Robert Augustus Masters

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Avoiding Death Kills Us

  • August 14, 2016
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I had a near-fatal heart attack June 22, 2016. Every day since then, I’ve registered the presence of death many times and in many ways — without trying to do so — breathing easier as this happens, feeling my heart softening and brightening with such visceral recognition. And when the memory of June 22nd  surfaces — daily — I am again stirred to gratitude for still being here. And for what is happening to me.


I have an ongoing sense of being restructured energetically — like I’ve been rewired. I’m not engineering this, and have no mapping for what’s happening.


There’s a subtle sense of soft, silky electricity spreading through me, emanating out in all directions. I feel it, settle into it. My heart bathes in it, is held by it.


Everywhere I look I see and intuit death, and feel unusually at home with it — and through this, even more at home with life. No fireworks, no internal accolades, no fuss — just a welcome quiet, a vividly alive stillness, a knowledgeless knowing…


Even when my conditioning kicks in strongly, my awareness of death occupies the near background, infusing what I’m doing. This doesn’t feel at all strange to me, but entirely natural.


I feel death permeating life, co-arising with life, preparing the way for more life, and I am warmed. And not just warmed, but enlivened, feeling my flesh gently humming along as it suffers the inevitable malfunctions of aging.


It’s as if instead of getting older, I’m getting riper.


I realize that my heart attack helped break me open to this ongoing intimacy with death, and I am grateful for such very fierce grace.


I’ve felt an intimacy with death before, but not like now. I can be doing just about anything, and without any plan or intention to do so, I’ll sense the bedrock reality of death — both arrival and departure — not just in the neighborhood, but right beside me, closer than my next breath, my next thought.


The more intimate I am with death, the more easily I can resonate with what is beating my heart and breathing me, sometimes whispering a line from one of Diane’s western contemporary chants: “I open to the Mystery.” This is an opening without end — sensing this, and knowing it’s more than I can ever imagine, both sobers me and brings me joy.


I can’t really separate life and death. I don’t even want to. Many times a day I feel the budding, blooming, and fading of our oh so short lifetime, colors ablaze for a few long moments, then tattering and disappearing into infinite sky. Such beauty, made all the richer by its transience.


Life outlives me, and yet in my heart of hearts I sense myself as none other than life, regardless of its appearance.


My heart is steadily getting stronger; I’m breathing easily; I feel at my peak with the kind of work I do; and it’s all passing so very quickly, so vivid and alive and significant, spun from the multidimensional embrace of gravity, light, and grace.


Cultivating intimacy with death, with mortality, with loss, with endings — whatever my pain and grief — keeps me traveling lighter, turning impermanence into beauty and unspeakable revelation. Long ago, I wrote that life is a near-death experience; now I know this to my core, daily.


We are all dying to live, to come fully alive, however much we may have gotten off track. This is fundamental news, and when let in fully, breaks our heart — and our shared heart — wide open, expanding the reach of our compassion, however fiery, to one and all.


Living and dying are meeting in my heartland, leaving me sadhappy, astonished that I still get to be here, however short the time for that may be.