Neighbors wary of proposed new meditation center

The Bonsall [California] Community Sponsor Group delayed its recommendation on the Dai Dang Monastery‘s expansion plans after hearing more than two hours of testimony Tuesday night.

The group serves as an advisory body to the county Board of Supervisors, which will have the final say on the Buddhist monastery’s proposal for a two-story meditation center. The Bonsall advisory group has unanimously opposed expansion plans for the monastery in the past.

Several residents spoke against the planned expansion. Wrightwood Road residents to the north of the monastery expressed concerns, for example, that their street would be used as a new entrance to the center.

The monastery opened at 6326 Camino del Rey in Bonsall in 2001 and has been planning to build a meditation center since 2006.

The center would feature three new, two-story buildings, a paved 81-space parking lot and an unpaved 41-space lot on about 9 acres. The center now has two buildings it uses for a meditation center and a residence for 10 monks.

While some residents said they are concerned the new 7,664-square-foot meditation hall and 6,196-square-foot worship hall would open the door for large events at the site, monk Joe Roissier said the buildings are designed for quiet activities.

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“It seems like a lot of square footage,and I think people are concerned about that,” he said. “But we’re only there two times a day, and we’re sitting quietly, meditating.”

Monastery leaders said the expanded project would provide living quarters for about 20 more monks and that visitors on Sunday would increase from about 120 to 300.

Frank Hoang, spokesman for the monastery, said the center each year also may hold up to four events that attract 1,000 people.

The county requires a major use permit to build the project. As part of the process, the monastery also must acquire a mitigated negative declaration, a document that describes why it would not have a significant environmental impact in the area.

Public comments about the mitigated negative declaration will be accepted by the county until Feb. 11. The sponsor group held its meeting Tuesday to hear from the community before submitting its commits about the document. It will take up the issue again at its regular meeting 7 p.m. Feb. 1 at the Bonsall Community Center, 31505 Old River Road.

Chairwoman Margarette Morgan said she found many faults with the document, including a reference to the Borrego Springs Fire Department rather than the local fire department.

“There are so many errors, it’s unbelievable,” she said. “I am most displeased with the county.”

Morgan grilled Alex Jewell of project designer RBF Consulting about several aspects of the plan, including a proposed unlocked gate at Wrightwood Road, a concern to residents on that street. Jewell said fire officials said the gate should be unlocked for safety reasons. Morgan said that was unusual because emergency crews have keys to gated streets.

Other board members faulted the plan for having an unpaved parking lot, which they said could contaminate the ground, and questioned how a septic system could handle 300 guests on Sundays and up to 1,000 during special events.

Tan Nguyen, who said he is a consultant to the monastery monks, told the board that the congregation has operated peacefully throughout its 10-year history in the community.

“This project is for all of the Bonsall community, not just for us,” he said. “You are welcome to come here. We are here to share. We are here not to make any noise or any problems. You haven’t seen any traffic accidents or complaints. We don’t understand why you are opposing this thing, This is for everybody.”

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Monk’s displaced congregation opens new home in Jackson, Mississippi

Minh Cong Nguyen has found a home for his displaced Buddhist congregation – this time outside of Rankin County.

Nguyen opened a Zen Center last month on Terry Road, just south of U.S. 80, which will house meditation classes and worship services.

He holds worship services on Sunday for Buddhists as well as meditation classes for everyone.

“Westerners are invited,” the monk said of the free classes he will start holding on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. The first is Saturday.

Americans live a stressed-out lifestyle, and these two-hour sessions give people a mental break, he said.

“Our minds are like a computer,” he said. “You keep putting too much information in it. Meditation is the delete key.”

Nguyen’s quiet little studio, behind Kim’s Seafood, is a break to the busy roads around it. Each class will have 12 people.

Interested people may e-mail him.

“I came here to open my doors for everyone,” Nguyen said.

Nguyen came to the Jackson area from Biloxi last year to set up a Buddhist temple. He chose a site north of Pelahatchie in rural Rankin County.

“They didn’t have a temple here,” he said.

Neighbors filed complaints, and the plans to expand the temple, located in a spruced up mobile home, were halted when a stop-work order was placed on the facility.

Officials denied a request for a building permit in September, citing public safety as the chief issue.

Located on a small feeder road to Mississippi 43, the church did not have the best transportation access, the board cited.

District 4 Supervisor Walter Johnson said he has heard an “outpouring of concern” from nearby residents about traffic, related to use and parking along the quiet lane, which was among the reasons supervisors cited for denying the request.

Nguyen said he does not plan to return to Rankin County. It wasn’t a good fit, he said.

Nguyen estimates there are 500-1,000 Buddhists in the metro area, saying a meeting he hosted at a Rankin school last summer drew 400 people.

Before coming to Jackson, Nguyen started a temple in Biloxi. He even rode out Hurricane Katrina, giving shelter to as many people as could fit in the building’s attic.

The water rose to an inch below the ceiling of the first floor, he said. They stayed calm through meditating, he said.

“A lot of Westerners came to my temple,” he said, a trend he hopes picks up at this new temple in Jackson. “When you meditate, it helps you reach peace.”

This article was originally published in the Clarion-Ledger.

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Buddhist temple project may begin in spring

A plan to build a Thai Buddhist temple in Columbus, Ohio, is far from dead. In fact, construction on the temple could begin in the spring.

Representatives of the Columbus Buddhism Center have submitted paperwork to the city requesting a lot split for property on Blacks Road.

They also have submitted new paperwork outlining possible plans for the temple.

John Tai, a representative from the Columbus Buddhism Center, could not be reached for comment on the temple project because he is out of the country, but Pataskala Planning Director Diane Harris said she has spoken to Tai and the project is moving forward.

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Thai Buddhists celebrate approval of new temple

The temple will be fit for a king.

Area Thai Buddhists celebrated the town’s final blessing of their future home last week, smiling for the cameras before a model of the largest sanctuary of its kind outside of Thailand.

The 109,000-square-foot Theravada Buddhist temple and meditation center on South Street East will serve as a religious and cultural center and home to as many as 16 resident monks.

It will be topped with a 185-foot golden steeple.

“What a magnificent structure,” Zoning Appeals Board Chairman Robert Newton said before his board unanimously approved the spire’s height.

The plan fulfills the long-held dream of Boston-area Thai families to honor their monarch, King Rama IX, Bhumibhol Adulyadej, who was born in Cambridge in 1927.

Project advisor Richard Cook, a retired engineer, said the complex of buildings surrounding a courtyard was consistent with the religion and culture of Thailand.

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Hospital to become a meditation centre

wildmind meditation news

The Whitwell House Day Hospital in Saxon Road, Saxmundham [Suffolk, England], used to look after mental health patients but closed last year.

Planning chiefs at Suffolk Coastal District Council have now given the thumbs up for the building to be used as a silent meditation retreat centre subject to a number of conditions.

It will be run by the Vipassana Trust, a charity which was formed in 1988 and has its headquarters in Hereford.

Most of the the residential courses on offer will be no more than three days long, although some could eventually last for up to 10 days.

Last night Patrick Elder, from Walpole, near Halesworth, who acted as an agent for the application and practices the meditation technique, said: “Vipassana is based on the techniques taught by the Buddha more than 2,500 years ago. It is not in any way religious – it is open to everyone.

“The courses are quiet retreats and the participants will enjoy silence for the majority of their stay.

“It will certainly bring people into the town and we are excited about the project.

“There is a bit of work that we still have to do but we would be disappointed if we were not up and running before the end of the year.”

Some concerns were raised about the lack of car parking, the risk of flooding and the poor access for disabled people but these have been addressed by the applicant.

The charity is run through donations and there are no charges for any of the courses. “People may or may not give a donation,” Mr Elder continued. “It depends if they feel they have benefited from what they are doing. It is entirely up to them.

“It means the courses are available to absolutely anybody from whatever walk of life, religion, creed or nationality.”

Vipassana, which means to see things as they really are, is one of India’s most ancient forms of meditation.

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Ashland, Oregon, Buddhist center nears completion

Mail Tribune: With about $200,000 in donated labor from volunteers, a three-story, $1.6 million Buddhist meditation center is nearing completion in Ashland and will open for classes the first week of June.

The 5,800-square-foot home of Kagya Sukha Choling is a blend of traditional Tibetan and contemporary “green-sustainable” architecture — and is being lauded as an “eternal” structure that will offer spiritual and economic benefits.

“It’s a beautiful thing, long-lasting, environmentally friendly and embodying ethics and values we so much need today,” said Kagya Sukha Choling board member Anne Stine. “It’s a gift to the Rogue Valley community, a beacon for Ashland in terms of resources, classes and visitors — and good for the economy and other businesses.”

The center, founded in 2002 in a house on Granite Street, took out permits in 2005 to build at the Hersey Street location and set out to raise just over $1 million for construction.

The ground floor houses offices, library and classrooms. The second floor has a large meditation hall and kitchen while the top floor is apartments for the two lamas, plus quarters for visiting lamas.

An outside porch surrounds the top floor, which shows accents of red and gold. Final touches will include prayer wheels from Nepal, ornamental full moons, dharma wheels, two deer and banners.

In the remaining three months before opening, KSC has to raise the final $75,000 for the project.

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A cheat sheet for keeping resolutions

If you are making a New Year’s resolution you would like to keep, consider the example of Charlene Zatloukal.

A year ago, the Lincoln, Neb., artist and writer was so disorganized that she spent much of her time looking for misplaced supplies in her office clutter. To find all the Web sites where she had posted her artwork, “I often had to Google my own name,” she says. But she made a resolution last New Year’s Day to get organized, and now, a year later, she is sticking to it. With the clutter gone and her deadlines and routines under control, she says, “my life is so much easier.

‘I had to give myself time to achieve my goal step by step. If I had tried to change everything at once, I would have set myself up for failure.’

It is no secret that the odds against keeping a New Year’s resolution are steep. Only about 19% of people who make them actually stick to their vows for two years, according to research led by John Norcross, a psychology professor at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania.

But those discouraging statistics mask an important truth: The simple act of making a New Year’s resolution sharply improves your chances of accomplishing a positive change—by a factor of 10. Among those people who make resolutions in a typical year, 46% keep them for at least six months. That compares with only 4% of a comparable group of people who wanted to make specific changes and thought about doing so, but stopped short of making an actual resolution, says a 2002 study of 282 people, led by Dr. Norcross and published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology.

To explore what separates the winners from the losers, I tracked down several people who have kept their resolutions for a while. In addition to Ms. Zatloukal, Michael Haenel, a Phoenix, Ariz., commercial real-estate broker, has for more than a year kept a vow to practice a daily ritual of writing down and reflecting on three things for which he is grateful. Cristina Barcia, a Melville, N.Y., paralegal, has kept for several weeks a pre-holiday resolution to take off a few pounds. And Mark McGuinness, a London coach and trainer, has kept for two years his New Year’s 2008 resolution to meditate every day.

Their stories illustrate several rules for success. Contrary to popular belief, the secret isn’t willpower, Dr. Norcross says; people who rely on hopes, wishes or desire actually fail at a higher rate than others. Instead, the successful resolution-keepers made specific, concrete action plans to change their daily behavior.

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“Getting ‘psyched up’ is helpful for creating motivation before Jan. 1; but after the New Year comes, it’s perspiration time,” Dr. Norcross says. Three of the winners made changes in their environment at home or work. Two make a habit of rewarding themselves for small successes. Three have benefited greatly by tapping other people for support. And while all faced lapses and setbacks, they expected them and didn’t allow discouragement to creep in. Here are the principles they followed:

  • Take one step at a time. Too many people “make large resolutions, such as losing 40 pounds by March, that are just too hard to accomplish,” says Joseph Ferrari, a professor of psychology at DePaul University, Chicago, and author of a forthcoming book on avoiding procrastination. Most do better if they break big goals into small steps.

For Ms. Zatloukal, who works from home, trying to clean up all the clutter and disarray in her office and studio at once would have been “setting myself up for failure,” she says.

Instead, she started by making a list of the underlying reasons for her messiness. Admitting, for instance, that she is by nature a “hoarder,” hanging onto used, nearly empty tubes of paint, was the first step toward seeing that her frugality had become counterproductive.

Step by step, she started tossing out old supplies once a month. She began clearing clutter every day before relaxing in the evening. She consolidated several calendars into one, avoiding conflicts and missed deadlines. And she rewarded herself for small improvements, buying herself an attractive new in-basket as a payoff for sorting the mail.

After 30 days, the small changes became habit, adding up gradually to an overhaul. Now, she says, “it’s easier to meet deadlines when I don’t spend most of my day searching for things.”

  • Get a little help from your friends. To build a deeper appreciation for the good things in his life, Mr. Haenel has enlisted like-minded friends to help. For more than a year, he has been making a list every morning, in a pocket-sized journal he carries with him, of three things for which he is grateful. Recent entries: playing golf with his two sons; a morning run with his dog; a hot shower; his deep and enduring relationship with his wife; a busy schedule; his ability to learn yoga; the taste of a morning cup of coffee with cream; the look of a full winter moon in the night sky, and simply being alive.

Then, he makes a five-minute phone call every day to one of several friends who have agreed to keep the same resolution, and they read their lists to each other. “If I’m not calling my friends in the morning, they’re calling me, saying, ‘Hey, are you still on track?’ That interaction with another person keeps it alive and keeps us sharing and listening.”

After more than a year, Mr. Haenel has filled two journals with his gratitude lists and is working on a third. “Now that I’m focused on being grateful for those things, I think they mean more, and I sense them more,” he says.

  • Change your environment. Another catalyst of change is to alter your surroundings to support your new behavior. Tracking your progress by recording or charting it also helps, Dr. Norcross says.

To keep a resolution she made before Thanksgiving to take off some pounds, Ms. Barcia has joined a weight-loss contest with nine co-workers at the 20-employee law firm where she works, Genser Dubow Genser & Cona. The contestants have stocked the office kitchen with carrots and celery. They weigh in weekly with their office manager.

All day, Ms. Barcia is surrounded by co-workers who are either cheering her on or competing with her. She has skin in the game—a $10 contribution to a winner-take-all office pool. And she has a side bet with her boss, attorney Ken Kern, that she will lose more weight than he does. The stakes: A restaurant gift card.

The friendly battle to best her boss has been highly motivating, Ms. Barcia says. Hearing Mr. Kern talk with the confidence of a lifelong athlete about getting back in shape “brought out the tiger in me,” she says. Displaying the confidence Dr. Norcross says is a strong predictor of success, she told him, “You know what? Bring it!” She has dropped seven pounds and is in a dead heat with Mr. Kern for first place. She wasn’t above bringing him gourmet cheesecake recently as a holiday “gift.”

Mr. Kern, a litigator who hopes to take off 15 pounds, says, “I welcome this challenge, and we have been having a lot of fun with it.” Describing Ms. Barcia’s cheesecake as “sabotage,” he retaliated with a “gift” of cookies for her. “I’m here to win,” he says. A final weigh-in is set for March.

  • Announce your intentions. After trying and failing repeatedly to build meditation into his routine, Mr. McGuinness raised the stakes on New Year’s Day, 2008: He published his resolution to thousands of readers of his blog at The public commitment has made the difference, he says. When he feels like shirking, he asks himself, “what am I going to tell my blog readers?” Clients and readers sometimes ask if he is keeping his resolution.

Mr. McGuinness started by setting an easy “mini-goal,” resolving at first only to sit completely still for five minutes every day. That helped him get past the first hurdle, his reluctance to stop his activity and sit down. After that, it was easy to extend the time to his current 20 to 30 minutes a day.

He advises focusing on the rewards of your new habit. For him, meditation affords the “sheer pleasure of sitting down, letting things go and enjoying being present in the moment.” As an added incentive, he bought himself a meditation cushion; “it’s important to invest something in a new habit,” he says. If he misses a day, “the cushion sits there reproachfully. It’s a little reminder.”

  • Figure out your attachment to bad habits. We often become attached to old behaviors because they benefit us in some way. Psychologists advise figuring out what your bad behaviors do for you and finding healthier substitutes. If you overeat to ease stress, for example, start practicing deep breathing or meditation.

As Ms. Zatloukal became more organized, she realized that her messiness had served an important purpose. When her supplies were strewn about, it was easy to pick them up on a whim and start painting. Now when she is inspired, she has to stop, lay down a cloth and take out her paints. “By the time I actually get down to the business of creating, the inspiration has passed.” Undaunted, she is resolving in 2010 to set up a fully equipped, readily accessible “mini-studio,” enabling her to work spontaneously again.

  • Expect setbacks. People who fail at resolutions, Dr. Norcross says, tend to criticize or blame themselves for slipups. In contrast, each of the resolution-keepers I interviewed brushed off the inevitable setbacks and got quickly back on track. Ms. Zatloukal says her clutter tends to grow around the holidays or big deadlines, but she just sets aside a little time to clean up and moves on.

Mr. McGuinness had a good excuse for missing some meditation time last July: His wife gave birth to twins. But he rebounded by switching his quiet time to the evenings after the babies fall asleep, he says. He has resumed meditating daily.

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Publilius Syrus, “To do two things at once is to do neither”

Publilius Syrus, author of To do two things at once is to do neither

The other day I read about a family of six who were wiped out when a truck-driver plowed into their vehicle. He’d allegedly been driving and attempting to look at a laptop screen at the same time.

Not all multitasking is that catastrophic, but nevertheless attempting to juggle too many things in a short space of time is causing us stress, reducing our productivity, and making it harder to maintain focus when we need to.

What happens in the long term to an economy built on the labor of information workers when those workers are too distracted to think? Well, perhaps that might be considerably more of a catastrophe than a single family being killed — no matter how tragic an event that was.

To do two things at once is to do neither (Publilius Syrus, an Iraqi enslaved by the Romans. Flourished first century BCE.)

Multitasking is actually a misnomer. Your brain hasn’t evolved to deal with consciously processing multiple streams of data, such as listening to someone talk on the phone while you check your email and try also to keep one ear open for tidbits of an interesting conversation nearby. Modern computers may have been designed to do this, but our brains evolved to live in a simpler world. So we can’t genuinely multitask. What we call multitasking is actually a process of switching attention rapidly among a number of different activities.

The problem with multitasking is that although it may give the illusion of efficiency, it’s actually a very bad way to use the brain’s resources. It takes time, when switching from one task to another, to let go of one task, move your attention to the new one, and to resume your train of thought once again.

Imagine you’re doing some painting at the top of a stepladder and the phone keeps ringing (one of those old-fashioned phones with a wire, not the cordless variety). Every time the phone rings you put down your paintbrush, descend the ladder, answer the phone, write down a message or have a conversation, go up the ladder again, pick up your brush, and then resume your task. And this happens every three minutes. How much painting would you get done?

Every three minutes is, by some accounts, how often the average office worker gets interrupted.

Every three minutes is, by some accounts, how often the average office worker gets interrupted, by a phone call, an incoming email, a passing colleague, or some other task that pops into the mind. And that process of stopping one task, moving to another, and switching back all takes time and energy in the brain.

This is why, when subjects are asked to perform two different tasks at the same time, the amount of brain activity goes down rather than up. The level of brain activity actually decreases to two thirds of what takes place when subjects perform one task at a time.

Confirming this finding is an experiment where subjects were asked either to check their email and then write a report — the tasks performed sequentially — or to do both tasks at the same time. The multitaskers took one and a half times as long in total than those people who did one task and then another.

My ladder metaphor is exactly the situation many of us put ourselves in when we interrupt writing to read an incoming email, and then interrupt reading the email to read and incoming text, and then futz around on Facebook for a few minutes before returning to … “What was it I was doing again?”

But not only is multitasking bad for our efficiency, it’s been implicated in reducing our ability to apply sustained focus with our attention. Psychiatrists Edward Hallowell and John Ratey of Harvard say that multitasking can lead to “pseudo-Attention Deficit Disorder,” where we constantly seek new information but have trouble concentrating on its content. We end up restlessly seeking new stimuli, and unable to focus on it, in an information-worker’s version of the myth of the “hungry ghost.”

So what can we do to help avoid pseudo-ADD and multitasking-induced loss of productivity?

Multitaskers took one and a half times as long in total than those people who did one task and then another.

1. Switch off contact applications except for the one you’re working on.
Right at this very moment I’m writing an article on multitasking. Wouldn’t you love to know that I’m also checking my email, my Twitter updates, my IM, and stopping now and then to answer my phone and scan interesting web articles. Sorry to disappoint, but I’m not. My email and other contact programs are closed. My cell-phone is in another room. I’ll deal with any messages later.

When you’re dealing with email, deal with email. Let your voicemail pick up your phone calls. If dealing with your email requires you to look up an article or check your calendar, then by all means do so. But avoid unnecessary input.

2. Use simplifying tools
Some computer programs are hideously cluttered, with the toolbars on Microsoft programs being particularly overwhelming. And how many of those buttons do you ever use anyway? Do you even know what they do? I’ve reduced my toolbars in Word to just a few essentials, while for many common functions I simply use keyboard shortcuts, which in themselves reduce multitasking because they don’t require us to move from one kind of activity (typing) to another (selecting menus). The reduction in visual clutter helps me maintain focus.

It’s also helpful to write first and then format later. Trying to fiddle with formatting at the same time as writing is like trying to tidy the inside of your car while you’re driving it.

You can go further. For writing I use a program called “WriteRoom,” which has no menus and whose interface looks like an early 1980’s PC – simple green text on a black background (although the colors can be customized. There’s nothing there to distract me.

If you have a Mac or a large monitor, the profusion of applications on the screen can induce clutter-fatigue. You can simplify by using command+shift+H to hide all applications but those you’re working on. Or you can use “Spaces” to keep application that are open, but which you’re not currently using, out of sight and out of mind.

How many of those buttons in Word do you ever use anyway?

3. Use planning tools
Before I started using planning tools I’d often find that I’d repeatedly remember — often at completely inappropriate times, like driving or meditating — about things I had to do. Things improved a lot when I started doing “brain-dumps” to record all the tasks that had been jumbled up in my mind. You need to capture everything — not just work tasks but personal ones too.

Tools such as OmniFocus not only encourage you to keep lists of things to do, but they also help you organize them by context, so that if you find you have to nip out to the bank you can easily see which other tasks (pick up the dry-cleaning, pick up a prescription) that you can do while you’re out and about.

I have to say that using planning tools has reduced the level of distraction in my meditation practice more than any meditative technique I’ve ever learned.

4. Practice simplicity
I’m not very proficient at being tidy, although I have my good days — and on those days I feel happier and lighter. “Being tidy” is the end result of finishing one task elegantly before starting another; rather than leave a bit of paper on the desk as a reminder that some action has to be taken we add the action to our to-do list and file the paper in a “projects in progress” file. Being tidy also provides a good environment for the mind to perform without distraction.

We should be willing to be in silence.

We can also do things like take one or two deep breaths before answering the phone, so that we give ourselves time to let go of what we were just doing and get ourselves into a focused and friendly state before we speak to the person on the other end. When you’re calling a company, would you prefer the phone picked up two seconds earlier, or to be picked up by a person who is centered and friendly?

We should also be willing to be in silence. I use some of my time in the car to listen to podcasts, but I also regard it as important just to drive without other input, and so sometimes my iPod goes off. Driving in silence gives us a chance to let the mind rest without a constant barrage of input.

5. Defrag your mind
Take breaks during the workday: just two or three minutes spent relaxing the body and tuning in to the breath. Your brain needs a chance to rest, and your mind needs opportunities to “defragment” itself.

Time taken out for meditation also helps the mind to become calmer and less restless.

When you’re working on one task, resist the desire to interrupt yourself by checking your email, or Facebook, or whatever. If you’re writing and you notice those temptations arising, just notice them and let go of them. They’ll pass.

It’s not possible to escape multitasking altogether. In fact at times it’s essential. But if we avoid it where we can, and especially if we resist become addicted to it, we’ll feel happier and more integrated. And we’ll make a long-term investment by protecting one of our most valuable assets — the mind’s ability to pay sustained, focused, attention.

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