How to Stop Compulsive Thoughts: Letting Go in Four Steps

What can we do with those pesky recurring thoughts?

They are usually of a negative variety: about longing, or anger, or humiliation, or perhaps vengeance. You’re thinking of something unjust that happened to you or something someone said to you. Or perhaps, you want someone to act or feel a certain way. Sometimes it’s your to-do lists. Sometimes recurring thoughts are about wanting to be heard. You have something to say to someone and haven’t been able to and thought-conversations swirl in your head, over and over again.

Sometimes the voice in your head is yelling at you. Sometimes it tells you how weird your life is, or why this happens to you all the time. Sometimes it questions your sanity. Have you noticed that your internal voice is confrontational and highly critical? You wouldn’t let anyone else talk to you the way the voice talks to you. Would you?

Recurring thoughts and underlying emotions arise from the past. They arise from samskara, the conditioned and unconscious mind. They are the output of memory and grooves left over from past reactions. We can see that they steal our joy. We can see that they are useless. We can also see that the mind-ego takes a peculiar pleasure from cycling through these thought-stories, over and over and over and over again.

So what can we do about compulsive thoughts?

Let me illustrate the technique. Have you ever had a song playing in your head repeatedly? You can get rid of the recurring song instantly, if you want. Look at with Awareness. Look at with attention, without thinking about it or participating in it. Contain it whole in your attention. Look at it hard, and it goes away.

The critical part of the technique is simply using attention in a slightly different way. Attention is observing, being present, being a silent witness, being the unoccupied effortless choiceless awareness that you already are, to thinking, rather than a particular thought.

We can get there in four steps:

Acknowledge

You have to acknowledge the recurring thoughts and the underlying emotions. It isn’t always straightforward to find the underlying emotions. The underlying emotions usually are driven by on or more of four motivators: wanting control, wanting security, wanting approval, or wanting to run away from fear.

For example, you may have recurring thoughts about someone you are longing for, and the underlying emotions may be hurt, jealousy or a desperate wanting. What do the hurt and jealousy stem from? From one or more of: wanting control, security, approval, or fear of separation. Pin down the motivating drivers to one or more of the four wants, and it will help you see the mechanism of the mind-ego.

Accept

You have acknowledged the compulsive thoughts and emotions and you can now accept them just as they are. Don’t judge, don’t alter, don’t analyze, and don’t feel guilty about thinking. Simply accept unconditionally, with love, that these thoughts and emotions come up.

The energy of opposing these thoughts simply energizes more thought. All you get is more thinking and more judgment. Accept, without adding another layer of suffering.

Forgive

With awakening, we realize eternal innocence. Everyone does absolutely the best they can in the circumstances and conditioning they find themselves. So what is it that we can forgive? Who can we forgive? How can we be forgiven when we realize we are not the ego? Do we forgive the drunken monkey or the wild stallion he has been riding? There is a realization that there is nobody who needs forgiving.

Nevertheless, forgiveness is an important heart technique for many. The Buddha said anger is like a hot coal you carry around, waiting to throw at someone. It burns you while you carry it around. Forgiving is dropping the hot coal.

Forgiving is releasing and healing. If you’ve been practicing the release technique (see How to release Big and Small Emotions), you can see forgiveness and releasing are exactly the same thing.

How do we forgive?

Start with acknowledging that forgiving is not easy for the ego. Acknowledge that the superior sort of forgiving that the ego does is not forgiving. Forgiving someone with the feeling that we can forgive because we are better and bigger, is not forgiving. Know that it is easy and simple to release and forgive; the reason we think it is difficult is because the ego-mind takes a peculiar pleasure from holding onto to negativity. So ask yourself: would rather be right or happy?

Let Go

Look hard at the recurring thoughts with Awareness as a witness, not getting wrapped up in the story, but just witnessing them in Awareness. Hold the thoughts and emotions in Awareness. Be the gentle, unoccupied, choiceless awareness. Fully experience them. Give them space. Give them even more space. Let go.

Your turn. What thoughts are swirling in your head these days? Take five seconds, center yourself in your breath, and then look at it. What’s looping around?

107 thoughts on “How to Stop Compulsive Thoughts: Letting Go in Four Steps

  1. Megan "JoyGirl!" Bord

    I’ll have to try this four-step process when it comes to recurring thoughts around food. I know when I feel the desire to eat more than I’m physically hungry for that it comes from an emotion of some sort. I don’t always take time to analyze the emotion in a way that helps me release it lovingly.

    Thank you for writing this!
    .-= Megan “JoyGirl!” Bord´s last blog ..Who Are We If We Don’t…? =-.

    Reply
    1. Kaushik Post author

      Hi Megan,

      That’s an interesting application. Please let me know how it goes. I’m writing a book on weight loss using awareness techniques. It’s about giving attention to the feelings around food and how food tastes and how we feel before and after we eat, without trying to control how much, when or what to eat. It works! So please do let me know what your experience is.

      Thanks, and I hope all is well,
      k

      Reply
    1. Kaushik Post author

      Hi Srinivas,

      Thanks! You’ve had a very important realization, and you’ll find that as you move along, it will be less and less effort.

      I hope life is flowing for you!

      Kaushik

      Reply
  2. Brenda

    Hi Kaushik

    I looked at some videos on Chris Edgar’s site earlier today on this same topic. He says the same thing you do about dealing with pesky thoughts. “Look at it with Awareness. Look at it with attention, without thinking about it or participating in it. Contain it whole in your attention. Look at it hard, and it goes away.” I conclude that this is my central message for the day. Thanks, and serendipity to you.
    .-= Brenda´s last blog ..Gospel Song =-.

    Reply
    1. Kaushik Post author

      Namaste Brenda,

      It’s so very nice to hear from you again!

      Every awakening technique really is about being present, and it can be nicely summed up in what you quoted: “Look at it with Awareness. Look at it with attention, without thinking about it or participating in it. Contain it whole in your attention.” Releasing and healing, for example, is about letting go, but it always starts with full acceptance and full attention. With practice, this whole awareness becomes effortless, gentle, and technique-less.

      I’ll have to check out Chris Edgar.

      Serendipity!

      Kaushik

      Reply
  3. Zeenat {Positive Provocations}

    HI Kaushik,
    Just my luck, that i find such a lovely blog today. This is my first visit here. I am so glad to see what youre doing. Your articles are wonderful. And your writing skills simple and practically effective. Will have to try you 4 steps for sure.
    Keep up the good work.
    I have already subscribed to your RSS feed so will never miss another article:)
    .-= Zeenat {Positive Provocations}´s last blog ..Everything Happens For The Best….??? =-.

    Reply
    1. Kaushik Post author

      Hi Zeenat,

      Thank you for your kind words!

      I’ve read your articles and comments on other sites and really look forward to your comments here! Welcome!

      Kaushik

      Reply
  4. jonathanfigaro

    The best way to deal with negative mind talk is to “Just Let go” Kaushik said. Accept it…………..But let it go. Let you mind become consumed with positive talk, that will give you joy and make you feel great

    Principle 1: The only think that matter is that YOU feel GOOD!
    .-= jonathanfigaro´s last blog ..Power of Positive Thinking =-.

    Reply
    1. Kaushik Post author

      Hi Jonathan,
      What you say is very important. There is power in positivity, but the ego can use positive thinking as way of covering up the negative. The negative does not go away; it remains and indeed festers and persists. When we face up to the ‘negative’, own up to what we have become, without judgment, accept it fully, feel it fully, then it is natural and easy to let go. When fear and judgment are let go of, what is left is love. What can be more positive than love!

      Thanks for your incisive comment.

      k

      Reply
    2. Ed

      Accepting it is easy, like falling off a log. The thoughts/feelings/emotions are there I fully accept that. I’m not judging them or trying to change them, just “watching them”. But, “watching” them makes them stronger (like giving Popeye a can of spinach) You suggest letting THEM go? They become so strong when I “watch” them that I wish they would let ME go.

      Reply
    1. Kaushik Post author

      Hi Jonathan,

      Yes, this can be the case. It’s possible that some of us use positive thinking to cover up suffering. When this happens, the suffering doesn’t go away. It persists and festers. I believe that this in fact is the psychological basis of depression and anxiety. When rage and fear and other emotions are suppressed, the result is depression and anxiety.

      Thanks for expanding the discussion!

      K

      Reply
    1. Kaushik Post author

      Hi Jonathan,

      I don’t think I can always know if positive thinking is covering up how I really feel. These days I feel positive. I’m not positive from positive thinking. I’m positive because in the last two years I have released negativity and awareness has expanded.

      Perhaps people turn to positive thinking when they are negative. If they are already positive, there’s no need for positive thinking. So I’m assuming that forced positive thinking happens when we are actually very negative. But it really doesn’t matter. There is nothing here that will satisfy the intellect.

      My experience is, over the last two years, I have released negativity and fears. I have expanded awareness. There have been ups and downs, but today I am at peace. There is an existential joy–a joy that is different from the egoic giddiness we feel when we get something we want. That type of happiness is always temporary and fragile.

      Thanks again for expanding the discussion!

      k

      Reply
      1. Ed

        Can someone please give an in depth explanation of “releasing negativity and fears”.
        Most of the “mindfulness” research I have does pretty much suggest that you “just let it go”, but none of it explains HOW?

        Reply
          1. Ed

            I have tried this literally hundreds of thousands of times over the years. I can not do this. Again the link that you sent just basically says “just let go” like every other thing I have tried. The question is HOW do I let go. It is not as simple as the linked article suggests.

            Reply
  5. Brenda

    wow, Kaushik, your discussion with Jonathan is as good as your article. very instructive, helpful, sounds wholly right, keeps getting clearer and simpler the more you repeat it. kudos and thank yous.
    .-= Brenda´s last blog ..Simple Signs =-.

    Reply
    1. Kaushik Post author

      Namaste Brenda! It’s always nice to hear from you. You’re absolutely right, a healthy discussion adds as much or even more value than the original article. Thank you for noticing the writing is getting simpler and clearer–I’ve heard that from others as well. It gets better with practice and feedback. Thanks again!

      k

      Reply
  6. Gina Loree Marks

    I am on board with all of these things you’ve written. I have to say though, I’ve one thing stuck in my head and heart for the better part of a year. I worked on it. I’ve worked on not working on it. I’ve approached it with awareness, forgiveness, love, anger, therapy, beer… you name it. But it still follows me. I guess some things take more time than others, and I’ve just come to accept that it’s like an old injury. It eases with time, but still reminds me it’s there from time to time, and I feel a little irritation in response.
    .-= Gina Loree Marks´s last blog ..Inspiration/Respiration =-.

    Reply
    1. Kaushik Post author

      Hi Gina,

      I had had one thing stuck in my head for the last two years as well. It was an egoic longing. The intensity was inexplicable. I will write more about that. It was classic, with all the stories of desperate wanting and misery. As you point out, I tried all sorts of ways to overcome it.

      Our stories are painful but we still take a peculiar pleasure in running through them, over and over again. It fits with the ego’s version of how life should be. And, we have come to believe that healing takes time. Time does not heal. Healing heals.

      Release, and continue to release. Be aware.

      And someday we laugh at all the drama.

      k

      Reply
    2. Ed

      What if you’ve been working on this for the better part of 10 (maybe 15) years? And rather than easing with time it keeps getting more intense. Not all old injuries ease with time. And isn’t telling myself that the “me that is in pain” does not really just another way of the mind attempting to avoid the pain. I have pain in my right knee from an old injury, time does not ease this pain, telling myself that the pain in my knee “does not exist” does not make it go away. I have seen no better results in applying this to compulsive thinking (that causes pain). This pain is just as real I totally accept that… again accepting it does not diminish it, it makes it stronger.

      Reply
  7. Gina Loree Marks

    Thanks Kaushik. And I know the ego game. Always holding out the ‘your life would be so much better if only…’ and whenever anything feels remotely off, that ‘thing’, that thought, pops up as the solution. Like a well-worn groove or rut. And as soon as Higher Self reminds me that that belief is really not true, I feel a sense of relief and release. But it’s become so automatic. And yes, my ego delights in the ‘running through’.. I can feel that, at first, until I get caught up in the illusion of lack.

    Oh, and I have laughed at the drama, and continue to do so, even as I complain about all this. :)
    .-= Gina Loree Marks´s last blog ..Inspiration/Respiration =-.

    Reply
    1. Kaushik Post author

      Ah, yes, Gina, ‘if I could only have this one thing…’ It’s a common story. You’re right, it’s a groove–I call the pain-body the groove-complex–the well-worn ruts that we slide through automatically.

      Releasing, in the same way can become automatic.

      Thanks for sharing so openly!

      k

      Reply
    2. Ed

      “And as soon as Higher Self reminds me that that belief is really not true”

      What if life constantly reminds you that the belief IS true?
      What is the feeling then?

      Reply
    1. Kaushik Post author

      Hi Liara,
      It is very much about expanding perspective. As you say, it’s as easy or difficult as we make, and perhaps that is what makes it so delicate. Thanks for insight.
      k

      Reply
  8. PapaJon

    Hi Kaush!

    Pain-body ….. groove complex… Yeah the same…. I was trained and then trained again to “think” ……. Now I am forgetting, re-training, de-programming…….. Etc without thought….

    Mr Tolle, you (and others) have been helpful pointers for me….

    Thx,
    pj

    Reply
    1. Kaushik Post author

      Good to hear from you PapaJon. Yes, that’s it, we all build up junk in our mind and bodies. Release and expanding awareness peels it off, in layers! Tolle has been great!
      k

      Reply
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  11. Alci

    Hi, i really liked this article since it reflects something that has been tormented me for years.. is about recurring thoughts, specially as for any song(s) that playing in my head repeatedly…specialy at night to the point that frecuently stop me for sleeping..
    how do i get rid of them? ok, you say that one should take into account 4 steps,
    But in my case for example in the first step “Acknowledge” you mention 4 possibles sources:wanting control, wanting security, wanting approval, or wanting to run away from fear. (?) here lies my confusion..since i am not sure what is because i dont find to any of them as the cause of the problem.. i mean when a son(s) repeatedly play in my head i check the 4 categories and any seems the to be the real for me…
    the second step “accept” , well ok i dont have problem with it..in other words i accept it. no judgement- no critic- no analyse…etc
    the third step i dont understand it simply because Who should i forgive? remember the song is something impersonal.. its not about someone.. what should i do in this step?
    the fourth step “Let go” i dont have problem either.
    so please guide me to any way to overcome this situation..
    and again many thanks

    Reply
    1. Kaushik Post author

      Hi Alci,
      Letting go of a song can be done by awareness. The kind of compulsive thinking I talk about in this article are the kind of thoughts and emotions we can’t let go of easily, such as when we re longing for someone.

      I suggest two things. One is when you are trying to sleep and the song is insistent in the head, try listening to guided meditation. Here is a really good one from Adyashanti: http://www.oprah.com/spirit/Adyashantis-Meditation-Allowing-Everything-to-Be-As-It-Is

      The other thing I was going to recommend is to observe the song playing in your head, just like we would observe thoughts. I just realized that even though “observing thought” is a technique I recommend very often, I don’t have an article on it! I will publish one soon. In the meantime, try this:

      Observe thought – Be a passive witness of your mind. Observe, without judging or analyzing. Observe thoughts, emotions, and perceptions. Gaps will appear between thoughts, and thoughts will lose their compulsive momentum, and gaps of awareness will expand. These short gaps, repeated many times, is Awareness.

      I hope this helps. Let me know.

      Love and peace,
      k

      Reply
      1. Ed

        What if I “Be a passive witness of my mind. Observe, without judging or analyzing. Observe thoughts, emotions, and perceptions” and the thoughts do not loose there momentum (they gain momentum). What if this causes the short “gaps” that I used to have to vanish, and thoughts now run wild in circular motions to the point where it is impossible to tell where one ends and the next begins. What then?

        Reply
  12. tina

    i was browsing the web and stumbled on this article. can you advise me on my compulsive thoughts. i recently lost a great love due to my compulsive thoughts and texting him over and over again after the intial texts received no response.my compulsive thoughts were why was he not texting me to say whatever. i did this for 3 days which totalled around 70 texts. he finally called me and said he could not continue with me because of the texts. i do believe he may have used this as an excuse. i really didn’t feel i was doing anything wrong, just wanted to communicate with him. he said i’m too compulsive and the texts were over the top. your help is greatly appreciated.

    Reply
    1. Kaushik Post author

      Hi Tina,

      When it comes these sort of incidents, we’ve probably all experienced this sort of behavior. In the relationships, all our deep patterns and conditioning seem to come to the surface. Our need for approval, security, completeness, and control comes out takes a hold of us in these situations.

      I suggest:

      -If you find that you are compulsive in other areas aside from this one incident you describe, you should seek help.
      -Learn an Awareness technique (meditation, observing thought, etc.). Explore here using the search and categories.
      -Learn a release technique. Here is a very effective release technique: http://www.beyond-karma.com/how-to/how-to-release-big-and-small-emotions-release/
      -Go to the External resources page. I particularly recommend this forum for you.

      Thanks for visiting and commenting. Feel free to contact me directly from the About page.

      love and peace,
      k

      Reply
  13. Eddie

    I’ve been dealing with some bad phrases that enter my head, and I can’t seem to forget about them. I’m not a bad person by any means, I have just have had hear recently negative phrases enter my head, one in particular that keeps popping up in my mind. This has been going on for about 3 months. Can you help?

    Reply
    1. Kaushik Post author

      Hi Eddie,

      I understand what you mean about negative recurring thoughts. The more you try to control them the more insistent they become. You can’t thwart thoughts.

      What’s worked for me is allowing and watching, with patience and love.

      Allow the thoughts and watch them as witness, taking a step back. Observe thoughts. Search here for articles on observing thoughts.

      As you observe, you’ll find that thoughts lose their momentum.

      Also consider therapy and professional help. Check out some of the forums for advice on this. I recommend the Eckart Tolle forum on the “External Resources” page.

      Try the release technique which I talk about here. This is for releasing emotions more than thoughts, but it does build up the natural of skill we all have of choosing to let go.

      I hope this helps.

      k

      Reply
      1. Ed

        “As you observe, you’ll find that thoughts lose their momentum.”

        What if observing them makes them gain so much momentum that you can’t keep up with them?

        Reply
  14. nina

    I love that “Accept, without adding another layer of suffering”.
    Recurring thoughts of pain from my break up – how do I release that?

    Reply
    1. Kaushik Post author

      The Dalai Lama says that when you don’t get what you want, sometimes it’s a wonderful stroke of luck.

      This is how I see the pain of a break up. Of course, when you are feeling the pain, it doesn’t seem like a wonderful stroke of luck. But it is indeed our best opportunity to awaken.

      The pain of break ups seem particularly severe because this is when all elements of our ego and pain-body come out to play. This is the best time to practice: to be present, to observe, to release, to see that the you which is in pain does not even exist.

      Reply
      1. Ed

        “This is the best time to practice: to be present, to observe, to release, to see that the you which is in pain does not even exist.”

        What if being “present” and observing the pain body gives it so much strength that there is no release? And isn’t saying “the you which is in pain does not even exist” just the mind’s (or the ego’s) way of rationalizing this, and attempting to avoid the pain?
        Isn’t mindfulness about NOT avoiding the pain or trying to convince ourselves that the pain “does not exist”? The pain does exist. “watching” it or telling myself that it “does not exist” brings no relief. Watching it makes it more intense, and fooling myself into believing that it does not exist only stuffs it down and it manifests itself in different ways.

        Reply
  15. love you guys

    thankyou,, im 18 and tried not facing, even punishing my self for thoughts i had,, reallly gonna give this a go, this works for the long term… right.. until said thoughts no longer occur?

    Reply
  16. Beth

    (Im 20) Made sense…everything did. I found myself agreeing to all of it. Until I to the forgive and forget part. I know these steps and know that they could help, if only I learned how to LET GO. I’m ready to take those thoughts down before it takes me down. Do you think a physiologist would help? Even after I have seen one for a year and nothing has happened?

    Reply
  17. Emily

    I have compulsive thinking about an old friend. I met her in college and she was so bitchy to me.. well she wasnt my friend it was my roomates friend from home. She had a very bitchy personality and turned around one time in the middle of a meeting and said “DUDE” cause i was texting.. that was snobby. I dont know why i think i still want to be friends with her. I wish i never met her. She was immature and her roomate tried fighting me. She now doesnt talk to me and i dont talk to them. My mind always tells me it was my fault and its been about 2 months and ive been put on Celexa. I feel like ill never forget. I feel like i could of trusted her and i feel like i still do. I dont want to see her ever again or talk to her. I delted her off of facebook and my phone… Will i ever get over this?

    Reply
    1. Kaushik Post author

      Yes, of course, you will get over this.

      What’s been most helpful to me is the understanding that there really is only one problem in all of us, and it is fear. This small bit of fear comes about very early in our lives and colors everything we know and believe and say and do and feel. Looking at the sense of me has also been very helpful. And of course the release technique.

      Reply
  18. vanessa

    Hi
    I am a new follower of your blog and there have been many changes in my life over the last 18 months which i am struggling with and eventually anxiety and depression and a complete lack of confidence came ( lost my brother, lost my auntie, lost my job under difficult circumstances and have managed to find a part time one now which is very different …i worked with 100 people now i work alone ) I have also started a volunteer job today ..

    I am wondering how to begin to get the confidence back and move through the anxiety and depression ..please help

    Reply
    1. Kaushik Post author

      Hi Vanessa,

      Thanks for writing and thanks for your openness.

      I wouldn’t presume to give life-advice, because now it’s strikingly clear to me that the original problem is fear, and the fear affects each one of us in a highly individual ways.

      But I can tell you some of the things that I’ve found most helpful.

      It can be helpful to learn a release technique. I have one that has worked very well for me and others. There are also many other release methods.

      It can be to bring attention to the sense of I AM. John Sherman is particularly good at explaining this (johnsherman.org);

      It help to develop awareness. Simply to look without thinking or judgment.

      I’ve found it very helpful to simplify my life. Fewer obligations, fewer goals (really just one), less to do, cleaner, minimalist sort of living.

      Don’t be afraid to seek help. There are certainly have been times for me where I have wanted to be alone and isolated, and there have been times when I want to share. Friends and family, certainly. Looking towards professionals, therapists, counselors–that’s not a bad thing. Support groups and forums can be helpful. John Sherman has a pretty good forum, and http://eckhart-tolle-forum.inner-growth.info/ is good too.

      More and more it seems to be about letting go of the false. That’s not the easiest thing to do, but it’s inevitable once you start.

      I hope some of this has been helpful to you.

      Take care
      k

      Reply
  19. vanessa

    Hi Kaushik
    Thanks for your reply …yes it did start as fear ..fear that i wasnt going to be good enough even in the small job !5 hours …fear that life would never be good again…fear that my mother who is 83 would die and leave me alone

    Now i am working alone in the office most of the time and fear being alone to such an extent that it effects any enjoyment that i might get out of the job and this leaves me very vunerable ..how can i get through this …also i have a lot of time which i am not used to and cos i am depressed find it difficult to do things even though there are things to do

    I have support from my gp and a counsellor ..but i think maybe they are missing something ..if you can make some suggestions about these issues that i can follow through it would be good

    will i ever get through this …it has got a little better over the last month but still not fully up to my normal self by a long way
    vanessa

    Reply
  20. vanessa

    ps also can you say how you release negative thoughts i have been using your tech on the feelings of anxiety and mostly it is helping
    vanessa

    Reply
    1. Kaushik Post author

      Hi Vanessa,

      It really is all about letting go…not about understanding new stuff but letting go. You can let go of negative thoughts and emotions just in the same way that you are letting go of anxiety.

      Completely allow whatever the current state is; if negativity comes up, then that’s what it is. Allow it, observe it. Observing here means just looking, without judgement or interfering. And then ask yourself if you can let this go. And if the answer right is no, that’s completely fine.

      If you want to email me (go to About on the menu), we can talk more over email or messenger, if you’re so inclined.

      k

      Reply
        1. Kaushik Post author

          Because it’s honest, because that’s what’s happening. The point is that letting go of an emotion is a natural skill. We have simply forgotten. The mind is too frantic to realize that letting go is a simple decision.

          Reply
          1. Ed

            How do you let go?
            It is not as simple as saying “I am letting go” of this thought or emotion. That’s just my mind trying to convince me on an intellectual level that i am “letting go” but there is no release. The thought/emotion is still there but now I’m just trying to ignore it. This makes things worse.

            Reply
            1. Ed

              “The point is that letting go of an emotion is a natural skill. We have simply forgotten. The mind is too frantic to realize that letting go is a simple decision.”

              What if this is a skill that I do not have? This is not a skill that I have forgotten, this is a skill that I have never had (nor do I understand). This is not a simple decision, this is not a choice.

              Where do I begin if I have never had this skill?
              Any of the methods/techniques that I have tried all assume that we all have this built in skill that we can use to do this. But what if we don’t? This makes the explanations all seem (to me) like trying to describe the color blue to a blind man. If there IS no basis of understanding to begin with the explanation is useless.

              So how do I cultivate a skill that I do not even begin to understand.

              Reply
              1. Kaushik Post author

                “So how do I cultivate a skill that I do not even begin to understand.”

                By trying it. I read about the release technique in a book called the Sedona Method. I read it in a bookstore. I felt the technique the book described was too complicated. So I simplified it. I tried it, whenever I had anxiety, which was very often in those days. I had no confirmatiion that I was doing it right or wrong or if anything was happening. After about ten days, I looked back realized that I had not felt anxiety for the last two or three days.

                Try it. Actually do it. If, after a few days, you do not see it, it’s fine. Move on to something else.

                Reply
                1. Ed

                  What I’m saying is that I have been “trying” one method or technique pretty much constantly for the last 15 years and it has not cultivated this skill or given me any better or an understanding of it.

                  It’s still like trying to describe the color blue to a blind man.

                  Each time I find a new method or technique I hold out hope that maybe “this is the one”. Still nothing. I have not given up but it is increasingly difficult to have any hope.

                  Reply
            2. Kaushik Post author

              Yes, it is. It’s as simple as saying I am letting it go. I don’t say this to frustrate you or because it sounds mystical or clever to say it. It is simply true. It’s as simple as saying I am letting it go. If pick up a pen and squeeze it tight in your fist, you will find that the feeling of tension very quickly becomes very familiar. If you pay attention to that feeling and ask yourself to let it go and then open your fist to let the pend go–that’s kind of how it feels to let go.

              Reply
              1. Ed

                Saying “I am letting go” does nothing. I have said it a million times. There is no relief achieved by saying this. It is just a statement. I can say “I’m a little teapot” that does not make it so.

                It does not sound mystical or clever, it sounds like the same answer that I have been getting for 15 years. “Just let go”.

                If I pay attention to the feeling (as suggested) it grows in intensity. If I ask myself to “let it go” nothing happens, and now I am stuck with an intensified feeling that will not go away (no matter how may times I tell myself that I am letting it go. It stays.

                Reply
                1. shrian

                  Hi Ed
                  Whenever you get terrible moments then u say let it to go…do it whenever u face this situation..it will become a habbit and i hope it will work…and i am also trying this…

                  Reply
  21. Neerav

    Of the articles that I read since I found your blog yesterday, this is a favorite. I am doing this a lot lately, actually. It helps to deenergize one’s thoughts just by not investing oneself in them and gets the mind to quiet down or stop trying to distract you. I can tell you many a battles/war stories that I have had with my mind (egoic mind) when it attempted to distract me from whatever I am doing at that moment. I know in our conversations in other blogs, you also mentioned Sri Ramana Maharishi’s “self-inquiry”, and I was wondering if you can both observe the thoughts (just watch) and then ask “Who is the thinking these thoughts/having these thoughts/ etc…? Just curious to see if observing the thoughts and then inquiring into them would help you get to the root of thier existence and wipe them out?

    Regards,

    Neerav

    Reply
    1. Ed

      ““Who is the thinking these thoughts/having these thoughts”?
      I am, I accept that. How does this wipe them out?
      Should they be “wiped out”? I though they were just supposed to be accepted not deemed as something that needs to be “wiped out”. Isn’t that just judging the thoughts as “bad” and striving to eliminate them? Isn’t judging these thoughts what I am trying very hard NOT to do?

      And should MY mind that created these “bad” thoughts be trusted to judge them impartially?
      I don’t see how it can.

      Reply
  22. rahul burhade

    I an o.c.d patient . Few years ago I had psychatrist treatment but not so usefull now I have sleeping disorder . My age is 21 please help me…

    Reply
    1. Kaushik Post author

      Hi Rahul,

      Please continue to seek medical treatment.

      This article and releasing, and looking at you (the way John Sherman suggests) and seeing through the delusion of you, will all help you. But also continue to seek treatment.

      I had depression and anxiety. The anxiety is gone but the physical symptoms of depression still come about. I go through periods of very low energy, low motivation, weight fluctuations, and insomnia. It no longer causes unhappiness in me but it definitely affects life. I continued medication for many years, and even now I would seek treatment and medication if needed.

      k

      Reply
  23. Lianne

    I’ve recently had a few very unpleasant months (cancer scare being my primary trigger I feel) and it feels like my normal mind set has been completely undermined by fear. I’m currently obsessing over my husbands (my primary carers) commitment to me- nonspecific fears of infidelity, treachery or abandonment which have always niggled me in the past (could he, would he, wouldnt it be awful if etc) but which have never really ‘taken over’ my day. They were just negative thoughts. But these days, they dominate and paralyse me. I play it all out. The moment i discover the truth, the pain, what happens to our children. Etc. it goes on and on. it might as well be true. the poor man hasnt a clue what to say/do. Nothing satisfys me. In moments of clarity I have NO idea why I would feel this way. And even if these things DID happen i wouldnt respond like i do in my head. So I am genuinely bemused by my paranoias. Out of the blue this fog descends- doom and dread. The bizarre thing is if I confront these fears and really feel them, accept them, then I begin to forgive and let go and I’m fine for a while until the thought returns again. My fear is I can’t tell if its intuition trying to warn me or just plain fear. How can you tell the difference? All I know is that I do have many other negative thoughts or fears connected to ‘intuition’ and a lot do not come to fruition. This is my greatest fear, and I’ve confronted everything else I’m afraid of these last few months so am I just trying to control? However some of my paranoias do come true and that reinforces my fears (‘See! I told you that would happen. So I should believe everything else I think’). Your post connected very deeply with me because I feel this is a spiritual issue rather then a relationship issue (weve booked counselling up now anyway just in case) and I wondered what you thought on this and whether you could give me a friendly hand of encouragement that this is ok and i can be safe- that I can trust that deep quiet voice of truth rather then these nasty powerful little whispers. I’ve been prescribed medication which I really don’t want to take atm even though im aware im sick, but I’d like to try helping myself first. Thank you for your light.

    Reply
    1. Kaushik Post author

      Hi Lianne,

      Thank you for your very open comment. I recognize myself in what you say.

      Fears come up. Even as I feel I am much more conscious and I am remembering who I really am and I am more and more skillful with life–fears come up. Sometimes they are obviously irrational and I can laugh. Sometimes they are confusing, as you say, how do I discern whether the fear is irrational negativity or an intuitive message?

      Recently I have found great resonance with the books “Conversations with God” by Neale Donald Walsh. I’ve been listening to the books over and over, and probably will continue to as long as I discover something new with each listening. I think it has a really good view of love and fear and what those mean in practical terms. It has a good view of relationships. And most of what the books say can be tested in actual experience.

      If you haven’t already, I recommend you read these books. I am interested in what people have to say about it.

      k

      Reply
      1. Lianne

        Thank you for your reply. It’s so strange, as this was the first time I’ve reached out for discussion on this ‘feeling’ outside of my relationship and only this afternoon the situation became resolved. It was my intuition… Something wasn’t ok. But the context of that issue I had gotten completely wrong. My husband admitted a very repressed, incredibly painful childhood secret to me this afternoon, that hes never shared with anyone, nor wanted to share, which explained SO SO much. He has been hiding a great deal of hurt, shame and anger and its only now that he’s been able to express it, feeling he had to let it go. I’d been sensing it all this time thinking it was something else. A great weight has been shifted, but there has been much grief and pain for him. He is now starting to let go of HIS negative feelings and heal and I’ve learnt a very important lesson in intuition but also faith. My own negative thoughts have essentially stopped. Everything makes sense. Your post is now helping him heal. Thank you.

        Reply
  24. Ed

    I have tried various methods for this, and when I try to “Look at with attention, without thinking about it or participating in it. Contain it whole in your attention. Look at it hard, and it goes away.” The compulsive thinking does NOT go away it gets MUCH worse. It just leads to more and more layers of compulsive thinking. I have read numerous books on “mindfulness” with the same result. The more I try and grasp mindfulness the stronger the compulsive thoughts become. It seems to have the opposite effect. The more I “Look at the thoughts/emotions with attention” the more fuel they have and they burn that much brighter.

    I have been trying to get a grip on this for a very long time and I must say that I REALLY am much worse off now than I was when I began this process. It’s to the point where almost all thought is compulsive and this is causing incredible difficulty in my daily existence. I’m at my wits end with all of this and now I can not even see (or believe in) a way out. Admittedly things were not great before I started down this path of mindfulness (or I wouldn’t have sought out the path to begin with), but now they are SO much worse.

    This “mindfulness” seems (to me) like I’m being asked to “just watch” my thoughts/beliefs/reactions and accept them without judging them. I understand that the old thoughts/beliefs/reactions are not working, I am NOT defending that. But, my mind created these thoughts & beliefs, so why would I trust it to see alternatives? As I understand it the “watching” is intended to bring clarity and to see the thoughts/beliefs/reactions as they arise. It seems to me it’s an exercise in futility. It would be like the local dog catcher spending all of his time and energy trying to catch a rabid dog that is loose in town, when all along HE IS the rabid dog. My mind is that dog. What my mind has created is pain and unhappiness so why would my mind be trusted to destroy what it has created. It does not want to destroy it. It wants to perpetuate the cycle. It is essential for my mind to perpetuate this cycle in order for it to survive. My mind perceives this as a death threat and acts accordingly. So to me trusting my mind to fix the situation that it created is like leaving the fox to guard the hen house.

    The more I try to be “the watcher” the stronger the thoughts/beliefs/reactions become. When I started looking into mindfulness I went in with an open mind with the understanding that some of these thoughts/beliefs/reactions may not fit the situation that I am applying them to in “the now”. But the more I “watch” them as they arise the more convinced I am than ever that my thoughts/beliefs/reactions are correct. So this process has not made any of these “go away” it has pretty much cast them in stone as absolutes which should never be questioned.

    It all reminds me of years ago when I went to a Hypnotists to quit smoking. It was three sessions and there were five people in the group. I attended the first session (again with an open mind). When the group went back for the second session were were asked three questions:
    1. Who is smoking less (2 people raised their hands)
    2. Who is smoking the same amount (2 people raised their hands).
    3. Who is smoking more (I raised my hand).

    At this point I was told that “there is nothing I can do for you, and that my money would be refunded”. So my good intentions of quitting smoking made me go from a pack a day to 2 packs a day. It’s the same with mindfulness (for me) and my compulsive thinking habit is now at about 10 packs a day.

    At this point I am wishing that I had never ventured down this path, because unfortunately I neglected to leave a trail of bread crumbs to follow so that I could get back to where I started.

    Reply
    1. Kaushik Post author

      Hi Ed,

      Use your intuition.

      This thing which we are trying to do is a journey towards clarity and consciousness. I was compelled to it a few years ago because I was exhausted from anxiety and depression which apexed into an emotional crisis. I write here to document, authentically if I can, what I have experienced and what has worked and what hasn’t. I feel that today I am clearer and more settled in my human life than I was when I started. I am not done. I am not enlightened. The most I say is that I am awakening. Along the way I learned a few things which might or might not be helpful to others.

      So far as I can tell, what’s important is discernment. Rely on your feeling, your intuition, and the next step will pop up.

      What seems to be working for me is generally: observance (looking at what’s going on inside), releasing (looking and allowing and letting go of what is going on inside) and looking at the sense of me (per John Sherman). The understanding that the basic problem is fear has helped. I agree with you when you say that how can we possibly trust mind when mind is already compromised. I cannot fully trust my mind and so things like understanding and knowlwedge and intellect and honesty are recognized as mental processes and mental processes are not always very useful in this thing. And I don’t favor practices because practices seem to be about becoming something. What I suggest and do are techniques and these technqiues sometimes lead to recognition or remembrance.

      You are feeling a high degree of frustration right now. I understand this; I have felt this too. There have been times when I have wished I had never started on this. But we are of course compelled to be on this journey. You can test that idea out easily: try to give it up. Try to forget about the whole thing. You cannot. Your soul will nudging you and you feel this as discomfort.

      In my experience, when I have felt high frustration, it has been because of expectation. I have held onto some sort of overt or subtle expecation on what should happen; and distance between what I expect and what is, is what I feel as frustration. Give that some thought.

      And I have also experienced what you describe: that negativity may seem to increase when we try any of these techniques. I think that’s real. I think what happens is that our attention is on it now. Previously, we may have been able to distract ourselves and ignore the negativity; and now, we are compelled to directly look at what is happening, and so might feel it more intensely.

      Use intuition and discernment. I talk about releasing because it has worked for me and many others who have tried it. On John Sherman’s site, people talk about “mindfulness” which seems to the opposite of releasing. What works for me is to allow, invite, accept, watch, acknowledge, immerse whatever negative emotions I am experiencing, and in this acceptance I am able to let go of them. What John Sherman says is essentially to move attention away from these emotions and towards your breath. What Conversations with God says is to “think again.” It says to be aware and alert and when negative thoughts and emotions arise, bless them, and think again.

      There are seven billion of us and it seems that the way fear has made us insane is highly individual. And so it makes sense that your journey, your salvation, is also highly individual.

      On smoking, check out Allen Carr (Easyway). I smoked for 30 years on and off, occassionally quitting for a year or two here and there, but always going back to it, and each quitting event was a nightmare. The way Allen Carr explained it–that nicotine withdrawal is actually negligible, and what we feel as withdrawal angst is actually just a simple mental conflict–got through and quitting was not only easy, it was actually quite a joy!

      Kaushik

      Reply
      1. Ed

        I undertook this whole “mindfulness” practice as a journey towards clarity and consciousness. There was not much of either to begin with that is why I started on this path. What little clarity and consciousness that I was able to muster before starting this journey has long since vanished.

        Relying on my feelings and intuition is the root of the problem, so how can they be trusted? Are you suggesting that negative feelings and skewed intuition are the path to clarity and consciousness? I don’t see how that is possible. I’ve been at this for close to 15 years and no “next step” has ever just popped up.

        Reply
        1. Kaushik Post author

          Ed, you are in engaging in a conversation about this. You are frustrated. I understand that, but clearly you are still looking and seeking and searching. And so there is a next step.

          No, I’m not saying to rely skewed intuition and negative feelings.

          There is one thing which you are certain about. You are certain that you exist. You have a sense of existence. Even if everything around is unreal and even if your feelings and thoughts are irretrievably compromised, as you seem to believe, there is one thing which you cannot deny and also cannot prove to anyone else, and that is you exist and you have a sense of existence. This sense of existence, sense of being alive, is you. What it feels like to be you. The simple thing which is you.

          Reply
  25. Ed

    What if “watching” does not make the suffering go away either?
    What if it makes it more intense, what if it throws compulsive thinking into overdrive?

    What if this “watching” CAUSES depression, anxiety, fear and rage?

    Where does that leave me?

    Reply
      1. Ed

        I have tried this. And I still ask isn’t “moving attention elsewhere” just another way for the mind to avoid the feelings/thoughts/emotions that are upsetting me? This does not diminish the unhappiness, this does not provide clarity. Isn’t this just a temporary escape from reality? Reality is still there waiting for me and it is not possible to move attention elsewhere forever (or even for brief periods of time).

        Reply
        1. Kaushik Post author

          Yes, I agree, which is why what I do is not move attention elsewhere, but move attention to whatever negativity I am feeling. Blessing it, allowing it, watching. And letting go.

          Reply
          1. Ed

            Again, the answer is “letting go”. I do not understand how?
            I have tried so may methods and techniques that I can’t even remember them all. I have been at this for 15 years. I have not found one method that clearly explains “letting go” in a way that makes any sense to me.

            And the “feeling it, blessing it and allowing it” only intensifies that compulsive thinking. And now I’m stuck with intensified compulsive thoughts with no way to let them go.

            Reply
  26. David Alexander

    @Ed– I totally get that you can’t let go and you don’t know how. I know how that feels. I have a solution that absolutely works, but it’s very difficult to allow yourself to do for the first time. You have to DECIDE, and COMMIT COMPLETELY to doing this short exercise. It involves NOT LETTING GO at your highest level. It involves hanging on as tightly as possible, at the most intense level that you possibly can. You’re going to exaggerate what you already know how to do quite well, which is to ‘hang on’.

    Lay on your side on the floor and clench your fists, your face and every muscle in your body as tightly as you can. You can’t possibly do this wrong. Just give it everything you’ve got.

    If you do that very, very intensively, you will only be able to hold it for very short time. That’s okay. If you can hold on at maximum intensity for over 10 seconds, you’re probably not doing it as intensely as you can. 15 seconds would probably be a world record.

    Now, before you read further, before you think of ten reasons not to, just do it.

    You’re probably reading this without having done the exercise because you have no reason to trust me. That’s okay. Use your rational mind to answer the question, Can I possibly hurt myself by doing this? What is the worst possible thing that can happen? If I’m alone and no one can see if I actually try this, will I still feel embarrassed? Possibly….

    The point of this exercise, Ed, is that if you give it all you’ve got, at some point you have no choice but to let go. You will regain the experience in your body of what it feels like to let go. This is not a thought experiment. If you actually allow yourself to do this experiment you will win. You have to take a chance or you will get nothing.

    You will feel great, so when you get done laughing, the voice in your head will possibly tell you something like, You didn’t do it right–Ytou didn’t really let go–you didn’t this. You didn’t something else… Whatever… Your body will then know– possibly for the first time long, long while, your body will know that those are lies that we tell ourselves. We all know how to let go, but we may have forgotten that we know.

    Repeat as often as necessary. Congratulations Ed, you now know how to let go! Give yourself some love and a special treat for choosing to take chance.

    Reply
  27. David Alexander

    Moderator. Could you please help me out here. I see that I forgot the rest of the sentence in the second to last paragraph. It should read…, …while, your body will know that those are lies that we tell ourselves. We all know how to let go, but we may have forgotten that we know.

    Thanks!

    Reply
  28. Avadhut Nigudkar

    Hi Kaushik,

    Landed on this website through Eckhart Tolle’s website forum.

    I need your suggestion for my insomnia problem. I’ve had this problem since last 3 years. I did yoga, reiki, meditation and then doctors gave me sleeping pills.

    It’s been 3 days since I’ve not taken sleeping pill and I could sleep only for 1-2 hours a night. I go to bed at 12 but awake till 3-4 am.

    Can you please suggest any technique for my problem?

    Thanks,
    Avadhut

    Reply
    1. Kaushik Post author

      Hi Avadhut,

      I sympathize. About four years ago I had insomnia in the same way you describe. It’s very difficult to function without sleep; and when the problem continues day after day, it gets more and more difficult and frustrating.

      The core of my problem was mental conflict. I was working in a job I didn’t want to be in, but I needed the job or believed that I did, and the conflict exhibited as insomnia, which of course made everything worse.

      I can’t say if there was any particular thing which helped me get out of that cycle. The techniques which I talk about here (looking at the sense of I-am, releasing, observing) certainly help. They clear the mind over time and this reduces and eliminates mental conflict and stress. Exercise helps–something as simple as a half hour walk everyday. Bringing some fun and joy into life can help. Do what you enjoy doing. The biggest thing, at least for me, was to identify the source of stress and conflict, which in my case was the job I didn’t want to be in. Once I understood this, I was able to accept the situation and my sleep improved.

      I’m sorry that I don’t have a specific solution to this. Perhaps others here can chime in.

      k

      Reply
  29. Alex

    Hi Kaushik,
    I have a very bad insomnia for about 3 years that affected my life very bad,I tried almost everything but nothing seems to work. The problem is that every time i go to bed and my mind starts to wonder unconscious, when i feel that i am about to fall aslept my mind starts to be conscious again, its like an tought or a feeling and it happens every time i want to sleep.

    Reply
    1. Kaushik Post author

      Hi Alex,

      I understand. Insomnia is tough. Without sleep, it’s very difficult to function in the practical world. And when the problem continues one day after day, it gets more and more difficult and frustrating.

      I went through this kind insomnia for about six months four years ago. And I’ve had less episodes at other times.

      I don’t think I have any deep wisdom about insomnia. I think the conventional suggestions are pretty good and worth trying. Reduce stress, get exercise, eliminate alchohol and caffeine and so on. If you can tolerate sleeping pills, it’s probably worth trying. I could not. Sleeping pills made me mind dull during waking hours.

      I think the my problem essential was mental conflict. I was working in a job I didn’t want to be in, but I needed the job or believed that I did. I think what broke the cycle for me is everything else I talk about here. An increasing clarity of mind, brought about by the releasing, looking, and observing.

      And though I am out of the cycle of insomnia now, I do see that my sleep patterns are not always aligned with the way modern life expects of me. As I get older, I sleep fewer hours, and the times I am sleepy seems to shift around. I try to honor these patterns when I can.

      I’m sorry that I don’t have an immediate solution for you. What I can suggest is the techniques of observation which I have mentioned, but these are not immediate. Perhaps others here have more immediate suggestions.

      k

      Reply
  30. CP

    Hi Kaushik,

    First of all, thank you for writing this and all the other posts I have been able to read so far. I have a lot of fear in me and that comes from the things which happened in the past. It was a bad phase in our family where we struggled financially and emotionally. I am always afraid that what if it happens again. I know the fear but I am still not clear where it stems from. I am always afraid and due to this everyone around me is either scared or stressed.

    There are also a lot of other things which I have on my mind and I always have negative thoughts about everything. I cannot let go of these fears as I think these keep me motivated, but these also keep me negative and depressed. What should I do in such a state, Kaushik?

    Thanks,
    CP

    Reply
    1. Kaushik Post author

      Hi CP,

      I too had fears and negative thoughts and compulsive thoughts and depression and so on–this is what started me on this journey. Whenever I feel out of sorts, out of alignment, off center, and so on, I now know that it is because there is something I have yet to let go of. And so, based on my experience, what I suggest are the three techniques which I often talk about here. Learn to let go. Look at the sense of you. And learn to observe.

      Also, don’t dismiss conventional and immediate solutions. Therapy, counseling, medication…these are all valid solutions to explore.

      I hope this helps.

      k,

      Reply
  31. ak

    Kaushik,

    Thanks for this wonderful blog..I have been repeatedly thinking about a confrontation I had with a friend of mine couple of years back. Initially,I was playing this game of “who is right and who is wrong” within my own mind and hence I couldn’t stop thinking about it. However, I was able to get over it in 3-4 months and convinced myself that my friend had provoked me enough to get such a reaction from me. The problem now is that all of a sudden out of nowhere , I have been having repeated thoughts about this incident since the first week of August. I am not able to define whether it is ego, guilt, anger etc. I had started to analyze every time I think of it. Last few days have been better and thanks to me actually embracing the thought and not trying too hard to fight it off. This year has been really horrible for me. I lost my mom 3 months back and I am not sure if it is the mind playing tricks trying to overcome grief by focusing on a different thing altogether. I have a lovely wife and I don’t want this thing to interfere with our livelihood. Your help will be much appreciated.

    Reply
    1. Kaushik Post author

      Hi ak,

      I don’t think your experience is unusual. I’ve had the experience that out of nowhere, a long-forgotten slight pops up in the head. And there is thinking about it for a while.

      The techniques I suggest (observe, release) do not, at least in my experience, eliminate compulsive or repeated thinking. But rather, these technique take the “compulsion” out of it. Thoughts still happen and they can be repetive, but with continued observance, they seem to simmer down.

      Also, I haven’t found all compulsive thinking to be bad. Sometimes, when I am trying to get clarity on something, an internal imagined conversation in the head has been actually useful. The thing I watch out for is emotions of negativity. I try to let go of anger or vengence or the need to be right in the compulsive conversation in the head. This diffuses the emotions around and often the compulsive thinking simmers down.

      From what you say, I don’t think there is anything terribly unusual going on with you. I suggest you continue to observe and to release the emotions which pop up in your compulsive imagined conversations. Some people suggest to replace the thoughts with more positive thoughts. This is not something I do–I prefer to face up to the negativity and release it, but I don’t want to be dismissive of the approach to replace with more positive thoughts. Some people have found relief through Byron Katie.

      I hope this helps.

      k

      Reply
  32. ak

    Thanks a lot for your response. One more question, what do you recommend if that past memory turns into anger or guilt at times? Most of the times it is just repetitive thoughts about the incident but once in a while I start to analyze things which really annoys me.I do not want to be doing that.

    Reply
    1. Kaushik Post author

      Hi ak,

      I understand. I have this experience as well. Sometimes, something from the past pops up in the head and the thought-story usually is about how I should have reacted or what I should have said. In these times, I sometimes let the story play out with amusement. Or sometimes, I can look at the story hard, that is observe it intently and it usually dissolves into nothing. Sometimes, it helps if I don’t worry about the story but instead let the emotions around the story, which is usually anger, go, using the release technique I have described on this site. Sometimes I replace the story with a current and positive state of mind–I think about the wonder of life an all the mysterious ways in which life unfolds.

      k

      Reply

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