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Atrial What?

Last week, my heart slipped back into atrial fibrillation again, a condition not uncommon in aging. In atrial fibrillation, the upper chambers (atria) start quivering rather than beating properly. Normally, my version of this fibrillating process lasts a day or so and then converts spontaneously to the normal sinus rhythm. This time it hasn't. So I was started on a new blood thinner and will be scheduling an ablation procedure soon.

Cardiac ablation involves the threading of catheters into veins from the groin and neck and into the heart, where electrodes destroy the cells responsible for the erratic beat. With my PTSD surgical history - waking up during open-heart surgery as a 14-year-old boy (described in The Three Secrets of Aging and Bedtime Stories for Elders), undergoing this procedure does not thrill me, but it does offer me another opportunity to distinguish between thought, feeling, sensation and consciousness.

Atrial fibrillation is a very weird experience for me. My chest feels like a salmon is flopping around inside, other times my body feels like I'm on Dexedrine. Equally unpleasant, I generally feel unhealthy, vulnerable, and at risk - it's my heart after all!

It has become increasingly clear to me - and this event only underscores this realization - that the transformations of aging represent a continuous process. You don't retirement from aging. Every event, insight, discovery, illness and loss dismantles and transforms us; this huge and powerful process invites us ever deeper into the divine.

So I watch myself. I watch the 14-year-old boy's terror rise up inside. I watch thoughts and fear of death return, and I dwell for a moment in sad fantasies about what my children, grandchildren and friends would have to go through if I died. I wonder again what exactly will happen after I pass through the death experience. Then I choose to shift gears. I practice the "Keys to the Garden" described in Ordinary Enlightenment: I stop thinking, move into heightened sensory awareness, experience the world exactly as it is without thought, and then focus consciousness back on itself finding Presence. Now I am free. I am not the terror, the fantasies or the sensations in my chest; suddenly I am this great and loving Consciousness that holds, and is, everything, and I nearly burst with joy. I am not this drama; "I" don't even exist. Such relief. Conscious Being, Great Being, Divine Self - what do words matter when unity returns?

This kind of experience is the work of aging. With each challenge, aging itself becomes a deeper spiritual practice - all preparation for the great transformation that is sure to find us at the end. Don't wait to die to dissolve the idea of "you."

One last thing. I am grateful to be able to share these experiences with you. Conscious aging is a transformational experience that few people take seriously. If you are here, you are taking part in an amazing process. Thank you.
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