Robert Augustus Masters

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When Familiarity Vanishes

  • July 10, 2016
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Familiarity — how familiar with it are we?

Sometimes I’ll be talking with someone, and my sense of familiarity will vanish — and not gradually but in a millisecond.

Across from me will be sitting a uniquely embodied sentience, gazing at me as if nothing could be more natural, gesturing and emitting sounds that somehow still make a certain sense to something in me — something that seemingly operates all by itself, even as what’s left of everyday me wonders from afar how I can possibly come up with any response, let alone a fitting one.

What immediately follows is that I don’t feel myself generating any response — instead, there is simply awareness of a response emerging all by itself, my tongue, palate, throat, and breath all coordinating, quite independently of me, to produce sounds — in less than a moment’s notice — that somehow aptly correspond to what has just been said to me.

Even my astonishment is astonishing, in a very low-key kind of way. No fear, no concern, just undressed wonder and an ever-fresh intuiting of limitless being. Usually within a minute or so familiarity makes its return, and we continue on, as if nothing remarkable has occurred, or is occurring.

What’s perhaps most astonishing here is the ever-present awareness that contains and effortlessly witnesses the whole show. Awareness of that awareness is not in itself astonishing, but totally natural. Furthermore, such awaring pervades whatever is being witnessed, on whatever scale, regardless of what our mind is telling us.

We are, to put it mildly, more than we can possibly imagine — as always. That we continue to forget this almost all of the time, dreaming that we are not dreaming, is utterly stunning. Familiarity, if allowed to thicken and set, can easily block out what’s really happening, not just behind the scenes, but right here, right now.

I remember as a preschooler wandering through neck-high rippling fields thick-grassed and flowered and sweetly ablaze with summertime sun, my mouth as open as my eyes, wonderstruck and hugely curious, taking in the buttercup light, the streaming green fragrances, the dark, softly yielding almost-pillowy ground, the hulking oaks and maples, the cobblestone cloud-covers, the sounds of horses and dogs and sudden breezes, all of it seamlessly co-arising, pulsing with the very same energy and presence that was breathing me in and out, and walking me through it all, step by windingly goal-less step.

Most things didn’t have names then, and if they did, they meant almost nothing to me. Things felt alive, magically charged, connected, like waves of a single great sea. I was the child of two children, but the dysfunction of that only began to dominate my consciousness when I was four or so. Familiarity had yet to take a commanding hold of me, and I was in no hurry to quicken its arrival. When school began, I remained elsewhere internally, unable to assemble myself so as to fit in, even in the most rudimentary ways. Within a year, though, I’d made the world as accepted by older others my world, if only for survival reasons. Magic was still around, but vastly diluted, receding, disappearing.

And now, approaching my 69th birthday, the magic has been back for a long while, coexisting with all the rest of it, including the busyness and challenges of my life. The ebb and flow of familiarity is mysteriously familiar to me, even comforting, increasing my acceptance of the passing of everything.

Other worlds beckon, and I realize that this very world, this very ordinariness, is also that otherness. Literally.

What we are really looking for is looking through us at itself, playing peekaboo with its infinite creations. Everything is its mirror, its birthing place, its funeral pyre, its endlessness in fleeting cameo. And what a wonder to participate in this!

My words are now like tracks, animal and otherwise, upon the gleaming white page centering my computer screen, tracks that whisper of the whereabouts of stranger-than-strange doings, events, invitations, doors, reality-unlocking visitations, and so much more, about which I have nothing more to say than a down-on-my-hands-and-knees Hallelujah — the Mystery, as always, abides, its infinite appearances and disappearances simply affirming it.


When cracks appear in reality

Admitting slivers of an extremely different locality

Injecting us with full-screen unfamiliarity

And swallowing another drink

Or changing how we think

Doesn’t provide us with a return ticket

We’ve a chance to ride a truer track

If we don’t get so crammed and jammed in

Behind the wheel of our usual ways

That we run over what’s always already here

Already more electrifying than fear


So let the cracks widen, let them spread

Letting curiosity get the better of dread

Letting the unknown dissolve in a deeper unknown

Seeing more than what is shown.

The undoing that we fear is already here

The mystery of mysteries closer than near.

Beyond all familiarity we eventually must go

This we fight and this we know


When cracks appear in reality

Admitting slivers of a very different locality

We may seem to be at the lip of insanity

But the light streaming through,

The light holding every shape and every view

Is none other than us too

Unbroken through all the coming and going

All the fears of not knowing