Monday, 19 June 2017

My Journey Towards Self-Transcendence

My Journey Towards Self-Transcendence by Omar Cherif, One Lucky Soul



Transcendence (n): Existence or experience beyond the normal or physical level.

Synonyms: Excellence, supremacy, incomparability, matchlessness, peerlessness, magnificence; rare: paramountcy.

In everyday language, “transcendence” means “going beyond”; with “self-transcendence” meaning going beyond a prior form or state of oneself. Mystical experience is thought of as a particularly advanced state of self-transcendence, in which the sense of a separate self is abandoned.

Being born and raised in a certain place makes us prone to be heavily affected by its environment. Parents, preachers, school, religion, society, culture are all components of what influences our personalities and shapes our character. We are all a product of our upbringing. While we are not responsible for this conditioning we were exposed to during our childhood, as adults we are fully responsible for fixing it. I had previously shared my philosophical views about self-transcendence in Who Are We? as well as in Things I Got Rid Of To Become Happier. The following is a more detailed account of how it all transpired.

Having been born in Egypt I was naturally affected by all that. My parents were liberal, well-educated, and well-travelled, yet one cannot escape the overall paradigm in which they found themselves into. My first deconditioning was realising that my country, Egypt, was not the greatest country in the world as some repeated and still do. A few trips to the U.S and France during my childhood were enough for young me to reckon that there are more civilised countries where healthier and happier citizens live. Later in life, I noticed that most people who hold that childish kind of love for their country have never left it
— be it in Egypt, Canada, the U.S or anywhere else.

It is perfectly normal to love one’s country. But on the bigger scheme of things, nothing good can come out from believing that yours is superior to the rest; which brings us to nationalism. It’s a childish, flawed attitude and mindset to believe that the place where you happen to be born is better than all the rest of the other places. It means you chose to use your small, egoic mind to view the world. Unlike the big-picture view of the Higher Self, this way you are separating yourself from all the rest of humanity by believing you are better than them, which is a mere delusion. With that in mind, there are no master races or superior or inferior humans.

You know
Einstein called nationalism an infantile disease and the measles of mankind for a reason. We don’t really see any borders from space, do we. 

On a parallel note, there is patriotism, which is a mere feeling of admiration for a way of life of a country, as Orwell once explained it. It is believed by some to be based on affection and is considered passive.; while nationalism is rooted in rivalry and resentment and considered a little aggressive.
“One can say that nationalism is militant by nature and patriotism is based on peace.”

Both terms are cleverly woven together and are frequently believed to mean the same thing, but they don
t and thats why they are two distinct words. Both, though, remain a way to separate ourselves from others; to feel proud that we are better than them — when we clearly aren’t.

The feeling of patriotism — It is an immoral feeling because, instead of confessing himself a son of God . . . or even a free man guided by his own reason, each man under the influence of patriotism confesses himself the son of his fatherland and the slave of his government, and commits actions contrary to his reason and conscience.” 

Leo Tolstoy had to say from Patriotism and Government.

The following transcendence began through some doubts about religion.

When I was 14 years old I had a question that no one seemed to know the answer to: If God is omniscient
all-knowing, all-wise, all-seeing in an absolute and unlimited sense, then he knows in advance what all our choices will be in this life: Past, present, and future. So what’s, then, the point of existing if it’s all predetermined? Where would our choices and freewill fall into this equation? 

I asked teachers, uncles, and aunts, and no one seem to be able to give me a direct answer. Some tried, though, with
Its all a test; but then when I take it further, asking why create a test if you know its final result, I could see it in their eyes that most had absolutely no idea what they were talking about.

As I aged, said confusion I saw in older people led me to further questions. If they don’t know the answer to a question a teenager is asking, then probably there are more unanswered questions. This simple logic compelled me to want to find out more. 

For example, why would ‘He’ create us, determine our whole lives, then sit back and watch? If all is known, then why are we here? Where is the choice? Where is the freedom? Where is the freedom of choice?

Another thing that didn’t make sense to me was what we were taught as school children about gay people who will end up burning in hell on the hand of vicious ghouls  — according to the Quranic story of the People of Lot who were destroyed by the wrath of God for engaging in carnal acts between men. It is somewhat similar in Christianity and Judaism.  

Additionally, according to the Quran a man can beat his wife/wives (four are allowed) to discipline her
— though only lightly — as he can also beat his children to force them to pray.

Despite this early education, it didn’t take long for teenage me to question some of the incoming information and the exhausted atavistic ideology it represents. I actually had a gay relative in the family whom everyone loved and who passed away around the same time; and the idea of him going to hell despite the fact that he was a genuinely great person who actually prayed five times a day made no sense. This led to some pondering:

Let me get this straight (not intended, but I like it): So you mean God, who’s omniscient — knows every single thing — created all these homosexual folks, whether they were born ‘gay’ or became it later in life, then he promises to throw them in hell because they are not like everyone else? If it’s such a sinful abomination to like someone from the same-sex, why can’t He ‘fix’ them if He’s omnipotent — all powerful and can do anything? Why create them in the first place then lay your wrath upon them? What kind of reasoning is this? And most importantly, how come many people believe it?

The same logic can be used about why create sick children and allow extreme poverty if He’s Omnipotent. 

Do they wholeheartedly believe that God favours some over others according to what they do in their private bedrooms and not just according to a geographical haphazard coincidence? That is quite the petty, nosey, judgmental God they are talking about. 

No wonder that some atheists often repeat:
Your God is too small”. Actually this is the title of a book by J.B. Phillips. 

Further, there is the good ol
Logical Problem of Evil, first attributed to the Greek philosopher Epicurus and his argument (modern version), which highlights the problematic issue with the concept of the Abrahamic creator God.
  • God exists.
  • God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent.
  • An omnibenevolent being would want to prevent all evils.
  • An omniscient being knows every way in which evils can come into existence, and knows every way in which those evils could be prevented.
  • An omnipotent being has the power to prevent that evil from coming into existence.
  • A being who knows every way in which an evil can come into existence, who is able to prevent that evil from coming into existence, and who wants to do so, would prevent the existence of that evil.
  • If there exists an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent God, then no evil exists.
  • Evil exists (logical contradiction).

Let us remember that a distorted truth or half-truth is much worse than no truth.
That is to say that false knowledge is much worse than ignorance. 

More on the topic can be found in these earlier pieces of mine: Unfollow The Crowd and OLS Reflections — The Spiritual Edition.

This should be enough regarding theism, for now. The rest is in the book. There is a full chapter titled God Between Spirituality and Religion
 which begins with the following quote by
Joseph Campbell:
Every religion is true one way or another. It is true when understood metaphorically. But when it gets stuck in its own metaphors, interpreting them as facts, then you are in trouble.

During my time at the American University in Cairo studying Journalism and Mass Communication, psychology, and philosophy I used to travel to London, UK for short winter holidays. This was when I got into clubbing and dancing. It didn’t take long to realise that the scene was full of gay people — men and women. So I began loosing up my slight homophobia. Nevertheless, my thinking was: I don’t have anything against them, and to each his own, as long as they don’t approach me. Still, there was this ‘us’ and ‘them’ component in the dynamic. Obviously I was not comfortable enough.

The following years by the end of 1990s in Egypt, a few gay people from my generation began being known throughout that closed-knit society. In fact, three guys we all knew got busted through something related to the Internet… for being homosexual, which until today in 2017 is still an offense punishable by law in some countries, which itself is based on the Islamic Sharia law. Remember that Saudi women cannot drive! Exactly. And people are just going about their lives not giving a flying hoot that this is even permissible. But one thing is apparent, these man-made
laws’ cannot be taken too seriously.

In general, in repressed societies not many talk about the topic of homosexuality. And whenever they did, it is never anything good. Though the truth remains, like everywhere else around the world, gay men and women existed, exist, and will keep existing and there is absolutely nothing to do about it. What others do in their private lives and bedrooms should never concern anyone but themselves.

As such, deeming homosexuality, or LGBTQ rights in general, illegal in some countries will only increase the taboos and stereotypes around it, making people engage in it in secrecy. A look at the underground gay life in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait among other nations in the region is enough evidence. Just like the war on drugs, it
s a lost cause.

When kids attending school in the years 2117 will be be taught that in history class they will certainly wonder how we allowed this
social ostracism and discrimination against said communities for all this time.

Speaking of which, for those who are not aware of the meaning of that recently added Q, it
s short for Queer and/or Questioning. While queer was originally used pejoratively against those with same-sex desires until the late-1980s, queer scholars and activists began reclaiming the word. Then there is the Questioning of one’s own gender, sexual identity, sexual orientation, or all three is a process of exploration by people who may be unsure, still exploring, and concerned about applying a social label to themselves for a variety reasons.

On a personal level, however, I was always that masculine guy who was dating girls and women left and right. So despite the occasional curiosity — about why religions vilify same-sex and about the topic itself — I didn’t think much about it.    

As I matured even more, my intellect as well as philosophical mind matured with me, so did my questions, wondering and pondering. This was when I sort of
awoke” and began thinking for myself, one could say. 

So as a species, we’re stuck to a 4.5 billion-years-old rotating rock that is orbiting a star, which itself is orbiting the center of the Milky Way galaxy; this galaxy is traveling through the limitless space of the Universe at a staggering rate of 600 Km/s — that’s 2.2 million km/h — and what we do with our own genitals and body is what matters? Uhm, Come the right on. 

A further notion which stopped making sense to me is the ‘hell’ idea that people spend their entire lives fearing. This concept of a dreaded ‘place’ full of fire and wicked demons who will torture you for ever and ever if you didn’t listen to certain rules — including playing with your genitals the not-so-right way. 

“But hey, He LOVES you
,” quoting George Carlin.

After some digging I found that it is established between thinkers that religions were initially against homosexuality because it doesnt produce babies, hence less followers and less armies and less workers. Thats pretty much it summed up in one sentence. The argument that it is unnatural can be debunked by the fact that homosexual/bisexual behaviour have been observed in more than 1500 species from tiny worms to large primates. 
My Journey Towards Self-Transcendence by Omar Cherif, One Lucky Soul
Maslows final version of his famous Hierarchy of Needs

It is significant to note that I owe almost all my knowledge to philosophy, psychology, mysticism, and
esotericism. Yet, to reach such a state I had to come to term with the fact that despite my good education, I was only starting to fathom how much I didnt know. I actually had to unlearn so much wrong information that were ingested in my mind for three decades. But I also knew deep within that there is this unquenched curiosity and sincere desire to find out the Truth for myself, rather than just settle with belief or the experiences of others. I hence read books and engaged in philosophical and theological conversations whenever I could so that I may lean more.
One of the things I came across everywhere around me as I was growing up is “Confirmation Biases”. These are Cognitive biases that involve favouring certain information which confirms previously existing beliefs or biases, while disregarding the information which does not support them. I was there myself one day.

Another related term used in modern psychology is Cognitive Dissonance — or the feeling of disorientation and discomfort which results from holding two or more conflicting cognitions; ideas, beliefs, values, or emotional reactions. It’s a sort of willful blindness, one could say. For it entails lying to yourself to justify some aspects of your reality. 

People who suffer from Cognitive Dissonance don’t rely on reason or common sense to shape their opinions, because they are not ready to have their illusions shattered. So they prefer to convince themselves with preconceived views and biases — whatever is comforting — by overlooking any kind of facts or evidence, and without truly thinking for themselves.

After the Egyptian Revolution of 2010 I had to deal with many of those people, mainly online. We would argue for a bit and then I
d begin noticing a repeated pattern. When I was later introduced to the term, I studied their reactions and it all made sense. Thinking about it now, to some degree I was equally there at a point in time.

You see, most people will always cognise and interpret information to fit what they already believe. And since they need to believe in something, so they make themselves believe whatever is in tune with their internal worldview and disregard whatever contradicts it. And traditional religions are full of people with cognitive dissonance who are constantly using cognitive biases and get by by cherry-picking from the dogmatic scriptures. 

For them, it is more comfortable to be numbly adhering to a certain belief system — preserving the old us-and-them model we are born into and going along with it, rather than objecting or rejecting it. 

Today, religions are simply political tools used by the ones in charge.

The reality is, if they truly studied the scriptures, all of them, theists will find some good as well as some balderdash. But as factual truth, there are many inconsistencies, making the stories and the history not add up. Remember, the patriarchal Abrahamic religions are at least 1400 years old and those were notoriously different times. So it is natural that some of the rules and constraints must be dropped due to the fact that we know better now as a species. Whatever insults our soul and offends our intelligence should be discarded. This translates as being true to oneself; it goes hand in hand with ceasing to believe the social conditioning and the indoctrination we were all exposed to as children while embracing our newly-found truths.

Interestingly, recent research in cognitive neuroscience has shown that the brain physiology is directly affected by our inner belief systems. The reason being is that all facts, ideas, and actions take the form of networks of neurons in our brain. While the left hemisphere is responsible for preserving the old model — the existing paradigm, our reality tunnel — the right one is constantly challenging the status quo. When the right hemisphere cannot convince the left one to change its views it ends up by causing narrow-mindedness, almost literally. In essence, it is our neural connections that physically define our belief system.

The good news, however, is that through transformative learning and neuroplasticity we know that the wiring between those networks can indeed be altered. Once
the long-held beliefs and values reality tunnel change, the mind opens up... again, almost literally.

Let us now fast forward to my early 30s when I left Egypt to Canada in 2010 and transcended an ever more complex label regarding sexual identity and orientation.

There was a pub right across the street of the tiny studio where I lived in Toronto. These were my early days of taking writing seriously, so sometimes I would go there to write and edit as I pleasure myself with a beer or three. 

One day, I was sitting in the outdoor patio with Caramella my late Cocker Spaniel peacefully by my side. I was enjoying the rare sun while reading High Priest by Timothy Leary. At some point I went inside to go to the bathroom and on my way back I saw a guy sitting a couple of tables away get up to take a closer look on my book before swiftly going back to his friend. I pretended I didn’t see and went back to sit.

An hour later, someway or another we started talking. I think it was Caramella whom he began playing with — as it often happened since she was such an adorable dog. 

We met a few times at the same pub and I got to know that James is 50-years old and originally from Montreal… and that he’s openly gay.

On the other hand, I naturally opened up in return. I told him about my past addiction years and how I spent them in a relationship with heroin. To my surprise, James, too, had the same history; although instead of my 7 years, he was into heroin for 12. Usually when I tell people my own story I get some kind of advantage
— for lack of a better word regarding what we have gone through. Addiction is addiction; still, a two-year habit on doctor-prescribed muscle relaxant is not the same as a decade-long habit of street heroin.

This time, however, the opposite happened: Waow, 12 years and you got [and remained] clean and healthy and happy now. Good for you. The comparison sort of humbled me and made me think that perhaps I didn’t really screw up that much. It equally gave me hope while showing me that there is indeed a life after addiction, even after what I thought were many years.  

Being both talkative and outgoing, we followed through with opening up and sharing our pasts. One day James began talking about his ex who got Aids and passed away. And how after a certain age, it’s not about the sex; but rather it’s about having someone to enjoy life and grow old with. 

He also shared that during his heroin years he never stole or did anything illegal to get high — while signalling to his mouth using his right hand and saying: “I gave my services, if you know what I mean.” For a second there I actually didn’t know what he meant; because it wasn’t the first thing that came to mind. Then somehow I remembered Basketball Diaries and got an Aha-Moment. 

This was the first time in my life to sit and talk about such stuff with an openly gay man. It was quite the different perspective that I was being exposed to. As mentioned, it had always been me and them. But the guy was so open, fun, and natural that I felt that if I didn’t like him then it’s probably because I still have a certain degree of homophobia — which I should probably start questioning its origin.  

I stayed in Toronto for three years and that pub remained the most convenient place to go to whenever I needed to work outside of the house for a change — mostly during early afternoons. Other than James, I met other people, mainly older, and we would sometimes share tables and beer pitches. He knew I had a girlfriend then and have met her a few times when she would pass by. Even in front of her he would sometimes jokingly catcall me: “Hey handsome”, “Look at that hairy chest”. And surprisingly, I was totally cool with it.

I remember once I was writing there when James later came to my table and said: “You take yourself so seriously” — meaning being so into my writing. This was quite interesting since I rarely ever heard this before. I was always told that I’m either a joker or crazy or whatever, but never ‘serious’. But, this time it was about my passion for writing and it showed me that, indeed, I can be serious about something I love, which eventually became my life’s vocation. 

I also remember witnessing him get bullied by an old-timer Canadian guys in his 60s. You can sit with us, but dont talk, the man told him. He told me about it when he came to sit on my table for a while. He seemed a little troubled by the incident and I sincerely felt bad for him; that at 50 years of age and in Toronto, Canada gay folks ares still discriminated against.

Then one day something happened that changed everything.

As we were sitting at the pub all casually James offered to go back home to give me a blowjob. I smiled at him and calmly said that I’m not interested. Normally, after something like that it could get awkward between two people — let alone with guys, and one of whom isn’t gay. But it didn’t get awkward. Actually, I even joked about what it would be like that one day I decide to switch. We stayed on the same table and resumed our chatting about sexuality, bisexuality, pansexuality, and polyamory. He said: “You know, many straight guys have things on the side with other guys and it spices up their sex lives with women.” 

I later found out that this side bro play is pretty common around the world nowadays. The official African American slang term for this phenomenon is being on the down low. 

Likewise, more women now are experimenting with same-sex just to know how it feels. It doesnt mean they are gay, which again, is just a label. Personally, I hold the view that we are all a bit bisexual, whether we admit it or not and whether we choose to experiment with it or not. 

When I left the pub that day I called my then-girlfriend on the phone to tell her what just transpired. We were both laughing. It was a first time, so in a way I still couldn’t believe it happened so genuinely. In another way, I was surprised and actually quite proud of my reaction. Because back in the days I would have probably freaked out a little. It was then and there when I realised that I am not the same person I was some years ago. 

Though I wasn’t precisely certain why I have changed from within: Was it living in North America for a few years, or sobering up, or just maturing? Perhaps it was a combination of all that. But I was undeniably glad that this conditioned bigotry was dropped and that Im no longer a knobhead. 

Contemplating the matter, when some people, notably men, react to notions of homosexuality with what seems to be ‘disgust’, it is not an actual emotion of disgust. Rather, it is their ego’s subconscious way to declare that they do not fancy men. The kink is, if you are secure in your own sexuality and certain that you’re straight, you wouldn’t get that need to prove that you’re not. Oftentimes, it is those who are trying too hard to conceal their latent homosexuality, or even just thoughts about it, who develop homophobic tendencies. Some are afraid to like it so they resort to fantasising about it in secrecy while at the same time hypocritically vilify it in public. 

My Journey Towards Self-Transcendence by Omar Cherif, One Lucky Soul

Our only limitation lies in who we think we are — our ego.
 As such, being indoctrinated from a young age is not easy to decondition from. Most people keep believing a significant portion of what they had been taught as kids and identify with it. As we have seen earlier, one example is the preconceived ideas and concepts about what God is and what is allowed and what isnt.

Fortunately [as
French-Jewish philosopher Henri Bergson expressed in the below quote], others develop critical thinking abilities at some point in life, which allows them to question and doubt the incoming information. It further gives them a chance to self-transcend their prior being and embrace a non-judgmental Higher Self. One that is more conscious, more compassionate, more empathetic. 

This is who we essentially are at the core. Not the labelled version we were stamped with as soon as we were born, but the liberated Oversoul. 

After my tour across America when I relocated to Venice Beach in Los Angeles I noticed that on top of nationality, creed, and sexual orientation I have transcended even more schisms, like skin-colour and even gender identity.

 And it happened so flawlessly.

I have a cool next-door neighbour, Rob, who’s in his early 50s and looks a tad like Obama. He has that light chocolate colour and honestly I have never thought of him as a black man, despite the fact that there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Still, it seems that my newly-enhanced personality is not interested in labelling or categorising people. At all. Three months after moving, the man was telling me once about his parents who live in Boston, mentioning that due to the fact that they’re black they get uncomfortable coming through LAX airport. It was only then that I was overcome by this epiphany: Wait… So Rob is black? Ah yes, Rob is black! Oh well.

Around the same time I came across a dancer with pretty green eyes at the Venice Beach Drum Circle. We spoke a few times before realising one day that she is probably a transgender. I asked a couple of brothers and sisters from the Circle about her and they proved me right. Now, finding out something like that would have naturally made me back off. But I didn’t. I mean, nothing much eventually happened, but I still liked her/him and her/his green eyes. As a human being, you see. If she identifies as a woman, who am I to tell her No. Not just that, but I will also treat her as a woman. That experience was another first.

Back to my vanishing homophobia...
I became so fine with the idea [that gay people exist and will always do], that now when I see visibly gay guys checking me out, either at the Circle or simply in the streets I may smile, even if internally, instead of neurotically turning my face away as I did for many years. The same goes for receiving compliments. Which reminds me: A male fan once wrote me “You’re so gorgeous, inside and out in a private message as a comment on a photo. And since this was even before the encounter with James at the pub, for me it was quite a big deal. So I was excited to write my mother and sister in Egypt to tell them as I was equally excited to tell the same then-girlfriend — to share a chuckle. 

As previously noted, my surprise was not about how these things were happening in my mid-30s for the first time. But rather, how cool I became when they did.    

I even went further and went to get a massage by a transgender girl. Yes. The first time it wasn
t planned. The receptionist just asked me if I wanted a ladyboy. What an unexpected surprise. My heart starting beating pretty fast before asking if the girl is pretty, to which she said yes. So with my heart pumping even faster I then agreed.

As for the massage, I loved it because her hands were relatively stronger than female; for my muscles require significant strength. So I did it again, twice, with different girls though. This is how
secure I am now about my own sexuality. Im even publicly writing about it herein. Utmost Gratitude for getting rid of these acquired complexes.

My Journey Towards Self-Transcendence by Omar Cherif, One Lucky Soul

After more introspection and self-exploration I came to the conclusion that labels are absolutely nothing but labels. They are cultural constructs which we are born to find and never get the opportunity to choose. Whether it’s nationality, creed, skin colour, sexual orientation, or gender identity, once your consciousness evolves you realise the uselessness of all such limiting divisions; that we are all essentially One; that there is much more beyond all these labels and titles and terms. When you develop the empathetic ability to put yourself into others shoes you become everyone and everyone becomes you. This is why we should be more interested in the naked soul, in the inner workings of our true selves.   
An illusion is a distorted form of perception; and the biggest illusion of all is that your own perspective isn’t distorted. Only when one begins to see through the veil of this self-imposed illusion can he self-transcend and overcome himself — becoming Nietzsche’s Übermensch, or Overman/Superman.  
The only things that (seem to) separate us are flags, books, beliefs, ideologies, fears and egos. Again, thats why we call separateness an illusion. Because the observer is the observed; for he creates the object observed in his mind, which makes this duality one because one wouldn’t exist without the other. Quoting Rumi: “You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean in a drop.”

Conversely, through us the Universe is exploring itself. Biologically, chemically, atomically, as well as transcendentally and spiritually. We are it and it is us. It is an extension of our minds, and it is experiencing itself in infinite ways. But as a physical organism, most of us just happen to experience it in this life in the singular — bound by time and space.

As shared, freeing myself from all the baggage the ego brings along I had to look beyond the labels, mine and others. Nowadays, it actually happens subconsciously as with Rob. My mind probably began disregarding those us-and-them schisms on its own after realising that they are useless in functioning in this world or in categorising people.

Being good and having morals and values have nothing to do with your nationality, religion, skin colour, creed, or what you do in your bedroom. It simply depends on the level of empathy you possess — how you treat and serve others. That is just it. For it is not our beliefs that matter in the end, it’s our behaviour. 

Free your mind, get to know your true self, then just BE and enjoy Life. Fully. Madly. Passionately. And lastly, remember that unconditional Love, not fear, is the Tao. 


Who Are We?

Unfollow The Crowd  

Why We Should Not Fear Death 

Change Is The Only Constant

Things I Got Rid Of To Become Happier

The Intertwining of Genius and Insanity

Connecting the Dots — a Storyteller Way of Seeing the Big Picture

The Parable Of The Cow: You Are Not Your Thoughts

Out-of-Body Experience and Ego Death on a “Heroic Dose” of Mushrooms 

The Archaic Origin of the Swastika Symbol [with Photos]

OLS Reflections — The Spiritual Edition

Dealing with High Awareness and Empathic Accuracy

Surviving the Madness of Sakarana — Hyoscyamus muticus

The LSD Experiments of the 1950s and 60s [Videos & Documentaries]

The Millennium Eve I Spent Alone at the Mosque 

The Ashram Sweeper Who Blocked Me on Facebook

Dreaming That The Buddha Was Not Fat

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