It went very well, with just "the usual" points for me to work on (my "use of space", not rocking back and forth, trying to get away from "reading" my notes, more eye contact with the audience, etc.). It seemed to go over great, and I had almost no "messy parts" (except that I blanked on " the Warmiwanusca pass" and had to obviously go to my notes to pronounce it), which is a relief given the minimal rehearsal time I'd had.
Thank you M. Toastmaster, fellow Toastmasters and Honored Guests.
A couple of weeks ago, when I was doing my "Icebreaker" speech,
the "question of the day" was something along the lines of
"what is something that we don't know about you?"
My answer to this was that I had nearly died three or four times
over the past few decades. A comment came from the crowd to the
effect of "I guess we'll be hearing about those in upcoming speeches!"
... which set me to thinking ... "hmmmmm...".
Tonight's speech, "Falling off the Mountain", is, indeed, about
one of those near-death experiences. However, before we get to
the dramatic parts, I need to explain how it was that I happened to be
up on that mountain in the first place!
Now, I've been a student of "all things metaphysical" since my early teens,
and had built up an itching to do some "archaeological tourism" while
I was in College. As soon as I got into a paying job, I started to
scratch that particular itch, mainly with frequent trips down to the Yucatan.
At some point in the mid-80's New Age Journal magazine had a feature
called "Vacations That Could Change Your Life" which included a blurb
about a trip down to Machu Pichu in Peru, that was being run by the New York
Open Center. The focus of this trip was to study Incan Shamanism,
but at that point all I was seeing was "Machu Pichu"!
Little did I know, on that first trip down there, that Incan Shamanism would
end up being a focus for me for years to come. The trip was being organized by
a Dr. Alberto Villoldo, a psychologist who had become the prime student of
Quechuan Shaman Don Eduardo Calderon.
Don Eduardo, the subject of Douglas Sharon's book "The Wizard of the Four Winds",
was quite a remarkable figure, who bridged the traditional native culture and the
modern world. He, with Alberto, were an ideal team to open up the Shamanic
reality for a bunch of new-agey gringos.
In the years that followed, I went on numerous journeys with Alberto, ranging from
the "Harmonic Convergence" down at Tulum (with Richard Baker Roshi), to a New Years
program out in the middle of Death Valley ... and was even in discussions to co-author
some of Alberto's books.
When, eventually, Don Eduardo's teacher died, I was pleased to be among the students
invited to come down to help Alberto in assisting Don Eduardo in assuming the headship
of his lineage. This trip involved visits to several power spots significant to the
However, before we went to meet up with Don Eduardo, Alberto was "warming us up"
a bit with a hike on the Inca Trail. Now, if you're unfamiliar with the Inca Trail,
it's part of the extensive "foot road" system that was developed by the Inca Empire,
with the most famous part being that which leads from Cuzco to Machu Pichu.
Ours, like most expeditions, didn't actually start walking from Cuzco,
but took the train out to one of the stations along the Urubamba River,
and then headed up onto the trail. The first day's climb is fairly easy,
going from about 9,000 feet in the river valley up to 10,000 feet
over a distance of about 8 miles.
While the Incan runners were able to make the entire journey in a day or so, most
tourist hikes break the trail up into three or four days
... even with porters carrying all our stuff ...
usually stopping to camp before hitting the high passes.
This makes day two the most challenging part of the trip, as it involves
the long climb up to the Warmiwanusca pass at 14,000 feet, followed by the
descent back down to the bridge in the Pacamayo river valley,
and then BACK UP the other side!
The up-and-down nature of Day 2 is pretty remarkable, though, as you're hiking
through steamy near-jungle down in the valley, in scorching sun on the mountain
pastures, and up into freezing winds at the high passes! Needless to say, we
were happy to make camp. (SHOW PICTURE)
Which brings us to Runkuracay. I can tell from this picture that there's been
a lot of restoration done since I was there ... back then it looked a lot more
like the version on the inset ... but I did want to give you an idea of where
this all takes place.
To further set the scene, I have to admit that I snore like a 747 on take-off,
and am frequently exiled to the outer edges of any sleeping arrangement. In the
case of Runkuracay, this meant not being down on the flat area on the left there
with everybody else, but up on the other side of the ruins.
Unfortunately, this also placed me with no easy choices for the following morning,
when heeding nature's call. (PAUSE) Yes, the reason I nearly died on the Inca Trail
was through lack of what the French call a pissoir.
Not having quick access to the wooded area that the rest of the camp did,
I sought what shelter there seemed to be, and decided that I "would go"
around back of the ruins, some dozen yards or so from my tent.
The only problem was that, due to a great deal of wet waist-high grass,
I couldn't see that there WAS NO "back of the ruins" to speak of ...
just a long fall down to the valley below! A fact I soon discovered
when my next step was "into the void".
So, you're asking yourself ... "How is Brendan standing here now if he was
"whooshing" down there, three, four thousand feet off the side of a mountain?"
Seems a bit counter-intuitive, doesn't it?
Well, you know that wet, waist-high grass that was obscuring my view?
It was, fortunately, also growing in the area below the ruins,
and I managed to grab a hold of this, and stop myself after about
the first five or six feet of descent!
While "precipitous", the business end of the over-look was not exactly vertical,
and I had enough places to get foot-holds and pull myself back up to safety,
although, needless to say, rather shaken by the experience!
Once I had successfully completed my intended mission ... and no,
that had not "taken care of itself" in all the excitement ...
I re-joined the others and resumed what ended up being a fascinating trip.
However, in closing, it certainly makes the point that you never know
when it's "your time to go" ... even if you're off doing something as mundane
as looking for "a place to go"!
Thank you very much.
I don't know if anybody around here gives a hoot about these speeches (or if anybody from E.T. comes around here, despite my frequent mentions of "my blog"), but at least if I put these up in L.J., I'll know where to go looking for them!