This morning as I walk I listen to an interview with Alan Hugenot.  Alan is another of those people within six degrees of separation people for me.  Alan is on the board of the SoulPhone Foundation.  Mark Pitstick knows Alan and I know Mark.  I am reading Alan’s book based on Mark’s recommendation.

I’ve been struggling with the idea that I should have an attitude of gratitude. Everyone says it’s good for me.  A positive outlook is, without a doubt, better than a negative outlook. But, maintaining a positive attitude when the world seems to be crumbling around you is the struggle many of us have. How can I be grateful after the death of my child?  How can I be grateful when a friend is diagnosed with cancer?   During the interview, Alan relates his NDE.  And, as a lot of NDErs describe it, how nasty it feels being back in this body after being Home.  He talked about the pain of being back in the body; not the pain from the motorcycle accident that put him into the coma, the pain of being back in this world of pain.  As he described it, this whole world is pain, just at varying levels. He used the illustration of putting your thumb against your forefinger and pressing. At first you feel just pressure, but if you press hard enough, you feel pain. Boy, I could relate to that!

People tell me I should be grateful to be alive.  Frankly, being alive is often not that great.  Being grateful just for being alive has never worked for me.  I’m watching Year Million (TV series on NatGeo) and the episode last night was about immortality. Immortality, in this world, in this body?  No thank you.  Even if we could conquer diseases that kill us, what about accidents?  Suicides?  Murders? Who wants to struggle forever to “make a living”?  Planet Earth is hard people. Don’t be deceived. Being alive when the one you love is gone is hell on Earth for many, many people.  So, I had to find a shift. What could I be grateful for?

As I listen to people (this week it was Susanne Wilson and Alan Hugenot) describe Home, all I want to go is get back there. But, as they both point out, suicide is not an option.  We are here for a reason. It’s incredible how few people who have had NDEs commit suicide. They often struggle to fit back into this world of pain. They speak longingly of the day when they return Home. But, they don’t take their own lives. They know the pain we endure here serves a higher purpose. So, they choose to stay. They serve. And, they do so gratefully.

I now believe in Divine Providence or at the very least, we have planned at least the “highlights” of our time here.  That has helped me tremendously. I do think the pain serves a purpose. And with that belief, I can be grateful for all things.  It’s like doing P90X. It sucks for 90 minutes. But, I know those lunges and pull ups and push ups serve the purpose of making my body stronger.  I’m not loving the pushup and the protestations my muscles are screaming at me, but I’m looking forward to the results.

While we’re here it’s very unlikely if not impossible that we will know the exact purposes of each of the pains we have to endure.  Last night I had a dream.  In the dream, I was in a class and a test had been handed out. But, the test was simply a textbook sized book of problems to be solved. The professor hadn’t told us which problems to solve. We were just supposed to work for as long as the time allotted was and turn in the test.  We could choose any problems we like, but we didn’t know which ones the professor had chosen to count for the test.  I protested. I went to the professor and insisted he tell me which problems to work. I was confident I could get a good score on this test, but I couldn’t do it without knowing what the problems were.  He was persistent. He was not going to tell me which problems to solve. So, I said “Well, at least tell me how much time we have for the test.  I can’t take a test without knowing how much time I have.” He persisted.  He refused to tell me even how much time I had. Frustrated I went back, sat down and worked on the test.

An aside. This morning as I listened to Alan’s interview he told me that Gary Schwartz had told him to go get the answer to a question, from the spirit world. Alan is a medium..  Alan said “Sure. What’s the question” Gary said “It’s blinded. I can’t tell you the question.”.  Alan went to get the answer and got something about optics.  That was weird because Alan knew Gary was working on audio.  When Alan returned with the answer, it was what Gary was looking for.  Weird that I heard this right after my dream about being tested without knowing the question.

This world is a world of pain and often, I feel like I’d do anything to just have it stop.  I don’t know what the questions are. How am I supposed to find the answers.  The pain feels random and unfair.  But, when I sit on my cushion daily, I remind myself that the gain is worth the pain. The more pain, the greater the gain.  So, I endure and I am grateful for the pain.

Wow.  Yesterday was a weird, magical day. I had a great dream visit with Shayna.  We had what appears to be our first apport.  (see yesterday’s entry).  The day flew by as I was extremely busy, i think maybe making some progress on the business. I’m cautiously optimistic. Then, when I was out to dinner with Tywana and Kayla we got a phone call with major news on the SoulPhone project.  The developers on the other side gave us a huge breakthrough that could significantly shorten the development timeline.  And, we got news on the financial front that could guarantee that we have the funds for all of the identified phases.

Last night, I had a dream visit with Chloe, our first baby.  Chloe is our miniature Schnauzer who passed in 2005.  In my dream, I was in my parents bedroom. They were there.  And, Stevie, our current fur baby was there.  I looked on the bed and I saw Chloe.  I figured no one else could see her because Chloe is dead.  I hesitated to pet her thinking everyone else would think I was crazy petting a dog that wasn’t there.  But, I did it anyway.  She rolled over on her back I rubbed her belly for a good long time. Then, my perspective shifted and I saw Chloe, isolated in what I guess is the astral plane.  Her face was reacting as if someone was petting her, but no one else was with her.

This is the weirdest one yet.  Tywana and I are doing a show tomorrow.  We haven’t done a show in at least two years.  We’ve been so busy, we haven’t had time to get ready for it.  It was just today I decided to look for the credit card reader to attach to my iPhone.  We both looked everywhere we could think to look.  It was not to be found.  With the checkbook?  Nope. On the shelf in my office?  Nope.  In the bag we carried to our shows?  Nope. In the kitchen in the junk drawer. I’m pretty sure I saw it there.  Nope.

So, I get online and look to see where the Square is sold. I hate to pay for something I can get for free, but it’s my fault for waiting until the last minute. They’ll send one in the mail, free, but it takes 10 days to get here. I Google where they are sold.  Meijer. No problem. I shower and do my meditation. I come down to the kitchen to grab my wallet and keys and Tywana calls up to me from the basement.  I’m just on my way out. It’s almost 4:30 on a Friday. Traffic’s going to be horrible.  I just want to get out and get back. Can’t this wait?  I head downstairs.

Tywana tells me she has found the reader.  I figure it must have been in one of the drawers near her desk.  No.  It was on the couch that we sit on to watch TV.  It was under the pillow. She was folding t-shirts to take to the show and had been stacking them on the pillow. We had given up on finding the reader.  She picked up the cushion to fluff it (I don’t know why- she fluffs pillows).  Under the pillow she saw what she thought was the instruction sheet for the reader.  It was actually the package with the reader in it.

We haven’t used the reader in at least two years. Many people have sat on that couch watching TV in the meantime. There is no reason it would have been on the couch to begin with.  If she hadn’t moved the pillow, who knows when we would have found it?  What led her to move the pillow? Was it there all along?

I always look for the rational explanation first. I can find none.  Was this an apport?  (In parapsychology and spiritualism, an apport is the alleged paranormal transference of an article from one place to another, or an appearance of an article from an unknown source that is often associated with poltergeist activity or séances.)  I truly do not know. I’ve heard of apports.  I know several people who say they’ve gotten them. I certainly did not expect one. But, it was a pretty nice birthday present.  If you did this, Shayna, good job!

It’s my birthday!  After my walk, I decide to cut the grass.  I put on Stevie Ray Vaughn, one of my music heroes and get to it.  Live At Carnegie Hall is what I’m listening to.  Just as I finish up, put the lawn mower away, and I’m closing the garage door, he finishes playing Rude Mood.  And, as I take the final steps to the porch before I shut off the music he says “Thank you very much for making this my best birthday ever.”

My birthday greetings start coming in the day before my birthday.  My Facebook friend in Guam is the first to wish me a happy birthday online.  Tywana tells me she will be the first one to wish me a “real” happy birthday (on the actual day).

I sleep well on my birthday eve, but I wake up around 4 o’clock and it feels like I might not be able to get back to sleep then I hear Shayna say to me “Happy Birthday, Daddy. I’m the first one to wish you happy birthday.” (in typical Shayna fashion).  I eventually drift back into sleep and I find myself in a hotel room with Tywana, Kayla, and Shayna.  The three of them are watching TV. Shayna is sitting on the floor and I’m in a chair behind her. I’m rubbing her shoulders and enjoying the time with the three of them.  I notice one of her braids has come loose and I pretend I’m re-braiding it (which I can’t do).  I jokingly tell her it’s done. She, distracted with the TV, reaches back, feels it and just goes back to watching TV.  Then, I start massaging her shoulders up near her neck. Shayna couldn’t stand to be touched on the front of her neck, but the back was OK.  I start nuzzling her neck, tickling her.  I’m enjoying being with her so much. Then, I recall that something’s weird. Shayna’s not supposed to be here.  Shayna’s dead.  Why do we think she’s dead?  She’s right here. She’s never been anywhere but right here.  But, I seem to vaguely recall us mourning her being gone.  Weird, I think.

Then, I wake up. Back in my bed.  No Shayna. Normally, this is the time when I start crying at the realization the dream was just a dream and this reality is what I have to live in. Today is different though.  I’m grateful for the dream visit.  I try to hold onto the feeling I had, reliving the dream, etching it into my brain and into my heart. I thank Shayna for coming through on my birthday with my first “Happy Birthday” and the dream. And I look forward to the day when this waking moment feels like the dream.

Today is the 56th anniversary of the day I came into this body. As we commonly say it, I am 56 years old. But the way we commonly say it is so wrong. My birth was no more my beginning than my death will be my end.

About two weeks ago I was sitting in meditation listening to a song called Long Time Sun when it hit me that as old as I think the sun is, I am older.  I existed before time began.  I will exist long after the sun burns out. I am ageless/timeless.

I used to look at the trees and get jealous. i planted trees in my backyard 20 years ago.  I knew at the time those trees would outlive me. My house would be here long after I was dead. Most of the things I “own” will exist longer than me, if I think of myself as my body, which I did.  And that made me sad.

What’s really wild is I might think my body is 56 years old, but in reality there isn’t a molecule in my body that was present at the time I was born. So, what does it mean when I say I’m 56 years old?  Not much.  Not even my body is 56 years old.

So, today as I contemplate my 56 trips around the sun, in this meat covered skeleton, I appreciate the ride, I’m grateful to my body for being my vehicle, and I continue to remember who I truly am.

As I wake up this morning, I’m thinking about the term acceptance.  As an amateur Buddhist, I know that acceptance is one of the keys to freeing ourselves from suffering.  I know this, but acceptance of some things feels like surrender.  Then, Corey Hart starts playing in my head. Never Surrender.  Never give up.  Never.

I’ve noticed an acceptance of what is coming over me lately.  It’s not that I wanted acceptance.  I’ve actively fought against it. With that acceptance has come some peace.  But, even that peace is troubling. Am I surrendering?  Is acceptance of Shayna’s passing surrendering? Is coming to peace with what is giving up on her?  I’ll never give up on Shayna. Not a day goes by without me thinking about her. Hardly an hour goes by without me thinking about her. Surrender isn’t in my vocabulary.

I’ve confused acceptance with surrender.  And that leads to suffering.  Accepting what is is necessary to plot the course forward.  Not accepting what is doesn’t change what is.  I accept my current situation, but I quickly remind myself this situation is not permanent. I accept it, but I won’t stay in it.  The way out is not backwards, not to the halcyon days of the four of us living in this house, taking vacations, and enjoying blissful times. The way is forward through uncharted, frightening territory that holds a series of hidden obstacles. But, at the death of every darkness there’s a morning.  (thanks Rag N Bone Man for maybe my all time favorite single line from a song).

So if you’re lost and on your own
You can never surrender
And if your path won’t lead you home
You can never surrender
And when the night is cold and dark
You can see, you can see light
Cause no one can take away your right
To fight and never surrender

I wasn’t going to write an entry today, but a synchronicity  prompted me to take this down. As I was walking I was listening to a Podcast by Roger Ray, one of my favorite pastors at the time, if not my favorite. But, I have a  big problem with Roger Ray. He’s basically an atheist. He doesn’t believe in an afterlife.  He doesn’t think things we cannot “know” or “prove” are even worth discussing. He’s a secular humanist (not that there is anything wrong with being a secular humanist). He really irks me when he says there is no evidence that we are more than meatsuit robots. Today, his rant (and yes he does rant) was about talking about things that are unknown and unknowable.  His accusation is that is (most) religion makes claims about the unknowable and we should not do that. For example, according to him, when we die, we might grow wings, become angels, and fly away. But, what we know is we will become worm food. So, we should focus on the worm food part because that is what is knowable.

This brings up my problem with materialists and people who have fallen in love with “science” at least as they understand it. Anything that cannot be proven, repeated, and shown to them is not true and not even worth discussing. They don’t seem to understand that scientific breakthroughs come when people challenge what we “know”, come up with a hypothesis and test that hypothesis.  A hypothesis is talking and thinking about the unknown.  And what is knowable changes all the time.  They don’t seem to understand that, while the scientific method has served us well, that anecdotal evidence, personal experience, and empirical evidence are vitally important to the human experience and to exploring the world.  For example, there are literally millions of accounts of Near Death Experiences across cultures, across the globe, and across thousands of years. Yet, because there is not a materialistic explanation, they dismiss it.

I like Roger Ray’s use the the term “evidence based faith”.  I have an evidence based faith myself. I am skeptical, but open minded.  But, to deny the vast, and growing, body of evidence that says we will be much more than worm food (which shows an identification with the body that is also missing where science is taking us), is missing where the evidence is actually leading us.

So, right after the podcast ended, I had a few more minutes to walk. I told Siri to “shuffle all music”. I have about 14,000 songs in my iTunes library.  I was curious about what the first song would be.  What came up was a very old, Christian Contemporary song by Code of Ethics titled “Without Reason”, representing the other extreme from Roger Ray. The song is a prayer for God to grant the writer faith “without reason”.   I’m not into this kind of faith, but I thought it was a fascinating sign- one more reason to believe there are no coincidences.

The chorus:

Show me something more
Give me faith
without reason
I know there must be more
To change my life like
The seasons turning

I don’t know if Michael had an NDE, but this song is about an NDE.

As I drove across on the highway
My jeep began to rock
I didn’t know what to do so I stopped and got out
And looked down and noticed I got a flat

So I walked out, parked the car like sideways
So I can find what I can fix
I looked around there were no cars on the highway
I felt a strange feeling like a mist

I walked down towards the end of the road
And in the fog a woman appeared
She said don’t you worry my friend I’ll take care
Take my hand, I’ll take you there

Oh
Take me to a place without no name
Take me to a place without no name
Take me to a place without no name
Take me to a place without no name

As she took me right through the fog
I see a beautiful city appear
Where kids are playin’ and people are laughin’ and smiling and
Nothing to fear fear

She said this is the place where no people have pain
With love and happiness
She turned around looked down at my eyes and started cryin’
She grabbed my hand, you got a friend

Oh
Take me to a place without no name
Yeah

She started likin’ me kissin’ me and huggin’ me
She didn’t really, really want me to leave
She showed me places I’ve never seen things I’ve never done
This really looks like a lotta fun

I seen the grass and the sky and the birds
And the flowers surrounded by the trees
This place is filled with love and happiness
How in the world could I wanna leave

So then I went in my pocket took my wallet on out
With my pictures of my family and girl
This is the place that you choose to be with me
When you thought you could be in another world

Oh
Take me to a place without no name
La la la
A place without no name
La la la

A place without no name (La, la, la)

Yesterday I watched Year Million, a show currently running on NatGeo (formerly National Geographic) about the rise of artificial intelligence.  It’s a pretty good show, narrated by Laurence Fishburne.  It was a bit dramatic for my tastes with a lot of dramatic scenes acted out.  But, the gist of the show is to explore where we will be in the distant future (not literally the year million).  The first episode anyway, Homo Sapien 2.0 was about the rise of artificial intelligence.  Kayla was asking me why we need artificial intelligence anyway I believe because she was thinking about androids (which the show dived into right off of the bat).  I reminded her that artificial intelligence in our phones, our televisions, our cars, etc. is already changing our lives in ways that are becoming so ubiquitous we don’t even notice anymore.  But, the show kicked off with a girl being killed in a car accident and her “consciousness” (I’ll explain why I put this this quotes later) being transferred into a meat robot so that “she” can continue to live with her parents.

This is where I think the creators of the show made their first mistake. They seem to think that if we can download person’s memories into an android, we have transferred that person’s consciousness.  I don’t think this is true. While we are not who we are without our memories, it’s not solely our memories that make us who we are. From the parents’ perspective, they were living with a device that could imitate their daughter. But, from the daughter’s perspective, it would not have her consciousness.  Science doesn’t even know how to define consciousness yet, let alone being able to transfer it from one (human) host to another (android) host.

They then went on to talking about making more and more intelligent systems that would some day have “consciousness”. Their mistake is conflating consciousness with intelligence thinking that if a system is intelligent enough consciousness will suddenly spring forth.  It’s a classic materialist mistake and makes sense since many scientists believe that material became more and more self-organizing until consciousness magically sprang forth.  What I find fascinating is they seem to conflate intelligence with consciousness.  Doesn’t a jellyfish exhibit all the signs of consciousness even without a brain?  We can make systems that calculate faster than we can ever hope to. We can create systems that can learn. We can create systems that can create. Eventually, they may be able to perform any task a human can, but I don’t think they will ever be conscious.

The last beef I have with the show is another classic error. It’s the fear of the singularity, that tipping point where AI causes runaway, unpredictable results in human civilization.  A self aware system suddenly takes on all the worst traits of being human. This is conflating consciousness with ego. The premise is “If a system is smart enough, it will become conscious.  If it’s conscious, it will develop an ego.”  It’s not intelligence or consciousness that causes us to want to have dominion over each other. A system, no matter how intelligent is it or how conscious it is is not going to want to take over the world, unless it has ego.

Based on all of the above, you might think I didn’t like the show. I actually did enjoy it very much. I’m looking forward to the day when AI frees us from mundane tasks. It’s going to be disruptive economically as fewer and fewer jobs will require humans. It will require a whole new paradigm from the “earning a living” one we have now. But, if we can clear that hurdle, I think it’ll be great.  I’m not worried about machines trying to take over the world. And, any show that gets us thinking about what it means to be human, which is all about being conscious beings, is well worth the time.