When the Bush administration started the Iraq War, I found myself engaging in politics for the first time, spearheading a street theater media campaign that protested this violent aggression. I ended up dedicating more than a year of my life to trying to prevent Bush's re-election, orchestrating elaborate media spectacles that appeared in international media such as MSNBC, Fox, Time, ABC, USA Today, and the cover of NY Magazine. But when Bush took his second term, I fell into a depression. Our planetary crisis of melting poles, corporate dominance, toxic oceans, burning rainforests and an extinction rate of thirty thousand species each year convinced me that electoral politics could not address the scope of the problems we faced. While contemplating this daunting future, I remembered Einsteins old line that you cannot solve a problem with the same thinking that caused the dilemma. What we needed, I began to think, was a Galileo-type paradigm shift. When that 16th century astronomer proved that the Earth rotates around the sun, it didnt just change the way we looked at large objects in the sky, but every particle in our daily lives.
So, I began looking for a paradigm shift, and to my surprise, it was given to me on my thirtieth birthday when I took MDMA and started seeing energy fields (some would call these auras). Up to that point, Id always been a dogged skeptical materialist, so at first my mind struggled to make sense of these strange electric currents that I now saw pulsing all around me. For weeks I worried I might be crazy. But as it turned out, seeing energy was just the first step in a much longer (and ongoing) initiation process. This journey led me to taking ayahuasca, experiencing past lives, and having out of body experiences, and to eventually meeting my spirit guides, undergoing a profound kundalini awakening, and finally becoming an energy healer in order to utilize this vivifying life force to help others heal dis-ease. Perhaps the most surprising twist on this road was being reintroduced to the mystical elements of my Christian upbringing, as I began to explore the energetic significance of Biblical symbols like halos, the Tree of Life, the serpent, the dove and the Star of David.
While this journey had been life changing on an individual level, I still wondered if I could be of service in a larger context. Thats when Daniel Pinchbeck gave me a call to meet up at the Life Cafe in Alphabet City. He opened up his laptop to reveal a still-to-be-launched web magazine hed been concocting with a couple of friends, Ken Jordan, our publisher, and Michael Robinson,our creative director (our features editor Steven Taylor and our community director Jennifer Palmer would come on later. The homepage had a slick urban shamanic look that immediately appealed to my own sensibilities. The sample posts covered topics as diverse as open source programming, shamanic initiations, DIY art, raw foods, alternative currencies, urban homesteading, and spiritual activism. Over the previous few months, Id been interviewing at various nonprofits for jobs where I could apply my media skills, but I always left these appointments disappointed, feeling that they were focused on single-issue politics when I wanted to participate in a project that connected all the different elements of transformation.
This web magazine, Reality Sandwich, did exactly that. It examined ways we could redesign systems, society, and our own lives. Unlike my old political organizing projects, this magazine wasnt solely focused on protesting against injustice; its mission was to foster and transmit ideas that led to new models of existence. Whereas I had done media stunts to send out messages that were invariably flattened by the corporate press, these guys were circumventing this problem by building their own media engine to promote their culture, stories, and mythologies out into the world. My activist days had come full circle. I was looking at a dream opportunity, especially when Daniel asked if I wanted to come on as managing editor of the project. There was only one problem: they had no money. There was no doubt I believed in this project and I wanted to do it regardless off the immediate sacrifice it would take. Each one of us had hope that we could turn something this inspiring into a financially sustainable model.
So, for the next year, I dedicated over 100 hours per month on top of my day-job to help make Reality Sandwich happen. Daniel, Ken and Michael made similar commitments. Although we had no budget to pay contributors, feature articles kept flowing in from around the globe. Many were grateful to finally have a home where these kinds of stories could be presented. I was amazed how many of their journeys resembled my own initiatory process. Emails poured in from our readers describing similar experiences: Hi, I live in Duluth and dont know how to tell my mother I can see auras. What should I do? Im having a kundalini experience and Im not sure how to ground myself. Any advice? I thought I was crazy when I started to have dreams about the future that came true. From reading your site, I now know Im not the only one. I read Daniels book and have also experienced a ridiculous number of synchronicities lately. Is something happening out there? Incredibly, over time we grew from being four guys in Daniels apartment to connecting a global transformational community with over 100,000 participants per month, including hundreds of inspiring volunteers who make it all possible.
After a year of working on the project, I still wasnt getting paid, nor was anyone else. The late hours on top of my day-job affected my health, and my relationship with my girlfriend at the time. Daniel and Ken saw that I was burning out and they generously offered to make me their first paid employee once we got in some initial investment money. I kept pushing on, but there were lapses of faith and finally I told Daniel I didnt think I could last much longer. Just a couple more months, he said. Well get there. I held out until our first funding came in from our investors, who own the ranch where we do retreats in Boulder, Utah. I finally gave two weeks notice at my day job and went on to increase my hours to 50-70 per week for Reality Sandwich and Evolver. My new salary was small for New York living, but I couldnt complain. Unlike everyone else in the project, I was getting paid.
During that time, Daniel would often talk about how those whod undergone the initiatory experience could serve as midwives to bring forth a new consciousness. We discussed the situation in a number of editorial meetings, trying to figure out how we could best aid this process. Often we talked about visionary architect Buckminster Fuller, who believed that most of societys difficulties were problems of design. Our current models for government, economics, media, and even religion were mostly based on flawed hierarchical models that bred division while consolidating power to the few at the top. Energetically speaking, we were a house divided, competing for money, land, space, jobs, fuel and other resources, creating an enormous amount of suffering. As our Reality Sandwich community continued to grow, members asked to meet and organize with others where they lived. They wanted to pool their resources, share their ideas and talents, offer up their unique gifts, and create new models of community where they lived.
Our magazine format couldnt facilitate this need, so over several months in 2009 we developed our social network for conscious collaboration, Evolver.net. While creating a PowerPoint presentation about this new site, Ken showed me a series of diagrams that showed their approach to social mobilizing. The first presented a hierarchical model, where all the energy unfairly flowed from the edges to the center, where all the power is centralized. He then clicked to a diagram of a decentralized system of hubs and spokes, which is what many websites follow, where the energy flows in all directions but then gets stuck with isolated individuals at the ends (sitting alone at their computers). And then he showed me a mesh model for distributed networks, which displayed a rich ecosystem of interconnected participants, each equally able to share information with everyone else. This diagram captured our vision for the Evolver network. Distributed networks circulate resources, allowing forces to flow and build without losing or dispersing energy. Looking at this diagram, it suddenly struck me that what Ken and other proponents of distributed networks wanted to develop was a type of sacred geometry, one that harnessed humans creative power to fashion a harmonious, egalitarian society.
With Evolver.net, we wanted to do one thing that was very different than Facebook, Myspace, and Twitter. We wanted to actively facilitate people connecting off-line, in actual physical space. Wondering how to do this, I called up one of the brightest culture jammers I know, Andrew Boyd, who coordinated the Billionaires for Bush efforts in 2004. The Billionaires had dozens of chapters across the country producing inspired theatrical street theater protests — inventive, inspiring, and fun, and all made possible by volunteers. We had lunch at the Essex Street Market in the Lower East Side, where he discussed various ways we could spread the memes of Evolver and Reality Sandwich into the media. I took in his advice and then told him I was also looking for something else — how to help foster a network-wide consciousness community. Andrews eyes lit up. You need your ritual, he said, snapping his finger, something that brings everyone across the network together, something they can do together each month. We discussed several viral grassroots initiatives, such as Critical Mass Bike rides, Green Drinks, and Drinking Liberally. This, I felt, was exactly what I was looking for. I brought the idea back to the editorial team, and with some brainstorming about names, Daniel came up with the term, Evolver Spores.
What would make the Evolver Spores different than other initiatives was that they would not focus on one single topic, but rather on bridging many diverse tribes, groups, and communities that may not even know about each other, in an effort to build a wider transformational network. To help ensure this diversity, each month would feature a different theme, from alternative economies to sustainable food practices, from holistic health to shamanism. The Spores would connect bicycle co-ops and yoga studios to neighborhood gardens and urban homesteads to local currency groups and healing circles. There would be great deal of focus on local resilience and creating thriving, sustainable regional communities.
When we first did a call out for those interested in hosting Spores, 17 people immediately signed up in different cities (Atlanta were the early adopters and already hosting events, so we'd learn a lot from them). Things were rocky at first. Some organizers had little experience coordinating events. Often, only a few people would show up for the monthly gatherings. Given our small, underpaid Evolver team, it was a challenge to set up the support each city needed. Thankfully, the local coordinators stepped up to each challenge and together we kept working at it, learning from each other, fine-tuning our efforts. Collectively, weve been exploring the incredible possibilities of engaging in a living, breathing form of a distributed network the sacred geometry that Ken showed me. We all learn from each others successes and mistakes, reading each others Post Spore Questionnaires to continually improve upon our activities. Theme topics most often come from the regional coordinators, or suggestions by Spore participants, to which the coordinators in the thirty cities comment and vote upon. We share information about which groups to invite for certain themes, resources that are online, what movies to show, and other things we can do to make the nights lively and encourage people to take action on the topics addressed. We also travel to each other's events, being greeted like family.
Were learning a new model of cooperation, known as emergent space, where its not just about meeting and discussing, but creating a container that will allow things we couldnt even imagine to manifest as we synchronize our energies both locally and internationally. Its a mystery of sorts, where the evolutionary whole has already turned out to be much greater than the sum of its parts. Cities that started with only a few members soon had packed events. Entire communities sprang up where none had been before. Permaculture gardens, healing workshops, film screenings, time-banks, and even large-scale festivals have manifested in the US and abroad through the Spores. From our humble beginnings, its amazing to see that we now have thriving communities in more than thirty cities, with the seeds of evolution spreading every month.
Im truly grateful to all the Spore organizers for getting us so far, so quickly for being a nexus of hope in your communities, for giving each other the necessary support on our regional email list, for strategizing in our monthly conference calls, for all your incredible ideas, suggestions, and efforts, and for coming up with so many exciting themes to discuss and act upon across the network. I also find it inspiring just how many strong, compassionate women have heeded the call to hold this space for us, such as Maya (Atlanta), Erin and Jill (LA), Regina (SF), Corinne (NYC), Robin (Baltimore), Gizelle (Cape Town), and Marisa (Boise). Your work is creating positive changes in the lives all around you, including my own.
While Evolver and Reality Sandwich have had many successes in our mission to evolve consciousness bite by bite, it has not been easy. As weve expanded our services for our rapidly growing community, weve also quadrupled the amount of work it takes to keep it running. Each one of us on the core team carries at least three of four roles that could be full time jobs in themselves. Investment, advertising, and other revenue generators havent come through in the way we would have liked and weve been running at a semi-starvation level (as Daniel has put it) this entire time. Ken and Daniel have never received a salary, and Ken has been working 60-plus hours a week for 3 years. Our financial situation has been exacerbated, as many of you know, by an investment that we counted on not coming through, after several months of intensive negotiations. Now, instead of fixing tech bugs on RS, adding features to Evolver.net, sending promotional cards and stickers to the Spores, and sustaining our team financially, we have hit a crisis point, wondering how well pay this months rent.
In the healing process, its often your lowest moment that provides the greatest opportunity for transformation. Through this difficult turning point, weve heard your suggestions to sustain and grow Reality Sandwich and Evolver with monthly contributions from the community, creating a model of interdependent media. Together, we can build the Evolver Social Movement, maintaining Reality Sandwich and Evolver, while creating transformational space in communities around the globe. We are already planning a multi-regional festival in the East Coast, an Evolver Conference, Evolver Regional community spaces, as well as making the initial steps to integrate an alternative currency across the network. Over the last week alone, Ive been helping coordinators start up regionals in Budapest, St. Louis, Montreal, Tallahassee, San Diego, Tampa Bay, and Montreal. This is just the beginning. I believe we can go beyond monthly Spores to creating a viable alternative social structure and culture that values life of all kinds as well as our individual gifts that we can share with each other.
But in order to make this happen, we need your immediate help. Our goal is to have 2,000 E+SM members by April 30 in order to continue our operations. We are asking for $10 per month (but you can pay whatever you can afford). If everyone reading this article were to take a minute and make a contribution, we would be able to keep Reality Sandwich running and take the Evolver Social Movement to the next level. If youre tired of a society built on division, destruction, and oppression, I invite you to spend the equivalent of a lunch per month to invest in the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible.
I invite you to participate in the upcoming series of Evolver Social Movement calls to discuss how wed like to build the movement together. And if you youd like to start up an Evolver Regional, just contact me through my profile page (Ill include some Regional Testimonials in the comments below). I also make this promise with you: to keep learning and improving as we go on this journey, to continue my own healing process so I can be of better service to all of you, to listen carefully and incorporate your suggestions with how we move forward, and to continue to enjoy and appreciate this beautiful network that we are building together.
Image: "Earth+Doyle+Mobius+inversion" by fdecomite on Flickr courtesy of Creative Commons Licensing.