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The Human Potential Movement with Stewart Emery
I want to take a moment to be in gratitude. There was no guarantee at any point that I would get to be sitting here, that any of us would be here at this moment. This is one of these special moments in time when we all get to connect. We can’t even see each other for the most part, myself and my dear guest. We see each other. We can hear each other, but the rest of us we are connected somehow. I don’t know how that works. I don’t need to figure that out, but it feels good nonetheless that we get to share a moment of being alive together. Since that wasn’t guaranteed for any of us, it’s a blessing and something that we can appreciate. With this breath, I am in gratitude for all of you. I’m in gratitude for my own heartbeat and my life. All the other wonderful things that are happening simultaneously at this moment. I’m grateful for the friend that I get to spend some time with. You get to experience this gentleman. You can to find this conversation exceedingly interesting and thought-provoking. It might even be agitating. I’m looking forward to it myself, but this gentleman has a wealth of experience in so many areas. To call him a thought leader or somebody that’s been a catalyst in that genre is accurate and yet he’s a very humble person.
He’s done a lot. He’s worked in many areas of commercial space, businesses and been part of marketing teams and initiatives to drive some of the biggest marketing campaigns that have ever been. He is somebody that has been involved in the Human Potential Movement for many years before it was a thing and before it certainly had the likes of Tony Robbins or other large names associated with it. I’m very intrigued by this man because we get to be part of a bi-annual meeting. I told him some years ago that I wanted to get to know him better, so having him on the podcast is a blessing. It’s a way for me to get to know him better. It’s a way for all of you to get to meet him maybe not for the first time because he is quite well-known. An internationally acclaimed educator, author, world-class speaker and in-demand expert on the psychology of greatness, Stewart Emery, has devoted his life to the study of human potential. He has been named one of the Ten Most Influential People in the Human Potential Movement. He has been awarded the Doctor of Humane Letters degree by John F. Kennedy University as an acknowledgement of his many contributions. He’s also the author and co-author of many books. Welcome to the podcast, Stewart. It’s a pleasure to have you on the show.
Thank you, Adam. When you talked about that, it goes back a long way. I played around since ground zero as I say before the Human Potential Movement was a thing.
What did they call it back then?
It got a name probably about the time I got here from Australia. I landed in San Francisco in 1971 and turned left at Lombard Street and went up the Golden Gate Bridge but stopped at Haight-Ashbury before I did that, inhaled and I knew I wasn’t in Sydney anymore. It was a different scene. I ran into some very interesting people over the time, but it was crazy. It was very exciting. I’ve watched Australia get in the grips of the militant elements of the British Labor Movement gone very left. The marginal tax rate was 90%. I got here and looked around. Originally, I was coming for a couple of weeks, I’m still here. I run into a fellow coworker and the rest they say is history. This thing was started and became what’s called EST and then became the Landmark Forum. They were exciting times. EST was phenomenal in the state. At the very least, it was extraordinary. At the very best, people’s lives went through what you call a pivot point as a result of their involvement of the EST trade. For me, arriving in America was the aftermath of a pivot point that I went through my life before I got here.
What did that look like? I thought when you started to speak that you were from Kentucky, so I’m glad you’d cleared it up and that you’re from Sydney originally.
I can relate to Kentucky seriously.
Is that another pivot story?
I grew up in Australia, but my earliest was at the Blue Mountains. I grew up alone. We were very poor. I won a scholarship to a school for privileged children. I didn’t fit in very well. My father died as a result of his involvement in the war. Although why he went off to the war at 50, I have no idea. I wasn’t born yet. He felt he had to do something. He was a very famous cartographer in Australia. That turned out not to end well for him. I went off to university. I studied philosophy, psychology and economics. Brad would tell the guys of the university newspaper. One of them was Robert Hughes, who became very famous. He’s passed now. Another one was a radical called Richard Neville, but I’m not a radical activist at all. At the university, many of us are. I decided somewhere along the way I couldn’t see myself as an economics professor. I was into photography. That’s my talent in the last century. I took up photography through a series of serendipitous events, ended up shooting for Vogue, becoming famous, went to advertising photography and I did become one of Australia’s top third photographers. I had always thought that the secret to life was consuming the right stuff. I was an ad man. I was the guy telling you that unless you use the right toothpaste, you wouldn’t get kissed let alone anything else you’re hoping for later that night. If your deodorant failed you, your life did. That was the deal.
Maybe you shouldn’t walk around with a ring around the collar.
To have integrity as an ad man, I have to believe the stuff. I had to believe the bigger man was about riding a horse, smoking while we were getting laid at the same time. It was a ridiculous metaphor and politically incorrect but I’m an Australian. I remember waking up one day and I’m driving a posh Audi show car, which is a platform for the Wankel rotary engine. It’s bright orange. I’ve got a bright orange racing suit to go with it. I am the man in my field. I’m famous. I was sitting one day at a stoplight, which was taking a while to change and I was thinking, “My life’s not any better experientially,” all of the things that I thought were going to be better. This little kid that was bullied at boarding school. This little kid that felt alone, that felt like he simply didn’t fit in, that I’d been dropped at the wrong planet, “What am I doing here? Why me?” None of that had changed, but something had changed. There’s an old saying that, “When all of the perceived causes of your unhappiness have been removed and yet your unhappiness continues, this is a crisis.”
A moment of awakening?
Yes. That crisis was handled by some people that commit suicide. You sometimes wonder why people with fame and fortune and notoriety at a positive way end their lives. There’s been a rash of that in the past year. I got to look at that. My first wife who passed from cancer gave me a book by Jiddu Krishnamurti called Think on These Things. Serendipitously, I got an assignment to go and direct cinematography in Asia for a series of commercials. While I was in Asia, I went into a state of consciousness for no reason I know of. I was a very poor part of what’s now called Sri Lanka shooting a commercial. I went into this altered space and I was in a state of bliss. Here was the conundrum. Here I was in very challenging surroundings. In the midst of people and I almost died. I’m staring seeing a state of bliss of happiness unlike anything I had known. I’m surrounded by my opulent side acquired in Sydney Australia. That was like you can’t come back. I suppose you came by and I never got over that. It’s a pivot point. It turns your paradigm upside down of what you think it’s all about. I went back to Australia and I felt like a stranger in a strange land. A few other things happened and I ended up in San Francisco. I ended up in the Human Potential Movement trying to push into and look at that thing. That our inner experience is more unrelated to external circumstances than we like to believe.
To some extent when it’s external, it’s simplified for us. It’s potentially easier to look at something that’s outside of ourselves than something within.
I think that lives. Forces conspire to have us believe that our internal experience is some external person or things fault. Even if our inner experience gets to be wonderful, we still think it’s somebody else’s fault like, “You made me love you.” That’s nonsense. You didn’t do that at all. You know it didn’t.
“You complete me,” you remember that from Jerry McCartney. It’s outside of ourselves. It’s on someone else. It’s on something else, the money, the economy, the politics, the president or whatever.
If you look at the divisiveness, we’re fighting over whose fault our life is. It’s as if the Human Potential Movement never happened or everybody got an F. Nobody got an A.
What’s that expression sometimes you take a step backwards to take two forward?
I can hardly wait for the two forward. It seems a long way.
One thing we know is there are no straight lines in the universe. We’re definitely in one of those inflection points, those pivot points in some ways. I’m curious about the bliss because I have something that’s been percolating in my head for some years. Did you ever get a bead on what that bliss was from? Because to be in a place where there is so much poverty and things to look at and think, “Nobody could ever be happy for a moment in this environment,” and yet you cultivated or received bliss then.
Happily, I couldn’t come up with a reason. I would like to be one. We do tend to make up reasons until we find one that we like and then we sell ourselves that reason. It left me profoundly curious.
To this day, Stewart, curious about the same thing?
My life is defined by the fact that I’m a very curious person. One of my core values is excellence. To go back to a Thurman quote, “Ask not what the world needs, but ask what brings you fully alive and go do that. Because what the world needs are people who are fully alive.” The people that I like to have around me are people who are fully alive, being world-class of doing something that they love to do. When a person enters that space and they’re fully alive, then their lives become a gift to the world.
March 9th, 1997 in Parade magazine, my dad sent me a conversation about success and it’s between two fictional characters. I want to read this because it has some relationship, “Success, I don’t know quite what you mean by success; material success, worldly success, personal and emotional success. The people I consider successful are so because of how they handle their responsibilities to other people and how they approach the future. People who have a false sense of the value of their life and what they want to do with it. I call people successful not because they have money or their business is doing well, but because as human beings they have a fully developed sense of being alive and engaged in a lifetime task of collaboration with other human beings. Their mothers and fathers, their family, their friends their loved ones, the friends who are dying, the friends who are being born.
Success, don’t you know it’s all about being able to extend love to people. Not in the big capital letters sense, but in the everyday little by little, task by task, gesture by gesture, word by word.” At that time of my life I was striving, building a family and buying lots of things and working typical 70 to 80-hour workweeks as an attorney. He sent this to me both because he found it interesting thought I would as well, but he also wanted me to start to question for myself and ask some questions about what would success mean not then but twenty, 30, 40 years later. All or any of us, we blink our eyes and it is twenty, 30, 40, 50 years later.
I love that quote. I love you to said it to me. We did a book called Success Built to Last with Jerry Porras and Mark Thompson. It’s in a lot of languages now. We did a global survey on what people thought success was and the consensus was what you read. Not as eloquently expressed by us as you shared with me, but we have viewed also some of the world’s most successful people and we don’t mean just monetarily. We had the requisite billionaires. We have Michael Dell, Richard Branson, Steve Jobs. We have people like Desmond Tutu, Mandela, Muhammad Yunus, who got a Nobel Peace Prize for microlending and Oprah. We went down the list of people who you may never have heard of and people who are very famous. If you look deeply into it and got beyond the trappings of success, but beyond that who did you fill out the list by being in the presence of. Would you get over impressed if you are inclined to people? Once you got over that and some people don’t ever, hence we have people following the Kardashians, why would anybody do that? Because of being impressed. Have you just stayed with somebody’s humanity? Look at how they’ve lived their lives. We interviewed a couple of hundred people like that and what we found in your book, but it’s all put in that phrase a few paragraphs you read to us. That to me is what successes is. We find our own way of getting there. We found all of these people who were good at doing something that seemed to be a gift to the world.
It seems to me that when we get to the end, whatever the end is. I don’t believe in an end personally. I do have a faith in eternity and there is no way to know for sure. It feels true to me that the soul does not expire. It’s interesting because a friend and a colleague, somebody who we’ve worked with in fact on his public speaking because he now has an incredible platform to speak about the nature and the origin of consciousness. He launched a book called An End to Upside Down Thinking, Mark Gober. He’s an investment banker in the Bay Area and a Princeton grad. Sometimes I make a joke when I’ve been introducing him that he’s one of these underachievers but clearly not. What’s intriguing to me about this gentleman is at 33 years old, he started to question some things. He had every reason as many of us do sometimes when things are going our way to continue to press our foot on the gas pedal because money is coming in and success as other people or even as we defined it is seemingly in our laps.
Yet the inevitable result of not thinking and pausing to be even more aware of things is that we get to a place where we can strive for great lengths of time and find that we’re not happy. That somehow or another, despite the title, the money and other things we’re not happy. He was in that situation. He started to question some things and wrote a book about the origin of consciousness. In essence saying that, “The upside-down thinking is the materialist view that our brain produces consciousness. That consciousness does not exist outside of our own our own physical brain.” In any event, it gave me even some additional fuel to support my own thought that we are eternal beings. That somehow, we’re not done. Wherever it is in our physical bodies and we know that definitely comes to all of us at a certain point. I feel like looking back on our lives, all we’ve got is an experience of being. What else will we have? Our best relationships we can’t take with us. Our best toys we can’t take with us. What we will have is how we experienced being alive.
I used to say to people who worked out this cast iron alibi for being unhappy. We were doing a workshop in New York. There was this woman from a South American country who spent like $250,000 in psychoanalysis. This is years ago.
When they called it analysis, not therapy. Isn’t that hysterical?
That was analysis and if you were in psychoanalysis equivalent five days a week. I used to say to my friend who was a psychiatrist. He’s passed out. I said, “Why is New York crazy at all of them in August?” He said, “Because all of those psychologists are out of town on summer vacation.” That’s why. She was up there and she got this long narrative. We love our narratives. I said, “You’re pretty much screwed, but not in the way you’ll enjoy it.” She looks at me, “What do you mean?” “If you spend a quarter with your family, spend $250,000 carrying this perfect alibi for being unhappy and you’ve got this narrative about all these terrible things that happened to you or didn’t happen to you.” I said, “What are you going to do if you get to the end of your life and you find you’ve made this whole thing up? You wasted your entire life being unhappy because at this point, the sanctity of your narrative is more important to you than your unhappiness. Until you decide that the possibility of being happy is more important than believing in the narrative and blaming your life on a set of circumstances. You’ve done for.”
I know those people usually don’t want to waste their $250,000. Hang on the narrative. My son has an honors degree in theoretical physics and applied mathematics. He’s the head of engineering of a big data science company. He has extraordinary PhD astrophysicists and mathematicians working on his team. They sat down one day because my son is not a religious man. I sat down one day and because I could I started doing the math on the probability of this whole being here that you and I’ve talked, probability of that happening. It’s so many trillions to one. That there was a moment there where they won’t believe each other, paused eating their sushi and drinking their green tea and said, “We may be here through no fault of our own.”
Do you remember Albert Ellis? Is that a name that you’re familiar with? My dad studied with him and it probably was in the ‘70s. He had something called rational emotive therapy. He was a pretty radical guy. I remember growing up with certain soundbites that impacted me. That nature-nurture conversation is telling. There are a lot of things that we bring from the past and maybe from our DNA and who knows what else in the past. What you hear in the environment that you’re in is so important. I love Yogananda. His quote was that, “The environment is stronger than will.” The environment is powerful. In that environment my dad used to repeat things that Ellis would say like, “You’re catastrophizing. There’s no should. There’s only hassles and inconveniences. There’s nothing that’s a catastrophe,” but we do. We’re in a world where we catastrophize a lot of things on a daily basis. It’s good media. You were in the media business.
We not only catastrophize it, we weaponize it.
What do you mean by that?
We use what the narrative that was developed all of this catastrophic event that happened. We use it as ammunition to condemn the other party or parties, who have asphalted this out on their own. This is never our own.
It’s interesting the environment that we find ourselves in right now. There are some important things that are happening and things that certainly deserve our attention and even deserve some response. Yet they all seemed to be so drama-driven. They are as dramatic as it gets. It is like living in a reality TV show.
Perhaps people don’t feel alive unless they’re involved in a drama. It’s like that kid joins the army and he goes into the medic and says, “My fires has gone out.” “What do you mean your fires has gone out?” They gave him all these things. His fires still gone out. Long story short, it turns down for the first time in his life, he’s away from his mother’s cooking and he doesn’t have an ingestion. He thinks his fires has gone out. A lot of families are broken and they grow up in the midst of drama. We live in a world where aliveness is associated with drama, but that’s aliveness that effect, isn’t it? We used to say in EST, “You either live with cause or you live in effect,” because your unhappiness is some external elements’ fault. We love the drama. The fate of this, you feel alive. It’s exciting. In a phase is not exciting, it’s sublime.
I was CEO of a very large personal development training company. I was in the seat of power for a couple of years and was feeling like I wasn’t getting anywhere. We weren’t getting anywhere. In fact, I felt like we were sliding backwards for a variety of reasons. I was at a training at one of our retreats often in the woods of British Columbia. I had something come to me, a very emotional moment, where I came out of the whatever it was that I was experiencing that I realized that we had an opportunity as a company to stand for peace. In the sense that to help people to create their own individual peace. For us to be in some way a catalyst for the work they could do on themselves to create and cultivate inner peace for themselves. At a certain point, if enough people were selfishly working on there at the causal level of their peace that our world at some point would hit a tipping point. We would experience what world peace looked like because so many people were selfishly working on that.
That’s the deal.
Not as a not as a mantra for a company apparently.
I understand that, but on an individual level, it’s “think globally, act locally.” The ultimate process of acting locally is to develop a set of practices to live in one’s own inner peace. I used to model during the anti-war period, the ‘70s. People would want to get involved in the movement, their own movement. I used to say to them, “When you come to Maine, you want me to speak at these anti-war rallies, but you’re also angry. How are you going to bring peace to the world if you’re consumed by your anger?” Call on them to meditate. Go and learn to do something well that brings you fully alive. When you found the blessing of that equanimity and peace, when you’ve grown comfortable in your own skin, then we may have this conversation but not right now. I can’t help you right now. Rather than say, “Find a practice,” meditate and do something that you love to do.
What’s a good sign is that mindfulness and meditation and the corporate term these days is mindfulness. It’s become something in the business context acceptable. It’s not just acceptable, it’s something people are speaking about with an understanding that it’s not just a soft skill. I hate that. I hate when you think about how personal development or personal growth work is sometimes viewed in the corporate sector as soft skills or emotional. Given how hard it is to get there. It’s the hardest road to hoe. How could it be? You have to face yourself with some honesty and truth and maybe integrity in a moment to moment. That can be torturous at least in my personal experience, it can’t be and is usually.
My wife comes from a family, on a mother’s side, who are in the hospitality business. Back in the day, they had I believe the most famous restaurant on Earth in New York called 21 Club. One of their values was they were very kind to service people. I’ve watched my wife turn around the experience for an airplane full of disgruntled passengers simply by being kind to this superstar from the airplane. We used to teach courses in customer service. It used to be if you want to have a great customer service, you’ll learn how to be a great customer and how you have a role in serving the people who are trying to serve you. What do we do with the mess that we’re in this divisiveness, in this conflict and this anger? The simple answer simply be kind to each other. If we practice being kind to each other and kind to ourselves, the world would change. We welcome people with respect and warmth.
I was at a function of some of these birthday parties. There were 100 people there from the LGBT community. Joan and I were definitely a minority yet we had the time of our life and the best way was experientially delicious. Nobody was talking politics. What bound us together was good food and good coffee. These are kids like teenagers covered in tattoos and piercings and multicolored hair. We have a common bond because I can walk up to the espresso machine and polish up with the best of them. Once you’ve established that and you are kind to each other, then age disappears, gender preference disappears, relationship preference disappears. You are simply present with each other. Present with each other requires we start in kindness. We interviewed John McCain before he announced the presidency that Obama won originally. He talked about how sad it had become for him that people on either side of the aisle could no longer disagree and then be friends afterwards. We started down this path of vilifying the other side. If that didn’t change, our representative republic would cease to exist. McCain’s passed now. He wrote the foreword for our book, Success Built to Last. I heard that interview in the Senate building that we didn’t film. He must have died with a broken heart.
It broke a lot of people’s hearts for him to exit at a point when there is so much incivility. I don’t normally watch a lot of the coverage of things at the White House or I don’t watch a lot of politics in general, but I couldn’t stop watching the eulogies that were given for McCain from the former presidents to his daughter. It was heartbreaking. This was a genuinely decent man. You can argue against his politics. That’s fine. This was a gentleman. That’s a word that can’t be used too lightly nowadays.
We went there to interview him and his friend who kept him alive in the Hanoi Hilton and just passed. He couldn’t go to the memorial service so he’s going to film a eulogy. The Senate cinematography team was missing in action, so we were there with the camera crew. We said, “Senator, it will be our honor.” We made this and then McCain threw all of these handlers out of the room. There was Mark, myself and the senator. We talked and we agreed that on the record, off the record, we’d honor that. I said, “Senator, you have to put that off the record.” He said, “Yes, probably.” We’ve never betrayed that on the record-off record thing. You can’t do what we do and interview remarkable people if you don’t honor that. You don’t say that there were any leaks.
It’s not that hard to be kind to people. Somebody got to notice that they’re and noticed that they’re human. We think that there’s transformation in information. There’s no transformation in the information. There’s only transformation on how we are present within ourselves and present with another person. Be there without the monkey mind running amok. Can you just be there in the stillness? Could you just be there in the kindness? The world market is overused. It’s become a jargon. I’d argue it was a state of consciousness and maybe verbs associated with. When we say, “I love my car. I love my coffee. I love this latest book I’m reading or I love you too, Sweetheart.” The word is getting overused at this point. I say that because when it gets overused, then that distracts from what it is. To your point, it is a state of consciousness when the monkey mind isn’t creating conflict and doubt and all those other things. People want a mantra. They want a meditation. Make somebody stay and be kind to them.
Do you know any of the work of A Course in Miracles? Has that ever been something you’ve looked at?
I know it very well. I asked Bill Tedford, who was one of the people involved in that. I said that Helen channeled that. We were down at what used to be the Swedish bakery in downtown Tiburon. He said, “Stewart, did you ever meet Helen?” I said, “No.” You and I have been friends for a while and we love A Course in Miracles. We teach from it. He said, “Helen was a dark angry Jewish atheist. If you ever met her, you would know she couldn’t possibly have written A Course in Miracles, so the only alternative she channeled that.” They would sit there at Columbia. Bill could type as fast as Helen could talk, so she channeled and he’d typed away. They were mimeographing it. Remember the old mimeographs, we have this purple type and it would fade. You get it all over your hands get and I would never tell anybody where this came from because they thought they’d get their ticket cancelled at Columbia if the word got out they were channeling this mystical religious text.
The Whitmore’s who turned in A Course in Miracles were neighbors of ours on Boulder Avenue. I was in the middle of all of that and I loved it. I have two sets of A Course in Miracles on our shelves. One of my favorite saying is, “Things have no meaning but the meaning you give them.” That’s scary if you confront that. Think about this and say all of them our responsibility is, being responsible for investing meaning in something. Meaning is an internal construction, part of an internal narrative and you invest it in external events. They don’t in and of themselves have made it, but we feel better things have meaning. We have to remember we said this has meaning to me. We invest meaning. This is going to matter us. They’re personal choices.
We’re meaning making machines. I was reaching because it sits on my desk and I’ve got two of these two. I don’t know how I picked up two, but at a certain point, we were doing an event some years ago and I had heard that Marianne Williamson, who was running for office and it was late in the game. She was looking for some extra support. Unfortunately, she had lost that bid for Congress. We invited her to come to our event and we made a spot for some point during the day where she could speak to our group. We had 400 people there. She was behind stage. I was on stage and I was going to come back and speak to her briefly and then bring her up. I had A Course in Miracles sitting on my stage table behind. She teaches quite a bit A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of “A Course in Miracles” is one of her books, which is magnificent. It’s an absolutely breathtaking book. She was holding my book up and looking through something.
I always wanted to get back with her and ask her, were she looking for things, passages or things that I was maybe dogeared or whatever or was she looking for something for herself? There’s one particular part of that text that I come back to it again. I may never know any more than this one thing, but this was a blessing found in Chapter 30, which is called The New Beginning. It’s in essence the rules for how you create the day you want, which is lovely that you could learn how to create the day and it starts by asking or having an awareness that you make no decisions by yourself. We’re either making them with fear or with love in essence.
There’s one other amazing thing at the end of that section where it talks about that we create the day we want so that we can offer it. That it becomes an offering, it becomes a gift to the world. That the peace that we would give ourselves is the peace we get to offer the world. It’s such an interesting twist on the giving and receiving thing, which is as my dad would always say this, “A front and back of everything.” It’s two sides of the same coin and yet we’re always giving. We’re thinking that that’s the thing we’re supposed to do including giving love. To give love, to put our stamp of love on things, “I love my coffee. I love my car. I love my wife.” All those things and yet the receiving piece of it is what seems to be lacking in so many because how can you give something? The quality of what you give is rooted in the quality of where it came from. Talk about cause and effect, how can you give something that you don’t possess? Even if you do possess it, the quality of what you can give is based on the quality of what you possessed. The love we give others is the love we give ourselves. The judgment that we heap on ourselves is the judgment that we also heap on the world.
I find it’s hard because some are going to love themselves. Sometimes I want to hit you over the head after you tell them that with whatever is available. I don’t find that telling and saying when you don’t love yourself. I remember driving along Tiburon Boulevard behind the old Volkswagen campus covered in P stickers always out of the state and on the back of that car it says, “Honk if you love Jesus.” I’d drive past the woman. She leans out and gives me the finger. I guess the message of universal love failed her. This is why operationally we’ve come to be kind.
Your lovely wife, Joan, is a walking example of what kindness looks like. I don’t know her. The way you do and don’t live with her. She is a genuinely kind human being. You married a very kind person, sir.
Her core value is to welcome others with respect. She uses the word love, but she probably wouldn’t say that always. She’d say, “Welcome people with respect and warmth and be kind to them.” Joan and I have this core value of being kind to serve people. Those are people who pack the groceries in the bag, the people who service behind the fish counter. It doesn’t seem like an effort of trying to be present and leave them smiling as we go. It’s not too hard to close that gap. That’s actionable. You can do that. If I say, “Love yourself,” you can’t do that. If I say, “Be kind to the person packing your groceries in the bag,” you can do that. If you’re kind to enough people, you will notice one day you love yourself. Simple as that.
We were in Sydney and Melbourne a couple of years back. I’ve been there fortunately a number of times to do some trainings and things, but we were there and heard or read that the demographic of people who were taking their lives in Australia. That demographic in Australia were young people in their twenties and early 30s. A few years later, we were launching our book, Pivot and having a celebration party in Manhattan. We were there and it was front page of either the Times or The Wall Street Journal that they had published a fifteen-year study of suicide rates in the US and the demographic was completely different here. The highest increase of suicides was among women, 50 plus years old, which was shocking to me.
Men are on that and the military unfortunately is on that too, but this was in terms of the dramatic rise in the rate among women 50 plus years old as well as teenage young girls. The number of young girls that had taken their lives was very small, but the percentage increase was what was noticeable and among women 50 plus years old. Suicide is something a much bigger issue. You brought it up with respect to celebrities and all of that. This is something that’s not well-understood and there’s still a great deal of attention that needs to be placed in that area. What are your thoughts on that?
What I was thinking about when you’re talking, we knew a woman who founded Pan-Am. She had started a charity and they outfitted aircraft as a global traveling eye hospital. They would go to parts of the world and restore people’s eyesight through surgeries. Simple by our standards, but not available in these developing countries. They did long-term tracking and they found that the suicide rate amongst people who had their eyesight restored far outstripped the normal control population. You’re blind. You have your eyesight restored and you kill yourself. When the perceived causes of your unhappiness are removed and yet your unhappiness continues, you can be left in such a state of despair that the only way out is to take your own life. That was a pivot point for me where I grew up in poverty. I honestly believed that if I could consume the right stuff, I’d be happy. If I solve the problems of being poor, I would be happy. I solved those problems and joined the ranks of the conspicuously affluent by Sydney, Australian standards, which are way below American standards or was in those days. Here I was, I was so much sane. I had a little kid tormented at a boarding school or feeling alone in the Blue Mountains of Australia, family or friends, what was the story. I faced that at that moment.
For me, it was a pivot point you talk about people because I read this book that my first wife gave me who passed from cancer. It’s by Jiddu Krishnamurti called Think on These Things. I went into a state of bliss, realizing that my inner experience was not the functional external circumstances. Later in my life in America to meet some of those people and talk to them. They’d survived the concentration camps of Nazi Germany. They talked about being able to govern their internal experience in external circumstances that you and I can’t imagine probably. We can see the videos, but we can’t imagine what that would be like. I couldn’t conceive of myself as a person and could manage an inner experience of equanimity in those dreadful external circumstances. There are people like this, but I meet more and more people who have learned that their inexperience is in fact independent of external circumstances. For a lot of people whose solution was fame and fortune and it didn’t get them there, what are you going to do? Robin Williams, Anthony Bourdain and that famous designer?
People look like they’re totally hadn’t made. I always thought that having it made was the answer to the inner demons and the relentless unhappiness.
Bruce Springsteen, I haven’t read his biography, but what I heard was that he speaks about his own anxiety and depression. How he dealt with that privately, away from the public eye, but he felt compelled to let some folks know. This is a much bigger issue. The number of suicides, which they were talking about 22 service men and women a day were veterans. The number of people that are reported to take their lives are a very different number than the number of people who’ve attempted to take their lives or think about it and have yet or have not made an attempt. This is a much bigger issue in our world than we’re willing to shine a light on it at this moment. I feel like that’s only increasing because the level at which we have true connections with people that we’re able to enjoy being present with other people. I don’t know how you can be very easily present with someone through social media. I’m a fan of social. I’m certainly not ever looking to hold back the tide of progress. It would be foolish to try. I don’t think it’s wise to do that, but it certainly creates its own additional effects. Some of those effects are that people are more isolated than ever before.
That’s the case. Joan was doing a course for teenage girls. It was a very difficult experience for her. There was a moment there where she said, “Oh, my God.” They’re taking a break and she sees two teenage girls sitting next to each other on a park bench in the park next to the building. They were sitting there texting each other. Not like being present with each other and connecting but texting each other. How crazy is that?
Any crazier than people sitting in a restaurant with a glass of wine or good food on the table and are on their phones? I see that every day everywhere.
Technology has not brought us closer together.
It hasn’t brought us bliss.
One way I’m looking at human history is all the things we’ve believed in that we’re going to make us happy or I used to say, “We’re a little more citizen.” All the things we believed in that we’re going to save our ass, Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus, then we graduated to commercialism, communism and capitalism. All the -isms and -ologies. We tried Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Scientology. It goes on and on and on. We did a book. We’re talking about all of the -isms and -ologies we have believed in, not mention lovers and other friends that we thought were going to save our miserable self. None of it works. That could have you want to kill yourself. I’ve studied a lot of people as success fall in the terms you read, “Success is a total concept.” They’re a happy people and loving people. They have as much affluence as they need to be able to choose freely in the world and live a life that is a gift to the world. I’ve spoken to hundreds of people like that. I always thought it’s the same characteristics.
Life is the greatest game ever played. After all, who makes the rules? We get to be the judge, the jury and the referee all the time. Could you get an easier game to play on some level than that? What you said earlier, “Nothing has meaning except for the meaning we give it.” There are some important basic principles that are life-changing. How did you meet Werner Erhard? Maybe some of the people might not even know of that name, but I’d love to know how that relationship started.
What happened was we had a client in Australia. It was the ad business called Holiday Magic run by William Penn Patrick. We had programs and they had programs to help people be more successful. One of them was a course called Mind Dynamics, which was how to use your mind more effectively and how to work in Alpha states. I took the Mind Dynamics course after I had this epiphany in Australia that was remarkable. They said, “We love the ad you’re doing in Australia for us, why don’t you come to America? Do some marketing work for us there and if you want take the Mind Dynamics franchise back to Australia.” That was the plan. Do this in two or three weeks, but what went wrong was in the middle of the Mind Dynamics course, Werner Erhard had some of these people there because he was the star Mind Dynamics instructor. He was going to become president of Mind Dynamics.
I got up and did my thing because I was leading encounter groups in Australia. His people went back and said, “There’s this kid from Australia. You’ve got to meet him. He’s something else. He’s like a Terrier. If he gets his teeth into somebody, he doesn’t let it go. You’ve got to meet him.” I meet Werner and he says I hear these courses you do in Australia are phenomenal, would you do one for me and my staff?” I said, “Sure.” It was Werner’s birthday weekend in 1971 at the Sir Francis Drake. He was set to announce as president of Mind Dynamics. We did the course. He said, “I don’t want to become president of Mind Dynamics. Why don’t we start our own thing?” EST was born. We contributed the concept of aliveness because EST was about aliveness and that was what we were offering people. I can’t say that was the original offering. We were on a paid EST journey in advance to do the course. I was like, “What am I going to do for three days?” I went to town hall metaphysical bookstore and has a tiny little book, red color.
I don’t know that there’s any chance I’m going to guess what book you’re talking about, but are you talking about The 7 Day Mental Diet?
This is called Aliveness: Health, Wealth, Happiness and Full Self-Expression, so that became a marketing promise of EST.
Who is the author of that book? Do you remember?
No, I don’t even have the book.
You’ve got to get that book.
Werner made up his mind before we started the course. He wasn’t going to take the deal at Mind Dynamics, but that became the founding idea of EST. I enjoyed it immediately. We had lunch for his birthday at Greenbrier. I said, “I’ve got some other comments that I need to tidy up.” On the first of April 1972, we made a deal.
The world changed. Your world changed and a lot of people’s world changed. It’s thousands and thousands and probably hundreds of thousands of people who have come through that. That morphed into Landmark Forum and the Landmark trainings.
I became the first CEO of EST, the first person to do the training and trained the first trainers. They were exciting times. The timing was right for EST. We got remarkable people. EST became successful because of the remarkable people. We get the leading edge of the bell curve. The people who were up to something.
What we’re talking about when it comes to timing was that we were coming to the early ‘70s. This is the Civil Rights Movement. This is the Vietnam War and all the activism against that war and the ending of the war. It’s also Nixon and it’s shy of when we find out what’s going on with him. It’s a tumultuous time. It was the perfect time for something like an EST to be born. I’m curious to look at the times that we’re living in now and one of them is this concept of aliveness. We are living in very divisive times, very tumultuous times. In many ways you could look at the rhetoric and compare it to the late ‘60s or early ‘70s. This has similarities for sure.
I don’t want to malign people, but as we both know a lot of big names are making a lot of money selling success.
Their definition or some version.
It’s a definition of success that allowed you to be one of the Crazy Rich Asians if you’ve seen that movie. The conspicuous consumption in the world that can’t support that anymore.
Not this version of success.
Everybody deserves to have that to read. It’s magnificent. Those of us who are in the business of supporting people being successful. It’s time for us to redefine what that means in the spirit of that piece you read. I talk to Jack about this. He has his course Success Principles, but the kind of success we want is this success of being able to be kind to people whoever is in front of you.
There’s a new paradigm that will emerge and hopefully is already emerging any sense of what that might look like? You have already said that kindness would be an important element in the equation. As the wave was cresting, you’re an Australian so you surf and you play rugby too. The rugby thing came up for me that what’s great about rugby is that they knock each other around pretty good on the field, but more to the point they gather afterward as fellow competitors and people that respect each other. They hoist a few. They sing. They arm in arm with each other, celebrate the competition. That’s definitely not what seems to be in the air.
That is what McCain was talking about as being the case of the Senate back in the day. We have some friends who were working to try and sort out the North Korean mess and made some progress since that’s not in the news cycle anymore. We had started a conversation about do they have those level conversations with members of the Senate, which puts us a greater risk than the guy in North Korea. Way back I designed a program for Condoleezza Rice’s State Department where they brought people together from Palestine and Israel, who were water engineers. To smuggle them out at a secure location. I couldn’t leave the seminar. I couldn’t get a security clearance. They came into the room and looked each other in the eye and they left hugging each other on that level at work. It hasn’t solved the problems they have, but we do know at any given moment, if a program’s well-designed and well-facilitated, people can get to be present with one another. Get to recognize each other’s humanity and for the length of time they’re together to be kind.
It’s difficult because as Peter Drucker said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” or Stewart Emery says, “The environmental waste wins.” We talked about that one of the difficult things about the EST training or actualizations, which was something we did all the corporate work we’ve done was people would have this extraordinary experience for that period of time. Then I go back to environment they came from. What I liked about corporate work rather than public work was you could change a corporate culture. We spent years with Mastercard and made a huge contribution to their success in the marketplace and with each other. Because their success in the marketplace began with the success of each other as people. You can do something about corporate culture. Enough people have got a care to try and get the dialogue started in a civil way.
Was it the same wave that’s cresting again? Will the answer to this particular discord be the same or similar answer as to the one when you started EST with Werner?
We didn’t invent the Human Potential Movement, Adam. It’s been around as long as humanity hasn’t.
The Bible is a human potential movement. What else is it?
We reinvent the narrative in a book called Sapiens. He talks about what separated humanity or this version of humanity from all of the competing forms is unique to us is our ability to create narratives and have people believe them and be willing to die for it. Christianity is a narrative. We can go through the list of -isms and -ologies, Judaism, Islam. They are all narratives. Republican, narrative. Democrat, narrative. They’re all narratives. We divide the tribes and find over whose narrative is the right narrative. Some progressive intellectuals think we’ve got to get rid of tribes. If we look at the person or elephant with the rider, the tribe lives inside the elephant and that’s not going to change. How do we do globalization without destroying tribalism? Because if we try to destroy some of these tribe, that doesn’t end well. If we love animals, we can be kind to a lot of species of animals and donate to animal welfare. What about this element? What about that animal? How could we be kind to the very species of elephants making up the human race and stop by the rider giving dogma and a personal version of the truth as the only truth? That just isn’t so.
I’m bringing up of Stewart’s book, Who’s in Your Room? Stewart, is this book informed by some of what we’ve been talking about? I imagine it is in many ways.
The books are simple idea. Imagine you live your entire life in one room. Travels with you can be beautiful, but the thing about the room is that it only has one tool you can say, “Stewart, two rooms only have one door, what’s the deal?” I say, “What the deal is, Adam, is that this room has a one-way door in but not out, entry but no exit.” Whoever comes through the door to your room is with you in your room for the rest of your life, whatever they bring with them is in your room with you for the rest of your life. If you knew that, would you choose more carefully? Before you argue whether that could possibly be true or not, would you be willing to live going forward as if it were true? If you talk to the world’s best brain scientists that would tell you it’s absolutely true. If it comes into your mind, it never leaves. You may think people are out of your life, but they’re still in your head. The book is about how do you live with that, how do you choose carefully going forward, how do you have people that support you becoming the best version of yourself living in kindness and living a life that’s a gift to the world? That’s what the book is about. It’s very practical.
You co-authored with Ivan Misner and Rick Sapio. I had Ivan on the podcast. Is it available now? Is it in stores on Amazon?
It’s up for preorder on Amazon. I don’t know what date this is, but the book launches in America two days after the midterms. We think it will be a very relevant book at that moment, Who’s in Your Room? I’m Australian so there’s a part of me incorrigible.
This has been everything I would have wanted it to be. What a wonderful conversation.
Anything I said is actionable. Being kind to people that’s actionable.
It’s incredibly actionable and it’s simple. I love things that are usable and walking into the supermarket, which is something we all do sometimes daily or weekly certainly to see that person on the other side of the counter. Instead of fiddling with your phone or doing any other number of things, figuring out whether you spent too much money or did you, get everything you’re there to get. Maybe to look across and look at that person and see them, allow them to see you seeing them. Ask them something, use their name. I don’t think there’s anything more practical as a way to model kindness than in that scenario. It’s one of many scenarios, but what a beautiful example you gave us.
It could get to be a habit. Once is a habit, it’s called critical mass. Then you notice that you become kind to yourself. When we recognize each other but just by being present rather than what our job is or what we’re wearing, it does all change.
Thank you, Stewart, for your time. Thanks for the words and your wisdom. It was a pleasure.
It was great. I was going to say thank you for whoever signs into read this. The world needs you to have a successful life and to be a happy kind of person. That’s what the world needs from you right now. That will bring you fully alive. We are honoring Thurman’s quote to Martin Luther King. Go do that please. They all need us to do that.
For our community, thank you so much as always for supporting what we’re doing here and for the wonderful comments that you leave for us. We’d love to get your feedback, so you can go to iTunes and leave a review. You can go to AdamMarkel.com/podcasts or leave a comment and we can reply directly to you there. If you haven’t yet subscribed, please feel free to our Facebook group is growing and they are very much like-minded, like-hearted people who are pivoting in so many ways. The essential pivot for most of us, if not all of us is our day to day, our moment to moment thoughts. That community Facebook is the Start My Pivot community and you can get there by going to PivotFB.com. I will leave with a prayer. I believe in the power and the value of prayer. I say this in a secular way I suppose because I’m not assigning it to a religion, but yet I believe every moment of our lives is holy. To that extent this is something that there’s nothing that’s secular but without splitting hairs, my prayer is that we all get to wake up tomorrow. Now, we got to wake up, be alive as we’ve been talking about and that wasn’t a guarantee and tomorrow it will be no different. My hope is that we all get to do it again tomorrow. I hope that you will in fact agree that your intention is to wake up tomorrow. Wake up not just physically but consciously. That you are a little more conscious tomorrow, a little more awake and alive tomorrow than you are even now.
If that’s the case and I’m sure it will be, then we’re making a steady progress. In that waking moment when you take your first conscious breath that you aware that there will be people taking their last breath at that moment and babies being born taking their first breath. It is something to be grateful for. Waking up part one, acknowledging how special that is and being grateful is part two. Lastly, if you’re inclined to say these words out loud or had the blessing to share this with a lot of people around the world and it has made a big difference in my own life. Then you get to be the judge of whether it works for you. That’s the beauty of any of this. What Stewart was sharing, you get to try these things on for size. No different than if you went into a shoe store and tried on a pair and if they fit, great, wear them and if they don’t fit, take them off. You get to create your own narrative about it. My narrative is that I love my life. Tomorrow when you wake up and you feel grateful for that breath you get to also choose if you want to declare out loud from your bed from the moment you stand up whenever it is, I love my life. I love my life. I love my life. It’s been a blessing everybody. We’ll see very soon. Stewart, thanks so much for your kindness. Thank you.
- Stewart Emery
- Think on These Things
- Success Built to Last
- An End to Upside Down Thinking
- A Course in Miracles?
- A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of “A Course in Miracles”
- The 7 Day Mental Diet
- Who’s in Your Room?
- Ivan Misner – Previous episode
- iTunes – The Conscious PIVOT Podcast
About Stewart Emery
An internationally acclaimed educator, author, world-class speaker, and in-demand expert on the psychology of greatness, Stewart Emery has devoted his life to the study of human potential and has been named as one of the ten most influential people in the Human Potential Movement. He has been awarded a Doctor of Humane Letters degree by John F. Kennedy University as an acknowledgement of his contributions.
Over the last 15 years Stewart has led thousands of employees and hundreds of managers around the world through Vision-Values-Strategy-Leadership initiatives based on the research from the international bestsellers Built to Last (Collins and Porras), Good to Great (Collins) and Success Built to Last, which he co-wrote with Porras and Thompson. This body of work sprang from the most comprehensive research project ever undertaken into what makes a great company great, how good companies become great companies, and the traits of enduringly successful leaders who build great companies.
Stewart has been involved with numerous bestselling books throughout the years, the latest of which—Do You Matter? How Great Design Will Make People Love Your Company—was released in September 2008 by FT Press. Coauthored with iconic designer Robert Brunner (who founded Apple’s legendary Industrial Design Group and hired Jonathan Ive), it has become required business reading.
Stewart’s curiosity and insight into business cultures and what is required to achieve greatness has often led to remarkable outcomes. He was responsible for connecting the core team of people to create the Barnes & Noble Nook in an astonishingly brief twelve-month period. He’s also the man who had the conversations at MasterCard that were a catalyst for the legendary “Priceless” campaign and conducted training programs for two thousand team members to create an intentional culture and leverage the “Priceless” theme.
A celebrated storyteller with a great sense of humor, Stewart has appeared as a featured guest on myriad television and radio talk shows through the years. He has conducted coaching interviews with more than 12,000 notable individuals in the last three decades, and more than 250,000 people have attended his live programs. Through leading workshops and seminars, writing books, delivering keynotes, and making radio and television appearances, Stewart Emery has touched the lives of millions of people…and will continue to do so with his current projects, Who’s In Your Room? and What Ever You Are Be A Good One.
Aside from work, Stewart’s portfolio of passions also includes aviation (he and his wife Joan are both instrument rated pilots and fly a Beechcraft Bonanza), jazz, Baroque music, travel, technology, and coffee. In fact, he’s a member of a tasting panel that develops blends for Thomas Keller’s restaurants. Originally from Sydney, Australia, Emery lives by the San Francisco Bay Area with Joan.