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~ It is what death does best: it breathes life into the living ~

In the story of my life, death has been my savior. This does sound odd - for one, I’m still alive. What I’m trying to say is that I’ve had various near-death experiences that helped me to enlighten my life.

It all started during my school years. I grew up in post-soviet Russia, in its southern part of it, known as the North Caucasus, a very traditionally-minded area. I was a depressed child. I spent my early childhood in hospitals to undergo multiple surgeries in order to cure my birth trauma which, unfortunately, had been diagnosed pretty late--by which time I could walk and talk and complain about the pain in my legs. When I was 4 my parents divorced, and it was a traumatic experience. Once school started, I felt like an outcast, I didn’t fit in, I was introverted and constantly bullied. I remember that I started questioning why I was even brought into this world, what was the point? I felt worthless and confused. The only time that had given me hope was the year just before school, during which I lived in the village with my grandparents. They had given me care and nourishment and taught me how to appreciate nature. My grandfather would carry me around after my operation, while my legs healed. To the lakeside to fish, or he would lay me out under the fruit trees and teach me about the doves he raised.

During my school years, however, things started to go downhill. I found myself utterly depressed and suicidal at 14, looking for meaning. I’d run away all alone to the outskirts of the city to walk mindlessly around the fields, forests and abandoned factories. During one of these walks I noticed something unusual - white parachutes floating towards the ground. I heard a plane. Then, like a lightning bolt, these are skydivers jumping, and I need to do it! It felt like a possible leap into freedom, a major reset, or a controlled suicide.  For  two years before I reached 16, the minimum age, I was full of hopes and fantasies - one day I’ll be a parachutist! Soon!

Finally the day had come. I would be jumping all alone with a military style parachute, and I was just terrified. I felt as though I’m willfully going to my own demise. I felt as though my past story was being deleted and I no longer had a future. The stepfather that I couldn’t stand and my classmate-bullies no longer bothered me. All mundane problems became superficial and this fear, this uncertainty, was my rocket ride into the Now. I’d been an anxious child but this time an entirely new relationship with fear began to develop in me. Fear felt alive! Fear felt exciting!As I was sitting in a russian post-war biplane waiting for my turn to jump, I felt like I had minutes left to live. I couldn’t believe I’d manage to make myself jump but I knew that if I didn’t jump, they’d push me - these were Russians.  

And I jumped. And that was it. I was in freefall. Weightless and free. The world with it’s issues looked tiny and insignificant. I kept falling until I reached for my parachute handle. It opened quickly - a big, white sphere held by the blue, blue sky. It was beautiful. I felt liberated. After I landed, I started to laugh and laugh. I was ecstatic. I knew everything had changed. I didn’t think of other people’s opinions any longer - I now knew my source of joy was to be found only within.When I went back to school I was no longer bullied. My schoolmates sensed my regained confidence and let go of me. I felt infused with joy and an appetite for living. I was hooked. I wanted to experience it again and again. This turned out to be  my gateway into adulthood. 

Ever since, my life was characterized by a flirtation with danger. I practiced many extreme sports - skydiving, snowboarding, BASE jumping, scuba diving with sharks, and free diving.  I spent all my money on this, I broke some bones, and  i lost a few friends to these sports. But I can’t imagine life without this. It has saved me from being overwhelmed by breakups, job loss, and the loss of family members and simply from being overwhelmed and stressed by the busyness of life. The feeling of stepping into the unknown and risking it all made me rethink my priorities regularly and understand which problems are worth giving fucks for. I’ve learned to appreciate life and treat it as a gift, so that problems and worries couldn’t stick to me for too long. Dying and being reborn became my receipe for happiness. 

By the age of 30 I realized that these states of mind can be accessed in an easier way: I could simply imagine. This is what  I like to do when I’m feeling depressed or overwhelmed by problems. I just lie down on my bed, arms and legs open, curtains closed, nobody comes in. It’s dark, maybe a candle. There is a smell of frankincense. I turn on a slow, trippy sort of music that feels like death to me (David Parsons -Dorje Ling for example), and I just sink… I breathe in, tense up my body, hold… and as I breathe out, I let go completely. Sometimes it helps to imagine that I dive to the bottom of the ocean without any oxygen tanks. The weight of the ocean pushes me down and I just effortlessly fall. I imagine that this is it, no more past and future, I’m dying. I just float and feel. The ambience of the space, especially the music keeps me in the zone. I feel my body, which expands and contracts. There are tensions but there is also a sense of expansion. I sink deeper and deeper into this space, without any expectations. Death feels like a bottomless well. Thoughts pass but the thinker is absent. Emotions float up but there is no feeler present. “I”have  died. Things feel subtle but very alive. 

This is my regular meditation. It is a way to die before dying, to see what’s beyond one’s body and mind, to ask oneself what’s really important in life, who am I..... What do I find in it? It’s a process of falling apart at the seams which is a great catharsis that throws me back inside myself, and serves me as a mirror to reflect the truth of who I Am. After the insight, the world looks much fresher and kinder, I no longer pass so much judgement but feel gratitude.

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