The curse of consciousness

I was watching my dog, Josh (see photo galleries) sleep the other day and the phases that he goes through. He gets himself all comfy, sometimes on his back with his feet in the air. A little later he starts what must be dreaming, his paws twitching and he makes these weird little yelps that he never makes when he's awake. It can go on for some time and he has even woken me up in the middle of the night with these strange sounds. I wonder if his dreams are like ours, disjointed and open to interpretation or just plain simple ones like chasing a cat or a squirrel or maybe he is whimpering because he's dreaming that he is a human.

I used to feel bad for dogs because their lives are so short compared to ours but I can imagine how painful it would be to their human owners if the dog lived 30 or 40 years. The whole thing is that Josh doesn't know he is 8 years old, that more then half his life is over and that he is going to die one day. Lucky bastard! He just lives one day at a time, one moment to the next, the way "they" tell us we should live, "be here now" is his anthem unless I tell him he is going to get a bone and then he rushes into the future in anticipation, at least for a minute or so. He never wakes up depressed about something that happened yesterday or worried about something that will happen tomorrow and as a matter of fact neither do I, at least until I start to think.

What an amazing thing it is to be able to think, self awareness and the ability to ponder on things past, present and future. I know I am going to die, I don't know when, I don't know how, I can only speculate and hope that it will be when I am ready. When I am ready to die, what a weird thing to think about, how the hell do you get ready to die when you feel like you are full of life, that you could live forever as long as the body holds out and then the phone rings and some one tells you in a muted voice that a friend or a relative or an acquaintance has died and it all comes rushing in towards you. I am going to die too, one day there will be no me, I will stop breathing, seeing, thinking. The world will go on around my dead body but I won't be part of it anymore, a few people will shed tears and then divvy up any good stuff I left hanging around and then go back to living their lives, saddened by my passing but accepting it just as they know their own will come someday.

Some of us work so hard, play so hard, drink so much, take so many drugs that we don't have time to think about it though the very actions that make us forget about it, bring it's arrival sooner then expected, as long as we don't have to think about it. Here we have this amazing gift, consciousness and a lot of us do our best to avoid it at all costs. I wonder if Josh, knowing he was going to die, would have a list of things he'd want to do before he died. Like beat up that boxer who annoys him so much or pee on as many trees as he possibly can instead of the same old ones on our daily walking route. Maybe he would want to go and bite the vet who took his testicles off and hump that female Rottweiler he likes so much just one more time and have a chocolate covered vanilla ice cream cone and a couple of raw juicy steaks and swim in the ocean at least 12 more times and never be tied up again outside a store while I go shopping inside and one last glorious trip to the Colonel's for some of that greasy skin and fries.

Do you have a list of all the things you would like to do before you die. I know I do. Does the list get put aside or forgotten about because life is already too complicated or do you tell yourself, I'll try to do that next year or I'd like to do that but it's not really possible. You only get one ticket, no reruns, no starting over.

About 25 years ago I did something really foolish, I had been on a fast for 2 weeks drinking only fruit juices when a friend dropped by who had some magic mushrooms. I conveniently forgot that I was fasting and ate some mushrooms with him and headed off to a club to listen to some live music. About 30 minutes later I had voices in my head screaming "you're going to die" over and over again and my heart was racing at an incredible rate. I was in my friend's car and we were speeding down the highway to the nightclub. I tried to make myself relax by counting to 10 and telling myself over and over again that it was only the mushrooms making me feel this way and I actually managed to calm myself down somewhat. Not wanting to look foolish to my friend I was trying to act like everything was cool even though I had this thunderstorm going on in my head and chest. We arrived at the club and I was feeling woozy so I went to the washroom to put some water on my face and then I saw my face in the mirror. I was incredibly pale and I got really scared all over again. I asked my friend to drop me off at the nearest emergency room.

At this point, about 90 minutes after ingesting the mushrooms, both my friend and I were very high and he agreed to take me to a hospital but wouldn't come in with me. I told the first person I saw there that I thought I was having a heart attack but I was too paranoid to tell them that I had ingested some magic mushrooms. They did a quick exam and placed me on a bed in what looked like a locker room and brought over an oxygen tank and put an oxygen mask over my mouth and then left me alone. All the while those little paranoid mushroom voices in my head kept telling me I was going to die. Incredibly, I reasoned that the nurse who had examined me also knew I was dying and had left me alone to make my peace with God. I wasn't then and am not now, a true believer, even having been brought up catholic but I decided I might as well start hedging my bets. I started talking to God about whether or not I would be admitted to the place near him with all the fluffy clouds. I started to rationalize all the bad things I had done and balance them with the good things. It was like when I was a kid on Santa's lap and he asked me if I had been good. Here I was, thinking I was dying and I had instantly accepted it and was working on the balance sheet of my life, very bizarre. 15 minutes later a nurse came in and took me to have a ECG and then gave me a nitro glycerine shot in my butt and told me to go home. I was in shock, I said, "you can't send me home, I'm dying". She just smiled and said "No you're not". I slowly made my way outside and the night air hit me and I was glad to be alive. I made all sorts of promises that night, if I should live, but the truth is I don't remember what they were except for never eating magic mushrooms again and the story became an amusing anecdote.

This incredible mind of ours has the ability to compartmentalize these kinds of events and let us remember only what we want to remember but I do remember that for the next few days I was a very different person, a lot more serious, a lot more forgiving. Maybe we should have a near death experience once a week so we can appreciate this incredible gift of life and our awareness of it. If we don't, then this gift just becomes a curse.