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Joshua Gorman: Generation Waking Up

Jan 21, 2017

Guest:  Joshua Gorman
Host:  Pavi Mehta
Moderator:  Shiv Jayaraman

Pavi: Good morning, good afternoon, and good evening, depending on where you're calling in from.  My name is Pavi and I'll be your host for our weekly Global Awakin Call.  Welcome and thank you for joining us.  The purpose of these calls is really to share stories and to tell stories, stories that help plant seeds for a more compassionate society while fostering our own inner transformation.  We do this by holding collective conversations with guest speakers from all walks of life who inspire us through their actions to live in a more service-oriented way.  And behind each of these calls is an entire team of ServiceSpace volunteers, whose invisible work allows us to hold this space.  Today we have with us Joshua Gorman, the founder of Generation Waking Up.  We're thrilled to have him with us today.  Thank you again for joining today's call.  We will begin with a minute of silence to anchor ourselves.

[minute of silence]

Pavi:  Welcome again to our weekly Awakin Call, today in conversation with Joshua Gorman....We have the pleasure of Shiv being our moderator today.  He's a long-time ServiceSpace volunteer and a Silicon Valley Techie with a real knack for storytelling and story-facilitating.  So we're going to have him kick off our circle.


Shiv:  Thank you so much Pavi.  A very good morning, good afternoon, and good evening to the folks who are listening in.  It's been a really interesting week, not just for me, but for quite a lot of people around the world, as I've spoken to folks around the world.  It is a time when a lot of people--not just young people--who are looking out for inspiration, who are looking out for direction, and who feel a sense of loss.  And it is at these moments I always have the good fortune of getting to talk to someone like Joshua Gorman, because a conversation with people like Joshua almost always ends up with you feeling there is definitely a great amount of energy in all of us, and with this energy there's nothing but goodness that's going to happen in the near future. 

Now Joshua, for people who have not been introduced to him, is a multifaceted personality.  He's a writer.  He's a speaker.  But more importantly he's a change-maker.  Because to bring about the right kind of change is probably the most difficult thing to do.  And he's not making this change in a very general way, but more specifically bringing about this change in the millennial generation, which I have read is a very important space that needs to be filled up. 

And when we talk about bringing about change in the millennial generation, there is this popular belief, especially in the Bay Area, that today's millennial generation is lost and is not connected to society.  While they might be connected with their gadgets, are they connected in spirit with the society is a question that is being broadly asked.  And it is in this aspect that Joshua is working towards primarily first awakening the young people into understanding their identity and their purpose, immediately following that with empowering the young people so that energy is channeled in the right way.  And finally, also mobilizing the young people so that their shared purpose is actually directed towards an action-oriented approach. 

So it's my pleasure to introduce Joshua Gorman, and I will go deeper into how he's actually doing what I talked about.  And it starts off with him being the founder of Generation Waking Up.  It's a fascinating group and his job doesn't stop with being involved with Generation Waking Up.  I'll also be talking about his involvement as a founding member of Youth Passageways.  And finally, I will also talk about his being a community member and co-founder of Thrive East Bay.  So he wears multiple hats, but for now, it's my pleasure to introduce Joshua Gorman.  He lives in Oakland, Ca.  Very good morning, Joshua.

Joshua:  Yeah, good morning Shiv.  Thank you for having me and thank you to all the ServiceSpace volunteers who make this call possible.

Shiv:  It's our pleasure Joshua.  There is a lot to talk about, but because of the constraints of time, I'll try to direct the conversation so that our listeners get maximum benefit of knowing about all your work.  But at any point of time, if you feel that I'm missing an important story that adds value to all of us, please share it with all of us. 

My first question was if you could just talk about your inspiration to start Generation Waking up.  What inspired you to do that?  That would be a good starting point.

Joshua:  Great.  Well, Generation Waking Up is very personal for me.  It grows out of my journey as a young person, coming of age in these times, and really just asking big questions--and spending years in a dark night of the soul, really searching for the big Why, you know?  Why was I alive?  Why are we humans today experiencing the world as we are?  And for young people especially, what does it mean to be waking up and coming of age and stepping onto the world stage at this moment in time? 

I grew up in the Washington, D.C. suburbs and in my teenage years I started to wake up.  I often say that adolescence is the age of awakening.  It's when we begin to consciously come of age.  So definitely by 15 I was asking some really hard questions, and I was really starting to see and experience the suffering and the brokenness of my community and culture.  And it was very troubling. 

I'll share that I was raised in a Christian family, so that was the narrative that I was given around explaining the big questions.  I had the gift of having a best friend who was raised in a Muslim family.  And we started talking and asking the same questions together, and what was so beautiful is that we saw that we were the same soul--the same type of soul, asking the same questions.  And so it was pretty clear to us that the literal interpretations of our religious narratives--they couldn't be true.  At least, that was what we had come to. 

And so at age 15, I really kind of stepped away from my religion of origin and found myself in a very big open space, without a lot of clear guidance, and not a clear sense of meaning.  And so I was awake to the pain and the suffering that I was experiencing within my own family, that I was seeing all around me in my communities that I was witnessing--the environmental destruction.  And I was so clear about that, but I didn't understand that deeper Why, and how had this come to be, and what is the greater purpose unfolding within it all.

I share that because my story really did start there in that place of lostness.  And it set me on a quest, on a journey that, looking back now, I would call it a spiritual journey.  Back then I was just desperate to survive in the culture I had been born into. 

But I left Washington, D.C. at age 18 and I spent a good three years traveling.  I went out to the West Coast.  I came out to California, where I live today.  I went up and lived in Oregon and Washington and Alaska and was just, the whole time, so depressed.  My motto at that point in my life was that nothing matters, you know?  All these religions and philosophies and world-changers are creating these stories of why anything matters, but in my heart of hearts I still couldn't find that place in myself. 

And then I had the good fortune to move to the Hawaiian islands at age 21, and I lived on the Big Island of Hawaii for three years.  And this became the place of my deeper spiritual awakening, personal awakening, ecological awakening.  I ended up living on a farm and I had a very significant back-to-nature experience.  Every day from sunrise to sunset I worked hard on the land, planting vegetables and growing fruit trees, and living in this beautiful, tropical environment.  And miles away from me was an active flowing volcano that was just flowing right into the ocean and the stars, the Milky Way was thick every night. 

And so the natural world kind of got me out of my head and into a wider space.  And I just began to witness the beauty and majesty of this planet and this sacred universe.  And for the first time in my life there were moments of inner peace where I was on this piece of land and just sitting in stillness, and experiencing my inner life, just feeling moments of gladness, of joy.  This simple joy of being.  And I started to dabble in different spiritual paths and teachings and practices.  I started to meditate at this time.  I started to engage in yoga.  I started to eat healthy.  And I started to read a lot of really great books and hang out with positive people. 

And all of this culminated in me starting to just see a bigger picture, and my own understanding of history started to clarify itself.  And I was exposed to some really great--what I would call evolutionary thinkers--people who are writing about the broader sweep of time and this human journey.  And I started to understand how the human species has been growing and developing and evolving through culture and civilization.  And I started just to get that we're alive now at a moment when the human family is beginning to come together out of its tribal origins and its nation structures, and we're finally beginning to stand together as one global human family. 

And yet amidst that coming together there's all of this tearing apart and falling apart and rubbing up against each other.  And yet at this moment I saw just the hope and the promise of what happens if we continue forward, joining together as a human family, and realizing the gift of what it means to be alive.

And so Generation Waking Up came out of these years of seeking.  And there was a culminating moment back in University in Hawaii and I was walking home and I had been asking these questions for years, and I was still just engrossed in this deep sad experience.  And I had a breakthrough one day when I just saw in my mind's eye, I was filled with energy, and I saw images of social movements and young people rising up and transforming power of tyranny into forces of love.  And I saw us restoring the Earth and I saw us joining together in peace and harmony and well-being.  And I saw us make it.  I saw this happy ending that I still personally believe is on our horizon.  And when it happened it wasn't just like, oh that's a great idea.  Something profound happened in my being and I felt like life had just shown me the future.  And it was a deeply humbling moment.  And the words Generation Waking Up came in to me as a name for that vision, for that narrative I had seen. 

And I knew at that moment that I needed to give my life away to being a part of that great wave of healing and transformation that's happening in our time.  And I knew that I needed to go back into society and join forces with other young people and people of all generations to be part of that great change. 

So that's the spiritual seed and roots of Generation Waking Up that then went on to me moving back to Washington, D.C. and becoming a change-maker, and eventually founding an organization that engages with young leaders all across North America.


Shiv:  Great, great.  And it's also fascinating as we talked about a couple of days ago, and as we're talking now.  A lot happens because of our personal experience and we also come from different cultures, Joshua, so some of the experiences that you talk about are very similar to experiences that young people face elsewhere in the world.  So, it really doesn't matter where we live.  We all live in a world where human beings ultimately go through very similar feelings and paths, and that is where I read about Generation Waking Up--very interestingly I work with an intern at work who has attended one of your workshops.  She was watching me type and she said hey I have been to one of his workshops.

So I wanted to talk about how it is good to have an idea, it's good to want to be something.  But then we'll have to channel that into specific practices.  So, what are the specific practices in Generation Waking Up that helps in bringing this millennial generation together?  I've heard about workshops.  I've heard about talks.  I've heard about actual campaigns.  Could you elaborate a little bit about what are the flagship practices in Generation Waking Up?

Joshua:  Yes.  So, you know, a big part of what we're doing is storytelling and mobilizing young people, and so we have a flagship workshop that's called The Wake Up or The Wake Up Experience.  And that's a great story to know that an intern you work with has participating in a Wake Up before.  And a Wake Up is a roughly three-hour interactive multimedia workshop, and we take young people on a journey through four questions.  We look at, Who are we?  Specifically, who are we as a young generation today, and what does it mean to be young and alive at this moment?  And what are the characters that define us as a new generation?

Second, we look at Where are we?  What is the state of the world that we've been born into?  So we look at the environmental challenges and the vast array of social justice issues we're confronting, and the crisis around health and well-being and meaning in our culture.  And I should share--a lot of our work--we do work with young people globally--we're such a globally connected generation, and our work is very much focused more in the global north, and especially North America given that is where it comes out of.  And we have partners in other parts of the world who do similar work that's even more tailored for where they are.

The third question, after we look at Where are we? We look at What has to change?  And we help young people see the deeper cultural worldview that is shaping mainstream society today and kind of helping further the capitalistic system of consumption and how we--you know it's all tied together, how we treat each other, how we treat the Earth, how we treat ourselves, right?  And so we help them see that at the root of it all is this paradigm that we've been born into and yet we have the power to create a different worldview.  And from that, then, to create a different shared social reality.  And so, for us, one of the highest leverage points is actually changing the story, changing the cultural worldview that shapes how we actually act and live together as a society. 

And then fourth, most importantly, we move into some really inspiring storytelling around what young people and social movements are already going today, and we invite young people to be a part of this larger movement of movements.  And we help them start to ask their own questions around what are they called to be a part of?  And how can their gifts connect up with what the world is most needing right now.  And so we start to guide them on a process of discovering their own purpose and helping them identify just some first initial steps to help them go on that path.

So that's the Wake Up.  It's the spark--we help spark the fire for young people who feel called to go deeper with us.  We also have some leadership training programs that are very much about inner and outer change.  So we're definitely training up young spiritual warriors, young bodhisattvas, whatever your preferred metaphor is. 

So we're helping young people learn basic skills like meditation and yoga and tools for self-care.  We're helping them often deal with grief and trauma coming out of their family systems and the cultural wounds that we all inherit.  So there's a lot of helping them identify their strengths and their gifts and their growing edges--the ways that they need to round themselves out. 

And then we help them navigate being in communities of difference, be it around race and class and sexual orientation and all of those things.  We help them learn how to collaborate and engage in shared leadership models where the wisdom and strengths of all are welcomed into the process. 

And then we lead them into thinking about how change happens in society and then helping them identify what ways they want to actually take action.  And it looks in a lot of different ways.  We have young people who are artists and creatives and so they are making videos and films or musical albums or musical educational roadshows.  We have young people who are going deep into the climate movement and climate justice movements and helping bring forth, you know, the new clean economy in ways that are also creating greater equity in our society.  We have young people going into our educational systems and helping show that there are different pedagogies and there's a different curriculum that is relevant for young people today, and so they're helping to transform our schools at all levels. 

So it's very much a broad based youth engagement, youth empowerment process that we do.  And then the last thing I'll share is we're always doing storytelling.  We are just like ServiceSpace and so many of our friends, we're sharing the positive stories because so often in our mainstream culture and mainstream media and even in our mainstream educational institutions we don't hear the stories of all the positive change that is happening and all of the daily acts of good that are underway.  And so we try to lift up those stories, too, and especially bring spotlights to young people.


Shiv:  Great.  So to go back to the Wake Up Experience, let me just recap for my own benefit the four questions that you were actually trying to ask and get answers for.  It's:

Who are we?
Where are we? 
What has to change? 
What--an immediate call to action, which is What do we, each one of us, do now?  Identify what our first step is.

Did I get that right Joshua?

Joshua:  Yes, yes.

Shiv:  I'm just making my personal notes.

Joshua:  Yeah, and I didn't share--the pedagogy within that roughly three hours--sometimes it's two, sometimes it's four, but often three--is there are some short videos, there's a lot of like, turn to a partner and get in a small group.  There's some personal time.  So it's very interactive; there's lots of different things that happen and some really amazing short videos for each question that also goes with it.

Shiv:  And just out of curiosity, because like you said, what we read in the news, at least most of the news, is--there's a lot of negativity out there.  And as I mentioned initially, there's a popular belief that the young generation is not really engaged or connected to society.  What is your personal experience, Joshua, when you start this workshop, or, let's say, you're half way through that, how do the millennials, how do the young generation react?  Do you see a spark in their eyes?  Do you see them wanting to engage?  Do they want to be part of a society where they can actually make a difference?  What's their initial reaction when they attend a workshop like this?

Joshua:  Well, we have a wide array of responses and reactions, so I don't want to romanticize who millennials are.  And I think millennials are just like many other generations and like life itself.  There's a mix of everything, so, on one hand, I think millennials are one of the most socially engaged, environmentally aware, globally connected, super-powered generations we've ever seen.  And I also see within it and know us in it that it is a generation of young people who are consumers and can be very narcissistic and self-centered, and who can feel apathetic and disengaged, right?  And so we experience that in our workshops, and we try to reach young people where they are. 

Some are already open and we just light their fire so quickly.  Others have never been exposed to this type of positive message in the sense of possibility, and it is just transformational.  They are suddenly existing and operating in a different reality in some ways.  And others are still stuck in their own apathy, and are skeptical.  And a three-hour workshop is not enough to break them through that.  So there's a vast array of experiences. 

And I think that's true for millennials.  And oftentimes, maybe in corporate institutions there's some narratives around who millennials are and how they show up in the workplace, definitely in our broader culture there are some authors who have come out and written books called Generation Me, you know, and focusing on that side of the millennial story.

But then there's this completely other side, which is more of the space that I walk in.  And that's the story of Generation We.  It's the story of young people who are--who care so deeply.  What I would say, though, is beyond millennials, there's something about new generations and young people, as they come of age into life, and for me there's deep wisdom in why we have generations, and why humanity works in this way. 

As young people come into their young adulthood, they bring such fresh energy, such vital energy.  And that is a regenerative force.  They bring a fresh perspective and they question everything.  And because they have this fresh perspective, they see new insights and new possibilities all about.  And, at least for a while, they're not jaded.  They believe anything is possible. And because of that they make efforts and make strides like it is not possible often amongst older generations. 

So, I love to lift up and celebrate the deep wisdom and purpose of youth and adolescence and young adults.  And so I'm seeing how that is expressing itself through the millennials generation.  The generation that clearly is coming of age at a time of crisis, and that in itself is a mobilizing force.  But I really belief that this has played out in every generation in some way and will continue to play out in the time ahead.

Shiv:  Great.  While it's amazing that the young generation can get together and workshop like--the Wake Up Experience enables that.  It's also fascinating when the young meet the wise because generations which are senior to us have so much wisdom in them and it is this sharing of wisdom to the newer generation that actually enhances progress, as some people believe. 

Do you also, during your workshops, enable this intergenerational sharing of ideas?  It's just a thought that came in my head because sometimes I'm really energized when I hear from the experienced.

Joshua:  Yes, we are deep believers and practitioners of intergenerational connection and collaboration, and so even though Generation Waking Up is an organization that is based on youth protaganism, we're really lifting up the role that young people are playing as change makers.  We also recognize that the change that our world and our times are calling for, that change can only come through every generation joining together, and I think you already alluded to it, but I also personally believe that there is a wisdom needed to guide us all forward that can only come through generations cross-pollinating together through a shared wisdom that we're going ton continue to find our way forward. 

So in specific, at every training we do--our longer 5-7 day trainings, and sometimes just in the community we organize something that we call Wiser Together Cafes.  And it's really a tailored version of a World Cafe, for those who have experienced a World Cafe, which is a group interaction technology.  And so our Wiser Together events bring youngers and olders and elders together to share vulnerably and authentically with each other, to hear each other's stories and, you know, sadly we are so segregated as a culture, again I'm speaking here in North America, but I'm sure this is true in other parts of the world, where most of the time youngers don't hang out with olders, save for maybe their parents and their relatives at certain family gatherings.  Typically we're amongst ourselves and same with the middle generations, and same with the elder generations.

So it's a very profound experience where suddenly you have a group of mixed up generations around a table in a circle together and sharing stories and being so amazed by one another around how much wisdom and relevant experience is there for one another.  And what we've seen happen is suddenly a younger and an older will exchange emails and they'll stay connected together. 

And I'm often very saddened by witnessing young people who care so much and they're going out there and creating projects and giving their best effort, and yet it's often not informed and grounded in the wisdom of elders who actually went through that same process and experience many decades ago and there's so much value to be offered.  So we try to create those connections and there are also some great intergenerational projects and organizations out there that we also try to partner with just to bring those connections about in our culture at large.


Shiv:  Great.  There's another aspect that I really wanted to touch upon, Joshua, is I meet a lot of young people who tell me, I could be doing a lot better if the formal education system had curriculum or values that really help me in life.  There is a lot of dissatisfaction or doubt about what the formal education system is actually teaching the younger generation.  I do know that you did some amazing work at George Mason University, so I wanted to get your thoughts on the formal education system we have today, because many times people say why do I have to go reach out for a Wake Up Experience at the Generation Waking Up?  Why shouldn't it be part of my main curriculum?  I shouldn't need to reach out; it should be part of my mainstream life.  So I wanted to know your thoughts on the education system, and specifically, your work at George Mason University as well.

Joshua:  Yeah, thank you.  Well, I'll start with George Mason and then go broader, but, you know, I was in and out of schools because from high school on I did not feel like my classroom experience was relevant to my personal life and to the questions that I was asking.  So I often left formal educational institutions, but because of the pressures of our society I often found myself back in them. 

But at George Mason University they had a very innovative pathway that was an interdisciplinary studies program that was really designed to help learners focus on their passion areas and really customize their learning experience.  So I self-designed an undergraduate major that was titled Global Youth and Social Change, and it really was a mix of sociology and political science and some other courses and some field studies.  I spent a semester in Brazil working with youth organizations and youth movements in Brazil.  And it really served me well--my passions felt aligned.  And yet, I was probably--there was only a handful of us who had chosen, or even really knew about that pathway.

 So my experience in working with young people is that, yeah their experiences at high schools and colleges and universities especially is very difficult.  And it often feels very lifeless and meaningless and often for those who care, too, about making a difference, when they see that we're in this state of emergency on the planet, they can't sit still in a classroom and just passively wait for everything to be okay.  And so many of them do just take off and drop out.  But the good news is there are phenomenal education reform movements at all levels underway, trying to overhaul how our high school journeys are for students, and definitely at the college and university level.  I'm also a young person who ended up with a large amount of debt because I didn't have financial support to make my way through college, and I think that's another big challenge that young people are facing and questioning.  Is it even worth going into debt when this is the kind of education that I'm going to get?

I'll just share--there is change underway in our institutions to kind of bring back liberal arts education, and bring back global citizenship curricula back into our coursework.  And then there are all these alternative educational institutions and processes happening.  Some are programs that are all around computer coding.  So there are these coding boot camps that also include life skills, that give people a hard tangible skill where they can generate a fair amount of income in their lives, but they are also engaging in meaningful, purposeful work, helping lift up communities and heal our societies.  There are programs like the open Master's, where people are doing a completely self-directed path of study and taking education into their own hands.

I have a friend who works at a gap year program called Leap Now where young people are actually taking a year off and going on a much deeper journey focused around what their questions and passion are, and then also getting their hands dirty through service work and in different types of communities.  And it's just a far more transformative educational experience, and I think more and more young people are realizing, that's what we want.

The good, though, is that the more that young people kind of jump ship from the mainstream educational process, the more the mainstream educational process starts to realize, oh we need to cater towards those needs as well.  So I definitely believe change will come from without and within.

Shiv:  Absolutely.  Absolutely.  Another questions I had, Joshua, as you started to work on these projects, maybe the Wake Up Experience or Generation Waking Up in general.  Today's young generation wants to be aware of what's happening, this information needs to reach out. 

So how do you do that with Generation Waking Up?  Do you have a social media presence and that's what you rely on?  Or do you have campaigns, as they call them in today's world, social campaigns?  How do you reach out?  And this is purely for me so that I can share this with the interns that I work with.  How do they get to know what Generation Waking Up is doing?

Joshua:  Yeah, you know, like most non-profits we have social media presence and try to share stories that way via places like Facebook where you have such a critical mass, and through email and just sharing that way.  We are getting ready to launch a new storytelling campaign called Amplify--the tagline--the full name is Amplify and the tagline is The story of our Generation.  And so we're about to do a larger awareness campaign where we're going to be sharing blogs and short videos and social media pictures all featuring stories of young change makers working in all sectors of society.  And really, again, these voices will be generated by the young people themselves. 

That's one way that we're just leveraging the tools we have.  It's such a gift--now everybody knows that even my grandmother can make a video on her smart phone.  So it's not just the youngers that have these tools to share and connect broadly.

Shiv:  That's true.  And to just give credit to all grandmothers, I think the videos they make are amazing.  I've seen quite a few of them and it's one of those beautiful moments when the senior generation starts to take up technology, embrace it, and share their experience and wisdom is one of those beautiful moments for sure.

Before I go into Youth Passageways, I wanted to talk about Thrive East Bay, because as a community builder at Thrive East Bay, there's something unique about what you're doing, about getting certain kinds of people together.  So I would love to hear about your involvement with Thrive East Bay.

Joshua:  Thank you.  So I am part of a new startup, so kind of bridging my work between Generation Waking Up and Thrive.  And so Thrive East Bay is our flagship community, our prototype community.  It's based in Oakland, CA, and it's really an all-ages initiative.  Although younger generations are a vital part of shaping it and forming it.  But it grows out of the longing of a group of people who have been missing a meaningful community space to gather with shared values to, you know--this is back to just like love and positivity and coming together and being able to be vulnerable around our struggles and our hardship, and also to inspire each other at a local level around what we're up to and how we're navigating our challenges, and sharing our wildest dreams, you know.  Harvesting the wealth of skills and perspectives that we hold as a community. 

And we as humans have been gathering in circles and in community spaces since the very beginning, and so this is an expression of what that impulse looks like at the 21st century, where we have--I'll just focus on millennials again--in North America one out of every three millennials is religiously unaffiliated, or what we call the Religious Nones, meaning they check the box none of the above, I'm not part of any of these religious or other categories.  And, you know, this is a product of our--as our traditional cultures are in some ways shifting and changing, and some breaking down, young people today who are often part of many cultures, and sometimes feeling like they are part of no culture--we're trying to find our places of belonging. 

And so Thrive East Bay is a new type of purpose-driven community for people who care about personal and social transformation, and we host a monthly Sunday event in Oakland that's on the fourth Sunday and it features a guest speaker and a guest artist or poet.  There's singing, there's connecting in smaller groups.  Just beautiful people.  There's always a theme that is relevant.  We have one coming up this Sunday in Oakland and the theme is Love and Resilience in a Time of Fear. 

And we're really spending some time diving deep into this political moment here in the United States.  And, yeah, how we're all processing that and how we're responding to that in our lives and in our community. 

And we also--so along with our Sunday events, we host small group circles from--one's a science and spirituality circle, another is a women's circle, another is a kind of nature/hiking circle, one is just a straight up community potluck where we sit in silences together and then enjoy food and each other's company.

 What we're finding though is just such a powerful response, you know.  They're--even though some of us have the gift of already being surrounded by deep community and a lot of social relationships, a greater number of people in our society today are often alone and isolated and really lacking meaning and loving, nurturing, supportive community. 

So this is another space where people can find that and hopefully find thriving in their personal life and help bring thriving to our local community and to our planet as a whole.  So this is--we're only a little over a year old, and so this is a new type of community model, too, that we hope will grow and serve in other places as well.  So it's the beginning of a really exciting experiment and journey.


Shiv:  Great.  Thank you so much for sharing that.  I do want to get into who your role models have been.  I wanted to talk about your book and also about you being a new parent and how parenting is.  But before we go to that, let's complete the loop--we talked about Generation Waking Up and its workshops.  We talked just now about Thrive East Bay, and you can find them at and Generation Waking Up can definitely be found on Facebook.

Just to complete the loop, how did Youth Passageways happen?  Was it parallel with Generation Waking Up?  Was it a precursor?  And what was the motivation behind that?

Joshua:  Great.  So, given our time is short I'll give the simpler version of it, but after my personal journey and I returned back to Washington, D.C. and in reflecting back on what had happened to me I realized, wow, you know, Joshua you didn't have mentors or elders to help usher you through this process of coming of age.  I started to learn about something called rites of passage and initiations for adolescents and coming of age processes that, again, throughout all cultures and throughout history these have happened in different ways.  As adolescents have stepped into adulthood. 

I suddenly started to get exposed to different people and groups that were either still working with intact traditional rites of passage programs and models, or those who were bringing them back into their community and culture.  And, again, like-minded people found each other and we realized, hey, there's a need here.  We need to bring these ways of welcoming and initiating young people into culture.  We need to bring these ways back into society now; they're both healing and transformative for young people, but for the community as a whole.  We started to gather. 

There have been many gatherings now over the past decade, and that led to an organization that today is called Youth Passageways.  It's a network organization, so there's a network of practitioners, young and old, who are engaged in this work in many different ways, from working in urban environments to the wilder environments, and people in North America and all around the world, so  Check it out.  It is so meaningful.  I'm sure some of you on this call have deep stories about this conversation in itself, but we're working hard to build a learning network and a collaboration network, and, increasingly, to start bringing this back into our school systems and our youth development programs as well.

Shiv: Wonderful.  Thank you so much, Joshua.  And thank you so much for sharing your experience, but all of us are inspired by others, like I am being inspired by you.  What I would love to hear is who inspired you? Who are your role models?  And in which way did they change you?

Joshua:  Great.  I will share--you know some of my first came from books.  I'm actually an introvert, and it has taken a long time for me even to be able to speak in public and share my story.  And so I always read books, and some of my first books that came my way that were meaningful were books by Herman Hesse, the German novelist who wrote books like Siddhartha and Demian and Steppenwolf.  And then at the same time I discovered Henry David Thoreau and Jack Kerouac.  And I honored these as heroes because within them all and in their own way, they were featuring stories of deep searching souls, who are asking the big questions of life.  And they were people who stepped away from kind of the mainstream currents of society, to slow down and to step back, right?  And to take that larger perspective.  And ultimately, then, to root their life in the deeper currents.  And so those were my heroes, and they actually gave me the inspiration and the strength to go off on my own and engage in my own walkabout.

I will share today--I hope there are many others who share this hero.  I love to share about living heroes.  So, I will be honest.  Every time I meet a young person who's just on fire and has that electricity, that particular type of electricity that only comes when you're just beginning to wake up to yourself and the world.  There's something about that newness and that freshness.  Young people with that quality, they are my heroes. 

But I do want to call out someone like Van Jones--hopefully people know about Van Jones.  He has a public persona, as in he's a news correspondent on CNN and he says really smart savvy things and all these great one-liners, but behind the scenes--he has this big public persona--but he's also running, in partnership with others, this national network of phenomenal change-makers who are working to end our systems of mass incarceration and working to lift up the green economy for all peoples. 

And Van is a father of two and he has daily spiritual practices.  He is rooted in something deeper, and yet he's extremely savvy and strategic.  And part of his shift towards the media--not only is he such a profound voice, but he also knows that one of the most strategic ways to shape and influence culture, right, is to be able to be a part of the mass media. 

And so he's found himself into the heart of our culture, and now he's just speaking love and truth and just in our recent elections he's been a bridge builder, and has a new show called The Messy Truth.  And so I lift him up as a hero because he is someone with a deep inner life, with deep values, who walks the path of such integrity, and he's so engaged.  He is just constantly serving and showing up and helping others and speaking somewhere.  And then he has little ones and a beautiful partner that he cherishes, and he shows up for them.  And I'm sure it's not easy, so I celebrate him personally and I celebrate everyone out there who is walking their path in their own way, finding balance within, finding balance within your own family and also showing up to the call of our times.  Because there's a big call on the planet right now for all of us.

Pavi:  So beautiful.  Thank you so much, Joshua...

Shiv:  Thank you so much, Pavi.  It is true, Joshua, that books are a window to the world, at least, at certain critical moments in our life.  And I'm also fascinated when people who have strong experiences like you have had decide to actually embark on writing a book. So how's that experience coming along?  The book-writing experience.

Joshua:  Well, weave it together with also the reality that I am a parent now, so it's both coming along and, at times, it's not coming along. So, you know, like many of us I care about so much and it's easy to spread myself thin.  And then now I have some new priorities as a parent, and when you have a little one, you're love and devotion for them is just so front and center, so it's easy for me to put my book to the side. 

But I'm writing a book titled Generation Waking Up, so I'm trying to share this narrative with a broader audience featuring the stories of what is happening amongst our younger generations today.  And I'm deep into just the first third of it--and I run a non-profit organization that is constantly struggling for funding and is under-resourced, and we have many programs and so it's--as a writer, which, for me, that's the artist part of me especially, of the more kind of creative expression comes through my writing. 

I do have a daily morning writing practice, but that's more of just free writing and not always focused on my book.  I take writing retreats over weekends at times.  Every now and then I'll get a half day in of writing.  But it's a lot, you know.  It's one of my purposes in life.  I know that so I don't let go of the commitment.  If it takes me a few years to write a book, I am still going to celebrate that. 

So it's underway.  People will be seeing more blogs from me soon.  I'm starting to publish blogs.  And I also just love books and the written word and the silent reflective time that we have as readers when we engage with writing.

Shiv:  Wonderful.  I wish you all the very best with your book, Joshua.  I know time is extremely limited, especially for a new parent, which is probably my next question.  Even before you were a parent, you started working on Generation Waking Up.  Has your perspective changed now that you are a dad?  Do you feel a greater sense of urgency that the new generation has to get together quicker because you have a kid now?  Is there a newer sense of urgency now that you are parent?  And in general, I also wanted to ask you how your parenting experience has been, and how have you looked at parenting.

Joshua:  Yes, yes, yes.  I feel doubly, quadruply invested in our future, because of my child, because, you're right, I'm now more connected to the future.  I have a three-year-old daughter right now and I have another daughter about to join us here soon.  And it's very vulnerable, you know?  Because there's the instinct, as a parent, of wanting to protect your little one.  It's genetic. It's a survival instinct.  And then, of course, there's just so much love and devotion. 

Even our current political situation in the United States is very vulnerable and disturbing and just makes me care that much more, makes me feel that much more protective.  And so it ups the urgency.  And, on the other hand, too, it also broadens my horizon of realizing that, you know, I'm part of a younger generation, but look at this--the other younger generations keep coming.  So I'm just a piece of the puzzle and I think millennials are going to make their mark on the world, and I think it's already such a significant mark.  And the next generations are already rising up behind them, and I know more are going to come.  So there's also some peace there, as well. 

I have come to embrace parenting as the greatest spiritual path I could ever ask for.  And I'm laughing about that because it's the most difficult path at times, right, which is what makes it--yeah, there's so much benefit and growth that comes from it, because I am being pushed always to kind of be more patient, be more spacious, be more loving.  And I'm re-experiencing childhood.  I'm getting slowed down and I'm getting to play again.  I can be a serious human being because I can care so much and be so concerned and I can forget the levity.  So my little one has brought the lightness and the joy and the love back into my life in a way that is so precious.


Shiv:  Wonderful.  I wish you the very best with being a parent, Joshua.  Thank you so much for sharing that.

Pavi:  So I just wanted to jump in with a question, Joshua. Thanks so much for all of these really straight-from-the-heart shares.  I was thinking about what you said earlier in terms of having gone through that dark night of the soul period of several years and not really having mentors who could guide you and kind of hold space in that period.  And I was thinking I am sure that in our human history, like, all times in human history there are many people who are going through their own dark night of the soul at this time. 

And I wonder, when you look back at those years in your own life, what would you--you know if you had the opportunity to talk to that young Joshua, what would you want to tell him and what would you want to share with other people who might be experiencing that same period in their own life at this time?

Joshua:  That is a beautiful question.  Thank you for it.  Because of the work I do I get to meet my younger self often.  And the joy of it is sometimes I can be really helpful, and the sadness is that there are many times where I am engaging with a young person and they just need to be on their own journey.  And it's actually--they don't even need someone like me whose been there before to share with them.  But most importantly is for them to know that what they are feeling, the desperation, the deep loneliness, the sadness, that it's real.  It's actually a healthy sign that they are awake and human, you know.  Because if you are awake and human on the planet today, you are feeling despair and hopelessness at times, and sadness and desperation. 

And so you're not alone.  And there are many of us weathering these storms together.  Often as I think probably many people on this call know, it's often where our pain and suffering lies that we find our great gift.  We find our calling, our purpose, our contribution.  So I often just invite people to actually be in it, thoroughly, to explore their pain and their despair and their dark night of the soul.  And there are so many great books, again, and even now videos to kind of help nurture that process. 

I have often found a lot of solace and meaning through travel.  So I recognize that I have been privileged to travel, though I have been a frugal traveler and I've always had to work and save up money to allow for travel.  But there are so many kind people who love to support especially young people in traveling at that stage in life when you're exploring and asking meaningful questions.  So I encourage people to consider traveling, be it just a small trip in the summer or if it's longer, you can set your life up where you can take a year off in between school or however that works.

There's a book called Soulcraft by an author named Bill Plotkin that I think is just one of the fundamental guides for young people who may be experiencing a dark night of the soul.  It helps one navigate through that process in some really special ways. 

Pavi:  Thank you.  That's a nuanced answer and I think your recognition that ultimately it is a journey that each person has to--they have to walk their own path, and I guess just by people like you and others just shining their own light that probably does make it easier in some sense for others to kind of have to face that it's tough to take it one step at a time when they're on their road.  So thank you.

Caller:  Hello.  Great to hear your voice Pavi, and Shiv, and also brother Josh.  This is Pancho coming from Oakland.  I appreciate so much about what you are stressing in terms of the youth.  And I see ourselves also right now being in this time where the way the world is burning very literally, and the right question to ask is what is being born?  And we have all these youth and women leading from Standing Rock to right now taking the streets over in the part of the planet called the US. 

And so I'm wondering, brother, if you have any insights in terms of the historical moment that we're living right now.  In a way I see the government imposed in this part of the planet is having one of those crises where the foundation of the immoral means are bringing very immoral fruits.  And there's a lot of polarization and despair, but at the same time there's a lot of fearlessness and beauty and compassion and respect and nonviolence and radical love. 

So I'm wondering what you have to say to these women, to these youth, that in these times also it might be like a sweet darkness if you will, it might be the time to let these stars shine and galaxies that you can actually see only when you have very dark skies, otherwise you won't be able to do that.  So I don't know where in this historical moment maybe to take advantage and be proactive and be on the, not on the offense, but be proactive about many of the things that we could be doing right now in these sweet times of darkness.

Joshua:  Thank you, brother Pancho.  Yeah.  And thank you for bringing in our current moment, both today--there's a lot stirring and happening in this part of the planet, the United States.  There's so much stirring in our personal lives and in our body politic. 

I'll just presence it that Pancho is going to be our guest storyteller at Thrive East Bay for anyone who's local in the Bay Area.  So looking forward to sharing more time with you, Pancho. 

I'll share a little vulnerably that when Donald Trump won the election I struggled and continue to struggle ever since then.  But so quickly within days some of my allies and heroes just started to point to the larger possibilities of how this could become motivation for us all to rise up and step up to a new level that we would never have gone to if maybe Hillary Clinton had been nominated.  It might not have called forth the response that we're now witnessing.  And I wasn't ready, and there's still part of my being that still is struggling to just fully accept and contend with this reality. 

But slowly over time I just could not deny the beauty and the power of the force I was seeing in the social movements around me.  The response has been so deep and so profound, because we've been shaken so deeply.  But we are bouncing back in fullness and finding ways to join together an reawakening and remembering again who we are and why we're here on this Earth, and what we're all up to in our non-profits and organizations and for-social-good businesses and our movements are just so vital and, you know, after this call maybe others who may be on this call now, I will be joining in the Women's March and the rallies happening today.  Both supporting my wife and taking my three-year-old daughter out there and just standing loud and proud for the true beauty of who we are as a people and the values that really are guiding us.

So for young people, and I still consider myself a young adult though, increasingly, I'm getting older and older and parenthood does that to you.  But, you know, Barack Obama, his presidency is now situated between George Bush and Donald Trump, you know.  And I just call that out because I think we often forget the extremes that we swing in life.  And when we look throughout history there has been this dialectic and this process of creative destruction.  And so I often just try to share with young people--again, Pancho, you made that allusion to--it probably comes from many places, but I know Dr. King has that line about "only when it's so dark can we see the stars." 

And we've just seen that time and time again in history.  And so I'm awake to how many young people are being energized and politicized in a positive sense right now, who are being galvanized for the future that I know so many of us believe in and are committed to.  And so that's the story that I'm trying to share and align with.  And though it's a hard time and we have to keep grieving amidst all this change, too.  And we don't know yet, again, just speaking here in this place of the United States, we don't know how difficult these years ahead may be.  And so if ever there was a time for community.  If ever there was a time to link up with friends and family and to stand together, this is that time.

Pavi:  Thank you.  Thank you for that.  Joshua, I had another question and--when you were talking about Van Jones, you really beautifully described someone who is very fiercely engaged in the external world shows up in so many dimensions there, and yet never loses the ground of his inner life or stays rooted in that simultaneously.  And I think we often see people on either extreme or inhabit the extremes of, kind of really engaging in the external and losing sight of our deeper selves or just retreating from the world, you know, in that inner journey.

And I was wondering for you, what are those grounding practices?  How do you keep yourself dancing that fine line?

Joshua:  Thank you.  Well, I--the good news is as I step into 2017 I feel like I'm walking my talk, and my practices are really supporting me, and I'm devoting time and somehow I'm finding time amidst work and parenthood and community.  So I am someone who believes in both a morning and an evening practice.  And I don't--it's not daily--daily in the morning I will do some moments of centering and connecting in with myself and with--for me I like to name it as The Great Mystery, you know, that is all around. 

But I have a sitting practice that doesn't come from a particular tradition.  I've been exposed to many different teachings and meditation techniques and somehow have my own kind of synthesis practice, and I shared earlier that I have a morning writing practice as well, and that is also both a bit of a grounding and an energizing practice for myself.  And on Sundays I get to do yoga, be it just by myself or I have a few circles that I go and do yoga with others, and I think anyone who does yoga knows what a Yes to life you have when you are in your practice and you walk away from it.

And in the evening I also like to get back down on the Earth, on the ground and stretch and do one last sit.  I'll share that I'm also--I am an introvert, so even though I do a lot of extroverted service work, just being by myself, so be it taking a bike ride or walking by myself is kind of--you know, those moving practices really support me.  Somehow when I'm walking or running or riding a bike, my monkey mind, the busy-ness in my mind, the anxieties, the fears start to dissipate and I come back again to my truer center and my life force really begins to flow in a good way.  And my inner voice of wisdom is present and clear with me.

Increasingly, as part of this Thrive East Bay community I'm singing more,too, and that brings out the joy and the celebration.  So I really--yeah--I really love it all. 

And I think I named as well, but I'll name again, parenting, as a parent it's so full-on and so it really serves to turn your parenting journey into practice and recognize it as so, and so I would say now just that constant presence and being with whatever is unfolding with my child, right, has become one of my greater practices right now.

Pavi:  That's wonderful.  And I feel like you have such a window into so many different aspects of this time and just working with the communities that you do and engaging with the generations coming after us as you are, I wonder, like, for many of us it can sometimes--especially in a time like this in history--it can get, some of us can get to this point of, like, the odds are--it's such a vast area and complex set of issues that we're facing, and does what we do really matter?  Is it just a drop in a bucket?  How do you personally come to that, to the task before you lit up and not crushed by what's ahead?

Joshua:  So I am grateful that the journey that I took as a young adult led me to my own personal awakening.  So I can't explain, you know I see it and recognize it in others, but I definitely feel like one of my superpowers is I just have this deep inner confidence in life and in history, and, you know, in the arc of the moral universe.  And I can't explain where that came from, say for--you know I know it came amidst all my searching and struggling.  And so often it's just part of my makeup. 

But, to be clear, it--there's so many days when it is hard and when I don't--so I can still get lost and disconnected.  And, again, those practices are really important to help me stay rooted in that deeper Yes that I hold.  But on the days when I'm lost I've also just learned the art of trusting in surrendering, and learning how to be patient that, Oh maybe this is just a bad day.  I'm a little off today.  I'm going to get some extra sleep tonight.  Or, I need some love and support from community, so I'm going to go over to that circle of people.  And I don't--I let go of the need to know and have it all figured out in myself, or even to be a Yes and to be confident that we're going to make it.  And that has also served me, learning to not always have to be a leader and there's so many beautiful--we're such a leaderful movement, you know.  So I feel blessed to have brothers and sisters and friends that I can seek out when I need some extra inspiration and reminders.

Pavi:  I love that, and I love that you--the superpower that you mentioned was this inner confidence and that it goes hand in hand with a super awareness that you don't know.  I love the confidence and the not knowing being together.  It seems like there's something profound there that is part of they key.  So thank you for that.

Shiv:  Joshua, as I've been hearing you, and I think you've answered my question, because the question in my mind was also--I often struggle to actually get back into doing what I'm doing when I see probably the sense of not coming back or--and just not settled today.  But in a way you've answered the question of how you root yourself.  So thank you so much for that.

Probably, as I'm thinking through you can share with me--for people like me who are involved in technology, we're working, we have a day-to-day work, we find it difficult to actually--it's an excuse I know--we find it difficult to find time to even do a little bit of what people like you are doing. 

What would be your recommendation to people like me?  How do we get involved?  We've always hidden behind the excuse of lack of time.  What should we be doing to get more involved with the community, more involved with the next generation, more involved with a person like Joshua?

Joshua:  I would guess that most people listening to this call, if they're already connected to ServiceSpace, they don't have that challenge, but maybe they do.  That was going go to be one thing that comes to mind, is, you know, there are organizations and networks like ServiceSpace that point in so many directions where people can plug in. 

But if you're already kind of working full time doing meaningful work, but maybe it's not meaningful in all the ways you would like to be engaging in, most people are connected to some form of social media, so I'm a fan of public disclosure or putting the call out to the people around you.  So sometimes that literally writing an email to a bunch of friends and saying, Hey, this is kind of what I'm curious about, or if you're on Facebook or Twitter or some other form of social media, just putting it out there and letting the people close to you help guide your way to a potential organization.  And I definitely believe that Google is kind of God, and you can actually type in almost anything and find your way to an organization that meets your passions. 

So I think it's really important to find meaningful service work that calls out what is already coming forth from you.  And so I just, I think there's so many places to serve and connect. 

And for those who may be at a place where you're not so sure what you're currently doing, if that's what you're meant to be doing, well, stay with that question.  Keep asking it and maybe you may be taking a bold leap into the unknown in the year ahead or in the years ahead.  I think those moments in life are really important for us to kind of take radical turns in our life's journey.

Shiv:  Thank you.  Thank you so much for that. 

And my final question is how can ServiceSpace, or anyone else who is listening, help you with your journey, Joshua?

You did talk about being a parent and that brings its own challenges.  Is there anything that ServiceSpace or anybody listening could do to further enhance your journey?

Joshua:  Well, if something has sparked for you amidst our conversation today, I can be reached at  I'm in the non-profit space, so we have the needs of always needing volunteers and always needing sources of funding and always needing stories of positive good.  So if you are a young person or if you know stories of young change makers in small and large ways, we love to share those stories.  We love to connect young people up with each other so, just socially, please feel free to be connected.

Our experiment with Thrive East Bay is--we're looking into new forms of meaningful community that kind of bridges the secular and spiritual space.  And so if you have resources that relate to that that we should know about, please connect up with us.  And if there are ways that we can serve you or your community, your a school you're connected to, or whatever it is, don't be shy.  You can find us by email or social media.

Shiv:  Thank you, Joshua.  It's been a pleasure.

Pavi:  Thank you so much, Joshua.  It really has--I was just thinking back to that vivid image that you described, you know, a whole generation kind of alive and energized and waking up, and how you responded to that, how you were so deeply in touch with your calling, and how steadily you've walked that path, and how much better and brighter our world is as a result of that. 

[minute of silence]

All:  Thank you, Joshua.

Joshua:  Thank you, Pavi.  Thank you, Shiv.  Thank you, ServiceSpace community.