Hi. My name is Robert. I am an addict; in fact, a quadruple addict. No, I’m not in recovery. I am an active addict. I cannot be helped. Or, will not. You decide.
Alcohol? No. Drugs? No. Food? No. Exercise? Uh, if you could see me, you’d know that’s a no. Sex? I wish, but no. Then what?
OK. I’ll tell you. But please don’t judge me. I’m not made of wood, and my feelings are as tender as anyone’s.
Actually, I’m addicted to four things. I’ve been mainlining two since I was 11 years old. The others date back at least three decades. See? There isn’t a Step program in the world with enough steps to help me. These addictions are who I’ve become. Take them away, and I perish. There is no recovery for me. As I said. My name is Robert. I am an addict.
The first addiction is a twin-headed question, which became the raison d’être of my early life: Who am I? and How shall I live? I started shooting this up at 11 years of age. These questions sucked me into the rabbit hole of spiritual seeking, of mindfulness and self-awareness, of the distinction between the thoughtstream and awareness. I took nothing for granted. I questioned everything. The second addiction grew out of the first. In a word: authenticity — being real, genuine, unconditioned — and living a life that expressed that. Which of course meant finding that authenticity within myself, which meant digging, digging, digging. Which I’ve done for more than fifty years. Every day. Yes, sure; some days I just sat with a shovel and didn’t actually dig, but I had digging for inner truth on my mind. Ask people who know me. They’ll testify to this. To sum up: the first two addictions are the realization of inner truth (Who am I?) and the expression of that truth (How shall I live?) in each moment of living.
Then came the late-blooming addictions. I got a taste of those around 1985, after I left the ashram I had lived in for more than 10 years, part of my digging ritual. Shortly after that first taste, I became a full-blown crackhead. Public speaking and improvisation. I don’t know why, but the first time I stood up in front of others to speak — and I don’t even remember when that was — I came so alive I almost died! No, not alive with chemicals in the brain, but surges of shakti, primordial creative power, flooding every cell of my being, physical and nonphysical. Karl Wallenda, the patriarch of The Flying Wallendas, a world-renowned circus family known for performing high wire acts without a safety net, once said, “Life is on the wire, the rest is just waiting.” For me, life is in front of a room, the rest is just waiting. That’s just the way it is. With a caveat.
Front of the room as a high wire with no net, without a script, without rehearsal, without cue cards. High wire, no net is another way of saying improvisation, my fourth addiction. Think about it: high wire, no freaking net! It takes skill, courage, confidence, presence, awareness, and total commitment. Nothing to keep you alive but who you are, then and there, in that place and time. Then and there. Nothing rehearsed, prepared, done before, said before. Yes, sure, you may have a certain skill set embedded in you, but that in and of itself is not enough. You’ve got to be utterly and desperately alive and present, in touch with the deepest part of yourself and your surroundings. It’s hard. It’s dangerous. Being truly present is to be improvisational and spontaneous, lustily lip-locked with the creative powers at the center of your life and of all life. Even the master, Karl, plunged from that wire to his death in 1978, at age 73, attempting a walk between the two towers of the ten-story Condado Plaza Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on a wire stretched 121 feet above the pavement.
I’ve had a few gurus along the way, people who either exemplified my four addictions or helped me open wider to embrace them more fully. Swami Muktananda and the kundalini shakti he awakened and aroused and set free in me. Philippe Petit, a young Frenchman who, on August 7th, 1974, stepped out on a wire rigged between the New York World Trade Center’s twin towers. After dancing for nearly an hour on the wire, he was arrested, taken for psychological evaluation, and brought to jail before he was finally released.
Various stand-up comics and poets and writers and artists and activists. People of daring and courage, explorers and innovators and inventors. People whose lives are unprecedented. Originals. Oh yes, stage 4 lung cancer. That certainly was, and is, a teacher, a liberator, a destroyer of time and taboos.
Over the years, my four addictions cohabited in me. They were friendly to each other, but not fully committed; often they’d go their separate ways. Until 2005. I was living in Melbourne, Australia. A woman, Mary, came up to me after a two-day meditative inquiry workshop I led. She was impressed with my style of speaking, so she said. She asked me if I could teach her to speak the way I did. I asked her for more specifics. She gave them to me. I asked for a few days to see if I could deconstruct my speaking style, so that I could teach it.
A week later, I spent the day with her in a makeshift coaching session. I had made a few notes about how I spoke, specifically targeting the things she had noticed and appreciated. A few days later, she called to say that she had gathered a group of her friends who wanted the same coaching. I offered them a one-day workshop, with a two-page workbook of exercises. At the end of the day, they asked if I would come back the next day. I did. I improvised. I made stuff up. I learned about my speaking style as I spoke — by noticing how I did what I did, and why, and to what effect. I noticed that all four of my addictions were present in my speaking style. In order to teach Mary how to speak the way I did, I had to become keenly conscious of how I spoke, I had to become consciously competent. The result of my effort to understand my speaking style rather than just taking it for granted was that my four addictions fell in love and got married. It was a wild affair, to be sure!
They became a happy family, they integrated themselves and became one thing, one giant addiction. They became what I call Speaking Truthfully. It’s a style of public speaking that is based on awareness, authenticity, and being fully present; of courage, confidence, and connection, of truth telling with no net — that is, with no hiding, no pretense or defense, no deception or manipulation. No false persona projected. Speaking Truthfully is to speak from that true place within us. Call it heart or soul, call it what you want. It is the place our digging takes us to, the place of true believability, the place beneath conformity and convention, beneath impoverished self-images and suppressive beliefs and forbidding taboos. The place of freedom. No, not recklessness, but freedom, fully informed with the beauty of Nature herself, of life, of creation.
The tag line of Speaking Truthfully is: YOU are the message.
That “you” has got to be real, visible, undefended, unafraid, vulnerable. In this style of speaking, the aim is not to transmit information and influence people with techniques and gimmicks; it is to reveal the truth of who you are and impact people with your authenticity. Giving out information comes after establishing this ground of truth, sincerity, and authenticity. There is a great opportunity when people come together, and it is just that. To come together, to be together, to connect. In today’s world, technology so often isolates us. Our busy schedules mean that we often connect on a drive-through way, as if we were fast foods to each other. No, connecting on Facebook is not connecting in real time, face to face, eyes to eyes, heart to heart. In real time. There is an opportunity far greater than giving out information when we come together. It is to show and share our humanity, our character, our inner sense of truth and purpose, our sense of belonging to the human family, to the living world. It is communal, tribal, sacred.
The actor James Cagney was once asked by a novice actor for any wisdom he could impart. Cagney summed up his acting wisdom with this: “You walk in the room, plant your feet, look the other actor in the eyes, and tell the truth.” Speaking Truthfully is just that: walk in the room, plant your feet, look people in the eyes, and tell the truth. Whether you’re speaking to three people or 1,000. Easier said than done, but worth learning how to do just that.
For the next five years, throughout Australia, I offered this work in classes and personal mentoring sessions. I developed two workbooks of 30 pages each; one for delivery and one for content creation. I worked in every major city in Australia, at every level of society, from ministers of parliment to CEOs to Olympic gold medalists; to healers and coaches and speakers and writers, to professionals across the spectrum, to mothers and teachers, and artists. (I even tried a one-day with a group of pre-teens, the daughters of some of my adult students. They killed me and tore apart my house!)
Now, in 2017, I am living in Los Angeles, where I moved to in 2012. For the last five years, I’ve been living both in Los Angeles and in other worlds, courtesy of stage 4 lung cancer, then a stroke. I lived in a kind of transformational cocoon. I’ve been released. I’m reasonably healthy. I’m back teaching Speaking Truthfully. As addicted as ever.