We're on our way. After weeks of waiting patiently, I've made the connection-- to James Aspey (see photo). I've been so eager to write about the beautiful synchronicity of how James and I found one another. First there is Carolyn Bailey, a lovely Australian woman who is a fellow World Peace Diet facilitator (based on the book, World Peace Diet by Will Tuttle, PhD) and is vegan. Carolyn had posted something on Facebook about an Australian woman who was speaking on a health-related topic, so I had responded, asking her to connect me with the woman, as my trip to Australia was impending and I was looking for friends. She replied, explaining that the woman no longer lived in Australia, but instead put me in contact with Greg McFarlane, president of the Vegan Society of NSW (New South Wales, Australia).
Greg wrote me a warm and welcoming email. Upon learning about The Silent Project, Greg asked if I knew James Aspey. I didn't. I'd never heard his name before or seen him on Facebook. The divine order of life was about to be revealed. Turns out, James is on a journey of his own-- traveling around the perimeter of the massive Australian continent-- for a year... in silence-- and he's vegan, too. Where my adventure is called The Silent Project, James's project is named Voiceless 365. And in such a beautiful, connected world, here were are, James and I, traveling in the Voiceless 365 van through Melbourne ready to embark on an exploration of the Great Ocean Road. Perhaps it will offer breathtaking vistas like the stretch of Pacific Coast Highway in central California from San Simeon through Big Sur to Monterey, California that never fails to inspire and impress. I'm told the route is so spectacular it will render us speechless-- if we hadn't already been inspired to stop talking and listen instead.
It was a peaceful morning with Moya, my beautiful host in Craigieburn, a northern suburban area of Melbourne. James had come to meet us last night in Melbourne to witness and support a friend of Moya's who was having his virgin standup performance in a local comedy club. The lineup featured so much cultural diversity. The women, in particular, seemed to grab the audience's laughter throughout the evening. Moya's friend was up in the second half of the evening, and he made it through a tough experience. Ever deliberately tried to be funny? It's not for everyone. And it's not easy. Those who do choose to explore the stages of comedy clubs each had a first time. I applaud Moya's friend for his courage and his willingness to stand up-- and risk all.
Afterward, James, Moya and I hung out in the foyer and communicated with the comedians. The final act had been perhaps the most interesting to witness. It was a man who had such a kind face and friendly, jovial, easy manner. My smile, though, became a little stiff when he began bashing vegans. He said no vegan person had ever said anything to him, but somehow, he chose that population to be the butt of his jokes, telling a woman in the audience who shared that she's vegetarian to "in the back of the line," no longer eligible to date him because he was too good for someone vegan or vegetarian. I listened. I witnessed my reactions. I simply allows the feelings to wash over me. Indignance, irritation, defensiveness. And then he began talking about his struggle with his weight and how his numbers are putting his health at serious risk. My feelings turned to compassion, and acceptance, and understanding.
The host of the evening had spent quite a bit of time on cultural and ethnic humor. I must admit that jokes like those are not my favorite as it divides people into the "us versus them" mentality.
At the end of the evening, James and I exchanged scribbled notes. He wrote, "How do you even approach someone like that?"
It gave me pause. Rather than thinking, I felt with my heart. What could I do? What would I do? Would I ignore the man? Smile politely and nod? Write him a defensive, angry note? None of the above. I wrote in James's notebook, "Everything is either an expression of love or a request for love. I'd start with a hug."
James shrugged his shoulders. He smiled with a little quizzical expression on his face.
I actively sought out the man. He had had his moments where he connected with me during his few minutes on stage. He was in the foyer, talking with another man. I approached and waved to him with a big smile. I was going in for the hug. I set down my bags on a nearby table, turned to him and opened my arms wide. His eyes widened. I don't think he was expecting a hug, and at first, he thought I was a huge fan... or a petite fan, really. Like many people, he felt a little awkward and started to release the hug. "I'm sweaty," he said. I held on. I was expressing love. What's a little sweat compared to an expression of love. He surrendered. Finally, I let him go.
He apologized. "I'm sweaty," he repeated.
It doesn't matter, I gestured.
I pointed to my vegan necklace and I grinned and pointed to myself.
"No one vegan has ever said anything--," he started, immediately on the defensive.
I raised my hand. I nodded understanding.
"I said that, in my act--," he again began.
I nodded with a gentle smile.
It didn't matter what the words were, after all. In fact, my being silent had kept me from reacting or saying something sharp or snide or lacking compassion or avoiding him completely.
Instead, I was simply being with him and listening behind the words.
I let him read a note that I'd written for someone else earlier in the day, explaining a little about me and The Silent Project.
He looked up from the piece of paper and gazed at me uncertainly.
I cupped my hand to my ear, and gestured I can hear.
He grimaced a little and said, "Oh. I thought you were reading my lips."
I shook my head with a smile.
I hastily scribbled down the website for The Silent Project on my notepad and ripped off the piece of paper and extended it to him.
Meanwhile the man to whom he'd been talking was taking all this in.
He said, "You can hear and you can talk, but you're deliberately choosing silence for a year?"
I smiled and nodded.
"That's wild. That's really impressive," he said. "I'm gonna check out your website and follow your blog."
I wrote the URL on a piece of paper for him, too.
I reached out to hug him and he allowed me to put my arms around him and hold him for a few seconds.
"I'll check it out," he promised.
My friend, Ito, is the executive chef at a wonderful vegan restaurant named Au Lac ("at the lake" in French) in Fountain Valley, California. (It's not at a lake, although it is across the street from Mile Square Park and I think there may be a pond in there. The food served at Au Lac has been dubbed "Humanese" cuisine by Ito-- because it's not for any particularly ethnicity of "ese"-- not Chinese or Japanese or Lebanese or Vietnamese or any other kind of specific "ese." No, it's for humans of all kinds-- hence, "Humanese." Chef Ito's creations are amazing, delicious and compassionate. There is an enormous selection (relatively speaking) of raw vegan items on the menu, designed to evoke moans of pleasure when eating.
I confess, that the "Mmmmmm" sound is probably one of the things I miss most about not using my voice!
Chef Ito greets customers with a huge hug and a little massage along the spine. He smiles widely and gestures.
And he doesn't speak.
Not a word.
I've known Ito now for about ten years. We met through the restaurant. I'm honored that he's visited my home and shared his beautiful essential oil blends with me and taken photos of me and connected with me through social media. We're friends.
When the concept for The Silent Project downloaded into my consciousness, I didn't think of Ito at all. I wasn't copying him or "following in his footsteps." And it's also wonderful to witness a friend who is walking the walk of not using verbal communication.
Ito took a one-year vow of silence on January 1, 2000-- and hasn't spoken since. Because that's about four years before I met him, I've never heard his voice. It doesn't matter a whit. I know that since I met him, I've never heard him utter a harsh word to anyone in any situation. And to me, that's beautiful, and something I'm committed to, as well.
If you live in southern California, go eat at Au Lac and if Chef Ito is there, tell him aloud that Kaci sent you.
And if you're not in the area, but think you'll be there in the future, save the information. Au Lac is definitely a "destination restaurant," attracting people from all around "the Southland" (southern California region) and vegans and vegetarians-- and humans-- from around the world. Enjoy the experience. And tell Chef Ito, I send my love.
I also met another comedian, a large, muscled man with a shaven head and tattoos. His name is Justin and Justin is a self-proclaimed "metal god." (Perhaps others have branded him in this way, too.) He was formerly the lead singer of the heavy metal band, Phoenix.
Within minutes, I learn so much about this beautiful man's soul, and how kind and thoughtful and considerate he is. And we quickly find that we share something important in common. He is my dhamma brother.
Last year, Justin attended the Vipassana meditation training ten-day immersion course in the state of Victoria (Australia). As with all who participate in this non-denominational, non-prosletyzing program, he has been trained in the ways of "dhamma"-- "way of life"-- and those who have taken the course are sometimes referred to as "dhamma brother" or "dhamma sister." There is a documentary called "Dhamma Brothers" that you might enjoy watching. It's quite amazing to witness the incredible impact of meditating, of choosing deliberate silence to quiet the internal noise. Even five minutes a day can change your life.
Justin shared that he found the silence to be loving, welcoming and comforting-- in a world where there is much screaming. He told me he's been doing standup for a year now, and hasn't yet used any of the material from touring as a lead singer in a heavy metal band. I sense a great future for Justin. He said he'd stay in touch and check out my blog, and I hope he will keep me posted on how he's faring.
James is also a dhamma brother. He attended the location in New South Wales (Australia), in January 2013. James's mom, Brenda, shared with me that it really changed James and perhaps it has inspired him to choose to spend a year in silence. She told me that James had applied to take the course again in Blackheath (NSW), but that his application had been rejected.
I'd had a similar experience. I had applied to the Blackheath location, with the intention of going there first to be a server for a short course, then to sit the 10-day course as a meditator, after completing the final TK (transformational kinesiology) course in Sydney.
I had clearly explained that I would not be able to speak during the course on my application to serve.
One of the program administrative staff responded to ask if my inability to speak was physiological or deliberate (as in having taken a "vow of silence"). I responded and explained that I am physically able to speak but would not be speaking, having chosen to not use my voice for a year. She answered and explained that it wouldn't be a good fit for me to do the program while I was committed to The Silent Project.
James had gotten a similar response when he applied.
I wasn't disappointed. In fact, all of a sudden, I had choices as to where I could go and what I would see and whom I would meet by having those ten days "back," so to speak. I'd scheduled my flights to allow me about six weeks in Australia (including the five days of the TK course), so having ten more days to explore was a fantastic gift.
….To be continued….