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