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Thread: Retreat Experiences - more indepth

  1. #1

    Retreat Experiences - more indepth

    Hello all,

    After letting a few days pass after the retreat and allowing my thoughts to penetrate, I thought maybe we could share some of our experience(s) a little more here. I watched the sit-along for Friday and laughed as Jundo was struck by my comment comparing the retreat to childbirth. So, I thought I'd try to explain it a little better. So here we go if you're interested...bear with me, it's a long one. Not my usual style, but I spare no words here.

    I started my retreat on Monday, December 8, Rohatsu Day, in much less than a good mood! Prior to this, on Sunday, I was feeling overwhelmed with the holidays coming and so much left to do, my husband's crazy new work schedule (that left him very tired and watching football ALL weekend) :roll: , trying to spend quality time with my kids before my retreat and "two-day silence", and dealing with my crazy hormonal emotions regarding it all. Sorry to say, Sunday ended up being a stressful day full of discontent and arguments. ops:

    So, with my retreat room in the basement set up, my bathroom chant note cards all in place, and my oryoki set made up...I thought I was really ready to have a few days of quiet and stillness to myself. Day 1 started off very rocky, I had to drag myself out of bed at 5:50 a.m. I kept telling myself, I’m not going to be able to do this am I? Two whole days, wow, that seems like a lot. But something kept pushing me forward, because I really did want to have this experience. Much of day 1 went on like this…During zazen, the mind would not settle. The constant monkey-mind went something like this:
    - when is that stinking bell going to ring, I can't sit like this much longer
    - wow - this wall really needs painted
    - did I just see a bug run across the floor – nah, just seeing things, ooh, no really I think that was a bug!
    - holy sh*t my back really hurts, I can't do this much longer,
    - wow-my shadow makes me look like a hippo; yep just like Gloria from Madagascar…great!
    - OMG! my legs hurt, I'm never going to be able to even walk kinhin, (looking at timer every 5 minutes) - this is taking forever!
    - Did I choose the right path - I can't even sit zazen for more than 35 minutes at a time. Hell, I might as well go back to Christianity - at least I can sit in church and pretend I'm paying attention.
    - during oryoki - holy crap Jundo! It's a good thing I'm a small person and don't need much to eat, okay this is really fast, Jundo is done already and I'm still chewing with half a bowl left, I wonder if I could finish after we're done (don't worry, I didn't cheat :lol: )
    - samu - yay! I can feel my butt and legs again! Wow - I can really get a lot of cleaning done when I can focus fully on what I'm doing. Boy my bathtub needs re-caulked!
    - chant, chant, chant…oh hail the watercloset, what? That’s not right…let’s try that again, chant, bow, chant
    - I'm never going to last like this, I can't, I can't, I can't !!

    I was in a lot of pain on Day 1. The pain, my mind told me, was unbearable. It made me angry and irritable and that’s all I could think of/see. Then late in the evening, I took a bathroom break during Kinhin. While I’m standing outside the bathroom and reciting my “water closet” verse, and bowing, my 5 year old wanted to know why Mommy was "praying to the crapper"! Snap! I came out of my funk, laughing heartily mind you and realized I was going about this all the wrong way…The rest of that evening, I seemed to be able to sit with the discomfort. I was more patient with myself and I found my breath (if that makes sense). I began to have things from the past come up – both good and bad. I was able to acknowledge them, the pain in my body and move on from them. Not letting them control me anymore. I found my stillness. I actually really enjoyed my last oryoki meal of the day and finished my meal before Jundo – yay me! Jundo – I also really enjoyed the little dance, you always make me smile.

    Day 2 started off a little rough…I had a hard time getting out of bed and getting moving. My body was still a little sore and tight. But I kept moving forward. I did my morning zazen service and samu. For Samu, I chose to take a brisk 20 minute walk. On that walk, I felt like I was looking at the world from a whole different perspective. The air smelled so cold and fresh. The sun felt so warm and invigorating. I started to feel a connection to EVERY little thing. I bowed to my garbage cans and thought of the men who pick up my garbage and remove it for me. How they come every week, no matter the weather. They do it to support their life, their families, and to help sustain the beauty of our environment. I know this sounds really touchy-feely and a little crazy…but these are the things I realized. I realized that in exercising my body, that I do it not only to maintain my health, but also to keep up my strength so that I can take care of my family and support them. I do it to help my elderly neighbors if they should need me at any time. I do it for the kids in my children’s classes, when I volunteer there. I do it for everyone who can benefit from it.

    I got “it”. Or at least just a small part of “it”. I saw the interconnectivity of everything and every one in my life. How we each have to rely on each other in order to live fully together. I bowed and made up a little “gratitude” verse for everything and everyone.

    I especially loved the Oryoki experience. I fully immersed myself in the ritual on Day 2. It made me realize how many hands it took to grow the food, harvest it, package it, and bring it to my table; all for my and the rest of our, consumption. I realized that the amount of food that I consumed during the meal was indeed, just enough. I also realized that on so many other occasions, how I have consumed food to the extreme for so many other reasons other than for nourishment. I completed my meal with satisfaction, felt full and comfortable.

    I enjoyed “praying to the crapper” and appreciated fully the fact that I have water. I have clean water to drink for life, to bathe in, to keep my body clean, etc. Everything became sacred and beautiful. I no longer complained to myself regarding the discomfort of Zazen, because I fully realized all the other comforts I have in my life.

    It was humbling, it was peaceful, it was cleansing, it was beautiful! Just like experiencing the birth of my children. It was an experience I will never forget and it has opened my eyes on so many levels.

    Thank you Jundo, for your time, your teachings, your sincerity and best of all your humor. Thank you to all of you for sharing your insights, opinions and your life with me and everyone else at Treeleaf. It is an honor to be here with you. Gassho…

    Kelly Rok

  2. #2

    Re: Retreat Experiences - more indepth

    Thank-you for writing about your experience you vividily and candidly

    Gassho, Martina

  3. #3

    Re: Retreat Experiences - more indepth

    Ah so perfectly said Kelly!!

    Gassho, Dirk

  4. #4

    Re: Retreat Experiences - more indepth

    Kelly, sounds like a Retreat that was just what a Retreat should be. Thank you for sharing. Gassho, Jundo

  5. #5

    Re: Retreat Experiences - more indepth

    Hi all,

    It's now been exactly a week since I ended the retreat, which I sat live after initally preparing to start at 6 am local time on Saturday. So, as 4pm local time on Friday approached I was a bit obsessed with getting everything ready. I also had an argument with my wife over internet chat about something very trivial and that made not seeing her before I started a bit difficult.

    For the first few rounds of zazen I think I literally went through every personal problem I'm facing and probably that I've ever faced. The air was completely still besides the bells and Jundo's voice, but it was deafening at the same time. It was actually the pain I began to feel in my back that directed me away from the thoughts spinning through my head. It was this one area of tightness right over my left shoulder blade that continued to get worse until I went to sleep at 9am!

    Even before Jundo mentioned that we could do kinhin if the pain was too intense, I had been doing that since sitting for more than 20 minutes seemed nearly impossible. But as time passed in became easier and I was amazed that my knees hadn't started to hurt that first day. Oryoki was a rough experience to say the least and I'll admit that I did plenty of snacking during the rest periods. That whole first day was about my obsessions coming into full view rather than sweeping them under the rug with regular daily activities. I listened to them but only for a few moments when I would let them pass through me and out of the room.

    When I woke on day two, my back didn't hurt at all but my knees felt like tight rubber bands that could snap at any moment. I remember thinking about whether or not I could get a blood clot by sitting that long or if anyone's thigh bone had ever popped out of its socket. In fact, such thoughts had previously kept me from sitting for any length of time as my mind played tricks on me. It became clear that part of me had been resisting zazen before the retreat, but here there were no excuses and it was only me, myself, and I.

    By the middle of the night on day two I was dragging myself across the floor for kinhin and when it came time for zazen I laid on the floor and tried to relax my mind. That was easy to do with the dharma talks that provided a perfect balance in the seriousness of the task with the levity to really inspire. The moment of realization for me was when Jundo and David decided to sit one last round of zazen and something inside me just knew that I should do it too. And even though the amount of time I'd been able to sit had been consistently getting shorter over time, I sat for that entire last session. The pain I felt in my knees was very focusing and provided me with an odd sense of having accomplished something that was really nothing. And for someone who constantly has thoughts running though the mind, nothing was a great thing indeed.

    If nothing else, the retreat had encouraged me to sit with more regularly and for longer periods of time. The Saturday sitting seemed like only a moment in time compared to the retreat. So much of what I experienced doesn't even translate into words so I know much of the flavor isn't represented here, but that's part of what made it so profound. And truly one of the most important moments was when my wife had to find me after her sugar went dangerously low. She was diagnosed with diabetes only a few months ago and has had it under such tight control that we'd never really understood what could happen. Thankfully she got through it quickly and safely. I was very touched in the days after the retreat with the kind words everyone expressed, especially since it was all of you that I thought of immediately and wanted to warn of something similar. I didn't even realize until later that I'd let the cat out of the bag about my wife being pregnant, something we hadn't told anyone! So, now all of you know...we go for her first ultrasound on Wednesday.

    This description barely scrathes the surface of what happened and I truly feel like a different person in some ways since the retreat. I faced some of my darkest demons but by the end didn't scare me the way it had in the past. For me, sitting in a small darkened room was perhaps the first time I'd really allowed all my thoughts to come flooding out...and once you turn around and stop running away you feel a strength that cannot be diminshed. To say they are gone would be overstating what happened, but the silence that followed during the retreat was no longer was...something very different.

    It was just amazing.


  6. #6
    Treeleaf Unsui Shugen's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2007
    Redding California USA

    Re: Retreat Experiences - more indepth

    Congratulations on the baby Scott!


  7. #7

    Re: Retreat Experiences - more indepth

    Congratulations! Good luck with the ultrasound on Wednesday... best wishes to you and your wife...


  8. #8

    Re: Retreat Experiences - more indepth

    Hello and thanks for writing the retreat experiences.

    I don't have too much more to add as mine was so similar (we are such a herd species) .
    Having never sat a two day retreat but used endurance events as one, I was surprised how similar they are. I even hit a runners wall from sitting. I did find being at home difficult as I could here my wife and son. Normally when I'm on a long run I start to think to myself, " this is stupid, what a waste of time, you could be with friends and family, giving your son or wife a hug..." I didn't expect that from the retreat too but the temptation was nearer as I was home, rather than on a mountain or lost in a forest ops: .This helped me view my whole practice differently with regards to friends and family.

    Another one came afterwards. After a big enduro event I can spend the next few days in a fog. My body trying to get itself back to normal as quickly as it can. (I could even challenge the Sangha to an Oryoki contest). After the retreat I did find myself a little snappy and foggy, after a few tips and a nudge in the right direction, I realised it was again something I had experienced before and so could adapt to it easier, enjoy the experience.

    So in short, thanks everyone, it was good sitting with you,


  9. #9

    Re: Retreat Experiences - more indepth

    thank you Kelly for starting this thread.
    i have been planing to do it myself but i guess it took me some time to digest such an experience and then some more time to feel ready to write.


    i have started my retreat on Monday 6 am local time so i used the record version. i must also add that i did not have my zafu and zabuton with me so i sat on different cushions that weren't as good, but still do the trick ( they are a bit too low ), so in the end it might of taken its toll on me.

    at first i was sleepy and existed and sat like i always do, quite and serene. after the first section and the oryoki the second unit of sitting began to hurt my legs and back and i had to readjust several times. during that unit i started noticing the patterns on the wall, the different coloration and hews of the paint. a shape that reminded me of a cloud, or a face, or animal or anything else.
    it dawned on me during that time just how the mind works. give it something and it will always fill in the blanks, and that it was true for all parts of life. i came to see where delusions where born and how they manifested themselves. it wasn't only knowing, since i already knew it on an intellectual level but actually seeing it on a much more basic level beyond any arguments.

    as the day continued and my pain began to worsen i had a hard time keeping the same position for more than 10 minutes, i even improvised a seiza bench and sat on that.
    i began hating zazen, just let it end my mind kept screaming....
    but i finally finished the first day exhausted and tired but not beaten.

    on the morning of the second day i dragged myself out of bed ( realizing just how stiff my limbs are ) i sat down on my cushions and began zazen.
    it was hard from start, my mind kept running over all the things i had to do, the apartment we just moved in to, the job interview i had to go to tomorrow, everything that came to mind... a movie i have seen a few days ago... as I've said everything!

    i kept sitting like this most of the day and in the end i even moved to a chair because the pain in my back legs and everything was too much, at one point i couldn't even walk kinhin!
    i must admit i even cut a few corners by cutting some zazen shorter or longer or something ( i don't even know ), i had a lot of technical problems with the computer and couldn't follow so i just sat with the schedule but i might of been too loose with it. i spent some time trying to make the recordings work and didn't notice that it was time for zazen.

    when it became dark outside and i was just too tired to go on i just let go of it all and just sat ( at one point even sitting on the chair was to much so i laid down on my back for 5 minutes in the dark ( it was during the lights off sitting ).

    at that time the second realization surprised me like a punch. i was very much attached to it all! and the thing is i didn't really want to give that up!!!
    i noticed how much i missed my girlfriend and my family and my dog and my friends and my life and doing things and living!!!
    as i sat longer i remembered that the whole point of zen is not to go away from the world but to live in it, and by just living and sitting zazen each day i am doing just that and that everything truly just what it is, and nothing more.
    and it is possible to just live and do zazen even when not sitting zazen, even when forgetting our way and falling off the wagon to delusions and ignorance we can always climb back. so i just let go of it all and just sat.

    in the end i held on and finished that day, i think this retreat actually broke me and built me back up again.
    it was much much harder and much easier that i thought it will be.

    after finished the retreat i came out of the room and called my girlfriend and i sat watching TV and ate dinner.
    i felt like i was in a daze, everything seemed so different yet the same... i still cant find the words do explain it and i doubt i will ever find them.
    i was just there... i was alive!

    thank you everyone who sat with me, all the wonderful people here at treeleaf ( and thank you for reading this ), thank you Jundo and David for setting this up.
    thank you teachers
    thank you everyone.

    Gassho, a deep and humbling gassho.
    Daniel, who is on the verge of tears.

  10. #10

    Re: Retreat Experiences - more indepth

    Hello all,

    Philip - I can really relate to what you said about having a hard time maintaining focus with your family just in the next room. I too had trouble with that...I would be fine in the stillness and quietness of the day, but when my family came home, I wanted so much to throw in the towel and be with them. But, they get me for the other 362-3 days out of the I figured they'd survive without me for 2 little days :lol: . Thank you for sharing with us. Gassho

    Daniel - Thank you too, for sharing your experience! I, like you, found it very difficult (and still do) to put into words...I feel that words cannot even come close to conveying all that I experienced. I just need to take it all out into the real world now...that's the key.

    Scott - I'm sorry to hear that your wife was feeling bad, I hope she is better now and I wish you all well throughout the pregnancy. Congratulations! I can relate to having to face past demons - I did so too, during the retreat...very cleansing. It was very difficult, as you said, to just 'be' by myself and focus...when in our daily lives we are constantly thinking about and caring for others.

    Did anyone else feel a little sad that you couldn't "have" this experience or really "share" it with your family? I know that in our practice it is important to separate ourselves and sit in silence...but I found it really hard to discuss this retreat with my husband. I wanted him to full grasp the experience and share it with him, but felt I was very much..unable. I had a really tough time trying to explain it to my kids and have them understand how important and special it was. That made me sad...

    Thank to all who have responded here...aahhh, the beauty of our Sangha.
    Gassho to all,

  11. #11

    Re: Retreat Experiences - more indepth


    We try to sit together my wife and i (kishinemma) although we seem to have less time to do so, but we try it anyway.
    I believe it to be a good way to come togheter and do something together, thats part of the meaning of being a family, being together.

    May the force be with you

  12. #12

    Re: Retreat Experiences - more indepth

    Hi people!
    I debated with myself over whether or not i would post anything here(heh -obviously I won??). Everything I experienced doesn't fit into words and yet some times it only takes a couple of words to cover the whole game. You all have already covered so much of what I wanted to share and done so many times more eloquent that I could have hoped to. With that said i will still try to go ahead and share what this experience was like for me.

    First off I took Friday and Monday off way in advance of there even being a set schedule for the sitting because i figured it would start early in the morning or the like. When the schedule was available i decided then to sit the whole thing through live. I had the time off, my office closed down @ 5 (which was the exact start time for the sesshin, I forgot to get rested up for the transition to all night sitting but figured it would be interesting to sit with. I set up my office while my coworkers were still milling about and they all stood out side my door snickering... I laughed along with them.

    So running on about 4 hours sleep prior and staying up all day to help my wife with our child and work around the house meant i was pooped at the get go. The first "Set" of Zazen/kinhin blew by everything was just wonderful. My oryoki was funny but i followed through. I REALLY felt the connection between us all as we sat... past present future here or there , melted. Nuts really!

    By close to the end of the first day i had to sleep so i took a rest period and a work period and napped (almost through a sitting too!!) I managed the rest of the sittings and when day 1 was over i laid out a blanket and slept on the floor (which was at 11am - 4pm) i slept with my back on my zabuton and the rest on the floor. little stiff being concrete floors. I did cover the windows in my office with brown paper making it nearly dark and the hum of the air conditioner/heater was soothing.

    Day 2 was tough the shiny glow was gone and it was just wall-staring and slow walking for allllong time to come. That attitude disappeared after the first oryoki and it was pretty easy going from then on -fuel for the fire, makes all the difference sometimes.

    I faced some of the things i would normally push away like an angry politician through a crowd of reporters NO COMMENT.
    Did I slay them? hell no... they are a part of me that is perfectly right and yet need a gentle guiding hand off the field. I don't know how else to say it.

    I was brought to tears a few times with you all. Sometimes remembering who i was sitting for, sometimes for those long past yet very vivid in my heart. I had tears of joy for the wonderful unknown to come for my family and the upcoming newest edition. and sometimes just weld up because. nuts (glad no one was looking... oh wait security cameras :P DOH)

    I laughed with all of you too. (nice jig David & Jundo )

    Ill stop now as i could ramble on even worse than this.
    All in all it was worth every moment. How could it be worth any more or less?
    If Treeleaf *cough*JUNDO*cough* ever does a 1 week sesshin I think ill either get a hotel room or fly to japan :P for the price of 1 week in a hotel here The office was sufficient for 2 days but the ac got stuck on and it was snowing out so the last day was a tad cool

    Here are some pics i took the second day when I woke up 4pm -ish AST (-4gmt for those keeping score)

    EDIT* OMG IM DENSE!! congrats scott and mrs. Im very excited for you(s) !! Im so SMRT i missed it both times until just now LOL!! /me hangs head in shame :C

    Gassho, Dirk

  13. #13

    Re: Retreat Experiences - more indepth

    Hello everyone,

    Congrats on the addition to your family, Scott. Daniel, thank-you for your post, so rich. Thanks, respect, gratitude to all.

    I sat in this little attic loft that has a comfortable mattress on the floor, so I did not sleep with my spouse, Jerry, during the retreat. I cooked rice and beans and put them in a little crock pot for oryoki so I wouldn't have to leave the loft too much during the day. We work at home, and the loft is open to our studio, so I could hear him going about his routine during the day, a few people came by, but he stayed really quiet. It is just the two of us & eight rescued cats and dogs. I am the official beast master, and he was gracious enough to take over those duties (which included giving a constipated & grouchy cat laxatives several times a day). We didn't sit together (he was invited to join in), but after it was over he reported feeling connected to it, even though we didn't see each other much or talk (passed a few notes about whether the cat was pooping, as scooping the litter was part of my samu). He told me sometimes it slipped his mind I was there, and then made a joke about hoping it had slipped my mind I was there, too, lol.

    Hardest part was to put work on dissertation aside, I had major deadlines I was not going to make. DId not make. I wound up being able to write the retreat into the chapter, my reader really liked it, and am glad I gave myself the time. I was so happy to have the time alone, and not really be alone at the same time, as I had the sense of all of us, too.

    Gassho, Martina

  14. #14

    Re: Retreat Experiences - more indepth

    Hi all,

    Many thanks to those who have posted their experiences and especially to those who wished my wife and I well. We had the ultrasound today and everything is going exactly as it should be....right down the middle. I am very grateful to all.


  15. #15

    Re: Retreat Experiences - more indepth

    Scott congratulations, may you both be well and happy

  16. #16

    Re: Retreat Experiences - more indepth

    Thanks Kelly for starting this thread off & my apologies for taking the time to share my experiences of the two day retreat.

    My fanily were wonderfully supportive in helping me take the time to do this. I did the recorded version and the technology worked faultlessly the entire time - I felt part of a wider community.

    General comments:

    On both days I found the first few hours difficult and it took me time to settle.
    I enjoyed the oryoki and it made the mundane sacred, but eating that fast was a challenge & it did feel overly fussy at some points. I could feel myself struggling with the ritual and wanting something simpler, cleaner.
    Samu was great I enjoyed loosing myself in the tasks that I had set (cleaning the bathroom mainly).
    Sitting had its ups and downs and after so many hours I resorted to many different postures to keep going.
    Enjoyed all the dharma talks (especially the last one Jundo - right up my street ) & the services.
    No deep spiritual message from it all - although at one point the wall went all wavy - which was kinda groovy man

    After the two days (and as Jundo warned) - I found my equilibrium was knocked, I felt more sensitive, got a cold etc. But I am coming out the other side of that now.

    Thanks again to everyone



  17. #17

    Re: Retreat Experiences - more indepth

    It's been over a week now since I completed the retreat and I just want to add a few comments.

    It was a beautiful experience, very powerful in a subtle way. Over the past week plus I frequently find myself remembering it very fondly. But then I have to stop myself by saying, "Get back to NOW!" just like I kept having to do during the retreat. It WAS great, but now I need to take that experience into the Now, or else it's not much different than some neat vacation trip I took once, some scrapbook experience, and it was soooo much more than that.

    The highlight for me was the dharma talk when Jundo said, "You are a buddha, so you better act like it." That really hit home!!! Then during the sitting in the dark afterwards, there was just enough light from the window to cast my shadow on the wall I was facing, and it made it appear like I was glowing. "OMG, I am a buddha! Look!" I kept saying to myself. Then I would double-check to make sure it wasn't another hallucination, lol (more on those below). Ever since that moment I have been very conscious of my buddha-nature and made extra (non)effort to (non)act on that nature. Again, trying to keep it in the Holy Now.

    Like others have mentioned, when I went outside during a rest period on the second day the grass was greener, the sky was bluer, the birds were chirpier, the breeze was breezier, etc. Everything was more glorious than usual. But it really wasn't! During a samu I dusted off all my trinkets and knick knacks. I never dust, ever, so I have about a dozen or more very dusty trinkets that have great meaning for me, but I never really take much care of them. As I dusted these items one by one I was amazed at how bright and beautiful they became. Colors became bright again with no dust to dull them. Details became clear again with no dust to obscure them. I kept thinking of the story where the current patriarch writes a poem is about cleaning the mirror of dust, and then the future patriarch adds to it saying there is no dust and there is no mirror. Everything outside was the same, as were all my trinkets, but I had cleared the dust in my head so I could suddenly experience them clearly. Very Cool!!!!

    A couple comments on the technology and virtual experience of it. The only technical glitches I had were when the video stopped a couple times during the long sessions, both times about right in the middle. One reloaded fine, and the other I had to slow forward to get back to the right spot. Other than that, I quickly dropped thought of it not being live. I knew it wasn't, but it FELT live. Thoughts of distance and recording, etc. dropped away for the most part. It felt like I was looking through a window at Jundo and David, and that they could, if they wanted, look back through the window at me. This was especially strong during samu. I would have the recording on but be doing my non-work in the other room, but periodically I would poke my head in the room to see what they were up to, and I suspected that Jundo might do the same checking on me. You know, I have never quite given up the idea that the lady on Romper Room might truly have been able to see me.

    One final note on my hallucinations. I sat facing a white textured wall, and those little random bumps are the perfect breeding ground for hallucinations. For the record, the wall never breathed, and it was no flashback experience from past ingestion of substances. This was all new. I saw a fantastic light show that just went on and on and on... and on. I saw lots of pictures of all sorts of people, some like photos, but most like cartoon drawings, some were real people, but most were not. Nothing I saw was negative or positive (no demons or divinities), none of it held my attention (OK, the light show was cool), because I knew that it was all just in my head. Those images projected on the wall were symbolic of the delusions I(we) project on the world. The wall was just being a wall, nothing more or less, but my brain wanted more so it created more. It was just a great lesson!

    Oh, one more thing about hallucinations, on the second day I heard some cheezy organ playing bad jingles-like music coming from the apartment behind me, which I happen to know was unoccupied, and I am about 99% certain she doesn't own an organ. This music was in no way synchronized with the visuals, so that was just weird.

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