Behind the CurtainJun 11, 2020
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For every hour a teacher is on camera filming a Commune course, we spend several hours with them off camera — meeting, planning, having meals together. Today, Jeff chats with Commune’s head of content Jake Laub about how our courses get made and the many lessons we learn from teachers during the moments in between.
Welcome to Commune, a global wellness community and online course platform featuring some of the world’s greatest teachers. We’re on a mission to inspire, heal, pass down wisdom, and bring the world closer together.
This is the Commune podcast, where each week we explore the ideas and practices that help us live healthy, connected and purpose-filled lives. You can check out our courses, our community and everything we do at onecommune.com
Many of you have taken a course on our Commune platform. In fact, since we launched in September 2018, 1.2 million people have registered for one of our programs. We’re still a long way from our lofty goal of 1 billion but together we’re moving in a positive direction.
Today on the show, we pull back the curtain, we break the fourth wall and give you a little window into how we make the proverbial sausage and what it is like to work with the brilliant teachers who have influenced and helped so many of us.
In the last year and a half, we’ve shot more than 400 hours of content. But for every hour that makes it on the platform, there are dozens more of just hanging out, taking hikes, eating fabulous dinner and mulling over the mysteries of the universe.
Over the holiday break, I was talking with Jake Laub, one of my fellow co-founders and our head of content, about how much we both have learned from teachers during these off camera moments — the moments in between — and today on the podcast we share a few of these behind-the-scenes lessons we’ve learned.
Since Jake is often the one asking teachers questions from behind the camera, he agreed to take the role of interviewer for this episode… I just have to sit here, sip tea and wax poetic and sometimes pathetic. Lucky me.
I’m Jeff Krasno, and welcome to Commune.
Jacob: Hey, Jeff. Well, I guess the best place to start is by setting the scene a bit. We filmed the majority of our courses in a place called Commune in Topanga in the Santa Monica mountains. Can you tell us a little bit about that property and why you felt it was important for Commune to have a physical location for us to produce our courses?
Jeff: Sure. Well, I think it goes back to my wife Skyler, who's hosted this podcast before and who's hosted a number of courses on the platform. She grew up on a commune in Northern California with kooky, hippie parents. Some of it was highly functional, some of it was extremely dysfunctional, but we really gravitated to a lot of the better values of her upbringing and this notion of shared resources and shared responsibilities and to create sort of a gathering place for people to be, to engage in deep and real conversations.
So, it was a property that we were looking for for a long period of time. We've been together for 32 years, so we've kind of kept our eye out over that time. The time was right last September in 2018. Right when we started Commune, an opportunity came up to buy Neil Young's old compound in Topanga and it met sort of a ridiculous list of criteria that we had for a physical gathering place. And really, we thought about it in three ways. One, we loved this idea of being able to host groups in retreat, of course around wellness, yoga, mindfulness, personal development, but really around the idea of being intentionally present with other people in real life offline. So, the property really serves that function.
It also serves another function, which is it's a bit of a test laboratory for a whole variety of sustainability projects of which you know very well since you live in a yurt next to 14 beehives. There is a slow but a determined effort to regenerate the soil with a biodynamic garden and a number of orchards. There's chickens. There's a composting program. There is the beginnings of a gray water and water capture program. There are a number of compostable toilets onsite that actually take your poop and it gets eaten up by microorganisms and turned into fertilizer that we can use in the gardens. It's almost completely powered by solar now.
So, it's a lab for sustainability and the goal is eventually to show that it is actually possible to live in harmony with nature and hopefully regeneratively with nature. And then of course, the third purpose of the property, which you know intimately and I do too, is the creation of content. These transformational courses that appear on our course platform featuring all of these amazing teachers. While it would have been way easier just to say, "Hey, Wim Hof, Danielle LaPorte, Deepak Chopra, Mark Hyman, Marianne Williamson, Russell Brand, stay at the Lowe's and meet us at 10:00AM at a production studio in Hollywood and here's your craft services and we'll do the best to get the best vegan in food." I think for us the dream was bigger than that and that we could actually cultivate content in a way that was way, way different by having our own physical place where we could immerse with these teachers and that these teachers, though they might need a little bit of convincing on the front end to come and stay at a place called Commune where there's chickens and bees, that once they got there, we could create an environment with incredible dinners, masterminds, amazing community, other teachers that would set the table for creating great courses.
We, and you particularly, live with these teachers over a period of time and the relationships that get formed kind of in the spaces, not on set, but at dinner or on hikes or weeding the garden or whatever we're doing. This is where kind of the magic happens and we've built so many beautiful and wonderful relationships and have set the table for a lot of real creativity.
Jacob: Yeah. There's something really magical. The teacher arrives and then it's not just a sit down in the chair and start talking into a camera. There's a meal shared. There's, as you said, that unstructured time where an idea sometimes comes up and takes a course in a different direction or adds something to a course that would never have been discovered if we had just been sticking to the plan.
Jeff: Yeah. Also, the talents, the subterranean talents of a lot of these teachers come out, whether they might be singers while I'm kind of strumming a guitar or playing the piano, or whether they show a specific keen interest in the kitchen and what's going on there. It's a window into their life and the history of their experiences that one would never otherwise get.
Jacob: Yeah. I mean, I remember Jason Wrobel, we were just sitting around after filming for a full day and he picked up one of your guitars off the wall and just started strumming and an hour later we had written a theme song for his course. Kind of magically appeared. I happen to have the tape queued up here, so might as well take a listen to Good Mood Food by Jason Wrobel.
Jacob: Boom. All right. It plays.
Jeff: Yeah, he's amazing. Jason also sang a Christmas medley at our Christmas party this year, which was also here in Topanga.
Jacob: Okay. Yeah. So, that's sort of spontaneity actually brings me to another concept I wanted to talk with you about because I often find myself talking with people about there being two different types of teachers and part of my job producing courses is feeling out which direction to go with the teacher. I tend to term them channelers versus technicians or planners. Can you explain? I know you share some of this thought pattern with me.
Jeff: Yeah, I first really thought about this when I was playing music and much more involved in the music industry, to tell you the truth. That there were kind of two different kinds of sort of virtuoso musicians. There were the channelers, as you say, and then the music that was more coming from within. Oftentimes it was, in music, was indicated by facial expression. I always think of Derek Trucks who's this incredible slag blues guitar player. I mean, completely sublime. His face is like emotionless expressionless. He is truly a conduit for the light, for beauty, for the true form, for God, whatever you want to call it. It is coming through him and he has cultivated the sort of the ability to be that conduit.
Then, there are the players are way, way more emotive and full of expression and you kind of get this feeling that the music is all coming from inside of them, pent up in a way. That is a gross generalization and there's balances and mixes between the two.
Jacob: Well, yeah. I went back in my notes and just to give you an example, Dr. Hyman's course, he wrote 31,000 words of script for his course, which as you know, he read in one day. We filmed his entire course in one day. It was unbelievable. So, that's an incredible technician. He definitely was in a flow state reading that script, but it was a technical performance. It's like watching people on teleprompter who are really good. Danielle LaPorte's another one who's amazing on teleprompter where you can't even tell that she's reading off the prompter.
Jeff: Yeah, I think we've referred For to this idea of a technical well and a spiritual well that like a great athlete or a great musician, that you can build up the technical well over years and years of practice, kind of knowing your work inside and out. And then when you step up to perform, that's what it is. It's not a recitation. It's inspired performance where you really are supposed to in some ways forget the technical well and then just draw from this spiritual well. The inspirational well because you know your material that well.
Jacob: I mean Marianne Williamson didn't even want to talk about what she was going to talk about. She was like, "Just start me off and then I'll channel and I'll go." And that's exactly what happened for three days. I had a list of prompts, but sometimes it would be a prompt and then two hours later she would wind down after a series of inspired classes.
Jeff: Yeah, this was even the way that she announced the candidacy of her presidential campaign that we filmed up in Topanga in the kitchen. This was not prompted. This was pure inspiration. She came in. She had a sense for what she wanted to say, but she had utter confidence in her ability to deliver it and just flick that switch into the spiritual well. And she did.
Jacob: Yeah, and one of the ultimate examples of this, which was another incredible course recitation, that combined technique and inspiration was Deepak Chopra which we learned about. We were talking, "Oh, let's film this six months from now, nine months from now." And then I remember you got a text message that said can we be in Monterrey tomorrow night, which was 300 miles away. We packed up the car and drove up there and we set up all our gear and he comes in and we think we're filming a course on his latest book, The Healing Self, and he kind of looks around and he picks up another one of his books off the table and says, "I think I want to teach a course on this book." The Spontaneous Fulfillment of Desire, which was 10, 15 years old. And then he sits down and delivers a course.
Jeff: Yeah. Well, Deepak is probably the ultimate example of someone who has quite a profoundly deep technical well and you can't just walk into delivering a course on the objective nature of reality, the fundamental nature of reality, without having a truly deep understanding of what you're talking about and clearly if anyone does, he does.
Jacob: Yeah, that course, that was wild. There's always this feeling when you step into the space of production, that small changes have big impacts. I think we feel that even when we're setting up these courses. I know there was a few moments this year where it felt like a small shift in the wind, shifted the ability for us to produce a course. Do you want to talk a little bit about Byron Katie and that moment?
Jeff: Yeah, I mean there are honestly many courses and teachers that we've cultivated relationships with that honestly just could have gone either way because oftentimes life is whimsical, in such a way. And with Byron Katie, I mean she and I had developed quite a beautiful relationship and I would go up to OHI and visit her fairly regularly way, before we even decided to consider a course.
Of course though I was very interested in that. And so we had made a plan, you and I, to go up and meet her. The first Thursday of every month she has a church there in town and at that church she delivers ... She facilitates the work publicly and for free. And you can just go and be a witness or if you're brave enough, have the work facilitated on you by Byron Katie in front of quite a few people.
So we went to one of the sessions of the work and then after the session finished, of course there's every single person wants to talk to her. So there's this big long line and we made plans to go out for lunch. But we're being patient and polite and letting everyone kind of have their chance to meet with her. That's kind of going on and on for some time. We're talking and I guess getting distracted in some ways because it went on for so long and all of a sudden we look around and she's gone. And we have no idea where she went.
Evidently she slipped out a door in the back of the church and we've sort of felt like she was going to have to come back through the front door. So we ran around the church to the other side and there she was in her Tesla pulling away and we had to give sort of quick chase to it and knock on the window and there she was and looked at us and of course then the light bulb went back on in her head of like, "Oh yeah, of course we were supposed to meet for lunch." But she was just seconds away from pulling away and going back home and who knows when we would have had the opportunity to meet with up with her again.
And as it happened, we all had lunch at this great little place called The Nest and we made a plan and we executed on it. So it was just quite lucky.
Jacob: Spending so much time with these teachers at meals, et cetera, what are some of the teachings that maybe have been slipped to you on a napkin or just casually that stuck with you this year?
Jeff: Yeah. God, I mean there's so many. I often talk about it on this podcast and in other places that I'm essentially just a sponge kind of absorbing all of the wisdom of all of these incredible heroes, teachers, thought leaders. And in some ways kind of plagiarize them all until the thoughts become synthesized into my own. But certainly with Byron Katie, I mean she's had so many kernels of wisdom, but where she talks about enlightenment, there's one little passage that I remember very, very well from meeting with her in OHI, when I ask her what is enlightenment?
She loves silence and space. So when you ask her a question, you need to be very, very patient and not try to fill the air with too many words, which is against our sort of Western instinct, but very common in Japan, actually. And so after sitting there for what seemed like to be an interminable amount of time, she asked me "Well, Jeff, what makes you feel light?
And I think about it and I say, "Well, when I'm in conversation with someone when there's something really, really interesting. Or when I'm playing tennis or moving. Or when I'm meditating or when I'm spending time really presently with my children. And she's like, "Okay, well what makes you feel heavy?"
And my answer was like quite literal on some level it's like, "Well, when I overeat, but also kind of when I'm angry. Or when I hold resentment, when I'm disconnected." And then she paused again and she's like, "Well, it's so easy Jeff., You don't have to be Jesus or the Buddha. Really enlightenment is just doing the things that make you feel light." A light bulb just went off over my head and I'm like, "Oh my God, it's just so simple sometimes."
And so, that's certainly one that I've taken with me. I think both Deepak and Russel have had very significant impacts on how I think about the world. How I understand reality. I think the first notions of that kind of delineation between objective and subjective realities really first came about when I was interviewing Deepak. That notion that we are limited by the ability of our five senses to interpret and experience the world. And you know, he asked me, he's like, "What does a world look like to a painted lady butterfly that has 30,000 lenses? I mean, really, what does it look like? Like we have no idea.
Jeff: You know, we see on a color spectrum of red, blue, and green, and we look at and we can kind of all agree through some sort of inner subjective reality that those leaves are green and that house is brown, but that is only a user interface for us based on our sensory abilities to experience that phenomena. There is a fundamental, objective reality behind that user interface. There is a circuit board behind the icons on the desktop. That was a pretty profound notion that then I've unpacked over, and over, and over again.
I think Russell, just because of his experience as an addict, has really opened my eyes to the habits and addictive patterns that we all subconsciously wind up in ourselves and that addiction obviously is very associated with drugs and alcohol, and those can be very debilitating. But, as he says, "It's sometimes great if it's the crack, because at least you know it's the crack." You know? I think where it becomes difficult is with all of these insidious forms of addiction that we all have, technology, being liked, sugar, gambling, pornography, whatever it happens to be. We have wound up patterns. We all have a program. We are programmed.
It is about cultivating the awareness and the consciousness of our programming, unwinding those patterns to cultivate our real selves, as he says, "The people that we were born to be." That has really illuminated a process in myself of looking more critically at myself of like what are my patterns? What are my addictions? And how do I unwind those patterns that don't serve me and wind up new patterns that are more conscious, more loving, more empathetic, more compassionate? So, these are just a handful of the learnings.
Jacob: Yeah. I knew I was going to ask you this question, so I was thinking through my own list. Certainly there's very specific, practical things, some of them that don't even have anything to do with the course. Dr. Jolene Brighten, who's teaching a course this coming year on women's hormones, taught me that we need to feed oyster shells to the chickens, because they go through so much calcium. I think it's something like 20 times the amount of calcium that's in their bones they will put into eggs over the course of the year, and so you have to replenish. Otherwise, some pretty uncomfortable things happens to the chicken.
These conversations can be very wide ranging and informative, but a lot of it is my visceral experiences with these teachers in close proximity. I mean Wim Hof living ... He lived with us on property, his whole family, for two weeks. Even more than the wisdom that came out of his mouth was the energy that he brought to what he did. I mean, he just had a love of life and at the same time a stoicism that infused ... I mean, I now practice quite a lot of Wim Hof in our cold plunge that we have on property, but he just did it. He didn't think twice about something. He just went fully into it.
Jeff: Yeah. I also admire his tireless ability to sort of reclaim the message over and over again. I sat there, as you did, for two straight weeks, having virtually every meal of the day with him, and at every single one of those meals he would tell me about the method with the same vim and vigor, in the same gregarious, and garrulous, and loquacious way, like, "You do the breath, and you get into the ice bath, and that affects the autonomic nervous system, the immune system, the endocrine system, the vascular system, which is the number one cause of death in epidemics all over the world. You can reduce inflammation and reconnect to the soul." I mean, it's like I can dump back into it, because it's imprinted in my brain from the 70 some odd meals that we had with him.
I feel like one of the remarkable things about many of these teachers, especially ones that have been around, the old guard, is that, like a musician or a politician, they have their message, and they've got to stick to it and be excited about giving it nonstop, 365 days a year in speaking engagements, in courses, on podcasts. I mean, it really does take an incredible amount of endurance and commitment to the vision to be that excited about saying it, and doing it, and not getting bored, and really sticking with it.
Jacob: Yeah. It's the message, but it's also the life that they live around the message, which has been really interesting to see. An example I tell people all the time is we went ... In this case, we did go to Oregon to film with Brendon Burchard, and it was a little bit sticky getting all the logistics. He's a very, very busy guy. But then when we got there, he had blocked off those three days. I think I saw him take one business call over those three days, and because that's his philosophy. That's what he teaches. He teaches you transition into an activity and you focus fully on it. You block the time. He didn't have to do that for us, but he lives his message that way, and it was very powerful to be in that space with him.
Jeff: Yeah. This notion of, what do you call it when you can do two, or three, or four things at the same time?
Jeff: Multitasking. Right. See? I can't even do mono-tasking. It's just a foreign concept. We can't really do it. We toggle, and we become expert togglers. Yeah. No. I remember that trip well, because it was my birthday. Even after filming the whole course for a number of days, I remember it was sunset over the Columbia River and I said, "Hey. Do you still have enough energy to do a podcast?" We sat up upstairs in a guest bedroom looking out over the sunset and had a beautiful, beautiful conversation. Like you said, he was utterly present the whole time. He's a truly remarkable guy, in so far that he practices what he preaches. That's hard, because you may have a tremendous message, but it's hard to keep yourself ... Russel talks about that all the time. He's brilliant at advising, and counseling, and mentoring people that have problems, but when it comes to himself, then it becomes a lot harder when the rubber hits the road in your own life. But Brendon does a fantastic job with that.
Jacob: And just to bring this full circle, I think that is one of the things we've seen about bringing teachers to Commune Topanga, that there is this space there that is created where they drop in, and then they're able to tap into their original passion and deliver that to our commune students in courses.
Jeff: Yeah. Well, there is ... I mean, this is an overused word, but in this case, it's apt and valid, is that there is an authenticity to what we do. When I use that word, I use it in the way of really aligning our works and actions with our highest principles, regardless of any external circumstances. That to me has become to define the authentic life, the life with integrity. I think when people come to Topanga, they see and they feel that. They see that you live there in the yurt, that Scarlet, who manages all of the events there, is making soap, and that were eating the eggs that come from the chickens, that what we don't eat goes right back in to feed the chickens, and that we're trying to grow our own food, that we have a true commitment to living the values of the mindful life, of this life that we're preaching. I think people really feel and sense that. That has led to a lot of beautiful relationships.
Jacob: Well, let's hope this year is filled with many more beautiful relationships and great teachers.
Jeff: Yes. Just keep making the commune honey.
Jacob: I'll bring you another jar.
Jeff: Sounds good. Thanks, Jake.
I hope you enjoyed this conversation with my good friend Jake. This episode was actually recorded on Christmas day. My wife, Schuyler, has this Draconian gift-opening program that has generationally passed down in her family. In essence, my kids can only open 4 presents every two hours. This has the effect of dragging out the excitement of gift consumption. You can only imagine the protestations. So, in one of our breaks, Jake and I absconded to the podcabin with some egg nog for this little chat.
If you enjoyed this episode, I highly encourage you to check out some of the courses we talked about on onecommune.com.
And I’ll leave you with at least one question of my own today: What have you learned from the Commune podcast? Let us know in a review (5 stars I hope!) or send me an email at [email protected]. Of course, the best place to share wisdom is face-to-face, so I hope you pass along what you’ve learned to friends and family, at the dinner table, in the car, or after a nice long walk.
I’m Jeff Krasno, and thanks for listening.
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