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Raising the barn higher: an interview with Charley Patton


Charley Patton is the co-founder of the Yoga Barn, a well known yoga studio in Ubud (Bali) which was built in 2005, and now draws yoga teachers and students from all over the world.   In less than six years, the Yoga Barn has grown into a vibrant community center for folks who are learning to become the change they want to see in the world by developing more presence and awareness.  The Barn offers over 70 classes per week including yoga, meditation, dancing, kirtan and a weekly documentary.   I first met Charley on my first day back in Bali in February of 2011, when he offered my friend Charlie Rebich and I to stay in his home for a few days, after our initial accommodation plans had unexpectedly fallen through.  Having the opportunity to witness up close how Charley walks his talk inspired us to interview him about his life’s journey from Corporate America to Bali.  Ulrika Sandberg from Sweden joined us for that conversation which took place on March 5, 2011 in Charley’s home, fifteen minutes outside Ubud. 

Charley Patton

Tesa: What initially drew you to Bali, Charley?

Charley P.: I always knew as a child that I was meant to live somewhere else and meant to live an atypical life.   So what called me to Bali was the lure of a different life experience and an opportunity to grow deeper as a person.

Tesa: And what do you most love about this place?  What medicine does it hold for you?

Charley P.: It’s a place where you can explore, where you can be a kid in a sandbox. We are surrounded by so much beauty, vegetation, butterflies, bees.  On the one hand, it’s a very comfortable place.  And on the other hand, it is an onion.  And you will never peel all the layers.  There are so many of them!

Charlie Rebich.: On that picture of you with the bicycle over there, you look so different.   Can you speak about that?

Charley P.: Who I was in that picture was someone wearing a mask, a facade.  I was outwardly projecting a different person than I felt inside.   I guess that’s another part of what I love about being here in Bali.  I feel more congruent with myself as a human, more comfortable in my own skin.  I have less resistance, not that there are no challenges left, of course.

Charlie Rebich: I get the sense that you really found yourself here.   When I see you interact with people, I feel great clarity, presence, a power, and at the same time, a real ease.

Charley P.:  Each of us lives inside of our bodies and heads and you never really know what it is like to live in someone else’s shoes.   The mind can be such a tricky thing and sometimes your worst enemy.  Even though I say all these things about feeling very comfortable here, I can also honestly say that there is a lot more to go.  I’m still dealing with a lot of self-doubt, questioning, recrimination.

Ulrika: I feel my body relax when you say this.  What you say is true for all of us.   

Tesa:  What is the connection between what drew you here in Bali, and what drew you to create the yoga barn?

Charley P: 2004 was a really important year for me.  I quit a corporate job of 16 years.  Ever since I was a kid, I was enamored with pictures of tropical islands, and sandy beaches and crazy flowers.  That was before I even saw Bali.  And then some years ago, I saw a very interesting Vedic Astrologer by the name of Jeffrey Armstrong.  At that time, I was in the most frustrated depth of corporate crap.  Living in LA was really challenging for me.  I found it difficult to just connect with real people.  I had good friends, but in general, the culture as a whole felt really superficial.  One of the things Jeffrey told me is that I would do better in places that were more feminine, softer places.   And the funny thing is that just yesterday, as I was riding to Ubud on my motorbike, I saw the officers from the police department down the road.  They were all wearing their office shirts, and jogging while holding hands!  So there are times when I just chuckle to myself.  I know intuitively that I am meant to be in a softer place, and this is also why I am drawn to San Francisco now when I go back home.  It feels like a softer place within the United States.

Tesa.  I’m curious as to whether this astrologer said anything about why you would do better in a more feminine place.

Charley P:  I don’t remember what he said about that, but I can give you my own answer.  That drive to compete which is so prevalent in the United States, especially in a business environment, is just exhausting.  He talked to me at a time when life was all about fight or flight, and I chose flight!

Charlie:  How do you work in a more feminine way around leadership? What do you see as most important leadership qualities now that you are bringing so many different interesting things to fruit?

Charley P.:  I think that it’s really important to be transparent, genuine and honest.  And it is something that is hard to do all the time.  I do my best to live my life with these principles.  When you end up interacting with many people, especially, in an organization, it’s also really important to be as kind as you can to everyone.  It’s important to take the time to learn people’s names, to treat them with respect and not put it above yourself to do small things that need to get done, just because you are in a seemingly higher position.

I think that leadership is really about working hard to effectively apply the life experience, wisdom and acquired knowledge that one has.  Others will see your actions.  And if your actions are congruent with your vision, then people will follow and the barn just gets raised higher.  Another important part of leadership is to surround yourself with people who help you aspire to higher values.  And that is often mutually supportive.  I might feed off you and you feed off of me.   Having this conversation with the three of you is something that I have never had the grace and opportunity to do before.  Your taking the time to do this is giving me a chance to explore, and it is helping us all aspire to a higher value, which might perhaps be best summarized as… leading from the heart.

Tesa:  You just talked about how the barn gets raised higher.  I am curious about where the name “the Yoga Barn” came from.  In New England, where I lived for several years, neighbors used to take turn helping each other build their barns.   It was a tradition that played a big role in building a strong sense of community, and it was also an expression of it.   It strikes me that the Yoga Barn is a major community-building hub for folks who come to Ubud to wake up.

Charley P: I have never thought of this before, but barn raising is actually a perfect metaphor for what we have been doing.  The funny thing is that I grew up on a farm in New Jersey.  We lived on six acres with two barns with horses, goats, sheep and chickens.  So the concept of a barn is something that is very deep for me, and very much part of my past.  I personally can take no credit for the aesthetic that were created at the yoga barn.  It was all the work of Megan’s husband, Kadek.  But when he built it and I looked at it and we were trying to come up with a name, it struck me that it looked like an Indonesian version of a New England barn.  The beauty of it is that the barn is not pretentious.  A barn is sloppy.  It has animals, and it is messy.   The name was my idea and we liked it because we don’t pretend to be creating this white tower or yoga Mecca where people will have big epiphanies and kundalini experiences.  We are just a bunch of good hearted people who have a sense of what it takes to bring together other good hearted people who care about the earth, the environment and the global issues that we are facing.  And so the barn became a metaphor for a rustic, indigenous, antic place which was the exact opposite of Los Angeles, California.  It was just a place where you can come and take your shoes off, be yourself and share whatever you are passionate about.  Our aspiration is that by feeding off each other, learning from each other, and growing with each other, we all become better people, and we take with us the things that we have learned.  It’s like planting and scattering seeds of light.   I love the barn raising metaphor.

Charlie Rebich: How many people were involved in the building of the place and design?

Charley P: Just a handful.  It was mostly Kadek and his crew of craftsmen.  I have really developed an affinity for his crew.  They are such nice guys and they have helped me immeasurably for this project.  There is a deep appreciation of the fact that what we have created has been of economic benefit to the local community here.   The way I apply the barn raising metaphor is not to the physical construction, however.  I apply it to the people who are attracted to come and teach here.  These are the people who are raising the barn by offering their gifts and talents.  And the work is never done.

Charlie Rebich: I am struck by the humility of that statement, and by what humility makes possible.

Charley P.: I think that it’s important to give the pat on the back to wherever the credit is due but it is just as important not to get caught up in the ego of it.  And that is going to be even more important as we raise the barn to it next level.  In less than one year from now, we may become much larger in scale and scope.  It is really crucial that we continue to uphold these values of humility and service and I am sure that there will be some challenges in doing that as the entity grows and more people become involved.  The more people become involved on the financial level, and the more we have to be careful of how to handle the marriage between two forms of currency, the current of money, on the one hand, and the current of energy we are trying to create, on the other hand.  We have to be very careful, and continue to be humble.

Tesa: I have spent some time in different retreat centers that serve as community hubs, in Sweden, in the United States, and here in Ubud, and I am noticing that they all face a similar challenge as they grow in size, the challenge of how to stay truthful to the initial intention and spirit of the place while growing in influence.   The question of optimal size seems to be a big question.   If we think of transformation in terms of “being the microcosm,’ I wonder whether we can perhaps begin to trust that we can transform macrocosm without engaging in large scale physical expansion.

Charley P: Yes, I think about that issue of size a lot.  I come across so many people who talk about time speeding up and entering a new era of consciousness.  We see devastation being brought to almost any area of the planet. These are devastating and challenging issues that are so big that they jeopardize perhaps not the survival of the planet but certainly of our species.  So, on one level, it feels like we cannot get big enough quick enough.  This is why I am so passionate about introducing more people to a yogic life style, and supporting people to become more conscious of the central importance of good night sleep, healthy nutrition, and treating each other kindly.  To me that is one of the central tenets of what we are about… taking great care of ourselves so that we will be better able to take care of others.  If all the politicians and leaders of this world were doing yoga, and being more conscious of all those things I just listed, how could the world not be a more peaceful place?  Maybe that sounds incredibly native and utopia, but it feels true to me. When Mother Theresa was asked how we can change the world, she answered “one person at a time.”

But it’s not so much the size that matters most, as the number of people who can positively impact what is happening, and of course it’s not just us here in Ubud.  There are many people involved in similar work around the world.  So, what is important is connecting all these dots.  It is happening with people coming here from different parts of the world and then returning there.   It is our friend Ulrika here coming from Sweden and Angsbacka, and bringing her experience and insights with her, and then returning there with what she has learned here. It is more of this cross-pollination and ripple effect.

Charlie Rebich: When you say that, I get this visceral sense of how connected we all are.  Bali feels like a giant flower, with all kinds of bees being drawn to it, who will subsequently cross-pollinate other flowers around the world.  Ulrika, you have been offering the gift of your deep listening, but I am curious to know how you feel about what we have talked about so far.

Ulrika: Oh, I really resonate.   I really liked what you said about taking care of ourselves, Charley.  After years of overdoing it, and eventually burning out, I’m now taking care of myself a lot.  And I am learning that the more I support myself, the more I can be there for other people.

Tesa.  Yes, I really relate to that as well!   Charley, what kinds of questions are most on your mind these days?

Charley P: I ask myself a lot of questions about what makes for right chemistry.  I am wondering about the chemistry between the people who will be helping us to get to this next level.  The group of people who have come forth have come together in an incredibly organically way, and in an incredibly short period of time.  I have a bit of trepidation around that, because I have seen what can happen when there are too many cooks in the kitchen.  I am also asking myself questions about my own role. So many people are coming through the yoga barn’s door now every day, and they are not all living by yogic principles. I am finding that the bigger the barn gets, and the more organizational structures and rules need to get created.  And there is something ironic about the fact that I left the corporate world because I burned out on rigid structures, and politics and rules, and I am now right back to where I was then, organizing, scheduling, administrating.  The one big difference is that I am now part of a team, and I am involved in something that I have helped create, so this has a much deeper purpose for me.  Still, I see the organizational task of expanding the barn as a challenge going forward.

Tesa.   And how do you personally experience that challenge?

Charley P:   I get pushed out of my comfort zone a lot. I’m a bit slow, you now.  I like to think things through, and sometimes your greatest strength is also your greatest weakness.  Sometimes if you are slow, you can miss out on opportunities.  My partner Meghan is just the opposite of me.  I call her “fire, ready, aim.”  She says yes to everything and then sees what sticks.  And it’s often chaotic. I find it very difficult at times to work in that environment, so that is definitely a challenge for me.   I personally like to take things slow and just focus on building the next floor, as opposed to build 80 stories right away.

Tesa.  So, how do you approach and reconcile your different working styles?

Charley P: Megan opens big doors and attracts big opportunities.  And then the challenge is that I need to figure out how to make these opportunities work…  so the more opportunities come our way, and the bigger they are, the more challenging this is for me.   How to manage that well continues to be a great learning curve for me because it’s always pushing the limits of my comfort zone.

Charlie RebichI feel myself tense up as I hear you talk about the need for increased structures and rules.  It feels that this type of organizational development and the type of culture and energy it produces is the opposite of what the Yoga Barn has been about.  I wonder about the possibility of working toward a new organizational model. My experience is that when we connect in the way that we are doing right now, in a meditative space, we engage in a much deeper way with each other, way beneath the surface of personality.  And when we engage in that way, we all really connected… and whatever actions come out of that connected space make sense, without needing to be organized in the old ways.

Tesa:  This feels like what happens when we let ourselves be organized by life, and the movement of our own energy, rather than trying to plan and organize life.  Something else altogether becomes possible when we are available to tune into and follow what is wanting to emerge.   I would actually like to invite a moment of silence to to see what visuals or inner knowings might emerge.

 Charley P: I had such a nice vision when Ulrika was talking about the Swedish forest earlier today.  One of the things I deeply love about going to California is the opportunity to just connect and appreciate the depth of beauty of nature that is there.  Here in Bali, on the other hand, we are witnessing rampant development at a staggering speed, as well as careless resource management.  They are both threatening what we deeply love about this place.  Our team’s vision of acquiring a sizable chunk of land behind the Barn is to preserve what is natural.  I see ponds there, a labyrinth, a wi-fi free zone.  I see a place where you don’t come to be on your computer and work all day.  I see a place where you come to relax, contemplate, practice, be mindful of what you are eating… an oasis of calm in the center of Ubud.

Charlie Rebich: Right now, the Yoga Barn is a small part of Ubud, but it is becoming a much larger part of it all the time, and I don’t mean in physical terms, but in energetic terms.   How do you scale that?

Charley P: I personally don’t think that we need to figure this out, because we are ultimately just going along for the ride.

Tesa: Yes, I agree.  That beautifully captures the approach to life that many of us are exploring.  I personally call it “following life.”  It is not about trying to design solutions.  It is about actively and deeply listening to how energy is moving within and around us, and building our capacity to align ourselves with what we sense is wanting to happen beyond our personal ‘wants’.   Charley, thank you so much for all you have been doing to support conscious community building here in Ubud, and thank you Charlie and Ulrika for lending your questions and listening to this conversation.

More about the yoga barn:

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April 8, 2012 update – The yoga barn just celebrated the grand opening of its new studios which are now hosting the teacher trainees from the School of Sacred Arts.   It only took a year to bring the vision discussed in the interview to reality.  

The New Building’s Upper Studio, April 2012

1 comment

  1. Very moving interview. It brings back great memories, being there with you Tesa, Charley and Ulrika. Charley is an amazing guy and great inspiration. I hope this interview gets out there and could help so many people running groups and organizations. Awesome!


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