Tuesday, June 3, 2008


This past weekend was one of the most profound of my life. My wife and I went to the Celebrate Your Life conference in Chicago, Illinois. Before I give details on it, let me give you some background. In the spring of 2007, I received an automated email from Neale Donald Walsch (the writer of "Conversations With God", my all-time favorite book) that he was going to be in Chicago that summer to give some talks. He was going to be giving an all-day workshop as well as a keynote talk. Some of my other favorite authors, such as Brian Weiss and James Redfield, were also gonna be there. My wife and I bought tickets and reserved a hotel room, but, twas not to be. Due to issues we were having at the time, we separated and it couldn't be arranged for either of us to go. Our tickets were given to others who hopefully got a lot out of going. Thus it was that I blew my chance to see NDW. You can imagine how heartened I was to find out that there was to be another Celebrate Your Life conference taking place this summer. With our relationship much stronger, we once again purchased tickets and reserved a hotel room where the conference was to take place.

And so it was that the wife and I left Minnesota in the late morning this past Friday. This one dude was gonna come visit our cat and dog three times each day we were gone. This would be much better than them getting kenneled. I brought plenty of music along to listen to in the car (I got a great deal at the pawn shop the day before. I love 70's and 80's music and found more than a dozen Time-Life CD's from that era available for only $1.50 each). We took my wife's brand new '08 Accord. It only had about 2,000 miles on it, but would have many more by the time the weekend was out. We made sure we had everything as we left. It was about a 6-hour drive.

I was surprised not to see much road construction as we sailed through Minnesota and into Wisconsin. Once we hit Illinois, however, there was plenty of it, not to mention having to stop and pay tolls what seemed like every 5 minutes. At one point, I realized we were on the wrong road, but quickly turned around and was once again on the "right" path. At about 5:30pm, with the sun shining brightly, we saw the hotel.

It was a state-of-the-art facility that had just opened about 9 months before. We found out during our stay that the normal price for a room was $270. Since we were attending the conference, we got it for a "mere" $149. After parking, the first thing we did was check into our room. The hotel is 18 stories and guess which one we were on? Yep, da 18th. As we waited to get our hotel keys, actually hotel cards (since they are shaped just like credit cards), I noticed a guy in the lobby talking who looked just like Dannion Brinkley. He's the bloke that I first saw profiled in the mid-90's on a show called Sightings. He was struck by lightning, crossed over, and during his time over there, had quite a few prophecies revealed to him. For more details, go here.

I was fairly certain it was him as he was scheduled to speak that weekend. After getting the "keys", we headed over to pick up our conference badges. We then headed up to our rooms and changed clothes. Deepak Chopra would be opening the conference with a keynote address at 7pm.


Before I go into what happened the rest of Friday evening, let me give you some background on how I first became familiar with the world's most famous guru. Around about 1995, my mom got interested in Deepak. I believe she had seen a PBS special in which he had been speaking and was so compelled by it that she bought his latest book which at that time, was The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success. Here are the "laws":

I once joked with her that when I graduated college, I would look for a job using the Law of Least Effort. She said I better not. The following year, Deepak released a new book called The Way of the Wizard: Twenty Spiritual Lessons in Creating the Life You Want. My mom purchased it for me for my birthday and I still have it to this day. As the years went by, Deepak released many more books, but none that I had to have. I saw him from time to time on Larry King Live and was always interested in what he had to say on such programs.

Thus it was that I was quite interested in seeing him speak for the first time. My wife and I took the elevator down to the first floor and headed to the ballroom where his talk was to take place. I found out later on that more than 1,000 people had signed up for the conference. We entered the ballroom at around 6:30. There were already a number of people there that had taken most of the best seats, but we did manage to find a couple in about the fifth row, though we were way off to the left, so didn't have a great view of Deepak, but still better than many who had to settle in the back. This one dude was playing guitar and singing inspirational songs while it got closer to magic time. He had a shaved head, was probably in his 30's, and had the last name of Goldstein.

At just after 7, the women who put on the conference welcomed us and then introduced Deepak Chopra. He came out to a standing ovation. He started out talking about how he first became a medical doctor, how he was originally from India, and then discussed cognitive behavioral therapy as well as the nature of consciousness. His talk was quite interesting. The most notable thing about his speech, however, were not the words he was speaking. It was the glasses he was wearing. They were red and anytime he started walking in the direction where we were seated, the top of his glasses sparkled red almost like brake lights. Many people were amused by this and commented on it afterward. The below pic shows him with said glasses. I wonder how much they cost him.

I hear the movie coming out later this month starring Michael Myers called "The Love Guru" is loosely based on him. It will interesting to compare the film to what I saw from Deepak this past weekend. I started to get fairly restless once it hit about 9:15 or so, but thankfully, he started to wrap it up at that point. After the speech, Deepak signed books for people. It was during this time that I took the below pic of him:


Though we received much spiritual food, by this time we were quite hungry, so headed to one of my favorite restaurants to visit when I'm in Illinois. I'm talkin' about Steak n' Shake. My beloved absolutely LOVED their chocolate shake, so much so that she drank not only her own, but half of mine. Their burger and fry really hit the spot for me.

Thank God smoking is no longer allowed in restaurants in Illinois. I've been to Steak n' Shake too many times when I had to endure the stench of 'rette smoke even though I was in the non-smoking session. I asked the waitress why they weren't playing any music in the restaurant. She said that too many people complained about the type they played (the kids didn't like hearing 50's stuff, the old folks didn't dig hearing Snoop), so they decided not to play anything. Most of the patrons there that evening were young people. Here is a pic of me at the restaurant (our waitress can be seen in the background):

After eating, we headed back to the hotel to unwind and hit the hay. The hotel had its own parking ramp which was pretty cool. Now to the room. As I indicated earlier, we were on the 18th floor, so we had a pretty decent view. Yes, indeed, down below, I could see all the people walking in and out of Target. Cool, huh? The room was something else. First of all, we had a king-size bed which was totally off-the-hook (we have a queen-size one at home). With my wife on one side of the bed and me on the other, it felt like she was in another time zone. The bed also had a body pillow for those who liked to sleep holding on to something.

We watched some TV before hitting the sack. The telly was about 30" or so, was widescreen, and had hi-def capability. It really is incredible just how much clearer the picture is in hi-def (you've haven't seen Wheel of Fortune until you've seen it in HD). As we got ready for bed, I eagerly thought about what was scheduled for the following day. First up was a panel discussion by four authors including my guy, NDW. Would it be all that I had hoped for?

I found out from Chad (the guy taking care of our dog) that it hailed that evening in Minnesota and that Zoe had put hail stones in her mouth in the backyard and tried to get him to chase her when she was doing so. Wish I coulda saw that, but seeing Deepak instead will have to suffice.


I slept fairly well on Friday night. The hotel alarm clock woke me at about 7am on Saturday morning. It had one of the most interesting tones I've ever heard. It was somewhat soft, but still insistent. It really kept with the feel of the hotel as a place to find peace. From 7 to 8am, one could do yoga or meditation with a group of others. This portion was optional (can you imagine...mandatory meditation?) I thought about going that morning, but just didn't wanna get up that early. As I got ready, my wife said she was beat. I asked if she wanted to skip the first workshop. She said she did.

So off I headed once again to the Grand Ballroom, this time for a panel discussion with four authors: Debbie Ford, Cheryl Richardson, James Twyman, and most notably (for me) Neale Donald Walsch. I made sure to get there plenty early as I wanted to ensure I would get a better seat this morning than I had the night before. I was able to get a seat in the 8th row which almost directly faced the stage. This redhead sang a number of songs as the room gradually filled. Shortly after 8:30am, introductions were made and each author came out. I have to admit that I was quite excited to see Neale Donald Walsch. Let me give you some background on how I became familiar with his books:

In 1997, my fiancee' and I spent many a Saturday evening at the local Barnes & Noble. She would browse the psychology section while I looked mainly in the New Age/spiritual section. One of the best sellers at that time was a book called Conversations With God Book 1: An Uncommon Dialogue. My beliefs at the time were that we live forever, life is a school in which we learn lessons, and that reincarnation is a reality. The title of the book was quite provocative, so I took a copy off the display and sat down with it. I had read many spiritual books over the past 4 years, but I could tell right away that this one was a doozy.

Conversations 1 had the answer to pretty much every major life question that one could think of (What is the meaning of life? Why is there suffering? Do aliens exist?) and was written in a way that even a child could understand. I devoured the book in a day or two. And I waited with great excitement for the insights that would be found in Book 2. I wasn't sure when it would be released, so imagine my surprise when I saw it on the New York Times bestseller list in the paper one weekend. I rushed out to B&N and picked it up. After finishing 2, I looked forward to getting the breathtaking finale, Book 3. One afternoon browsing at B&N, I found it in the New Non-Fiction section. Oh joy! I bought it and took it with me to my job (I worked at a video store). I read as much of it as I could when not waiting on customers. It was a very rousing conclusion to the saga and I frequently turned to the books in times of trouble and distress.

The excitment rubbed off on my fiancee' who also read most of the first book and found great comfort in it as well. It was a blast to be able to talk about soul stuff with her (her background is actually in the Jewish faith). As the years passed, more With God books were released and I purchased most all of them. I looked forward to each release. Some of the later books like Tomorrow's God had a bit of a been there, done that feel, but I knew they would always hold a special place in my heart. The only books I keep in my bedroom are the With God ones. I never thought that one day I might actually get to hear Neale talk in person, but it looked as if my dream was about to come true.


Getting back to Saturday morning, each author came out to a standing ovation. I was somewhat familiar with Debbie Ford (I bought her book, "The Dark Side of the Light Chasers" about 5 years ago). Cheryl Richardson was a life coach who I didn't know much about. The same applied to James Twyman. Neale Donald was the last to come out. The next two hours were a panel discussion in which questions submitted by attendees were asked of the authors.

Neale didn't get to talk an awful lot since he had to share the stage with three others, but when he did speak, it was good stuff. He revealed something that morning I was not aware of: that he is the father of 9! He stated that they were conceived with "various" women over the years. The audience got a kick out of the "various" remark. Cheryl Richardson shed a few tears during the seminar discussing how difficult the last year had been for her due to an illness in the family. Her words helped me realize that even a life coach's life is not gonna be "perfect". Below is a pic of Cheryl and Neale from the panel discussion:

As the discussion ended, most people headed for the exits and their next workshop. Not me. I hung around a bit. A number of people went up to Neale and asked to take his picture or to be in a pic with him. It was during this time that I took the following pic:


I didn't quite have the guts to go up to Neale and say anything at that moment, so headed back up to our hotel room, happy with the pics I had taken. One thing I was starting to notice during my time at the conference was the incredible positivity and friendliness of pretty much everyone I encountered. I read in a spiritual book a number of years ago that heaven was a very friendly place where everyone acknowledged you, was accepting, and of good cheer. In the day-to-day world, you don't generally see this, but it was as if this conference and the people there were a bit of heaven on Earth, a preview of things to come, a taste of what this world could one day be. It was cool to think that most all the people I saw there were spiritual like me.

I reached our room. My beloved was still sleeping. I wasn't gonna let her sleep through this blissful day, so woke her up. She spent the next 20 minutes getting ready for the seminar. She is originally from Illinois and, in fact, her sister still lives there. They were looking forward to spending some time together that day. Her sister was most likely going to pick her up in a short time, but I felt we should go to the next workshop and that she could always leave once she received the call.

We left the room and headed for Dannion Brinkley's workshop. As mentioned earlier, he had one of the most notable near-death experiences on record. I was greatly looking forward to hearing what he had to say. My wife and I arrived good and early and managed to get a seat in the front row. Sweet! There were two friendly young women sitting next to us. One had come up with her mother from Ohio. Her mother had picked a different seminar to go to: this was the first time during the conference in which one could choose one of five different authors to listen to. Therefore, due to the reduced size, these meetings were more intimate than the prior ones.

One other notable thing about the conference and something my wife also noticed was that the attendees at the conference were probably 80% women. Pretty much every meeting I was sitting next to someone of the fairer sex. My beloved asked why there were so few men attending. I speculated that it was for the same reason that more women buy self-help books than men, because women are more in touch with their feelings and if they feel something is missing in their lives, they are more willing to find constructive ways to get help. Men, on the other hand, many times turn to vices such as booze, cigarettes, gambling, porn. This isn't to say that women don't also do the same from time to time, but generally, it's been my experience that men are less willing to go the spiritual route.

So you may ask, why am I, a man (last time I checked), so interested in self-help and betterment? Well, it probably started in 1993 when I became greatly depressed...

(cue going-back-in-time music)

In the late spring of '93, I was finally coming out of my shell and making friends. The man who started this was a chap named Dean. He was a member of CIA. No, not that one. Christians In Action. We both attended Winona State at the time and were business majors. I lived off-campus in a house on East 3rd. He lived at Lourdes (how appropriate for a Christian) Hall.

It was a very old building with a lot of character. From time to time, I would get lost in their halls. There was much to do there, however. We played frisbee outside, walked around the neighborhood, and I once even ate at their cafeteria, which reminded me of a monastery (not surprisingly, it once was). I also got to know a friend of Dean's named Candy and spent some time with her as well. I had friends now, but still wasn't happy. How could this be? I gradually became more and more depressed.

It's hard to describe depression to someone who hasn't experienced it. It's not something that you can "snap out of". It's like telling someone with diabetes to "get over it". No matter what I did, no matter where I went, I was in emotional agony. All I wanted to do was stay in bed, in a fetal position, no less. If I couldn't be happy, what point was there in living? Dean encouraged me to pray which I did, but I still couldn't seem to get out of the shitter. I talked to my mom about what was going on. She suggested I see a counselor. I agreed. After all, this was something I could no longer handle on my own. I was seen at the Hiawatha Valley Mental Health Center.

They were located in downtown Winona, just a couple blocks from the mighty Mississip. I saw a nice lady there and talked about many things. My childhood, my time in college, the passing of my grandmother just a few months before. She encouraged me to get counseling regularly and that it probably wouldn't hurt to go on an antidepressant. In order to do this, I would need to see a psychiatrist. I was referred to Dr. Smick. She worked at Parkview Behavioral Health Systems (located just adjacent to the hospital). She did my intake and said there were several meds available for depression. She decided to put me on a more old-school one called Desipramine.

Smick told me it would take several weeks for me to feel the full effects. I didn't feel like waiting, but if it could improve my mood, I guess I could hold out. I started the meds, but there were problems right away. One of the main side effects of desipramine is difficulty urinating. That was something I tried to deal with, but couldn't. So a week or so later, I was put on a more recently discovered antidep, Zoloft. I lived right across the street from Goltz Pharmacy, so had no problem getting my fix, I mean, pills.

My friends knew I was getting professional help and were quite supportive. I called my mom most every day to let her know how I was doing. She had recently separated from her 2nd husband and was sharing custody of their twin girls, who were just 5 years old at the time. I went to Winona's book store and found a book that helped me deal with the negative thinking that had begun to consume me. The Zoloft was better than the Desipramine, but not by much. I seemed to constantly have headaches while on it. Smick had told me to be patient, that one of the meds should be able to give me the kick I needed, but, thus far, it just felt like I was treading water.

After I couldn't deal with the side effects of the first two antidepressants I was put on, Dr. Smick put me on Paxil. Again, I was hopeful, but somewhat doubtful that it would work. I had read that some people do not respond to medication at all. That would suck, to be depressed indefinitely. Actually, in such cases, they would pursue something like Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT).

I continued to work on reversing my negative thoughts. I spent time with friends and was able to continue working in the kitchen at Sammy's Pizza. A coworker, Jerry Kohner, said he heard that I was experiencing depression and told me that he had gone through the same thing. He said that it was a real "bitch". He was able to get over it, however. It was around this time that he asked a lady that worked the morning shift if she would like to go out with him. She accepted and they eventually were married.

But, anyway, back to my sitch. I was also put on Trazodone. During this time, it took me quite a long time to get to sleep. I would just keep thinking about things and not be able to drift off very easily. I remember the first evening I took Trazadone. About 20 minutes after ingesting it, I started to get really tired. I wanted to think about things as I usually do, but I was just too damn tired. I could definitely get used to this.

After a couple more weeks, I did start to feel the effects of the wonder drug, Paxil. It's hard to describe, but it really gave me a kick. I did things that I was way too depressed to do before like the dishes and cleaning the house. I became, what I liked to call, "blazingly optimistic". I wanted to experience life again. Laying in bed was no longer an option. I had been reborn. My Christian friend, Dean, was a bit dubious. He would've preferred that I got better the old-fashioned way, through suffering, through prayer, without the meds.

During the height of my depression, I had gone to the movie "Mrs Doubtfire" with my mom and her girls, but left about a half hour in because I was just too depressed to laugh (or maybe the movie just wasn't funny). I went into "A Perfect World", a ponderous movie starring Clint and Kevin. One of the main characters was shot. It definitely suited my state of mind at the time. A few months later, now cured, I returned to "Doubtfire" and was able to get a few chuckles out of it (I still don't think it's super funny, though many people think it's the shit, including my wife).

I started going to my counseling appointments in a really good mood, almost too good a mood. My support network was quite happy to see that I had recovered. I eventually stopped going to CIA (Christians in Action). There were just too many things I wanted to explore now, such as going to the sinful Aquarius club in Rochester and dancing with a hot mama. Yes, indeed, my tropical depression had passed and I believe that I am a stronger person now due to the experience. Once you've been to hell, you really appreciate all the other realms. Almost 15 years later, all is well.


Getting back to the present day, Dannion entered the workshop room at right around 11:30am. He was, indeed, the man I saw the night before out in the main lobby. It was through Dannion's words in his best-selling book "Saved By The Light" that I was first exposed to the idea that after crossing over and having a life review, one feels every feeling you have ever caused another to feel and the ripple effect of your words and actions. It was this insight that made me realize that I should be kind to all in order to ensure that my life review wouldn't be too painful.

Dannion started out talking about the NDE he experienced in the mid-70's. He was a fantastic speaker who made many in the room laugh numerous times. Regarding getting struck by lightning (which precipitated the NDE), he said that instead of being shown a burning bush as Moses was, he actually BECAME a burning bush. He actually was struck by lightning twice in his lifetime. The main theme of his talk was that no one dies and that there is no hell. He said that if he didn't go to hell for all the mischief he caused in his prior life, then no one does. He said that if someone still believes there is such a thing as hell, they should ask about it when they cross over!

He made light of the Biblical story of Adam, Eve, and the snake as well as the Catholic Church's belief that the world was created on October 23, 4004 B.C. One of his best lines in regards to this was the following: "There's only two places I've heard about a talking snake: Harry Potter and The Bible". Some in the audience were apparently offended by his dismissal of the creation story. Dannion acknowledged this and said he was merely expressing how he felt about things.

He also talked about how everyone that dies attends their own funeral (the men mostly being interested in who is attending, the women in what outfit they have been fitted with for the open casket). He mentioned that he does a lot of work with hospice and the dying. In sum, I found him greatly compelling and am thinking about going to one of his all-day conferences. Here's a link to his website.

My wife received a call from her sister shortly after Dannion's talk started, so missed out on the majority of it.


With my wife hanging out with her sister, I would have to eat lunch on my own. Lunches were included with the price of the conference, so I headed to the commissary. One of the more interesting things going on at the conference were toe readings. I have to admit I'd never heard of such things previously. Check this out. They had about 10 toe experts giving readings at a time in a lounge near the main lobby, but the line was always so long that I didn't want to mess with it. Plus, though I believe in many things, getting an accurate psychic reading from looking at my feet didn't seem very plausible.

I picked up my boxed lunch and headed to a table where there were some openings. My lunch consisted of a turkey wrap (I'd never eaten a wrap before), a Diet Sierra Mist, an apple (to tie in with the creation myth that Dannion had just debunked), and a big, chocolate chip cookie. I could tell I was among friends when I heard the lady across from me (a teacher) saying that she was in the middle of reading Conversations Book 3. I have to admit I was a bit jealous that she was being exposed to its wondrous teachings for the first time. It's been about a decade since I first read it and, in my mind, the God books since then haven't had as much to chew on as that final one of the trilogy.

I was thinking, wouldn't it be great if I could get ECT or something like that where they fried your brain so that you didn't remember reading all these great books? You could be left awestruck once again. This could also work for movies. Imagine seeing "Star Wars", Lord of the Rings", and "Showgirls" for the first time! Actually, I believe that many of the truths revealed in the God books, I was already aware of on a deep subconscious level. I think that's why it resonated so strongly. It's like, "Yes, that makes sense to me. That is how I believe things really work". I believe that we all agreed to "forget" some things before going into the body only to "remember" them again during various times in our life. That's one of the main messages of CWG.

Going back to more mundane things, the turkey wrap was decent, but I had to take out some of the shredded cheese (my cholesterol is quite high, so I'm trying to significantly reduce my sat fat intake and cheese is full of it). I indulged myself a bit by eating the cookie and totally avoided the apple (no eating from the "tree of knowledge" for me).

Next, I went outside to give my wife a call. The sun was blazingly bright as I strolled around the hotel. The temp was in the mid-70's. There were some people having a smoke (naughty...naughty). Reminds me of Book 1 when God tells Neale that people who smoke have no will to live. If they did, they wouldn't do something that has been proven to shorten one's life. My girl had just had lunch with her sis and asked if I wanted to go out to eat with her, her sis, and her sis's husband later that afternoon. I was scheduled to see Joan Borysenko Ph.D. at 4:30pm, but felt I could skip it to get some grub.

I was next scheduled to go to Neale's workshop at 2:30pm. It was a 90-minute presentation called, "Happiness at Last". It was gonna be loosely based on the book he had just released called, "Happier Than God". After getting a taste of his wisdom in the morning panel discussion, I was greatly looking forward to hearing him speak at length about that most elusive of things, happiness.


The doors to most of the workshops opened about a half hour before the session was to start. I made sure I got to Neale's meeting about 40 minutes prior to ensure a good seat. My excitement was growing. A small group of us were led into the room at just after 2. A few seats had been reserved, but thankfully, I was able to get a front row seat which was just a few feet from where Neale would be speaking. There was a vase of flowers sitting right next to the microphone. The lady sitting next to me said that she had just seen this dude named Alberto Villoldo. She said they had done some past-life exercises. Fascinating, I thought. I missed seeing Many Lives, Many Masters author Brian Weiss the year before when plans for my wife and I to attend Celebrate 07 fell through. About 15 minutes before go time, a guy went up to the podium and removed the flowers. Interesting, I thought.

Shortly before 2:30, Neale entered the room with a female technician and a lady dressed in Hindu-type clothes that looked quite a lot like Alanis Morrisette. I overheard the tech say that she was sorry there had been flowers there. Neale said, "Yes, I am allergic to them". At 2:30, he introduced the lady who entered the room with him a few minutes prior as m. Claire. She did a short poetry reading and then it was time to hear from the man.

Many people in the audience weren't too familiar with him, so were quite surprised at his incredible sense of humor. He was very soft-spoken wearing a blue shirt and dark jeans. He mentioned that we're "making it all up", everything in life; that the world is an illusion as expressed in Michael Talbot's book, The Holographic Universe. He discussed being happy even if gas is $5 a gallon, to be happy even when outer circumstances aren't to our liking; that's it's much easier to change our own perspective than to try to change others.

He also brought up some experiences from his past such as the time when as a young child, he accidently ate meat on Friday (he was an altar boy at the time and very serious about his faith). He told his mother about it and she said, "I'm sure God will understand". Then Neale said, "What she should have told me was that God doesn't care". He did a short meditation with us as the workshop came to a close. Many had tears in their eyes when they opened them again. We were all moved by the message of unconditional love that Neale had given us that bright summer afternoon. As the meeting concluded, a tech told us that Neale would be signing books out in the main lobby. I took the following pic of Neale and m. Claire as he was visiting with people after the workshop:


I next headed out to the lobby where Neale would be signing his books. I hadn't brought any of his works with me from Minnesota (I wasn't aware that there would be signings at the conference). I wasn't really up for spending 15 or 20 bucks for one of the two books of his that I don't have, so was content to sit in a chair near where he was signing and just soak up some of the good vibes. There were quite a number of people that were in line to get his John Hancock.

About 10 minutes later, my wife called stating that they were out in the turn-around ready to pick me up for dinner. I stated that I was looking at Neale this very instant. I didn't really want to leave the lobby just then, but knew I would be seeing him again the next day. I got into my brother-in-law's SUV (naughty boy!) and we headed out to Champps sports bar. I hadn't seen my wife's sister or husband in more than a year, so it was good to talk to them again. Since it was only about 4:30, the restaurant was relatively vacant. I ordered a caesar salad, hamburger, waffle fries, and topped it all off by sharing a chocolate chip cookie ice cream dessert with the Mrs. The four of us spent a decent amount of time talking after the meal.

Though I was missing Joan Borysenko's workshop, I was greatly looking forward to hearing James Van Praagh speak at 8 that evening. My girls' sister and hubby dropped us off a little after 6. We headed up to the room and made a-sexytime. No, we actually just changed clothes and watched some telly for a spell. I don't usually like Wheel of Fortune, but viewing it in HD was pretty bitchin'. Shortly thereafter, we headed downstairs. Van Praagh's discussion was going to be in the Grand Ballroom so that all could attend. The doors opened around 7:30 and we hurriedly found a seat. We ended getting a seat in the 7th row that was just off center. Very nice!

Now let me tell you how it was that I became familiar with James. In early 1998, I was working at Barnes & Noble and so was frequently up on what the best selling books of the day were. Several people came up to me over a period of a week or two asking about a book called "Talking to Heaven". They must've seen him on Larry King or something. The book wound up being a huge best-seller and was turned into a TV-movie starring Ted Danson which premiered to huge ratings (Dannion Brinkley's book "Saved by the Light" was also turned into a TV-movie starring Eric Roberts, Julia's sister).

I didn't buy "Talking to Heaven" when it was initially released. I finally got around to it when B&N had it for sale on the clearance shelfs a few years later (I bought his second book "Reaching to Heaven" the same way). Over the years, I've seen him numerous times on "Larry King" and have to admit that I am a great believer in what he does. He was apparently going to be doing some "I see dead people" readings during his workshop that evening. Should be a good time, I thought.


You could feel the excitement growing as 8 o'clock got closer. The red-headed lady was singing up front again as the magic hour fast approached. Her songs were what one would expect at such an event: We are one...I am you...you are me...so what are we waiting for? Let's get busy, baby! Just before showtime, Dannion came in with his significant other. I pointed him out to my wife.

Shortly after 8, one of the ladies putting on the conference introduced James and out he came. He was very funny, making light of being vertically challenged ("I'll sit down now...or did you think I was already sitting down?"). He first talked about how as a young child, he became aware of his abilities, but then squelched them feeling they were more trouble than they were worth. On one fateful night, however, he was dragged to a psychic medium who told him that one day he would be a medium as well. He didn't believe it at the time, but look at him now. He goes much more extensively into this in his books.

He talked about how he came up with the idea for the TV show Ghost Whisperer or as he sometimes calls it Boob Whisperer (a reference to Jennifer Love's ample cleavage). He said she doesn't mind when he refers to the show in this way. It was around this time that Neale came into the room with his dame. He had a reserved seat that was just a few rows in front of me and off to the right. I pointed him out to my wife as well since she missed the seminar with him that afternoon. I have to say it was quite surreal to be hearing James speak while being able to look over at Dannion and in particular, Neale.

Shortly after 9, James said it was now time to do readings. He had everyone close their eyes and then told the women to open their purses. He was going to do a magic trick involving money. No, some music was played and we all became very relaxed. Upon opening our eyes, James had grown 5 inches! The women swooned. The readings were everything I had hoped for. I'd never been to an actual one before. He really was on fire, getting a ridiculously high percentage of hits. It really was something to behold. The lecture was scheduled to end at 10, but James was allowed to continue for another half hour.

There was this one tough dude that came through for someone and James didn't want to say two words that were being expressed to him in regards to the dead man's family. The audience said they wouldn't mind if he said them and with that, he said sheepishly, "He's telling me, 'F*** 'em'" There were audible gasps as many in the crowd did not expect to hear such vulgarity coming from a keynote speaker. No, they ate it up.

A lady that lives near Ground Zero said that she constantly sees spirits in the evening when she's trying to sleep. A man that had passed on expressed to his wife that he sits in their old recliner from time to time and helps her solve the crossword puzzles she works on each day. She said she was wondering how she had gotten so much better at them in the last couple years.

Around 10:30, James closed and an announcement was made that he would be signing books immediately after. Just as I did with Deepak the night before, I took the liberty of taking his pic while he was signing, but it didn't quite go as planned. I took a pic of him, looked at it, saw it was distorted, deleted it, and then took another. Same thing happened. I did this again and again and again. I took 5 pics of him and every one was distorted! I decided to take a pic of my wife to ensure there wasn't anything going on with the camera. Nope, the pic of her was crystal clear. I was going, "WTF", but then realized that if what he says is true, there must be spirits all around him. I had no such problem with any of the other authors that weekend. Course, none of the other authors were psychic. Submitted below are two of the pics:


My wife and I discussed the distorted pics I had taken of James with a couple female attendees nearby before heading back to our room. We were a bit hungry, but the Target across the street was closed and the hotel had no vending machines. So we did the unthinkable and hit the mini-bar. We watched Saturday Night Live in HD while I munched on a granola bar and some Gatorade (my girl had some M&M's and a Diet Pepsi). HD is quite fantastic as I mentioned earlier, but I have to admit there are some downsides to it. While watching Weekend Update, I could see various imperfections on co-anchor Amy Poehler's face. Oh well, guess that means she's human just like the rest of us.

I was looking forward to another workshop with Neale the next morning. My wife had missed the one with him earlier that day while out with her sister. We didn't get to bed until a little after midnight. I felt that if we were too tired, we could skip our first Sunday seminar which was with "Seat of the Soul" author Gary Zukav.

I woke up quite refreshed at around 7. I woulda liked to have gone to the optional morning meditation at 7, but again just couldn't get myself up quite that early. We packed our suitcases as we needed to be out of the room by noon and I didn't want to take all our stuff to the car in between workshops. Before getting in line to be admitted to Zukav's talk, we stopped at a hotel vendor stand and picked up a little somethin' for breakfast. I once again opted for a granola bar (such a good boy).

Zukav's lecture was on one side of the Grand Ballroom (they had halved it for this occasion). We got front row seats just off to the left. I'd browsed some of Zukav's books, but never read an entire one. Partway through the seminar, my lady said she'd noticed that most of the speakers refer to their wives as their "life partner". I said that that's what one does when a part of the New Thought Movement.

During the introduction, it was revealed that Gary was an ex-Green Beret in Vietnam. Paint me surprised. He was so soft-spoken during his talk that I never woulda suspected this. He said he used to believe that the most powerful force on Earth was a loaded gun and that there was no way anyone could convince him otherwise. Now he feels that love is the most powerful force and that nothing will dissuade him from this view. For the first 45 minutes of his discussion on Courage and Spiritual Growth, he was seated. Later, he stood while speaking.

He was a very good speaker, but to me not quite as charismatic as most of the others. Maybe it's just because he didn't make the audience laugh as much. Either way, I'd love seeing him again. He is obviously a man of great wisdom and love. I told my beloved that as soon as Gary quit speaking, we should immediately take off so that we could get good seats for Neale. She said she might be interested in buying one of Zukav's books and then have him sign it. I told her to have at it and that I would go ahead (though I go first, I'll wait for you at the pearly gates :P).


I walked swiftly to the 10:30am workshop with Neale. The subject was, "Finding Right Work, Creating Right Relationship". I was pleased to see that I was one of the first waiting to go in. One of the others waiting was the lady I sat next to the day before, the one that had seen Alberto Villoldo prior to Neale's session.

We were let in a few minutes after 10. I noticed that members of the crew were taking all the plants that were placed near the podium into the corner of the room (most likely due to Neale's allergies). For the second day in a row, I ended up sitting next to the Alberto lady, but this time instead of being in the first row, we were in the second. Oh well. What can you do? I saved a seat for the misses while the room began to fill up. The lady from Ohio that I had talked to for a bit before Dannion's presentation was also nearby.

As it got closer to 10:30, my wife still hadn't shown. I figured she must've decided to wait in line for a signature from Mr. Z. People asked about the open seat, but I told them it was saved. Neale came out shortly before 10:30 accompanied once again by his life partner. A man up front presented him with a necklace. The man put it around Neale's neck. Neale then addressed the assembled by saying, "Let's set the tone" and music started playing. He mentioned how important it was to set the tone in all things that one does. He did something then that he said is not typical of his workshops. He went up to a number of people and touched them in a healing way. This brought many smiles.

Neale headed to the back of the room and greeted a few people there. It was then that my beloved entered the room. It was quite a sight to see Neale heading back up to the front of the room with my girl right behind her. Two of my very favorite people in the world walking one after the other (I met my wife in '96 and was introduced to CWG in '97). My wife sat down and whispered that she had bought Zukav's newest book and had him sign it. I told her that was great, but to keep it down or the Christed one might smite us.

One of the first things Neale asked us was if we enjoyed Van Praagh's lecture the night before. Most all of us answered in the affirmative. He said he wanted to take issue with something Van Praagh had said the night before. Neale said he doesn't believe life is a school where we are meant to learn lessons. He said the reason we're here is to remember who we are and to experience ourselves as that.

Neale said he woke up that morning and felt that talking about Right Work and Relationship just wasn't gonna do the trick that day. He apologized to those who had been looking forward to that particular discussion, but said that he (or was it God?) had something else planned. He said that if any of us were gravely disappointed in him not discussing the planned topic, he'd be happy to allow us to go to one of his 1-day workshops at no cost. Course we'd still have to pay for transportation and lodging, but "such is life", he said.

I was a bit stunned when he said this would be the first workshop he'd ever given in which he would show how it is that he converses with God. He told us he gets that question all the time, so felt it was time for people to actually see it for themselves. He also said that by morning's end, we'd get to have our very own conversation with God. He then jokingly stated that this could be "our first time" and winked a bit at the crowd.

He next talked about all the ways that people don't believe in conversations with God. Some don't believe that God talks to people anymore. Some that he talks to some, but not all. Some that he wouldn't want to talk to them because they're not worthy, still others don't believe the answer they're getting is from God, and so on. He also said that some people disregard what they hear because it's not what they want to hear and some because it IS what they want to hear! He wanted to make it clear that God talks to everyone. It's only a case of who listens. He then stated, "What better time to talk to God than on Sunday morning".

Next he had everyone get out a piece of paper and pen and requested that we write down any question that we had for God, anything at all. I honestly couldn't think of anything, so had my wife pose a question for herself (later I realized I should've asked if there is such a thing as Bigfoot, but...too late now). This one guy near the back wasn't writing a question down for the Big Guy, so Neale gave him a little guff, saying, "Don't worry. It's just God we're talking about here". I think Neale guilted him into writing some kind of query.

Below is a pic of Neale from that morning's workshop:


And now it was time to talk to God. Neale asked for questions and a number of hands went up. One lady asked if God had anything to say to her. Neale didn't answer the question as God. He would say something like, "God is advising me to tell you..." He told the first woman, among other things, that she was a beautiful soul with many gifts to share.

Another woman said that she didn't feel comfortable in the world, that she wanted to "go home". Neale said, "You are already home. You just don't know it" and that the surest way to be happy is to make another happy, to give away what it is that you seek. I saw the same woman later that day and she appeared to be in much better spirits (she was in line for a toe reading).

But the most emotional portion of the seminar began when a woman asked, "How can I know that any of this is real? I don't feel like I'm God. I don't feel worthy". Tears began to form on her face. Neale asked the woman if she had a mirror. She said she didn't. Someone nearby gave a small mirror to Neale. Neale asked the lady to come up with him to the front of the room. He asked her to look into the mirror. He said it was God she was looking at in that mirror. She found it difficult to look at her own reflection in that moment. She obviously had a lot of pain.

Neale then said, "Well, if you don't believe that you're God, do you believe that she is?" pointing to a woman in the front row. The woman said, "Yes", and Neale encouraged her to give the seated lady an embrace. She embraced several women over the next couple minutes. I don't know if she is completely healed, but Neale was definitely able to give her some hope that morning. Many, many tears were shed throughout those 90 minutes, probably the most intense workshop of the weekend. I was not at all surprised to learn that Neale plans to do this type of workshop (almost exclusively) from here on out.

The following is from his latest weekly bulletin:

"My dear friends...

We just had a marvelous time in Chicago last weekend, where we offered a presentation at the Celebrate Your Life conference. It was wonderful to see many old friends again, including Marianne Williamson, Gary Zukav, Deepak Chopra, Debbie Ford, and others.

And I used the Chicago event to introduce a new program that I have been inspired to create...about which I will tell you more below. For now, let me just say that it proved to be a wonderful, wonderful time of working and sharing with participants, and I am committed now to doing this as the next phase of my life work.

The experience I had last Sunday afternoon at the Celebrate Your Life event in Chicago was the most fulfilling and This-Is-Absolutely-Me time I have ever had in front of an audience -- and I became very clear that this is the next step in work that I was intended to do, and intend to do, for the rest of my life.

I shall be doing no more stand-alone lectures of any kind, nor any kind of presentation on any topic other than this.

So now, let me tell you what this is all about. Here is a write-up of what I will now be offering:

Your Conversation with God


In the 13 years since publication of the groundbreaking spiritual text Conversations with God, people have repeatedly asked its author to explain the process by which he entered into his dialogue with Deity. Now, in a very special mind-expanding, spirit-awakening 90-minute presentation, Neale Donald Walsch not only explains, but for the first time demonstrates, how he speaks with God-then creates an opportunity for everyone in the room to have their own experience of conversing with The Divine, then and there.

Wrapped in the heart-opening emotional landscaping of one of America's newest and most astonishing poetic voices, m. Claire, this is a highly experiential event that you will always remember...and that could change your life forever.

You took the first step when you read Conversations with God. Now, take the next step...

Have the conversation.

In longer programs, those covering a day or more (as opposed to evening 90-minute presentations or half-day programs), I will open with a full and detailed explanation of my own experience of having a conversation with God. In shorter presentations, that explanation will constrict to fit the time available.

The opening explanation may "look like" a lecture, but it will actually be a prelude to the larger, and far more impactful, portion of the program in which I will answer questions from the audience from the space of Connection with Divine Wisdom - and then provide the event participants with an opportunity to experience the same Connection.

The purpose of this program (and of my life work) is to bring people an experiential reference point when considering the extraordinary ideas in Conversations with God-and the most extraordinary idea of all: that we may all have such a conversation.

I talk to everyone. All the time. The question is not, To whom do I talk? The question is, Who listens? -- CWG Book 1, Chapter 1

I will be offering the first extended version of this program this winter, from Dec. 27-Jan. 1 as the format for the Foundation's annual Year End ReCreating Yourself Holiday Retreat. I have never done this before in a large group over an extended period, so the 2008 Holiday Retreat will be our maiden voyage. If it goes anything like our short-form program in Chicago, it will be a breathtaking and very special, heightened experience.

love and hugs and best wishes on your journey...


About 10 minutes to noon, Neale asked us to look at the question we had asked God. Then a short meditation was done during which Neale said that God would now give an answer. I closed my eyes as the people gathered wrote down the replies they were getting. My wife had actually asked a pretty simple question, it was a yes or no one. Guess which way God answered?

Neale said some people might not get the answer they had been expecting or that it might not have worked for them, but to continue to practice and chances are the results would improve. The lady next to me had tears in her eyes as our session came to an end. A crew member announced that Neale would be signing books immediately afterward. I still wasn't too crazy about buying one of the two Neale books I didn't have (they were both relatively small ones), but figured I'd stroll over to where they were selling them and peruse a bit.

I took a close look at his newest work, Happier Than God, and figured that though I was probably familiar with most of its contents, I'd pick it up. I was pleasantly surprised when one dollar was taken off the cover price and I wasn't charged any sales tax. Next, I had to find where the signing was taking place. I walked back to where Neale had given his talk and asked a group of women if any of them knew where He was. One of them raised their arms and said, "He is everywhere". Another said that he was near the Grand Ballroom (where I had just bought the book). I quickly strode back to that area. As usual, there were quite a few people in line waiting to get their toes read.

There were a few other authors who were also signing in the area. My wife and I began our wait in Neale's queue. A crew member asked whose name should be written on the book above Neale's signature. I replied with not only my name, but my wife's as well. My life partner then asked if I wanted her to take a pic of me and Neale. I said that would be great and set the camera up for her. I got a bit nervous as I got closer to the front of the line. What would I say to this man whose writings had so inspired me?

Now at the front of the line, I gave the book to Neale to sign. I asked if my wife could take a pic of me and him. He said that was fine. I went behind the table where he was sitting and started to smile. My wife said to get a bit closer so that both of us could be in the shot. I moved closer, but didn't want to get in the man's personal space. My wife might have told us to say "Cheese!" as she got ready to take the picture. The pic was taken and I believe I shook his hand. I know for sure that I told him, "Thanks, Neale". It's really all I could come up with at the moment. As we headed off to get lunch, my wife said that the pic didn't come out perfectly. I took a look and saw that it was off-centered. Dang it. Oh well. I could probably do some cropping and make it look better.

Here is said pic now properly cropped:


Well, as Dubya said in 2003, Mission Accomplished. After meeting Neale, I could now die a happy man (whatever that means). My wife was quite hungry by this time and wanted to go to a hot dog place, the kind they don't have up in Minnesota. So we drove a couple miles to a place called Portillo's. My beloved ordered two hot dogs and some fries. She loves the dogs so much that she doesn't put a single topping on them, not even catsup.

I knew that after ingesting a lot of SatFat the day before, I should eat better on this day. So I sat and watched her eat and together we made plans to hit Subway (eat fresh) afterward. The next person we were scheduled to see was a guy named Dr. Darren Weissman at 1:30pm. It was getting close to 1 at this point. I'm sure he was a good speaker, but I felt we could pass on it and just chill for a bit.

There was a Subway close to the hot dog place, but I was more in the mood to eat at one that was located in a food court. So we drove a mile or so to the local mall. We entered the shopping center and the first thing I noticed was that there were kids there. I mentioned to my wife that for the past 48 hours, we had not really seen any children (there were no minors at any of the seminars). I realized how nice it was not to be exposed to their drama. Sorry. It's just how I feel.

My wife wanted to ask for directions on how to find the food court, but I was like, "Let's just walk and see what we'll see". It honestly wasn't because I don't like asking for directions. I just wanted to quietly watch things unfold. We next headed for the escalator. My wife has been afraid of them for years, so imagine my surprise when she said, "God told me I don't need to be afraid of escalators anymore". I was like, "That's good to hear, Mrs. Walsch".

A few minutes later, we found the food court. I pointed out DQ to my girl and asked if she'd be interested in picking up a dessert for herself. She did that while I went to Jared's Place. The misses got some kind of Oreo dessert. It wasn't a Blizzard, though, more like a sundae. I purchased a chicken breast sub and some apple dapples. We talked about how rewarding the weekend had been.

A lady we spoke to the night before at James' talk said she had had a toe reading done (actually, two of 'em) and that they were quite illuminating. She also said that you usually have to miss a workshop to get a reading and that she wished she had written down what the readers had told her. I mentioned to my wife that since we're gonna be missing one of the workshops anyway, perhaps we could use the opportunity to get our little piggies read.

She was receptive to the idea, so a few minutes later, we headed back to the hotel. There were about 15 people waiting in line (including a couple of hotel employees, one male, one female). We decided that now was as good a time as any, so got in line. The line didn't move very fast, but it appeared that we were gonna be able to get ours done. We talked quite a bit to the two employees who were waiting in front of us. As hotel workers, they were eligible to get complimentary readings. Numerous other employees had told them to give it a shot, so there they were. The lady was actually afraid of what the reader might tell her. I had no such fear.

After about 20 minutes, my wife started to get tired of waiting, but I told her she'd probably be glad if she did it. After about 40 minutes, we were almost to the front of the line. The two employees were taken to a couch and asked to remove their clothes, I mean, their socks and shoes. We were up next. This was gonna be interesting...


My wife asked to go in front of me since she was getting really tired of standing and starting to sweat quite profusely. She was directed to a couch where she sat down and took off her socks and shoes. A couple minutes later, I was "shown the way" to where my reading would be given. It was right next to where my wife was. Turned out, though, that the lady who was supposed to do me needed to take a break. I was like, "Here I sit broken hearted, wanted a reading, but couldn't get it started". This other lady who was kinda supervising said she could fill in. She was nice looking and I was eager to hear what she had to tell me.

My wife and I had different strategies as to how we approached our readings. She was just gonna pelt the toe reader with question after question while I didn't plan to ask anything, just listen. It was somewhat difficult to hear what my reader had to say from time to time as I was sitting right next to a faux water wall (at least I think it was faux). Herewith are the five main things she revealed to me:

Firstly, after taking a good look at my feet, she said that I am quite "balanced". Many others, she said, are off kilter, but I "walk the walk and talk the talk".

Secondly, she mentioned estrangement in regards to my family. I mentioned that most of them are Jehovah's Witnesses while I am not. She said that they're caught up in a belief system that doesn't really allow them to explore, to look into the deeper facets of life and that though they feel I am a "lost" soul, they still love and respect me.

Thirdly, she said that I should try to say what I'm feeling more readily instead of obsessing over what I want to say and how I'm going to do so. This was quite accurate. Many times I rehearse how I'm going to say something to someone in my mind when by rights, I should just speak my truth.

Next, that even though I need to open up more, I should also spend more time looking inward, that I should try to meditate a minute or two longer each day. Though I consider myself a spiritual person, fact is, I don't meditate much. I'll try for a few minutes, but then get frustrated when thoughts of how sexy I am intrude. This lady helped convince me that I should try a bit harder (or actually not try, but just be as I breathe deeply and concentrate only on my breath).

Finally, she saw a vision of me in orange Buddhist robes on a mountaintop. I had already been fed and was looking out over the countryside, extremely content. I do believe in past lives, so wouldn't be at all surprised if I was a monk. I crave either quiet or music. I couldn't stand living with my three younger brothers as a teen because they were so noisy and ended up moving in with my mom. Present day, I often walk around the house with earplugs so that I'm not bothered by external noise (I always sleep with them on), noise which will disturb my peaceful state of mind.

In addition, I never watch TV in the morning. Not only are the constant commercials a pain, but listening to distressing news just after waking (unless it's to announce that Obama has been elected President) doesn't make much sense to me. This is also why I don't listen to the radio in my car (I recently got a 2005 Hyundai and one of the first things I did was remove the antenna). I don't drive in silence, though. I always have a few CD's with me wherever I go and I've plenty to choose from (more than 500 at last count). I also seem to get more enjoyment out of music than others. I can't understand why people would want to be yakking on their cell phone while driving when there is so much good music that can get your day off to a nice, relaxing start. In the 90's, I bought a Buddhist meditation cassette and found it quite calming. Damn, I'm really rambling here, aren't I?

As the reading came to a close, the lady clasped her hands together and bowed her head. I did the same to her. My reading left me with much to ponder. Had I really been a Buddhist monk? Am I really more "balanced" than most? If they can get this kind of info from my feet, what could they find out by looking at other areas of my body? My wife was still asking questions of her reader, so I headed off to the lounge to sit for a spell while the lady who did mine put some sort of disinfectant thing on her hands. I kinda laid on my side on this plush recliner.

Since it was almost 3, people were starting to get out of the conferences that started at 1:30. I carefully looked at the people as they went by. Some familiar from the prior two days, others new to me. I was reminded of something that Neale had said earlier in the day. We were asked how many of us believed that it was possible to have a personal conversation with God. Most of the hands went up. Neale said that was good, that this isn't generally the case in society at large. He said if you went to downtown Chicago, the percentage of people who would agree with that statement would be much lower. I realized then how much I was going to miss the energy I had been receiving these past 48 hours.

You know how when you're in an elevator, no one usually talks to you unless they know who you are. Well, at the conference, there were numerous times when a woman would say, "Hi, how are you doing?" to my wife and I (I found out later that one of them had come to the conference all the way from Israel). It wasn't going to be easy going back to my everyday life. I suppose it's a bit like going to heaven and being told, "It's not your time yet". *sigh*


I looked over at where my wife was having her reading and saw that she was putting her socks and shoes back on. She walked over to me and eagerly asked if I wanted to know what she was told. I said, "Of course". The things that got her the most excited was the toe reader telling her that our relationship would continue to improve and that we would quite possibly have a child in the next year. The child bit is doubtful unless we get help from the fertility clinic and we don't plan to go that route anytime soon. Having a child is within the field of infinite possibilities (as Deepak would say), but probably not likely.

The last lecture of the weekend would be given by Marianne Williamson. I first became familiar with her 15 years ago. As I was recovering from major depression in the late summer of 1993, I had been able to all but eliminate my negative self talk through the help of David Burns' book Feeling Good. Wouldn't it be great, I thought, if there was a book that taught one how to live life, a Bible for a 20th century boy who has no room for the God of the Old Testament. One afternoon, while picking up my stash, I mean prescriptions, at Goltz Pharmacy, I noticed a paperback. It was called, "A Return to Love". The author: Marianne Williamson. I read the summary on the back of the book and perused some of its contents. Looked like pretty good stuff to me. Excerpts from it can be found here.

Its words changed my life for the better all those years ago and for that, it will always hold a special place in my heart. If someone would've told me in '93 that one day I'd have the chance to hear her speak, I would've been quite pleased. What I wouldn't have expected was that my seeing her would almost be an afterthought after having seen Neale. I guess various authors just hit us in different ways at different times in our lives. Nonetheless, hearing her speak would be a worthy finale to this lovely weekend. The talk would be given in the Grand Ballroom so that all could attend.

The wife and I got in line at about 3:20 and were let in shortly after 3:30. Marianne would be speaking from 4-6. We managed to get seats in about the 8th row. Our favorite redheaded lady, Karen Drucker, was singing once again about unity (Obama-Hillary) and lifting our mood even higher than it already was. My wife noted that this was all so romantic, going to a beautiful hotel, hearing inspiring speakers and singers, spending lots of time together, getting our feet read. I was glad to hear that she was having such a good time since this was all my idea and I woulda gone on my own if she hadn't been interested. She talked about us going again next summer if it was offered again. But what if she was 8 months pregnant at that time, I opined.

Shortly before 4, Neale entered the ballroom with m. Claire and headed to the front row. Marianne came out to much applause a few minutes later. She mostly talked about embracing midlife (the subject of her newest book), something the audience could certainly relate to since a majority were over 32.3 years old (I did some calculating while waiting for Marianne to come out). She mentioned that it can be sad leaving behind your youth, but that there is much joy and satisfaction to be found in the later years. She told a few amusing stories about the relationship between her and her daughter, stories that I couldn't relate to as much since I'm not a woman nor a mother. The crowd was enjoying it, though. I held my wife's hand during some of the talk.

She opened the floor to questions at about 5:30. One of the first ones was asked by a lady who described herself as a "fundamentalist conservative Christian". As soon as she said this, my face scrunched up a bit. I don't like to be judgemental. It was probably just an involuntary reaction. The woman said she didn't understand why so many people at the conference, including several of the speakers, were talking so enthusiastically about Obama. Marianne replied that this is an election year (probably one of the most important of our lifetime) and that the guy does hail from Illinois where the conference was taking place.

She also said she was sold on Obama when he said that not only does he want to end the war in Iraq, but also end the mindset that got us there in the first place. Several people applauded this, including yours truly. She went on to say that if the questioner is a big fan of McCain, she should be as enthusiastic about him as others are for the O-Man (though how someone can be gung-ho for a guy that looks like the Cryptkeeper is beyond me). The lady then said that she didn't really like McCain, that she was more a fan of Romney. Someone then shouted, "Marianne for President in 2012!". Marianne smiled and replied, "Only if I can get Neale on the ticket with me!". I applauded at this (though I would probably prefer a reversal of the ticket).


One of the final questions asked served as a worthy conclusion to the weekend. A black woman said she had heard Marianne on the radio some time ago defending Don Imus and turned the device off immediately. After doing some thinking about it, she said she'd like Marianne to tell her what she missed. Those views can be found here.

The questioner was happy with the answer Marianne gave and shared a bit of her own personal story. Ms. Williamson said that before disbursing, we would participate in a group prayer that was related to the question that had just been asked. She had included it in her book "Illuminata" as a way to address the way that European Americans have treated black people over the centuries.

The first thing she did was ask all African-Americans to stand up (there were probably a dozen and a half). She then asked the person closest to each to stand up and hold the other's hands. Marianne then asked us to repeat the prayer, line by line (she actually had it committed to memory). I looked around the room and saw many getting emotional and could see how the power of the prayer affected not just the "victim", but also the "perpetrator".

While watching this, I couldn't help but think of something that enters my mind from time to time. I was thinking that perhaps one of the black people was once a white person who victimized the other while the white one could have once been abused as a black. It just made me realize that we're all the same and have probably done it all, been it all, seen it all. That's why it's good not to judge nor to condemn. I received the following group email from Neale this morning that addresses this issue specifically:

On this day of your life, dear friend, I believe God wants you to know that everything you see, hear, touch, taste, smell, or sense in any way is an aspect of Divinity. It is when you judge it to be something else that it shows up as something else in your life. Therefore, judge not, and neither condemn. For that which you judge, judges you; and that which you condemn will condemn you. Yet that which you see for what it really is will see you for what you really are. And therein will be found your peace.

Celebrate Your Life 2008 in Chicago ended shortly before 6pm that evening, the first of June. Marianne hung around for a bit to sign books and it is then when I snapped the following pic:

There were quite a number of people in line to get her signature. Neale and his companion went up to Marianne and talked to her for a few minutes at this time. You could really tell that they were old friends (in fact, I think I once read that Neale and Marianne knew each other in past lives). It was great to see two of the most inspiring authors I'd ever read conversing with each other.

And, at that, I was happy to begin the long trek home. The wife and I browsed by the books one last time and then headed for the hotel elevator that would take us to our parked car. Wouldn't you know it...Neale and his partner were walking about 20 feet in front of us heading for the elevator as well. My girl noticed this and asked if I wanted to speed up a bit so that we could share the same elevator. I was tempted, but declined. Let him enjoy his quiet time, I thought. He'd given so very much to so many of us over the past 48 hours.

Monday, June 2, 2008


Before leaving town, we stopped to pick up some gas. I filled the tank while my wife went inside to pay. I took a close look at some of the other customers. They didn't seem to have the joy on their faces that I had seen so much of over the past 2 days. How would this affect me? Would I follow their lead and smile less often, be less giving, caught up in the illusion again or would I continue to let my light shine, to let the joy manifesting in me be witnessed by all, even on my "worst" days? I pondered these thoughts as we hit the road and headed back to Minnesota. Before leaving Illinois, we had to stop several times to pay tolls. The toll booth attendents didn't appear to be very joyful, either. What would make them happy, I wondered.

I felt a palpable sense of relief as we entered Wisconsin if only because the scenery there is more lush and there would be no more tolls to pay. I was greatly looking forward to seeing our dog and cat once we arrived back home. As it got closer to sunset, my wife said she'd like to stop for a bite somewhere. I knew a place in Janesville that she would most definitely enjoy: IHOP. We entered the restaurant. There weren't too many people there. I ordered some pancakes while my beloved had some pancakes and eggs. I was glad that I had the following day off to recuperate and reacclimate myself to "everyday life". As we left the restaurant, the sun had all but gone down.

What a day. I had seen Neale have an actual conversation with God, had my pic taken with him (with Neale, not with God...though maybe they are actually the same), had my toes read, and heard Marianne speak, all with my life partner at my side. She talked excitedly about going next summer if it was offered again (I've since found out that it will be). My wife rarely sleeps in the car, so it was quite a surprise that she fell asleep shortly after we left Janesville. I listened to various CD's as the hours went by and we got closer to Minnesota.

I'd been looking forward to this event for so long. What would I do now that it was over? Reading Neale's new book would be one thing, I guess. Perhaps I could also peruse the Gary Zukav book my wife had bought. The toe reader had said I should meditate more. I could look into that, get in touch with my inner monk. I would continue to be thankful that my wife and I had been able to reconcile our relationship late last year and that our canine had survived a close call last fall. I would continue to start my day with 5 affirmations: I am joyful, I am loving, I am accepting, I am blessing, and I am grateful (these are the five attitudes of God as revealed in Neale's "Friendship With God").

My wife continued to sleep as I realized I would need to make a pit stop. I was quite pleased there hadn't been much traffic on the roads. For the most part, I was able to have the car on cruise control and zone out a bit. I stopped at a rest area. My girl asked if we were home yet. I said, "I hope not. I don't wanna leave this mortal coil quite yet".

We passed into Minnesota at around midnight. One thing I knew is that I would not soon forget this weekend or the things it had caused me to remember. I would take this weekend into my heart and use it on a day-to-day basis. It wouldn't be an easy thing, but I looked forward to trying. All the things I experienced this past weekend can be summed up in one word: mashugana.

No, the word is love. Love, love, love, love, love, love, love. We passed into Rochester and were now just moments away from home (our earthly home, that is). The summer of '08 had just started and all was well. We entered our homestead and greeted the dog and cat. Our Pomeranian was mighty joyful to see us, the cat...not so much...but such is life. An hour later, we hit the hay, our great adventure now over, but in many ways, only just beginning.

My Experience in Ashland, Oregon at the End of 2008

My Experience at Celebrate Your Life 2009