Year-end letter from Mountains and Waters Alliance

15 Dec

Yesterday morning I was moved to offer prayers for calming the wildfires. What took me so long, I don’t know. My attention was on California and South Dakota, but I tried to include everywhere – and today learned about the New Mexico blaze. And I kept thinking of “the fires of war” raging alongside of physical fires. Seeing too many pictures from Gaza. So this morning I offered prayers for “peace with dignity for all.”

What do I mean by prayer? Well, nearly every morning I sit in meditation and follow it with chanting; the chanting is dedicated for the benefit of all beings and a whole list of specifics. I’ve written about that before. After that, I do an energy healing practice adapted from David Lasocki’s work:

Mentally invoke a powerful healing vortex. Strengthen and heal myself, then name a topic. What I did today was this:

Wrote: “Peace with dignity for all.” Underlined it and made a big circle. In the circle wrote supporting factors, as they were given to me. This was the list:

  • Zen ancestors and all deities (my religion and others)
  • Mountains and Waters Alliance members, and the entire earth
  • the entire human species
  • all sentient beings (includes animals, plants, and I don’t know)
  • all place spirits in the world (Many religions, including Zen, acknowledge local place spirits)
  • dispelling the demons of fear and hate
  • calming greed for power, possessions, and fame
  • Jesus and love (Who better expresses love?)

Then, mentally, I strengthened each one on the list, and their relationships with each other in twos, threes, and so forth. Continued until intuition said finished.

I started writing this letter at the full moon of December, 2017. The moon was brilliant. Since then, sun and moon together have been sliding gently toward the dark. Except for the quietness, it feels like a match for the state of the world: colder, harder, as the actions of “our” government instigate fear and disgust while relentlessly removing human rights and waging war on the natural world including many humans. I’m personally privileged and not much a target in this war, yet. Still, a part of me thinks my primary safety is in the land, the orchard, and the seeds – and in people. Not in laws, elections, governments, and the like, though I dare not ignore them. None of which means I assume I will survive when/if things get hard.

Daniel Quinn, in Ishmael, wrote about two kinds of peoples. One knows the difference between good and evil. The other lives in the hands of the gods. I wish to be one of the latter, but am not. I recall Einstein’s question: “Is the world a friendly place, or not?” My childhood answer was “the natural world yes, humans not” is still strong in me, even in my rational adult mind.

Yes, there have been terrible natural disasters this year, and many we haven’t even noticed. Puerto Rico is still too much without safe water and electricity, and damages to nearby islands are invisible to us in the U.S. Mudslides, floods, earthquakes, droughts, starvation, refugees – only the human response is visible. The last round of wildfires started after I first wrote, and they’re getting attention. Meanwhile the Oval Office provides a circus complete with death-defying acts, while Congress quietly removes civil rights and transfers money from poor to rich. It doesn’t look good.

Except for points of light here and there, acts of kindness, bursts of creativity. And except for a growing resistance to imperialism, to colonization, to oligarchy, to empire – most recently in the #metoo upwelling, but also Black Lives Matter, the indigenous-led pipeline resistance, and more. Here and there court decisions favor people and land: An Oregon judge allowed Our Children’s Trust to sue the federal government for their “constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property” about environmental harm. https://www.ourchildrenstrust.org/us/federal-lawsuit/; a Minnesota court allowed the “necessity defense” for some peaceful water protectors https://www.commondreams.org/news/2017/10/17/victory-valve-turners-judge-allows-necessity-defense-climate-trial; finally a court sentenced a police officer to prison for shooting an unarmed black man in the back during a routine traffic stop. https://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/08/us/south-carolina-officer-is-charged-with-murder-in-black-mans-death.html

More people are speaking in defense of the future, and a little support is showing in low and middle levels of government. There are elections next year and some dream of change. The future is not set.

Mountains and Waters Alliance in 2017

Here at Mountains and Waters Alliance, at Mountains and Waters Farm, we’re seeking to face this situation wholeheartedly and fearlessly. Our premise is that humans are not the only conscious beings, nor are we the only power. We are not alone in our wish to protect the living earth, in our intention to clean up our mess, our will for life to flourish. But as the ones who have done the damage, we need to abandon the colonial mindset and join with the other beings of the earth.

Our will is to listen to those other beings, to become their allies, and together to protect all of us. The whole thing began for me in 2015 when I walked the hillside here asking earth, trees, shrubs, and waters to protect this place from development – and felt their response. In 2016 flowers, trees, and mountains spoke to me during a retreat, and they have not stopped. In summer 2017 an ancient carving on an old hill said to me, “We’ve got it covered. We don’t need your help.” It turned my world upside down. I went home to lie in bed sick for a month, wondering what was left for me, this person, and all of us, to do.

The answer, of course, has not changed, though my identity as a change-maker has to go. My role now is to be part of that “we’ve got it covered” – neither to rest nor to take center stage, but to carry the task allotted me, which seems to be to keep talking and listening with beings of the earth, and to encourage other humans to join me. The morning “prayers” are the steady action, and the meditation is essential both as action and as sustenance.

(Meditation as action? In meditation, we withdraw attention from the workings of the world, and let everything rest. This is an action – call it a strike if you want. I withdraw energy from the workings of greed, anger, and ignorance, stop imagining that I’m a separate being, and allow the movement of the universe to go forward. Others have very different parts – from active resistance to running for office to growing food, caring for children, everything imaginable.)

Other events have shaken my identities as well. At the Sakyadhita (Daughters of Buddha) conference in Hong Kong (a major decision to travel so far; many of you helped that happen) I discovered how far my American Zen priest life is from the life of most Buddhist nuns, my commitment much less tangible than theirs, the freedom and joy equal. I received donations from lay people for no reason than being a nun – an amazing and moving thing every time. The world of Buddhism is amazing; I had a one week immersion, then went to the mountains and then returned to American culture.

A very important new thing is the monthly meetings of the Advisory Council. Five amazing wise and powerful people offer support, challenge me to stay focused, help with decisions – and edit my writing, remind me of the purpose, and let me know that this matters. They give me the confidence to move forward.

This year has been very much about personally slowing down, learning to actually take this work seriously and not jump at every other service opportunity. To believe my own vision, which fits neither mainstream politics nor frontline resistance, is a challenge. This work is quiet. It is intimate. And it is deeply connected with all the others. I feel special affinity for indigenous protection groups, for Climate Disobedience Group, and for the Women’s Congress for Future Generations. Every time an invitation comes up, at least daily, I have to ask myself whether to participate, and how. In 2017 I testified at pipeline hearings in Minnesota, but did not go to the resistance camp http://peaceatstandingrock.com/camp-makwa/. I went to the Women’s Congress and decided to participate in a small way, http://sehn.org/guardianship-of-future-generations/. I wrote about this work in an anthology by Soto Zen women priests, and have more writing and speaking to do.

I continue to teach Zen in Northfield, http://northfieldmeditation.org/upcoming-events-2/, but little else in this quiet year. Some visitors, some conversations with possible residents, taking up part time employment (https://www.therapy-mn.com/team-member/shodo-spring/), and taking care of the land. Learning patience, I remind myself of the Zen ancients who went to the mountains and decades later the students appeared. More patience please!

Last but central: in addition to daily sitting, chanting, and sending healing energy, I’m trying to go out on the land, to listen, to care, to be in relationship with it. The warm fall was a blessing, allowing me to be easily outside long after snow would usually come. We kept having one more warm day exactly when we had a group coming to work outdoors. And now it’s snowy and cold.

The Farm

Living on this land continues to be a miracle. I look for people who will make it theirs as well, put their dreams into it as mine are. In spring Perry and Amanda showed up, planted some things, found mushrooms, disappeared to earn money, and came back in the fall. In fall, anticipating an income, I hired Ryan for farm work, and quickly came to appreciate his intuitive permaculture understanding. So we mended the driveway culvert, protecting it from the next floods, using only what we had on hand (and shovels and a chain saw). He’s growing mushrooms here, will be back in the spring. Nick and Chris came around and left, local young volunteers, and a couple of groups of college students came for projects. We took on the outrageous project of building a deer fence for the orchard, using stakes, rebar, and T-posts (see pictures). The hard part is done.

And because while walking on the hill I got a strong urge to build a meditation hut up there, I invented a monthly potluck gathering with 2 hours of work dedicated to that, or to other spiritual, joyful non-emergency projects.

Reaching Out/Looking Forward

There are two directions. One is deepening, the other broadening. So while I continue to do my own spiritual work for the sake of the whole, there’s also an invitation outward. Early next year we’ll be offering membership in Mountains and Waters Alliance. Let me start now with a brief overview.

  • The core of membership is about being active in this alliance of many beings, and connected with each other. As we work this out, I’ll offer some suggestions for solo or group awareness practices, and will be available for support as you explore what this means for you. That exploration could happen here at the farm, or wherever you are. For those able to come here, there are retreats and short or long term residence is also possible.
  • There’s also volunteer help of many kinds – from farm work to Internet help to food prep, audio editing to construction work to volunteer coordination – your skills are welcome, or simply your energy and willingness.

Donations: Things require money. Right now, Mountains and Waters Alliance is a guest at Shodo’s home. It pays for Internet, paid the bulk of the solar panels, and not much else unless there’s travel to do for teaching or learning. To be more active will involve more money.

  • If you would like to make a year-end donation, please do so here.
 And what can we offer in appreciation? The most important thing is to be a part of this work for the benefit of all beings. Some additional things would include being part of creating the farm as a sanctuary for many, a residence for some; making this your spiritual home; - creating a counterpart wherever you are, in community together. Last, we can create an online community where we encourage each other, foster creativity, share ideas, possibly have world-linking ceremonies and events, and relate to other communities of similar heart. 

Thank you to everyone who has supported this work in the past – the Sakyadhita trip, the solar panels, and everyone who just sent or handed a check without even being asked. This inspires. As it inspires to have partners, allies in the work, mentors, supporters of all kinds.

Closing

May you be at ease, joyful and at peace.

May you be safe physically and mentally.

May you be protected from natural disaster, war, epidemic, and hunger. May you have work that gives meaning. May you love and be loved. May you be unafraid.

May you find yourself completely at home in this world, with our great and wide family of conscious beings.

With deep respect and love,

Shodo Spring

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Farm news

31 Jul

It’s mid-summer. We started strong, selling extra strawberry plants and a few raspberry starts, planting a garden, putting in some mushroom patches. John Hatch brought a barrel of biochar and a pint of wood vinegar, with instructions, and I used some of each. I set up a watering system, to water plants every day, and John came out and watered them and the house plants. Perry Post, who has dreams for this land, did a lot of work on the things mentioned above, then got busy at home. I went away to the conference – in midsummer: what kind of farmer does that? When I came back the critters had eaten most of the plants I’d started near the house, and reed canary grass was stronger than anything.

Fast forward: some watering, some weeding. Few tomatoes (too close to the box elder, maybe?), many black raspberries, and some red and yellow ones. The strawberries are starting their second round. There are more vegetables near the house than I thought. I’m trimming back the raspberries. AND…..

DEER FENCE TIME. Of all the essential things to do, I picked the deer fence because the deer really like to eat our

the prototype

little trees. Copying the one built by Peter and Keith, my permaculture teachers. I spent an afternoon with Nick, experimenting and planning. Then two days with students from the Heart of the Heartland program – they spent six weeks learning about small farms, having workshops and working on farms. They’re in the photo, and they were really a lot of fun. (On the rainy day they also cleaned my barn/garage, which desperately needed it.

DEER FENCE SATURDAY AUGUST 5. We have a half day, 1-5, to continue building the deer fence. It would be really wonderful to finish it – many hands and all that.

If you have questions, call me at 507-384-8541 or email me at shodo.spring@gmail.com. If you know you want to come, just tell me – the same way, or by signing up on the Facebook event page.

Buddhist women’s conference

30 Jul

Dear Friends,

The Sakyadhita Conference was over a month ago. Please forgive my silence. I’ve been sick, during and after the conference and also in a deep transition state. I will just write a little now.

The conference was an immersion in the varieties of Buddhist women – particularly the many kinds of nuns. Those of us in Japanese traditions, wearing black and having wide lifestyle choices, were very few. I made friends with a wide range of nuns who lived with full vows – celibacy, wearing robes all the time, living monastically, depending on gifts for food and shelter any day. Just one example: a woman from Australia, in the Tibetan lineage, who was raising money to support children in India – and wouldn’t think of taking any of the donations to support herself. She had lived at a homeless shelter, in a van, on a beach, and was currently on her mother’s couch. So she’s raising money to start a monastery so Western monastics in Australia will be able to live the full monastic life.

Meeting these women, it didn’t seem like the vows took anything from them at all – but liberated them to fully live out the Dharma, each in her own particular way. That’s probably an extreme oversimplification.

Just two women came to my workshop, titled “Asking all beings for help with climate change.” We had a lovely discussion, and after the conference was over we walked together to “the peak.” On our way up, Janet (a Hong Kong local) took us to a Buddha carved into the hillside – Amitabha. We spent an hour there, finding it difficult to leave.

At the top of the hill was an ordinary park, with a water fountain, exercise stations, grass, and a tree identification walk. Janet and Sophie returned, I continued – wanting to spend as much time as possible. My way has been to notice where I’m drawn, to have conversations with those, and to be present as fully as possible. What those conversations mean, I don’t know. I’ve said that humans are not the only conscious beings on the planet; this is how I try to work with that understanding.

I asked this tree to give fertility in my work. Thought she said yes, but I stopped again on the way back and she said let go, let go, let go; trying is the obstacle.

The tree with the great roots offered endurance.

The waterfall was full of light, life, youth. She did not give permission to share photos, except of this formation which seemed to me like the face of the spirit of the falls. I could have stayed forever.

Coming back down the hill, I went back toward the Buddha. This time I saw another figure in the rock wall: a carved dragon and phoenix. So I stopped for conversation. Something important happened here; I’m still trying to realize it. I asked if they had something to tell me; they said “We’ve been doing this forever.” (This is the dance of creation.) I asked if I could give them something, and they said no – they didn’t need a thing. And I asked if they would help me. The response felt like laughter: “You are just a speck on the waves of the universe. You are nothing.” I felt an incredible lightness, the weight of the world suddenly off my shoulders.

The Buddha was a little gentler, offering laughter. And – what is this?

I never thought I was singlehandedly trying to stop climate change, yet the words I’ve used about the Alliance have suggested that its purpose is to organize (beings of all kinds) for the healing of life on earth, including human consciousness. Suddenly I realized that I was engaged in trying to make things happen. Some of my friends immediately understood. Beth said that letting go makes one more effective.

So I got sick. It turns out it wasn’t just jet lag, it was shingles, and I’m just beginning to return to functioning while my body still hurts. During that time, I interviewed and got a position in a psychotherapy clinic – so I’ll be reactivating old skills, doing work I like, and spending about half my week doing that professional work. It feels like the right step at this time.

I’ll write a separate note about things happening on the farm, and a volunteer day this coming Saturday.

But next Sunday, August 6, I give a dharma talk at Clouds in Water Zen Center, in St. Paul. Here is information, if you’re in the area and would like to come. Look for “Sunday community service.” Address is at the bottom of the page.

Love,

Shodo

Update from Sakyadhita Conference

23 Jun

I’m at the Sakyadhita Conference, just checking in after the first two days.

We began the conference with a series of sacred chants, from nuns in different traditions. It was beautiful. I would like to send more photos, but I’ll post them on the blog; this one is from Theravadin nuns of India, Burma, Nepal, Vietnam, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh. Then we had brief welcome speeches, a ceremony of lighting the altar.

Most of the conference will consist of panels of speakers, on a variety of topics related to Buddhism and to women.The first day panels were mostly stories of Buddhist women across cultures, and specifically in Hong Kong where we are meeting. The second day was “Mindfulness across cultures” and “Building healthy families and communities.” Tomorrow will be sessions on Social Action and on Buddhist Education. Nearly everyone is speaking in English, though it’s a second language for most of them.

My roommate, a scholar, gave a talk yesterday. She was researching feminism in monastics in the area where she does research. After a nun said “I’m not a feminist” Linda began investigating. Her current thought, after four interviews and some study, is that they reject the conflict associated with feminism; nuns and monks cooperate; but they accept women’s strength. I really liked her process of inquiry.

I’ll write more as we go through the conference. And I’ll send pictures.

It’s very hot, and there’s a long walk from my residence hall to the meeting space, but once I’m there I can stay all day. I’ve met some Zen women that I know, and we’ve sort of bonded with the other monastics wearing black robes – mostly Nichiren tradition. (It’s okay if that means nothing to you.) The variety of styles and colors of robes is beautiful and amazing. I didn’t know where the pink robes come from (Vietnam), or the all-white ones (Nepal). Gray are China and Korea, maroon are Mongolian or Tibetan Buddhism, black are from Japan, and there are lots of brown or gold ones. The Theravadins (classical Buddhists) come in a wide variety – you can see them in the first photo of chanting. (A Nepali nun with minimal English helped me identify where the various robes were from.)

A moving thing has happened twice now: a lay person walks up to me, bows, and hands me a small red envelope. I bow in return and accept the envelope. Each time, 20 Hong Kong dollars – worth maybe $2.50 or so – but it’s amazing to me. There are hundreds of monastics here; I don’t know how many of them have received this gift, but I know it is to be accepted warmly and with gratitude. Receiving a gift (whether asked or not) compels a certain quality of life – to live wholeheartedly, to be worthy of the gift.

It is amazing to be here. Also exhausting, but that’s okay. My workshop is two days from now.

 

Prayers

2 Jun

Every morning, after meditation and chanting, I offer additional healing energy to one person or topic. Today – the day after Trump pulled out of the Paris climate accords, I sent strength and healing to these:

Protect the earth from politicians and capitalists my choice; pick your own villains)

  • The Earth herself, and the beings of the earth (acknowledging that they have power)
  • Rising mass consciousness
  • Empowerment of the people, for good
  • Honest courts (addressing corruption in government, responding to climate change lawsuits, and much more)
  • Spiritual leaders (Pope Francis, Dalai Lama, and all of them – may they step up to the need)
  • World leaders being statesmen (and stateswomen? Language is problematic)
  • Responsible business leaders (imagine it)
  • Withering of the Deep State (the conspiracy-theorist name for what really runs this country)
  • Repentance of false Christians (and not to single them out…)
  • Repentance of all religious political extremists, including the sincerely deluded

That was the list that showed up in my mind this morning. Feel free to add or change.

The method I use for healing energy is like this: Create a powerful healing vortex (just imagine it). Strengthen each of the items on the list. Then strengthen the relationships between and among them – in twos, threes, and/or all together. You can feel when it’s done. Of course, use whatever form of prayer or healing energy makes sense to you.

I’d love to hear if you do it.

Warmly,

Shodo

Mountains and Waters Alliance newsletter: “The mind of war”

23 May

The mind of war

I noticed, suddenly, that I am at war with the way things are.

Last summer, I noticed being at war with buckthorn, grasses, and pocket gophers – beings of nature that act like civilized humans, taking all the space, destroying what gets in their way – and interfering with my food supply. This was a disturbing realization, and I’ve been studying it.

Now it’s clear that my war is bigger. I’m at war with the whole way things are, particularly the human world. I’ve made a noble cause of it, called “healing the mind of separation,” and “releasing human arrogance,” but truth is I really really want the civilization around me to change or perhaps self-destruct before it destroys life on earth.

Suddenly I saw my own war, saw how I am just like the system that shaped me – not free – and still part of the problem.

Actually, it’s a relief. As I wrote beautiful words about what the problem is and how we need to change, there was a little uneasiness. Now I know why. Something inside me had to move. I had to fall down, had to lose my hubris. So I’m glad to be present with this uncomfortable awareness.

So I write today from the middle of uncertainty and unraveling. If I waited for the answers to become clear, that would be waiting to return to hubris. But I can meet you here in the empty space; we’ll see what offers itself. Meanwhile, life continues.

Requests and practical things

Housesitter wanted June 11-July 1, while I’m at the Sakyadhita Conference. A little work, a wonderful space, and garden vegies or foraging. Otherwise, someone to do a little work (house plants and mowing) during that time – volunteer, barter, or paid.

Donations: If you would like to support my travel to Sakyadhita, anything will help. Seriously – from a $20 donation we get $19.12; from $5 we get $4.55. Here’s the link for donating, and much more information.

A ride to the plane (for Sakyadhita) June 11 morning, and back July 1 about 9 pm.

Residents and/or farm managers – Possibilities are still open. Please contact me if tempted.

Strawberry plants, raspberry plants, and various other things are available for purchase – or freely given to volunteers. Just ask.

 

Farming and volunteering.

These are dates for group volunteering. You can arrange to come at other times. PLEASE LET ME KNOW WHEN YOU PLAN TO COME.

May 27-28 Planting garden, pulling buckthorn, maybe weeding. Take home healthy berry plants for your own garden.

June 10 A short day, 9-2 or so. More of the same.

July 8-9 We’ll start at 10 am with a 2-hour presentation on permaculture. Then get to work – after lunch.

July 17 & 26 A student group will be working here 9-5. Your company is welcome.

August 5-6 Early harvest? Stockade fence? More orchard work?

Sept 9-10 same as August.

Oct 14-15 Definitely harvest.

Nov 11-12 Late harvest and closing down for the season.

How it works:

  • You can arrive at 9 or 1 any day, stay for a half day, a whole day, or stick around for potluck, community time, even overnight. Any time except June 10.
  • Lunch is offered if you are here. Snacks and water during work time.
  • Potluck is flexible – there’s always pizza in the freezer, and the magic nettle soup – but your contributions are also welcome. Same for breakfast in the morning.
  • Community time could be: walks, woods and river time; foot rubs; music; making ice cream; Q&A on Zen, permaculture, world events, or whatever.
  • Sunday morning zazen is at 6 am, if you’d like to join. Ask for instruction if you need.

The projects named may change. If you have a particular skill or crave a particular kind of work (chain saw, building, digging, planting….) let me know. Ask if you need carpool help. There’s a serious possibility you might go home with berry starts, herbs, or something else, if you want. AND LET ME KNOW WHEN YOU PLAN TO COME.

Retreats and teaching activities

June: No retreats because I’m traveling.

July: retreat at the farm July 15-19 (ends at noon). Please note: when alone, I just sit zazen all day. When people join me, I can offer zazen instruction, introduction to Zen, dialogue, and mindful work opportunities.

August: retreat at the farm August 19-23.

September: retreat at the farm September 16-20

October: retreat at the farm, October 21-26.

November-December: to be arranged.

 

Teaching elsewhere

June 7, July 5 & 19, August 2, 16, & 30: The Northfield group will meet less formally during the summer, open to questions, discussion, and topics. We’ll still meet 6:25-8:30, with sitting meditation at beginning and end. Please bring your questions. Located at Northfield Buddhist Center, 313½ Division St, Northfield (park in rear).

June 24 or 25: At Sakyadhita International Conference of Buddhist Women, I’ll be offering a workshop. It’s in Hong Kong, so you probably don’t want to come.

Sept 1-4: I will offer at least one workshop at Gathering of the Guilds, a Midwest permaculture gathering held just three miles from here.

January 13, 2018: One-day retreat with Red Clay Sangha in Atlanta, Georgia.

January 14, 2018: Dharma talk, Red Clay Sangha.

I’ll post other scheduled talks on the calendar here. If your group would like to arrange a talk, workshop, or retreat, please get in touch.

Your support asked – by April 30

21 Apr

Dear Friends,

I have the opportunity to present a workshop titled “Asking all beings for help with climate change” at the biennial gathering of Sakyadhita, “Daughters of the Buddha”, an international organization of Buddhist women. I submitted a proposal, in line with the core work of Mountains and Waters Alliance, and they said yes.

Then I thought for a long time about the time, the fossil fuels used to get there, and my intention with this work. The first proposal came from an intuitive rush of energy: my work will be welcome there. The final decision required me to weigh the impact of the travel, to deeply consider who I am and what my work is, and to listen to trusted advisors. Finally I too said yes.

The trip will cost about $2500. I’m hoping to raise $2000 through an online fundraiser, and cover the rest myself.  https://www.youcaring.com/mountainsandwatersalliance-806232  The fundraiser site has a video from the last conference, and some more information.

I will offer one workshop, in this giant gathering of Buddhists, and do my best to share and invite the work of the Alliance. I will attend many workshops, meet women (and some men) from places and cultures I can’t imagine. Born and raised in American culture, for years I’ve been working to release the habits of my own mind – habits of ownership, colonization, separation. (That is my personal piece of the work I offer through the Alliance.) So the most important part is probably that I let go of American superiority and allow myself to listen, see, hear, taste a multitude of ways of being. To be changed. And to bring that back.

Of course I don’t know what will happen. I’ll send notes back so you can know too.

Love,

Shodo

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