Sunday, May 1, 2016

Feeling Unsettled

I just had one of those mind shattering moments and it left me feeling a little shaky.

Actually it has been an extended moment, one that began yesterday and dripped over into this morning.

I read the May Playboy interview with Ray Kurzweil yesterday morning. He is an author, inventor and data scientist who some consider a prophet for this digital age.

Some think he is a quack.

His IQ was measured at 160 when he was a child - how much of a quack can he be?

He is the proponent of The Singularity - a moment in time somewhere in the future when the human brain and computers will meld to exponentially improve our intelligence and our lives. They will not physically meld, so don't get grossed out here, but meld in a brain meets the cloud kind of way. Some sort of device that will allow us, when necessary, to plug into all the data available in the cloud so that our access to knowledge is virtually unlimited.

My description is sophomoric but I am too tired to flip through the interview and get the precise definition down. I am giving you the basic flavor here; roll with it.

One result of this is that medical knowledge will move ahead by leaps and bounds and, again, keeping it simple, our life spans will be extended. Dramatically.

I found myself yearning for this to be true. Literally, emotionally yearning to believe that I can be given more time.

He predicts it will happen around 2029. I will be 75 years old in 2029.

He spoke of nanobots. Tiny computer robots that can be injected into our blood stream to fight disease better than our own immune systems do. In other words, taking genome mapping and really ramping it up. Having the ability to precisely target a nanobot for a specific disease.

I am 62 and afraid. I want more time. I want Kurzweil to be right and I want it to happen much sooner.

Next thought: This morning I read a fictional story in The Sun Magazine, written by Poe Ballantine called "Torpedoes D'Amour." The story is about a two year period in the life of a 12 year old kid. Deals with his relationships to friends, his first love and his awkwardness at negotiating life.

The story was good, but what floored me was the description of the kid. He preferred to be alone; he loved to read, he loved to write. He found that being around other people forced him to make compromises that made him feel uncomfortable.

Suddenly, memories of my own childhood came back to me with the force of a sledgehammer to the head.

There were times when the rest of the gang was playing basketball or whiffle ball or birdie ball (don't ask) in my back yard while I was playing what I called "little army." Setting up and maneuvering miniature plastic army dudes and their tanks and planes etc.

The gang wanted me to join them; I told them if they could carry me over to where they were I would play, which they did.

My favorite game of all time as a child was a board football game that involved dice and cards. I would pick a card that corresponded to a specific play, say a running play. Roll the dice, number 6 comes up and number six on the card says "8 yard gain." It had a first down marker on the side of the board that I would move every time  my team would get a first down.

I could pick teams. My favorite rivalry was the Raiders versus the Chiefs.

I loved to play this game. Alone.

My favorite memory of all from my childhood was reading on the front porch. Second story porch overlooking a quiet street, summer time, me with a book in my hands in peace. Alone.

It suddenly occurred to me that this is what I have been trying to get back to all my life. That sense of being alone. Somehow I have gotten so far away from it that I am never completely comfortable.


Unless I am alone or with my family.

Next thought: The very next thing in The Sun was a tribute to Stephen Levine. Stephen Levine was a teacher and author "best known for his pioneering work with death, dying and grief", as described in The Sun; he died this past January.

His point of view rattled my bones and unnerved my emotions.

The main theme is that it is important to recognize, fully and with complete honesty in our hearts, that we are going to die, instead of pretending that we are immortal. Then taking that knowledge and using it to live our lives fully. And in the moment

His words blew me away. So I will give you a few quotes from the article, which are quotes from his books and from an interview with The Sun.

"Seldom do we use the news of another's death as a recognition of the impermanence of all things, that all changes as it will. And yet the acknowledgement of impermanence holds within it the key to life itself."

"I have watched many clinging desperately to a rapidly degenerating body, hoping for some incredible miracle, anguished by a deep longing for fulfillment  never found in life. I have also met those whose death was an inspiration to all about them. Who died with so much love and compassion that all were left filled with an unnamed joy for weeks afterward."

"Few participate in their life so fully that death is not a threat, is not the grim reaper stalking just beyond the dark windowpane. Most fight death as they fought life, struggling for a foothold,  for some control over the incessant flow of change that exemplifies this plane of existence. Few die in wholeness. Most live a life of partiality and confusion."

"I see so many people on their deathbed, looking over their shoulder and saying: 'What the hell was that all about? My life has passed and I thought life was something that was about to happen, and never did.' I think we trade off our life for pretty shallow experiences of thought, and our feeling is blocked, and we show no mercy."

Levine tells a story of a Thai meditation master explaining how recognizing impermanence now makes life more precious. He talks of a glass, a glass that he can drink water from, a glass that can reflect the sun in beautiful patterns, a glass that when tapped has a lovely ring to it. But he knows some day the glass will break, so effectively it is already broken. He says: "When I understand that the glass is already broken, every moment with it is precious. Every moment is just as it is, and nothing need be otherwise."

Levine: "When we realize that, just like the glass, our body is already broken, that indeed we are already dead, then life becomes precious, and we open to it just as it is, in the moment in which it is occurring."

"If our only spiritual practice were to live as if we are already dead, relating to all we meet, to all we do, as though it were our final moments in the world, what time would there be for old games or falsehoods or posturing?"

A lot of heavy stuff here.

For me, over the last two days, these things I have read exposed my deep desire to experience another sixty two years of life. They got me thinking about my thoughts on death and how I can live my life now in a way that will leave me fulfilled. They sparked in me a memory back to what I believe is my true essence. An essence I have long abandoned.

I am feeling unsettled.

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