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Svādyāya III: Being In the Middle (the “missing” Wednesday post) May 21, 2021

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[This is the super-sized “missing” post related to Wednesday, May 19th. You can request an audio recording of Wednesday’s practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

In the spirit of generosity (“dana”), the Zoom classes, recordings, and blog posts are freely given and freely received. If you are able to support these teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” a practice that is not designated as a “Common Ground Meditation Center” practice, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible; class purchases are not necessarily deductible.

Check out the “Class Schedules” calendar for upcoming classes.]

“A good puzzle, it’s a fair thing. Nobody is lying. It’s very clear, and the problem depends just on you.”


– Ernö Rubik


How is life like a puzzle? Or not like a puzzle?

Ernö Rubik, the Hungarian architect and architect professor who invented the Rubik’s Cube today in 1974, didn’t set out to be an inventor – let alone the inventor of one of the most popular toys of the 80’s. His original intention was to build a three dimensional model he could use to help his architecture students develop spatial awareness and solve design problems. The only problem was that he wanted to be able to move the parts around without taking the model apart and putting it back together. One day, while walking on a cobblestone bridge in Budapest, he looked down and realized if the core of his model resembled the cobblestones he could twist and turn the pieces accordingly.

Physically speaking, we humans have parts that are similar to the core of the Rubik’s cube – and even the Rubik’s snake. But, if you go a little deeper, you will find that we are not only connected in a physical (body) way, we also mental, emotional, energetic, and spiritual connections that bind us to our current time and place and also provide support as we move through our practice and through our lives.

Obviously, Western science has a physical and energetic mapping system. As do the traditional sciences like the systems that come from China, Africa, and India. For example, yoga and Ayurveda, as they come to us from India, provide an energetic mapping system through which we can view and process our lives and experiences. This mapping system consists of nadis (energy “channels” or “rivers”) which house our vitality/spirit; chakras (energy “wheels”), which are the intersecting points of the three major nadis; and marma (“secret” or “vulnerable”) points. The nadis and chakras are part of the subtle body. The marma points are pressure points where the subtle/energetic body meets the physical/tangible body – and are typically found where tendons, bones, muscles, joints, veins, nerves, and other tissues come together. They can be healing points (because they are places where vital energy should flow, but can become stagnant); however, they are also “kill” points – which is why they are called secret.

In our yoga practice, I often mention how seven chakras are energetically and symbolically connected to the body and to our lived experiences. For example, the 1st chakra is associated with our lower bodies (toes, feet, ankles, knees, legs, and pelvic floor) and energetically and symbolically connected to our first family, tribe, and community of birth. I will often point out, as well, that just as we can be genetically connected to people we have never met and will never meet, we can be energetically connected to people we have never met and will never meet. Notice that this area, physically and energetically, provides our foundational support in life.

According to this same paradigm, the 2nd chakra (hips and lowest portion of the abdominal cavity) is connected to the friends we make outside of our early support system (and, I believe, the friendships we choose to make as adults with people who may be in that first group). Take a moment to consider how where you start in life plays a part in how you “cultivate a good heart” (i.e., make friends) with people who are perceived as being different from you. (Or not.) Take a moment to consider that, even with the proliferation of internet access, geography (again, where we come from) also plays a part in who is able to make up our close circle of friends. (Remember, Linda Brown had a diverse group of friends in her neighborhood, but did not go to school with them and, therefore, had different experiences from them – differences that shaped the course of her life.)

The 3rd chakra (solar plexus or middle and upper abdominal cavity) is energetically connected to our ego, of self, personality, self esteem, and how we see ourselves in the world. This area is even, to a certain degree, connected to how we think others perceive us. Take a moment to consider how where you come from and the friends you make along the way play a part in how you see and understand yourself.

Notice, for a moment, how all of these areas are related to our physical stability and how each area of experience builds on the other areas our lives – just as our body stacks up on itself. This building process continues through the heart chakra (which is connected to our capacity to love and extend ourselves and our gifts to others); the throat chakra (connected to will and determination); the third eye or 6th chakra (connected to our sense of Truth); and the crown or 7th chakra (connected to our sense of this present moment).

Considering these connections, as I suggested in the first three examples, can be a form of svādyāya (“self-study”). However, to really go deep, we might consider the lived experiences of other people and our physical-mental responses to those lived experiences. Take, for instance, the lived experiences of Johns Hopkins, Malcolm X, and Lorraine Hansberry – all of whom were born on May 19th in different parts of the United States of America.

While we could view their lives through the “lens” of each chakra, I am really just focusing here on the first three – which are related to foundational support and connection/bonding. If you were practicing with me (or reading the blog) over the last month and half, you will have noticed references to the Tree of Life and to how in Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism), seven of the 10 sefirot (“emanations” of the Divine) can be overlapped with parts of the body. One of those parts being the pelvic and abdominal regions, which is associated with yesod (“foundation” and “bonding”). Notice, that if you are sitting (especially if you are sitting on the floor), there is a direct overlap between the first through third chakras and the area associated with yesod.

“[JOSEPH] ASAGAI: Just sit awhile and think… Never be afraid to sit awhile and think.”



– quoted from A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry

Johns Hopkins was born May 19, 1795, on his family’s 500-acre tobacco plantation (White’s Hall, named after the originally owner of the land) in what is now Gambrills, Maryland. The Samuel Hopkins and Hannah Janney Hopkins had eleven children and were part of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). They also owned slaves, but in theory the family freed their slaves in 1807 – when Johns Hopkins was 12 years old – in accordance with their Quaker beliefs. According to the often repeated stories, Johns (and his siblings) worked in the field with indentured and freed Blacks from the time he was 12, until he left home at 17.  

I hesitate to mention that last bit; first, because it may be more legend than truth. Second, because even if the stories are true, the Hopkins siblings and the Blacks had very different experiences. However, it’s a connection (a 3rd chakra connection) and it’s interesting to consider how the school-aged siblings – Johns, in particular, felt when they had to quit school in order to work in the fields. It would also be interesting to know what became of those indentured and freed Blacks (and their descendant)… but I don’t currently know that information.

What I do know, is that Johns left home at 17, went to work for a paternal uncle who owned a wholesale grocery, fell in love with his first cousin (who he couldn’t marry), and eventually started a business with a fellow Quaker, Benjamin P. Moore (not to be confused with the Irish immigrant who started the paint company with his brothers). When Moore left the business, Johns and three of his brothers started building their own wholesale empire.

Eventually, Johns Hopkins became wealthy enough to provide for his extended family; bail out the City of Baltimore and a railroad company when they ran into financial difficulties, and retire at 52. The millionaire entrepreneur, investor, and philanthropist died childless and unmarried (as did his first cousin, Elizabeth). However, he left bequests to provide for his extended family (including Elizabeth, for whom he provided a home) and his longest serving servant (James Jones). He is also left bequests that founded a number of organizations including Johns Hopkins Hospital (which was instructed to admit “the indigent poor – “without regard to sex, age or color”) and Johns Hopkins University (the country’s first research university), as well as a nursing school, an academic press, and an orphanage for African-American children that became a training school before it was closed. Those bequests, which went into effect when Johns Hopkins died on Christmas Eve 1873 at the age of 78, totaled about $7 million (which would be the equivalent of approximately $147.5 million today).

Johns Hopkins and the institutions that he founded with his bequests have a complicated legacy. Again, there is the whole origin story – which would explain some of his future actions… but, then again, there’s evidence that the story isn’t completely true. He is remembered as an abolitionist (which would be in keeping with his Quaker roots), who supported President Abraham Lincoln (even when it caused him some grief with other businessmen); however, there is evidence that he personally owned slaves at least 3 years after his retirement. Then there’s the legacy of the institutions that bear(ed) his name, including Johns Hopkins Hospital – which is where Henrietta Lacks was able to be treated for cancer and where cells were taken from her cervix (2nd chakra) for research purposes (without her knowledge or consent).

“I am a man!”



– a declaration of humanity that dates back to the abolitionists movement and was used as a slogan during the South African anti-apartheid and American Civil Rights movements, as well as being a legal point during the Dred Scott and Chief Standing Bear cases in the United States

“P. S. 153, Harlem School Teacher [portrayed by Mary Alice]: May 19th we celebrate Malcolm X’s birthday, because he was a great, great Afro-American. And Malcolm X is you. All of you. And you are Malcolm X.


[Students in P. S. 153, Harlem classroom and Soweto classroom [portrayed by John David Washington, Aaron Blackshear, Nilyne Fields, Rudi Bascomb, Muhammad Parks, Chinere Parry, Ian Quiles, Sharmeek Martinez, Ashanti (uncredited), and 1 uncredited actor]: I am Malcolm X!


Soweto Teacher [portrayed by Nelson Mandela]: As brother Malcolm said, We declare our right on this earth to be a man, to be a human being, to be given the rights of a human being, to be respected as a human being, in this society, on this earth, in this day, which we intended to bring into existence…

Malcolm X: … by any means necessary.”



– quoted from the movie Malcolm X (or X) directed by Spike Lee, co-written by Spike Lee and Arnold Perl, based on The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X and Alex Haley  


Born Malcolm Little on March 19, 1925, in Omaha, NE, Malcolm X was the fourth of seven children born to Earl Little (who had three children from a previous marriage) and Louise Helen Little (who was an immigrant from the West Indies). Malcolm’s parents were active members of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL), a Black nationalist fraternal organization founded by Pan-African Marcus Garvey. By the time he was 2 years old, the family had been uprooted twice (moving to Milwaukee, Wisconsin and then Lansing, Michigan), because of threats from the Klu Klux Klan, in response to Earl Little’s speeches. Around the time he was 4, the family moved again after their home burned down under suspicious circumstances – circumstances that the Little patriarch directly connected to the Black Legion, a Midwestern offshoot of the KKK.

When Malcolm was 6, his father died in a streetcar incident that was officially declared an accident, that one insurance company called a suicide, and that the Little matriarch directly connected to the Black Legion. The family did benefit from a smaller life insurance policy; they received $18 a month for a little over four years. Strapped for cash, the family made ends meet by renting out a portion of their garden and hunting. By the time he was 12, Malcolm’s mother thought she would re-marry – only to have the man disappear after she became pregnant. She had a mental breakdown and was institutionalized when he was 13 years. The Little children were split up and sent into foster care.

“Education is an important element in the struggle for human rights. It is the means to help our children and our people rediscover their identity and thereby increase their self respect. Education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.”



– quoted from a speech at the Audubon Ballroom on June 28, 1964, marking the founding of the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU), by Malcolm X

Malcolm X dropped out of school when a teacher told him he couldn’t be lawyer because of his race (only she used a racial slur when she said it) and he started working the odd jobs hustle. Eventually he moved to Roxbury (the African-American neighborhood which, centuries earlier, had been the starting place of William Dawes’s “Midnight Ride” for freedom) to live with one of his older half-sisters, Ella Little-Collins. But, he didn’t say long; eventually moving to Flint, Michigan and then to Harlem in New York City. It was in Harlem that people started calling him “Detroit Red” to distinguish him from the other redhead working at Jimmy’s Chicken Shack, “Chicago Red” (the aspiring comedian who became famous as Red Foxx).

And the hustle to survive and support himself (you know, 1st chakra stuff) continued – only by the time he reached Harlem (and his late teens / early twenties) the hustle had turned unquestionably illegal and violent. He celebrated his 21st birthday in prison and was transferred to a second prison by the time he was 23. It was in prison, where people initially called him “Satan,” that Malcolm X became associated with the Nation of Islam, publically spoke out against the Korean War – and in favor of communism – and got rid of the “white slavemaster name which… [had been] imposed upon my paternal forebearers.”

By the time he was 25 (and still in prison), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had started a file on him. After serving six of an eight-to-ten year sentence in prison, he was paroled and actively working (and recruiting) for the Nation of Islam. By the time he was 28, he was under surveillance by the FBI (which is, you know, 2nd chakra stuff). 

Malcolm was making a name for himself within the Nation of Islam (and within the halls of the FBI), but he didn’t make it onto the general public’s radar until 1957, when he intervened after four African-American men were arrested. Three of the men were Nation of Islam members who had tried to verbally stop New York police officers who were beating the fourth man, Reese V. Poe, who was not a member of the Nation. One of the Nation of Islam members, Johnson X Hinton, was severely beaten and incarcerated without medical treatment – until Malcolm intervened. The police were alarmed by the way in which he spoke up, coordinated Johnson’s medical treatment, arranged for all four men to be bailed out, and seemed to control the angry crowd of several thousand (when he got them to peacefully, and relatively silently, disperse with a simple hand single gesture).

[Side Note: Johnson X Hinton was “released” the next morning. He immediately required more medical attention. While he survived his injuries, he needed multiple brain surgeries and lived the rest of his life with a metal plate in his head. An all-white jury would eventually award him $70,000, which (at the time) was the largest NYPD payout for a brutality case.]

At 32, Malcolm was under surveillance by the FBI and the NYPD (who had started running background checks with the prisons and in the cities where he had live). When Malcolm objected to the fact that none of the police officers involved in the assault were indicted, the NYPD sent undercover agents to join the Nation of Islam. That extra layer of conflict was also reflected within the Nation – as Malcolm’s prominence increased so too did the in-fighting. By his late 30’s, he was pulling away from the Nation, turning towards Sunni Islam, and softening his stance on some of his more militant opinions (like the role of white people in the movement for equality).

With financial assistance from his half-sister (Ella), he completed the hajj (spiritual “pilgrimage” to Mecca) in 1964. He also travelled to various parts of Africa (several times), France, and the United Kingdom – giving speeches and interviews throughout his travels and in the United States. Whereas he had called himself Malcom Shabazz when he first joined the Nation of Islam and publically used Malcolm X, after his hajj went by the name El Hajj Malik el-Shabazz. His wife, Betty X (née Sanders) also changed her last name Shabazz (and adopted a new first name after her hajj in 1965). Malcolm and Betty would have six daughters, including twins who were born about seven months after Malcolm was assassinated. His four oldest daughters witness his murder.

The assassination of Malcolm X, while the 39-year old was giving a speech in the Audubon Ballroom, came after a series of threats (some of which were recorded by the FBI) and an escalation in violence, including a fire that burned the Shabazz home down – just like his childhood home had been burned down. Only this time, the suspected culprits were Black nationalists instead of white nationalists. Three members of the Nation of Islam were arrested and convicted for his murder – although the one who admitted his guilt proclaimed the other two innocent and the other two maintained their innocence. Tens of thousands of people attended the public viewing and funeral, which was also broadcasted into the street and on live television.

Unlike with his father’s suspicious death, people are still investigating conspiracy theories surrounding the suspicious death of Malcolm X – including why NYPD officers reportedly entered the Audubon Ballroom on February 21, 1965, after shots were fired, without a single gun drawn.

“Tonight, during the few moments that we have, we’re going to have a little chat, like brothers and sisters and friends, and probably enemies too, about the prospects for peace – or the prospects for freedom in 1965. As you notice I almost slipped and said peace. Actually, you can’t separate peace from freedom because no one can be at peace unless he has his freedom. You can’t separate the two – and this is the thing that makes 1965 so explosive and dangerous.”



– quoted from the “Prospects for Freedom in 1965” speech at the Militant Labor Forum on January 7, 1965

In the case of Malcolm X, life replicated life. In the case Lorraine Vivian Hansberry, who was born in Chicago, Illinois on May 19, 1930, art imitated life. She was the youngest of four children born to Carl Augustus Hansberry (a successful real estate broker) and Nannie Louise (née Perry) Hansberry (a driving school teacher and member of the ward committee). The Hansberrys were supporters of the Urban League and the NAACP in Chicago, as well as active members of the Chicago Republican Party. Their home was frequently visited by prominent members of the African-American community, including known Civil Rights activists.

That home was the source of a lot of external (i.e., 2nd chakra) conflict as it was located in the Washington Park Subdivision on the South Side of Chicago, in what was originally an exclusively white neighborhood. There were restrictive covenants in place to enforce segregation, but occasionally a Black family could convince someone to sell them the house. Money talks and, not coincidentally, the first African-American to move into the neighborhood was a banker and realtor (Jesse Binga) whose wife (Eudora Johnson) inherited $200,000 from her notorious gambling kingpin brother (John “Mushmouth” Johnson). The Binga’s home was bombed at least five times – in what was an otherwise peaceful neighborhood.

The Great Depression caused a decrease in the number of white families who were financial able to purchase homes in the neighborhood, but there were relatively affluent Black families – like the Hansberrys – were in a better financial position and had the realtor knowledge to get around the covenants, which they did when Lorraine was 8 years old. The only problem was getting around the covenants didn’t get around racist and hostile neighbors. In addition to the physical, in-person, hostilities, some of the neighbors tried to take legal action to prevent the family from moving in. The family persisted. Eventually, the elder Hansberry sued the neighbors under the premise that the restrictive covenants (and the neighbors’ behavior) violated the 14th Amendment rights of born and naturalized Black citizens of the United States.

The case was ultimately decided by the Supreme Court (1940) in favor of Carl Hansberry. It would become the inspiration for Lorraine’s award-winning Broadway play, A Raisin in the Sun. The play made a 29-year old Lorraine the youngest playwright, the first Black playwright, and the fifth woman to win a New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award. It would be almost twenty years before another play by a Black woman to be performed on Broadway and, unless I am missing something, it would be 22 years before another Black playwright (South African Athol Fugard) won the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award.

“Thus, twenty-five years ago, [my father] spent a small personal fortune, his considerable talents, and many years of his life fighting, in association with NAACP attorneys, Chicago’s ‘restrictive covenants’ in one of this nation’s ugliest ghettos. That fight also required our family to occupy disputed property in a hellishly hostile ‘white neighborhood’ in which literally howling mobs surrounded our house. One of their missiles almost took the life of the then eight-year old signer of this letter. My memories of this ‘correct’ way of fighting white supremacy in America include being spat at, cursed and pummeled in the daily trek to and from school. And I also remember my desperate and courageous mother, patrolling our household all night with a loaded German Luger [pistol], doggedly guarding her four children, while my father fought the respectable part of the battle in the Washington court.”



– quoted from To Be Young, Gifted, and Black: Lorraine Hansberry in Her Own Words by Lorraine Hansberry (adapted by Robert Nimroff, with an introduction by James Baldwin)  

Unlike Johns and Malcolm, Lorraine was college educated. She attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she became active in the Communist Party (much to the chagrin of her mother – her father had died of a cerebral hemorrhage when she was 15) and desegregated a dormitory. After graduating from college, she moved to New York and started writing for the Black  (and Pan-African) newspaper Freedom, under the tutelage of people who had frequented her childhood home, like W. E. B. Du Bois, Paul Robeson, and Langston Hughes (whose poem “Harlem” provided the inspiration for the title of her award winning play). Her work at Freedom not only inspired her to write plays and poems, it also gave her exposure and opportunity.

Some of that exposure and opportunity resulted in an FBI security file being started when she was 22. A year later, she was put under surveillance because she started making plans to attend a 1953 peace conference in Montevideo. Three years later her “Italian” haircut was suspicious and a year before the Broadway premiere of A Raisin in the Sun, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover ordered New York’s Special Agent in charge to “[p]romptly conduct [a] necessary investigation in an effort to establish whether the play…is in any way controlled or influenced by the Communist Party and whether it in any way follows the Communist line” and a Philadelphia Special Agent (who was an “expert” in such things) was ordered to actually attend a touring (pre-Broadway) performance and write a report. Like the majority the white audience with whom they watched the Walnut Street Theatre performance, the special agent missed a lot of the nuance and Pan-African messages picked up by the New York audiences (not to mention modern audiences).

Still, when all was said and done, no less than five – count them, 5!!!!! – FBI offices were engaged in investigations and surveillance of a not yet 30-year old playwright. And for all that power and energy, they seemed to have missed more than just the Pan-African messages in Lorraine’s critically acclaimed play.

“What happens to a dream deferred?


      Does it dry up

      like a raisin in the sun?

      Or fester like a sore—”



– quoted from the poem “Harlem” by Langston Hughes


Lorraine was briefly married to Robert Nemiroff, a Jewish theatre producer, songwriter, book editor, publisher, and activist. They spent their wedding night protesting the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg (who were accused of being spies for the Soviet Union) and she would often credit him as being one of her creative muses. Even after their divorce (and his second marriage), they maintained a professional relationship and he became her literary executor after her death of pancreatic cancer (3rd chakra) at the age of 34.

In addition to producing a variety of incarnations of A Raisin in the Sun (and some of her other finished works), Nemiroff compiled some of Lorraine’s writings into the autobiographical play To Be Young, Gifted, and Black and the book of (essentially) the same name. In 1964, he donated her personal and professional papers to the New York Public Library – but restricted access to all journals, letters, essays, and articles related to the fact that she was a (once closeted) lesbian who supported LGBTQIA+ civil rights. (Ironically, even though Lorraine lived the last few years of her life out, to some, she may not have been out to the FBI.) Over a decade after Nemiroff’s death, his daughter (Joi Gresham, from his second marriage) lifted the restrictions so that they could be included in research about Lorraine’s life and legacy.

That legacy not only included a commitment to encouraging young writers and supporting the civil rights of Blacks and LGBTQIA+ Americans, but also the basic human rights of all people in the world. She was a fan of the work of Simone de Beauvoir; believed that women who were “twice oppressed” needed to be “twice militant;” and publicly condemned the United States’ bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

“Write if you will: but write about the world as it is and as you think it ought to be and must be—if there is to be a world. Write about all the things that men have written about since the beginning of writing and talking—but write to a point. Work hard at it, care about it. Write about our people: tell their story. You have something glorious to draw on begging for attention. Don’t pass it up. You have something glorious to draw on begging for attention. Don’t pass it up. Use it. Good luck to you. The Nation needs your gifts.” 



– quoted from the speech “To Be Young, Gifted, and Black” by Lorraine Hansberry (given to Readers Digest / United Negro College Fund creative writing contest winners, New York City, May 1, 1964)

At the beginning of the practice (and this blog post), I asked you how your life was like (or not like a puzzle) – which takes us back the cube* and its inventor. Ernö Rubik once said, “If you are curious, you’ll find the puzzles around you. If you are determined, you will solve them.”

All three of the people profiled above shared a problem, a problem we also share: How do we find create a society that lives up to its legendary origin story? We each have our experiences – which result in certain perspectives – and we each have certain gifts, which we can share with the world. To share our gifts, however, we sometimes have to understand what shapes our perspectives – and what shapes the perspectives of the people around us. To understand what shapes us, we have to go deeper into the core and how we’re all connected.*


Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.


Here’s a video giving a more contemporary view of banking, housing, and the importance of telling our stories (even, or especially, when they highlight inequity around class as well as race and gender). This video is one of two I’ve added to the “A Place to Start May 29, 2020” playlist.



“HOEDERER: …. I wasn’t the one who invented lying. It grew out of a society divided into classes, and each one of us has inherited it from birth. We shall not abolish lying by refusing to tell lies, but by using all means at hand to abolish classes.  


HUGO: All means are not good.


HOEDERER: All means are good when they are effective.”



– quoted from Act 5 of the play Les Mains sales (Dirty Hands) by Jean-Paul Sarte, premiered in Paris on April 2, 1948 (by 1963, the American English translation of “Ce n´est pas en refusant de mentir que nous abolirons le mensonge : c´est en usant de tous les moyens pour supprimer les classes.” had become a mirror of Frantz Fanon’s 1960 declaration to end colonialism)


Errata: In going back through my notes, I realized that I made several mistakes during the Zoom classes. Those are corrected above, including any misstatement about Johns Hopkins birth year and any misquoting of my yoga-buddy and fellow teacher Sandra Razieli.


*NOTE: Using the cube as an underlying metaphor for race and gender relations in the United States is a bit problematic, I know. And, before anybody suggests taking all the stickers off – so color doesn’t matter – let me just say, “Nope.” The metaphor doesn’t need to be perfect; especially when you consider that the critical element here is how things are working on the inside.

### Be grounded, connected, and present ###