A dear friend is the Board Chairman of a foundation that provides free dental care to the homeless and underserved, asked me if I’d deliver the invocation to open their Annual Meeting. It’s no big deal he said, just three minutes, but it is at 8 AM. I tried to get out of it by saying, it’s much too early for me, I don’t speak until an hour after I’m up, yada, yada, yada, but the real reason was that I could feel my breathing becoming more labored. Just talking about doing an opening prayer was enough to get my heart pumping. I told him I’d think about it and let him know.

Delivering a prayer is for me more anxiety provoking than delivering a one- hour Keynote Address. When I speak, I think about what I’m going to say, organize its flow, I think about it and come prepared.  A prayer is a spontaneous evocation of my soul; when I pray, I don’t think about what I’m saying and trust my words will come directly from my heart to my lips. I have faith that something will come to me without having to think about it.

I’m thinking, if my heart is beating fast just talking to a beloved friend, how much more intense could it become if I was in front of 200 people. What if the words don’t flow and I struggle, am I willing to reveal my truth so publicly? I don’t deal well with surprises anymore? My heart is already working as hard as it can just to keep up with every day activities. Any challenges that trigger an adrenaline surge, can leave me breathless.

But I also believe that telling your truth will keep you healthy in mind, body and spirit. The truth is when what you say with your words, what you feel and believe in your heart, and reveal by your actions, are all telling the same story. I’ve been telling this story for the last 50 years and I believe it, yet here I am afraid to tell my truth at this moment. I don’t want to stand up in public and if I struggle, be seen as a pale reflection of the deep-throated warbler I once was, or worse, be pitied. I loathe pity. So, after thinking about it I decided I had to be real and called my friend and said I would do it. 

That night I had an intense dream, I was at the hotel where I would be delivering the invocation. I’m in the pool cleaning the tiles, and while doing it, wondering why me and not the hotel staff? I asked to speak to the Manager, and he took me into his huge, ballroom-sized office where we sit at his desk in one corner of this enormous room. After the requisite introductions, he took a telephone call and told me he had to take care of this and left.

In his absence I explored the room, and in the corner furthest away, I see a toilet. I suddenly had the urge to use it and went over, dropped my pants and sat down. Looking straight ahead I saw glass patio doors outside of which I saw people walking up a path towards me. I got up quickly but was unable to pull up my pants and started breathing heavily. I bent over to catch my breath and at my feet saw a feather; when I picked it up my breath became less labored. 

The dream seems pretty self-explanatory; I’m caught with my pants down, completely exposed. This is my current struggle as I face growing limitations. Can I tame my ego enough to allow myself to be this vulnerable? But this dream is not just about the struggle, it is also about salvation, it provides a solution. When I pick up the feather it helps me breathe again.

I knew on awakening that I would begin my invocation with my Eagle feather; it’s a potent symbol for me, it helps me create a space where I can separate myself from ordinary time and place, open my soul and see the landscape with new eyes. I use an eagle feather, but virtually any object can be invested with this kind of power. It could be an amulet, animal, song, prayer shawl, crystal, or a teddy bear, but they have to be a symbol that reminds you are connected to something other than yourself that strengthens you and makes you feel whole(ly).

On the morning of the invocation, I sat on the stage so I wouldn’t have to walk up the steps after my introduction. When I approached the lectern, my hand was trembling, and I picked up the eagle feather and lit some sage. I waved the fragrant smoke over the audience to bless them, and as I did my hand no longer felt shaky, it simply became a wave.  I felt my anxiety lighten and had no problem after that. I spoke a little more slowly, but I’ve found that as I speak less, people listen more (wish I’d learned that sooner).

My life continues to unfold around me; I am totally engaged in the here and now, surrounded by love, and in my nakedness and trembling hands, my eyes are wide open and still entranced by the rapture of being alive. 

Come to every day with joy. I say this for All My Relations, Mi Takuye Oyasin