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The dream behind the screen

The founder of the Cape Ann Community Cinema, has a big vision.  In this era of big blockbuster movies and corporate theaters buried in busy commercial malls, Robert Newton sees the possibility of cozy community cinemas flourishing on main streets, bringing people together around conversations that matter, and becoming lively hubs for building local community.  His 3-year experiment with the Cape Ann Community Cinema, in Gloucester, Massachusetts, offers plentiful evidence that the idea of a Community Cinema is not only viable but can succeed beyond all expectations.  Robert Newton is one of the most dedicated and passionate community builders I have ever met, and has many fans on Cape Ann.  Reading through the comments on the cinema’s facebook page will give you a sense of how much social capital and good energy he has helped generate in that community.  I had interviewed Robert on December 18, 2008, when the Cape Ann Community Cinema was only three months old, and still located at the Gloucester Stage Theater.   Three years later to the month (December 2011), I interviewed Robert again, on a skype call from Bali, to ask for an update which you can find at the end of the interview.  I was delighted to hear that the cinema is thriving in its main street location, and Robert is well on his way to realizing his dreams.

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Interview with Robert Newton (November 2008)

Tesa: So, Robert, where did this passion for Community Cinema come from?

Robert Newton, Photo by Good Morning Gloucester

Robert: It all started with my love of movies, film, cinema, as well as my love of story-telling.  All the best films have a great story at their core.  My first real job was in a video store in Hamilton.  I eventually purchased it with my college tuition, much to the chagrin of my parents and family!   My favorite part of this experiment, beside being in business for myself and being my own boss, was my interactions with customers.  Our connection usually started with a discussion about the movies.  I knew all the films in the store.  This was a time when 1000 movies was a big library.  Eventually, I built one with 25,000 movies in Worcester.  The point is that I got to know a lot of my customers personally.  They would often invite me to visit, or bring dinner to me.  This is how I first got to try fiddle head ferns!  And it’s that kind of connection that made things special for all of us.  I was not just a guy making money at $2.50 cents a pop.  It was a lot more than that.

Tesa: And what inspired you to build a Community Cinema here in Gloucester?

Robert: I was born in Worcester but my mother’s parents are from Gloucester and I spent most of my summers here.   So coming here wasn’t just putting a thumb tack on a map at random.  I knew this place, and the fact that it was an island made me feel like it was the perfect place to incubate this concept.   Plus nothing beats waking up to the smell of the ocean.

Tesa:  Oh, could you say a little bit more about Gloucester being the perfect place!  As you know, that’s a favorite conversation, amongst locals!

Robert: It’s a self-contained community.  The physical boundaries are not blurred and although we are only a bridge away from the mainland, that bridge is a big psychological barrier for a lot of folks.  There are people here who have never left the island and would not leave it for anything.  The more time one spends here, the more reasons one finds to stay.  Driving over the bridge is something that many people avoid doing, if they don’t have to.   The idea of keeping these entertainment dollars local stems from that.  Why send our local dollars into another town or state as happens with most of those corporate cinemas?  We are sending our voice and votes away.   I say, let’s keep them at home and get to know our neighbors at the same time.

Tesa:  And how does this connect with your larger vision for a nation wide movement of community cinemas?

Robert: The internet was created as a defense network and it was designed in such a way that if any part of the network was attacked or failed, the rest of the network could continue to function without it.   So, this concept of not depending entirely on outside sources for food, water, and entertainment comes from that same idea that we could go on by our own means.  I’m not wanting to spin off a larger movement of community cinemas, as much as I’m wanting to teach people how to fish.  I want to provide others with the tools they need to create something like this wherever they happen to be.  I would rather provide a good example, and some tools, rather than directly catalyze something which would be dependent upon my own organization to grow.

Tesa:  So, you want to create the conditions for community cinemas to emerge anywhere, in a self-organized manner.

Robert: Yes, anywhere in the world.  And the plan is very elastic.  I don’t want to offer a bible by which anyone must do things.   I can offer a lose framework, meant for community improvisation which is key to make this kind of cinema work anywhere.

Tesa: What do you see as the core ingredients of this OurTown Cinema idea?

Robert: In one word, passion.  People have to want this, and if they do, then we can then give them tools to focus that passion and apply it to very real situations and conditions in their own communities.  It’s not so much about passion for film, as it is about passion for change.  Movies are just a means by which we can bring people together to talk about the issues they care about, light as well as serious.  What’s most important is that people are talking.  It is through talking and making personal or business connections that other things get done.

Tesa: So, it’s like creating the relationship web that can support meaningful change?

Robert: Right.  Big ideas are founded on people not things.

Tesa: I would like to go back to what you see as core elements of success for a cinema, and for a movement of cinemas.  

Robert: You need a catalyst.  And I would recommend that you have two able lieutenants to step up should you need to take any kind of break for whatever reason.  My plan was and still is to train someone to do what I do.  It of course would not be exactly what I do, because I like to make myself irreplaceable in some way!  (He smiles)  You just don’t train someone to do your job for less money!   It’s important to have that one catalyst, but part of what we can offer is a way to bring more of those leadership qualities out in the community.  It would be great if every community had someone ready to take this on.  The movies are almost peripheral in this model.

Tesa: What is central then?

Robert Newton, Photo by Gloucester Daily Times

Robert: That there be a community-builder.  That’s more important than to have a movie buff, because building community is something that’s more accessible than a wide and deep knowledge of film.

Tesa: And what kind of tools would you want to make available?

Robert: Concise HOW TO guides based on knowledge and experience.  These will be available to anyone who wants to attempt to seed a community cinema where they live.   In the short term, that’s what we will offer.  We can give them the keys to the car.  If they want us to provide actual fuel for the engine, we could provide that as well.  That could include programming films that we can recommend, and that we can also provide.  Since not everyone can be a film expert, that’s where we could avail ourselves as needed.  One of the aspects of Community Cinema is that the programming reflects the needs and the interests of the community.  There is a film for virtually every need and interest there is and that’s one of the ways that we can be valuable to these community cinemas in the long term.

Tesa: Could you say more about how you build community around the Community Cinema?

Robert: There are two major ways to build community through community cinema.  One is reaching out to all the community groups in the area and letting them know that you have a community space, and that you have an interest in making it available to them, to support their work.   And the other is reaching out to local businesses in the area and including them in a variety of ways.  You can have a free movie night sponsored by a local restaurant, or a prominent local business.   You can actively advertise that business on your pre-show advertising roll on your website etc.

Tesa:  And in your dream outcome, Robert, what would be happening?

Robert: I’d like to see every community in America, that needs something like this, be able to stage it.

Tesa: And here on Cape Ann?   What would happen if this became successful beyond your wildest dreams?

Robert: The cinema would become a self-sustaining entity that can go on without me.   I want to be able to impart what I know and what I have learned in my 20 years in business, so that my experience can live on, even if I were no longer in the picture.

I’d also like the recognition of the concept.  Ideally, when someone hears the name Cape Ann Community Cinema, they wouldn’t be asking “what’s that?”  I chose the name because it says who we are, what we do, and where we are.  It’s on Cape Ann.  It fosters community, and it’s a cinema.  I want people to know who we are and what we do.   When we get to a point where we are doing less awareness building than we are programming, that will be a mark of success.   The biggest deal is to get people aware of you.

Being open seven days a week would be another mark of success, because everyone wants access.  The week end is pay-the-bills time.  As a self-sustaining company, we need to pay the rent, lights, heat and licensing on the film., but the rest of the week, like  Wednesdays and Thursdays, are days we hold open for more socially relevant film offerings, local films, private get together.  The whole idea of having time for mothers and children and their young children to gather arose from a need that wasn’t being met by larger cinemas and community houses.  We were able to provide a low cost alternative to packing the kids in the car and taking them to movies.  This is a great first experience for children who had never gone to the movies before. We had a bunch of 2 and 3 years old who had their first experience here.  That was pretty amazing to see.

Tesa:  That’s really sweet!  What are some other community needs that are not well met by standard theaters but that you have the capacity to handle?

Robert: We have much greater latitude with programming because our decisions are made locally and without a lot of contractual obligations to movie studios.  If a community wants to show big Hollywood movies, that’s fine.  We can do that too.   There are very few films that we can’t get.  One of the most important thing a community cinema needs to offer is outstanding customer service.  You can’t just be a place that shows movies.  You have to be able to engage customers regarding what they have experienced in your cinema.  You need to be able to determine what they want to see, and what they would to do with the space you provided them.  They need to know that it is their place too, and that they have access to it, that they can contribute their input, host an event here, volunteer, or have a more formal role, like being a board member.

Tesa: What have been your most exciting and inspiring experiences here so far?

Robert: Even though we are a community cinema and we service primarily a local area, we sometimes show films that will inspire people to go at huge length to attend.  We showed a beautiful movie, during our first month, called the Singing Revolution.  Some people drove from Boston and the South Shore and Portsmouth in New Hampshire just to experience this film, and we gave them a nice comfortable place in which to experience this story.  Watching movie should be an experience.   That’s something that you can’t duplicate at home.  And that’s the power we are interested in tapping.   And, of course, seeing people in wonderment about the fact that someone took a chance to deliver something like this.  That’s always very satisfying for me!

Tesa:  Well, I’m definitely one of those people!  Your  willingness to do whatever it takes to bring your vision into reality despite the many challenges you face as a new organization is really inspiring.  What are the things you are doing to build awareness about the cinema now?

Robert: We have a email blast every week that goes to five dozen local news and community groups.  And then we have a growing list of close to a thousand customers from the area. We also have a weekly press release, noting issues that are important to local folks.  In February, we’ll be showing “One More Dead Fish.”  That will command a full house, but we can’t do that unless the public knows about it.   So we do our part in getting the local press aware of what we are showing, far in advance.   We also have partnerships with businesses that are now promoting us.

Tesa: And what do you feel you most need to succeed, Robert?  How can people in the community help you?

Robert:  It’s really as simple as people coming to the movies.  We sell discount tickets for as low as $5, if you purchase them in advance.  Bringing friends is another great help, and even more valuable than when you just tell them to come.   I have seen community cinemas fail because people assume that it will always be around for them to experience when they are ready.

Tesa: Is there anything else I haven’t asked you about, that you would like to address?

Robert:  Yes, we talked about many of the non-physical aspect of what a successful Community Cinema, but I also want to point out that the physical elements are really important.  You need the physical tools with which to do the job, a good wide projector and decent sound, a screen and comfortable seats.   I won’t go to small cinemas if I know that I’ll be aching when I get up!

Tesa: I think many people are with you on this one!   Thanks for making the time to talk, Robert.   And best wishes with everything!

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Three years later  – December 30, 2011

Tesa: It’s been a little over three years since we last talked.  And as I reviewed our last conversation, I was struck by how many of your dreams have already come true, Robert.  That’s pretty remarkable!  The cinema is now on main street.   You have just celebrated its third birthday, and it has become a thriving community hub here on Cape Ann.   You now have a lot of local partners and fans all over town.   You are open seven days a week, and regularly run a full house.   Are you happy with what you have accomplished so far?

Robert: Yes, I am very happy.   This project was a largely crickets and tumble weeds during the first season, but the dream has now become reality.    We had 160 people here on a Wednesday night this week for the screening of Amigo by John Sayles.   And he was actually there for the screening!  Two days ago, we hosted Chris Cooper, our first oscar winning actor.  He starred in American Beauty, Adaptation and Lone Star.   The best part is that we did not book him.  He just showed up.   We have really widened our geographical reach.  We now have people coming in from as far as New Hampshire and Maine for certain presentations.  When we hosted Liv Ulman, we had people in attendance from eight states.   She said of our cinema that “Bergman would have loved this place.”

Tesa:  That must have felt really good!   What about the community-building focus of the Cinema?   What has been happening on that front?

Robert: We now have various groups renting the place regularly for meetings.  Some of them have stepped up and curated film series.  We have a new group called Artists After Hours.  The local Occupy Movement is also doing a film series here.   We are starting to do regular dinner and movie events.   We have done potlucks and catered meals.   In February, we will be hosting the filmmaker of a film called the Red Machine, a spy thriller that takes place in the late 30s, and so we are planning to have a Great Depression potluck!  The meals will be entirely made of budget foods like spam, craft macaroni and cheese, and green bean casserole made with Bird’s Eye frozen vegetables, made in Gloucester obviously.  Food is a very important part of the Community Cinema experience, and we have a very generous BYO policy.

Tesa:  What a contrast with the big commercial theaters’ draconian approach!   One of my favorite memories at the new main street location was sitting on one of the big comfortable sofas at the back of the cinema, eating take out sushi from Latitude 43 while watching a movie.   I don’t even remember what movie it was.  I just remember feeling really at home!

Robert:   There is a reason why big commercial theaters have a very strict outside food policy.  The mall theaters have 20 screens and 20 rooms to heat.  The projectors require a lot of electricity and the only way they can stay in business is by selling snacks at an enormous mark up.   Forbidding outside food is basically designed to keep them in business.   We are able to have a very different food policy because we don’t have the same prohibitive financial constraints that these other theaters have.  The nature of our programming results in much lower royalty fees.   The studios charge the big commercial theaters a lot more because the films they show cost more to produce and more to market.  A film that costs 20 million dollars to make costs 30 million dollars to promote.   The films we show, on the other hand, rely more on words of mouth and positive reviews for marketing, the same way that our Cinema does.   This means that we can charge less for our snacks and can afford to let people bring their dinner provided that it meets our three S rules.

Tesa:  Oh, and what are these?

Robert:  You must mind the sound, the smell and the slop!   Although we are right on the harbor, one of the foods we do not actually allow is seafood because, well, it smells like seafood!   And of course, no open flames!   You must also mind the fact that you have to get your food from your plate to your mouth in the dark while looking at something in the distance!

Tesa: Yes, you definitely need to mind your fork!   So, what are you cooking up now?  What’s next?

Robert: We are expanding.  We now have an annex across the street.   We had a need for classroom space for screen writing and other tv and film-related classes.  I’m working on a summer festival of short films produced on the North Shore.   We have festivals every two to three months now.   We will have the 4th annual Cape Ann Jewish Film Festival in April.  That month, we will also have the 4th annual Green Days eco-film festival which takes place annually on the Earth day week end.   We do a documentary film festival every october called the Doctober Fest.   The Cape Ann Film Festival is held every November.   Essentially, we are the film festival that never ends!   And that is actually our philosophy.   We are continually hosting film makers, either live here at the cinema or by skype.   We usually have a Q and A after the screenings.  We did one earlier this month with Tom Shadyac, the director of I Am.  This film is a bit of a phenomenon and it was our highest grossing film ever until Midnight in Paris, the new Woody Allen movie, came out.  We have also just gotten permission to use our retired brand of local origin called the Movie Loft.   It used to be a very progressive movie show hosted on a local UHF station (Channel 38), in New England.  We will soon be branding our flagship location in Gloucester with the Movie Loft logo.

Tesa:  That all sounds very exciting.   Are you facing any challenges in moving those various projects forward?

Robert: Financially, it’s still pretty tight and so I am always pursuing new partnerships with local organizations and businesses.   We are still fighting not so much indifference as much as ignorance as to who we are, where we are and what we do.   We don’t have much of a marketing budget.  The money I would spend on radio or print advertising goes into producing and printing our bimonthly program which is a four page color newsprint mini-paper.  We run 5000 copies every two months.   Other than that, we primarily rely on positive word of mouth.  We stay focused on putting on a great show, offering an unparalleled presentation each and every time, and creating an atmosphere that people want to experience.

Tesa: And how are you personally doing?  Last time we talked, you were working so hard that I was getting a little concerned about how long you would last.   You’ve clearly pulled through the hurdles of the start-up phase, but are you now able to take a bit more time off, and is the Cinema supporting you as much as you are supporting it?

Robert:  There is still a lot more giving that receiving, but it always has to be that way.   Still, I do have six employees now!   I have an office, interns, and a lot of community support.    I’ll also be officially taking on an assistant next month.

Tesa:  Does this actually mean you will be able to take it a little easier?

Robert:  Well, that’s always a nice theory!  I usually take time off in order to do more work!   I think I’m about a year away from my original goal of having the Cinema be able to live without me.   It will soon become self-sufficient enough to run for a month at a time without me.  At the moment, it can do so for about a week.

Tesa: What do you most need to take your vision to the next level, Robert?  And how can the community best support you?

Robert: Positive reviews in local papers, and online sites like facebook or yelp really help to spread the word in the community and beyond.  And financial support from patrons, sponsors or benefactors make a huge difference.  We need more funds to develop the essential infrastructure that is needed to expand this vision.  I started the Community Cinema with no money.  Everything I had went into the purchase of hardware, and most of the revenue goes toward rent and procuring high quality programming which are all considerable expenses.  Locally, we are always looking to bring partners into the mix, so anyone with a local business is always invited to sit down with me and work out a way that we can promote each other mutually.

Tesa: And what could you do with more philanthropic support?

Robert: We could establish a full time office with a support staff to help develop other community cinemas around the world.    I started writing a blueprint of the community cinema concept based on the vision document I had drafted at your suggestion three years ago, and my experience these past three years.  I’m now gearing up to start sharing that blueprint with other communities.  With more funds, we could be working with both upstarts as well as established cinemas that want to create more of a focus in their communities.   I have been thinking of launching a Kickstarter campaign to raise the funds needed to support this part of our mission.

Tesa:  Kickstarter is a great way to mobilize community support while letting people see how their contributions add up to making something bigger possible.  I hope you move forward with that idea.   Anything else you are dreaming about?

Robert: Yes, I would like to open a multi-screen cinema pub.  I’m looking at Danvers and Ipswich.   I need to find a high ceiling space.  We are in a small space at the moment.  We are basically an 88 seats living room.  I would not abandon our flagship location, but would like to explore expanding into a variety of other spaces.   This said, part of the cinema’s appeal for a lot of patrons is that they know that every night but Sunday, they can come to the Cinema and find me there.   I’ve been a film critic since I’ve been a teenager so I know how to talk about movies with people, and that is part of the alchemy.   And I certainly get my hug quota filled by being there… many of them are completely uninitiated.  And I will never go hungry because I’m always being brought dinner.

Tesa:  And besides getting generously hugged and abundantly fed, what are a couple of things that have been especially fun and fulfilling for you these past few months?

Robert:  Our third birthday!  That was a sold-out night.  We  had comedian Jimmy Tingle there, who is running for President!   I’d actually like to do stand up comedies monthly.   I bet you don’t know that I used to do competitive stand up comedies in the 1990s!   I get nostalgic for the time that I spent being funny on a nightly basis.  I try to bring some of that to the cinema in my pre-show presentations both on the screen and on the stage.  Cape Ann has no comedy club, so my plan is to launch a comedy night once a month, starting in the Spring.  Another highlight for me this year was the opportunity to produce a film.  I got a small grant from SEARTS and produced a short documentary on some of the local public art murals that were produced during the great depression.   It debuted last May.  It’s called “No More Gloomy Sundays.”   I’m also really looking forward to teaching Film criticism this year.   I will be teaching a course on the films of Clint Eastwood, called from Macho to Mature.

Tesa:  Your energy and passion continue to amaze me!   Thank you so much for all you do, Robert.  Cape Ann is lucky to have you.   Although I no longer live here, and I am asking you these questions from the other side of the planet, here in Bali, I always enjoy reading your newsletters, and hearing about all that is happening and blossoming around the Cinema.   I wish we had one like this here in Ubud where I currently reside.  If someone here ever comes up with a similar idea, I will know where to direct them for inspiration and support!   I wish you a very happy New Year, and I look forward to checking in again a little further down the line!

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Support the Community Cinema

June 8, 2013: The Cape Ann Community Cinema is currently running an Indiegogo fundraising campaign to secure a new projector.  If you wish to support Robert’s work, please go to Indiegogo to learn more, or email him directly at robertnewton@massbayfilmproject.org.

 

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Building strength: an interview with Bernard Lietaer

Bernard Lietaer, author of numerous books and articles about money, is an international expert in the design and implementation of currencies, and a key figure in the complementary currency movement.  He has studied and worked in the field of money for more than 30 years in an unusually broad range of capacities including as a Central Banker, a fund manager,  a university professor, and a consultant to numerous governments, multinational corporations, and community organizations.   I have been a huge fan of Bernard’s work ever since I read the 2004 galley edition of his latest book, New Money for a New World.   I had an opportunity to talk with him in November of 2010, while visiting him in Brussels for a few days.   This interview was published in the Community Currency Magazine in January of 2011.  It was the first of a series of interviews with complementary currency movement pioneers to take a big picture look at challenges and opportunities in the movement, and what is needed to build strength and momentum.

Bernard Lietaer

Tesa:  Bernard, thank you for being willing to kickstart this interview series.   What are the questions you would most wish to explore with fellow movers and shakers in the complementary currency movement?

Bernard: History has shown that significant systemic changes in the monetary system occur only after the previous system has crashed or collapsed. What would be the most effective way to position the movement so that it can take advantage of the instabilities that are currently occurring? How do we prevent the automatic return to the old monopolistic system, which is what has happened following hundreds of crashes for the past 300 years?

Most complementary currency systems (such as LETS and Time Dollars) are by nature destined to remain small scale. Yet, we are going to need solutions on an enormous scale. How do we assess which currencies are best kept on a small scale but multiplied in numbers (e.g. 1000 systems of 500 people), and which models can be expanded in scope so that they can be directly applied on a very large scale, if needed? Which criteria should be used in making that assessment about the best approach to scaling?

How do we more effectively engage with the political arena? If you include government officials in a project, you run the risk than a future change of government could negatively impact the initiative under way. If you do not include them, you lose the potential support of a key stakeholder. What is the best way to navigate this territory? What questions should we ask policy makers to draw their attention to both blind spots and untapped opportunities in the monetary domain?

Tesa: These are all great questions.  What are your own answers to them?

Bernard: I would need some time to reflect, but I could get back to you in a few weeks!

Tesa:  Sounds good!  So, let’s start with what is working.  What recent developments in the field do you find most exciting?

Bernard: One very exciting development is the C3 (Commercial Credit Circuit) which provides working capital to small and medium-size businesses. These businesses represent more than 90% of all private jobs in most areas, so solving working capital shortages has very positive implications for reducing unemployment. The C3 was developed by STRO over the last 10 years, and it is a brilliant design.

Currently, I feel that the most exciting developments are actually taking place in Latin America. The Central Bank of Brazil’s endorsement of social purpose currencies as a legitimate and effective tool that does not disturb conventional policy is a significant breakthrough. In that same country, the multiplication of the Banco di Palma experiment is a practical and positive sign that progress is under way. Uruguay is now the first country to accept a complementary currency in payment of all taxes and fees, which will make the C3 currency available to everyone in the country. A similar but less known example of this positive development can be seen in Vorarlberg, a region of Austria where local complementary currencies are also accepted for local taxes. This will greatly help mainstream the use of such currencies.

Tesa: And what do you see as key challenges, obstacles or blind spots which hinder the movement’s success?

Bernard: There are thousands of currency experiments under way but very little quality data is being gathered and made available for academics to study the results and thereby provide legitimacy for mainstream implementation. Most people develop currencies for social purposes without bothering to gather the data, and a number of other factors can also interfere with data analysis. For example, the loss of support for complementary currencies in Japan due to a change of government may result in lack of access to critical information about useful currency experiments that have not yet been documented publicly. There are indeed 40 different types of eco-money projects in Japan from which we could learn a great deal.

The unavailability of data slows down our ability to gain credibility over time. We need to ask ourselves what we can do about that. I believe that we should create a neutral electronic repository of transaction and result data from different experiments, and make them publicly available on the net for researchers and academics to use. Some parts of the field of micro-finance have followed such an approach with success.

Another great challenge we face is that too few people in the movement are explicitly recognizing and addressing the need for a diversified family of complementary currencies. The reason is that many designers and practitioners are focused on one type of complementary currency only. Although this specialization has served the growth and dissemination of each of these currencies, it can also create a tendency to relate to other types of currencies through a competitive rather than a complementary lense. Until we start taking a better look at how our respective pieces serve a larger puzzle, we don’t have the scale of demonstration that would actually be convincing to everybody.

This said, the fragmentation of the movement is also paradoxically one of its strengths. This movement could not be stopped by chopping off a couple of heads. It has no visible or official leader, and this may be its best protection against those who are invested in the status quo.

Tesa: Where do you see untapped resources and unmet needs within the field of complementary currencies? And do you have any suggestions about how to bridge them?

Bernard: Well, ironically, it is conventional money which is critically missing to support many initiatives. There is a huge potential for Ph.D and Master level research of complementary currencies but the challenges are finding appropriate academics to supervise work in that area, and securing the funding for such research.

Tesa: And besides financial support, what would help the acceleration of the monetary shifts that are needed?

Bernard: My sad answer to this question is “more pain.” The Dutch have 4.5% unemployment while the Spanish have 30%. Consequently, the Dutch don’t feel there is a need to do anything about the current situation. The Spanish, on the other hand, are begging for something to be done. The problem is actually the same in both places, but it’s a question of timing and scale.

It is becoming increasingly clear that the next stage in the break down of the financial system is the privatization of government-owned assets. The inventory in the US is 9.1 trillion dollars. That includes everything owned by the federal government, such as roads, tunnels, recreation facilities, universities, and buildings. The drive to privatization comes from political and social pain. When the potholes in the roads are big enough, and the government in unable to pay for their repair, they will then sell the highways at a fraction of their cost. Ironically, these desperate strategies will be producing more pain, and that will make people more interested in finding genuine solutions. I would personally much prefer to get to these new solutions without the pain.

In the meantime, conferences and gatherings such as the upcoming conference in Lyon are really helpful in fostering a better understanding of our respective pieces of the larger puzzle. The Community Currency Magazine and IJJCR both provide very valuable platforms for cross-fertilization of ideas and experiments.

Tesa: What could bring about a tipping point in the shift from a monopoly of bank debt money toward a monetary ecology? And is the idea of a “tipping point” the best way of thinking about that change?

Bernard: The most likely candidate for a tipping point scenario would be a dollar crash, because that would force everyone worldwide to rethink the existing system. We are now looking at a possible end game. We are running out of possible ways to return to business as usual in the aftermath of such a crash. The financial sector can no longer hope that the government will be able to step in again because even by the financial sector’s own criteria, governments are no longer creditworthy. In the 1930s, the government learned that it could not allow the banking system to sink because it brought the whole economy down with it. What our governments are painfully learning now is that they literally cannot afford to save the banking system again.

Tesa: People in the sustainability movement seem to be divided between those who feel we need to organize ourselves more efficiently (the way the right has done in the united states), and those who suggest we need to trust that our diversity is organizing us (or rather leading us to self-organize) in more resilient ways. Where do you stand on this question?

Bernard: I do believe that if the movement was seriously funded, it would professionalize the field. This is basically how the right wing folks have transformed America. 5 billionaires have created a major shift toward the right over the last 25 years in America and in the world. They created new think tanks, career paths, lobbying mechanisms, medias etc. It took a bit of time but they have shifted the paradigm…albeit in the wrong direction. They are walking toward a cul de sac, but they have done it nevertheless, and privately. They have shifted the entire system, successfully, SO They have proven it can be done on a large scale.

This said, I have personally come to the point where I hope that we are being coordinated by some larger force, some wider wisdom guiding us all. Well, I really hope that we are being guided (he smiles), and that a shift is trying to happen! Humanity urgently needs a different way forward. A growing number of people are aware of that. There will come a time when mainstream people finally throw in the towel and open up to new solutions. People  are aware that the system is badly sick but feel that there are no alternatives yet. This is why the collection data to demonstrate the effects of different experiments is so important.

The best “strategy” to support this evolution is probably not based on the model of a military campaign or the introduction of the euro where you try to plan for every step of the way. That strategy was necessary then for that particular shift, but it is not what is needed now to support this new type of shift. What we need to do now is try to encourage diversity, rather than promote one model. And we need to experiment so we can discover what best supports efficiency and resilience at the level of the whole.

Tesa: A lot of valuable community-building initiatives in this movement (including the publication of this magazine) are done by dedicated people, as a labor of love, but would often highly benefit from actual financial support.  If you were given $10,000 to $50,000 to invest in strengthening the currency movement, how would you invest these funds?

Bernard: The way I would allocate funds is informed by my own bias about the key importance of academic research, but I trust that there are many other good answers to this question besides mine, and I look forward to reading about them. Here are three different things I would very much like to see funded, although funding all three would clearly require a larger budget than the one you just allotted me!

I would want to fund:

  • a coordinator to create linkages between the cc movement and the academic world to fast forward effective data collection and analysis of models that will help legitimize the results.
  • scholarships for Ph.D research on complementary currencies. I think we need to dedicate more time to exploring how to create synergy between different types of monetary solutions.
  • a mainstream movie about monetary ecology and about movement-level possibilities.

It would also be really worthwhile for our movement to have a web platform where we could propose and comment on our suggested ‘acupuncture points worth funding. This would be a very helpful resource for funders who are interested in supporting this movement. With the advent of crowd sourcing solutions, some of the most affordable projects could perhaps even be funded by grassroots philanthropists rather than larger ones. The challenge which our movement faces is that the people with the most financial resources tend to be the ones who have the least incentives to forward the types of monetary changes we are recommending.

Tesa: Any final comments?

Bernard: Yes, I am really looking forward to reading my friends and colleagues’ answers to these questions. It is clear to me that our greatest strength is in our diversity of perspectives, and we have a lot to learn from our different ways of approaching the types of questions you have just asked me. The next generation of currency designers and practitioners has a lot to offer when it comes to out-of-the-box thinking.

If you would like to learn more about Bernard Lietaer, please check his website.  Bernard is the author of many books including the Future of Money (2001 – out of print), New Money for a New World (2011), and Creating Wealth: Creating Local Economies with Local Currencies (2011).   You can also see many of his videos on youtube by searching for Bernard Lietaer.  I especially recommend watching the series of short interviews by my friend Katie Teague.


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Moments of grace: a conversation with Saskia Shakin

Saskia Shakin

Saskia is a public speaking coach who has helped many leaders and academics find their authentic speaking voice.   She has inspiring things to say about the essential role that silence and connection play in authentic communication.  She is also the author of a beautiful book called More Than Words Can Say: The Making of Inspired Speakers.  The book is a collection of inspiring short stories about what she has learned through her work.  The following conversation took place during one of my visits to her home, upstate New York, in the Fall of 2009.

Tesa:  I would like to begin with a question that I ask myself often.  “When all the noise is silenced, the meetings adjourned, the lists laid aside, and the wild iris bloom by itself in the dark forest, what still pulls on your soul?”  

Saskia: I wish to be of service by helping myself and others find their own personal joy.   I have used coaching and public speaking as a vehicle for that, but my personal goal has always been inner transformation, not better speech.

Tesa:  And what have you learned from life about finding your personal joy?

Saskia: I would not call them learnings, but grace.   I have received moments of grace that I didn’t feel I earned or deserved.  They didn’t come from good behavior.   These moments of grace when I found well-being and blessedness have come to me when I was doing the right thing for my soul, not the right thing according to anyone else.   Happiness can only be influenced, not created from the outside.  My house makes me very happy, and looking at this boulder out the window gives me internal peace in contrast to how frenetic I feel when I’m in New York, where I have a good time but can’t wait to come home.   But while I’m very grateful for the material things that I have, the blessed moments in my life have come from things that were given to me rather than from things that I worked for or earned.

Tesa:  I feel that is true for me too.   Grace is not something we have really much control over, however.   So, how can you actually support others to access joy if it mostly comes as grace?

Saskia: The first thing I learned is that we have to trust that joy is our birthright, that we are joy, that we don’t have to become joy.  What we have to do is de-clutter all the barriers that are hiding our joy, to discover that it is there, at the root.  Our work is simply to de-clutter the façade.   But first and foremost, we have to believe that it is who we truly are, and then allow ourselves to find it.   Otherwise, we are always chasing it through different things: this amount of money, this person etc.

Tesa: Has this been the underlying motivation beneath your efforts to help people find their true voice, or teach them easier ways to learn?

Saskia: I don’t know that it’s been conscious.   I’m motivated by two things: beauty and joy.   Beauty is very, very important to me, and not the Bloomingdale definition of it.   There was an ice storm here once, and I had never seen one before.  Everything froze on all the trees.  There was thick snow all around.  The ice was a good inch thick on every branch, twig, pebble.   I was driving to a luncheon, and the sun was coming at an angle, and it suddenly hit the ice in such a way that everything exploded with light, and turned into diamonds everywhere.  It was as if the crystals in the water had become diamonds.   I was transported and started driving my car at 5 miles an hour, maybe less.   I was letting it coast, because I had to experience every moment of this.   Someone else might have just driven down the road but this sight so entered my soul that I felt like I was receiving some sort of atomic joy medicine.  I had no words.   If I had been with someone, I would have gone silent and just pointed at things, saying “look at this!”  It was a freak accident of nature.  If I had been 10 minutes late, I would have missed the whole thing.   I realize now how much I am elevated by beauty, even if it is just finding flowers that look beautiful with the table.  That makes my day.   I’m encouraged by joy and beauty.  It gives me a sense of purpose.   And what I have known for many years, through my work, is that when people tap into that moment of truth and beauty in their speech, even the most boring people come alive and they start connecting in a way that I don’t see them connect otherwise.   When one’s head, heart and energy align, self-consciousness is set aside, and whatever it is people are talking about comes to life, even if the topic is economics.  Then their words are like poetry and their speech is authentic and moving, and it deeply touches me.  I’ m always very honored to be a participant in that process.

Tesa:  And what do you see as the essence of that process that allows someone to align head, heart and energy?

Saskia: My inability to answer that question was the reason I didn’t want to write a book for 25 years.   I didn’t have the words.  I considered it to be magic.  Nine times out of ten, I could make it happen but I had no idea as to how I did it, and also no idea what to write about it.   At the time, I could not find any language around it.   I finally figured out that what I did wasn’t magical at all.  What I did was listen with every cell in my body.  The magic comes from my ability to listen without judging, my ability to feel things even when I do not understand where they are coming from, my ability to listen for truth and not words, and to sift out what people just say from habit, and where they are really hitting their truth.  The magic comes from my learning how to be silent and allowing someone to dwell within themselves to a depth that they may not have been previously aware of.   I think that people know how deeply I care when I am silent.  It’s not a neutral silence.  It is a caring silence that invites what is real within people to come forth.

Tesa: I really love the words you use… “listening with every cell of the body.”  What an evocative image for deep listening!   Saskia, what kind of people do you most enjoy working with?

Saskia: I am turned on by a particular combination of curious intellect and soulful connection.   You embody it for me.  There are lots of people that I have enjoyed working with in the soul camp.  They are very interested in knowing and expressing their soul and that is where they go without much trouble.  And then there are those who live on the Cartesian level and have very interesting ideas, but what I want is both and I’m not satisfied by one or the other.  I think that’s why I chose not to make yoga my professional calling.   I felt that it would not keep me intellectually alive.   The work that I have done in my career over the years with brilliant minds really excited me.   I would go home and could not sleep.  They were not necessarily spiritual but I felt a really strong heart connection to them.   They were brilliant and kind, or brilliant and warm.   If someone is only living in a crunchy granola world, I am likely to get bored with them if they don’t have an intellectual brightness that has also been cultivated.  I am drawn to people who think for themselves, have new ideas, and can connect on a holistic level.

The places where I donate my services are service organization, like Women for Women International.   I also donate my time to the Women’s Institute at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY, because these women in the Women and Power conferences are so inspiring.  I like to work with the core organizers, at the leadership level, so that the lessons that I’m offering can ripple out.  I love to work with people who are creating transformation in themselves and their communities.  I get a lot of pleasure from supporting people that have a vibrant message that I agree with and want to help spread.

Tesa: And when you imagine a transformed world, what is it that you see possible?

Saskia: I see how we would communicate with each other and drop the chit chat and small talk that serves as a barrier.   The world that I see would look like the Omega world at lunch and dinner, and in between, a world where people really talk.   They don’t go through their curriculum vitae.   The people who seem called to talk to me really start sharing right away.   Elizabeth Lesser, the co-founder of the Omega Institute, always asks very insightful questions, and she once asked a woman the following question: “Which women in your lineage is present in you right now in this moment?”   Before the woman answered, she commented: “Oh, these Omega questions… they go so deep.”  I feel that those are the kinds of conversations we would have in a new world.   Inter-personal conversation would be honest and genuine.   They would be heart-to-heart.   We would be sharing stuff that is real.   People would talk the way you and I started talking the moment we met, learning from each other, enjoying each other.   Joy and beauty, again.

Tesa: I have heard you talk about three different types of work that have given you deep joy.  They seem to be your medicine: teaching people how to teach themselves (a new way to learn), helping people communicate in ways that different audiences can really understand (‘translating” or building communication bridges across worlds), and helping people find their soul voice.  What are the connecting threads between these three things?

Saskia: I remember our conversations during 9/11, when total strangers could connect without even speaking, and shared the loss, the pain, the bewilderment, and the connection.  It’s a form of communication when we totally know each other, with language, or without language.  How we communicate is not just how we speak or connect through language.  It’s how we are present.   One thing that makes me crazy about one of my friends is that she’s always on her cell phone. I don’t feel that she’s present with me when she’s on her cell phone.  Are we multi-tasking, and having divided attention? Real communication has to do with how we physically are in how we communicate.  It’s not just communication to get it over with so we can rush to the next event.  It’s what happens when we wish that time would stop and we could go on for ever.   It’s giving someone your total presence and attention.

How we learn is very much built in the work I do, especially when I work with academics and get them to understand that the transmission of information has to be different from the way that it was transmitted to them.   It has to be told with stories, analogies, metaphors, making it interesting from the perspective of the audience.  I want them to appreciate the difference between short- and long-term memory.   There is a quote that I love… “tell me a fact and I will listen, but tell me a story and it will live in me forever.”   I want people to understand that story-telling is organic.  It’s how we have always learned and how we still learn.  Brainy people have to begin to appreciate the value of this other way of learning.

There was something on the Women Travel for Peace website, an explanation of the fact that the women in a particular culture speak in proverbs…  that their language is in proverbs.  To take that analogy, in the world I imagine possible, we would tell each other meaningful, very short stories.  I have a book that exemplifies this.  It is a very skinny book called “Simple Truth.”   This little book is one of the most powerful books that I have ever read.  The stories are not haiku.  They are not poetry.   They are tiny stories that are utterly honest and very poetic.   The moment I read them, they really resonated.  The opening story goes something like:  “I had a dream last night and it was utterly fantastic and totally magical and absolutely unreal and I know it was true because when I’m sleeping, my sub-conscious is not smart enough to tell lies.”   Everyone who reads it sighs.  If I could design the way we would communicate… we would speak truth in short little tales that would resonate with everyone most of the time.   That’s the language I love… clean, sparse, true, effective, uncluttered.   And I think that’s why this little book resonates with me.  And that’s probably my own writing style, which I didn’t know until I sat down and wrote my book.   What I got out of being submerged  for several years in the learning approach known as the Silent Way is that nobody else ever teaches us anything.  We teach ourselves everything when we are ready.   The most the world can offer is a kind of “smorgasbord,” and we will take from it what we need when we need it.

The other thing that I have learned is that because we teach ourselves, we have to do the work.  We cannot sit back and passively take notes.   We have to engage in the process of learning.  We have to practice it in order to make mistakes, and in order to figure out which things are mistakes and which are not.  It can’t be something that you sit back and that you have poured into you.   Knowledge does not come from somewhere else.   It comes from within as we play and improvise.

Tesa: What do you feel you most need to continue flourishing?

I love these kinds of conversations.   More of this type of connection is exactly what I need.  Travel also comes to mind.   I feel like it’s time for me to travel a bit more than I have been, to be exposed to new vistas, dimensions, cultures.    I am especially drawn to the women of Africa.  I’m thinking of a particular woman who spoke at the Women and Power conference at the Omega Institute.  She was like an African queen.   She had the face of a sculpture: lean and elegant.  She seemed to have no sense of her own beauty. She was from Uganda.  She was so thankful to be there and spoke about the fact that it had been a dream of hers all this time to come to Omega.   She had read about it on the internet and wanted to go.  The sheer beauty and joy in this woman was so moving, and she started to cry.   She had some notes but she wasn’t reading and was very apologetic because she got very emotional.  Everyone became unglued.   It was as if we were in some non-alcoholic dream.  Linda Rivero from Women Travel for Peace was sitting next to me.   The two of them started talking and I joined their conversation.  This woman from Africa had found a copy of my book, and said she wanted to buy it.  I just gave it to her.  She was so happy and so grateful.  There was just something about her.  She communicated with us in the way I would envision a better world: no mask, and her voice was so dignified.   Her body was so elegant.   Linda said to me: “she has no idea how beautiful she is!”  And it was just so.  She was the essence of beauty and joy and communication from that totally integrated place, and her message moved everybody.

What moved me so much and what I think moved everybody else is that this woman kept saying that she was sorry, but her tears enabled all of us to feel what she was feeling, and moved us so deeply through her dignity and her expression of gratitude.  It made me feel grateful that I could donate to the scholarship fund that helped her come to the Omega conference,  grateful for the fact that she did come, and that we were all in this room together, inter-generationally, really feeling our oneness.  She conveyed all of that to us, minimally through her words, but the vehicle was her being, her essence.  She was such a powerful messenger!  She was really gorgeous, and riveting in her beauty.  And you could see that her soul was just as beautiful as her body.

It was just the love in her heart that she was expressing.  And this was what Linda experienced in villages in Africa.  So when I think of travel, I feel drawn to Africa.

Tesa:  I hope you get to go. I have never been to Africa but the two years I spent in Egypt were deeply heart-opening and life changing for me.  Thank you for this conversation, Saskia. I experience many “moments of grace” when we are together.

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More about Saskia

Website: The Keynote Coach

Articles and Interviews:

Book: More than Words Can Say: The Making of Inspired Speakers

 


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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:

Website: http://www.theyogabarn.com
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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



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