Manataka American Indian Council

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CULTURE WATCH


 

VISION QUEST 1999

By Annette D. Broken Owl Greene

 

One and a half weeks prior to going on my Vision Quest I had a dream.  In this dream an owl was being brutally killed (mangled) by two large birds (hawks, I think) in mid air.  They were on either side of the owl and they were ripping it apart with their beaks and claws.  The owl was helpless and as he fell out of the sky, the hawks maintained in their places (one on either side) above him.  When the owl hit the ground, he landed right side up and upon impact, his feathers exploded in all directions.  I and another lady (maybe my mother), were attending a spiritual retreat and we were standing near a building on the grounds watching this whole event in disbelief.  As the feathers started flying in all directions, one was coming our way at an amazing speed.  We ducked to keep it from hitting us and as it crashed into the building we were standing beside, it shattered like glass.  It looked like tiny pieces of glass falling from the air in slow motion.  We were amazed!  After watching this feather shatter, we went out into the field where the owl had landed/fallen and began picking up feathers that were still intact.  We were in awe of their sacredness and beauty.  One particular feather was about 6 ft. long and the bottom third of it was real soft and puffy, while the remaining two thirds was smooth and tapered like a regular feather.  It was a dark brown color and in the sunlight, from a certain angle, you could see the colors of the rainbow in it. 

 

I knew this dream was significant by the feeling I had when I awakened from it and the fact that I remembered it so clearly.

 

I told this dream to Tracie (the Vision Quest Chief) and said I had no idea what it meant, but that I felt it was very significant.  She told me it definitely was significant and that she would sit with it for a few days and tell me what she thinks it means. 

 

The day we left for the Vision Quest, we stopped at a rest area to take a break from driving.  She asked if I was ready to hear the meaning of my dream.  I said I was and she told me that the owl represents silence.  In flight, an owl can be just above you and you would never know it because it is so silent.  The hawks were, from a concerned stance, (though it seemed that they were being violent), were demanding that the owl not be silent anymore, conveying to it that the silence was its enemy.  The owl’s feather shattering on the wall was a symbol of its silence being shattered.  She said that the message for me was that it was time to shatter the silence, and when I did, I would have greater clarity about my life’s purpose.  She said it was up to me to figure out what that meant for me specifically.  I felt her message at the core of my being and I told her I knew exactly what it meant.  Though her words resonated at my core, and I knew at a very deep level what they meant, I was having difficulty grasping the fullness of them in my surface/everyday consciousness.

 

Once at the camp site and somewhat settled in, Tracie and I began talking about the dream and its message again.  The most significant things she said were that my silence is clouding my clarity and that my hand (demonstrated by my writing abilities) has over compensated for what my voice has relinquished; that the reason I have difficulty hearing myself when I speak is because I am afraid of my own judgments of my words; that I project these judgments onto others and say I’m fearful of or concerned about what others say about me, when really, I’m afraid of what I say about myself; that when I “shatter the silence” by speaking truth, and give up trying to be a people pleaser, I won’t have the difficulty I now have of hearing my own words and remembering what I say.  She pointed out that there is a price that comes with speaking truth; that I know this, but am always hoping that maybe this time I won’t have to pay the price; that I need to give up my attachments to wanting people to like me and need to accept, with strength and boldness, the consequences for standing in truth; that once I stop judging myself, I will become indifferent to other’s judgments about me.

 

While she was talking, I kept remembering incidents where I shattered the silence (i.e., telling my youngest brother that my mother’s boyfriend was not his biological father; alerting the parents of children residing in a state institution that their children were being physically abused by the direct-care staff; telling my ex-husband’s mother that her son had a serious drinking problem, etc.), and the consequences I paid for doing so.

 

After we had eaten for the last time before the quest, I drifted into a light sleep while a subtle depression came over me. Another vision quester began her process there at the campsite around her own issues of abandonment, and I began thinking, “what if I don’t get a vision?” “What if I can’t endure the physical process?” “What the hell am I doing here anyway!?” I felt an overwhelming sadness along with a fear about this experience that had been haunting me for days.  I had never been on a vision quest nor had I any idea of what to expect. 

 

Sometime later in the night, I was awakened by Tracie asking me what direction (north, east, south or west) I wanted to be in as she and the other supporters were assisting the questers to our individual sites.  “West”, I said, somewhat disoriented.  She and my supporter carried my things as I stumbled along to a spot in the west.  When she found the spot that felt right, Tracie left me and my supporter to get me settled in.  My supporter did most of the work while I watched sleepily.  I had never even slept in a tent before, let alone having set one up.  My supporter did not seem in the least bit bothered by my inexperience.  She just smiled at me and completed the task at hand, when my answer to her question of had I ever set up a tent before was “no”.  After helping me get set up, my supporter left.

 

That first night, all that Tracie had been saying to me earlier kept playing over in my head.  I was trying to fully grasp what I was being charged to do.  I had trouble remembering the things Tracie said and I wanted so desperately to write it all down so I could go over it again and again, because I knew her words were my truth.  But she had told me that it’s time to give my hand a break from the overtime it has worked, and to start exercising my voice.  She said I already knew all that she had said and what I needed to do was “speak” it to myself, not write it.  I was forced to do this now as I had no pen and paper with me.  She instructed me to not try to remember her exact words, but rather to focus on the message I felt resonating within my being. 

 

I spent the rest of this first night desperately trying to feel the message and repeating it to myself over and over and over:  “shatter the silence and live with clarity of purpose”.

 

Almost in a state of deep depression, I contemplated, “shattering the silence with my voice”.  Deep down inside I knew what it meant, but on the surface of my consciousness, I couldn’t fully understand.  I struggled to take my surface consciousness to that sacred space within where the message was clear and powerful.  I felt fear and wrestled with the process.  “What does it mean?” I thought.  “How do I shatter the silence?”  “How will that bring me more clarity?”  “What are my judgments about my own speaking?”  “What is it that terrifies me about my words?”

 

I began to remember in great detail all the times in my life when I had shattered the silence by speaking the truth.  From the time I was five years old until this very day, I had paid an enormous price for doing so.  Whenever I spoke the truth that others didn’t want to hear I was lashed out at, called a liar, pressured to shut up and abandoned by those whom I thought supported and/or cared about me.  The times I remained silent when I needed to speak the truth had been equally as devastating to me. I thought about all the times I’ve been reluctant to express my truth about a particular matter because I feared being rejected and judged.  I began to think that my perception was insane and I wondered why I was the only one who saw things the way I did.  The truth was always so clear to me, but it seemed that no one else could see it.  “What is wrong with me?” I often questioned.  I eventually grew to believe that I was worthless and crazy, and that even God had turned His back on me. What Tracie had pointed out to me earlier in the evening was that I became my own harshest judge and began to project that onto everyone with whom I came in contact.  Over time, I began to keep silent about the bitter truths of my own life experiences of abuse and neglect, because I didn’t want to be judged or abandoned.

 

Incident after incident played in my head like a movie.  I began to realize, as all the scenarios played, that my fear around speaking the truth is that I don’t want to be abandoned.  But I also realized that there were incidents where, even at the price of abandonment, my conviction for speaking truth was stronger.  In those incidents, I was always devastated after my speaking, because each time, I still desperately hoped that this time my truth would be accepted and validated and that I would not be ridiculed and deserted.  Unfortunately, this was never the case and I began to see myself as a misfit in the world.  Little-by-little, I silently withdrew.  I became so silent that I could be standing in the middle of a room and it seemed as if no one noticed me.  In a sense, I felt invisible.

 

As all these thoughts were going through my mind, I began to ask the Great Spirit, all my spirit guides and guardians, my guardian angels, my power animal, and all the supportive beings in the universe to help me and show me what I needed to do to free myself - to receive what was for me in this vision quest.

 

I fell asleep with that prayer in my heart.

 

As I was awakening the next morning (still somewhat depressed) I again had the desire to ask the Great Spirit to help me.  But I also had a fear that if I asked and didn’t receive help, then it would be proof, without a doubt, that I was a failure and totally unworthy of God’s love and help.  At a deeper level, I kept praying that I would remain open to all that Spirit had for me.  I refrained from outlining what that was, or making judgments about what it should look like or feel like.  I just kept declaring myself as a vehicle for the Sugmad (God), the Eck (the expression of God) and the Mahanta (the highest state of consciousness) and affirming “may the blessings be”.  The phrase “patiently persistent” came to me.  “Yes, dear God”, I prayed.  “I will wait as long as it takes; and I will NEVER give up!”  “I will be patiently persistent.  I won’t allow frustration or impatience to overtake me.  I won’t not ask for Your blessings because of fear, and I will remain wide open to accept them all!”

 

Late that morning (or early that afternoon) I decided I needed to get up and move around.  I made sure I was warmly dressed and crawled out of my tent.  To my surprise, it wasn’t as cold as I had thought.  (I looked around me and noticed that there were two other questers in this area instead of just the one I saw last night.  I wondered who that other person was).  I set out on a walk into this wilderness land.  Not long into my walk, it began to rain, so I hurriedly started back to my tent.  I knew if I got wet I’d get chilled to the bone and would likely remain that way for the duration.  I couldn’t fathom that misery.

 

Having jogged back, I was quite comfortable (temperature-wise) when I reached my tent.  I stood in front of my tent taking in the smells and scenery of the sacred Mother Earth.  I offered corn meal and tobacco as a way of honoring Her.  As I sat down to take off my wet shoes and change my outer layer of clothing, I had an overwhelming urge to strip myself of all my clothes and stand naked on this sacred ground.  I was hesitant at the idea, but an excitement surged from deep within me at the same time.  I slowly (as if I were performing a ceremony) began removing my layers of clothing until I was naked.  I stood up in front of my tent and raised my arms to the sky.  I closed my eyes and felt my oneness with the earth, as a soft cool west wind blew over my bare skin.  It amazed me that I did not feel cold at all.  I felt as though I was making love to the wind and it to me.  After several minutes, I was startled by a strong gust of wind.  I opened my eyes and looked around.  As I looked over the top of my tent, I saw the quester whom I could not identify.  She was located about 40 yards behind me and she was dancing in the wind with outstretched arms.  It appeared as though she was twirling in circles, but I could not see her face.  I kept trying to figure out who she was.  Becoming self-conscious of my nakedness with someone else so close by, I got back in my tent, put my layers of warm clothing back on and lay down.

 

As I became quiet and still, I again began to contemplate, “shattering the silence and living with clarity of purpose”.  As I thought about this for what seemed like hours, I gradually began to get a clearer understanding.  I began to feel the words settle into my surface consciousness and my physical body.  A spark of inspiration came as I thought about this phrase as the title of my autobiography.  Shattering the Silence:  One Woman’s Story.  I thought about all that the book would include and felt a sense of accomplishment.  For three years I had been trying to come up with a title, but none of the ones I had thought of seemed perfect.  This one was perfect.  As I lay there with a feeling of contentment, I drifted off to sleep.

 

I re-awakened at what appeared to be just after dusk.  As I replayed the phrase over in my head, a gut-level feeling of incompleteness descended upon me like a fog.  “What else?” I wondered.  “What else do I need to do?”  I knew that my quest was not finished, but I didn’t know what else I needed to do to complete it.  I again prayed to the Great Spirit, all my spirit guides, the spirit of the west, my power animal, my guardian angels, the Sisterhood of the Shields, and all my spirit helpers.  I began to chant “HU” (an ancient name for God).  I could feel myself opening to a deeper level of acceptance and receptivity than I have ever experienced as I kept affirming “may the blessings be”.  Feeling almost in a trance state, I kept repeating, “I am a vehicle for the Sugmad, the Eck, and the Mahanta; not my will, but Thy will be done”.

 

In a state of what felt like semi-unconsciousness, this message entered:  “You must shatter the silence and tell your life story - here.”  “Here?!” I responded with panic.  “Yes, here”.  “But, like how?” I asked.  “Like get up and go to the fire and tell your story”.  “But why here?” I questioned.  “Because your vision of purpose is here”.  “But I received the vision to make Shattering the Silence the title of my autobiography”, I protested.  “Yes, you did. But that’s writing it. You must now speak it with your own voice”.

 

With my heart beating rapidly and my mind racing - trying to justify why it should not be here, I resolved that this was a test of my commitment to myself; and I knew I must gather the courage to pass it.

 

“Okay, God, I’ll do it as soon as daylight comes”.  “NOW”, was the gentle, but clear response.  “Now?!  Like, right now?”  “Yes, right now”.  “But how can I”?  I kept thinking:  I don’t really know these people.  They don’t really know me!  What will they think?  What will they say?  What if they don’t care to hear my story?  It’s so cold right now.  I’ll freeze trying to walk! 

 

Suddenly, the words spoken to me many months prior by my Grandmother Guardian flooded my mind: The inspirations come with an intensity that you cannot deny and then gradually you push them away.  With those words, I knew that tomorrow would be too late.  By then, I would have talked myself out of doing what I needed to do.  “Oh God, I’m so scared!”, I cried.  “My precious power animal, She-Cougar, please lend me your courage and strength!!” I pleaded. 

 

At this point my heart was pounding in my chest and ears and the sound was deafening. Yet, outside my body there was nothing but silence. A wave of terror filled my body and I felt paralyzed by the fear. Then I asked myself, “are you willing to let your fear keep you from the blessing you came here to receive?  Are you willing to face yourself on Sunday morning - empty-handed because you were too afraid?”  “NO!, NO!, NO!”, I wailed.  “Then get up and go, now.”  “Okay, dear God!” I cried.  “Whatever it takes”!  I’ll do whatever it takes!”  I was reminded of the prophet in the bible who wrestled with the angel all night long; refusing to let the angel go until it blessed him.  I felt that kind of intensity building in my power center and I knew that I was not leaving this experience without my blessing.  And that I was indeed going to do whatever it took to receive it. 

 

As I struggled to make myself move, my stomach was full of butterflies.  Putting on more layers of clothing, I kept chanting “HU” and declaring myself a vehicle for the Sugmad, the Eck, and the Mahanta.

 

I unzipped my tent and crawled out.  The freezing air stung my face.  The sky was crystal clear.  The moon was so bright I could easily see my way without a flashlight.  Wanting to be careful not to disturb the other two questers somewhere in the area, I attempted to walk a wider circle around to the campfire site.  Once there, I was surprised to see that I was entering the site from a completely different direction than I had thought.  I felt somewhat disoriented. 

 

Seeing the magnificent sacred fire that had been burning since our arrival the day before, I took a deep breath and proceeded towards it.  I knew my life was about to change forever in a most powerful way - but I had no idea how it was going to come about.

 

When I reached the fire, all the supporters were lying in various places around it and everyone was asleep.  Kindling was crunching under my feet as I walked to sit close to the fire.  One of the supporters unzipped her tent and sat quietly for several seconds.   She then whispered my supporter’s name, trying to awaken her, but she was fast asleep.  Feeling myself beginning to panic, I tried to take slow, deep breaths.  With each breath, I felt as though the dam inside me was about to give way as tears began to stream down my face.  Trying desperately to collect myself and my thoughts, I struggled to say something.  It felt as though I had no vocal cords and that my mouth was sealed with cement.  Several times I gazed at the moon and stars and begged for the strength and courage to do what I needed to do.  After several minutes, I managed to ask the supporter to get Tracie for me.  She readily responded to my request.

 

When Tracie came moments later, she silently stared into my eyes, and her whole being-ness let me know that she was there in whatever way I needed her to be; and that she was unwavering in her commitment to my process - whatever it would be.

 

In what seemed like an eternity, (but was actually only several seconds) I sat in silence with tears flowing from my eyes.  In my mind, I heard these words over and over again: “it’s time to shatter the silence, speak now; it’s time to shatter the silence, speak now”...

 

“Okaaaay!” I screamed, without actually saying a word.  Then I turned to Tracie and said, “It’s time for me to shatter the silence....” (she nodded as she waited for me to continue) “and the way I have to do it is by telling my story”. 

 

Totally willing and ready to support my process, Tracie conveyed to me that I had her complete attention - for however long I needed it.  She positioned herself to sit closer to me and looked at me expectantly, but with great patience.  Finally, I began.  I told of every incident that came to mind where I withdrew in silence when speaking out was really what I needed to do.  I told of every incident where I did speak out and suffered enormous consequences because of it and the pain it caused me.  Though this was not the first time I had ever told my story to someone, it was the first time I had ever told it to an audience (and to people whom I didn’t really know).  I talked for what seemed like hours.  At one point, when I was telling about the time my mother had a major car accident and I thought she had died because we were not allowed to go to the hospital to see her, I wept like I had never done before.  I had no idea that that much pain about this incident was buried inside me.  I wept for that terrified, devastated, shattered little girl inside me - now remembering how desperately she needed her ‘mommy” during that ordeal - and the part of her that died from the desperation.

 

When I had finally reached the end of my story, I sat with my head down - eyes swollen from so much crying.  Though I had on several layers of clothing, I felt totally exposed.  I felt so vulnerable that I could hardly stand it.  In response to Tracie’s question of what was I now feeling, I told her that I felt embarrassed and ashamed.  She then asked me what I felt embarrassed and ashamed about.  I named specific incidents that had to do with the enormous sexual abuse I had suffered.  She said many comforting things to me - the words of which I have little recollection.  But the feelings I experienced from her words were reassurance, comfort, safety and total love.  Kissing me on my cheek, she smiled at me with a tenderness that warmed my heart and made me smile (inside and out).  She assured me that there was nothing about anything I had shared that would cause her to abandon or judge me.  “In fact”, she said, “it makes me have a tremendous amount of love and respect for you for what you have gone through and who you have become in spite of it all”.

 

What happened next was the most powerful thing I had ever experienced in my physical body.  How it all began is a blur to me, but what I remember is that Tracie was talking to me about the rage that has been buried deep inside me for years - and how it was now time to let it be released.  As she spoke, I felt a rumbling inside with a force that terrified me.  What I imagine an erupting volcano to feel like is what I felt in my body, and I physically began to tremble.  But the terror kept forcing the rage back down. What I thought I had understood shattering the silence to mean was taking on an even deeper meaning.  It was my rage that had been silenced (even more than my voice) for all my life!  I literally felt the power of my silence warring against the power of my rage.  And for awhile, I thought the silence would win.

 

Obviously seeing/sensing my struggle, Tracie performed a ceremony where she picked up a handful of ash from the sacred fire.  She explained that the ash was not in and of itself magic, but that symbolically it was the key that would unlock my throat.  She said she was going to rub the ash where my vocal cords were located and that I would feel a sensation descend down into my solar plexus to unleash the rage.  As she did this, I felt an energy force vibrating in my belly like a spaceship revving its engines on a launch pad.  This force then pushed its way back up into my chest, and before I knew it, a gut-wrenching scream was bellowing out of my mouth.  The combination of a powerful drumbeat (which one of the supporters was maintaining) and my rage-releasing screams gave me the feeling that the very universe was cracking.

 

The silence of the night was shattered by my voice with a force that was electrifying!  I verbally vomited up the anger and pain and fear and sadness and rage that had been buried inside me for over 35 years.  I screamed and wept for my lost innocence, my stolen childhood, my stripped virginity, my betrayed trust, my shattered dreams, my distorted truth, my devastated self-esteem, my failed belief, and my slaughtered spirit. 

 

This process was so intense it reminded me of giving birth.  There were moments when I wasn’t sure that my physical body could withstand it.  As with giving birth, the intensity subsided once everything was out.  Next, I did a powerful reclamation of my innocence, my childhood, my virginity, my trust, my dreams, my truth, my self-esteem, my belief, and my spirit.  And with the same intensity that I wept, (with outstretched arms) I shouted and proclaimed my freedom from the debilitating silence.  “I’M FREE!” I cried, “I- AM- FREEEE!”  My silence had been shattered from the mountaintop and, at a level deeper than I had ever known, I felt truly free!  I was free to live my life’s purpose:  to proclaim truth from the mountaintop and set the bound spirit free

 

When this process was over my body collapsed from exhaustion.  As I lay before the sacred fire, I knew my vision was completed.  After several minutes, I sat up and was tenderly attended to by my supporter.  She told me how much she had prayed for me and danced her sacred dance for me.  We embraced and I thanked her from my heart.  One of the other supporters came to me and hugged me - telling me that I would always be a part of this family.  Still another supporter came to me and hugging me, told me she loved me and that she felt honored and privileged to have witnessed my process.  We too embraced and exchanged I love you’s.  The feeling of acceptance and appreciation for my process was overwhelming.  How wrong I had been about what people would say, think, or feel about my story!  And, to my surprise, my story was inclusive of the stories of others who were hearing it; and my process of breaking free was healing for them as well.

 

Sometime in the night I returned to my tent and lay down with a peace and stillness that brought joy to my heart.  With a sense of gratitude that filled my entire being, I thanked the Great Spirit and all those who helped me (in body and in spirit) for the gift that I had received.  I had given birth - to myself; my True Self. 

 

When I awoke the next morning and returned to the camp site, Tracie asked me if I was ready for my spirit name.  I nodded affirmatively and she spoke, “She Who Shatters the Darkness with Her Voice - Broken Owl”.  A chill went through my body and my heart leaped for joy.  It sounded like music to my ears and settled over me like a warm, fitted shawl.  As it did, I felt a shift in my stance, and a deep sense of pride swelled in my chest.  Tracie smiled at me when I told her thank you and that I loved it.  We embraced each other and said I love you’s.  She kissed my cheek and looked into my eyes like a proud mother.  Soon she was demanding that I eat to help restore my strength.

 

That day I spent re-living this whole experience and several times my eyes filled with tears.  “I am free!” I kept repeating.  And I knew that a new phase of my life was beginning. 

 

Charged with the responsibility to boldly speak truth so that the spirit can be free, I wondered what the magnitude of this responsibility would be.

 

Tracie and I talked off and on throughout the day and she prophesied that I would be known and respected all over the country for my powerful speaking.  She talked about how initially my words may come out unrefined and maybe even harsh, but that ultimately, I would refine my speaking and it would carry the power to move mountains.  As she spoke, her words resonated deep within my being.

 

As we continued to talk about my experience and how significant the drumming had been to my process, Tracie told Heather (the drummer) and me of the vision she had of Heather sitting in a wilderness place with a drum.  In this vision, Heather was crying and every time her tears hit the drum, it would resound mightily, and could be heard all over the land.  Tracie said that as she awakened from this vision, she was given a new spirit name for Heather:  “she who beats the drum with her tears - Tear Drummer”.  Hearing this also sent a chill through my body and I watched Heather’s eyes fill with tears.

 

Late in the morning, I asked Tracie who that third quester was in the west.  She looked at me with a puzzled expression and said, “there wasn’t anybody else; just you and Matt”. 
“But I saw a third person all day yesterday”, I responded.  “In fact, I saw her dancing in the wind at one point”.  Tracie looked at the other supporters who were listening to the conversation and they all shrugged their shoulders.  They all tried to assure me that there was no one else over there.  I kept insisting that there was.  They all looked at each other with a puzzled expression and finally, Tracie commented that it was obviously my Spirit Guide because she had not been visible to anyone but me.

 

Feeling excited, yet having great difficulty accepting what I was hearing, I tried to get my supporter to remember how we walked another way going to bring my tent back to the camp site so as not to disturb the other questers.  She maintained that she never saw the woman I was describing.  She only knew that Matt was in the same general area. 

 

I could hardly believe what I was hearing.  I kept replaying in my mind how I definitely saw two other questers all day yesterday, and reminding myself of how I saw the woman (when I was standing naked in front of my tent) dancing in the wind.  I ran back to the location where I had seen her, but she was not there.  In fact, there was no trace of her. 

 

Confusion and excitement and regret flooded my being.  If only I had known that she was my Spirit Guide I would have been more observant and paid closer attention to her.  “But how could this be”, I wondered.  She looked so, so.... normal - like a regular human being.  I remembered that I never saw her face.  When she was dancing in the wind with outstretched arms, her back was facing me.  And not wanting to invade her space, whenever I glanced in her direction, it was never for longer than a second or two.  I did remember that I glanced in that direction throughout the day to make sure she was still there.  Somehow I found her presence comforting, but I didn’t know why.  I thought it was because it was an assurance for me that if she could do it (endure the physical challenge of the elements), I could do it too.

 

The thought that there was a being out there just for me and only visible to me was mind-boggling.  This reality pre-occupied me (in an enchanting sort of way) for much of the day.

 

During the remainder of the time we were in this sacred place, I said prayers of thanksgiving and gratefulness to the Great Spirit, the mystery woman, all the Sisterhood of the Shields, all my guardians, guides, angels and helpers (physical and non-physical), my power animal, the spirits of place, and Tracie and her whole family; for the awesome gift of and their commitment to this vision quest, and for the most awesome experience of my life. 

 

As a way to honor all of them, and the precious Mother Earth, I pulled a strand of hair from my head and offered it to the wind. 

 


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