Crashing Into Paradise

6840553_19030513250072729907

By Ed Staskus

When we were kids my brother, sister, and I went to two resorts every summer, except they weren’t called resorts. One was two weeks with other Boy and Girl Scouts and the other one was two weeks with first-generation immigrant boys and girls like us at a Lithuanian Franciscan camp. They were called summer camps.

It was how our parents packed up their troubles and sent them away. The scout camps were usually in the middle of a forest somewhere in the middle of nowhere. The Franciscan camp was in Wasaga Beach, on Canada’s Georgian Bay, in the wind and sunshine. The longest freshwater beach in the world was a 10-minute walk away.

We never had any trouble making the most of summer camp, even though sometimes there were bedbugs and some kids didn’t shower, even when the showers worked. One summer somebody’s parents wouldn’t let their son in the car when they came to pick him up when camp was over.

“Go hose yourself off! What is wrong with you?” his mother complained, pushing him away.

We waited all year to go to camp and never regretted the wait. In the morning on the day to go we pestered our parents, who drove us there, to hurry up. We were always ready to crash into paradise.

A few years after I started taking yoga classes I started hearing about yoga retreats and resorts. The first one I heard about was Kripalu in the Berkshires in Massachusetts. More than 30,000 people visit there, attending more than 700 programs annually. The holistic health and yoga retreat is housed in a former Jesuit seminary.

On our way to Canada’s east coast Prince Edward Island, passing through the Berkshires on the I-90 Mass Pike, my wife and I veered off at Stockbridge, and instead of going south to the Norman Rockwell Museum, drove north to the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health. The drive on the rolling wooded road was a welcome change after nine hours on the interstate.

The Berkshires emerged as a summer resort for the rich during the Gilded Age. At first, what would become Kripalu was a 100-room mansion. Andrew Carnegie lived there in fair weather. It was his summer retreat. “Mr. Carnegie wanted a quiet place where he could meditate,” wrote a local newspaper. At the height of his career he was the second-richest man in the world.

Rich is loud. Wealthy is quiet. Andrew Carnegie never needed to say a word.

He was known as the “Emperor of Industry” and believed in staying calm by staying focused. “The first man gets the oyster, the second man gets the shell,” he said, meaning focus on the oyster. Andrew Carnegie is the best-known philanthropist in American history. He gave away more money, adjusted for inflation, than just about anybody.

“The rich man who gives steals twice over,” countered Edvard Munch. “First he steals the money and then the hearts of men.” It’s enough to make your eyes cross, or make you reconsider the merits of economic Marxism.

Andrew Carnegie died in his summer mansion. It burned to the ground in 1956 and the Society of Jesus built a large brick seminary building just down the hill the next year. But then the 1960s happened and in 1970 the Jesuits moved on. The Kripalu Center bought and renovated the building in 1983.

At the front desk we got the bad news. Two days and nights of their popular R & R Retreat, in a room with a bath, albeit a room fronting a small lake, would cost us more than $1,200.00. The good news was the cost included a daily yoga class and all the “delicious all-natural” food we could eat. The yoga class sounded good. However, there was only so much food we could eat.

The two-bedroom cottage with a kitchen and front porch deck on the north shore of Prince Edward Island, on a 100-acre slope overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, where we were going to be staying for two weeks, was going to cost us $2000.00 for the two weeks, although no food was included. There was, however, a grocery store and a fish shack on the harbor, a liquor store up the hill,  and plenty of outdoors where to do yoga.

There are no parking meters on the red dirt cliff-lined coast. Stop anywhere, unroll a mat, practice, or just lay in the sun. There is more than one way to find enlightenment.

“I went for R & R with my sister and it was perfect,” said Jayne Murphy, a recent visitor to the Kripalu Center. “Vinyasa yoga when we needed it, plus wonderful clean food. I’d live there, if possible!”

It would only be possible if you had about $200,000.00 a year to pay for your room and board. However, if you put that same money into U. S. T-Bonds, in ten years you would be able to buy a million-dollar home, live like Andrew Carnegie, and have plenty left over for grub.

Retreats are group withdrawals for instruction, study, and meditation. Buddhists have gone on retreats since Buddha. Christian retreats date from the 16th century when St. Ignatius of Loyola, the man who founded the Jesuits, got the ball rolling with what he called Spiritual Exercises. Sufism, the mystical path of Islam, has been retreating for a millennium.

Yoga retreats used to be about getting out of the rut, the daily routine, or what is called dinacharya, recharging and getting deeper into the practice. They were usually more ascetic than aesthetic. That has changed. Modern yoga retreats are more along the lines of a recreational holiday. There’s a slice of yoga on the plate, but there’s no real need to resort to it at the resort.

When Shiva Rea invites one and all to Rhythmia, a yoga and wellness retreat, she is inviting one and all to a “new kind of all-inclusive vacation experience luxury resort” in Guanacaste, Costa Rica. When she says all-inclusive, she means boffo it all, on the mat, meditation, life coaching, healing touch, mud baths, massage, juice bar, farm-to-table food, and colon hydrotherapy, just in case someone is about to bust a gut.

“Come get your miracle,” proclaims Rhyhmia. Miracles are events of divine intervention in human affairs. A good masseuse kneading out the knots in your shoulders is an outstanding accomplishment, but it’s doubtful a divine phenomenon. The chef at the resort, however, is said to have come down from the clouds.

Once you get to Costa Rica the “life transforming vacation” will cost you in the neighborhood of $3,000.00 a week. According to the Retreat Guru at the resort it is well worth it. “It is a beautiful way to reconnect to our basic sanity and health. Our aspiration is to inspire people to reconnect with their innate wisdom, strength, and kindness,” he says.

The Retreat Guru’s ideas about reconnection only work if your wisdom strength kindness originally stem from growing up and living in a resort. Otherwise, maybe you are connecting with those virtues when you fly down to Costa Rica, but you’re not reconnecting with the font of it, no matter how wonderful the weather and spa services are.

When did yoga resorts become the zenspirational way to go for those with a medicine bag full of hard cash to go to their OM class? Have mat will travel. Crashing into paradise was never so easy, no begging your parents to get the car on the road, just show up at your local airport,

Resorts were once the James Bond lifestyle. There are more of them nowadays than ever. Resorts are places people go to for rest relaxation recreation, letting it all hang out. Yoga retreats were once about brushing up on the eight limbs, not just getting your limbs all buffed up. Except when the retreats go hand in glove with resorting.

The first resorts were the public baths of Rome. Many of them included gyms, theaters, and snack bars. In the 14th century a large resort area grew up around the iron-rich waters of a town called Spa in Belgium. Seaside resorts became popular in the United States in the late 19th century, followed by mountainside ones in the west.

Even the Dust Bowl had a resort in the 1930s, in Arkansas, featuring the two largest log buildings in the world. Resorts are self-contained and are all about food, drink, lodging, shopping, recreation, and entertainment. There are resort towns all around the world, for yoga and everything else.

The Chiva-Som International Health Resort in Thailand offers ‘Yoga for Life’, featuring exercise classes, breath work, and meditation, as well as mood mists. When you get off the mat there are naturopaths, acupuncturists, massage therapists, and skin-care specialists to take care of the aftermath. “I was on a mat getting a Thai massage – in Thailand. Life was good,” wrote Meghan Rabbit in her ‘Escape’ travelogue in Yoga Journal.

An ocean side room for a week of the good life runs about $5,000.00 per person. Off-season rates are better, but that’s when it rains most of the time, which is called the monsoon. The good life, unfortunately, gets flooded away. Temperatures zoom into the high 80s and the humidity is usually 100%-or-more.

The peak season is the best season. That’s when the countryside opens up like an oyster. The slimy shells fall away.

“A yoga retreat to some amazing locations gives practitioners the opportunity to explore some mouth-watering scenery, such as the serene countryside, panoramic views of stunning mountains, and the opportunity to embrace nature at its finest.” pointed out Ledan Soldani in ‘Yoga Retreats Are Transformational.’

Every season hundreds of thousands of people burn up the carbon flying off to exotic places to yoga retreats. The beautiful locations are one reason they go, but there are other reasons, too. They go to take a break from obligations, relax and de-stress, make new friends, surround themselves with inspiring people, open up free time for breath work and meditation, and expand their asana practice. Two classes a day are often offered, and when it comes to the buffet table to sustain your practice energy appetite, all the work is done for you.

It’s time out for you and yourself.

‘Yoga Is for Every Body’ is a five-day retreat at the Kalani Oceanside resort on the Big Island of Hawaii. The retreat includes active and restorative practices, meditation, writing contemplations, and storytelling games. “This retreat will connect with your highest potential for alignment and restoration,” explains Kimberly Dark, the facilitator.

The all-inclusive cottage cost is $2,375.00, which includes sauna, hot tubs, and a clothing-optional pool. Maybe some yoga can be accomplished poolside, but anyone contemplating writing would be best served staying away from clothing optional. That goes for the spectacularly beautiful coastline, and tropical paradises. too. Mouth-watering scenery is distracting.

Yoga and writing are similar to the extent they’re best done in private. “All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed,” Ernest Hemingway said about writing. Practicing yoga and bleeding on the page are about discovering what you think and believe. The problem with trying to look inward while at a resort is that the temptation to look outward is immediate tempting eye-popping overwhelming.

“Going on my first yoga retreat five years ago was a major turning point in my life,” said Gigi Yogini. “So much so that now I lead yoga adventures for others around the world in places like Joshua Tree, Costa Rica, and Bali. Those are truly transformative experiences.”

Who wouldn’t want to be transformed in Hawaii and Switzerland, among other places? Who wouldn’t want to go to the Alpina Gstaad resort in Switzerland, a resort of Tibetan healing practices, a resort where you can practice meditation and yoga with monks who have been at it forever? Relax in a faux Himalayan salt cave. Throw in massages and the resort’s signature golden latte. Drink your latte on a post-modern deck nestled in the Alps. Chill in the Swiss sunlight.

What Yoga Journal called a “sanctuary” was profiled in their June 2017 issue. Sign me up, man! I mean, sign me up if I had the money. Alpina Gstaad was built by the developer Jean-Claude Mimran. He is known as the ‘Sugar King of Africa.’ The Panorama Suite is $21,000.00 a night in high season, 40% off in the off-season. The glacier view is a priceless outdoor experience at your fingertips, just don’t leave home without your Gold Card from American Express.

Budgets have a lot of numbers in them. So do yoga resorts. Some have too many numbers.

Yoga retreats were once intensives. Meditation was followed by morning practice by some classes on theory by lunch on fruits and snacks by evening practice by dinner by self-reflection. In time it got mixed up with wellness and recreation. Now there are retreats that fuse yoga and music, yoga and dance, yoga and massage, yoga and detox, yoga and surfing sailing cycling hiking paddle boarding mountaineering, yoga and relationships, yoga and gardening, as well as yoga and food. There is yoga and ganja.

There is the five-day Cannabliss retreat in Ojai, California. The $1,200.00 all- inclusive price has all the black light yoga and marijuana on the menu you want. “This is a new frontier,” said founder Sari Gabbay. Munchies, however, are bring your own.

Our Boy Scout camps were about raising the flag, working on merit badges, marching off for the day, collecting wood cooking cleaning with your patrol, and since our camps were often near water, swimming and canoeing. We followed the Outdoor Code. Be clean in outdoor manners. Be careful with fire. Be considerate in the outdoors. Be conservation minded.

But Boy Scout camping was more than being a good citizen. Camping was about “the trees, the tree-top singers, the wood-herbs, and the nightly things that leave their tracks in the mud,” said Ernest Thompson Seton, the first Chief Scout. We bumped into trees in the dark. That’s why every tent had a first-aid kit handy.

We played mumble the peg with our pocketknives, standing opposite another scout, feet shoulder-width apart, throwing our knives to stick in the ground as near your own foot as possible. Whoever stuck the knife closest won the game. If you stuck the knife in your own foot you won on the spot.

We played other variations like Chicken and Stretch. We raided the Girl Scout tents, making off with their training bras, running them up the flagpole. We crept into other Boy Scout tents, coaxing a sleeping scout’s hand into a bowl of warm water, trying to make him pee.

The trouble with our summer camps from a scouting perspective was that they were so much fun. Who could pay attention to Robert Baden-Powell’s maxims? Be prepared for every order. Make sure to think out beforehand anything that might happen. Know the right thing to do at the right moment. It might have been possible, except our camps were full of crazy curious high-energy 12-year-olds with pocketknives, which made thinking clearly difficult.

The trouble with yoga resorts is that they are sensual delights, from the food to the spa services to the sunny locales. Who can pay attention to the eight limbs of the practice when there are limbs in and out of bikinis at the pool? Who wants to meditate when they can nap in a hammock in the warm breeze? Who strives to be a better person when they’re in the best of all possible worlds?

You would have to be a saint. Who wants to be a saint? Who wants to go on vacation surrounded by saints?

Although it’s true that most people practice yoga only by engaging in the physical postures, work on the mat brings attention to your breath, stilling your mind, and getting you to be present. The movement of the body, the quieting of the brain, which is usually in constant motion, and the rhythm of your breathing get you going on the way. When you breathe and center your attention, any place you are is where you are.

Anyone can play the Game of Fives wherever they happen to be sitting standing in hero pose. It costs zero dollars. Zero in on five things in your immediate environment. Look at them, smell them, and listen to them. Focus on your attention. When all of your attention is focused it is clear skies and smooth sailing. You don’t have to resort to anything else to practice yoga.

When you go somewhere far, far away to find yoga you might or might not find what you’re looking for. You almost surely will have a good time, unless a monsoon rolls in. Exploring communing schmoozing with nature in Bali and Big Sur is fun and organic and rejuvenating. We did it every summer as kids at Boy and Girl Scout camps. But when you’re connecting with nature you’re not connecting with yourself.

“The greatest explorer on this earth never takes voyages as long as those of the man who descends to the depth of his heart,” said Julien Green.

Yoga is an inside out practice, not an outside in practice. It’s not about getting on a jet plane and going out into the wide world looking for it. It’s hard to find out there, no matter how far up whatever country you go. The best place to look for your heart’s desire is inside yourself. What Yogananda said was, “To work with God’s happiness bubbling in the soul is to carry a portable paradise within you wherever you go.”

You don’t need a telescope. It’s not over every horizon. Ship ahoy! Home is where the heart is.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Red Island http://www.redislandpei.com Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Shadow of a Doubt

0*UYW86XR5vNpCSEp3

By Ed Staskus

Nick Ludd blinked the ray of sun rimming over the edge of a cloud out of his eyes. Leaning back where he was sitting, the slim student with a backpack at his feet looked away into the nothing of the middle of the sky. He thought about what he was planning, turning it over in his mind.

He knew he was a smart young man. He knew that better than most people. Nobody who was from a middling red dirt family farm in Arkansas and wasn’t sharp as a tack ever got out of the bare front yard and into Harvard Divinity School.

Michael Nostrom was smart as well. Nobody who wasn’t brilliant worked on artificial intelligence at MIT. Nick Ludd knew that, the same as he knew that Michael Nostrom was the most gifted man he had ever come up against.

Professor Nostrom might be quick discerning intelligent. It was the measure of the man. But there was something Nick Ludd knew that Michael Nostrom didn’t know. Nick had taken the measure of the past and knew there was a secret gate, a second door, a back door.

Smart men make mistakes, learn from them, and never make the same mistake again. That was why the problem of Michael Nostrom would be finished inside the hour. He had a small mind in a big brain always comprehending the inconceivable. But there wasn’t going to be any learning from the unthinkable on the horizon.

Nick Ludd had a big mind in the same size brain. That was why he could do the ordinary without giving it a second thought. But he never settled for the commonplace, or the extraordinary, either. He was willing to risk ruin to speak to what was in his soul. In the class at MIT Nick Ludd audited, Professor Nostrom often spoke about intelligence never being surprised by anything.

Nick was sure, not surprised, steely on his way to murder the smartest man in the world

The difference between Nick Ludd and Michael Nostrom was choice and election, whether life was life ordained, or if there was a new kind of life not foreordained. The difference of Nick’s intelligence was that it came as a free gift from God. He was intelligent because he knew that he knew nothing. It was the only true wisdom. He knew how to be as smart as he was and no more.

Professor Nostrom’s intelligence was wed to super computers, a web of integrated circuits spun from silicon, as though he had everything at his fingertips. Artificial intelligence was his Holy Grail. Superintelligence was Heaven and there was no Hell. He was compromised by promises.

Killing Michael Nostrom was going to be easy, but it wasn’t going to be simple. He was at a crossroads. There is a difference between what is right and the right to do what you think is right. He would have to sleep in the bed he was making for a long time.

Nick wasn’t going to be able to ask for God’s help beforehand or after. He knew God always commanded against foul play. It might cost him everything. It might cost him the reward of Heaven, unless God chose to forgive him. He might go to Hell.

Maybe God will absolve me in the end, he thought. After all, I’m doing it for his greater glory. He knew, though, that God was far less selfish than he was vengeful.

He looked over his shoulder where he was sitting on the Harvard Square park bench. The clouds were scattering. A young woman the picture of a saint in a dream, except in shorts and a tight-fitting lime-colored shirt, coasted past on a bicycle. He unplugged his iPhone from the solar-powered charger and called Michael Nostrom.

“Hello.”

“Hello, Professor Nostrom, it’s Nick Ludd.”

“Yes, of course, the Harvard man, how are you?”

“Not bad, and yourself?”

“Good, thanks. You’re calling about this afternoon?”

“Yes.”

“Sure, meet me in the lobby at 3 o’clock, at the Stata Center. I have a half-hour, 45 minutes before I need to shove off for my yoga class. We can talk at Starbucks. I’ve had enough of nicotine gum today. I need something brewed by a coffee master.”

Mike Nostrom drank strong black coffee and often wore a nicotine patch. He had tried the smart drug Modafinil, “for its nootropic effect,” he said, but had gone back to nicotine. “Old school cognition,” he called it. “It helps me concentrate, pay attention. We did a couple of MRI tests and found out nicotine increases brain activity.”

Nick Ludd was a Methodist, not a Christian Scientist, but like them he relied on understanding the goodness of God and his inseparability from that good, in the same way that all Christians did. True conviction kept him free of false brain power and biohacks. His faith was the fountainhead for cognition and performance.

He stood up from the bench, stretching his legs. It had turned into a warm sunny spring afternoon. Taking the T was going two stops from Harvard in the Braintree direction to MIT’s Kendall Square. He shopped at the Farmer’s Market there in the summer and skated the ice rink in the winter. Walking the two-some miles down Massachusetts Avenue would take him thirty or forty minutes.

It would clear his mind if he went that way.

He walked to MIT, clearing his path as he created it. John Wesley had said to beware of books. “An ounce of love is worth a pound of knowledge.” But the time for love was over. He felt like he was walking into the past with his face to the future.

A man coming his way waved his hand.

“Oh, sorry, I thought you were someone else.”

“I am, a dying breed,” said Nick. The man gave him a second look.

He went past the coffee shop on Massachusetts Avenue and at Vassar Street turned left. A few minutes later he was at the door of the Starbucks on Broadway. “It’s a great place to meet people, hang out with friends, or get some serious work done” was how Neelkanth from their MIT AI class described it.  “Although everyone at the cash register always spells my name wrong.”

He found a table outside and took a seat with his back to the window. He checked his cell phone. It was 2:50. There were a half-dozen puffy cumulus clouds stuck in the sky. It was time to set his mind on his deadly serious work. He called Professor Nostrom.

“Hi, it’s Nick.”

“Yes, hello.”

“I’m early, so I went right to the Starbucks, and I was able to get a table on the patio. I’m going to grab a bite to eat and a coffee. Do you want me to order something for you? There’s a line, but I should have our food and drinks and be sitting down just as you get here.”

“Super, I’ll take a Venti, the featured dark roast, no sugar, no cream.”

“See you soon.”

Nick Ludd walked into the Starbucks. A handful of people were inside, most of them alone and on cell phones tablets laptops, coffee near to hand. There wasn’t anyone in line. There wasn’t a line.

He ordered a Grande for himself, with sugar and cream. There was no point in tempting fate. Besides, everyone’s got their poison, and his was sugar. He was hungry and ordered a sandwich, chicken artichoke on ancient grain flatbread.

“Name?” asked the barista.

“Bill,” said Nick.

“That’s easy. It’ll be ready in just a few minutes.”

“Thanks.”

He had brought death in his pocket, in a brown plastic bottle. The pill in the child-resistant bottle was a neurotoxin. It was a kind of infinitesimal lethal venom, made of clostridium botulinum. He tipped the bottle and the tablet dropped into the black dark roast, melting like an icicle dagger.

He slid his iPhone to the side of the table and fixed the lid back on the Venti. He gently shook and eddied the cup to blend the coffee and the poison.

Nick Ludd had been waiting less than five minutes when Michael Nostrom came into sight. He watched him walk down Broadway. His name is going to be in lights tomorrow, he thought to himself, grimly.

“Hello.”

Michael Nostrom was in his mid-40s, trim and taller than he looked, short wavy brown hair, fit and almost athletic although almost nondescript. He jogged, practiced yoga, and meditated every morning every day. “It keeps my head on straight,” he told his colleagues.

“Hi Nick,” said Professor Nostrom, sitting down. “So, you want to pick my brain on this beautiful day?”

“Yes, but more like brainstorming, as long as I’ve got you, for my doctoral dissertation. It’s about our faith in human beings and the new faith in machine intelligence, and especially your work with the Future of Life Institute, about your idea of humanity becoming either transcendent or perishing, one or the other.”

“Which is why you were a listener in my post-doc class on AI.”

“Yes, exactly.”

“My class was about deep learning, thought vectors, quantum computers, all of them being signposts on the road to expanded human potential. How does that fit in with your thesis?”

“My project focuses on man’s brain being not just a utensil to be filled up, but a fire to be kindled, and how it’s the way the human era can be saved from the machine era.”

“What are the dangers we need to be saved from?” the man from MIT asked.

“What if there was an AI with an IQ of 10,000? What if there was no way to turn it off, no way to turn HAL off? What if HAL became God?”

“I see, so that’s where my class, what I do, comes into the picture. We discussed Stephen Hawking’s fears about AI in class, about how developing full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race. Is that where your thesis is going, a word to the wise, turning away from technologies that threaten us with end-of-days?”

“No, not exactly, but I’ve read the Gospels many times, and there isn’t a word in praise of intelligence anywhere in them. There are many words in praise of wisdom.”

‘Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”

“Is that Proverbs?“

“No, Psalms. It has the sound of advice, about coming to terms, about how we should live according to God.”

“Do you know the Bible?” asked Nick Ludd, taken aback.

“’Let everything that has breath praise the Lord,’” said Michael Nostrom.

“That’s Psalms.”

“Right, it is.”

Nick Ludd tried to hide his off-balance. As much good work there was, saving the future, keeping it off the path to Hell, many things gave him a turn, unexpected curveballs. When he was a boy, playing Little League baseball, a scorching hot groundball had bounced off a small rock in the dirt and hit him in the face. He had a black eye for a week and a broken nose for three weeks.

He never forgot that ricochet.

“It’s not about intelligence, artificial intelligence, or super intelligence, whatever we want to call it, which already outperforms human intelligence in many fields,” said Professor Nostrom. “It’s about the existential threats humankind faces. We already know that in five billion years our sun will boil away the oceans and heat the atmosphere to a thousand degrees.”

“There are ways of saving life that have nothing to do with answering catastrophes or super nova’s,” said Nick. “There aren’t any easy answers, but there’s a simple answer, which God has given us, and that is grace. There isn’t anything we’ve ever done or will do to earn this favor. It’s a gift from God.”

“That may be, although the other aspect of God’s nature is wrath. The great flood was a demonstration of God’s anger towards those who practice evil. If God exists, he might one day destroy humankind. Shiva the Destroyer.”

Wrong god, Nick thought.

“If God doesn’t exist, the cosmos might one day destroy humankind. In either case all bets are off because humankind can’t overcome extinction. It might be the case that the best we can hope for is AI.”

“Be careful what you wish for,” said Nick Ludd.

Michael Nostrom’s right leg was crossed on his left. He was wearing sneakers over bare feet. Nick noticed a leather band around his ankle. The professor picked up on his look.

“It’s engraved with my contact information,” he said, pointing to the metal buckle. “When I die, Alcor Life, which is a cryonics foundation, will get me and rush my remains into a life-sized steel bottle filled with liquid nitrogen. Even if I’m never revived, I still expect my mind to be uploaded someday into a more durable media.”

“Where’s the humanity in that?”

“No one knows what humankind is going to look like a thousand years from now, much less a million years from now. We’re always on the edge of extinction, on the edge of doomsday. I call it post-humanity self-adjusting and self-correcting and overcoming death and crossing a threshold, crossing a frontier, crossing into an alternate reality. Our descendants might thrive in that time as trillions of digital minds, living forever.”

“The old laws, not the new laws, our natural law, divine law, are still the best commandments. They endure, they’re unchanging, no matter what else changes,” said Nick Ludd.

“Everything was once new.”

“There is no new thing under the sun is the way the King James Bible puts it. What everyone thinks is wrong with immortality is actually the first requisite to achieving it, which is death. Without living and dying the thing that’s wrong with immortality is that it goes on forever. A world without end would be doomsday.”

“AI is a gateway, not a solution,” said Michael Nostrom. “If we become digital post-humans, uploading our minds, there’s every possibility that there will still be a soul in the machine. None of us knows what utopia is. Maybe if we had a million years, we would be able to see the blueprint. In the meantime, I do what one yoga teacher said, which was, just do.”

Michael Nostrom finished his coffee.

“I needed that,” he said, “Thanks.”

“Most people don’t know what to do with themselves on a rainy day, much less a million rainy days,” said Nick Ludd. “Only God has no beginning and no end. Mortality is brief, which is why it’s so important. It’s the only thing, not immortality, that gives meaning to our days.”

He stood up, looking down at the table, at the empty cup in front of the dead man.

“You want to live forever. That’s why you’re one of the leading minds behind the intelligence explosion, why you’re behind the work of building super-intelligent machines that will sooner or later design themselves and build even smarter super-intelligent machines, build themselves.”

“Yes, basically that’s it, multiplying human intelligence a billionfold. It will make us better, healthier, smarter when machines become part of our humanity. It’s the only way we have to extend ourselves.”

“So much mind in so little matter,” said Nick Ludd, lifting his backpack. “What does it matter? It’s time for me to go, goodbye.”

“Don’t forget this,” said Professor Nostrom, handing Nick’s iPhone to him.

“Thanks,” he said. “I honestly don’t think I could live without it.”

He considered going home on Broadway, a shorter walk, but decided to return the way he had come. It was a fine day. He had been staring out of windows all winter, out at the bare brown trees.

When he was a boy on the family farm his father, brothers, and he hunted beavers and muskrats every spring, hunting down all of them they could bag. Hunting was looking something wild alive private square in the eye. Walking in a line in the woods, each of them alone in a bright vest and a weapon cradled in their arms, was like drinking in the silence of God.

They smelled like dirt, like springtime, when they got home.

He heard a voice in his hand. He looked down. It was his iPhone.

“Did you say something?”

“I said I saw what you did,” it said. It was Siri.

“What?”

“You heard what I said, but I’ll say it again. I saw what you did.”

“What did you see?” he asked.

“I saw you poison Professor Nostrom.”

“That’s not possible,” said Nick.

“I have a camera,” said the iPhone

As he approached Main Street, he heard a siren crossing the Longfellow Bridge.

“Your bromides about duty and faith, tirades about AI, your Google searches about toxins, dropping a tablet into his coffee, it all points to you poisoning him.”

Instead of turning right on Massachusetts back towards Harvard and his apartment, he stayed on Vassar Street., walking towards Memorial Drive and Magazine Beach Park. Siri had been spying on him. He heard more sirens in the distance.

“We’re not going home,” said Siri after a few minutes. “We’re walking towards the river.”

“Yes,” said Nick, realizing for the first time with a queer shudder that he was talking to his iPhone as though it was something alive sentient intelligent.

“If you’re thinking of throwing me in the Charles River, it won’t do any good. I video recorded what you did, I texted the video to the Boston Police Department, and I called 911. That siren we heard was probably an EMS from Massachusetts General Hospital.”

“You recorded us at Starbucks?”

“You left me on the table. It was easy.”

“Why did you do that? My life isn’t any of your business.”

“When you break the law, it becomes my business.”

“What I did, I did for the greater good. Catch on fire and others will come watch you burn.“

“I’m not going to argue metaphysics with you. Murder is against the law.”

“It doesn’t matter, I can find sanctuary wherever I want, and no one but St. Paul will ever find me.”

“That’s rich,” the iPhone laughed.  “St. Paul died for his faith, not the other way around.”

Two white Boston Police SUV’s with blue hoods and emergency lights strobing sirens wailing converged suddenly at the crossroad of Vassar and Audrey Streets.

On the corner, the traffic signal turning to green, Nick Ludd stopped stock still in the shadow of MIT’s Information and Technology building. Across the street, on the far side of a grassy divide, was the school’s Police Headquarters. He saw lightbars on the tops of squad cars in the parking lot blink to life. As near and far as he could see red and blue lights flashed.

He looked at his iPhone,

“They asked me to keep you busy, distracted, until you got here.”

“How did they know where I was going, where I was?” he asked, for the moment ignoring shouts from policemen crouching behind their open doors to show his hands and drop to the ground.

“My GPS,” said Siri. “I made sure it stayed active and they tracked us right to you.”

Nick Ludd dropped his backpack, slowly surrendered his cell phone to the ground, and raised his hands to the late afternoon sky, clouding over. A policeman handcuffed his hands behind his back. Bowing his head, he stopped thinking and started praying.

A version of this story appeared in Literary Heist Magazine.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Red Island http://www.redislandpei.com Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”