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Keith Varnum

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Sometimes during a public talk, my voice starts to become hoarse, raspy or blocked in some way. I stop to reflect upon what Iím saying. Each time I find that Iíve strayed from my personal experience into quoting someone elseís words or experience.

I should have been enjoying the soothing caress of the playful breeze as it wafted its way through my hair on this balmy evening in the Hollywood Hills section of Los Angeles. Instead, I was too self-absorbed to notice the sweet, spicy fragrance of spring blossoms in the wind. I was brooding over what I should say in my speaking engagement due to commence in about ten minutes inside the East-West Institute meditation center. In a muted voice, I was practicing my speech aloud when I was startled by a shadow invading my private corner of the porch.

The sudden appearance of a tall, swarthy stranger looming over my anxious figure temporarily seduced me out of my self-indulgence. Obviously sensing my mood and malady, the lanky, dark-skinned man tried to coax me out of my funk in a soft, gentle, yet assured tone, "Whatís the matter, cat got your tongue? Didnít I hear you rehearsing some lines?"

"Yes, Iím preparing my presentation for this evening. I canít decide what to talk about. I donít know if people really want to hear what I have to say about the subject. Maybe I should just quote from the published research on the topic and let it go at that," I replied despondently.

"Itís none of my business, but why donít you just speak from your heart what youíve encountered personally?"

"Oh, that would be too easy!" I laughed. This bold, mysterious advisor had shifted me out of my doom and gloom. I was grateful for that. "Besides, people donít care what a twenty-year-old knows about healing. Iíd better adhere to what the experts and professionals have to say."

"Suit yourself, but Iíve fared much better sticking to what Iíve discovered firsthand. May I tell you a story?"

I nodded agreement. I was thankful for any distraction at this point. A tale sounded like the perfect antidote to the seriousness that had overtaken me. Through a personal story, my candid friend offered the most precise and useful advice regarding communication I have ever received.

"Most of my early life growing up in Morocco, I was sickly," Michael began soberly. "After years of searching and experimenting in my quest for health, I came across a book by George Osawa, the originator of a philosophy of healthy living called macrobiotics. Encouraged by my discovery, I devoured all the books by Osawa I could find. By eating, thinking and living the macrobiotic way of life, I transformed the ailing youth I once was."

"I felt robust and alive again," Michael enthused. "My recovery was so miraculous and complete, I decided to devote my life to helping others in the same way George Osawa helped me. With great exuberance, I began to give public presentations about the macrobiotic system of eating and living. I described in detail how sickly Iíd been. I expounded upon the vitality I now enjoy and how blessed I am. Hundreds of desperate North Africans were attracted to my talksópeople seeking the restoration of fitness that I achieved."

Michaelís poise and sincerity in recounting his tale to me explained his immediate popularity on the lecture circuit. His compassion and dedication was palpable in the cool night air.

"But as more and more people came to my talks and my reputation grew throughout the Arab world, I began to develop a severe throat problem," Michael continued. "At first, my throat would just itch. I coughed a lot during my speeches. As I continued to address larger and larger crowds, the tickle in my throat became an acute ache. My voice gradually became harsh and grating. I was stubborn and intent upon my holy mission to help others. I insisted on keeping up my hectic speaking schedule. Finally, in the middle of the evening lecturing to the largest audience Iíd ever assembled, my throat started to bleed. Of course, in my arrogance, I attempted to keep going. Eventually I was coughing up so much blood, I had to stop talking for the evening."

As the tenacious stranger paused, I drew a quick, halting breath. I felt the need to bolster myself before he resumed. I was visibly rattled by the focus of his story. I was about to lecture on the same topic of macrobiotics to several hundred anguished souls also searching for help. The similarities were remarkable; the coincidence unnerving. My hands and legs were trembling. I grabbed the wooden railing of the stairs to stabilize myself. Why was I reacting so strongly to his story? I asked myself. I was afraid to know.

"After a frustrating week of saving my voice and waiting for my throat to heal, I began lecturing again," Michael carried on with his cautionary tale. "The same problem appeared after just ten minutes at the podium. This became a pattern for the next few months. Iíd reluctantly take time off for my throat to heal. Then Iíd return to my speaking schedule. Shortly into my next talk, Iíd begin coughing up blood again and be forced to stop. It was extremely frustrating, to say the least!

"I consulted many medical doctors. No practitioner could find anything medically or physiologically abnormal with my throat. I saw I must look elsewhere for relief. Needing to gain my own insight into the problem, Iíd have to heal it myself.

"I became the lead detective on my own case. I noticed when I quit lecturing, my throat stopped bleeding and healed overnight. I also observed that my throat only acted up when I was giving a speech about macrobiotics. My throat functioned perfectly in everyday life. Since the only time my throat bled was during my lectures, I determined my soul and God must be trying to tell me something about my public speaking. After all, the problem brought my public talks to an abrupt and embarrassing halt every time! So, I began listening to myself in order to hear what I was saying up to the point at which my throat would begin bleeding."

At this juncture in Michaelís biography, I was sweating profusely and about to faint. His tale was hitting much too close to home. I blurted out, "Please, Michael, tell me what happensóquickly! I canít take the suspense!" My sudden outburst made me feel acutely embarrassed, but since the moral of his story was truthfulness, I was, at least, following the spirit of his sharing!

Sensing my distress, the lanky stranger reached over to gently, but firmly, grip my forearm with his right hand. It was a sensitive and reassuring gesture on his part. I was grateful for any assistance I could get at this point. I wanted to hear the rest of his adventure, but part of me was afraid to absorb any more of his lesson. I implored Michael to pick up where he left off and ignore my emotional reactions.

"The results of my self-observation didnít reveal any helpful clues," Michael admitted sheepishly. "I saw only that my talks consisted mostly of me quoting George Osawa and fervently admonishing people to eat and live according to Osawaís theories if they wanted to regain and retain their health.

"Confused and bewildered, I prayed to God, ĎWhatís wrong with what I say? Iím just trying to help people.í Godís answer was swift and explicit. That very night I was awakened from my sleep by two vivid visions. In the first, I saw myself in the present, stridently pointing my finger at a large audience, telling them how they needed to change the way they ate and lived. And then suddenly, I began to spew blood from my mouth. A crimson fountain gushed forth from my throat, soaking my lecture notes in bright red liquid.

"In the second tableau, I saw myself in the past when I first started to speak publicly. I was sharing calmly, compassionatelyóin my own wordsóhow Iíd healed myself by changing the way I ate, thought and lived. The group was small. The format was informal. My throat didnít bleed. My voice was strong and distinct. The audience was listening with rapt attention.

"Startled and shaken, I knew instantly the import of the two visions. When I spoke from my heart, my message was my own and it got delivered. I was sharing observations based solely on my own personal experience. And I wasnít trying to force my point of view down peopleís throats. When I taught borrowed wisdom from George Osawaóand bludgeoned the audience with warnings and admonitionsómy own speaking mechanism rebelled. My throat bled, silencing my tirade. I realized that God was directing me to simply offer my own personal truth. If I stick to sharing my direct experience, Iíll be heard. But when I preach secondhand information, I wonít be heard."

Michael placed his arm around my shoulder as he exclaimed with the unbridled joy of a child, "From that day on, my throat has never bled again."

I was jolted back to the present by the sight of the watch on Michaelís wrist in front of my face. It was time for my lecture inside the meditation hall. Despite the fears and resistance the story had triggered, I felt grateful for the co-conspiracy of Michael and my inner coach. This explicit and valuable guidance came just when I needed it. What timing!

Drawing strength from Michaelís example of honesty and compassion, I spoke my own truth in my own words that evening. I didnít have to clear my throat once during the talk. I exposed my heart and soul to the audience that night and received profuse acknowledgement and appreciation in return.

During my long career as a public lecturer, my throat has never bled like Michaelís did in his youth. But I have periodically encountered minor throat problems while speaking. Whenever my voice starts to become hoarse, raspy or blocked in any way, I remember Michaelís story. I stop to reflect upon what Iím saying. Each time I find that Iíve strayed from my personal experience into quoting someone elseís words or experience. Or, I discover I have shifted from simply sharing what I know into preaching to others what they should do. Then, as I return to sharing my own truth, my throat clears and I reconnect with the hearts of the audience.

Iíve learned for myself, what Michael discovered in his youth. When I speak what I know from direct experience, my bodyóand spiritósupport me fully!












       Web Site: The Dream Workshops

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Reviewed by mz kimi 4/25/2005

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