Tribute to Wally Burnstein

Dr. Wally Burnstein passed away on April 11, 1996. He’s been gone for 15 years but the profound affect he had on the people around him will last their entire lifetime. He was a courageous and fearless warrior who spoke for those who could not speak, but also spoke for those who would not speak. He was my mentor and friend and as I watch the destruction of our Mother Earth I am often reminded by what he would say. Rather than have me tell you here is an unedited transcription of Wally ranting about the destruction of our species due to corporate technology. I hope it will motivate you to make a difference in your community and ultimately the world around you. Do not be silent, or as Wally would say, “Don’t pussyfoot around: tell the truth; name names; call a poisoner a poisoner and a murderer a murderer; and demand what your really want, an end to the poisoning. Then pick the right corporate target and stop at nothing until you win.”  Alrighty then, here’s Wally.

“Nothing is more important than staying alive and being healthy. But if we support technology that destroys nature, the destruction of nature leads to our destruction, all species, but particularly our destruction. If everybody has cancer, if children are developing cancer at the age of 5 and 10 years old than what’s the sense, there’s no sense to anything. Nothing takes precedence over us staying healthy and us staying alive, of keeping the earth alive, keeping the Mother alive. Of all the issue’s that people are working on, the most important issue is to show that by doing like they’re doing, corporate science and corporate technology, they’re destroying nature and therefore, destroying our health.

And we’re destroying our future generations, our gonadal tissue, our DNA, so all future generations have birth defects, everybody’s born with birth defects, so what’s the sense, nothing else is more important, nothing takes precedence. So what we have to work on, all of us together, is to show where corporations, corporate science is destroying our very life, our ability to live, they’re destroying our Mother, they’re destroying our support system, our major support system and therefore, there will be no life, so why are we doing anything else. Cancer is a preventable disease, but it is not a curable disease necessarily, but it is a preventable disease. And in order to cure cancer you have to prevent it, in order to prevent it you have to stop the technology and science as we know it today.

We’re talking about destroying our future while we’re still alive. So essentially, the vertically ill, you see there is a difference between the horizontally ill and the vertically ill, the horizontally ill are in bed, you know they’re sick, you walk into a hospital and they’re lying in bed, the vertically ill are walking around, we are walking around and we’re sick, we’re as sick as the people lying in bed because our genes are destroyed, our DNA is destroyed, our future is destroyed, we’re walking around with chronic illnesses. So the truth is we are the vertically ill as well as the horizontally ill.

We are sick while we’re walking around, we are absolutely the most frail, fragile species the earth has ever seen. And we’re not talking about, even though it’s very important, we’re not talking about the dinosaurs, we’re talking about our species. And one time we say, don’t do this because your going to wipe out other species, you can’t live if you wipe out other species, well we’ve gotten way beyond that, we’re not just wiping out all the other species we live with, we’re wiping out our species. And there’s nothing left, there’s nothing left, nothing for the future. There’s nothing good that can come out of this. So there’s no other issue. Jobs? Are you kidding?

The first thing we have to deal with is the health, but therefore, the first thing we have to deal with is nature, is living within nature’s bounds, living with nature. If we don’t do that there’s no way we can remain, and it’s happening, it happened. There’s no way we can remain a viable species, culture, people, whatever. We have to live within nature. We must stop the technology that destroys nature. That technology makes us comfortable, without that technology we can’t make it, so that technology is seductive, technology is addictive, and that technology is pathological, causes total pathology. We have become autistic to what is going on around us. The destruction of the species, the increased cancer rate, we see no evil, we hear no evil, we’ve become totally autistic to the horror that is going on around us. The major thing in our lives is denial. We get up in the morning, we take care of our needs and our families needs, we either go to work or do what we do, as though there’s nothing happening.

What’s happening is, the world, the environment, the Mother, our Mother is being murdered. Our Mother’s being murdered every single day. Our Mother’s being murdered, we have a cancer rate of one out of three, we have a breast cancer rate of one out of eight, we have a child cancer rate that the major child disease is cancer, we have loss of species every day, we have the green house effect, we have the ozone layer, we have polluted water, all the water in New Jersey, probably in the United States, is contaminated, almost all of it, 99% of it. The air is contaminated, the food is contaminated, the sickness is rampant, and we still go about our business like there’s a future. We’re in total, total denial. What we have to do is wake up and say, NO. We have to change, we can’t do this anymore. We must just say that we will not co-operate anymore. But we’re in total denial and it’s amazing. And we’re also totally addicted. Because only addicted people can keep this up. We’re in a constant state of war. We’re in a constant state of war, but the war is against ourselves, against our Mother, against the very source of our life, of our livelihood.”


Returning To Darkness

“You, who are the source of all power, whose rays illuminate the whole world, illuminate also my heart, so that it to can do your work.” Gayatri prayer

My good friend Netty remembers the late 80′s as a time of awakening. I remember it as the end of one life and the beginning of another. My father’s tragic death, pushed me into 1990 where a major shift occurred in both Netty and my lives. I remember that she traded in her power business suit and disappeared into the jungles of Costa Rica. That was after I had attended her Angela Farmer influenced yoga class. Netty had just returned from Greece where she had studied with Angela and Victor van Kooten for a few weeks. She returned with a whole new perspective on the practice and I was seriously envious of her journey. Then out of nowhere she up and leaves her husband, her business, her students and her life in Sarasota for a lean-to on a beach in Central America.

One warm day, two years after her disappearance, Netty showed up on my doorstep. I handed her the keys to my huge, gas guzzling Chevy Malibu and flew off to the Caribbean islands as she drove north to Ohio. The next time we were to meet would be nine years later in an old brothel in Madrid, Spain (now there’s a future blog). The fates, karma, gods, goddess, call it what you will, but one minute I was marveling at the contentment I was experiencing in my life, when in an eye blink I was plucked from my home, my marriage, and my business to be set down in the Caribbean islands cooking in strange kitchens, practicing asana ankle deep in mineral rich sands, while working with the most courageous people I had ever met, terminal cancer patients.

The human spirit has the most amazing ability to reach beyond its limitations and grasp for every remaining second of life. Too often I have witnessed how some people only come to life when threatened with death. They then rise up and begin to embrace this gift we have been given. In the face of death there is rebirth in all its painful, laborious, grand dramatics. The human spirit will step out into some kind of void and fling itself out into space trusting, finally trusting that they will be spared. Problem is they are often to late, but my, oh my, the journey they make is the masterpiece they never would have written were it not for their disease.

I have written this story, nay, I continue to edit and nurture my adventures with this rogues gallery of spirits. One day I will publish it and then you will meet them all, but for now let me say that without my yoga practice I could not have traveled that road. There was so much love and compassion that was needed and I did not think I was capable of such depths. At the age of 40 years old I had re-entered the darkness, only this time it was to help others find their way out and into the light.

Over those six years I lost everything I had thought was important to me. My life of contentment was dissolved into liquid ether and when I resurfaced deep in the forests of Northwestern New Jersey I was able to do so only because I had a yoga practice that anchored me firmly to the Divine. It was not Hatha yoga, but Karma yoga that I practiced during those years. I was asked to give unconditionally and what an almost impossible lesson it proved to be. Do not be fooled to think I was some special being who took to this practice as a duck to water.

Does one receive a grade of pass or fail for the path of karma yoga? I know not. I only know that it is a passage of deep fire meant to burn the karmic imprints of past actions. When I was once more able to raise my eyes to the sun it was with the Gayatri prayer from the Rune stone, Sowelu. Choosing this Rune speaks of the Spiritual Warrior’s quest towards wholeness, a striving to become what in actuality, by nature, I have always been. “Sowelu marks a time for regeneration right down to the cellular level.” In other words, I had been taken apart piece by piece, mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually.

Then one night I dreamt that I had grown wings, just in time, before the void enfolded me in her warm, dark arms of empty space. I think those wings told me I had passed through the fire, hardly unscathed, but free to fly now, up towards God and forward into the next phase of my life.



“Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing there is a field.  I’ll meet you there.”  Rumi

It was now the mid ’80′s, there was the burgeoning gym life, Jane Fonda was everywhere, and the waft of some mysterious yoga practice was emanating from California to our eastern shores. During all of this I found myself losing perspective. One day I noticed that I was pretending to know what I was doing. It wasn’t intentional, because I had placed myself, no, allowed myself to be placed in the position of teacher. I was therefore being treated like I knew what I was talking about and the next thing I knew I believed it myself.

I had gone from neophyte to guru in a few short years without having read the sacred texts or even knew of their existence. There was only so long I could get away with this deception without bringing the law of karma crashing down on my head. So, I did what many yoga teachers of my generation did, I went looking for other yoga teachers who seemed to know what they were talking about. What I discovered was that they were in the same silly predicament I was in. All we wanted to do was learn about this practice called yoga, as it called to us on such a deep level and we were each getting the same information, from books, from our practice, or from an occasional encounter with someone from India.

I could regale you with some pretty funny stories that would put me in jeopardy with the do-no-harm, do-not-gossip tenants of the sacred laws of Yamas, so, suffice it to say there was some serious ego monsters walking the few yoga studios I attended, as well as, some kind hearted teachers generously sharing their practice with others. Florida was just kicking off in those days. The Cubans had flooded into South Florida filling in the empty spaces and building developments that were being consumed by an older generation come to die in the sun. It was a cheap place to live, and we lived for an easy life, barely clothed, with plenty of time for surf and sand. It was all about the body, the tan, looking good and the gyms exploded into a life of there own cultural making.

As I was also dedicated to the worship of the body as buffed and tanned, teaching yoga at the gyms was a no brainer. Plus it gave me the advantage of having a free membership to every gym in town. It also provided me with a diverse group of males and females, in all shapes and sizes, willing to try this new thing called yoga they had read about.

I have run a bit ahead of myself here and must step back to a few months previous when the same friend who introduced me to Bikram, (ah, that sacred moment!), returned from an exploratory trip to Los Angeles with the news that there was more to yoga than Choudhury’s 26 yoga postures. If we had thought Bikram’s program was kick ass, than what she was about to reveal was in a league all by itself. Remember, we were young, filled with energy, egos flaring from our nostrils like fire, and suddenly the second piece of the yoga puzzle fell into place. Ashtanga yoga had traveled west and landed on our shores. If there was ever a perfect style of yoga for the gym culture it was the Primary Series set down by Sri Pattabhi Jois. Of course he didn’t intend it to be such, but even today hiding under the guise of Power Yoga, Flow Yoga, Hot Flow Yoga, Dynamic Yoga, or any of its many monikers, it reads GYM like the red dot between a matrons eyebrows.

Why this was is very simple. First of all, according to some legends that continue to make the rounds, a vinyasa flow style yoga was taught to young teen age boys to better control their bursting hormones and focus their student brains. Take issue, if you will, with the story, it does make sense. Secondly, Bikram’s yoga was difficult to control in a gym setting because the air conditioner was always turned up high and those heaters had never had to exceed 68 degrees F. Pushing them to 105 F would have forced yoga right out the doors and into a studio where they are and have stayed. Third, and most important, Ashtanga yoga got you buffed, strong and sweaty in less time than it took for similar results with a boring weight lifting routine. Lifting your own fat derriere over and over again could produce some serious biceps and some serious injuries as well.

For me it meant pretending was over. I began to read more (new books were coming out all the time), and learn, actually learn, the Sanskrit names of the postures. An ambitious undertaking with a southern drawl and a brain not credited with its ability to pick up languages. So, what did I do? I wrote down my classes on note cards in English with the Sanskrit name next to it, plus a stick figure, (a nod here to Cindy Lee and, possibly to her beginnings), to show me what I was teaching. By this time I had added the University of South Florida, New College campus to my itinerary; and the students turned out in droves (Teenagers? Hormones? Focus?). I had to turn them away at the door the room was so packed and the latecomers were the professors and administrative staff that wanted in at the last minute. No chance. We were mat-to-mat bodies and the crush of one more would throw the whole balance out of whack.

I was moving between the two worlds of academia to narcissism, full on detoxification of the mind/body wrapped in T-shirts, Tai Chi pants, Capri tights and thong leotards and/or a variation thereof. It didn’t matter. Wives would bring their pot bellied husbands in hopes of sharing what they loved and the husband would transform his body, and become the Adonis of the gym; or the kick-sand-in-your-face reed thin student who could manage the just emerging Intermediate practice of the Ashtanga series with some ease, became the leader of a band of young yogis (read pretty blond girls) and was walking the campus with a whole new swagger. Oh, it was an amazing thing to watch, and my own practice? I would prepare my classes at home on the plain wooden floor of the living room, the cheap first edition of yoga mat shredding and tearing under my hands and feet. Then I would do it again and again throughout the day as I made my way across town and across the multicultural dimensions of students set on fire by the practice of yoga.

Now, almost 30 years later, from time to time I encounter another yogini who has traveled this road. What we speak about now are our injuries from those days of over training, pushing our 30 year old bodies through several classes a day, with teachers who pushed us, in their own curiosity to see just how far a body can stretch when enough heat is present to mold the muscles. Over time I have slowed a bit, although not completely, and my classes are more about teaching a student how to respect his/her body and not to push it over the proverbial edge. We are such a greedy culture, so spoiled and always wanting more of something. What I want for my students is a long, healthy life free of injuries caused by impatience and greed. It took me a long time to find that for myself and now I can offer that wisdom to others. Do they listen? Ah, now that’s a lesson for another time. To quote the Master himself, “In time all is coming”.


HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS, Dealing with Family in a Spiritual Way

“Bring the family to its proper order and all social relationships will be correctly established.”  I Ching

To create a peaceful family requires patience and tolerance mixed with a good dose of love, generosity and a sense of humor. Not necessarily an easy combination to maintain when the individuals are your brothers, sisters, and parents come together for the holidays. Why is it so difficult to get along with each other? We tend to act things out with our siblings that we might not with other people. We also have expectations of them that we don’t have of anyone else. Then, when things don’t go as expected, enmity can result. There are an endless number of family stories to illustrate this point, but you each, no doubt, have your own.

I have heard it said that we are born into a family, but not always into our tribe, meaning a group of people we have a common affinity with. Do you ever feel like the stork delivered you to the wrong family? Or, to take a popular fairy tale, are you the “ugly duckling” who’s hoping, one day, to see yourself for what you really are, a graceful swan?

We can relate the story of the ugly duckling to our lives as spiritual beings having a human experience. We are already enlightened beings (the Swan), born into a world ruled by our deluded ego self (the duckling) and trapped in a cycle of suffering. We identify ourselves by labels that society imposes and that we accept, (I am a doctor, husband, dentist, teacher). As human beings we struggle to find a semblance of our true Self within the framework of what we have been taught and what we choose to believe. Mistaking our Swan nature for the duckling keeps us cycling our conflicted emotions and mental suffering. Following your yoga practice, when sitting in meditation, your true nature can bleed through the fabric of your conditioning so that you can recognize your beautiful swan Self as always having been present. You can also see the true nature of those around you, including your family.

Spiritual teacher, Carolyn Myss, tells us that we come into this lifetime having made “sacred contracts” with other souls we will meet in human form. The Dalai Lama reminds us to be kind to others because they may have been your mother in a previous incarnation. Whatever, you believe your connection to be with your family, they are individuals who can tax your patience, your tolerance, and your ability to love unconditionally. Parents, in particular, often start families with the expectation that their children will be perfect little gems and grow up to be just the way they want them to be. A daily practice that includes yoga and meditation can help to alleviate some of the suffering caused by holding on to our familial fantasies.

According to Buddhist teachings, the law of karma can be carried from one lifetime to the next and can determine the situation your are born into. Often, the most important relationships you have in life are those with your immediate family. These can also be your most challenging, terrifying, supportive, and joyful. It makes sense, then, that your family has probably been a part of your previous incarnations. You and your family have a particular “karma” to complete together in this lifetime.

Buddhist monk Ajahn Chah taught how all things are transient, including love and hate. You can both love your children and at times feel hate for them, as if they were bullets fired back into your heart. For parents, your children are your karma, the good ones as well as the bad ones. For children it is the same; your parents are your karma, for good or bad. How you deal with them in your life depends on how your mind works for good or bad. Know that you will experience both love and hate toward them; when times are most difficult and you want to run away from them all, remember that all things pass. All emotions and thoughts die away to be replaced by others. Nothing is permanent, and what is occurring in your mind will shift and change. What you replace any negative thoughts with is part of your practice to learn ahimsa: to do no harm in thought, word or deed. And truly, your family will give you ample opportunity to practice this lesson.



“If you want to make the world a better place take a look at yourself and make the change.” Man in the Mirror- Michael Jackson

I had no idea that choosing the path of yoga (or was it that yoga chose me?), would alienate me from my family more severely than if I had moved to a foreign country. In 1983 the Born Again Christian movement was in full swing and my parents had embraced it with full and sincere hearts. Because they were devout Catholics it was something more than other Christian forms of “Born Again”. It was in fact, a courageous defiance of the Catholic Church. At mass, oftentimes celebrated in my parent’s living room, there was singing and guitar playing, praising the Lord aloud, rather than beating the chest in repentance for sins committed. It was also as far from the practice of yoga as you could get and as my family embraced this underground swell of religious fervor, I stepped away from their world to better understand these feelings I was experiencing.

Truth be told, I was very nervous about all the gods and goddesses represented in the religions of India. Then there was the caste system that actually condemned people to be untouchable from birth, while others ruled as superior beings. To my mind it was all due to the unexplored concept of reincarnation. Wrapping my Catholic head around all of that was too much for me in those beginning days. So, I ignored it all as much as possible, easy to do with no teacher and only a few books to study. So with what I had, I set about practicing day after day. In the brutal heat of Florida my body embraced what is inherent in the practice of yoga, a deep inner cleansing that burns away sorrow and leaves the pure essence of love, like nectar on the tip of my tongue. I was being reborn, but not as my parents would have wanted for me.

According to the Born Again mentality of that time, yoga was an abomination, a link to the devil. I was damned for practicing it and I was doubly damned for walking away from the Catholic Church. I was pretty well damned, and yet it felt so right, so good for my heart and soul. I once read that when the old Swami masters sent their disciples here to the West, they told them just to teach us asana, because we were not ready for anything other than dealing with the physical. Let asana awaken the mind, step by step, for it is inherent in the practice to do so. Rather than proselytize and demand our awakening let the body first detoxify, open and then the magic can arise.

It wasn’t long before friends wanted in on my practice. I had no idea what I was doing other than reading and rereading every word in Bikram’s Beginning Yoga book and admiring the young, lithe figures of men and women twice my age featured on those pages. So I caved to their demands, charged them each five bucks and rented a room large enough for 10 people with a wall of mirrors. That was the beginning for me as a yoga teacher. Watching them, watching myself, breathing into the postures, focusing, concentrating, stopping my mind, stepping off the wheel of incessant thought. Then doing it again, the next day and then the next. Yeah, I had discovered the sweet elixir of life once again, or maybe I had never tasted it, not like that, not that full connection to something so much greater than my small ego “I”.

When I would go home to visit the family I was invited to attend mass or pray the rosary. For a while I complied, to keep peace with my mom especially, she was so worried about my soul rotting in some after life hell. But after a few years I began to decline her invitations, because I needed to be honest with myself and with her. Satya, one of the first steps on the path of yoga had reared its head without my even knowing it existed, tucked away amidst the 5 Yamas waiting for me to strip the fear from my eyes and look deeper into the practice. Satya means to be honest in word, thought and deed; and I had learned it on my mat when I wanted that extra inch in a stretch fully knowing my body was not ready to go there. Yes, well, greed will do that to you, cause you to lie to get what you want, more stretch, more things, more money, more of my mother’s approval. I was beginning to trust that my journey was the right one for me, despite the pit of hell fire that awaited. Let it burn, thought I, it will never devour me.

Coming Soon: So You Think Your Spiritual, Eh?




Six years passed before I fully connected with yoga again. Oh, there had been a brief encounter taking a class with a teacher from India who had moved to the Tampa Bay area. With my natural flexibility I flowed easily from one pose to the next, remembering the photos from The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga. And then suddenly I was on my shoulders, legs reaching for the ceiling, silently laughing at finding myself there. The teacher encouraged me to continue learning the ancient science, actually told me I was a natural; I thanked him for that and planned on returning each week to learn more; but the life I had steadily built out of sand and illusion was coming apart quickly and damage control was all I had time to handle.

In 1982 I took my next yoga class. This was after years of study, practice, and experiment in theatre, dance and design. By this time I had moved between Continents living in Europe, traveling through Africa, South America and doing time in New York City. I had pushed my mind and body into a dark and depressing place with no idea how to extricate myself. I was exhausted from trying to break through some deep soul sadness that robbed me of any joy in life; so I packed my bags and went home to be nurtured by the sun. Driven by an intuitive knowing, I arrived in a small, sleepy Florida town and the white sands of Siesta Key. I had seen myself in a dream; I was walking this same stretch of beach each sunrise and sunset, until my soul found some peace and my body could be healed.

To support myself I began teaching dance in various studios and community centers. I also designed clothes, whipping them up on my sewing machine and selling them to local boutiques and to my students. I knew I was in the right place, but the heavy, dark cloud in my mind made it a struggle to get up in the morning and face the day. I had no money to see a therapist, who would only prescribe medications that I did not want to take, Valium being the drug of choice in those days. Instead I would visit the local library each afternoon and read medical texts and journals hoping to find a name for what I was feeling, what I was experiencing. It took time and some patience, but one day I found what I was looking for, a diagnosis that fit me to a tee. It was called “Major Depression”, and because of it I had isolated myself from family and friends, lived with a serious eating disorder for seven years, and lost the creative drive that had once came so easily to me. Psychological therapy and drugs were the recommended treatments, but in my heart I knew there was another way and I was determined to find what it was.

Then yoga came into my life once again.

A visiting dancer from New York City had been taking classes in the Bikram style of yoga and one afternoon she took me through the whole 26 postures. They were difficult, even to my dancers body, but there was something there I could not pinpoint. Yet, by the end of that class I knew I had found the way to heal myself. Excited and inspired I coupled my yoga practice with learning more about the foods I was eating, about how my internal body systems work, and what the stress of my lifestyle had caused on those systems. With this vital information I was able to put together a new lifestyle, a lifestyle I could live with and take one step at a time. A lifestyle that would ultimately save my life.

To be continued: Yoga and Born Again Christians




“The frightening nature of knowledge leaves one no alternative but to become a warrior.” Carlos Castenada

Although we all differ vastly in our makeup, our connection through the web of life brings each of us back to our inner awakening to Divine presence. If you do not believe in a God or in the traditional religion-based image of God, then you will see consciousness as your higher Self-your better half, as it were. Regardless of your beliefs, know that you play an important role in the world as a spiritual being and that you are made up of the conditioned mindsets constructed from all past actions taken by you and interconnected to all past actions taken throughout time by other human beings. Cause and effect, action and reaction are all part of the connection we have to all that exists in the present and all that happened in the past.When you step onto the path of yoga you set forth on a journey that moves you eight steps towards liberation, or as some might say, enlightenment.

These eight steps, though they might seem few are fraught with all the mental afflictions or kleshas, humans carry within them. The buddha taught that all beings, without exception, are endowed with “buddhanature”-the heart of enlightenment-and that everyone has the potential to fully awaken to his or her truest state. This state is already present in our being, awaiting discovery; but we can also fall under the influence of these three kleshas: Greed. Grasping, attachment, clinging, fear of losing. Hatred. Ill will, aggression, aversion, fear of being opposed. Delusion. Illusion, ignorance, lack of awareness, fear of seeing the truth.

These mental afflictions block the perception of our true nature and are the cause for all actions that are harmful to ourselves and others. They are regular visitors to your daily life, but it is on the yoga mat and sitting on a meditation cushion that you can come to see them for what they are and transform them to their opposites: Generosity, Love, and Awareness.

As you contemplate your yoga practice, or even if you are taking the first steps to begin a yoga class, consider these few things:

  • Yoga should be practiced with the commitment to enhance the purpose of your life, not to detract from it.
  • Yoga should not be used as an escape from life, but as a means of making a deeper inquiry into the purpose of existence.
  • Meditation should not be used to daydream and fantasize, over stimulating the mind and leading one away from mindful awareness.
  • Yoga/Meditation helps you to see your illusions for the misleading fantasies that they are and dissolve them in the light of this understanding.
  • Meditation reveals that there is no escape to be found in a nonexistent future and the pain and failures of the past. Thus, “Be here now.”
  • Yoga/Meditation gives you the opportunity to manifest your highest state of consciousness.

When attending any yoga class arrive with a beginners mind and a sense of humor, for you will surely see yourself in that moments light of reality. Be patient, stay focused and persistent, allowing your body to give you only what it is willing and able to give. Then step by step that which seemed impossible can transform to all possibility.


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