Chapter 13 - The Republic of Boulder
When I returned to Boulder, it was somewhat of a strange experience. Even though Matt and Jennifer had been in town for a while, I had been in and out doing Random 1. I didn’t feel like I knew anyone. We started leasing a series of homes, all for about 3 years each. Each home was in its own way a special place, but eventually the landlord would want to sell it. We never got completely comfortable that our work life was going to support buying a house. Eventually, Boulder got too expensive anyway. We always stayed in the North Boulder area. This was the opposite side of town from the craziness of the University. Nice lakes, good coffee, organic food and plenty of trails to jump on.
I made some attempts to reach out to the media community in the Boulder/Denver corridor, but I didn’t find much at first. I was used to the top notch crews in Hollywood and in comparison Boulder at first seemed a bit sleepy. All the Internet artists and coders also seemed a bit small time.
In the background Random 1 was still in play. We’d had the life changing experience with Mark and Norman. Norman’s episode had run as the last one of the season. By then we were fully engaged with the addiction and homeless communities and programs.
While on the show I also had a personal revelation. In those days I was sitting in Buddhist meditation as my morning practice. Depending on the day I would usually descend into some state of emptiness. As we were doing the Mark and Norman story, they kept relating to everything that was happening to them as a “gift” from Jesus. A second chance at life. In my morning practice I started having second person “related” experiences instead of first person emptiness.
I was not visited by Jesus as some have claimed, but I was definitely engaging in an energetic exchange with someone or something else. All I knew was that I felt bathed in an embrace of unconditional love. It was surely not emptiness.
I asked one of the Christian pastors about it. We worked with him on the Mark episode. He assumed I had heard of contemplative practice in Christianity. I had not. It was not a part of the story at 1st Congo Church. He went on to tell me that one of the major figures in bringing these practices back into the world was Father Thomas Keating. He lived at the Snowmass Monastery, three hours from Boulder. I made a mental note like I do when one of these “coincident” events happens. I was going to find him when I got home. I didn’t know at the time, but Father Keating’s name would soon come up again in a big way.
After finishing the ten episodes for A&E we had about $500,000 left. Normally, that money is distributed to the stock holders in the show, which included all of us and our investors. The significance however of what happened to us led us in a different direction.
I flew back to Baltimore to meet with John. We knew we had a great deal of behind the scenes footage we had shot and not used. Also Mark and Norman had continued their journeys so we could shoot more with them. It was a story that seemed like it wanted to be told. John and I roughed out a narrative and everyone went to work. What emerged was a documentary film called “Lost in Woonsocket”. It starred Mark, Norman, John, Andre and all of us.
I voiced the trailer and John started submitting it to film festivals.
The one that bit for its world debut was the South by Southwest festival in Austin, TX. It had a long history of innovation, so we felt right at home. The film was screened too much acclaim, John and I answered questions afterword and then I flew home. There was more coming…
Hanging on the Rez
If you remember, prior to me going off to do Random 1, the Christenson Foundation had approved the grant for me to do the storycatching project on the Colorado Plateau. They had been nice enough to wait, but now I had to get to it.
Sans RV I drove into the Plateau and began my interviews with tribal leaders, government officials, artists, activists and politicians. I was looking for the stories they were telling about the future on the Plateau. In the days following Whidbey I had spent a bunch of time with an outdoor education program called the Four Corners School run by a dynamo named Janet Ross. They ran river trips through the canyons and had an amazing network of contacts in native land that would be very useful later.
On the river we would come upon ancient ruins that you could only access by boat. As I sat in these places I can remember thinking these small communities probably housed 1—15 families. They had no contact with any other human beings. I wondered if there were any among them that would use the river to go search for others or were they content to exist as they were? I would learn later that Hopi and Navajo had a fear of water. Perhaps someone did set out from this settlement and didn’t come back. Highly likely.
The tribal folks included both Hopi and Navajo. I immediately got an education on my white man fantasies about native culture. They told me their stories were filled with challenges and positive contributions just like all cultures. The fact that the Navajo Nation was really a big collection of individual clans and the Hopi were small, set the tone of the conversation around tribal power structures. There were memorable moments like having dinner at the Hopi tribal leaders’ home.
Also, sitting far out on the Navajo reservation in a traditional Hogan with a collection of college educated native researchers, diving deeply into the innovative projects being developed around water, food production and housing that seemed to be going on everywhere.
And there was the poverty. It was deep and systematic. Particularly with the Navajo, there were strata’s of wealth just like in white culture.
About 5% of the tribe ran things and reaped the benefits, while most others lived day to day. The Latino and White communities also had their networks of wealth, influence and poverty. All shared years of trying to live together, but it was still a struggle and hard to imagine them coming together in the future.
One of the stories that arose that I found particularly interesting was told to me by the Navajo researchers. For the longest time white people had told a story of how the America’s were settled. That story postulated that ALL indigenous people had come across the Bering Strait land bridge when the ocean was lower and gradually made their way south into North and Central America.
This story had persisted for a long time even though more recent archeological digs told a very different story. If you look at a map and imagine the ice age retreating, moving on land was still a challenge.
When you look towards the ocean you see another way. Boats of all types could be used to venture down the coasts resulting in a different settlement pattern. In addition to that, artifacts traced to Pacific Island cultures to the east were also prominent in South America.
That story told of natives coming by boat from the South Pacific in rafts. There were even African artifacts present that by all accounts should not have been there.
But again, if you look at southern Atlantic currents, a leaf put into the water on the western African coast ends up riding the current directly into Central America. All these alternative histories challenged the white myth that when they arrived there never had been many indigious people populating the land. This made it allowable in their minds to simply claim it all.
One night in a particular Navajo Hogan I asked about these stories. The main researcher said the out of all the Navajo clans that made up the nation (100+) only three could trace their stories to the Bering Strait cultures. To this day I still see noted institutions and magazines keep repeating the Bering Strait story as if it is completely true. The alternative that the America’s were settled by many people coming from many directions is much more interesting.
I finished my storycatching on the Colorado Plateau and developed the final result. This traced the themes that were common to most of their stories and suggested how they might better work together for a more abundant future. The foundation was pleased with the result, but a strange thing happened.
I had developed good relationships with all sorts of people during the project. When the final result was sent out however, it was largely ignored. I had been warned that this might happen. Everyone talks a good game on the Plateau, but when it comes right down to it, it’s mostly business as usual. That was part of it, but there was something else that I didn’t know yet about the storycatching process. That would become much clearer when I met Ken Wilber later on.
Into the Deep
About the same time, Google Ocean was getting organized. We had a number of planning meetings at Google in Milpitas CA with Sylvia, our media team and John Hanke and his Google Earth staff. At first, they were very excited about having storytellers (and in my case a game designer) involved. They said they wanted to expand what Google Earth offered.
What Sylvia and I envisioned were individual stories geo- located at marine hot spots around the world on Google Earth. They would detail either the challenges at that location or the innovative work going on to heal the damages occurring to marine life. It was a hard story for people to get their hands around, because it was far away and for the most part out of sight. Even though they might notice the price of big fish in the markets going up, they didn’t connect it to the fact we had already over fished the large ones to a great extent. Here is one location test.
Once the individual stories were mapped on Google Ocean, we would then start connecting them by narrative themes. For example, if local African fishing grounds were being consumed by Chinese commercial fleets, the reason this was happening was located in locations around the world. What country were the industrial fishing trawlers coming from, who was financing them, and where were the markets these fish were being sold in?
If someone, after seeing the plight of the African fisherman, wanted to get involved in changing this situation, they would have all the information and the stories available to them on Google Ocean that made up the eco-system. We recognized there was a potential political aspect to these stories, but we reasoned that ocean environmental groups had been telling these stories for years. What we were going to do was simply geo-locate them in one place.
Over the course of a year Sylvia and her network of activists, researchers and governmental officials (including the military) put together a who’s, who list of ocean experts and organizations including National Geographic. This advisory group was convened for big planning meetings at Google. Some of them included Sergey Brin, one of the founders of Google.
A favorite moment of mine was when Sergey suggested funding a fleet of ocean drones to gather information. One of the Navy Admirals present told him that it would be prohibitively expensive and something that would have to be done under the National Security Administration. The truth was the Navy was already doing this covertly.
Behind the big meetings, we worked with the Google Maps team to define the Google Ocean design. One big issue was where the data was going to come from to create an active ocean map. On land, Google used government satellite data, but no such thing existed for the ocean. What did exist was data collected by the Navy for their submarine fleet. There were three versions: The White Book available to the public, The Blue Book available to certain levels of security clearance and the Black Book, only available for covert activities.
It turned out the conversation with the Navy about supplying us with Blue Book level data took place at Naval Submarine Operations outside of New Orleans.
Sylvia, John, me and some Google techs flew to New Orleans about six months after the devastating flooding that hit New Orleans. We all had watched it on television, but as we got off the plane, the strong smell of rot and decay was everywhere. We stayed in a partially open French Quarter and drove out to the Naval Headquarters the next day. As we made the drive of about an hour and a half, we passed street after street completely devastated and deserted. It was a disaster film.
We arrived at the base and were ushered into a secure area. We could not take any laptops, cell phones etc. into the conference room. The younger ones in our party had trouble giving up their cell phones. We met with the commanding officer and his staff for most of the day. The big question I had was why the Navy would consider giving us access to secure data for the Google Ocean map. It turned out the commander was retiring in a year and before he left he wanted to do something other than covertly position submarines in places they were not supposed to be. At some point in the conversation it came up that to receive the Blue Book data we would need security clearances. John Hanke said he was already cleared, which surprised most of us at the time.
A side light. There has been much speculation that the big tech companies and government security agencies have backdoor relationships. If you were going to collect all this personal data from citizens, the security agencies would certainly want access. The fact that John was already cleared at this Blue Book security level led me to believe that some of this back story could be true. Why would the head of Google Maps have that kind of government security clearance?
In addition to the Google Ocean map, my team foresaw the audience that would gather there would be interested in real world expeditions on TV, dramatic films, video games and even virtual worlds they could inhabit with this ocean theme.
We created a brand called “SOS – Defenders of the Deep” that was a dramatic film treatment and a game. We also designed television expeditions with Sylvia’s subs and envisioned with DOER Marine a submersible that would take three researchers to the deepest places in the ocean. You can take a look at all the trailers and project reels we created under Google Ocean. Many of the visuals including the sub design we dubbed… “Deep Search – The Ultimate Google Search Engine”, were created by a very talented digital artist and special effects director Richard Taylor. Even the virtual world we designed for a Japanese company called Global Waters had Richard’s artistic and directors eye all over it.
So, with all this massive effort chugging forward you would think Google Ocean would be the next greatest thing. It was, but not in the way we envisioned. As our design meetings with Google Earth folks continued a creative tension emerged about the map. They had said they were interested in stories, but it turned out what they meant was information. There is a significant difference. Information tells you the numbers, location and some factual description of the event. Stories interpret that information and tell a story about it from a particular point of view. We thought that Google wanted us to tell stories about both the damage that was being done to our marine life and the efforts to mitigate that damage.
In the end, this storytelling style was deemed too political. Google reasoned if we illuminated the players responsible for a particular ocean issue, they might not be thrilled. This was a major turning point for me and a real educational moment about the core of Google’s mission now that they were no longer a creative startup. They were happy to geo-locate information, for example, about the atrocities that took place in small African villages in Darfur, such as numbers killed in these operations, but they didn’t want to get into who was responsible and how they could be held accountable. This connection of the dots was the main reason I was excited about Google Ocean becoming a storytelling vehicle in the first place.
There was another issue that arose concerning copyrights. Historically, protective copyrights had created a artists class that could make a significant living because their original work was protected. No king, corporation or county could claim them. As the Internet emerged the copyright question arose again around the concept of the creative commons. This meant that artifacts of any media type could be shared with the public on a global commons for no charge.
This was a significant concept, but in the radical interpretation of what that meant, there were a growing number of younger people that thought everything created by anyone should be free. That meant they could “borrow” others work and use it for their own gain. Rap music did a version of this by using sampled clips of copyrighted songs. It created a real grey area about what was protected. In the end, I thought IF all creations were free, artists could not make a living off the royalties. This included, music, books, film etc.
How this issue emerged at Google Ocean was this. Our massive networking effort resulted in major ocean photographers and filmmakers agreeing to commit some of their award winning work to Google Ocean for free. The copyright issue raised its head in the agreement that Google required the artists to sign. We had understood that the artists were donating their footage or images for use on Google Ocean only. The agreement said Google “owned” the rights to use these images in anything they did, including advertising. This caused a shock wave to move across the water in the ocean artistic community. The result is that many of the best images and footage were withdrawn by the artists and what remained was of B list quality.
The sheer momentum of the project continued unabated, but the big players like National Geographic claimed more and more of the creative space. Under the pressure of launch, Google rolled over to their wishes and in 2008, Google Ocean was rolled out with big fanfare.
I am not saying that it wasn’t impressive, it was and we could all be proud of that, but the intention we had begun with had changed and that would affect everything else we were trying to build around it. As our “activist” design efforts abated in favor of a less challenging informational approach, we lost the ability to draw big audiences that we could interest in watching films, playing games etc. We were left to pursue these concepts on another day. Quite a lesson learned in this new digital world of Google.
YES We Can!
As the Google Ocean and Lost in Woonsocket projects were swirling about, 2008 brought a new presidential election. We had suffered through eight years of G.W Bush and Dick Cheney. They had taken the 70 billion dollar budget surplus that President Clinton handed them and had given it away to rich people and big corporations in two tax cuts. They had lied to us about the reasons we were invading IRAQ. Under their tutelage their war on terror cost 2.1 trillion dollars. Some of it going to military contractors that Cheney had a relationship with. They won the war but lost the peace. Apparently, they didn't have a plan to create a new national government and as
a result corruption and civil war continues to rage. We needed a change.... and it wasn't Hillary Clinton. I had never trusted her. She projected an elite class arrogance that suggested that she was entitled to be president.
Our prayers were answered with the emergence of Barrack Hussein Obama. We had first seen him give a speech at the 2004 Democratic nominating convention. He had a unique, inspiring oratory style. He and his wife Michelle also made quite a team. So, when the news came that this man that had barely been a US Senator was running we watched with interest. He did well in the first primary in Iowa and then got beat in New Hampshire after Hillery made an emotional plea to voters. The primary season continued to go back and forth until he eventually he became the front runner. His staff also pioneered organizing and fundraising efforts on-line that no one had tried before. He got millions of dollars of $10 contributions from ordinary people.
Over the course of my music career I had done a few projects with my friend Cliff Branch. Cliff and his partner had made a fortune selling stereo equipment by mail order. Cliff had intervened in a law suit in the past that was preventing me from recording. I wrote and recorded a custom album for them that eventually became my Capitol Records solo album. In addition to that we had been through wife's, girlfriends and kids together, always finding a way to renew our friendship after being apart. In this case he was calling because he wanted to help Obama become president.
I talked to some of my friends that were already working for Obama in Colorado and it became clear that Obama's big challenge was to attract independent voters that were largely undecided. After all, he was the first man of color with the middle name Hussein to run for president. Cliff and I came up with a plan to create Obama campaign spots that were targeted towards undecided. They had subjects like economics, the war in Iraq and health care. We also did a set that promoted young people voting. We planned to post them on a Two Voters web site and promote them in big newspapers around the country. Cliff and I wrote the scripts and I gathered the talent and produced the actual spots and web site. Here are two of the spots.
The campaign was advertised in NY Times, USA Today and other major publications. One spot in particular was pulled from network television during the Republican convention. We considered that to be an honor. The night that Barack became our new president is a moment I will always remember. Never say never.
End of an Era
Mother and Patrick had watched as their house in Alameda got built from the ground up. They had fun picking a lot that looked out on one of the duck laddened canals. It always seemed like a peaceful place with a few decent restaurants and shopping right across the street. It was also an easy stroll to the point where one got an uninterrupted view of the San Francisco skyline. Over the 14 years they lived in that house it was the setting of many a family gathering, temporary lodgings for one of us staying overnight or celebration parties. After Pat died, Mother lived there by herself and she always said being able to walk out the shore helped her with her grief.
At the end of her second go around with cancer and her miraculous recovery (she/we were convinced she would die then) she could not go home by herself. The care she required would either come from a live in nurse, or she would have to go into a residence home for seniors. She didn’t want anyone in the house, so the choice was made to look for a place for her to live. AND her house would have to be packed and sold immediately.
Not knowing anything about retirement centers, Bruce, Jane and I set out exploring. What we found was mostly appalling. Human storage units really. The time came for Mother to leave the hospital and it was suggested her follow up care take place at St. Paul’s Towers. St. Paul’s was run by the Episcopal Church and the top floor was a full care recovery ward. As we moved her there, we noticed that St Paul’s also had live in apartments. Depending on your situation, you could live unassisted, live with help or stay on the full care floor. We checked out the food and it was better than most and it really seemed like a 4 star hotel. We looked into it. Mother could afford a one bedroom with a bay view if she sold her house. As she recovered she warmed to the idea that St. Paul’s might be her next residence.
That left her house. She really wasn’t in any shape to pack her house by herself. Jennifer and I had just finished producing a conference in Monterey at the end of that year, so we decided to stay another week, and us kids and spouses would get this done.
We had been aware that in the last two years Mother had been paying less attention to the upkeep. She always said she didn’t want us to find a mound of stuff like she had at her Father’s house. Well, it wasn’t as bad as Papa’s, but it wasn’t a walk in the park either. Jane, Bruce, me and Jennifer were all good organizers, so we split up the rooms and made three piles. Dump, Salvation Army and Save. The Salvation Army was actually the White Elephant Sale charity that Mother had worked at for many years. It seemed appropriate that stuff that was ok, would go there. Mother really wanted to be there as we packed her, as you can well understand, but she was still a bit spacy from the hospital and when she did come, she had trouble letting go of stuff.
The other issue is that her one bedroom apartment was really small with very little closet space. Even with a separate storage space, the entire house would have to be reduced to what would fit at St. Paul’s. She made some choices on furniture and must haves like her desk and files, but there was a lot of stuff that went to dump and donation.
We did the pack in a week and then put the house on the market. I think all of us felt a little bad that it had come down to us packing her so quickly without her guidance. For a couple of years she claimed that we threw away valuable stuff. (We didn’t) It was the end of an era in our family. Her Alameda house had been a family center and a place we could always come to.
Jane with her excellent artistic eye, helped her pick out colors for her new apartment. After she moved down from the full care floor, it felt so much like her only smaller. She warmed to the view of the bay and that there was so little to care for. Her St. Paul’s apartment would be home for 6 years. Many a visit there by all of us and meals in the dining room.
She seemed to get used to it, although she felt she really didn’t fit in. She claimed there were people there with far more money than her. (There were, but she was not poor either) It took a while for her to acclimate to her new life, but in typical Barbara fashion, she organized a new way that newbies would be greeted when they arrived based on her experience. Us kids were always more comfortable that help was 10 floors away in case anything happened. She had many such adventures during the six years, so the choice turned out to be a good one. St. Paul’s would also become the nexus of her final chapter, which I will go into later.
Lost and Found in America
The Lost in Woonsocket film continued to tour and raise money for homeless and addiction programs. Brian Althounian, my dear friend and partner in helping John get Random 1 launched, unexpectedly hit it big in the penny stock markets. Brian was suddenly flush and he and I conjured up this idea to formalize the Lost in Woonsocket fundraising effort by starting a non-profit organization called “Lost and Found in America.” The point of this new venture would be to promote the film and raise a lot more money for addiction programs.
We pitched it to John, and although he had some misgivings (I think he was ready to move on from Random 1) he agreed and we went to work. Brian donated a significant amount of money to get the web site built, the non-profit paperwork done and hire me to pull all the pieces together.
Brian was also a part of a big giving network in LA, and we thought it would be easy to raise more money from them. We organized a big screening in Hollywood and invited everyone, including the big buck folks. I am not completely sure what happened. Either Brian had over promoted their interest or there was something in the giving circle that wasn’t quite what it seemed. The big night came and went and we got no donations of any size. It seemed like maybe it was time to move on.
We had accomplished a great deal including getting one of our favorite homeless/addiction groups Mobile Loaves and Fishes in Austin TX to place one of their food-help trucks in Woonsocket where it had all started.
We had a big unveiling event as we presented this cool vehicle to the Mayor of Woonsocket. I remember getting teary eyed. That day was the culmination of such an unlikely journey that all began with me watching John’s original DVD. As I keep saying, “play it forward.” You won’t be disappointed.
Mark was still on the streets, but Norman was kicking ass. He had been sober since the show and was very engaged in organizing services for his fellow brothers and sisters in need. He became quite a spokesperson for the addicted. We transitioned Lost and Found in America to him, and he continues doing showings and talks. If you want an update, including watching an Oprah piece and an interview with Norman, click here to link to Lost in Woonsocket. We always said the Random 1 was engaged in saving the world one life at a time. Norman was one of those lives where our help really did make a difference.
Is the Audience Just Not Interested?
With Google Ocean, The Colorado Plateau Project, Random 1 and Lost in Woonsocket behind me you would think I would settle comfortably into Boulder. However, there was a theme that arose after the Plateau project that had me puzzled. I had naively set out in 1998 to save the world utilizing my storytelling. I had done my best with the projects mentioned already to make some contribution to making this world a little better. Certainly, all these projects worked, but I couldn’t understand why our audiences were not bigger. Not that they were all that small, but I was used to hundreds of thousands in my Hollywood work and it just seemed like I was missing something.
I actually said out loud… “are people not interested in helping themselves and the world?” or better yet…”too stupid to get we are heading into challenging times.” As I looked at the considerable audiences that did show up, they shared my desire to do good. We just seemed to be missing many others. Another way to say this was we were “preaching to the choir.”
Although, I knew instinctively as a storyteller there are always different audiences that you have to write differently for, I just didn’t have any references to help me sort this out. I didn’t want to continue to imagine projects, raise money and direct production teams, if I couldn’t attract bigger audiences to our cause.
I was sitting with that inquiry, when a new friend in Boulder suggested I attend a media salon at a place I had been frequenting called the City Club. The City Club was home to high achievers and money mavens that mostly came from the tech start up world. Media salons, whoever puts them on, are networking affairs which I had mostly disliked over the years.
It was a lot of small chit chat while everyone without a project was trying to find employment. I was still new in town however, so Jennifer and I agreed to go to see who would show up. We entered the room and found seats in the circle of chairs. What would happen next would not only begin to address my question, but shape the next chapter in Boulder.
Goodness, Truth and Beauty
As we settled into our seats an interesting man sat next to me. He introduced himself as Ross Hostetter.
He was a lawyer that had just moved to town 6 months prior. He said he worked for the Integral Institute as if I should know what that was. I didn’t. It turned out we talked into the evening about an American philosopher named Ken Wilber. Wilber was the founder of the Institute and a co-founder of a new for profit media company called Integral Life.
I confess that I had tried once to read one of Ken’s many books, but gave up feeling it was really beyond my intelligence. I was aware he was talking about a new stage of development, he called Integral, but the details and why it would become important to me were unclear. I did remember that Wilber’s work influenced a great many people I paid attention to in the New Age community, so that was something.
I liked Ross (we never got to the media salon part) and we agreed to meet for lunch in a week. The day came. Ross and I settled into our lunch booth when an energetic young man (32) slid into the booth and reached out his hand and said hi. He quickly explained he was Robb Smith, Ken’s co-founder in this new media company Integral Life.
He said he had just been saying that morning that they needed to find someone like me with a big background at Disney et all, to help them take Integral to a larger audience. The larger audience part interested me, given my hanging question, but I said.. “I don’t think I am the guy… I am not smart enough to understand the significance of Wilber’s work, let alone tell others about it.”
Robb was undaunted, he promoted the community surrounding Ken as also being vibrant. He thought I would be interested in the considerable number of entertainment producers and directors, (including the creators of the Matrix below), that found Ken’s work useful. Unfortunately, I had already worked with some of the biggest of them in Spielberg and Lucas and found them brilliant at what they did, but not that interested in the bigger picture.
Robb next went down the list of spiritual people that were influenced by Ken or worked with him. The third or fourth name he mentioned was Father Thomas Keating.
Thomas was the monk I had wanted to find to help explain my Christian contemplative experiences on Random 1. My curiosity was triggered. Ross said I should meet Ken before making a decision about joining Integral Life. I asked what two books I should read to give me something more personal about the man, not just his philosophy. I read "Grace and Grit", Ken’s account of the death of his wife Treya and "One Taste", a diary he had kept the year after Treya’s death.
An appointment was made, and as I rode up the elevator to Ken’s penthouse loft in Denver for the first time, I was scared to death that we would have nothing to talk about.
Ken was, by many accounts the smartest man in the world, The Einstein of Consciousness. I was a simple storyteller with a burning question about bigger audiences. How would that go I thought…
Ken greeted me warmly. His penthouse loft on the 19th story of this gothic, gargoyle building in Denver looked out through huge picture windows towards the Rocky Mountains to the west. The loft was tastefully appointed. The first thing he said to me was that he loved movies and the role they played in us imagining our future. I felt he had picked my brain, but it relaxed me. This topic I could converse about.
Hours later I made the decision to join Integral Life. I found Ken and the people drawn to him fascinating and besides he did have some advice on my audience inquiry. I figured I would stay 6 months. It ended up being 10+ years. That story as it unfolded is next.
I joined the Integral Life staff in 2007. At the time Ken’s work was going through a transition from the original non-profit Integral Institute to the for-profit Integral Life. First thing I did was hire a very talented artist from the Integral community to do a trailer for the movie to come.
Many of the staff were holdovers from the Institute days and I got my first whiff of the rumored cult status in the Integral community around Ken in the first meetings. It seemed there was some secret code that only some of the Institute people knew.
Robb wanted me to run the media operation. The Institute had shot hours of footage of Ken and others at the Institute events. Unfortunately, most of it was not really professionally done. I also couldn’t figure out why seven people were working in a department that produced a 10 minute video each week.
It turned out the “kids” as I called them were watching more footage than they were editing. The first thing I did was re-organize everything including the video database. I hired some professional media folks that took the place of the kids as they headed towards the door. I also started building a team of talented contractors. Video camera folks, audio recording folks, digital artists etc. When a media company is in startup mode, you want to keep your fixed expenses to a minimum.
One of the things that Integral Life suffered from in the beginning was the hold over drama from the last days of the Institute. The Institute had come about when Ken came out of his years of writer’s seclusion. For about three years the enterprise prospered, getting people to sign up as members and attending topic related events like Integral Spirituality. In those years the events sold out in a day. There was so much pent up demand from people reading Ken’s books from all over the world, it was a hot ticket.
The decision had been made by Ken early on to not really create a professional organization. It was more of a “founders” community built around Ken’s wishes. I had experience with these types of organizations from Hollywood that would form around a producer or director. Ken had attracted some really fine talent that I would later work with, but in three years at the Institute they ran through the backlog of people and had begun a financial decent.
The other issue was Ken’s health. Ken had contracted an RNA virus in Lake Tahoe in the mid-eighties. He had literally woken up that day unable to get out of bed. So did 300 other people in this small town on the lake. The CDC was called in, but botched the investigation that years later attributed the “incident” to a chemical release by an unknown source.
The interesting coincidence was that the Tahoe story was infamous in health circles and we had reported on it on Emerging Worlds in the early 2000’s. Ken learned to manage the virus and its fatiguing effects with his Integral Life practice. When you look at pictures from the Institute days, he is buff and cut. The picture of health.
There was something else about him. As I watched hours of his video from those events I was impressed by his presence. Many “founders” who create important bodies of work like Ken are actually poor communicators in public. I had been around some of them in Hollywood. By comparison, Ken was a rock star. Not only the smartest person in the room, but funny and a great communicator.
As the Institute’s revenue descended however, lots of things were tried to stem the damage. Ken’s closet allies brought in a “business” type to try to get the Institute on track. It was a rocky road, as the staff was used to their freedom when it came to operations. A storm brewed and blew up on one day when Ken went ballistic, firing the business type. I heard many stories about that day later, but it sounded like a nightmare. Half the staff, including key supporters like Jeff Salzman walked out. The Institute was flaming out when the next blow fell.
Two weeks after the dust up, Ken suffered 12 grand mal seizures in 48 hours. One is usually enough to kill you. Ken literally hovered at deaths door for a couple of weeks before coming out of it. However, who came out of it was a much more diminished man than people were used to.
I always wondered if Ken’s anger on the fateful day could have been a result of his brain chemistry starting to meltdown. When I met him six months later, he could not write and struggled to attend meetings longer than two hours. In spite of it all, Ken persisted through that period as I learned his AQAL system and started down the path with him into video land.
The Future of Christianity
In addition to the re-organizing work, I set out to create “products” that Integral Life could sell in addition to memberships and events. DVD films and web courses were my specialty and I figured Integral Life should diversify their offerings.
I had come into the Integral community on a Christian vector based on the experiences I had on Random 1. I certainly didn’t know anything about Christian contemplative practice, but that was about to change. My new friend Rollie Stanich took me to meet Father Keating at Snowmass Monastery. I had studied with and listened to a number of spiritual teachers including the Dali Lama, but Thomas had his own special light. In his eighties when I met him, he was a whirl of energy, teaching and laughter. The concept that I pitched was to explore the future of Christianity from the perspective of Father Keating and Ken. They both agreed and we set out to make my first Integral documentary film.
Integral Life did not have a lot of production money in those days, so I envisioned a less expensive form of film using lots of still photography built around the interview segments with Thomas and Ken. Sort of a Ken Burns approach. We did it in record speed and I must say the two of them were spectacular. We sold a lot of copies. This set the tone for developing more “products”. You can view the FOC trailer below.
Navigating the Map
If you remember, when I had finished a number of my “save the world” projects I was left wondering why the audiences were not as big as what I was used to in Hollywood. Instinctually, I knew you have to tell different stories to different audiences, but it wasn’t until I met Ken and he laid out his AQAL map, that I felt a little less crazy. He had developed this elegant description of reality accompanied by deep explanations of each of its elements. His prose gave life to the inquiry I was on. . I remember thinking… this just makes sense.
My audience question was illuminated the most by Integral’s levels of development. These emerged from a over 100 years of scientific research into how humans grow from an infant to a mature adult. At each stage we are capable of more complex views of the world that transcend and include all our prior levels of existence. It doesn’t mean that everyone had to work their way to the top of the most complex, most inclusive meaning making system. As Ken would say, if you were happy with where you were, so be it. But for the rest of us looking to ease our suffering and experience more joy in life, Ken’s Integral Theory and map was one way to tackle it.
From my beginning understandings of development stages I saw what I was missing in my storytelling. When an individual enters a postmodern meaning making system for example (A New Age perspective), the chief addition to your meaning making system is inclusion. Racially, gender wise, culturally etc. These days this move has a lot of terms that cover it, but social justice is one of them. Thus when we claimed to want to save the world at this level of development, we had a vision of a much more generative culture where the ignored and forgotten were included and cared for.
Absolutely nothing wrong with that with one exception. If you divide the population of the world up into those that want a more generative culture and those that don’t, you still end up with a polarized false choice that leads to conflict. Each of the major stages of development, Traditional, Modern and Post Modern make this mistake. Whatever their meaning making system values, they want their's to be dominant. Thus when we see the Cultural Wars every night on the news, there are actually three different audiences vying to re-make the world in their image.
Post Modern assumed because of their kinder, gentler ways that they were immune from this judgement. They were not. Ken was pointing to a new stage of development that was arising out of Post Modern. Its claim was that for the first time, all three stages were being seen and taken into account as partially correct. As Ken liked to say no one is wrong 100% of the time.
If a story about saving the world includes language and concepts recognized by each of these levels it is more likely to be selected to move forward. What had happened to me in creating all the projects up to meeting Ken, was that I was assuming everyone wanted to save the world in the way that I did. Although Modern and Traditional have their own stories about saving the world, they are not the inclusive story of Post Modern. The claim that Integral saw this mistake and took all three of them into account gave me something to work with to re-frame my stories to attract more people.
If you are interested in hearing from Ken and others about Developmental Theory click here. There is one more concept that might be of interest. This one eventually became my keystone in contributing to what was next. That concept was the "Evolution of Expanding Intelligence." Look in the “Everything Is” category under Animating Force. It contains the best visual explanation I have found concerning the Evolution of Expanding Intelligence by my friend Rob Bell. Ken also weighs in on “what is spirit up to.”
Up From Eden
As I churned my way through the AQAL map, I ended up going back to one of Ken’s earliest books “Up From Eden.” I actually had noticed that in those early days Ken had a more narrative style of writing that would later become more academic. I discovered as we did the videos, he could do both. That was useful to our collaborative storytelling.
Ken set out to write "Up From Eden" to explore all the Eden myths that existed in every culture in the world. This idea that we humans at one time had been in a perfect state and had “fallen” into a lesser state in this reality was a major underpinning of human understanding. If you listen to Christian men, they say it was Eve’s fault. Christian’s named this state as “sin.” If you are "less than" as the story goes, then the meaning of life is to try to correct your behavior so you will get back into heaven. It suggests that humans look “back” for their perfect state.
As Ken got into his research for the book, he experienced a major flip. When you look at the design of the Kosmos, it begins with the Big Bang. Matter and time come into existence in a moment. From that single moment the universe continues to expand in more and more complexity. It is not contracting, it is still expanding. At that is just what we can see.
We now believe that 97% of the universe is “dark matter”. We have no idea what that is or what role it plays in this passion play. As the story goes, the building blocks of life evolved from gas and particles, to atoms, to molecules, to cells, to multi-cell organisms and so on and so on. This process (evolution) is not looking back, it is expanding with each stage of development more intelligent, more capable than the last. We have speculated in many of our more philosophical sci-fi novels that humans seem to be moving toward the ultimate step of becoming Gods. "Beings of light." This in spite of the seemingly bumpy, chaotic process. In a sense there is no time in the Kosmos other than we can measure its expansion from a single moment to billions of galaxies. There is no moving "forward" as if we are traveling from a single point to somewhere else. The Kosmos is expanding "out" and us with it. If you look at the latest models of the Kosmos, it stipulates that if you set out on a journey to the "edge" of the Kosmos, you simply would return to the place you started.
For me, Ken’s AQAL model and map were very helpful, but this evolution of expanding intelligence concept was actually what really grabbed me. It was for me what made all the Integral Theory make sense.
IF you believe that we have fallen and are trying to return to a state of grace, then the rest of the AQAL model doesn’t matter. AQAL describes how we can expand our intelligence outward, not retreat to the past. If on the other hand, you believe we are born into a stream of expanding consciousness and intelligence, then the meaning of life (as I saw it) is to add something to this ever expanding experiment in relatedness. Ken’s AQAL theory maps this all out in a very elegant manner.
There is a pretty common joke in spiritual communities that comments on this creation story. The question is… “if God was in a perfect state, why would he/she set in motion an imperfect human experiment in relating.” The answer to the question is… “because she/he sought dinner companions.” In that joke is the difference for me between living between emptiness and relatedness. Both are present. Relatedness between all of us life forms in this “related” world and the emptiness of the energetic field that underlies the Kosmos like a quantum foam, including us.
When I set out to create this web archive of what I had learned so far, the evolution of expanding intelligence was the core idea that most informed my story. It answered many of my questions of why I was here and what I could do each day I woke up in this reality. To contribute something to the expansion of consciousness-intelligence. That simple… for me.
Integral Spiritual Experience
The Institute in its heyday had offered many different kinds of events. At Integral Life we built on that tradition early in my tenure with an event series called the Integral Spiritual Experience.
People often ask me if Integral is a spiritual movement. I understand where this question comes from. Of all the topics that Ken writes about, his thoughts on spirituality attracted the most interest from other teachers and the spirituality audience. In truth, the concept of spirituality is integrated into the entire AQAL map not separate from it. One way to think about this is to consider spirituality the paper that all else is printed on. Even though Ken does not claim to be a spiritual teacher, but a philosopher, it still seemed it made sense to do a series of "spiritual" events that would include presentations, workshops and community celebrations.
This enterprise is where I got to know some of the extraordinary talent that had first gathered at the Institute. They included Jeff Salzman and Diane Musho Hamilton.
As the Eastern traditions came West in the seventies and joined with the predominantly Christian communities in the US, an interesting thing took place. Most of the Zen and Hindu teachers self-identified as “gurus”. This master-student model came from traditional religious practice established over thousands of years. These gurus, even though they brought a message of enlightenment, often turned out to be flawed individuals that expected total obedience from their followers. The issue that arose was that Western students were used to a degree of freedom in their choices. A Post Modern or New Age orientation is two levels of intelligence above Traditional. This friction caused many of the “gurus” to double down on their authority. Some demanded that they completely control their students’ lives.
The other issue for these Eastern teachers were the seductions of the Western material world. Most of these teachers came from humble lifestyles in India, Tibet etc. When they hit the shores of “America the bontiful” they were presented with all the distractions we have developed in our culture, including money, sex etc. This caused trouble and so much confusion. How could these (mostly) holy men be sleeping with their students and taking their money? Some would say that it was the problem of organized religion. Christianity certainly had a version of it.
From an Integral view however it is a developmental problem. Ultimately, when individuals reach a Post Modern or New Age stage of understanding, they reject absolute authority. Although the media has made much of the corruption in spiritual communities, my experience is that this happens anywhere power exercises itself. Particularly male power. Hollywood and personal development circles were no better or worse than the spiritual communities. The MeToo movement has rightly challenged the abuses of male power again in our culture in this time.
All this leads to the Integral understanding that we all (no mattered how spiritually enlightened we think we are) have shadows. This term came from the therapy communities, but simply means we push down our personal trauma into regions of our being that sometimes we are unaware of. We don’t realize that this “programming” or stories influence our actions. It’s only when you turn to deal with your shadow that you can bring it into the light.
The Integral Life community suffered through a version of this. We had plenty of opportunities to play out these challenges and I for one learned a lot about my own shadow. Remember, more people have been killed in the name of God, than for any other reason.
In Sickness and in Health
Another thing I noticed facilitating spiritual leaders is that many of them in the Integral Community were sick with some kind of chronic disease. Obviously, Ken was one of those, but there were many others. Some of my favorites. I talked with Ken about this at length for his biography project and the only thing he could come up with was that when you work at deep energetic levels it can sometimes unhinge your body's systems. In a sense it can overload them. Perhaps our bodies will one day evolve to match our energetic advances or we will evolve out of these physical forms all together.
The other thing about working in a community concerned with exploring the leading edge of intelligence, is that it attracts some broken people desperate to find relief. This can bring about a greater risk of deep suffering as individuals expecting to be healed, feel let down and out of options. We’ve had our share of Integral community members committing suicide over the years.
After all the challenges on Whidbey behind us, Jennifer and I settled into our life in Boulder. Very quickly I got involved with Ken and the Integral Life community. I remember coming home and spouting all the Integral language, as you do in the beginning, and I am sure she was wondering if I had joined a cult.
What changed that was Jennifer joining my production team when we did shoots with Ken and others. In fact, one factor in Ken finally agreeing to begin his biography project videos was that Jennifer figured out how to make him up in HD that made him comfortable with being on camera again.
Jennifer first worked for the Omni Hotel developing their wellness program. Then she developed her own client based practice using the Life System to do workups and treatment. She also helped others create wellness brands in conjunction with their educational offerings or personal development projects. Many a client and adventure in bringing this work into the world.
When I decided to do bigger events again for Integral Life, her expertise, particularly in managing big egos, came in handy. It also gave us something to do together. We created and produced What Next, Return to the Heart of Christ Consciousness, three Ken loft events, the What Now conference plus many smaller gatherings focused on topic of Integral Spirituality. You can see a bit of these in the convergence media section of my body of work.
We also took full advantage of the Rocky Mountains and the Southwest for R&R. One of our favorite road trips was driving to Santa Fe and staying at Ojo Caliente Hot Springs. The best soaking waters and organic food in this country.
In the midst of all of this activity, Jennifer’s primary focus was Matt. Coming up was another challenging time for him and us.
When I got home to Boulder for good in 2007, I got a full blast of what Matt was continuing to go through. It had always been challenging for him. He definitely listened to a different drummer, but as much as that could serve him in his adult life, it made his experience of school and Boulder life in general challenging.
What complicated the matter is that he started smoking a lot of pot. Not uncommon at his age in Boulder. I would get occasional glimpses of him being stoned, but no one greater than the night he presented his senior project. He had helped us on the Obama campaign spots so he was familiar with the territory. He decided to do his own spot. He did a really good job, but the night he went up to present to all of us parents, he was so stoned he could hardly speak. The video spoke for itself, but it was clear something was going on. It was kind of like me doing my homework and not turning it in.
It all came to a head one night when he came flying through the door eyes alight. He said that he needed $80 to pay someone off and if he didn’t get it they would come after him. It wasn’t the issue of the $80, it was the danger this put us all in.
He had brought whatever street life he was leading to our door. That night Jennifer, Ed (her ex) and I decided we had to do an intervention and get him to a program that could help him clean up. We chose a kind of outward bound program that ran for 9 weeks. We then lied to him to get him on the plane. When he arrived and found out he could not leave, he withdrew for 3 days. He eventually, with the help of the councilors, came out of it and made it through. He came out on the other side the bright, clear Matt that we knew without the drugs.
I wish I could say that was the end of it, and I am not going into all the details, but Matt eventually descended into heavy heroin use with a girlfriend and by the time we discovered this, he was in serious trouble.
This began a journey for Jennifer and me that would go on for the next four years. In and out of treatment centers, where he would get better, but then revert. It broke your heart. Run ins with the police at 3am in the morning. I felt helpless probably like my Dad did with me failing school. I had all this experience with addiction treatment that I had gained from Random 1 and Lost in Woonsocket, but this was personal and hard.
At one point, Matt ended up doing 10 days in jail which from my perspective was kind of a turning point for him. From then on, he got more serious about his recovery and eventually got straight. He has been sober for some years now, but still faces the challenge of how to rebuild your life without the kind of juice that the drug world gives you.
Jennifer truly saved his life on more than one occasion and I tried to keep a stable home environment going in support. Drugs, particularly, opioids are rampant in our culture. Boulder being the affluent community it is doesn’t help. Kids with too much time on their hands and access to money.
A Cavalcade of Stars
One of the great things about working with Ken was the access I got to all the thought leaders that were attracted to his work. It was my job for those years to create content and facilitate them at live conferences. It was like getting a PHd in intelligence.
One of those that truly rocked my world was Helen Palmer.
When Ken and I went through the "types" section of the AQAL map I would ask what types? Masculine – feminine was one type, but very quickly the Enneagram system came up. The Enneagram had begun in the Christian desert communities that sprang up after the death of Jesus. These were the pre-cursors to monasteries, and other reclusive communities of study.
One of the things they discovered was the monks suffered from 9 types of resistance that was blocking their spiritual advancement. These “types” (personalities) and their qualities were written down and passed down through the ages to our times. They remained secret teachings for quite a while until Helen wrote about her Narrative Approach to the Enneagram. Narrative I thought, right up my alley. Ken was a big fan of hers, so I went out to Berkeley and we got to work.
The first thing you have to do when working with the Enneagram is inquire into your own type. It is one of 9. No one can do this for you. You have to look at the qualities, both positive and negative, of each of the types and decide which one fits you. The Enneagram system is much more complex than that, but it starts there.
I was an 8. Eight’s qualities on the positive side are big presence, passionate creator, leader of teams and on the negative side anger and shaming if an 8 is not getting its way. As Helen and I worked together, I began to understand the behavior of my 8 type. Once identified I could make better choices to manage my gut reactions into something more productive. I could learn how to lead more effectively.
I realized that what I felt as passion for a project could come across to others as controlling. This study included knowing others people types as well and what was important to them. There is much more to typing, but Helen was my early teacher and quite an influence on me as I sorted it out. You can see a bit of Helen in her introduction to one of her ILP modules at: https://integrallife.com/discover-your-type/
Keith Witt was another brilliant one. Keith and I collaborated on his course “Loving Completely.” Keith had developed five questions from years of helping people in therapy. I remember thinking I wished I had this information in my younger days. You can hear Keith’s 5 questions in the intro to his ILP module at: https://integrallife.com/loving-completely-ilp/
Jeff Salzman was also a valued collaborator in this period for me. I had first gone to one of Jeff’s Integral Sunday morning events soon after meeting Ken and was struck about how clear he taught the Integral Model. This led to us doing the Integral Incubator together, three conferences, and the early days of his show “The Daily Evolver.” Jeff was always there for me when the going got challenging and a real inspiration when we were in flow together.
In the early days of Jeff's podcast The Daily Evolver, I often sat in as he explored a variety of topics. The podcast below is the day we discussed the up coming Return to the Heart conference. As often happened between us, the scope of our conversation expanded to include our personal experiences of what it meant to be a practicing Christian for who we were now.
When I first met Ken Wilber, one of the things he helped me sort out were these mystical experiences I had when we were producing the A&E series, Random 1. In this discussion I attempt to explain what they felt like to me and how it informed my life going forward. As I listen to this interview now I hear how energized and on fire I was about this expansion at the time. It fueled everything for me as I pulled the Return to the Heart Conference together. All that energy has now matured and become a part of my daily practice, but like so many before me, when the Christ spirit first moves through you, it is a particular kind of sacred fire.
You can catch Jeff at the Daily Evolver.
So it went. I loved producing courses, videos/films and conferences with all these folks and learned so much in the process about how to apply an Integral approach to just about everything.
As much as I loved all the production, Integral Life would soon take another turn when I would be asked to direct it.