PART I: How I wound up in a tent in the high desert of SW New Mexico plotting to take down the two-party system.
My intention in writing this piece is to summarize and share a powerful experience I had in 2020 while volunteering for One Nation Party USA (since pivoted into the Independent National Union). This Part I is the story and perspective of a core member. Part II (coming soon) will be more of an analysis of One Nation as a community and political vehicle.
My story is far from the whole story of what the team went through. Not an attempt to convince you of the validity of the organization’s theory of change. This is for me to integrate the journey, the team to document special times together, the community to have more visibility into what was happening behind the scenes, and for those in my network to learn about my experience.
Table of Contents: Making Contact (10min) | Launching The Party (15)| Pandemic Season (15) | Azure Village (15)
Systems collapse. Saving the world. Game-B. Meta movement. Community. Civilization redesign. Commune. New age. Quantum. Polarity. Medicine. Patriarchy. Money. Race. Service. Integrity. Launch. Crash. Healing. Leadership. Campaign. Purpose. Land.
It has been over one full year since I stopped holding accountabilities with One Nation Party and its related organizations. In February I chose to start writing this lengthy retrospective in confidence that it would help me process the experience and crystalize learnings for myself and others. I’m proud to have played a key role in the evolution of a mission that matters to me. Grateful for the friendships, adventure, challenges and growth along the way. The sheer enormity of things to cover in what was only a 7.5 month assignment is testament to how rich it all was. Omg, what a ride.
During what was for many the most destabilizing and chaotic year in living memory, let alone in the history of American electoral politics, I feel blessed that I had the chance to nurture the seed of something hyper relevant and potentially catalytic. For what it’s worth, I still believe wholeheartedly in the foundational principles of One Nation. This energy is sorely needed in the politcal domain. I’m excited to see how the Independent National Union evolves, although I have not felt as inspired to participate in the effort in this new season of my life.
This may be the only story that gets written about the events of 2020 for the One Nation core team. At least for some time. May my writing do it justice and contribute to the collective efforts towards building a more beautiful world.
Making Contact: Meeting the Monk, The Mentor, The Moment
In this section I chronicle my path from first learning about One Nation in late 2018 to arriving at San Diego HQ in late 2019 to volunteer.
October 2018, San Francisco. My startup Siempo (reimagining the smartphone interface for wellbeing) has just come out of pause mode, with new revelations that it’s not enough to be a humanely designed product, but that we will need to become humane people and a humane organization too in order to bring this innovation into the world in a good way. That led to studying and networking around systems thinking, social justice, philosophy and development psychology in order to become a more effective steward of this new-to-the-world product that would meaningfully shape users’ experience of the internet. My antenna was on high alert for ideas, people and movements that were tapping into what felt like deeper truths that could support my personal mission of creating technology that protects and promotes human thriving.
Earlier that year I had met a monk named Tasshin (representing Monastic Academy for Preservation of Life on Earth) in Toronto at the Mindful Society Conference. Tasshin appreciated what I was working on and encouraged an introduction to another monk named Daniel Thorson (now of MAPLE and The Emerge Podcast), who twice rescheduled our Zoom call, which cut out twice in the first ten minutes, eventually steadying enough for us to drop in about things that I don’t recall but were likely related to humane tech, metamodernism and awakening. I note the scheduling and technical difficulties to emphasize how having a single conversation (or not) can dramatically alter the trajectory of one’s life.
Towards the end of the call Daniel mentioned his involvement with One Nation Party USA, a new political party that was launching the following month. I sprang into alertness and found myself furiously typing verbatim notes. Daniel spoke to my heart with notions that we weren’t just going to be able to blockchain or intentional community our way out of systems collapse; that government was ripe for disruption as an under leveraged vehicle for uplifting humanity; that Burning Man culture was going to need to mature out of its “exclusive narcissistic gliliterati of drugs and big talk” and meaningfully take some risks in order to transform society. He also recommended I do a silent meditation retreat.
I was immediately hooked. I had eschewed political involvement most of my life; an ignorance partially induced by various privileges, and perturbed by the intensity of opinions of friends and family. I showed up to vote, phone banked here, marched there, shared this meme, had that difficult conversation. But I held no genuine political analysis of my own, nor did I feel like politicians were representing my lifestyle interests or hopes for humanity in any meaningful way.
Importantly, I was only just starting to develop my own views on issues of the day, resulting from the deeper explorations in self and world-knowledge contextualized by working on Siempo. Learning about One Nation felt like a large missing puzzle piece in my understanding of the world and my location in it. I recall a felt sense that One Nation would be represent a giant step forward in my political education, and that I could make that leap in full integrity. And I had just snagged a front row seat to the great unveiling.
November 2018, San Diego. The One Nation California Assembly was not the type of conference that was mission critical to attend for the success of my startup. Neither was Resource Generation’s Making Money Making Change or Yes! Jam’s North America Jam or Luminous Awareness Institute’s Fire Module in the month preceding. But I intuitively felt there would be interesting learnings and people at these events that would synergies with the startup work, adding greater texture to my ongoing cartography of visionary initiatives.
Within minutes of arriving, I traded pitches with somebody who traces his ancestry to the Knights Templar, who then enthusiastically introduced me to a philosopher named Forrest Landry who I had recently begun studying and quoting. Forrest said he liked what he saw in One Nation. He was interested in the questions they were asking. Throughout the weekend spent getting high on networking with this new constellation of changemakers, I shed tears of joy countless times hearing the founding team speak (then it was Christopher Life, Sophia Life, Isabella Konold, Daniel Thorson) and witnessing how they showed up in challenging moments. It was like watching the climactic moment of a Disney movie when big hope is realized. But in real life, over and over again.
I felt an overwhelming sense of expansiveness and potentiality in my body. Electricity. Goose bumps. It was like I had been developing a personal vision for the world, and then comes along this snazzy crew articulating aspect after aspect of the vision that I had neither identified nor put such eloquent words to, held within a sophisticated theory of change. Seduced by their palpable energetic signature, I hung on the edge of my seat all weekend and was the last to leave the after party.
No stone was left unturned in the pitch. Organizing the millennial generation for a renaissance of civic engagement. Saying “yes” to the healing and empowerment of the feminine. Inspiring the artists in campaign efforts. Integrating diverse perspectives. Singing an octave above the status quo. The whole world will be watching in 2020. Creating a context for all people to bring their unique leadership gifts forward. Seriously–what could be a bigger deal than this?
In a precious moment watching the sunset together on Saturday night, Sophia shared her and Christopher’s ‘All In For All Life’ prayer with me. As the youngest person at most of these events, getting some inner circle love was a sure fire way to keep me engaged. Upon leaving the assembly, I knew that another aspect of my life (politics) could now come into a greater sense of personal integrity. How might it all unfold?
The only thing that irked me: it was a pretty white crowd. I sensed some areas of improvement that I might be uniquely able to support the organization with, having just moved into a queer Jewish justice co-living house in Oakland. I was attuned to the language the One Nation team used and didn’t use; what voices were and weren’t in the room. I was no social justice warrior, but knew some bridge-y people who deconstructed and reconstructed in inspiring ways, so my act of leadership at the time was to introduce them to friend and teacher Simon Mont who would support the team in a series of racial equity consulting conversations. If you had told me that two years later he would drop spoken word on top of Mayan Warrior art car during a snowstorm in front of the Wyoming state capitol building.. well I would have thought that sounded epic but not believed you.
August 2019, Black Rock City. I hadn’t heard much from One Nation since the assembly the previous fall. There was another assembly event Austin in February that I might have attended, but I had a conflict (that silent meditation retreat Daniel recommended). I continued to enculturate myself in orbiting worlds, reading the likes of Hanzi Freinacht and Adrian Marie Brown that reinforced my hunch of the party being right on time and part of the emerging zeitgeist. I chirped about One Nation to those who would listen. Friends who I anticipated would resonate did so and became members. Others were skeptical:
“New parties don’t go anywhere..”
“I don’t get their platform..”
“..are there any black and brown people behind it?”
Meanwhile I pushed Siempo forward as far as I could. Then put it on hold again, facing similar challenges as before and realizing I was just not truly committed to operating a tech company for the long haul. It was a summer of clarity and surrender into the next chapter.
Then around 4am on the Wednesday night of Burning Man, hanging out backstage with the band Gone Gone Beyond, I bumped into my mysterious pal Remington, who told me that another friend Lucian was gathering a group together the next afternoon for a “2030 thing” where select community leaders would give mock speeches from the year 2030 about how we pulled off the birth of a new world. It was again one of these things that made me perk up. I knew I had to be there and swapped dinner prep shifts to see to it.
One of the speakers turned out to be Christopher, who shared in a mic-drop speech that he planned on running for President in 2020. This was exciting news, as I wasn’t aware of anybody running with a remotely similar message, save for Marianne Williamson and Andrew Yang in some respects. I would totally vote for somebody like Christopher. Maybe even help out–campaigning for a candidate I believed sounded enriching. I approached Christopher after for a quick hug and hello. He encouraged me to run for Mayor of the town I was living in; that the value of dozens of members running campaigns to raise awareness of the One Nation platform and principles was extremely valuable. He also reiterated his sincerity about the presidential run and that we should catch up more sometime soon.
October 2019, Nevada City. Upon returning stateside from a leadership retreat in Peru (as one does when their startup is on ice) I made my way to Nevada City for a One Nation Members Retreat where about 25 of us gathered to deepen relationships and strategize for the big year ahead. It was a weekend of cascading synchronicities. Christopher and Sophia assigned me to room with Benjamin Ross, who had recently come onboard and would in time become one of my dearest friends. I was invited to take on some light responsibilities during the retreat, and was handed a sample t-shirt to sport alongside the core team (by this time Daniel and Isabella were no longer in a collaborative relationship with One Nation).
Similarly to the first event in San Diego, I drank it all up. A couple of friends I brought along weren’t so convinced, pointing out how a handful of men had dominated the space throughout what was an exhausting weekend. I heard their concerns but didn’t think much about them at the time. There we learned that Christopher had the opportunity to give a speech in DC in November, which happened to align well with my east coast travel schedule.
November 2019, Washington D.C. I attended the speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, listening to indigenous leaders Casey Camp Horinek and Mikasi Camp Horinek (key organizers at Standing Rock), activists like Rennie Davis (of the Chicago Seven), and presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard. It was another exhilarating couple of days. Hanging out with Christopher, Sophia and Benjamin till the early hours of the morning felt like it was “beyond imagination.”
The sense of belonging, the visionary conversations, the fun moments we shared. And yet something felt every so slightly off, like I couldn’t fully be myself around them, at least not yet. I wasn’t sure where this feeling of disempowerment was coming from. Perhaps comparing cognitive and emotional intelligence? They were so adept at naming exactly what was happening in the moment, within and between them. At being vulnerable, connecting with their emotions, showing love for each other. I was kind of just in awe of being around such beautiful people.
My life a fairly blank slate now, I was feeling solid about volunteering some amount of my time with One Nation in what was poised to be a dynamic year in politics in an increasingly destabilizing age. There was growing chatter that fall amongst astrology-oriented friends of some shit going down in the first part of the year. March to be exact. I wasn’t surprised, having absorbed lots of Daniel Schmactenberger (a mentor to Christopher and thought leader in systemic collapse) and his sensemaking crew. I could see the world was on a bad path. I thought One Nation was well positioned to help out in a big way. I wanted to play a role on this heroic team humanity. If not through Siempo, then maybe with One Nation.
Rather than participate in the hallow ritual of getting riled up every four years to vote for the lesser of two evils the that has the best chance of beating the real evil and all their evil supporters, what happens when I work on creating the world I want to live in right now as part of a community of practice, that is organizing others to find their unique role in civic engagement?
Not only was I stoked to have an inspiring pathway to learn more about politics, but I sensed I had a lot to learn from the leadership of One Nation simply by being around them. I recalled a purpose workshop prompt that went something like “what if your purpose is to support somebody else’s vision?” Not one to give up on my own dreams, but when I thought about who else’s thing I wanted to support, One Nation was up there. As far as I could see there wasn’t a more exciting game in town for the upcoming months. I was also in a somewhat vulnerable place of transition: dis-identifying from my company and personal mission of the last few years, ever a seeker, black / rainbow sheeped amongst some friends and family, nomadic and searching home..
December 2019, San Diego. I sat in on some team calls to get a better pulse of the day to day operations before accepting the invitation to come down to San Diego to their community house, where four team members were now living and working together. And so on Christmas day, “at the edge of my universe” as Christopher would say, awash with excitement and fear knowing I was stepping into a portal, I arrived at One Nation HQ. To get onboarded for a few days. Maybe a week.
Launching The Party: SoCal, SoCap, SoLo
In this section, I cover January and February 2020: moving to San Diego, gearing up for the launch event, facing resistance from community, and finding my flow.
Moving to San Diego
SoCal felt phenomenal. I smile just thinking about the daily sunsets over the Pacific Ocean. A new bio region to explore. Eating plant-based and intermittent fasting for the first time. Bump-ins and invites to gatherings at the homes of characters I looked up to. Hawks and hummingbirds galore. Living under the same roof with people with whom I shared a synergistic Dharma–something I was missing in my previous community home. New ideas, practices, language. Ways of being, doing, knowing. I could totally thrive in community like this. We rung in the new year with meditation.
There were lots of layers to One Nation co-arising and co-informing each other, but the main focus of December and January was the Launch Video: a produced version of the speech I had attended in DC, which announced both the official public launch of the party and Christopher’s 2020 presidential campaign. There would be a Facebook Live digital event on January 21st (his 35th birthday and first day of eligibility) to share the big announcement.
I was only expecting to stick around for a few days, but the team needed some help getting the video to the finish line and spreading the word about the launch. I didn’t have anything time sensitive to tend to and was enjoying my stay there, so I decided to hop in and lend some extra hands. There was an innovative financial services company in the Bay Area with two close friends actively engaging me in a project that was also very compelling, but I sensed I might get more out of hanging in San Diego with these folks, at least in the near term. Was I going to learn about distributed self-governance at a wealth management office in SF? In my self-righteous free agency I only wanted to work with teal organizations moving forward, and there seemed to be one right in front of me. As I was in a fortunate position of not needing income immediately, I placed more value on the educational experience and adventure.
January was really about getting onboarded into One Nation, operationally and culturally. Want to know what it’s like starting a revolution from a California garage? It wasn’t ramen noodles and all nighter’s. Child, this was seven hippies in North County, San Diego. More like ceremonial grade cacao and naked hot tub emotional processing. We worked out and did chores at the same time each day together (“blessing hour”). Shared a Tesla. Whipped up healthy communal dinners where juicy conversations with a steady stream of special guests would often flow until bedtime. Three gender playful Saturn Returns–who had previously met at a gathering of indigenous wisdom keepers–cranked out work in the “Two Spirit cave” with tortilla chips as (one of) our main coping mechanisms.
With Siempo I often felt like I was going at it alone, in terms of holding the vision and living the mission. With One Nation, we were all in it together. A community of practice living “all in for all life” which would later be defined as “enjoying the highest quality of life possible while being of maximum service to all life.” It cost less than $1k/person/mo (made possible through a combination of minimalist living, membership subscriptions and donors) to live, eat, be trained and entertained. We called this work-trade “Co-hab Co-lab” program a “Game B” paradise–nodding to the memetic tag that aggregates a myriad of visions, projects and experiments that model potential future civilizational.
It was a kind of paradise for me. Backyard hiking trails that climbed 1,000 ft. to dramatic ocean views. Morning dips in the water. Regular coaching. Daily breakthroughs. Steam room. Spontaneous dance parties. We thought we had hacked society be able to work from a retreat center-like environment at minimal cost and peak positive impact. An island of sanity and coherence in an sea of chaos and fear. Why not try to create our own version of “paradise” and have the best year of our lives? I had never considered that I could do that. Why can’t work be fun, spiritual, transformational? We would tease how today was going to be “the best day ever!” And there actually were many times where I declared it was. Including several where it was for all of us. Then I’d sit down to journal on how this could be even more paradisiacal, share the list on Slack and make it so over the following week. Repeat.
I was most impressed by how the team worked together. Their ability to communicate vulnerably and transparently, to simplify complexity (everything seemed to origami on itself in an elegant way), to attune to blockages in real time and seamlessly move through them. Whereas in other organizations we might avoid confrontation, posture throughout the week, and maybe earmark a discussion about that thing for next week. I was particularly moved by how they wove the sacred into the day to day: inviting regular prayers to bless our work, syncing our activity schedules to the rhythms of nature, and practicing a variety of modalities to move energy when needed. The Universe seemingly responded to our work with regular affirmations: an abnormally large branch falling on the roof or lights flickering when a profound insight was shared; a surprise financial break when the bank account was getting low. The rate of things clicking in and breaking through was astonishing and further validated that something special was happening here.
We were a motley crew of millennials in a new adopted family. Coincidentally matching the characters on the Avengers sweatshirt Joonas spontaneously ordered one day (I was assigned Ironman). Christopher or “Baberham Lincoln” was just a regular guy from Southern California. Who had left the Mormon Church and hopped around from international aid to corporate learning & development. He surfed and shot archery to blow off steam, could lead a team jog up the mountain barefoot while giving a lecture, and spoke like he had 30 minutes to live and the whole world was watching. Sophia a Canadian transplant who had moved to San Diego to live the dream. Formerly in urban planning and interior design, she was an artist at heart and her intuition never let us down. Benjamin the son of a preacher turned Regenaissance person. Storyteller, activist, intellectual, musician. Joonas brought Hollywood by way of Finland, snowboarding, filmmaking and being the guy working out on Venice’s muscle beach who knows everyone. Robert brought the heyokha tie die shirt vibes from NYC. A technologist in a past life, he spontaneously wound up at HQ without knowing about One Nation, bringing many gifts in tow.
We had our drama. But we supported each other as humans trying to get by in an insane world. Somebody’s neck is sore? Opportunity to practice bodywork! It was a relatively judgement free environment. Part of the secret sauce was hard-wiring our nervous systems together like packs of lions or Navy Seals do in order to generate greater levels of trust and coherence. It was nourishing to live with friends who were all committed to personal growth, not afraid to give each other feedback or taking time to process emotions. Crying happened daily and was practically a success metric. There was a spirit of mentorship and walking each other home. That living and working together had the potential to be a healing experience like a sweat lodge, or a transformational leadership experience like Landmark. I wondered if I had found the people I would want to live and work with for a long time. It was a homecoming of sorts. With One Nation I had home. I felt loved.
I hopped in to support various party-level operational initiatives and launch event activities such as organizing viewing parties, building press outreach capacities, and copy editing external communications. Not necessarily what I was ecstatic about doing, but something that seemed useful. In service of the mission. I found the “chop wood, carry water” tasks (sometimes literally) humbling. It was a welcomed change of pace from the CEO responsibilities I was used to holding.
Every day a new adventure. No two alike. Christopher told us he couldn’t promise us a big salary or a successful campaign. But he could promise that we wouldn’t get bored. I definitely wasn’t bored yet, but I was curious about what was really mine here to do. We were encouraged to continuously engage the question: “what of the undone is mine to do next?” The ability we have to ask and answer that question at all different time scales (this moment up until next decade) would yield the purest expression of our purpose.
The Launch Event
Naturally, the launch preparation came down to the wire, with some technical difficulties getting the video uploaded to Facebook Live on time. In the end there were a little more than 100 devices that stayed tuned in (with several launch parties hosting local crowds), half the amount that had initially joined, all of which was far less than expected, but still a special moment of bringing the extended community together for a special moment.
Despite positive reflections pouring in, I was having a tough time. After having joyfully reclaimed my promoter past for a couple of weeks, I felt like I had blown all my social capital in personalizing notes to many of the more influential people in my life to attend what looked like an amateur attempt at hosting an online event. Not the launch of the next great political party. I recall wandering aimlessly around the house, filled with anxiety about what I had just done. Had I soiled my reputation by taking this risk? Which of my friends had seen this? What did they think? What I should do now?
It was around this time that I was starting to get lots of pushback from various people in my life, as friends and family become more aware that this was my new thing and wanted to learn more. The news didn’t sit well with super progressives or those who cringe at any hint of new age culture. Really anybody with firm opinions about politics felt challenged. A college buddy took time to point out all the red flags he noticed. Others thought it was disturbingly inappropriate to work on a new party in such an important election year, or that it looked like I was in a cult. Family thought I was being taken advantage of and making a terrible career move: moving to India was one thing, but this was really off the rails of the mainstream.
There was certainly an edginess to this alternative lifestyle. I knew I was going deep into some new territory, but it didn’t feel that extreme, as we operated in as professional a capacity as any organization I had been a part of (in efforts to be the “hippies marching in order” the world had yet to see), and had endorsements from all types of respected individuals–popular public intellectuals, experienced independent actors, well known activists, successful entrepreneurs. Living minimally, holistically and purposefully felt like the logical and intuitive thing to do at the dawn of the Anthropocene age. Which is why I was so bummed on launch night, feeling like we had blown our “market opportunity” and that I personally botched the chance to enroll others in a more regenerative life path. I had gone out on a limb to give my vote of confidence for a new paradigm. I was starting to fuse my identity with it. And it failed. I fucked up. I’m not okay.
Fortunately / unfortunately, not many people I invited actually attended the Facebook Live. Zooming out, our team celebrated the fact that we accomplished something together. This was just the beginning of getting our message out. If nothing else, Christopher’s brother came to the launch party and the two of them reconciled some lifelong friction. The type of thing that makes you wonder if it it was all worth it just for that priceless moment.
Exhale. Now came the fun part of sharing the video, welcoming new members and identifying points of synergy. In the dust settling days post-event, I closed my computer and drove up to LA–the beginnings of a bi-weekly retreat for the One Nation boys–where I had some big insights around the topic of impact investing. Bringing these findings back to San Diego, it became clear that fundraising could be an activity that was right up my alley, given my experience and enthusiasm for the domain. Specifically, fundraising for the soon-to-be-activated All-Win Policy Research Center.
Finding My Flow
After a couple of weeks I recovered from my launch video woes, and buoyed by a series of whiteboard brainstorming sessions of which I have a never-ending appetite for, I was once again convinced that One Nation was onto something magnificent. I was drinking the kool aid (or rather, the mushroom latte) and wanted to continue to participate in what had potential to be the greatest story ever told.
After briefly dabbling in membership enrollment calls, a project emerged that was way more my speed as an initiator: designing and promoting a new type of leadership training program, which of course I had been dreaming about creating only several months before. The All-Win Leadership Academy emerged as the spontaneous brainchild of Christopher and Benjamin, as a way to simultaneously crystalize the core leadership principles that we were advocating elected officials adopt, while offering value to our membership base and generating revenue for the larger operation. In order to shift from a win-lose paradigm to an all-win paradigm, we needed a new generation of all-win leaders to move into office and embody a mode of stewardship that seeks the holistic thriving of all people and all nature. To cultivate the capacities to listen, integrate multiple perspectives, run experiments and learn over time how to create new possibilities that work for all.
Between the party, the academy, the media capacities, the soon-to-be activated policy research center and presidential campaign, there was a way in which I thought I was getting in early on this “next big thing” and that I could be a bridge for many folks in my orbit who were searching for something visionary to sink their teeth into. Having been a part of a unicorn startup 10x’ing headcount in one year, I recall telling friends of a felt sense that this was “the next Google” except without the anxious startup energy that comes along with your typical VC-backed startup, of which I had become outspokenly allergic to over the years. Instead of stock, those who got in early would walk away with an unparalleled educational opportunity to witness a new paradigm organization take off.
Aware of the pitfalls of believing and voicing such claims, they come out of my mouth anyways. But there was a point in February when a new person was joining or seriously considering joining the team roughly every week. We were cleaning out the barn and starting to recruit interns with a plan to be producing 100 pieces of content per day by the summer. It was all happening. Every day we were creating content and extending invitations to help people realize their infinite potential and greatness. To take the next step on their individual hero’s journey, as a collective. In positioning One Nation as a context to discover one’s unique leadership gifts and bring them forward into civic engagement, we were effectively selling people’s self actualization in the collective field, which would support the collective’s self actualization. Exquisite.
February wound up not even really being about One Nation for me. I lived at HQ for the first half, but spent less and less time directly moving the mission forward. It was all pretty touch and go. I never signed a contract. I never committed to anything more than one month out, but signaled that I didn’t think another revolution was going to come along and scoop me up. My hesitations to committing to a longer timeline were partially because I had pre-existing obligations (e.g. my company Siempo I was still technically stewarding) and interests (like impact investing), and ambient fears and hesitations around getting in too deep or giving too much of myself to the organization, or any organization for that matter. Despite meeting virtually all of my needs and then some, something always felt a little off. Like I could walk away at any time without much thought. This ambivalence would become a recurring theme, never allowing me to fully lean into the depth of relational and professional closeness that I simultaneously desired and was afraid of.
I would proclaim February as the best month of my life. I felt like a rockstar at a roving festival. Spending more time in LA getting the sexy mansion party experience in the hills and Topanga, visiting the Bay Area and speaking at two philanthropy-related conferences (Nexus in DC and Keep Families Giving in Austin) with Simon on money and impact, while preparing to go out and fundraise for the policy research center with a team of successful entrepreneurs within the One Nation community. I couldn’t wait to approach fundraising with greater integrity (so much of startup fundraising had been spin games) and for what I thought had the greatest return on investment in terms of societal impact. We were systemic energy healers. I was convinced we could raise $1B in time. Extractive and dysfunctional startups were doing so weekly.
Through the travel and networking, it became more clear that my role could be to have one foot inside the organization with a pulse on the fire, and another out in the world finding allies and bringing in resources. The ultimate ambassador / bridge weaver, who is especially tuned in to what’s going on at HQ and how real it’s all becoming. I was down to play connector all day long. At these conferences I got to hang out with role models like Orland Bishop, folks with founding fathers or presidents in their lineage, beautiful beings who I would develop deep friendships with.
The synchronicities on the One Nation front only accelerated, reinvigorating my optimism for our work, which seemed on the verge of greatness. For instance, somebody I met in LA was looking for a place in San Diego to host a leader of one of the largest Indigenous tribes of what is today Brazil. A couple calls later and our house was ready to play host to a prayer ceremony. After staying up half the night speaking with Christopher, the leader shared that One Nation was part of their prophecy, proclaimed an alliance between our organizations, and said he would do all that he could to unite the Indigenous peoples of the world behind our mission.
What! What is this life? Was One Nation the ultimate adventure I had craved since growing up on the hero’s journeys of Indian Jones? It was too good to be true. There was growing chatter on social media about the prophecies of the Hopi, the Maya, the Kali Yugas etc about this time being about all of the tribes of the earth coming together to birth the new. Were we the pilot light for this revolution? Might as well go all-in. Would literally all of my passions find a home here too? Siempo could prototype a white labeled One Nation interface. Conscious Angels could becoming a giving/investment circle for the community. Wharton Wisdom could become a policy template. Was my whole life building towards this engagement?
I had dreams of all humanity coming together, holding hands in one giant circle around the world, and confirming that every single person is safe and loved. A moment of holy completion. Like the climax in the Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker where the villain Palpatine self-generates a thousand lightening bolts of attack, but the light version of that.
And while I was at HQ, I was regularly having friends come down to visit, who would invariably leave with wonder in their eyes. I was jazzed that part of my role could be hospitality oriented! That was really my highest excitement for being there: inviting people I love down for enriching experiences, and finding ways for them to plug in if it aligned.
Remember, I was brand new to the political strategy thing. I had some ideas to contribute from my experiences in the business world, but mostly left that content to Christopher and Benjamin to mind meld on, building off the multi-year foundation set by Christopher. I supported much of what they brought forward, and pushed back when it felt important to.
I was along for the ride (at this point, at least through March), working on some of my own stuff, supporting in little ways where I was inspired to. Such as in bringing more joy and play into the house. Shipments of organic cacao from Guatemala would periodically arrive with my gleeful announcement of “medicine para la revolución!” Interrupting meetings with good news of all varieties brought me joy.
Whew. So much would happen in one day. New connections, insights, magical moments. There were things to learn in every meeting just from noticing how people communicated and processed conflict. I felt on top of the world. In hindsight, it had the feeling tone of a documentary I once saw about the San Francisco Worlds Fair of 1940, in which there were still things to celebrate while some shit was going down in Europe. The final moments of calm and freedom before the storm..
Pandemic Season: Isolation, Ego Death, Revolution
In this section, I cover March through June: the beginning of the pandemic, activation of Civilization Redesign Policy Research Center, activation of Azure Village, my 30th birthday, and the events surrounding the murder of George Floyd.
I’ll never forget how I felt on Sunday, March 8th. A massive intuitive groan of fear and sadness. Hard to get out of bed type nausea. I sensed it had something to do with COVID spreading in the states, but wasn’t exactly what it was at the time. I had returned from Austin the day before, where I was the only person on the flight and one of two in the airport wearing a mask. I suppose my body was down regulating itself to prepare for a transition into this new space where I would have less freedom and the world would be more on edge than usual.
As a community, we weren’t taking the pandemic too seriously yet. Then came Thursday March 12th. Minutes after Christopher, Sophia and I had aligned on my ability to freely bring people to HQ and lean into a guest concierge role Christopher was interrupted by a phone call with one of our existential risk friends that significantly raised alert levels, which rippled outwards to the rest of us.
Having already been prepared for some amount of systems collapse (thank you Daniel + leftovers from failed food startup + Mormon prepper culture), we felt mildly relieved about our personal ability to meet this situation, but our knee jerk reaction from the fear across the media prompted us to scramble to get our base needs met for the next three months. We calculated caloric needs, went to the Mormon depot for a wall full of cans of dried beans, picked up a dozen garbage cans to fill with water, a security system, snagged 40 Yellow Deli bars (my guilty pleasure + surprise gift for the next two months)..
At the time, it was comforting to feel this level of food security and safety when there was chatter about empty stores and failing logistics networks (“every society is only three meals from chaos” —Lenin). I was sad that I couldn’t have the exciting lineup of visitors come see me, and that I couldn’t physically travel anywhere myself. February’s high came down hard in March. Although I wasn’t sure how long I wanted to stay with One Nation / in San Diego in general, all things considered I knew I was in one of the best possible places to quarantine: access to nature, friends, purpose. I felt deep gratitude for that sense of safety and community that had become scare for many.
Holding all the pain and suffering in earnest (we regularly held meditations together with the specific intention to connect with the pain of the country / world), from a mission standpoint we appreciated the elevated exposure of fundamentally flawed systems across the board, and the utter failure of politicians to meet the challenges. Shit was breaking down, and the drum we had been beating was getting heard. Or at least was on rhythm. We thought we’d have to spend lots of energy educating people about systems change, but it was happening before everyone’s eyes. Also trending in my filter bubble included things like community, healing, service, love and resilience. All in our wheelhouse. We were right on track and relevance. Bernie’s out — it’s classic Red and Blue. Occupy is rising again. Students might not go back to school. Where is all the Burning Man energy going to go? The whole world is online and wondering WTF those Americans are going to do. We’re just one Joe Rogen episode or Lady Gaga in space plug away from going viral. And we can always make that Hail Mary sex tape as a last resort (a favorite joke).
We would come to take the virus extremely seriously and did the whole santizie-every-atom-coming-into-the-house thing. As we settled into this new normal, we reflected on the role of the party in this historical moment. It didn’t feel right to focus on enrolling members. We noticed we were connected to people doing high level sense-making work, wanted to start ramping up our content creation systems, and had just come into stewardship of a production studio worth of new media equipment. So it felt natural to.. start a daily broadcast providing crisis support to our audience.
My role in that precipitously activated operation would be to hop into an ongoing flurry of Zoom rooms to see what other communities were doing and share what we were up to. North County, Inter-Occupy, Burning Man, etc. It was interesting to track these efforts, and exhausting. I had previously taken interest and pride in mapping a vast landscape of actors, but I was reaching my cognitive limit, and I didn’t feel like we had a ton to offer as we were in prototyping mode, but I wanted to get our name out there. I was always down to evangelize. Similarly to the launch video promotion, I watched myself burn out energetically and spend a disproportionate amount of social capital on One Nation, only to draw a handful of people to a sloppy and frenzied product. Which I’m no stranger to, having spent my career in early stage startups, with a caravan of failed personal projects alongside. Whatever. #pandemic.
But actually, not whatever. This shame piled on top of a barrage of social media trolling and comment wars on things I had shared pointing out silver linings of COVID, resulting in a kind of ego death for me. Which I totally provoked. Earlier in the year in efforts to “take responsible stewardship of my social media influence” I had returned to Instagram after a six year hiatus and was posting up a storm of edgier and triggering memes, plus a string of vulnerable Lives. I know, ironic given my dogmatic insistence that people find balance in their relationship with technology. In hindsight I can see how it was leaky, decoherent, and insensitive at times.
Meanwhile we had started sharing more “behind the scenes” footage on Instagram as part of the “One Show” (a reality TV show that was being financed and activated around our political startup, but was tabled after the pilot) that didn’t reflect so positively on the party we were trying to build. The startup ethos of failing fast with quick prototypes backfired in a perfect storm of hippie cult lacks professionalism. Turns out the bar is set much higher for political actions, likely something to do with the sensitive nature of the field.
The digital tension was straining physical relationships that manifested in sharp sensations in my chest several times a day, which I would equate to the re-traumatization of somebody getting mad at me as a child. People in my life were genuinely bothered and concerned about me. A friend from home reflected that though I had maintained an image of having my shit together the last few years despite forays into some alternative stuff, this was all just too much and the consensus of the group was that “we lost Dunn.”
I was advised to let some relationships go, but that didn’t feel right. It was all confusing. I had strong IRL community, but felt increasingly isolated from many in my life. Were my beliefs that unrelatable or controversial? Was I becoming that intolerable? Had I careened too far in foreign direction? How important was it that I was liked by everyone? Was I that much of a people pleaser? The feeling of getting cancelled or banned from the tribe was humbling, prompting reflection on discernment, responsibility, openness to feedback. While for every challenged response to my activity came several messages of gratitude and encouragement, I decided to dial back the edginess and volume of sharing in the second half of the year.
These events amplified the tension of my relationship to One Nation. I never expected to lose friends over politics, but I guess this was about more than just politics. It was lifestyle. It was worldview. I wish I was able to have more clear open and honest with those who rejected One Nation based on an experimental meme or misunderstanding of a concept. I was psyched to practice inviting conversation, in accordance with our values around integrating diverse perspectives, but getting to that conversation was next to impossible in such a charged climate, and when feedback did come I found it vague and reductionist, reflecting a lack of curiosity that only reinforced my belief that our work to promote a process for having these conversations was fundamental to healing the growing polarization and division in our country.
And so began a season of the new normal, settled into the edge of the San Diego suburbs with no end in sight. What was that like? Mixed! Christopher’s 6-year old son Kai spent more time with us, upping the fun factor considerably. We spent more time on the mountain behind the house for hikes, jogs, sunset picnics, vision quests. Getting creative in homeschooling. I started doing more writing. Holidays like Passover took on new meaning. I started remembering and recording my dreams. I was getting more comfortable behind camera. We ran the All-Win Leadership Academy. Hosted cuddly movie nights for a number of documentaries on non-violent revolutions, in addition to classics like Cloud Atlas, V for Vendetta, and Avatar. We studied systems thinking and regenerative land stewardship. Belted out Fia songs in the kitchen. Attempted to build a garden. I started observing Shabbat more.
It was a hazy period. In these precedented times, some days sucked. I was frequently in a “low grade contraction.” Twitchy arm, tight cheeks, tight chest, allergies, Zoom fatigue, craving solitude, not wanting anybody to bother me. Bizarre fights and interventions happened around the home. The beach was right there but closed to the public. Regardless of where I was or what I was doing that spring, I had been looking forward to celebrating my 30th birthday with a “month of freedom.” Instead, I felt like I was working in a culture whose intensity rivaled that of the fast growing startups I had run away from. Not how I wanted to spend 2020. I chalked it up to the pandemic and kept humming along, trying to take care of myself and be useful. On one bright side, it was refreshing to give the planning side of me a rest. I realized that for the better part of the last decade, I was constantly tracking the calendar of the next few days and weeks, filling it with novelty and connection, managing logistics. Who was I without that part of me? Instead of bedtime doomscrolling, I’d sometimes sneak a Yelp-hole in preparation for the for the next LA trip.
I believe it was late March that we dialed back the daily broadcasts and looked inward once again to get clear on our path forward as an organization. We decided it was time to activate the All-Win Policy Research Center, which we could call “Civilization Redesign.” I raised my hand to steward it, as the center would require some entrepreneurial energy to activate and I’d have the opportunity to learn about public policy, something totally new to me.
Yeah, policy! We have the opportunity to integrate all of the lessons learned from the last ten thousands years of civilization experiments. Mayors around the country and Prime Ministers around the world are doing all sorts of innovative things right now. Let’s track them and create a context for those passionate about improving a sector of society to have a pathway to do so through policy. We’ll create a Fellowship Program. Raise money. Support fellows in conducting appreciative inquiry, running experiments and scaling them. Sweet. This could keep things interesting for me.
Dreams of Azure
Every few weeks there was a dinner conversation in which some life-changing news was shared and suddenly we were in a whole new context. At the height of the pandemic, amidst growing cabin-fewer and personal purpose confusion, the same day our landlord told us he was putting the house on the market, we were invited to move to a friend’s retreat center property in New Mexico (named ‘Azure’) to live and expand our operation for the summer and fall.
My soul perked up and mind instantly began fantasizing about the potentiality of a whole new life situation. A new bio-region. Visitors. Retreats. A more compelling invitation for others to come and collaborate with us. By this time, it was clear that Christopher, Sophia and Benjamin were the core leadership team, having built up a new level of coherence in running the leadership academy together. While Robert, Joonas, Charlene and I were involved or committed to a lesser degree. Upon learning that the three core were going to take a quick road trip to check it out over the weekend, I became a little anxious about my role in the larger scheme of things. After sharing that New Mexico anxiety and interest with a couple of teammates I encountered that day, the decision was made to invite me to join the outing.
We slipped out of California lockdown through the Highway 8 portal to pay an overnight visit, brainstorming between electric charging stations on what we might create and who we would have to be to set the right container for folks to come to the land and discover deeper synergies with our mission. Eating plant-based meals in an electric car en route to start an eco-village to support a political revolution felt right on brand for One Nation. And the opportunity to be the interim, co-lead of the temporary, land-based community HQ of an early stage organization? Couldn’t be more on brand for my nervous system.
Descending upon the valley in the shadow of the oldest national park in the country (Gila National Forest), I was struck by the spaciousness in all directions. Azure appeared as a mothership at the center of a rolling landscape surrounded on all sides by hills, framed by one ultra-prominent mountain to the South, and another to the West that reminds me of a drawing I made as a child. The property was 40 acres but with no neighbors in sight it looked like we had the whole valley to ourselves. There was a mythical quality to the idyllic setting, bolstered by the Bohemian zen chic interiors. Sensing the overwhelming magic first-hand on that stay, we chose to step into the mystery.
It felt like our startup political party was raising a seed round of funding. But instead of dollars, it was possibilities afforded by living on and in connection with the land. For me, activating Azure was the ultimate 30th birthday gift: a beautiful opportunity to test-drive living in deeper intimacy with nature, participate in the development and stewardship of an intentional village, and create special experiences for new friends and old. I sensed Azure would call me into my greatness, disrupt habits that were no longer serving me, and provide valuable life experiences. Re-wilding and responsibility. Creating patterns for other revolutionary hubs to self organize. It would be an adventure. I fucking love adventure.
As anticipated, moving to rural New Mexico only added to the case that I was part of a bad news cult. A pretty significant departure from my Manhattan apartment of a few years before. I was pretty sure we weren’t a cult, matching man bun haircuts notwithstanding. Things mostly checked out on Jamie Wheal’s ethical cult checklist. Sure, we had the star fleet vibe in some of our branding, and we made plenty of jokes about being a cult: a cult of being good citizens, reclaiming democracy that supports all life, and learning how to think for ourselves! I thought it was funny–not alarming–when UPS dropped off a package one day and Christopher said “Nothing makes a cult leader happier than a box of t-shirts!” Sure, we had our share of lingo. I would mostly get what Benjamin meant if he asked for my partnership in initiating a focused conversation with the field on the core fractal of the gestalt of our meta systemic coherence codes, with a natural and true feeling tone of omni-integrous sovereign unity, no unnecessary game A contrivances. Haux? Haux. (A combination of MITT leadership cues x regenerative culture jargon x Huni Kuin salutations)
I wasn’t worried about cult claims. Nobody was keeping me anywhere or forcing me to do anything. That would be a flagrant sovereignty violation (a cardinal sin around those parts). Others on the team had made their own commitments. Throughout my whole time with One Nation, there was only once or twice that I authentically thought about peacing out. Not bad compared to some previous work experiences. In any event, my parents urged me not to go to the desert with these people. I could see how to others it was playing a script out of a bad movie.
Fast forward through hashing out all the details involved with starting a temporary eco-village in the high desert. In preparation to multiply the size of our team over the coming months, we put out the word and started the application process. Much of my April, May and June would be focused on activating Civilization Redesign and Azure. For the latter, we held two Zoom info sessions, the first one with over 40 attendees. Some of the people we interviewed were superstars that had the potential to change everything. But at the end of the day it wasn’t easy to convince many to move during COVID, to the middle of nowhere, to volunteer in a specific role, for a unique and apparently controversial mission, and who we thought would be a good fit for the intensity of our work. That said, we were able to move out there with three new Collaborative Residents of the highest caliber: SanShin, Mylee and Jazmin.
In the meantime, things were starting to slowly open up in SoCal. Turning 30 was my queue to take advantage of the latest health fads before shipping off to the desert. Hydrocolonics and ozone, kambo and ketamine therapy. Supplements and superfoods. Bodywork. A brief period of weight lifting after years of sticking to yoga and hiking. My birthday wasn’t the grand gathering of all my loved ones as envisioned months before, but I still spent it surrounded by now close friends, yummy treats, mini initiations and ample time for self-care and reflection. Hummingbirds buzzed in my face while on a solo hike. I got to lick many bowls of baked things. There was an heir of letting go of the immature, experimental, comfort seeking, waiting to arrive boy. The slouching, the emotional snacking, playing it safe-ness. And stepping into the empowered, responsible, safety creating, service-oriented man. I was awash with gratitude for this life; and proud of where I’d come since my 20th when I was a closeted alcoholic fuck boy in a turbulent relationship, studying things I had no interest in, low self esteem, no idea who I was or what I believed in.
It was all coming together. COVID had instigated radical changes at all levels of society that were impossible to keep up with, from the proliferation of mutual aid networks and UBI experiments to California declaring itself a nation state. The Mormon trumpet fell during an earthquake. Jeffrey Epstien was going viral. I would need a tent at Azure and a friend let me adopt her Lotus Belle. While four of us were meditation in a circle on our final mountain excursion together, four red tailed hawks intersected each other in a collective shriek directly above us.
And then another Black Swan event occurred with the murder of George Floyd. I’m going to dive into this more in Part II: how we processed responded as an organization, marches in Los Angeles, my personal relationship to race.One moment I’ll call out is May 31st afternoon in Venice. Still getting used to the novelty of being out in the real world during lockdown, I was on my way to join Benjamin in the peaceful Santa Monica protest but held back upon hearing how it was unfolding. I didn’t feel prepared. Walking around Venice I interacted with folks who were scared, excited and oblivious as gun shots, smoke and screaming neared. I wound up standing on a corner sending a text when two caravans of law enforcement vehicles blared by, slowing to a partial stop right in front of my eyes. Dozens and dozens of squad cars packed with people and equipment. I’ll never forget the full spectrum of facial expressions (or at least my projections of them): causal and relaxed, tense and stern, jovial laughter, angry, grim, solemn, blank. Zoom zoom zoom. Frame by frame. I was frozen with fear, having locked eyes with several officers in moments of reluctant humanity.
People were now in the streets. Another thing that we thought we were going to have to put a lot of energy into instigating. Protestors in Seattle had established a communal autonomous zone. It was the Summer of Love and Power that we had predicted.
I had noticed this time of year typically brought major life changes for me. Moving to New Mexico on the summer solstice was no surprise. With bombs going off at Camp Pendleton next door at a rate never before experienced, it was time to leave.
Azure Village: Arriving, Confusion, Reset
In this section I cover July and August: the beginning of our time at Azure, my internal process around continued participation in the community, and a transformational retreat we organized and participated in.
Azure felt right on time. We were clear on strategy for the remainder of 2020 and ready to bring more people into the mix to execute. It would have been possible with remote support, and we could have squeezed in a few more people with us in San Diego, but now we had land and a hot summer invitation with endless possibilities. It was the nth time in six months that we could touch a vision so tantalizing and seemingly within reach. Fuel for me to continue putting most of my life force into what we were doing.
We pitched Azure as a festival meets a social movement meets a startup. The best parts of those without the distorted ones. The capital village of the political rise. A revolutionary maker space. Cultural template factory. Our expression of organizing in the Summer of Love and Power. A real community of practice centered around quality of life, coherence, service and creativity. We were going to have a Burning Man-like Temple built. Concerts. Family visiting day. Prayer gatherings. Leadership retreats.
We felt like Azure was going to show us what was out of alignment and integrity. The land wasn’t going to tolerate our bullshit. Benjamin exclaimed: “I’m pretty stoked for it to kick all of our butts in the perfect way. Eviscerate our ego. Yeah, that’s not going to last.” With that, we held an intention to slow down a bit when we got there, since the previous couple of months had been a chaotic sprint. I took that to heart. The rest of the gang not so much.
The team was now getting into a good rhythm with our holocracy governance system, where authority is based on roles, not people. It’s designed to distribute authority well so those who perceive tensions from their role have a clear process and context for bringing those tensions forward with proposals for closing the gaps. I was the Circle Representative of the Azure Village Circle (and the Civilization Redesign Circle) with accountabilities such as Onboarding Support, Guest Management, Health and Safety, Communications, Partnerships, Culture, Social Programming. A bigger dose of ongoing responsibility for me after months of supporting a little here and a little there on various initiatives.
I had some trepidation about getting too locked into the role, but overall embraced the opportunity and was in the mindset of playing all out these next five months (the initial length of our lease). Azure felt more like it was my own canvas to paint on. A place I could be more of myself. I was ready to rise.
On June 21st, we moved out with three new Collaborative Residents. After several days of packing up the San Diego house, a towed Tesla and stopover in Phoenix, listening to Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States and the Joe Rogen x Brett Weinstein podcast that explicitly called for a One Nation-like movement.. my midnight arrival was greeted by hazy bands of the Milky Way that told me it was here I could spread my wings.
It was an all star crew, with several more A+ players in the wings. SanShin had learned about One Nation through the monastic academy that Daniel Thorson and several other members were involved with, was coincidentally quarantining right down the coast from us in San Diego, and had a similar vision to Civilization Redesign. Not only that, but he had previously run for political office and was the youngest and only person to be endorsed by both the Green and Libertarian parties. He reached out expressing interest in one of the Collaborative Resident roles, and offered to support us in the move regardless of if it was a fit. San Shin came over for dinner and a sit down with Christopher. When I saw him out and asked out it went, he replied “I guess I’ll see you tomorrow.” San Shin brought experience living in several high altitude retreat centers, diligence, humor, circling, breathwork and more.
And then we had the troublemaker duo of Mylee and Jazmin, introduced through a mutual friend. Influencers in cannabis, wellness and events, they had been involved in their fair share of weird projects and were down for the adventure. We were super grateful to have support on items that were weighing us down like accounting, and some social movement actions we were excited to activate.
The first few weeks at Azure were about getting settled and exploring our new home. Highlights included cleaning out the apricot tree. Meditating with the juniper trees. Energizing sunrise dance sets and delicious sunset dinners. Figuring out rural things like what to do with garbage/recycling/compost. Quests around the region. Exhilarating wildlife sightings–it was almost every day that I encountered an animal I had never met before! Some were terrifying. Construction cuts and blisters. Listening to the wind and feeling the thunder. Learning to hydrate. Circling practice and jam sessions. Kundalini and Yin yoga instruction. Spectacular evenings under the stars. Honoring the land. Getting to know the locals. Witnessing the interconnectedness of the web of life around us. Heartstorming on hosting possibilities for friends and family and community. Walking past tarantulas in the morning and scorpions in the evening en route to my bell tent. Apocalyptic storms. Missing the annual hummingbird festival. Hatch chili. Christmas style enchiladas. Lunch breaks in the bosque down by the creek. Wine from grapes grown next door. Photographing landscapes. Bender to Cruces / White Sands National Park. Learning about local zoning laws to see what we could get away with. People looking to me for answers. At some point, I was running a mini hotel!
July 4th was a nice little milestone, having achieved a steady state and acknowledging the auspiciousness of the country’s birthday. While we had yet to put energy into the Life 2020 Campaign (Christopher presidential run), it still seemed like there was a non-zero chance of an electoral outcome, or at least an avalanche of exposure to One Nation that would come from a representative being on the stage, which the campaign was always designed to do. All these alternative movements were popping up (American Liberation Movement, Bret Weinstein’s dark horse duo) while Kanye West and Brock Pierce had just announced their respective runs. Brock’s strategy was to win one to three small states so that nobody hit a majority (happened once in the nineteenth century), which would force a house vote and potential people’s movement to elect somebody outside the two party system. There were rumblings about peace caravans heading to DC for mass demonstrations. This day of rest and reconnecting with ideas of freedom was bookended by front row seats to a rattlesnake (which Mylee nicknamed “Independence”) devouring a large mouse, and dinner under an unforgettable melty full moon rise on my tent platform.
The possibility of gaining breakout momentum was tangible enough to make me feel unsafe at times, in a way that I wasn’t connected to when I first got involved and thought our launch video might take off. If we were successful in our goals this year, wouldn’t certain powerful interests be unhappy about that? We weren’t doing anything illegal. But in light of COVID and George Floyd, and now what looked like hiding away in a desert compound, our conversations took on an increasingly radical tone. There were jokes around about how not to get Waco’d. Some of the characters and ideas we were aligning with gave me pause. We had watched all these historical documentaries and were getting deeper into Gene Sharp’s work on non-violent revolutions. Countless stories about people putting their lives on the line for something they believed in and needed to happen to progress the arrow of evolution towards liberty and justice for all. We were assured that we shouldn’t be in any real danger, but that nothing meaningful shifts in this world without people willing to give up their safety. What was I prepared to die for? Did I believe in what I was doing enough to die for it?
I.. didn’t know. I was passionate about this, I had been deeply committed to Siempo’s mission, but never really thought about what I was willing to give my life for. That’s something people did in the history books of old, in places far far away.. I’m just a yuppy tech worker on sabbatical. What was I really willing to sacrifice in service of the world I wanted to create? How uncomfortable was I willing to get? Should I get a life insurance policy and update that friend on where all my notes are stored?
The novelty of these questions was testament to how comfortable my life had been to date. I had been to my share of protests but I wasn’t out there on the front lines putting my body in harm’s way. I generally tried not to break the law or ruffle too many feathers. And I was still working on the fear of death thing. My parents at least were unsettled by the possibility that this weird community moving to the desert was an unsafe direction. Though they had little idea of our operations or my inner terrain, the words “we don’t want some stranger to tell us you’re dead” haunted me.
At the end of the day, I was focused on smaller fish in creating the Safety at Azure document. Learning about all the poisonous spiders and snakes in our area and how to deal with encounters with them. One outcome of this new normal was more spatial awareness — walking the land I’d be on the lookout in all directions with more of my senses engaged.
There was also the weather. Turns out the high desert gets a monsoon season each July. There was one day when we saw thunderstorms in the forecast and discussed how safe it would be in our tents, which were far enough away from the taller permanent structures with lightening rods. We did some Googling and didn’t come up with a policy, but offered the option to always sleep inside the main building if that felt more comfortable.
It was the scariest night of my life. I listened to the thunder in the distance get closer and closer until the lightening was illuminating my tent like a bomb had gone off. Each time wondering if it was too late to sprint over to the house. But like getting woken up by mini Bay Area earthquakes, I found it hard to drag my body out of bed. At one point, a strike felt imminent. I started praying. A grandparent on each side of my lineage had been struck by lightening. I recall surrendering to whatever happens. But realllly preferring that it didn’t happen tonight. Because I just wanted to go back to sleep. The storm passed, and I felt humbled by the awesome power of nature.
Around late May I had started thinking about a NY trip sometime over the summer. It had been the longest amount of time spent away from “home” physically and psychologically, and I figured that if I had stuck around One Nation for this long and now had the Azure summer on deck, I may as well stick it out till November. In which case my tour was half over, and a good time to take a quick break. I might have even been a little homesick.
I hadn’t intended on getting involved this deep. But everything happened so fast. I wanted to get onboarded so I could volunteer throughout the year, then I enjoyed living and collaborating with them, then COVID happened, then Azure happened. There was hardly time to process the previous month before a whole work/life pivot would occur and my excitement cup was filled again.
By late spring however, I noticed growing feelings of disempowerment, limiting beliefs, inferiority complex. Amongst the core four, I had a story that I was the weakest link. The least all-in. The least relevant. I had compassion for myself, considering all the things, but I wanted to be thriving here, not just surviving. Listening to the echoes of New York, how did I, a nice Jewish boy from Ivy League business burbs, wind up in a fringe political movement? Had it not been for the hysteria of 2020, I likely would have bowed out of my volunteer work sooner. There was enough chaos, as well as bursts of joy and flow and fulfillment, to keep me in the game. Occasionally there would be powerful dinner conversations or pitches that reminded me why I was there.
As spring turned into summer, and the trip wasn’t scheduled yet, I started missing NY more and questioning my place with One Nation more seriously. There was that persistent gnawing intuition of it not being for me. That I wasn’t expressing my truth in all the things that I wanted to do outside of the organization but didn’t have bandwidth for. Growing frustration with all of the group processing that was seldom related to me. Less patience for contractions and drama in the field. Feeling overwhelmed by Game B x new paradigm x new age language and culture. Stuck. Lost. Confused. A friend who visited in late July reflected that he could see there was a higher, more expressed version of myself that was not available right now.
And questioning if the experience was worth it, or had it been a waste. Was I actually learning, growing, healing? Is One Nation my personal mission? Why am I here? What would I be doing instead? How could I slow down even more, and listen to my body, to the land? Was ignoring my gut doing a disservice to myself and the organization? How is my gut still leaning away when things were so beyond imagination, at least relative to quarantining in my parents’ basement? They say what’s best for one person is best for all. So what’s best for me? What do I really want? A blog post I had published on money stuff had connected me with somebody who would become a close confidant over the summer, helping me get clarity and feel refreshingly seen and connected when often times I felt lonely, even in tight knit community.
While Azure was up and running, Civilization Redesign was slowly progressing, a bit more wobbly than anticipated. We had a number of fantastic fellowship applicants who were square pegs in a round hole, prompting us to question our offering. CivRed was another thorn in my side. I had raised my hand to work on it because it was the most interesting option on the menu at the time, but I quickly became overwhelmed by the networking it demanded, the square-round misalignment, and self-education to go from 0–60mph on policy research and development. There were moments of joy in learning and connecting with visionaries, but Azure responsibilities always eclipsed those of CivRed, leaving me with a mix of imposter syndrome for not being the best person to lead, shame for not being able to take it further, and resentment for having to work on something with which I didn’t feel setup for success. And I was still supporting little pieces of other projects, but the teeth became harder to pull to get me to volunteer for new assignments. In mid July there was a meeting in which a task came up and everybody was looking at me, sensing I had the most bandwidth to take it on. I reluctantly said “yes,” with some passive aggressive energy, which yielded a conversation about how “sure” or “fine I’ll do it” half-hearted actions are toxic for the field, as they otherwise yield resentment and bad energy going in.
At last I settled on September as my NY month. A real solid break from it all. Time to tend to the other aspects of my life: the personal projects I had put on hold and the people with whom I had things to clear. I’d plan to come back in October and November for the end of our Azure lease. Meanwhile, I was starting to think more about what might come next. Growing out of the impact investing explorations of earlier in the year, I had been in conversation with friends at JumpScale that led to my coming on as an advisor. Two intentional communities in upstate NY were encouraging me to come visit.
I made the most of my time at Azure. Glamp life was dope. I could walk out barefoot and naked for my morning pee, greeting the sun and the mountains in each direction before going for a jog. My tent was the furthest from the casitas — it went Benjamin’s, SanShin’s, mine. One morning I emerged from my tent ready to head to the main building area for the day. As I walked by SanShin’s tent, he also emerged to walk the same path. And then passing Benjamin’s, I noticed stirring too. I was struck by the Sponegebob Squarepantsness of the scene (the three main characters as neighbors), and upon sharing this insight with the suggestion that I was SpongeBob here, SanShin immediately self-nominated as Patrick, and Benjamin obviously Squidward. Madelyn (a new guest / Resident, whose tent was the next row up) totally Sandy. And omg, Christopher is Mr. Crabs! One of those moments that brought me laughter throughout the day.
No sooner had we arrived did Jazmin and Miley start reflecting some uncomfortable things to us. They insisted they did not sign up for a work camp, and weren’t comfortable with a charismatic white man seemingly in charge of the money, housing, and strategy. Where’s the distributed authority? How many times are you going to misgender me? Do y’all care about what’s happening around the country right now?
It took time to build trust between all parties. I grew nervous that they might leave. Was Azure failing? It was also becoming clear that the land indeed had other plans for us. We definitely couldn’t handle a dozen more people coming in. And then the idea of a retreat was seeded.
What it came down to was Jazmin’s firm insistence that we needed to do a silent meditation retreat together (of which she had experience facilitating) in order to re-calibrate the energy of field. Because we were overworked and all the energy in the room was getting sucked up by Christopher, preventing others from bringing their voice and leadership forward.
I was enthusiastic about the retreat idea, having not taken a real break since I joined the team. I really didn’t slow down during COVID like some had the chance to. It took some of the other team members a little convincing to get there, and in the end we decided to customize our own version and invite some friends and allies to join us. Jazmin also suggested I read 15 Conscious Commitments of Conscious Leadership, which blew my mind and instilled great practices around responsibility, integrity, trust and safety for the upcoming retreat.
Overlapping with the Sundance period, which Christopher and Sophia would have ordinarily gone to Pine Ridge to participate in, we decided to make nature connection a core theme of the retreat. The retreat would be part self directed, part communal offerings that anybody could participate in. The first half would be “noble speech” i.e. avoiding idle chatter, whereas the second half would be “noble silence.” Except for singing and playing music. Per our roles as Village Leads, Sophia and I got cracking on running a retreat for a dozen people, which she had experience doing but it was my first time. I was overjoyed to have a few close friends come down for it. Enjoy designing experiences for others, storytelling about the space. Maybe a new template to offer to the world.
My intentions for the retreat were to rest and recharge, connect with the land, get clarity, be in stillness and body connection. Show me beauty. Help me see clearly and listen deeper. Teach me about nature and presence. The guiding question for us was: what do you really want to do most? Among the things I jotted down were: rolling around in my bed, darkness room, giving and receiving massage, bird watching, day hike, make a nature alter, get lost in a book, draw, pray, sunrise and sunset, fasting, poetry. Putting my hospitality hat on to meeting guest’s concerns. Navigating COVID sensitivities and precautions.
It wound up being one of the best weeks of my life. Like a 10 day epic vacation with dear friends. Themes of power, homecoming, animal medicine, nature rhymes, integrations, leadership, learning, hospitality, agreements, responsibility, art, beauty, vision, play. Homecoming to my body, to earth, to childhood, to truth, to NY in advance. One big integration! While just days before I had been second guessing the value of my time with One Nation, constantly looking for the silver lining and ruminating on how to justify it taking some space away helped me realize how much I had learned and experienced. I had grown more in 7 months than I have in any other job, that’s for sure. Very, very worth the work-trade arrangement.
On Day One, I stumbled upon a pair of Ibex horns. I delighted in turning them into a nature alter over the course of the week. Animal medicine was everywhere. We had a copy of the book Animal Speak that got a workout from the retreat participants as it highlighted indigenous ways of perceiving the gifts and teachings that different animals have for us e.g. learning what it means to see three crows flying to the east. It went missing from Day 7 to 9, during which time you could find me mouthing angrily to others “WHERE IS ANIMAL SPEAK?!”
I forgot how powerful silence is. So many memories resurfacing. I found myself playing in dirt under juniper tree, or sand in creek for hours on end. Just getting creative with the sticks. One of our potential CivRed fellows was doing research on the mental health benefits of play, which was delightful to integrate into my experience. I sprinted barefoot through a field like a gazelle, feeling my legs come alive as if dormant my whole life. I spent time with a family of deer. A toad interrupted my drafting of a letter to lawyers in my head. Pulling a card of dog encouraged me to become your own best friend. Have you recently forgotten that you owe allegiance to your personal truth in life? Persistently creating a “change of pace” is the kind of stamina needed for any relationship to last.
On Day Four, several of us stayed up till sunrise where I led a Burning Man style outing to my tent platform. It was a shining moment of selling a vision,, delegating, prepping goodies, sharing wisdom, and taking photos. The day after the retreat ended, Eamon Armstrong and I recorded a podcast. I was proud of the experience we created. It felt like summer was finally beginning. Like Azure had finally arrived. A big sigh of relief. We had built the community we had imagined months before. I’ll never forget those moments of singing Benjamin’s songs together in the hall.
The closing ceremony of the retreat was overshadowed by a sort of ego death for Christopher, who had spent the final four days in a dry fast in a ravine on the edge of the property. A combination of experiences led him to let go of attachment to running for president and having any influence over the direction of One Nation moving forward, even going so far as to be willing to let go of the project all together. That he was done trying to do in one year what we could do in four. That returning to putting quality of life at the center of everything was all that mattered. That he was ready to shed deeper layers of patriarchy.
It felt like an ego death of One Nation. The “4am on the playa” moment we liked to quip about when things started getting a little weirder and unknown. Though during the retreat I had experienced a surge of interest and clarity in inviting select people to Azure for experiences in August, in the gooey integration soup of the ensuing week I received an invitation to participate in a unique ritual in Mexico and decided that was my highest excitement. But not before getting to play a few more days of host to our fellow retreat travelers. Lying on the banks of the Gila, laughing till my thorax hurt as we personified the mating rituals of the local turkey vultures.
Even at this time, I was still holding the possibility that something unexpected was going to happen in November. That something related to what we were doing, or with a similar energy, might “win.” We were heaving backchannel conversations with candidates who had dropped out of the race. We had been introduced to Brock Pierce (hippie king of crypto) and Brittany Kaiser (Cambridge Analytica whistleblower), with whom we would eventually team up together to start the Independent National Union. As these positive developments poured in, I felt excited that it was all happening, some pride in playing a part, and sadness that I had not played a bigger part.
All in all the retreat was a beautiful high note to end on. This was Jazmin and Mylees’s gift. Before I left, with our intention to simplify from seven different projects to doing just one thing right, we decided to retire Civilization Redesign for the time being. Azure was stable up and running. So it was seamless for me to transition out of the org. My work done. At least until October, when I was planning on returning. I booked my Mexico flights such that I’d still come back to New Mexico for a few days before heading to New York. The morning of my flight, I wondered if there was a chance I might change my plans, and just in case I should pack as if I might not make it back until October.
I never made it back.