mindfulness and addiction

Mindful awareness of what addiction is

Eight Step Recovery

Before we can move onto step 6, “Placing Positives Values at the Center of Our Lives,” we really need to come into “Mindful Awareness of What Addiction is.” It’s easy to delude ourselves when the scientists define 10 types of addictions, and our particular one does not come up on their list.

  1. Alcohol
  2. Tobacco
  3. Caffeine
  4. Marijuana
  5. Solvents
  6. Opiates ( like pain killers, heroine, morphine, ketamine)
  7. Anti Anxiety Sedatives
  8. Psycho Stimulants (like speed or cocaine)
  9. Amphetamine (like ecstasy)
  10. Hallucinogens (like LSD)

If you only want to believe what the scientists say then how about reflecting on this: Scientists state that for something to be an addiction it must have the following characteristics…

  • It must be a repeated behaviour that results in distress or negative impact
  • You continue to repeat the behaviour despite the fact it will cause distress
  • You have a state of physiological need such that physiological signs occur when you stop taking them, and these physiological signs also includes depression, anxiety disorder, anger
  • You experience stress when you try to stop
  • You exhibit behaviours of lying, or concealing behaviours (whenever you participate in the addictive behaviour and do not want others to see that you are concealing something)
  • You behaviour is persistent, and you have not been able to cut back or stop
  • You may be able to stop the behaviour but relapse

Scientists also claim that before something can be considered addicting it must have the characteristic of a brain disorder. And because addiction is classified as a brain disorder, addiction can be cured.

While gambling has been added to the scientists’ list of addiction, we still have some way to go to have sugar, food, sex, internet, shopping and many other things included. Meanwhile these categories may not have been scientifically proved to be an addiction, but don’t kid yourselves—they can produce the above characteristics.

The Eight Steps

Addiction or not, what we can agree on that mindfulness has a lot to contribute to dis-ease. Statistics have proved that drug addiction and alcoholism has a profound impact on the frontal cortex in the brain, which is responsible for behaviour, shrinking it to the same size as that of someone with schizophrenia. And scientific evidence also proves that mindfulness has a profound impact on the frontal cortex. MRI scans on a brain that has been exposed to an 8 week mindfulness course show that the amygdala shrinks, which impacts the pre frontal cortex that is responsible for decision making, concentration and awareness.

The reality is that addiction is all the same, there is just different labels for them. The initial trigger that prompted us to turn towards a substance, was about us turning away from our present experience wether it be a negative or positive one.

Admittedly certain behaviours can be harmful, but not addictive. However if we repeat them over and over again, and act out some of the characteristics above, I think we have to accept that we do have an addiction that needs paying Mindful Awareness too.

Especially if it is at the center of your life. What I mean by that is;

  • What do you spend most of your time thinking about?
  • What thoughts frequent your mind?
  • What do you spend a lot of your time doing?
  • What do you spend your money on?

There is not one cure for substance abuse, substance misuse and I include sugar, food, sex, internet as substances. In fact it’s claimed that sugar is 8 times more addictive than cocaine. And it has as many harmful impacts like, diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure.

However I invite you to place Mindfulness at the center of your thoughts and be open to see what happens. Those of you who have had addictive behaviours, know very well what has been the material of your thoughts, what has occupied your mind.

What would it mean to put the breath at the center of your thoughts?
What would it mean to disappear into your breath rather than disappearing into your thoughts?

More on placing positive qualities at the center of your life next month.

For a free sample of the book study and 21 meditations of Eight Step Recovery – Using The Buddha’s Teachings To Overcome Addiction please email: eightstepsrecovery@gmail.com

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Get over it


So I have survived one month of mentorship through my own programme of ‘Eight Step Recovery.’ I’ve relapsed twice, and am back on track with three days of abstinence. I tried harm reduction and it didn’t work for me. Told myself I will eat a handful of raw cashews a day. I even left them out on the kitchen counter so my hosts could share them with me too. But once they were finished, I went out bought a 500 gram packet and proceeded to eat them for my lunch, during a period of three hours. Now you may think: ‘Get over it, you don’t have an addiction. It’s not a matter of life and death. You’re hardly going to wreck the family, or cause any great harm’.

While I do have a mild allergy to nuts, I can’t claim that if I carried on eating them that they would kill me, but I do know that consuming them stunts my emotional growth. Why? Because the nuts have replaced the cigarette I once used to put in my mouth, it has replaced the gum I used to chew obsessively, the food I used to binge on and purge, the substances I used to consume.

Although I’m not in the throes of a life threatening addiction and admittedly avoiding my direct experience has lessened, I still at times turn away from my direct experience enough to disturb my peace of mind. Every time I turn away or avoid, I am resisting and triggering the urges to pick up. These urges manifest into the mental proliferation and mental obsessing, multiplying my initial experience of discomfort several fold. ‘Now I must eat those cashews because it has become too overwhelming.’

I took the opportunity to reflect on my attachment to raw cashew nuts and I wrote this to my sponsor.

‘I’m on the bus licking my wounds and thought I could email you from my phone. As I walked today I realized I do not want to let go of cashews and that is my problem. I know I need to and that I should do as it is a neurotic behaviour that usurps my equilibrium. After that thought, I found myself buying cashews and ate them all over the next two hours not a huge amount but now I feel sick and wish I could turn the clocks back but I can’t. I can see I was turning away from the discomfort of knowing I don’t want to stop. So the question is how do I move from not wanting to let go or knowing I need to let go, to wanting to let go?’ I know eating them in small doses does not work as I end up bingeing as I did today’.

“What I recommend for you is to meditate and reflect on what you are believing about this behavior that is not true. Usually we are believing an untruth. And usually its a variation on ‘it will be okay this time’ (in spite of what has always happened in the past) or ‘even if it’s not okay, it will be worth it’. These are the lies that we most often keep on deluding ourselves with. Another common one is that: ‘I just can’t do this and I might as well give up’. It may be as simple as ‘it will make me feel better’, which of course is not true, because it never does. So there’s your challenge, to bring awareness to your unspoken beliefs, and then to investigate them for current validity. Uncover the lie that you’re believing.

Most of these bad habits did actually have a valid coping function at one point in our lives, before they became debilitating addictions. They did help us cope. But now we have to uncover the dynamics, and ask ourselves ‘what did this do for me in the past?’, ‘what is it doing for me now?’, and ‘what is it doing TO me now?’. But mindfulness of the inner dynamics is a prerequisite. Then we can face our issues instead of having them ambush from behind.”

Great advice for somebody who has co-created Mindfulness Based Addiction Recovery MBAR course. While delivering the training the trainer MBAR course this weekend, I could not help realize, that I had few thoughts about eating cashews over the three days.

I realized that I have needed the dharma, the mindfulness teachings, rather than actually wanting them. It’s a subtle and gross difference. Nothing wrong in needing the teachings, but what does one do once they have been rescued by the teachings? Often go back to their ways.

If I want the dharma enough, I will wholeheartedly place positive values at the centre of my life moment by moment. I did this while delivering the training. I needed to, to deliver the course, but now the course is over, can I want the dharma enough to go for refuge to the Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, effectively and absolutely. This is step six. More about this step next month.

For a free sample of the book study and 21 meditations of Eight Step Recovery – Using The Buddha’s Teachings To Overcome Addiction please email: eightstepsrecovery@gmail.com

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Walking my talk

bowl of cashews

I decided it was about time I make some more effort at walking my talk. So what better opportunity do I have but to work through the 8 steps that I co-founded to take me out of my misery? Although many of the teachings I speak about in the book, were inspirations for me to change my life. I’ve not surrendered to a mentor/sponsor to take me systematically through the set of 8 steps.

While writing the notes on 8 step meetings, which I should say I attended daily while working in India for the month of January, and also writing on how to mentor someone in the program, I thought wouldn’t it be great for somebody to mentor me. So I wrote to my sponsor a long time 12 stepper in several programs and asked: ‘Will you sponsor me?’

He emailed me back: ‘Hahaha, interesting, you know. The idea of taking the woman who wrote the book through them is just kind of topsy-turvy. Anyway, sure I’d be glad to do that. It would be good for me too. I’ve been looking forward to an opportunity to do something like this with someone, to explore the steps myself with someone,  and you’re the first person to turn up. And naturally I’m confident that you won’t give up or do it on a shallow level.’

Well it’s kinda topsy turvy for me too. Surrendering to my own work. But I realize more and more as I mentor people through this program, and read the emails sent to me, that I need to keep on walking my talk. Those of you who are familiar with food addiction will know, that it is non stop work, and if we are not mindful grey areas do arise.

So I thought I would work on my relationship to cashew nuts, You may laugh, everybody else does, or they tell me: ‘It’s healthy, you’re a vegan—eat away’. But I can’t kid myself, I know that I have a neurotic relationship with them. I know that, because if you told me today I could never eat cashews again, I would cry (metaphorically), and find it incredibly challenging. It’s not so much the behaviour it is the volition behind the behaviour. Still holding to a past that can drive a behaviour.

My trip to India put me in my uncomfortable zone, I was powerless over the foods I could eat. I had no choice but forced into renunciation of my green smoothies, my marmite and tahini, my rice cakes, for a diet of rice and oily vegetable curries three times a day. While I loved the food, I knew I could not keep such a diet. I was shocked to realize that I had a huge fear of becoming bigger. This fear was behind my neurotic eating of cashews, the only food I could cling onto, while away from my familiar environment.

While working with people who are struggling in their addictions, I often say: ‘You have to be abstinent’. I’ve forgotten how painful it is to let go and be abstinent, as there are so many things I have chosen to live without in my life. And I also remember that harm reduction can be a way to go, if abstinence is the place we truly want to land upon, and even that at times may not be perfect.

So I wanted to investigate, why is it so hard to let go of a habit, a behaviour that causes us stress, unsatisfactoriness and can never be permanent in our lives?

So I’m in the hot house. Join me in doing one meditation a day from the 21 meditations for recovery. Check in daily. Email for a copy of the 8 step book study, mentoring and meetings.

For a free sample of the book study and 21 meditations of Eight Step Recovery – Using The Buddha’s Teachings To Overcome Addiction please email: eightstepsrecovery@gmail.com

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Step five: Transforming our speech, actions and livelihood

Eight Step Recovery

Anyone who has worked a set of steps either in the 12 step tradition or the 8 step model, will know how long it can take to complete a set of steps. There are places where people get stuck, or just drop out.

This fifth step transforming our speech, actions and livelihood, is one of those steps that can feel overwhelming. ‘What! I have to transform my livelihood? How will I earn my living?’

The reality is if we want change in our lives we do have to begin a moral inventory and reflect on our behaviours. We put speech first, because most people can relate to the fact that their communication could be improved upon or even transformed.

The Eight Steps

However if we focused on transforming our actions, transformation of our speech and livelihood would follow us like a shadow. It has been said that: ‘The only thing we own are our actions.’ Hence our actions create our karma, because our actions will always have a consequence. The Buddha’s teaching on karma has been explained by Dhivan Thomas Jones and Sagaraghosa in their book This Being, That Becomes:  ‘Actions lead to habits lead to character leads to destiny.’

Picking up a drink after a hard day at work can lead to us doing this every day, until it has become a habit without us even being aware of it. This habit can impair our judgements, and we create a drunken character. And for many people that drunken character has created some miserable destinies.

The Buddhist teachings are quite clear about this ‘If with an impure mind a person speaks or acts suffering follows him/her like the wheel that follows the foot of the ox. If with a pure mind a person speaks or acts happiness follows him/her like the wheel that follows the foot of the ox.’

We offer exercises and reflections in this step to help guide you through a possible radical change. It could be as simple as taking up the five training principles to help train the mind. When we begin to live a more ethical life, there can be hope. A strong practise of ethics can give rise to much joy and happiness. A strong practise of loving kindness can lead to a softening of the heart and much joy. Transform yourself and you will transform everything around you.

[Eight Step Recovery, pages 117-142.]

For a free sample chapter of Eight Step Recovery – Using The Buddha’s Teachings To Overcome Addiction please email: eightstepsrecovery@gmail.com

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Mindful intervention boosts brain activation for healthy cravings

Business Standard: A new study has shown that how an intervention program for chronic pain patients called Mindfulness-Oriented Recovery Enhancement (MORE) decreased patients’ desire for prescription drugs.

The study conducted at University of Utah suggested that more intervention concentrates on helping people to recover a sense of meaning and fulfillment in everyday life, embracing its pleasures and pain without turning to substance use as a coping mechanism.

Eric L. Garland, associate professor at the University of Utah College of Social Work. Garland and colleagues’ study received eight weeks of instruction in applying mindfulness-oriented techniques …

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Step four: Being willing to step onto the path of recovery and discover freedom

Eight Step Recovery

In this 8 step recovery program – we speak about being willing. We use this word because if one wants recovery, they have to be willing to step onto the path. Too many of us bargain with our recovery. We want it, but we don’t want to do the work it takes to get the recovery. It’s my way or the high way. There is only one path in the Buddhist tradition to recovery, and that is the direct path of the four noble truths and the noble eightfold path. Of course this path comes in many different formulations and lists.

Last month, I heard the The Dalai Lama say: ‘The Mahayana teachings are an extrapolation of the four noble truths’. First we must understand the first truth of suffering. The second truth, a path that leads to more suffering, is the understanding of the three lakshanas, suffering, impermanence, and self view. The third truth, the cessation of suffering, is the understanding of the emptiness teachings, and the fourth truth, a path leading us away from suffering, is the illumination of all the teachings.

The Eight Steps

The good news is, that we could focus on just one of the teachings, and one teaching alone will help us discover a new freedom. It could be as simple as cultivating loving kindness and compassion for oneself. Cultivating compassion inevitably includes the five traditional training principles, of non harm, not taking the not given, sexual misconduct, false speech and abstaining from intoxicants. We need kindness and community to help us step onto the path of recovery.

But we can have all of this and still continue to relapse. Why? Because we have not wholeheartedly connected to the vision of recovery. We have not connected to something that we want more than our addiction, more than the thing we turn to ease our suffering. We have to want recovery more than our choice of drug in that split second before picking up.

‘The moment we decide to pick up our drug of choice, we are blocking out what is at stake. That choice may mean losing our families, our jobs, our relationships……This can be uncomfortable to accept. But every time we reach for our addiction we are making a choice. To recover, we must find or be inspired by something that we want more than our addiction. We need vision.’ Eight Step Recovery – Using The Buddha’s Teachings to Overcome Addiction

You may still be saying I have vision. But are you willing to transform and change? Vision becomes redundant if we are not willing to step onto the path of transformation. Our vision of recovery will be realized when we have the courage to step on to the path and transform ourselves.

  • What is there in life that you would like more than your addiction?
  • What path do you need to be on to bring about this thing in life that you want more than your addiction?
  • Is it my way? The Highway? Or the direct path to the four noble truths, the noble eightfold path?
[Eight Step Recovery, pages 95-115.]

For a free sample chapter of Eight Step Recovery – Using The Buddha’s Teachings To Overcome Addiction please email: eightstepsrecovery@gmail.com

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The third arrow

Three darts in a dart board

The first arrow: Think of a time someone said something hurtful to you, and let’s try to break down what happened. A comment was made, and you probably experienced actual physical pain, most likely in the solar plexus or heart. (When the hurt is particularly strong, we sometimes say it feels like we’ve been punched in the gut, don’t we?)

What went on was that some fast-acting part of your brain believed you were being criticized or marginalized, and so identified the comment as a threat to your well-being. That part of your brain then attempted to alert the rest of the mind to this threat by sending signals to pain receptors in the body. This all happens in a fraction of a second, and automatically. You don’t “decide” to feel hurt.

This kind of hurt is an example of what, in a well-known teaching, the Buddha called “the first arrow.” We can try not to get shot by arrows, but emotional pain like we’ve been discussing, along with purely physical pain — as when we’re sick or injured — is unavoidable. Even the Buddha experienced physical and emotional discomfort.

See also:

The second arrow: The existence of a first arrow of course implies a second! The Buddha explained the “second arrow” as the way that the mind reacts to physical or emotional discomfort in ways that create even more pain. We do this by things like indulging in self-pity, thinking about how unfair it is that we got hurt, blaming ourselves, being critical of the other person, or rehashing the hurtful event over and over again, thinking about how we could have handled things differently. The mind compulsively returns to the painful event we’ve experienced, and every time we do so we cause ourselves yet more pain, because in remembering the hurt, we re-experience it. So as the Buddha said, this is like someone being hit by an arrow, and then reacting in a way that causes a second arrow to be unleashed. You probably did something like this after hearing the hurtful comment.

So there are these two arrows — two forms of pain.

The third arrow: But wait, there’s more! In the teaching of the two arrows, the Buddha talked about a third kind of pain: pain that’s deferred because of clinging to pleasure. This is less often talked about, perhaps because he didn’t offer a colorful image to illustrate it. I call this third form of pain the “third arrow,” and I’m going to supply the missing simile.

The Buddha gave a detailed explanation of how the third arrow works. He pointed out that when someone experiences the first arrow of unavoidable pain, he or she can feel resistance to the pain, and then “seek delight in sensual pleasure.” This is because, not having learned to work with the mind, the person “does not know of any escape from painful feeling other than sensual pleasure.” When we act this way we create a pattern of avoidance and denial that leads to yet further pain in the future.

This third arrow is an important teaching regarding addictive behaviors. Who among us is not afflicted with compulsiveness? Drinking alcohol, eating “comfort food,” watching TV, endlessly reading posts on social media sites, browsing the web, checking our phones for new messages — these are all ways of getting hits of dopamine, a neurotransmitter central to the brain’s reward and pleasure centers. And each of these activities is an escape from a painful feeling that in all likelihood we barely acknowledged.

The “third arrow” of deferred suffering is like when a person has been hit by an arrow and sees yet another one coming, but chooses to ignore it. Pretending nothing’s wrong, he or she indulges in activities like eating, drinking, shopping, watching TV, and checking Facebook. It’s not that any of these things is necessarily very pleasurable in itself, by the way. The “pleasure” we feel is often more like the comfortable numbness of compulsive activity.

Of course we can ignore our pain for a while, but we can’t distract ourselves indefinitely. Eventually that airborne dart — the “third arrow” that we’ve been ignoring — finds its target.

Avoiding the third arrow

If we understand, as the Buddha put it, the “origin and passing away” of a painful feeling (the first arrow), then we can relate to it differently. We know it’s not permanent. We know that it will pass. We can simply experience it without aversion. And in the open space of mindfulness that we’ve created, a painful feeling arises and then passes away.

A recent study showed that painful feelings like shame, fear, and humiliation pass in mere minutes. The less we react with the second arrow of mental self-torment, the quicker painful feelings dissipate. Even if they last longer (the same study showed that sadness can be remarkably persistent), if we don’t respond with the third arrow of denial and distraction, we won’t simply be deferring the pain to some future time.

Putting this into practice

I can pretty much guarantee that within the next half hour you’re going to encounter some kind of dissatisfaction (boredom, hurt, confusion, frustration, etc.) and them immediately be tempted to pursue the next dopamine hit by indulging in some kind of escape activity.

See if you can be alert instead. See if you can stay with the discomfort. Tell yourself it’s OK to have this painful feeling. Recognize that it’s impermanent and that it’ll dissipate as we observe it mindfully. Stay with it long enough for it to dissolve. And when it does, the “third arrow” of deferred suffering will dissolve too, mid-flight.

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‘Mindfulness’ sessions help Drug Court offenders fight addiction, stress

wildmind meditation newsPhaedra Haywood, The New Mexican: Giggles and stocking feet aren’t something normally associated with a courtroom, but that’s what you’ll find if you enter state District Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer’s courtroom on a Thursday afternoon.

Offenders in the First District’s Drug Court and Treatment Court programs are now required to participate in mindfulness and body awareness exercises, Marlowe Sommer said, because studies have shown that they can help reduce recidivism, especially for people who struggle with addictions. The components were added to the court programs about six weeks ago.

Drug Court, aimed at repeat offenders with addiction issues, and Treatment Court, for those …

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Step three: Embracing impermanence to show us that our suffering can end

crumbling sandcastle on a beach

As I reflect on this step, I can’t but help say a prayer for my dear friend, who hung herself last month, because as she wrote in her note, ‘life was too painful’. Sadly my friend is not unique in thinking this, many people have these thoughts, and some of these people eventually take their lives.

Is there anything we can do to help someone who expresses such pain?

Whatever we do it has to be unconditional. That said, the Buddhist teachings can be so optimistic, so liberating if we are ready for the teachings to appear in our lives. Living with the truth of impermanence can help us to find freedom. Even if our life is in chaos, if our life is full of suffering, we can hold onto the hope that things change. Anyone who is feeling suicidal needs to be revitalized by hope, needs to be pointed to the future. And this step can help point us in this direction.

‘Sometimes our lives feel stuck. When we are facing painful times, it can feel as though the pain will never end. …In survival mode, our mind is taken up with the pain and seems unable to look beyond it.’ Eight Step Recovery – Using The Buddha’s Teachings to Overcome Addiction.

The Eight Steps

We hear of people who have been chronically depressed, and begin to feel better, and at this point they take their life. This is often because they have not been able to accept change. Some people relapse when change occurs, because similarly they have not been able to cope with change. Change can be scary. Embracing impermanence can be scary too. But when we resist it we create more suffering in our lives. This is what we need to understand. We need to understand on an emotional level step two; ‘Seeing how we can create extra suffering in our lives’. If we can really see how we create this in our lives, it will help us to embrace this third step.

The path of recovery can be tough. But know when we step on to it with all of our hearts, when we place our hearts upon the path of recovery suffering begins to change, and recovery begins to flourish.

The most important message in this step, is that we can change. Everything around us is changing and we too are changing. We can lean into change by nurturing our helpful habits and starving our unhelpful ones.

I remember the hell of my addiction. But in that hell, there was a glimmer of hope. I knew things changed. However I wanted somebody to do the change for me, or something external to initiate the change. I wanted the magic pill to make me sober. The magic cure. I had not totally embraced impermanence. I was partly in denial. I was angry, and when I wasn’t angry I was bargaining with change. I wanted change on my terms. I also wanted to control the outcome.

When we embrace impermanence we come out of denial, and accept how much we have changed throughout our lives. We accept that if we have a lapse that the next moment is a new moment and something new can possibly happen. We accept the truth of the Buddhist teachings, that there is no fixed self. That the thoughts that have fixed us, constructed us, judged us are empty. There is nothing for these thoughts to stick too. Embracing impermanence helps us to detach from the stories we tell ourselves, and that nothing is fixed. This teaching is so optimistic, if we can see the truth of it. Yes accepting change can be tough, and it is inevitable that we may need to grieve and have the sadness, over the loss of something that has been in our lives for years. But then we must move swiftly on.

To help us accept change in our lives, we ask these questions on page 92 of the book.

  • What has changed in your life during the past ten years?
  • What has changed in your life during the past five years?
  • What has changed in your life during the past year?
  • What has changed in your life today?
  • What has changed in our life in the past hour?

Now can you accept change? If not go back to these questions above and see that in this past hour the time of day has changed, the focus of your mind has changed.

If there was an end to suffering, what would it look like in your life today?

Now disappear into your breath, and then look deeply into your thoughts and see if you you can truly find the validity or solidity of them.

Step three pages 79 to 93

Eight Step Recovery is out now: Eight Step Recovery – Order your book now

Or try a free sample – For a free sample chapter of Eight Step Recovery – Using The Buddha’s Teachings To Overcome Addiction please email: eightstepsrecovery@gmail.com

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Is mindfulness an emerging treatment for addiction?

wildmind meditation newsJudson Brewer, Rehabs.com: Why do young mothers buy a daily pack of cigarettes instead of spending this money on nutritious food for their children? Why are treatments that help roughly 33 percent of people overcome their substance use and have a 70 percent relapse rate hailed as “gold standard” by the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA)? In other words, why are addictions so hard to overcome?

Our brains are set up to learn. From an evolutionary perspective, when we come upon a good source of food or water, it is helpful to remember where it is. When we discover something dangerous, that memory is …

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