happen in many different ways: quick or drawn out, easy or difficult, with preparation or without. Assumptions equals a plan and can easily become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

And as the article mentions, if we are experienced on the path and relatively mature and healed, the process may be smoother, and if we are less prepared and less mature and healed, then it may be a more bumpy ride for a while. So no matter what, and no matter where you are in the process, it is a good thing to work on growing up as well as waking up.

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Coming from glimpse, love or wants

 

The spiritual path looks quite different depending on where we are coming from.

When there is a glimpse of what we are, the spiritual path becomes a process of clarifying and living from it. It is a process of examining the veils that may cover it up again, make ourselves familiar with the dynamics, and also recognize more clearly that what we are is already independent of veils or clarity, confusion or awakening.

This glimpse can come at any point on the path, including before the path has started, and it can come repeatedly before it stabilizes, or be quite stable right away. No rules here, it seems.

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Shifting refuge

 

A shifting refuge….

First, we take ourselves to be a me. This human self and its body, identities and roles in the world. There is an inside and outside, and it all seems real and substantial.

Then, we may notice that the me is content of experience, it comes and goes as any other content of experience, and it is not what I am. There is a softening or release of identification with the me. This process can appear as a dark night of the senses, called so since there is a release of identification with the senses. The temporary outcome is an absence of a sense of inside and outside, a recognition of all as awakeness itself or God, and possibly insights, clarity, bliss, a clear inner direction and so on.

The remaining refuge here is the separate I and the spiritual joys mentioned above.

Finally, we may notice that the separate I is content of experience as well. The doer, thinker, chooser, owner, observer – all of those – are content of experience just as anything else. That too comes and goes. That too is not what I really am. As I keep noticing this, maybe first in formal practice and then in daily life, there is the possibility of a softening and release of identification out of these. This process is called the dark night of the soul, experienced as a death of the core of what we take ourselves to be.

When identification is released out of the separate I, what is left is doing without doer, thinking without thinker, observing without observer and so on. Everything is as before, although now all content of experience – including the doer and observer – is recognized as living its own life. The center falls out, and the bottom or ground falls out.

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Awakening and further

 

Adya has a good way of talking about awakening and enlightenment, if I understand it correctly.

Awakening is a glimpse of what we are, or of what we are noticing itself. It can happen more or less clearly, and for shorter or longer periods of time. (Non-abiding awakening.)

Then, there is a process of clarifying and embodying this awakening. To clarify what we are, and to reorganize and realign our human life within that new context.

Eventually, the last bits of identification with stories may wear out and identification shifts (back) into what we are. (Abiding awakening.)

And before and after that happens, our human self continues to realign and reorganize. To heal, mature, develop skillful means. Live more and more in integrity.

Whatever the “I” is doing…

 

At some point on the process, quite late, we paint ourselves into a corner.

There is a sense that whatever this “I” is doing is not going to do it. It can’t touch what I am and everything is.

And there is also an acute sense of the irony of this “I” trying to get rid of itself.

In both cases, this “I” is only spinning its wheels. And gradually wearing itself out.

This “I” as a doer/observer is a gestalt, a fabrication, and it is wearing itself out. (Or more accurately, wearing identification with it out.)

And it is completely innocent. A part of the play of God.

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Edge effect

 

It is fun for me to hang out at the edge of confusion and reality. It is a rich place.

Sometimes, reality shifts into the foreground. If its volume is high, it is clear that I am that which experience happens within and as, and sometimes any sense of a separate I falls away. When the volume is lower, I can still notice all as awake no thing appearing as something, including this sense of a separate I located in/around the head area.

Other times, confusion is more in the foreground. I get caught up in stories, take them as true for a while, work with inquiry and/or allowing experience, and so on.

And altogether, it is a very rich place. I get to see the shifts from one to the other. I get to explore some of the characteristics and dynamics of both and the shifts.

But at some point, there is a readiness for reality to take over. I am honestly not sure if I am there yet, but I am ready for inviting it in.

Flavors of disidentification

 

A few different flavors of disidentification from own (as always quite limited) experience…

The object of identification falls away, and with it – over time – the identification with it. It wears off.

I may see myself as an athlete, have a serious injury, and the identification with that identity falls away. (Usually replaced with something else.)

Or I may have a oneness experience, maybe for a long time, which then falls away and with it the identification with that state. (Here is the opportunity to recognize what I am independent of any states.)

The object stays, but the identification with it falls away. The identification with a story, an identity, falls away. This can happen – maybe most easily – through different forms of inquiry, such as exploring the sense fields and The Work. It tends to be a gentler process than the previous one.

Also, the object may come and go, so there is a recognition that I am not that. For instance, the sense of a center/I-other may come and go, and I recognize it in either case as awakeness itself.

In all cases, the disidentification is really with a story. And the amount of drama/struggle/suffering is proportional to the resistance to the process of disidentification. When the object falls away, there may be a good deal of drama. And it may be a little gentler if the object stays and we explore identification through inquiry. And even more gentle if the object comes and goes, and there is a natural recognition – over time – that I am not that.

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Flavors of tools not working

 

It seems that at some point, most people find that their usual psychological/spiritual tools don’t work anymore. 

And it seems – from my own very limited experience – that this can happen in at least two ways. 

One is when I engage with the tools, and there is no shift. It is life itself telling me that these tools have limited use, which is good to know. More importantly, it is an invitation to notice what I really am – already free from any states and shifts. That which any state and shift and any content of awareness happens within and as. 

The other is when whatever shift happens is seen clearly as not getting me what I really want. It may give a shift into a sense of ease, OKness with what is, a quiet joy and so on, but that is not what I really want. It is not satisfying anymore. Nothing is satisfying, apart from noticing myself as that which any shift and experience happens within and as. 

In this case, there is usually also a noticing of the whole dynamic of being caught up in wanting as coming from not noticing what I really am. There is an identification with wanting content of awareness to be different, and even if it this content shifts, it still doesn’t quite do it. There is still a sense of an I with an Other, a separate I within form, a sense of separation, of precariousness, of something missing.

And the very activity of engaging with wanting to change content of experience, for the sake of trying to find what I am missing, is a distraction from noticing what I already and really am. 

Ideas about the process

 

Road maps for the awakening process can be helpful in a few different ways.

They can help us see that what happens here is shared, common, nothing unusual about it.

They can give us pointers for how to work with what is happening, if anything besides our usual practice can be helpful.

They can give teachers and people researching these things pointers for how to teach and practices to suggest.

But that is about it. They are sometimes helpful, in a practical and quite limited way. And there are of course many of these road maps, each one helpful in some circumstances and not in other.

And if either of these road maps is made into an expectation – by either students or teachers – it gets pretty weird, as usual. It ends up as yet another struggle with what is.

As they say, if 6.7 billion people awaken, there will be 6.7 billion different awakenings.

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From special to ordinary

 

It seems that an awakening goes from special to ordinary in a few different ways.

In the beginning, it may be special in one’s own experience. Partly because it is unfamiliar, and partly because there may still be a trace of I-Other, or residue patterns of wanting to be special.

It may also be special in other’s experience, because the awakening may bring about a marked shift in behavior, and it may be expressed in flashy ways.

Later on, it becomes ordinary in one’s own experience. Partly because there is more familiarity with it, partly because we know that whatever happened is a common and shared pattern, and partly because all – no matter what it is – so clearly is the play of awareness itself.

The content of the play – including awakening and delusion – is secondary to it all being a play of awareness. The human self has also had more time to reorganize and mature within this new context, including a full and heartfelt embrace of all that it is.

And it also becomes ordinary in other’s views, because they see someone who appears quite ordinary, living an ordinary life, and taking themselves as quite ordinary too.

Pulling the rug out

 

This is the case whether we work on our human self or on discovering what we are: it is a process of pulling the rug out from under ourselves.

It is a process of going outside the familiar. Allowing what appeared as true for us to go. Be willing to be wrong. Allowing familiar identities to go. Exploring the truth in the reversals of our habitual beliefs and identifications.

We pull the rug out from under ourselves, find what is already more true for us, stay with that for a while, getting more familiar with it, and then repeat.

At our human level, we discover and embrace disowned sides, embracing more the fullness of the evolving wholeness of who we are.

As what we are, we notice ourselves through inviting beliefs and identifications with stories and identities to fall way, revealing ourselves as what we always and already are.

Richness of edges

 

I am appreciating more and more the play at the edge of a sense of separate self, and shifting into the field, absent of an I and Other.

As where any two ecosystems meet, it has three zones.

There is the sense of a separate self, and anything that goes with that, including the drama. I get to explore that, experience it, live it. There is a great deal of juiciness here. And I also get to explore it through various practices, such as labeling of the sense fields, journeying, the Big Mind process, The Work, Process Work, and more. (Any of these can be used when there is a sense of separate self, at the edge, or even when awakeness is noticing itself more fully, and each one offers  a different flavor to it.)

There is the edge itself, where I get to explore the mechanisms of samsara more in detail. I have a foot in both world, which allows me to live the dynamics of samsara, yet within the context (intuition, glimpses or direct awareness) of headlessness or Big mind, or awakeness noticing itself and all of its content as itself.

Then there are the shifts into awakeness noticing itself, which includes exploring the dynamics of the shift itself. Noticing how an exclusive or enhanced identification with certain sensations (for me in the throat/mouth/neck area) is released. How these sensations now are just content of awareness as anything else, an object rather than an (imagined) subject. How the field of awakeness and its content notices itself as a field. How the sense of a separate I, a center and periphery, and so on comes just from a thought, and that those thoughts may still be there but are now seen as just a thought, not filtering perception anymore (the sense of inside and outside went a long time ago).

In some ways, it is so enjoyable that there is no desire to move on. Exploring these three are more than sufficiently rewarding and interesting. But most likely, after a while, when the mechanisms of samsara has been seen through enough, the hooks for a sense of a separate self falls away on its own time. Leaving just awakeness to itself, in its great aloneness and infinite diversity.

The Work in different contexts

 

I am reminded of how The Work and its effects appears differently depending on where we are coming from, and specifically what appears as real to us.

If we take the conventional world as basically real and true, accepting that we are separate individuals going about our business much as everyone agrees on, then The Work helps us find release from attachment to one particular perspective, and a fluidity among perspectives. We can see our situation from many different angles, and find the limited validity in each one. This in itself is a tremendous relief, and releases a great deal of energy and attention previously wrapped up in a far more narrow perspective and its struggle with life. We find a new clarity, freedom and engagement in our life.

This requires a willingness to let go of the idea that one perspective is right and the other ones wrong. But even if we still hold onto this to some degree, there can be a relief here. At least, we can question the things our worldview allows us to question, and that in itself is helpful to us. To take a crude example, I may believe that the Bible is the word of God and should be taken at face value as much as possible. That is fine, and I can still question other things, such as the idea that life should be fair and so on.

If there has been glimpses beyond taking any stories as real and substantial, The Work takes on yet another flavor. I may intuit or have glimpsed myself as awakeness and all its content as this awakeness, in whatever way I interpret or talk about that: all is Buddha Mind, Big Mind noticed itself as Big Mind, there is nothing but God and the Divine Mind, and so on. Here, I know to a certain extent, from experience, that the way things appear to us is just that, an appearance. It is all the play of God, and it is all inherently OK as it is. Any idea of something being not right comes from seeing something as not God. Within this context, The Work becomes a way of exploring the mechanisms of samsara, the ways attachment to thought filters what happens to make something look solid and not-God.

Finally, if awakeness has noticed everything as itself, inherently free from the overlay of thought including the sense of I and Other, center and periphery, and so on, this human self can still do The Work. It is still a way to explore the mechanisms of samsara in fine detail, and now to understand and possibly help others better. Also, as Byron Katie says, we are only awakened to a thought or not, and any story of that continuing into the future is just a story.

If we want to put this into some sort of developmental model, the whole process may go from a more fundamentalist context, to modern, to post-modern, to mystical glimpses and intuitions, to oneness, to nondual. But that is just another story, and it is rarely as clean-cut as that. Life is already free from those ideas.

The beauty of The Work is that it works with us exactly where we are. I have a belief, it creates friction with my story of what is, I experience stress, and I can inquire into it. It is a process that guides – and eventually undoes – itself, unfolding at its own pace and one step at a time.  It works with us wherever we are.

Spirit animal

 

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When I was a child, I had a Big Dream about a black panther, and I realize later that it was very similar to shamanic experiences and connections with a spirit animal. In the dream, there was a connection with the panther as long lost friend, and someone who had immense wisdom, insight and ability to guide me.

The world is a mirror of what is inside of ourselves, and animals can be especially helpful in mirroring and evoking certain qualities in us.

When we journey – whether in dreams, shamanic rituals, active imagination, through using the whole of us as in process work, or even through voice dialog – we are often guided to exactly those qualities that wants to come into our lives more fully. Those that may have been disowned, or just temporarily forgotten. There is an infinity of sources for reminders, including animals.

What comes up is what is needed here and now, so will change over time. But some may have to do with longer term processes, unfolding over decades, and the black panther for me seems to be one of these.

For me, the black panther evokes a beautiful combination of polarities, maybe especially a natural confidence and relaxation, and alertness and explosive activity, depending on what the situation calls for. It is firm and gentle, cute and vicious, and follows its path with receptivity yet in a non-nonsense way and undistractedly. Its velvety blackness reminds of the fertile blackness and awakening of the belly center, which nurtures each of the qualities listed above.

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Shamanism is probably the earliest form for psychology, and from the little I know about it, it can be every bit as sophisticated as any contemporary western psychology. Judging from the earliest examples of rock art, it is a form of psychology that has been with us since before the dawn of civilization, which is humbling and also gives a sense of connection across time and universality.

I have worked with the black panther more lately, bringing its qualities into my daily life, and have found it a great support.I may find the black panther qualities in myself through images and movements, or just ask myself what would the black panther do?

Previews and reorganizing in two ways

 

Initial draft… 

We often experience previews of what can be, a dropping into a future way of being, which then invites a reorganization of our human self to both reflect it and also prepare for a more stable way of living it.

These previews are wonderful gifts, although they are not always taken that way after they are gone. They come, show us what can be – in a more stable way – in the future, and then go away again. If we don’t recognize them as previews and their function of inviting our human self to reorganize, we can easily go into a sense of loss and of something being wrong, while it is just a normal and expected part of the process.

I learned this the hard way, as I assume is how it is for many of us, and I am still in the process of really getting it.

So say there is an awakening into a nondual awakening, of all as the unmanifest manifesting as what is here now, inherently absent of I and Other. It seems stable when it is there, but there may also be a recognition that this human self is not quite able to fully and maturely live from it and express it in the world. The gap is actually pretty big. Then the awakening fades or goes away, but it has initiated a pretty radical reorganizing of our human self.

This reorganizing reflects, to some extent at least, Big Mind awake to itself, and it also prepares the ground for Big Mind awakening to itself in a more stable way, and expressing itself through this human self in a more full and mature way.

These previews may not only happen once. They can happen many times, each time triggering a further and different reorganization of our human self. And the previews may not be of a nondual awakening, they can equally well be of a soul level awakening (oneness, an I here one with all as God), or even a centaur awakening to the wholeness beyond and embracing this human body and psyche.

So although all of this is a natural process, and a wonderful gift, it can be taken in a very different way. It can be taken as a loss, as having something and then losing it, and we can get absorbed into whatever comes up when we tell ourselves we have lost it. And as usual, the more resistance to what is – in this case reorganization and loss of the preview – the more drama, stress and suffering. But that too, if it happens, is part of the process. After a while, when we learn to recognize the patterns of previews and reorganization, we learn to relax and trust the process a little more.

Although this is a pretty typical pattern, it seems that it doesn’t have to happen this way. For some, there is one awakening which stays and the human self reorganize within the awakening. But for others, including me, there are several previews followed by reorganization.

And why not? If something is possible within the habits of the manifest, then God is going to go there. God awakens to itself stably, and the human self it is functionally connected with reorganize within that. And God glimpses itself several times, and the human self reorganize following each glimpse.

It is all part of the overall richness of how God explore and manifest itself.

Explorations and goals

 

Many of the spiritual traditions are heavily goal oriented. There is a shorter term goal of living a life that works better for oneself and others, in terms of reducing suffering. And a longer term and over arching goal of Ground awakening to itself, at least in some parts of the traditions.

There is nothing wrong in this, but it is also only part of the picture, and can create some problems if taken as all there is to it.

For me, it is much more of an exploration process. I am curious about this life and existence in general, and am happy to explore whatever comes up and wherever life takes me. And a part of that wider terrain, which is formed as we go along, is Ground awakening to itself. But it is only one small part of the terrain, and not by any means any “goal” or end point. At most, it is something that happens in glimpses, and then as a more stable shift, and all the other explorations happens – in a conventional view – before and after it, and always within and as what awakens to itself or not.

Ground awakening to itself is not inherently better or more desirable than Ground not noticing itself. The only difference is that in one there is clarity and freedom from suffering, and in the other there is confusion and suffering, so when there is an identification with a separate self, there is naturally a desire for Ground to awaken to itself.

And eventually, when this confusion is thoroughly (or not so thoroughly) explored, when aspects of that terrain is familiar, there is a point where Ground cannot help but to awaken to itself. The sense of a separate self and its identities are so clearly seen as coming just from a thought, from imagination, that it loses any grip. And right there, Ground notices itself as inherently free from anything imagined.

Existence, universe, life, this always evolving form aspect of God, seeks (or, more accurately, moves in the direction of) diversity. And so too in awakening.

If we follow a set path, it is likely to work, at least to some extent. It has many benefits. And although it is a well trodden path, what is brought to it is always somewhat unique and different, so it will have its own flavor.

But why not allow this process, unfolding here now, to lead us? To have an open curiosity, about where this path goes? It is always unique anyway, a unique expression of life and God, so why not allow it to be unique, to willingly allow it to add to the diversity of existence.

It does anyway, so we may as well embrace it, although when there is resistance to it, trying to fit into a tradition and set path, that is also part of its unique flavor.

For me, all of this leads me to embrace both ends of the polarity.

I follow traditional practices, because they work. But I am also very much aware of what can come out of too much of a goal focus… more clashes between stories of what is and should be, more stress, more struggle, and so on. There can also be too much of an expectation of the outcome of practices, which creates, in another way, resistance to what is and struggles with the process and where it wants to go.

But I also follow a more open exploration… I am willing to try anything that comes up, when it comes up for me to try it, like for instance diksha. And I engage in more open inquiries as well, where I have no idea where it will go, such as in Process Work and journeying or tracking. If there is any expectation, it may be surprise over what comes up. Sometimes, it is entirely new dimensions of existence beyond what my thoughts thought was possible.

So there is a more free exploration of any aspect of the always changing and evolving terrain. And as part of this, there is an exploration of what is so clearly mapped out by the many traditions, such as realized selflessness.

God, in its form aspect, evolves in an infinitely rich way. So why not consciously join the process? We don’t need to abandon the traditions, we only need receptivity to and curiosity for a terrain beyond them. This terrain includes what is covered by each of the other traditions, goes beyond this, and is also always unfolding and evolving in new ways.

Ouroboros – the process eating itself

 

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Ouroboros, the snake eating its own tail, is a fertile symbol (metaphor, analogy, projection object) that can be understood in many ways.

One is as an analogy for the process of self-inquiry.

In the beginning, it appears that there is a separate self here inquiring, investigating, exploring and so on. But the process itself includes the annihilation of this sense of a separate self. Eventually, even that is seen as just something on the inside of a story, something that appears real only because it is taken as real, a thought placed on top of pure perception, filtering it into what appears as an I here and Other there.

The process of inquiry, and any spiritual practice leading to Ground noticing itself, is a process eating itself up. The separate self, the doer, that appears to initiate and engage in it, is revealed as never having been there in the first place.

What we let go of

 

When we deepen into who and what we are – notice more of the wholeness of who we are as individual human and soul, notice what we are as Ground (awake void), and work with this in our human life – it is also a process of letting go of identifications and beliefs. This takes many forms. We let go of…

  • Being right. Or rather, seeing a particular story as inherently and absolutely true, and discounting the truths in its reversals. This helps us deepen into more of who we are as humans (detached from beliefs and identities, we can embrace more of who we already are), and also reveals Ground to itself more easily (not clouded over by beliefs, the field of awake void and form can more easily notice and recognize itself).
  • Taking ourselves as content of awareness. This one is more obviously related to noticing ourselves as what we are, as awake void and all form as this awake void, without center anywhere and without any I with an Other. It also relates to deepening into who we are, since a release from taking ourselves as content of awareness – including as this human self – allows this human self to develop and mature without the drama, struggle and resistance that comes from being identified with.
  • Drama. As there is a reduced attachment to stories, in number and degree, there is less identification with and production of drama. There is less sense of an I here as stories and the object of some of these stories (including this human self), so less of an I with an Other, so less friction with what is, so less drama.
  • A center. With a reduction of identification with stories and some of their objects, there is a reduction in a sense of an I with an Other, so also a reduction in a sense of a center. There is a field of awake void (awareness) and form (whatever arises within, to and as awareness), and it is revealed as being inherently absent of a center anywhere. Again, this allows this field to notice itself more easily, without the obscuration of a sense of a separate self as a center of the field, and it allows this human self to mature and deepen into who it is, without the drama of identification and a sense of I here and Other over there.
  • An I with an Other. When there is identification with stories, and content of awareness in general, there is automatically a sense of an I with an Other. I am this region of what arises, and the wider world is the rest of what arises. If I notice awake void (awareness), that too may be seen as Other, as something that comes and goes. As we deepen into who we are, we notice the wider world more and more as a mirror of this human self. What we see out there (qualities, characteristics) is something we can find in here, and the other way around. As we deepen into this process, there is less sense of being separate and different from others and the wider world, and more of a sense of no separation and being in the same boat as all humans and then all beings. There may still be a sense of a separate self, but one that is of the same piece as all of humanity, all of life, and all of Existence. And as we deepen into what we are, we find ourselves as awake void (awareness), and this void is void… including of identifications with any form. As we now notice all form as this awake void (anything arising as awareness), this field of awake void and form is now revealed as inherently absent of any I with an Other. This means that we now notice all form as arising and happening on its own, on its own schedule. And this goes for this human self as well. There is doing there, as before, but no doer. This human self and all its activities is just happening on its own, as anything else.
  • Being better or worse. This is similar to the previous one. As we mature as who we are, and see in ourselves what we see in the wider world, there is less and less sense of being better or worse than others, or as what we were, could have been or may be. We are all in the same boat. Whatever arises here is universally human, with a particular flavor, and that is the same as whatever arises in anyone. Of course, we can still use conventional measures and see that someone is better or worse than others in math and other areas, but these have only a limited and practical value. As humans, anything in us is universally human and we are in the same boat. And, again, as we notice ourselves as what we are, as awake void, then anything arising is this field of awake void or form. Better or worse does not apply, except in a very limited and practical way in our human lives.
  • A familiar terrain. We let go of identifying with a particular overlay of stories and identities, and the terrain these tended to keep us inside of (as an I here with an Other out there). In our human life, we go beyond what is defined by any fixed identity and beliefs. As awake void and form, we are inherently free from any stories and identities. In both cases, what is, is allowed to manifest and unfold more freely, without the drama and resistance that comes from identification with stories and identities. (Although here, we see that resistance is not really resistance. Resistance is truly futile, because all it does is kick up dust.)
  • Closed centers. Deepening into who and what we are, is also an opening of the three centers, and a letting go of the ways they function when closed. At the head center, it is a letting go of fixed and rigid views, and an inability to see the truth in their turnarounds. At the heart center, it is a letting go of the ambivalence of the heart being open in some situations and closed in others. At the belly center, a letting go of emotional reactivity, both in terms of identification with it, and also (possibly) as a pattern in general as it is being replaced with a steady nurturing fullness.

Dark nights and patterns

 

I am still reading Bernadette Robert’s Path to No Self. She writes about the path better than almost anyone I can think of, especially in a Christian context.

At the same time, although what she writes about are elements in many paths to awakening, the sequence is clearly a reflection of her own. As they say, if there are 7 billion awakenings, then there are 7 billion different awakenings. Not everyone go through each phase, and not in the same sequence, and there are elements in other paths to awakening that is outside what she describes. When she writes, she gives the impression that there is one main pattern in the awakening process, and she does not seem to fully acknowledge the variability in her writings. Which is fine. Something has to be left to the reader to wrestle with and clarify for themselves, beyond what the writer explicitly mentions.

I can also see that my initial take on the dark nights was, as I suspected, a little off in terms of the Christian tradition.

In general, a dark night is any time beliefs and identifications wear off. It is a letting go of who we thought we were. And this can be gentle and easy if we didn’t quite believe it in the first place, or we use a process that is effective and gentle such as The Work. Or it can be a struggle if the attachment is stronger, and we resist the wearing off. As usual, resistance=suffering (resistance to experience, that is).

Then there are the specific dark nights of the senses and the soul, as St. John of the Cross writes about.

As I understand it, the dark night of the senses puts us on the path. It is a disillusionment with the world as being able to provide us with what we are looking for (essentially, lasting happiness, and freedom from suffering). We realize that being dependent on circumstances for our happiness is a precarious situation, and look for something else. It is a wearing off of beliefs of the world being able to provide lasting happiness, and identities related to that. (Not a full wearing off, just enough to put us on the path, and the wearing off continues on the path.)

The dark night of the soul leads us into the unitive life. It is a wearing off of beliefs and identities of being separate. There is still a sense of a separate self here, an I with an Other, but now an I that is one with the larger whole and God. It is an awakening at the soul level, to the alive presence, to all as God and consciousness. It is a relatively stable awakening.

For Bernadette Roberts, the transition into realized selflessness from here was more of a slipping into it. She didn’t need another (dramatic) dark night for it to happen.

As she points out, it is the torments inherent in the unitive life that wears off the last beliefs in and identification as a separate self. In the unitive life, there can be a great deal of bliss and joy, yet also torments in terms of (a) not being able to fully share it with anyone, (b) others not being interested in it, and (c) seeing how every experience and insight is still filtered through, and tainted by, this sense of a separate self.

These torments are, in a sense, a dark night happening within the unitive life.

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Emptying out

 

I notice that there is more emptying out going on… and it is all an emptying out of identifications with thoughts. And in the process, for a while, there is very little engagement with those thoughts, which is reflected here in very little references to what other writes about, the aqal framework, Buddhist philosophy and so on. What is left is only what is alive here now, and the thoughts needed to reflect them.

It is just one phase, and in general, if it all empties out, then it fills up again, and where there was an attachment to and identification with thought, there is now a free play with and explorations of these thoughts. There is a freedom to explore them without identification. (But what happens in this case is of course still in the future, and itself only a thought.)

It is a funny thing, how the process of disidentification with a story sometimes goes along with a temporary reduced engagement with the story itself and maybe even the object of the story. I guess stepping away from the story, and sometimes its object, allows for an easier disidentification with it. And when it has been released, there is the freedom of engagement again.

For me, one of the stories that is being let go of is exactly this: that a process of letting go of identifications with stories does not need to involve letting go of the stories or the object of the stories. That too is just a belief, a temporary preference of this personality. Sometimes, that letting go of the stories themselves, and even the objects of them, seems to happen whether my personality wants it or not.

Transition experiences

 

In shifting from taking ourselves as an object in the world to awake void & field of form (Big Mind), there can be many transition experiences, either as glimpses or more stable phases.

One way to organize these is by the three aspects of Big Mind: void, awake, and form. It works to some extent, but there are also lots of overlaps here (by necessity, since those three are really the same thing/no-thing). Also, what I list here are mostly things I am familiar with from my own process, so a lot is left out.

  • Void… a sense of form as transparent, translucent, insubstantial, dream-like, absent of I and Other, absent of identification.
  • Awake… a sense of the wider world (beyond the human self) as somehow awake, conscious, animated. (Leading to experiences akin to nature and deity mysticism.)
  • Form… a sense of form as a seamless whole (from shifting the center of gravity into the witness, pure seeing), as transparent and insubstantial (from sensing it as void), and as awake or consciousness itself (from seeing it in its awakeness aspect).

And then a fourth area which comes up to different extents: the soul. It enriches the process tremendously, can appear as a stumbling block if taken as anything final or attached to for any other reason, and can also be a guide into an awakening of the void to itself.

  • Soul… a sense of clear luminosity, of alive presence, of smooth, full, round, luminous blackness, and of this body and all form as void combined with any or all of these. (For instance, a sense of alive presence in and as this body, or the smooth luminous blackness as what all form arises from, within and as.)

More specifically, transition experiences can include a sense of no separation, of oneness (a vague I here, one with the wider world), of synchronicities (the content of form out there mirroring what is going on in here), of one’s inanimate surroundings as consciousness (and not really separate from this consciousness), and much more.

Eventually, it leads into a sense of a separate self falling away, and what is left is just the field of awake void and form, the form including this human self and its surroundings (whatever arises in the field of consciousness), and all inherently absent of an I with an Other. It is all just a field… void, awake and as form.

Resistance: revealing Spirit one piece at a time

 

I have mentioned this before, and the previous post reminded me of it again… the gifts of blocks and resistance.

As awful as resistance can be, in terms of the stress and sometimes suffering created from it, it also has some great gifts.

One of the main ones is that it allows for an exploration of Spirit (in its form and emptiness aspects) one piece at a time, filtered in space and time into mostly manageable portions.

Resistance slows down the process, allowing for a more detailed and thorough exploration of each without it drowning in the immensity of the whole. In some ways, it functions as a magnifying glass, allowing for one piece of the terrain to be explored, in detail, at a time. It holds us in place for a while, inviting a more thorough exploration of that particular area of the landscape.

Our personality certainly does not like resistance and its effects, at least not right away. But with time, there can be a great deal of appreciation and gratitude even for resistance and blocks, for these and other reasons.

(Resistance here refers to resistance to experience, which comes from a belief in a story, which in turn creates a sense of I and Other, seeing of some experiences as undesirable, and then resistance to them, which then leads to a sense of drama, stress and sometimes suffering… which is just about all it creates. Spirit refers to all of Existence, in its form and emptiness aspects, including our daily human experiences.)

Deepening into who and what we are (clarified)

 

When I refer to deepening into who and what we are, what does that really mean?

Simply put, it is the individual at the human and soul levels that deepens into itself, as who it is. And it is Ground noticing itself, as what it is. And then, the individual reorganizing within the context of Ground awakening to itself.

And within that simplicity, there is a lot of wrinkles and complexity…

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