Season 2
47 Minutes

E51 | Ellen Watson | How Bali Opened My Doors To the World

Ellen Watson is a globally recognized healer and healing arts educator. In 1984, with 3 marriages behind her, Ellen found her way to the ground-breaking Esalen Institute in Big Sur where she learned to embrace her wounded healer within. For 30 years, Ellen lived at Esalen and served as staff chef, gardener, bodyworker and all-around mover and shaker.

Just as Ellen’s life was changed by the legendary teachers she met at Esalen, Ellen has become a trainer and mentor to the next generation of healing arts practitioners around the world. Before Covid, Ellen spent the bulk of her time living in Bali and teaching throughout Asia and Europe.

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Ellen Watson  00:00

This property is stunning the view of the Pacific which takes us into for forever. When I drove down that hill, I was in a van and I saw what I saw. My first experience was one of freedom

Achim Nowak  00:21

Hey, this is Achim Nowak, executive coach and host of the mind fourth act podcast. If life is a five act play, how will you spend your for that? I have conversations with exceptional humans who have created bold and unexpected for tax, listen, and to be inspired. And please rate us and subscribe on whatever platform you are listening on. Let’s get started. I am just so happy to welcome Ellen Watson to the my fourth ag podcast. Elon is known around the world as a somatic movement and healing arts educator. And on live Elon lived and work in Big Sur at the historic Esalen Institute for over 30 years, while at SLN. As a staff, Chef gardener body worker and a mover and shaker ln rebirth and directed excellence movement arts program. Through her own organization moving adventures, Ellen has trained the next generation of healing arts practitioners from around the world. Before COVID, Elon divided her time equally between the United States and Bali. There’s so much to talk about and learn from you, Ellen. So welcome.

Ellen Watson  01:50

Thank you. Thank you. I think

Achim Nowak  01:53

before we get to some of the amazing things you’ve done in your journey in life now I I always wonder when you were growing up, and you have a slight little southern lilt to your speed. So I assume you grew up somewhere in the South? Who? What were your dreams by growing up? Who did you think you want it to be?

Ellen Watson  02:16

Well, I grew up in Winston Salem, North Carolina. And that’s what you’re picking up because we go I can go right back there. My mother and my aunt were born in Mississippi, and so they had even more of a magnolia mount. Aha, a really sweet, it’s very sweet. Yeah. And one thing I learned is a trial, that sounding sweep was not necessarily indicative of being sweet that there was a way to talk, even if you are ready to push a knife into somebody taught. So I grew up in a charming environment with three wonderful homemaking women who were cooks and the true art of homemaking. So I got a lot of love and appreciation for what the Buddhists call random acts of kindness and senseless beauty. So the senseless beauty was easy. And my family were all practicing Christians, particularly my mother was very kind. There were lots of service work, modeled, more blessed to give than receive all of those messages that were either explicit or implicit in the culture of the times for women for good Christian women. And there was a lot of rigidity in that system as well as the good aspects. The three women that I mentioned who were helped form my childhood and shape, my experience and belief systems had a way of stepping outside that that was harmful to themselves. One was addicted to alcohol, my grandmother, and that had to be addressed later in life later in my life to late teenage years. And my mother was diagnosed as schizophrenic when I was 10. And my aunt bipolar back then it was called manic depressive illness. So in addition to all the sweetness and the love and the good Christian values, there was the necessity to look beneath behavior to what was real. To look at, what is the essence of This situation or this person, because I was the only granddaughter, daughter and niece of these women. So I, I learned to help them, you know, I didn’t do what I could. And so I had this desire to heal to save to help. And I couldn’t wait to get out of there. I didn’t know what was out of there even meant. I did, I had the experience of being confined and constrained. And in order to have any fun, I had to be a bad girl. So I was bad. And then it took a while after I got to Epsilen to realize I wasn’t bad at all, I was just having natural human teenage youthful even childhood experiences, a free spirit will call it that cultural, religious, societal familiar beliefs kept trying to put in boxes,

Achim Nowak  06:08

you gave us such a wonderful framework for what I call a very old school narrative for women and your I would say innate rebellion against it. I mean, rebellion in the most positive kind of way. And you already mentioned SLN, which is an in the world of personal transformation and growth and iconic place in the United States. And you were already in you have been very intimately connected with them. So I’m, of course curious, how does a young woman from Winston Salem, and in Big Sur, how did that happen?

Ellen Watson  06:48

The two minute life history? Yes, sir. So I’ve described my familial youth. And I dated a young man who asked me to marry him every day for 30 days. And the day before I left for college, We eloped and went across the state line to South Carolina. And I married him. And you know, in reflection, it was not. I mean, I loved him. I wasn’t ready to marry in the truest sense of the word mature, making a life decision. And I was ready to get out of my trap. And I did not have a conscious thought of, well, if college doesn’t work, then I have this. But we could say that that was a safeguard. College did work. I love the experience of being free to study, learn, teach, be social, without those particular confines I described. But I did stay married after some counseling. When we both went home for the holidays. I went to Baltimore where he was in school, I was a Playboy bunny to earn money, which was a totally eye opening experience that I did for six months. That was enough. And then we moved to New York, we moved to North Carolina for a year to save money to move to New York because he was an artist and he was really specialized in cartooning, political and social cartooning. He was going to go work with the New Yorker and become one of their cartoonists. And he died of a cerebral hemorrhage in December, January of 69, just before my 21st and his 23rd Birthdays, of course, that was a tragedy on all levels. someone so young, I married again, a year later, stay in Atlanta, because I had gone to Atlanta to stay with friends to recover because being in my family home in North Carolina, was not supportive. At the time for the reasons I’ve already said. I’m married, and we had a 10 year successful relationship. He recognized that he was gay, after we were married for eight years. So I’m married. When I found the next man who was definitely not gay, somebody I had known since we were in high school. I lived in Texas. And he had so many challenges in his younger life again, religious his father was a Baptist preacher. There was abuse in his family and all of that gave me somebody who really needed saving. I did my best. I had a lot of fun for a while, and then his addictions to me Everything that was unhealthy. I feared for the life of his children. I was their stepmother, and or my own life. So I left after some incidences that were clear and a family friend put me on a plane to California and said, you go to a salon. That’s how I got there. So I had had three marriages and a life filled with dysfunctional relationships.

Achim Nowak  10:32

For listeners who are not familiar with SLM, and if you had to give a little snapshot I, I think of it as magical, magical place that has a special place in the history of just the personal growth, spiritual development. Evolution

Ellen Watson  10:49

briefly about it. Yeah, the institute itself is 27 acres of that hugs the coastline of Big Sur California. And the entirety of Big Sur the Ventana wilderness was the home to an Indian tribe named the excellent. And the institute borrowed its name from that tribe. And the that particular stretch of land was the most sacred of the entire Escalon. Nation, the tribe. Because of it, it has hot springs, it has a cold spring that supplies fresh drinking and getting yourself clean water. And of course it has the ocean and the rain. So they call it the land of four waters. This is the 60 year anniversary of the institute’s opening. The man who wanted the asylum lived on the land, he really kept one hand on the steering on the wheel and one on the rudder. That’s a rough city out there and that it was quite a shift to both Stuart and direct. And it was home of the counterculture in the 60s, everything happened there all the rock all the the sex, drugs and rock and roll home and seminal scholars in a wide variety of disciplines that all had to do with the human potential, were invited to come there and offer whatever they did to whoever came to be there. So you know, the Beatles came in the stones and Joan Baez lived in a cabin there. And if you’re interested in the somatic and healing, and I’ll say consciousness arts, most of the names that are either well known today or if you delve into it, you would find live there and help develop their work in that very creative environment. So when I dropped in, yeah, after it was open 20 years, it was past the wildest days because the culture in general had slammed the door shut on the use of both plant and in theologians and pathogens, and visionary medicine will say, almost everyone was illegal in the greater culture. And epsilon had gotten away with because of its remote location, and no real federal rollease establishment, government agencies came down that highway, and, but even there, it had to stop. So I was there during that transition time, where we still did all the old things, but they became illegal to do but the teachers who were still in residents were just too I needed. It was truly maybe I could have gone to India to Oh, shows ashram if I’d known it existed. Yeah, there are there could have been a few places in the planet who could have helped me with the type of healing that I needed, which was every time I needed spiritual, emotional, psychological, physical, you name it, I needed it. So I knew this property is stunning the view of the Pacific which takes us into for ever. When I drove down that hill, I was in a van and I saw what I saw. My first experience was one of freedom, a felt sense of freedom. And then as I got you To the property and I walked it and I ran on it and I danced through it. And I took workshops, I took four to five day and two weekends. And it was the two weekends that really helped me know I needed to be there. One was in, conducted by a psychiatrist who was part of the original psychedelic research group in Czechoslovakia. He’s still alive today. He’s 9092. This summer, his name is Stanislav Grof. And his work is recognized globally now under the heading of grace legacy. And to have that man and his brilliance and his heart in his background, be able to work with me physically, and through his breath where I knew I had found someone who knew something I wanted for myself. And the other one was a good stroke. Distraught is a German word,

Achim Nowak  16:10

very familiar with it, yes, form.

Ellen Watson  16:12

And it was my first experience of actually contacting, entering, exploring and expressing what was real and true in the moment without trying to be sweet or cute. So that’s the way I grew up. And so a level of authenticity was demanded, even invited for sure. But if what if I couldn’t go there, I had a room of people, you know, 18 people all looking at me waiting for something authentic to emerge. The cube was okay, but let’s see what’s under there. So that’s how I knew it was a place for me. So I tended to my affairs in Texas, came home and visited my family and told them I’m disappearing for a while. And to California, and I don’t know exactly how long I’ll stay. I went to go for three months, and I stayed 30 years at calling it home.

Achim Nowak  17:28

A word from your sponsor. That’s me. I invite you to go to the website associated with this podcast Fourth, you will find other equally inspiring conversation with great humans. And you will also learn more about the my fourth act mastermind groups where cool people figure out how to chart their own fourth acts. Please check it out. And now back to the conversation



Achim Nowak  18:02

you talked about how Mr. Roth’s work affected you. And many years later, I trust you have a similar effect on some people that come to to learn from us. So you’re another generation your work is different from his how, by staying at Esalen? Did you emerge as a healing practitioner as a somatic practitioner movement practitioner? How do you go from being healed to becoming a healer?

Ellen Watson  18:37

Well, I there’s a, a book written by an Episcopal priest named Henry Nuan, or only new one. And it’s called the wounded healer. I honestly believe most of us who have entered the healing arts and I put that into the broad umbrella for everything that includes that I do. Do so as for something that has been healing for themselves. We all theoretically are born with a hole in our soul. And we endeavor to fill that up with ego based needs until we realize that those are band aids that cover the wound. So it didn’t take me long to do that. You know how to take off all those band aids and really become raw and vulnerable. And then to fill with my essential nature, my essence. And then how to I didn’t intend to turn that into a profession. I was there for my own healing. I needed to supplement my income I had a certain amount of savings but I spend that I used esslyn as a university programming that we had available then was not available in a standard university setting. But the outgrowth of that they occurred in the late 90s was the birth of three different institutes in Northern California. One, it’s very well known now the California Institute of integral studies, C i ‘s in San Francisco, they have a branch now in China. And many of the scholars who went through Epsilen, left to go found CIS. So I haven’t pursued advanced degrees. But I imagine that if I were willing to do a lot of writing, I could have a PhD in what I would call universal studies. Consciousness studies. So everything I did, I did everything I could. I worked the whole time I was there, I never not work once I returned. But the climate at the time, the culture at the time, we didn’t earn much money, we got housing and food and a little bit of money, and some funding a scholarship fund to help us with our educational pursuits. So I spent the money I had on certification trainings in massage and dance and yoga and breath work and hypnosis, Buddhist studies, I became a licensed minister and the Center for Spiritual healing. Because I grew up a Baptist and I spent 10 years as an Episcopalian active, and we’re not talking about just by name, I was very active. The relationship of spirit, you know, of the beautiful messages I received. From the red words in the New Testament, I’ll say, the messages of Jesus and the Buddha and the all the love and service and care and non violence, he is my all of those things, that I was able to combine it I forgot to mention I studied singing is stalled, where we sing not prefer performance, but to express feelings. And the dance work that I did a woman named Gabrielle Roth, who goal was to support actors in being more authentic, particularly stage actors, but all actors film. So under, the singing is strong, and the dance practice of expressing oneself. I found my voice. I’m not a trained singer. I’m studying both keyboard and vocal. Taking vocal lessons online. I share acapella mostly what I’ve learned, and maybe I can carry a nice tune in a melody, I don’t know harmonies, but I pull all this together. And I was asked to work on the healing arts team because I was at the bass giving sessions all the time. So I began part time while I was a cook, and I left acelin for a while thinking I would go back into the real world, the different real world and that world. And it took me only a few months to realize I wasn’t quite ready to graduate. So when I returned, I just pinch hit in the kitchen when they needed help, and I earned my living practicing massage. It was there it was during that time, that I would give 20 sessions a week and I would lead a movement class every morning free of charge. Some form it was either yoga or dance or Qi Gong, some form of movement. And I created a wonderful schedule for myself, that I ascribe to recreating for myself somewhere, again, that I the first hours of the day, were waking up and breathing and expressing myself working out if you will, a metaphysical and physical workout. And then going to the Esalen bathhouse, which is a sacred temple for healing but through water. It’s one of the real spots in our country. That when I called it that in a workshop description, I had to edit it because they didn’t want SM to be known as a spa. And you might know this being German, but the word spa originates from Spa Belgium. Hot Springs place in Belgium. So there again, excellent was a spa, because you go there to heal by water. And when it was the true spa, I would was able to work outside and majority of the time removed from other people. So I wasn’t constrained by tight space spaces at a premium everywhere on that property, including at the baths to practice. So the practice of excellent massage and bodywork was created to the music of the Pacific to the rhythms of the Pacific Ocean, but no words. And what I did was use song mantra prayer chant, use the senses, all the senses to work with people, I get invocations and incantations and benedictions. And if something I found was inspired by something or nature or something, they had said, a prayer or something came to me, I just put music behind it. So it was an extremely creative and meaningful way to combine everything I was studying and learning. And that’s how what I call touching essence, that’s my brand was birth. Because the touch the body touched the soul free this spirit. And I would say, move the body, move the soul free the spirit, breathe the body, breathe the soul. And the word for spirit means in spirit bring breath and when we are inspired, where are so because we brought breath in. That is one definition. If you looked in a dictionary,

Achim Nowak  27:07

when I introduced you, I use the word somatic, which I if I had to label myself, I would describe myself as a somatic coach. But you just get such a beautiful description of somatic is about every aspect of being it’s about all the senses in what I call the big work. And you just gave us such a beautiful description of all the things you channel invoking and fight in your work. I could spend hours talking to you about your experience at Esalen. But I’m really interested in you’re a woman in your 70s. Now, you’re extraordinarily accomplished you through moving ventures your own organization you’ve also spent before COVID A lot of time in Bali, I have a sense you have a strong affinity for Bali, and I’d love you to talk about it. But then COVID disrupted that way of being in the world. Could you talk a little bit about just to the attraction to Bali and how you walked through the disruption of your life?

Ellen Watson  28:16

Well, the bathhouse and Veselin was wood and canvas, rolled down tarps and in the winter months, February, March, April, January, some days could be stunningly beautiful, but most days we needed to be not outside in the weather. And it was too cold and rainy, stormy day, it was not a pleasant environment to give or receive massage. So I had visited most of the islands in the Caribbean. Being in from the east coast and having spent some time they’re looking for an appropriate location didn’t find one that was suitable in price because of the educational budget for most people studying somatic or healing arts that I began importing sarongs from Bali before I went to generate revenue. I fell in love with the fabric first. I was invited to go there to teach. So I went and I fell in love with the culture the people the total upside down from Western way in Bali Hinduism and the ritual and the ceremony and then the affordability. I found two three places that I love teaching and they built a room for me or adapted a room because I think they understood that if it worked for me, it worked for others like me in the somatic arts and it’s true that those places, most of them are full now. I mean, booked well in advance. So it was a variety of things. It wasn’t because it was convenient. But trip to Bali long trip, but not so far from California. It was really just San Francisco to Hong Kong, Hong Kong to Bali, or you stop somewhere along the Pacific Rim, you land on the other side. And then you get to Bali. Because I’ve been there so often I started in the late 90s, people from Asia Pacific, came to Bali, like because it’s easy for them. Yeah, they don’t cross the Pacific. And so I developed clientele and was invited to go into China and Japan and Korea, and other places that I didn’t go just because of time, Taiwan. So in the last delete two years, but for the previous seven years prior to that, I spent a majority of the year, eight months a year on the other side of the Pacific, in Bali, will say half of it in Bali, six to eight weeks in China. I had a smattering of European times I work in Italy, extensively in Italy now. That’s how and why I got to Bali. The phase I’m in now, which is the fourth act, I have experience during Twinny had some exciting moments, the first quarter I was in Indonesia. And sort of like Alice in Wonderland, got puffed back into this reality. on the East Coast, I fell in love with some flowers and birds and bees and the whole process of pollinators. And was so grateful to be a part of the solution for providing healthy food for birds and bees didn’t wasn’t sprayed, or you know what make them sick. And I enjoyed the cycles and the rhythms of nature and reconnecting with family. During that time. I had enough retained earnings to keep it all going and to pay the people in Bali 21. I still paid them. That was not easy. And I am going soon to go spend six weeks to work with the team of people that majority of whom I haven’t met and make important decisions about is this still a commitment I hold dear for me to continue going and supporting this enterprise. My goal is to empower them to be self sustaining. And I haven’t managed that online. So we’ll see if me being there in person, I have a couple of products. I’ve always believed that if I had invented the ballpoint pen, let’s use that as something everybody needs one off, at least my intention to support myself was to create a an appropriate item that everybody wanted one or more off that I made $1 on profit, net profit. So I have one product that I’m going to go see if we can get all the ducks I’ve already refined the product. That’s not the problem

Achim Nowak  33:40

getting it. Can you tell us what the product is? Elena,


I can even show you what some of our listeners won’t be able to see it but okay, well, it’s

Ellen Watson  33:49

a crescent moon pillow. Uh huh. Has a liner you stuffing it with organic cotton or Kpop or some sort of organic plant based material to the level of sickness that is appropriate for the use. They can be used as a zafu, a meditation cushion that can be used as a lap cushion to put your computer on or your eating tray or nurse your baby or put behind your neck to prop yourself up like that. It’s not practical to carry on an airplane. We’re not trying to compete with airline pillows. These are decorative they’re beautiful in the home on the bed wherever you have them. So my task is to create visual media, little short term, short clips and photos of all these uses and then to create a label. I don’t want any packaging a cardboard you know a thicker than paper sleeve that allows them to be hung that has graphics on it. I have a graphic designer, I met it Aslan, who will do it. And then how to ship from Bali so they don’t have to be shipped here they’re in yarn or go to a fulfillment house. And I believe I’ve worked it through that. So we have a marketing channel that makes it affordable for the individual to buy. I’ve sold the enough of these to people who come to Bali or an anyone who’s really study with me for long, starts out buying two and then they get four and then they have 20. And they have them in their studio or in their home. They come in their fabric is woven in Bali in the village of Cancun. Took a long time to find that. And my dear long term friend has a sewing factory, instead of the call the sewers, they’re calling them. So what do you think it’s a combination of sower and artist Stardust, something anyway, they are so beautifully crafted, that all the detail, and they have they wear and tear beautifully. So I’m very happy with the product.

Achim Nowak  36:15

So where my mind is going as I’m listening to you, what I’m hearing is, besides being a healer, you definitely also have an entrepreneurial mindset. Yes, you have to have it with an organization like moving ventures, which is a non for profit, and you talked about paying your people and in Bali, and then all costs money. So what keeps you going, what keeps you exploring

Ellen Watson  36:48

for retail stores and an importing business when I lived in Atlanta for 10 years before I went to Texas, and then California. So and I majored in advertising and marketing. That was my major in school. So I’m really interested in that. And I have an eye for that. And now necessity being the mother of invention. I need to I don’t want to abandon these people and just drop it. I want them to be successful and me to be successful in this way. So in my fourth act, I really want to manifest this dream of these pillows, because it’s something that is dear to me that I learned. I learned it even before I went to Escalon Rachel Carson, who was wrote about the death of the night and Joanna Macy, and they were they didn’t call it climate change. But just what was happening with plastic. This was in the 670s. Like I say this was a long time ago. But it had grown true with me. And I lived on a boat in Florida for a year in the keys. And I saw already what we were doing to Rhys into plastic. So I am an environment. I’m an eco terrorist. Greta came out and taught us all a lot. And I have wondered if Should I stop flying? One of my teachers, Terence McKenna talked about the carbon footprint that we have when we fly. I talked to him about it. And he said, Well, what you do when you get there is so valuable, that I believe you’re offsetting it. Because I have been very helpful to the people of Bali learning about single use plastic, because there’s no formal trash removal on any Indonesian island. So they need to find ways to deal with what has been brought into their islands.

Achim Nowak  39:11

Do you ever have that voice inside? That didn’t mean to stop you? Do you ever have voice that says Ellen, maybe you should slow down a little bit? Or is that does that voice not exist within you?

Ellen Watson  39:25

Well, I had to slow down during coughing. Yeah, I could have. And I wondered what stopped me from really going online and teaching everything on. It’s hard to teach quality of touch through a screen that is not and you don’t hug people through a screen. A lot of what I do that is so deeply meaningful requires being in person. But there’s things I could have done to adapt more to the virtual world. Something has stopped me. I have a new team of people that they’re old. Both women I met, they were inspired by their work with me and they can be my daughters, one just turned 50 and one is 40, almost 46. We have the vibrance collective. And we birthed this. The idea was birthed in 2016. In Bali, when I introduce these two women to each other, then we were starting to envision how pulling our three skill sets together would work, then COVID happen. We regathered in Colorado, where the one with the children lives. In September of 20. We explored putting ourselves on platforms, you know, on podcast and all of that. And something hasn’t gelled yet. We tried to have two in person programs when Hawaii and one in Costa Rica and COVID realities got in the way. So we’re in a pandemic pause. I have felt very sad about a lot of my creative juice has gone into this practice that we call Vibrance. It’s my version, our version of combining of taking the Expressive Arts off the stage and bringing them into daily life, whether it’s the home, the school, the church gatherings. The reason I’m still pregnant with that, and haven’t quite delivered it. It well I have, I think I’m having quintuplets or something that I delivered the first, the first iteration, and I have a few teachers around the world, one in Shanghai, and one in Germany. That’s just outstanding. She’s in graduate school right now. A couple in Switzerland, one in Italy, and one in New England. That’s really just now and all of these people. Most of these people could be my children. So I’m mentoring them. And I think at this stage in my life, and maybe in Act Four, that is a call. So slow down. I yearn I longed for another epsilon, another epsilon esque place. They say you can’t go home again. Somebody from Asheville wrote that Thomas Wolfe, a well known book, and I don’t believe that I think I would need to go home with a very new attitude and be open to the way things are now. But in truth, I left a decision to help care for my elders. And because the water wasn’t warm enough for me, the Pacific, the Central Pacific, and I want to live by a warmer and more swimmable sea. That is that way at least half the year. So I’m not jumping on airplanes every weekend searching but I’m open and I’m going places purposefully, waiting to experience a knowing similar to what I had when I went to Esalen and what I had when I went to Bali, and I felt a real calling when I went on a personal vacation with then husband, to St. Thomas, and higher up of water, the hills looking down over houses in the sea, seeing a retreat center. I think it was the Beach Boys house, but I saw it as the house of love and music. I think I called it

Achim Nowak  44:02

as we complete the conversation, what touches me especially is to hear you articulate a contemplation of what else might still be waiting, or a yearning or desire for I would call new versions of the old and familiar but in new places and new settings and new possibilities and and your desire for that. Or your openness to what is very moving to me.

Ellen Watson  44:30

Well, I want to live in community. I love living in community. I believe in it. I don’t want to travel as much. I would rather people come there like they did a desolation. So I’ll be looking forward to discovering that. I’m going to Jamaica. I haven’t been to Jamaica, and I’m going to go teach in September and I’m really praying that that is it. did that and then I can, my quest can end.

Achim Nowak  45:05

For our listeners who I hopefully understand that your energy and your essence and your vibrance is touches people all over the world. If they want to find out more about what you do I know you have public programs plan for the future and Bali Where do people go to get information about?

Ellen Watson  45:23

I have two websites, moving And the vibrant Those are the best doorways and then I have email at both of those addresses. Cool. Am on most social media under my name, Ellen Watson.

Achim Nowak  45:51

Ellen, thank you for what the gift of the compensation, the gift of your spirit and your essence and your presence. It was a complete joy for me.

Ellen Watson  46:03

Thank you. Me too. I feel like I’ve met a new friend.

Achim Nowak  46:11

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