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Freedom

In the land where "the sun always shines," the heavenly globe had not shone its bright face for many days. I drove into town during a torrential downpour. I had yet to see any golden, warming rays. In fact, three weeks had passed since I drove to Los Angeles from my graduation at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. It'd been pouring ever since. I left the Midwest to escape the frigid, bleak days of rain, snow and clouds. This evening was especially ominous with pelting sheaths of wet and wind. It certainly wasn't a night to venture outside my rented room where I'd been holed up since my arrival! Yet my inner guidance was insisting I take a soggy, dreary walk to nowhere.

Spirit was telling me I needed to go out, to break free of the claustrophobic, gray walls of my cramped, matchbox of a room. I did not want to go! The dismal weather gave me a very socially acceptable reason to stay in my refuge because it was cold and clammy outside. However, fear was the real reason I was avoiding leaving my room and exploring my new hometown. Venturing outside would mean taking the next ominous step in my spiritual odyssey.

All day my inner coach was incessantly urging me to put myself out into the flow of the River of Life, so I could bump into my destiny. Spirit was not buying my lame excuse of inclement weather. To my real self, taking a walk during this tropical deluge was an excellent opportunity to experience life as a river, to allow the natural pulse and rhythm of life to pump some vitality back into my reluctant psyche. My personality argued nothing of any importance could possibly happen to me on such a raw, inhospitable night. No sane person would be afoot. There would be no one to encounter! But my inner guide would not be swayed from its objective. I would leave my isolated room.

I've learned to follow my intuition when it's demanding action as strongly as it was this particular evening. Reluctantly, I dressed myself against the drenching wind and left my safe haven for an unknown adventure in the "City of Angels." I'd driven across the country to get a fresh start. The foul weather delayed my plans and dampened my hopes, but I was still open to encountering some sort of messenger of God, angel or otherwise. I set out for my wet adventure, thinking to myself, Perhaps my inner coach knows something about the city's namesake I haven't discovered yet.

Or maybe not! After a brisk walk of a dozen, deserted city blocks in the bone-chilling rain, I was soaked to the core and ready to retreat from what was quickly turning into an ill-fated excursion. Turning, I began the trek back to my apartment when a glimmering light in the gutter caught my eye. The bright beam seemed to be shining through a soggy, mud-covered flyer lying in the street gutter. Naturally, I stopped to inspect the phenomenon more closely. Yes, there was definitely a glow shining through the paper. My curiosity peaked; I bent over to pick up the sheet. As soon as I touched the flyer, the mysterious luminescence behind it faded away.

Not only am I soaked and miserable, I'm starting to see things, I conjectured to myself. Enough is enough! This crazy junket has come to an end. I'm going back to my nice, warm room.

I wiped the worst of the dirt off the leaflet, stuffed it into my jacket pocket and started for home at a hurried pace. I had a souvenir of my soggy journey. At least, I wouldn't go home empty-handed!

Back in the cozy refuge of my toasty dry room, I carefully smoothed out the rain-swollen sheet of paper. I was very curious what the strange light was attracting my attention to. The shriveled notice was a public invitation to a home-cooked meal of natural foods. Hungry for nourishment from a source other than a tin can, I was thrilled at the prospect of a homemade feast and some human companionship. And the cost was only five dollars! Little did I know at the time that I'd just taken the bait laid by my soul on that gusty, damp night.

The following Thursday evening, I enjoyed a sumptuous meal of creamy leek soup, organic brown rice, garden-fresh vegetables and something green called nori seaweed at the East-West Institute of Los Angeles. The Institute was a macrobiotic school and retreat of the international healer and teacher Michio Kushi, founder of the center and our host for the evening.

With my stomach full and my mind and body relaxed, I was totally unprepared for my inner coach's next outrageous move. Mr. Kushi asked the diners if there was a professional landscaper at the table. My hand shot up on its own!

What kind of adventure was my spirit getting me into this time? I sighed to myself. I hate yard work! I've never planted a garden. I don't know the difference between a daffodil and a tulip. The only "landscaping" I've ever done was mowing the grass in our front yard when I was a kid. And I avoided that as much as possible. Besides, I've lived my whole life in a cool, northern climate. I'm totally ignorant of the subtropical foliage of Southern California. And I don't care to learn!

"We've got several landscaped acres, including fruit trees, and flower, herb and vegetable gardens. Would you like to take over the duties of maintaining the estate's extensive grounds?" queried Mr. Kushi. I couldn't believe my mouth said, "Yes."

This outrageous phenomenon wasn't entirely new to me. I've been my spirit's pawn before when my inner coach usurped control of my speech and answered a question for me. I had a gut feeling my real self was about to take me for the ride of my young life. Events soon validated this premonition. My new job set my personal path on an interception course with my first extraordinary life mentor: Michio Kushi.

Japanese to the core, Michio was an enigmatic, beguiling, modern-day samurai. In his forties when we met, Michio's face was soft and pliable like a baby's, his gait spirited and assured. Although he was most often charming and charismatic, he could be fierce and demanding, especially with his students -- like me!

Michio's domain was the Institute and the extensive grounds surrounding it. In the vibrant, romantic heyday of Hollywood, the magnificent estate had once been the home of jazz great Al Jolson and his paramour, film starlet Ruby Keeler. The manor house was a meandering forty-room Spanish villa with quaint French doors leading out to numerous patios and balconies overlooking the sprawling metropolis in the valley below. Avocado, banana, lemon, lime, grapefruit and orange groves; a rose garden; a grape arbor and a reflecting pool graced the hillside expanse. Antelope and deer frolicked through the pine forest in the surrounding acres. The estate's gatehouse was bigger than most people's homes.

I attracted Michio's attention and respect by successfully sculpting the property into a neat, trim and healthy Shangri-La. No, I didn't tap into an unknown gardening genius hidden within me. I discovered that the Greek and Italian groundskeepers for Hollywood stars met early every morning for espresso on nearby Sunset Boulevard. From these generous Old World gardeners, I learned how to care for my new horticultural charges. As their earthy wisdom had been ignored and unappreciated by their own sons, these talented landscapers were overjoyed to assist a young man interested in their broad knowledge of plant care. Before long, I was an expert in trimming and caring for bougainvillea bushes, carob trees, and every other common and exotic tropical plant.

Michio became a wonderful friend and mentor throughout the next ten years of my life. He helped me understand and integrate my first spiritual initiation in Montreal. Through him, I learned to view the world with a new perspective - one that was whole, vital and fresh. He soon promoted me to the position of director of the Institute, the person who coordinated all the diverse activities of the center. In addition to tending the grounds and gardens, I supervised the staff that provided the classes, meals and sleeping accommodations. At the facilities in Los Angeles and others around the world, Michio presented a fusion of Eastern and Western philosophy, psychology and applied practice that blended acupuncture, martial arts and macrobiotic, natural foods with pragmatic life coaching and community living.

This humble, yet very erudite healer had led a turbulent professional life. Considered a radical influence, Michio was forced in the late sixties by the American Medical Association to physically leave two of the most liberal communities in the country: Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Manhattan, New York. Ironically, he was run out of town for espousing the same philosophy of health he now teaches at the most prestigious institutions in those same cities: Harvard and Columbia University Medical Schools. The medical establishment and the mainstream public currently accept and endorse what Michio expounded in the sixties! In the intervening decades, his simple, effective principles of harmonious, nourishing living have helped thousands of people throughout the world.

Despite long days of private counseling and lengthy evening lectures to hundreds of students, Michio always had time to meet with me and share his practical knowledge. The most valuable lessons I absorbed from him were not so much what I gleaned in the lecture hall, although I did take copious notes on his talks about everything under the sun in the realm of healing, cosmology and spiritual disciplines. The priceless wisdom I assimilated from this unassuming sage was on a more subtle and profound level. Michio presented his spiritual savior faire to me in a way that wasn't verbal or conceptual. He shared his world of wisdom in an existential, experiential way, through everyday actions and events. He was outwardly casual about his sharing, yet inwardly his way was very premeditated and deliberate. This was the knowledge that meant the most to me. We never discussed the life lessons he taught me. I simply absorbed them by being around him.

In Los Angeles and later in Boston, Michio and I would often sneak off together after his lectures to quiet, secluded French caf's where his fanatical disciples would never think to look for him. These quaint bistros served all the foods Michio warned against in his lectures, which focused primarily on how various foods affected one's health and spirituality. In his talks, he advised eating a main diet of natural whole grains, fruits and vegetables. He spoke adamantly about avoiding alcohol, drugs, coffee, sugar, dairy, animal fats, red meat, white flour, white rice and all chemicalized, processed foods.

Yet on these frequent outings, Michio ordered buttery French croissants, eclairs and every other sugary delight available. Traditionally, the Japanese love to eat and talk about food. He was always very intrigued about whether a particular pastry was made with orange or lemon peel, or if it contained a touch of vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg or clove. In a ritual way similar to a Zen tea ceremony, he cut each pastry very carefully in half. Eating each piece slowly and delicately, we discussed what ingredients were used in creating the tastes and textures of the desserts, cleansing our palates between every bite with sips of strong, sweetened espresso.

On other evenings, we went to Italian eateries in Los Angeles and Boston. Consuming huge meals of white flour pasta with tomato sauce and meatballs, we'd sip red wine and enjoy sweet dessert cannolis -- all foods on the absolute "Never Eat" list from Michio's lectures on macrobiotic philosophy.

Michio and I dined out like this for years. We never spoke to anyone about our excursions. And we never discussed between ourselves the seeming discrepancies between his words and his actions, between his recommended diet and his savored delicacies. Yet in his own experiential, paradoxical ways, he was teaching me the life lessons I needed to learn: the importance of enjoying food and celebrating life with gusto, flexibility, intuitiveness and, especially, freedom.

As we sat eating pastries, Michio would lean toward me and speak with great earnestness, "Keit, you must be free man." Very endearingly, he always pronounced "th" as a "t" in my name.

"You must be free to do anything you want. You must be free to eat anything you want. You must be free to be anything you want."

Michio's words felt good to me. At the time, I didn't have a conceptual sense of what he was conveying, but I did take in the spirit and energy of what he was sharing. I know now that in his presence, I was absorbing his vibration of being free and living intuitively.

Michio spoke to me about being "sovereign." He implored me to "never work for money. Never do anything you don't want to do to obtain money. If you work for money, you are no better than a slave!"

His words had a strong and penetrating effect on me because I knew in my heart they were true. Yet I didn't have a clue how to live this truth in my life. At the time, I couldn't imagine how a person could have money without working at a job. Since then, I've learned to attract the financial support of the universe by aligning my professional path with my soul passion and purpose.

Michio emphasized the joy of being a free individual. He taught that everyone is equally able to be free, intuitive and creative. He'd move close to me, speaking right into the ear of my soul, "You must be free to do anything you want. And you must be strong enough to do only what you want to do in life."

My mentor's words were very empowering and prophetic for me. I felt sublime love from him when he said, "You must, you will, go far beyond me. You must leave me behind. I teach what I do now, but you will teach something much bigger and yet much simpler." His words were foreshadowing The Dream Workshops I'd be facilitating twenty years hence. He foretold, "You will attract many people. They will come to learn something that is more pure, more basic and even more powerful than I teach now."

Michio's lectures focused on the exhaustive presentation of information, principles and universal laws concerning the best ways to eat and live. I asked him why he didn't emphasize the primacy of intuition in his lectures to the degree he did in our caf' discussions.

"Oh, but I do," he replied. "But not many people hear. At the very end of all my talks, I always say that to be happy and healthy, you must live intuitively. But few hear me."

Incredulous upon hearing his words, I began to investigate the enigma. I began to pay close attention at the end of his public seminars. Sure enough, Michio did talk about intuitive eating being the healthiest manner of eating and intuitive living being the most joyful form of living: "The most creative and effective level of living is to make all life decisions from consulting one's inner knowing. Pure, clear intuition supercedes all rules, concepts, principles and philosophies." He did accentuate the supremacy of intuition at the end of every talk. Yet I wasn't aware he made this concluding point until he brought it to my attention. I checked my friends' notes. None of the students had recorded Michio's views on the importance of intuition. I asked them if they'd ever heard him utter these ideas. They hadn't. In fact, my friends were very dubious. They didn't believe the macrobiotic leader ever spoke about intuitive eating or living! I even coached some of my friends on where to listen for the concept at the end of his lectures. They still didn't hear it. It was obviously not their time to hear this message.

As we sat together late at night, I'd often ask Michio why he was wasting his time with me. I considered myself just a hair above a snail in terms of my degree of conscious awareness. He always answered very simply, "Because you listen. Because you hear. And because you will pass this on some day." He certainly knew something I wasn't aware of at the time!

Often Michio touched me poignantly with his compassion. One night over pastries and cappuccino, he said, "Keit, you are very scared right now because of all the changes you're going through."

He was right. At his side, I was witnessing spontaneous, physical healings and spiritual breakthroughs almost daily. I was also experiencing miracles in my own affairs. My life was becoming very magical indeed. The boundaries of my small world were continually expanding -- including the psychological borders that comfortably defined who I thought I was, and the intellectual frontiers of what I reasoned were possible according to the laws of physics and science.

He continued in a very intimate tone, "Sometimes you have great anxiety. But, you know, I am as afraid to take my next step on my journey as you are to take your next step on your journey. We are together in our fear. We are terror twins!"

Then he laughed and giggled as he offered me another sweet tart to celebrate our union in fear.

What Michio offered me in all our encounters was very difficult for me to accept emotionally at the time. He extended to me not only loving friendship, but also respectful equality -- something I wasn't yet psychologically capable of receiving. He was inviting me to experience myself as his equal, to play and interact with him as a peer. This prospect was way beyond my self-image of my worth and substance. However, the vibration of peership did sneak in past my mental and emotional defenses. Michio did successfully plant the seed of equality deep within my being.

I'll never forget how it touched my heart to hear him proclaim our commonality in regard to the fear of change. In that one statement, he bridged the false separation I felt between us, and between me and all other people. He connected me with the truth of the common bond I share with all humanity on this decidedly exciting and terrifying human journey on Earth. He was preparing me to anchor my Dream Workshops as a "Gathering of Equals."

Copyright '2005 Keith Varnum

About Keith: Keith Varnum shares his practical approach to transformation as an author, radio host and "Dream Workshops" facilitator. Keith helps people get love, money, health and spirit with his free Prosperity Ezine, free Empowerment CD and free Coaching at www.TheDream.com.


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