METTA MIND JOURNAL: CYNIC’S PAUL MASVIDAL ON DEATH (THE BAND AND THE STATE OF BEING)
Remember, friends, as you pass by
as you are now, so once was I.
As I am now, so you must be.
Prepare yourself to follow me.
—From a headstone at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale, California
In the early nineties, Sean and I made a record called Human with the Florida band Death. In the month prior to our recording date, Chuck Schuldiner and Steve DiGiorgio made their way down to Cynic’s rehearsal studio in Miami to tighten up the songs with us. One night, I was driving the four of us back from the Coconut Grove area, where we had stopped for dinner after rehearsal. Just as we reached the fork in the road where Ingraham Highway splits with Matheson Avenue, I saw something strange. I noticed some tiny lights blinking off in the distance through green foliage and trees. I slowed down, saying, “Those lights look weird. Do you mind if we turn around and check it out?”
I pulled a U-turn and we made our way back to the edge of the lot. We parked and walked up to find two bodies, along with motorcycle parts strewn across the grass and shrubs. We saw one helmet on the ground and were able to piece together that they must have swerved off the road and bounced off the giant oak tree that grew in the center of the enclosure. I approached the first body and saw that it was a girl with long red hair. She was lying there, twitching and unconscious, her body twisted in an awkward and unnatural way. The man, who appeared to be severely injured, started moving slightly and was trying to say something.
Steve approached him and asked, “Are you OK?”
In a hushed and pained voice, we heard the man say, “Give me my gun.”
We didn’t think that was such a good idea. We looked closer and saw a small black handgun in the distance on the ground. I wondered if he was concerned about the gun being illegal or if he wanted to kill himself. When I approached the girl, I could feel she wasn’t there anymore. Her body was like an empty shell releasing its last sparks of adrenalin as it prepared to shut down. Maybe her disembodied spirit was floating above us, watching the whole event transpire. I felt helpless and silently prayed to the universe that they both be spared any pain. My intuition told me these two individuals had literally reached the end of their road.
It seemed like a lot longer, but only 20 seconds had elapsed before two of us sped to the nearest payphone to dial 911 (no cell phones then), then made our way back to the scene to wait for the ambulance. Paramedics arrived within 5 minutes, and we watched them put the bodies on stretchers and off they went. We left humbled and in awe of the intensity of what we had witnessed. We didn’t speak much more about it and quietly processed the energy of the experience without trying to bring too much meaning to it. I’d lost friends before and seen a handful of open-casket funerals prior to this, but I had never seen an accident involving deaths in such an immediate and raw, fresh state.
The next morning I rode my bike back to the scene of the accident and found the girl’s watch and bracelet on the ground. I took the items to the police station and asked the police officer on the case about the girl and the man. He said the girl was out socializing with some friends at a nearby bar when this dude she met, offered her a ride around the block on his motorcycle. She obliged while her friends waited for her to return. Neither survived the accident.
I occasionally forget how fragile and impermanent my life is. My own mortality can seem so far away when I’m going about living life. Perhaps some of us have had near death experiences that changed the way we perceive living. Sometimes, losing a parent, sibling, or close friend at an early age can push us into new paradigms of perception and presence. I was just speaking to my friend, Lucy, about it this weekend. I asked her how she imagined her own death to be. She said she didn’t want to be a burden to anyone and that it be quick and painless. We talked about how we’d like to have clarity when we die and to be able to enter this unknown wilderness with some degree of openness. I have no way of knowing when my moment shall come (unless I commit suicide, and that’s not in the cards today), and so I have to be willing to die at any moment in order to let go into life. I suppose this kind of awareness can help to keep me on my toes, like a hunter present for everything and yet OK with not knowing what’s next. It’s like letting go of the mind and dying into the heart. Because of death, life becomes a tremendous teacher.
“Approximately [200,000 to 250,000] people died today. Some died by accident. Others by murder. Some by overeating. Others from starvation. Some died while still in the womb. Others of old age. Some died of thirst. Others of drowning. Each died their death as they must. Some died in surrender with their minds open and their hearts at peace. Others died in confusion, suffering from a life that remained unlived, from a death they could not accept.” —Stephen Levine
“Science in its zeal for objectivity tells us we are our bodies, the product of Darwinian evolution, originating in a chance concatenation of molecular gases, our growth and decay dictated by genetic DNA codes. Thus death is the end. But there is something in the collective unconscious of the human species that intuitively knows that his ‘objective’ definition does not embrace the totality of who we are. We have convinced ourselves that our intellect, rather than our intuition, must guide our lives and thus we must only acknowledge that we can know we know. But intuitive wisdom does not fill that criterion. It seems to arise from beyond this rational objective mind, so we have largely denied what it tells us, though every great religion and many profound philosophers have been rooted in just this deeper wisdom.” —Ram Dass