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‘The real voyage of discovery is not in seeking new lands but in seeing with new eyes…’

I like to think that in a past life I was a monk in the Middle Ages, then in the 17th Century I was a witch at the Salem witch trials. My reasoning for aforementioned beliefs? When I listen to monks sing I get goose bumps, and I am the proud owner of a book of spells, not exactly watertight evidence I think you’ll agree. I’ve always been interested in reincarnation and past-life regression, and my interest has only intensified in researching this article. Do you believe in life after death? Do you believe that we have only one chance on earth and must make the best of it, or do you consider it possible that after death we are reincarnated into another body to do it all over again? You may change your mind by the end of this article…

In December 2009 the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found that a quarter of Americans (24%) believe in reincarnation, with young people being most likely to support the notion. Janet Cunningham, president of the International Board for Regression Therapy attributes this increased popularity to the growing accessibility of Eastern traditions in the Western world. She compares this to the situation 30 years ago, and states that at that time reincarnation was associated with the occult and was not openly discussed, ‘it felt sneaky’. Indeed this is most certainly not the case now, in India people pay upwards of $300 per session to discover details of their past lives, which often they are confident took place. Professional psychologists and psychiatrists now offer past life regression therapy alongside traditional counselling treatments.

So, what is the general consensus amongst supporters of reincarnation? According to Gadadhara Pandit Dasa, Columbia University’s first Hindu chaplain, after an indefinite number of tries, the eternal soul eventually achieves perfection, and then goes to live with God…

The most influential researcher with the most convincing evidence is undoubtedly Dr Ian Stevenson of the University of Virginia. He dedicated 40 years of his life to the investigation of past life memories of children around the world. One of the most intriguing cases recorded by Dr Stevenson in his book ‘Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation’ was that of Swarnlata Mishra, born in Pradesh, India in 1948.

At the age of 3, Swarnlata was travelling with her father 100 miles from home in the town of Katni, when suddenly she asked the driver to turn down a road to take them to ‘my house’ for a cup of tea. In the time that followed Swarnlata related more memories of her life in Katni, all recorded by her father. She declared that her name was Biya Pathak and that she was married with 2 sons. Swarnlata related specific details about the house in which she lived, it was located in Zhurkutia, a district of Katni, white with black doors, a railway line in front and a girls school behind, and that the family owned a motor car. The car was a particularly significant claim as cars were rare in India in the 1950s and especially before Swarnlata was born. Swarnlata told her father that Biya had died from a ‘pain in her throat’ and was treated in Jabalpur. When Swarnlata was 10 years old, her story reached researchers and they came to see if her claims could be verified. Using only the notes taken by her father, they were able to locate the house 100 miles away, and it was exactly as described by Swarnlata. He interviewed the Pathak family who lived there only to find out that Biya Pathak had indeed lived in the house, with her husband and 2 sons, and had died in 1939. The Pathaks knew nothing of the Mishra family, and vice versa! If you think this is impressive, it gets better…

In the Summer of 1959, Biya’s husband, son and eldest brother travelled to Swarnlata’s home to test her, they enlisted the help of 9 townsmen and all paid a visit to the house. Swarnlata immediately recognised her brother and greeted him with his pet name, she named her husband and acted according to Hindu tradition in lowering her eyes in greeting him, and she also recognised her son who was only 13 years old when she had died. She knew secrets that only Biya and her husband knew, she knew intimate details such as the room in which Biya died, and that she had gold fillings in her front teeth. Swarnlata’s memory was frozen at the time of Biya’s death; she was unaware of developments in the family and changes to the house after that time. The Pathak family accepted Swarnlata as Biya reborn and continued to visit each other for years to come. They were even consulted on her choice of husband! Stevenson reports that when he asked her years later she said ‘sometimes, when she reminisced about her happy life in Katni, her eyes brimmed with tears and, for a moment, she wished she could return.’

Not all Dr Stevenson’s cases involve such happy memories, he specialised in the study of birthmarks and birth defects in children that correspond to wounds on the deceased person they believe they once were. 35% of children that remember having experienced previous lives have birthmarks and/or defects that they attribute to wounds, usually fatal on the deceased. Stevenson investigated 210 of these cases, using post-mortem results he verified many claims, the birthmarks and defects were so specific that for those past lives that had ended by gunshot wounds, the wounds corresponded to entry and exit of the bullet, small and large respectively.

Left: an Indian youth who, as a child, said he remembered the life of a man, Maha Ram, who was killed with a shotgun fired at close range. Right: Maha Ram’s post-mortem document showing gunshot wounds.

If you didn’t recall a previous life as a child, not to worry there’s still time… Jeffrey Keene was born in America on September 9, 1947 and it wasn’t until May 1991 that the first indication of him having a past life was revealed. Keene was with his wife on holiday when they stopped to visit Sharpsburg in Maryland where the Civil War Battle of Antietam was fought. It was his first visit and he was unaware of its history, having never researched the Civil War. Whilst walking through a field called ‘Sunken Road’, he experienced a bizarre reaction, “A wave of grief, sadness and anger washed over me (…) Burning tears ran down my cheeks. It became difficult to breathe. I gasped for air.” A year and a half later whilst reading through a magazine that he purchased on the day of the visit to Maryland, Keene came face to face with the man that he now believes he lived as in a previous life, General John Gordon.

Keene went on to discover many parallels between himself and General Gordon. They shared similar physical appearances, personality traits, writing styles, and habits. It was at Sunken Road that Gordon fought and was severely wounded in the face, the battle took place on the date of Keene’s birthday, September 9; he was aged 30 at the time. Keene at the age of 30, years before his realisation, experienced a prolonged unidentifiable severe pain in his jaw that specialists could not explain but eventually disappeared. Keene has 3 birthmarks on his face in the exact same locations where Gordon was wounded in the Battle of Antietam, historical photographs confirmed their match.

The evidence is convincing, but does it prove that reincarnation does occur, or could there be another explanation? In regression therapy, critics argue that memories are much more vivid under hypnosis, and that the subjects simply create the narrative of their past lives from subconscious memories, their imagination and suggestions from the therapist. Bogdan, Gallo and McNally (2009) studied false memory propensity in individuals who reported having memories of a past life. They tested participants using the DRM paradigm, subjects are given lists of words that are all associated with a theme, but the theme is not included in the list. For example, if a participant is presented with a list of words relating to trees; leaves, trunk, branch, oak, fir etc, and are then asked to recall as many as they can, they may falsely recall the word ‘trees’ because of the semantic association, despite the word not being present on the list. The study found that individuals who report past life memories exhibit greater false recall in the DRM paradigm than those who only lived once. The researchers believe that this suggests that ‘people with false memories of past lives are less able to discriminate between imagined and real events, both inside and outside the laboratory’.

In my humble opinion I believe that spontaneous past life recall cases, like that of Swarnlata Mishra, go beyond reasonable doubt in supporting the phenomenon of reincarnation. Dr Stevenson carried out his research in such a way that ‘his strict methods applied so systematically (…) rule out, one by one, all possible “normal” explanations for the child’s memories.’ In contrast, I am sceptical about the concept of paying huge sums of money to find out about past lives. Jason Overdorf’s article in the Global Post last month focused on the growing trend for past life regression in India and he asks, are some of these ‘past life gurus’ ‘simply exploiting Hindu tradition and India’s anxieties about the mental health profession to make a quick buck?’ I am inclined to agree. That’s not to say that some individuals don’t benefit from treatment, for example in cases of paralysing phobias that are completely unexplained, if finding the cause of the phobia through therapy cures it then clearly this is worthwhile.

The European Values Survey explores basic social values across Europe. From data collected between 1999-2002, the survey found that for the 15 combined countries of Western Europe, the percentage of believers in life after death stood at 59%. 37% of those who believed in life after death also believe in reincarnation, going against the teachings of the dominant Christian faiths. Gadadhara Pandit Dasa believes that Western religions are failing to satisfy particularly young people, and they are looking further afield for inspiration. As an albeit non-practicing Catholic, reincarnation is not part of my expected beliefs, though I do find myself drawn to some Eastern values, particularly the Buddhist animal-loving and non-killing of insects… Stephen Prothero, Professor of Religion at Boston University, suggests that fascination with reincarnation is related to prosperity. ‘Modern Americans, in their optimism and material success, see reincarnation as a chance to postpone eternity for another day.’ I’m not entirely sure how I feel about reincarnation. Being reborn into a different life, with different loved ones, away from those I have and love now is not something I relish. Especially, as in the case of Swarnlata, it is possible to vividly remember this life and yearn to be back there. Alas, I think I am happier with the idea of Heaven as I imagine it, where we all sit on clouds and are reunited with our loved ones and pets, and we gather around a gigantic dining table having extravagant feasts with God, Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

I did however for the purposes of the article complete a couple of quizzes, with the results as follows:

‘You were female in your last earthly incarnation. You were born somewhere in the territory of modern Siberia around the year 1175. Your profession was that of a librarian, priest or keeper of tribal relics.’


‘You’re going to be an Octopus in your next life. Almost 45% of people will be reincarnated as a higher form of life than you. You’re not perfect, but you’ve led a better life than most. With a few changes now, your next life could be even better.’

Find out yours!

Who were you in a past life?

Who will you be in your next life?



Are you currently unemployed and looking for work? If you’re over 18 and live in England you can take part in my survey!

I’m looking at the impact unemployment has on mental wellbeing. It’s a short survey and completely anonymous, please take part!

Take the Survey

‘Grow old with me! The best is yet to be…’

It’s my Birthday this month and I’m turning 26, a significant age I think; I no longer fit neatly into the ’25 and under’ category. Alas, never again will I be eligible for £5 RSC tickets…. My impending initiation into the 26+ group has led to my thinking about age and the transition from adolescence to adulthood. At what point do we become adults? Is there a predefined age that we reach and suddenly discover a matured perspective on life? Potential milestones exist that are feasible options for the onset of adulthood: reaching 18, moving out of the family home, starting the first ‘career job’, getting married, having children. Conceptions of adulthood are characterised by responsibility, rationality and lack of spontaneity, much different to how childhood is perceived. Is there indeed a fundamental shift from how we feel and behave in adolescence to adulthood, or is it simply that responsibility prevails over the child within?

Darya Zabelina and Michael Robinson (2010), researchers at North Dakota State University, explored adult creativity using the Torrence Test of Creative Thinking (TTCT). In their study ‘Child’s play: Facilitating the originality of creative output by a priming manipulation’, 76 participants were randomly assigned to 1 of 2 conditions and then tested for creativity. Experimental condition participants were told, “You are 7 years old, school is cancelled and you have the entire day to yourself. What would you do? Where would you go? Who would you see?” Control condition participants were told the same except the first sentence was removed; they therefore approached the question from an adult perspective. Participants that imagined themselves as being 7 years old, produced much more imaginative responses on the creativity tests that followed. For example, inventing alternative uses for an old car tyre, or finishing an incomplete sketch. Researchers found the effect to be particularly pronounced among introverted participants. They concluded that in thinking like an adult we are more inclined to provide conventional responses that lack imagination. However, thinking like a child is entirely possible for adults and in doing so, creativity can flourish.

Best-selling author Jack Uldrich supports the findings of the North Dakota State researchers; he believes that when people think like a child they begin to see “problems, people and things” from a fresh perspective. He describes the process by which a child learns: asking questions, being tenacious, and embracing their own ignorance. He argues that as adults we lose the ability to learn this way, we become consumed with how we are being perceived by those around us. So, whereas children are open-minded when presented with something new, adults are influenced by existing opinions gained from past experiences. This theory is proven with the use of optical illusions.

Question: Is the circle to the rear of the image smaller, equal to, or larger in size than the circle the arrow points to?

Martin Doherty et al. (2010) discovered in their studyThe Ebbinghaus illusion deceives adults but not young children’ that young children, particularly under the age of 7 years, discriminate sizes more accurately than adults when the context is misleading. Adults found it much more difficult to judge sizes correctly in this task, Doherty states that “when visual context is misleading, adults literally see the world less accurately than they did as children.” The circle at the rear of the image is in fact equal in size to the circle that the arrow points to, did you answer correctly? I’ll be honest I had to double check with my trusty ruler! It is hard for us to recognise things that do not support our prior learnt knowledge; our knowledge can sometimes narrow our field of vision, and decrease possibilities for learning new things.

Question: What do you see in the image below?

Adults see a loving embrace, children see 9 dolphins…

Thinking and behaving in a more child-like way is therefore beneficial for nurturing creativity and solving problems, but it has also been found to improve other areas of life. The ‘power of play’ is a concept that many employers have implemented in the workplace to boost morale and productivity amongst employees. Play has been shown to reduce stress, increase energy levels and enhance optimism. Alison Gopnik is a Psychologist specialised in children’s learning and development, she asserts that children are very good at distinguishing between fantasy and reality and contrary to traditional belief they do not participate in pretend play because they have limited minds, but because they have incredibly powerful imaginative abilities that adults struggle to match. I came across an article by Susan Taylor Brown that lists 50 ways to think like a child, I’ve chosen my favourites to share so that we can all begin to tap into our long lost imagination!

Play With Your Food
Place olives on the ends of your fingers

Buy a Colouring Book and a Box of Crayons
Colour inside the lines and hang the picture on your wall

Find a Park and Go Down the Slide

Go to a Roller Disco
Skate round holding hands in a big line!

Dig a Hole and Sit in it
If you find worms, make a worm farm (not sure what that is?!)

Lie on Your Back and Watch the Clouds

Build a Fort in the Living Room
Take a torch and a packed lunch, preferably in a Dora the Explorer/Spiderman themed plastic box with matching flask

There can be few adults that haven’t occasionally wished that they could go back and relive their younger days, with the benefit of hindsight that adulthood brings. At the risk of sounding clichéd and old before my time; children are in a terrible hurry to grow up. Being the youngest of four I indulged in infantile fun and basked in my immaturity throughout my childhood and adolescence. I am yet to feel like a fully-fledged adult, although aspects of my personality beg to differ. I am in my element snuggled up on the sofa with a brew and a fig roll watching Emmerdale. I found this article on the turmoil of growing old ‘Why don’t people act their age?’ hilarious and very true, my favourite quote:

‘We eagerly anticipated the moment when our grandchildren would hop on our lap and let us tell them the story of ordering our first McDonald’s hamburger. (“And it was 15 cents!”) Now we text message them to see if they want to come over and play Wii.’

Indisputably it isn’t entirely practical for people to spend all their adult lives playing games and attempting to regain their lost youth. Rosjke Hasseldine, a psychotherapist and relationship consultant argues that “striving to be younger robs us of our money, time, mental space and self-esteem” and instead we should concentrate on what is positive about our age and what our life experiences have taught us. Whilst this is true, I think we could all benefit from a more open-minded approach to life. Rather than adhering to fictional rules on how an adult should behave, why not make a concerted effort to add fun and spontaneity to your life? Sometimes it is necessary for people to think like children in order to achieve success as adults. Why should kids have all the fun? First item on my to-do list is to build a fort in my living room, packed lunch in hand, Twinings finest tea in my Dora flask and preferably the Emmerdale Christmas special on the telly.

How old do you act? Take the test to find out:

‘Before you put on a frown, make absolutely sure there are no smiles available…’

Watching a Friends episode that you’ve seen a million times but still makes you chuckle (Pivot! Pivot! Pivot!), or coming home from work to discover that your favourite meal has been cooked for tea! (Slow cooked beef and roasties, yum) Most people smile at some point during their day, but do they ever stop to think about the action and the impact it can have on their lives and the lives of those around them?

When meeting new people a smile can have a profound effect on the outcome of the encounter. In his groundbreaking book published in 1937 How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie devoted an entire chapter to the power of a smile. Entitled ‘A Simple Way to Make a Good Impression’, Carnegie describes using the smile to create good, positive first impressions and details a number of anecdotal evidence to support this. He states that individuals who smile more are more likely to be hired from a job interview, manage people more effectively, sell more efficiently and are even more successful in bringing up children. Perhaps the most affecting account is that of William B. Steinhardt, a New York City stockbroker who decided to test the theory and smiled at someone every hour of every day for a week. The result was remarkable in all areas of his life, having been married for 18 years Steinhardt noticed the happiness return to his marriage by simply greeting his wife with a smile at the breakfast table!

Matthew J. Hertenstein et al. (2009) examined whether the intensity of smiles displayed in photographs from childhood and adolescence would predict the likelihood of divorce in later life. In the first study, around 650 adults aged between 21-87 years were asked to provide their final year school photographs. The photographs were coded for smile intensity and the participants were asked questions regarding their romantic relationships to determine whether they had ever been divorced. The researchers found that the less intensely participants smiled, the greater the chance of them becoming divorced in later life. Staggeringly to the extent that those with the weakest smiles were more than 3 times more likely to divorce! The second study aimed to test the theory using photographs from an even younger age, 55 participants aged 59-91 years provided photographs taken between the ages of 5-22 years. The findings of Study 1 were supported even for children as young as 5 years old! Compelling evidence! The researchers believe that individuals who are generally of a happier disposition are more likely to marry equally happy companions and are also more likely to work through difficulties in the relationship.

And if that hasn’t convinced you that you should be smiling more, then this will…

Researchers at Wayne State University in Michigan (Abel & Kruger, 2010) studied the relationship between smile intensity and life expectancy amongst baseball players. The players had all started playing before 1950 for major US teams and their photographs were taken from the 1952 Baseball Register. This also provided the researchers with statistics for birth year, body mass index, marital status and career length. Each player photograph was classified as one of the following: ‘no smile’, ‘partial smile’ using only mouth muscles or ‘full smile’ involving both mouth and eye muscles. Those classifications were then correlated with the age to which they lived. The results revealed a marked correlation between the two; the ‘no smile’ category lived for an average of 72.9 years, ‘partial smile’ 75 years and ‘full smile’ lived until the grand age of 79.9 years!

The Duchenne (D) smile is widely regarded as a spontaneous and genuine expression of happiness or enjoyment, described by its discoverer Duchenne de Boulogne as a smile “put into play by the sweet emotions of the soul . . .” The D smile has been classified using the Facial Action Coding System (FACS)and involves a combination of two facial muscle movements. The zygomaticus major muscle pulls the lip corners up, and the orbicularis oculi, pars lateralis muscle lifts the cheeks and causes the eye socket to wrinkle and produce ‘crow’s feet’. Studies have shown that individuals displaying a D smile are believed to be more emotional, pleasant and in better humour than those displaying a non-Duchenne smile. The D smile also leads to more affiliative responses from the recipient. Krumhuber and Manstead (2009) sought to examine whether there was a difference in the recipient’s rating of a smile depending on whether it was genuine (spontaneous) or fake (deliberate). It was predicted that spontaneous D smiles would be rated as more genuine than deliberate D smiles or spontaneous ND smiles and this was indeed the case. It seems therefore that there is one type of genuine, felt smile: the spontaneous Duchenne smile.

It is surprisingly difficult to differentiate between a genuine smile and a fake smile… Can you tell the difference? Take this test and see! There are 20 short video clips and you have to decide whether the smile displayed is genuine or fake, I did it and somehow scored 17 out of 20 but it was very hard!

If the world were categorised as ‘smilers’ and ‘non-smilers’ I would generally be described as a ‘smiler’. Having researched and written this post I intend to step this up so that I sit firmly in the smiling camp. Try Dale Carnegie’s advice and smile at someone once every hour and see if you notice any differences in your life, preferably not the same person as they may become slightly troubled by this! Watch this clip for some tips, the grin-o-meter, an initiative by a Japanese rail company ensures that all their employees’ smiles appear genuine before they start work! If a smile brightens someone’s day, saves your marriage and lengthens your life where is the harm in trying it!

‘Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood…’

Who does not feel a suppressed start at the creaking of furniture in the dark of night? Who has not felt a shiver of goose flesh, controlled only by an effort of will? Who, in the dark, has not had the feeling of some thing behind him – and, in spite of his conscious reasoning, turned to look?
The Fascination of the Ghost Story by Arthur B. Reeve 1919

October is upon us, and as is tradition for me I have been hit with the Halloween spirit (excuse the pun). The origin of Halloween lies in Pagan Celtic tradition; the Celts believed that at this time of year the barrier between the living world and the afterlife was at its weakest, enabling the spirits of the dead to roam freely amongst us. Rather than being a morbid time, it was in fact a celebration known as Samhain. Activities that formed the Samhain celebration are not too dissimilar to our 21st Century Halloween customs; adorning the body in costumes made from animal skins and heads, fortune telling, and traditional games of apple bobbing.

This year I’ve foolishly decided that I want my Halloween to scare the living daylights out of me. So… I am going to witness ‘a unique tale of spine chilling terror, an original ghost story performed before a roaring log fire in a real haunted house. Inspired by true paranormal events.’ ‘What Stalks the Night?’ will take place at Croxteth Hall in Liverpool and I am petrified in anticipation.

The 210-room mansion was home to the Earls of Sefton for over 400 years. When the last Earl died in 1972 there was no heir for the estate to be passed down to; it therefore became the property of Liverpool City Council. Spirits are said to haunt Croxteth Hall and various sightings have been recorded; a boy standing by the fireplace in the dining room, a figure of a man in the billiard room, and even the 6th Earl of Sefton walking around the tea room! Smells and footsteps have also been witnessed inside the mansion. In April 2009, CCTV footage of the hall grounds captured a shadowy figure that appears to glide across the screen, take a look at the video and see what you think…

But do ghosts really exist?

Hampton Court Palace in Surrey is said to contain the ghost of Henry VIII’s fifth wife Catherine Howard, the infamous Haunted Gallery was the scene of her desperate flee to plead to the King for her life before she was executed. The Historic Royal Palaces website describes an incident at the Palace that took place in 1999. During two separate tours of the property, two female visitors fainted in the Gallery on the exact same spot only half an hour apart. The Palace was one of two locations to feature in a psychological study of hauntings (Wiseman et al., 2003), the other being the Edinburgh South Bridge Vaults. Participants in the study were asked to record i) any prior knowledge of hauntings in the location, ii) unusual feelings experienced, and the precise location of these experiences. The researchers found a direct correlation between reporting of unusual experiences and locations that had a strong reputation for being haunted, however contrary to sceptical belief this was not due to participants’ prior knowledge of the haunted areas. However, when environmental factors were analysed it appeared that there was a correlation between factors such as magnetic fields, temperature, lighting and reporting of unusual experiences. The conclusion of the study suggested that unusual experiences in both locations were not due to ghostly goings-on but were in fact caused by environmental factors.

Believers 0 – Non-Believers 1. Don’t cancel your Halloween plans just yet though…

Christopher French, head of Goldsmith’s Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit tested the theory that environmental factors were the sole cause of haunting experiences (French et al. 2009). The team built a scientifically haunted room in a London row house, 9 feet in diameter and inside which infrasound waves were cast similar to those recorded in the allegedly haunted Coventry Castle. Sound waves producing electromagnetic frequency associated with paranormal feeling were also emitted into the haunted room. 79 participants were tested. After spending less than 1 hour in the room participants reported the following; dizziness, tingling, disembodiment, dream-remembrance and “a presence.” However, these sensations were not correlated with the manipulated infrasound and EMF and instead appeared to arise from suggestibility. French concluded that ‘the case for infrasound inducing haunt-type experiences now appears to be extremely weak.’

The definition according to the Cambridge Dictionary of American English:
ghost: (noun) the spirit of a dead person imagined as visiting the living and usually appearing as a pale, almost transparent form of the dead person. Research published in 2009 by the Public Theology Think Tank (Theos) revealed that almost four in 10 (39%) people in the UK believe in ghosts. Perhaps subconsciously we believe in ghosts because it reassures us that there is life after death? There is something comforting in the belief that we cannot explain everything, if ghosts exist our existential fear is slightly abated.

If the Celts were correct in their Samhain beliefs then the veils between our world and the spirit world are due to almost disappear in exactly 19 days. The possibility of a ghostly encounter could be greatly increased… you may wish to prepare your home to ward off those evil spirits!

Halloween events around the country I recommend:

Halloween Themed Dining at Warwick Castle and tours

Halloween Party at the UK’s only horror themed restaurant and club

Various events in and around London including a talk by Professor Chris French

Vintage Halloween Party at Edinburgh’s best venue

Ghosthunting including overnight hunts!

Liverpool Ghost Tours

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Welcome, Bienvenue, Wilkommen, Bienvenida, 歡迎







Welcome to my blog, I’m currently researching my first post which has a spooky theme in honour of Halloween! Should be complete in the next couple of days…

Thanks for visiting, Lynsey x

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