Title: Freedom
Author: Keith Varnum
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by Keith Varnum

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

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

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
cafés 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

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

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
café 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

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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