Raw transcript: my interview re Buddhism in America, New Media, elephant…on Tricycle Magazine.

Via on Jul 18, 2011

Waylon Lewis 10:08 AM
Emma! Sorry I’m a bit late.
Emma Varvaloucas 10:09 AM
No problem!
Waylon Lewis 10:09 AM
I’m at the Buddhist-owned Trident Cafe & Booksellers in downtown Boulder…where Buddhists have been congregating for decades. Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche planted a juniper tree out front back in the day.
10:09 AM
So you want to do interview via chat, then copy and paste? Let me know if you need photos or bio stuff.
Emma Varvaloucas 10:09 AM
Wow, perfect location for the interview.
10:10 AM
Yes, chat is good. I can take photos off elephantjournal.com
10:10 AM
Are you ready?
Waylon Lewis 10:11 AM
Hai!
Emma Varvaloucas 10:11 AM
Okay! So how did Elephant Journal start?
Waylon Lewis 10:12 AM
Okay. There’s a bunch of silly photos at http://www.elephantjournal.com/press
10:13 AM
elephant started nine years ago as a magazine. I’d worked for Shambhala Pubs in Boston, and while I loved it, I made zero money and really didn’t get trained to do much and really just floundered about. Then, I went on to Shambhala Mountain Center, rather accidentally, and flourished there–had a mentor who loved young people and really empowered/whipped me into shape.
Emma Varvaloucas 10:13 AM
Who was your mentor there?
Waylon Lewis 10:14 AM
But after years of working for things called Shambhala and making not-much-money, I was ready to start something that I controlled, number one, and used my skills to a tee, number two, and that I could get filthy rich off long-term, number three.
Emma Varvaloucas 10:15 AM
Aha! And how’s that working out for you? Making more money now?
Waylon Lewis 10:15 AM
Jeff Waltcher. I was on the Shambhala Youth Council when I first met him, at Denma Ling outside of Halifax, and he brought a professionalism and business-savvy respect to his Dharma work that I hadn’t seen much of. I was sergeant major of Seminary in 1999, and he loved my rather out-there, heartfelt service, and asked me to work with him. I learned everything I know about business from him.


10:16 AM
So, going back, I wanted to do something with my writing in the business world that would fulfill my Bodhisattva Vow: to be of benefit to all sentient beings. All sentient beings is a lot of beings! Media seemed/seems like an effective way to do that—look at Oprah or Jon Stewart and their effect on culture, week to week.
10:17 AM
So I met this guy who was starting a yoga magazine in the Rockies. We decided to partner and I changed its focus from “about yoga” to “about everything yoga people care about: family, adventure, travel, eco-responsibility, meditation, non-new-agey spirituality, the arts…”
10:18 AM
And he quit pretty quickly. I always say he was smarter than me, realized it’d be a long slog to make dough. After four years, however, elephant was national and starting to make money. Then I ran into a huge problem.
Emma Varvaloucas 10:18 AM
What was that!?
Waylon Lewis 10:20 AM
National magazines generally are lucky to sell three or four magazines out of 10 on the newsstand. From an environmental pov, that’s a crime. From a Buddhist pov, that’s some karma I don’t want to be involved in. So I spent two more years improving the magazine, interviewing big deal people and that became a talk show…but I couldn’t figure out how to distribute the magazine in a more eco-responsible manner. We were printed on eco paper, New Leaf, FSC, but I was unwilling to go down from the 8 or 9 out of 10 we were selling as a smaller publication to a huge publication that could make a ton of dough but, in its inherent business model, be hypocritical. Not sure if that makes sense.
10:21 AM
So after six years, I declined a good offer to sell out, and went online. Gave up my staff, office, car, my house went into foreclosure, and I just started learning by doing in terms of new media. WordPress, twitter, facebook.
Emma Varvaloucas 10:22 AM
It makes sense…so this was in 2008…what happened between then and now?
Waylon Lewis 10:22 AM
Should I keep blabbing or you want to ask something? Ah.
Emma Varvaloucas 10:22 AM
Basically, how did you decided on elephant journal’s current online format?
10:22 AM
*decide
Waylon Lewis 10:24 AM
Really I’ve had an incredibly boring three years. Just worked on my laptop 12 hours a day, sometimes more, almost never less, seven days a week. I’ve been broke as hell and stressed but we’ve experienced some radical success on twitter and FB that told me we were on the right track. Aloso, I’ve loved writing online—it’s so dynamic. Like in Harry Potter, suddenly my publication can have moving pictures in it, videos you know, and links so you don’t have to explain who, say, Chogyam Trungpa is, and we’re now read by nearly 600,000 “unique readers” a month according to Google Analytics. As a magazine we would have been lucky to get to 350,000, which is where Yoga Journal is at. I think we’ll be the next Huffington Post, except we’ll have more journalistic integrity—you know, editing.
Emma Varvaloucas 10:25 AM
Don’t you write for the Huffington Post? They don’t edit you?
Waylon Lewis 10:26 AM
Basically, how did you decide on elephant journal’s current online format?

It just has evolved, rather organically, no pun intended. I’m about to make some major switches in design and finances that, I think, will take us from 10-30% growth each month to 100-300% growth a month. Seriously. It’s exciting. In any case, whether my new model succeeds or fails, we should be at 1,000,000 readers a month by the end of 2011.
Emma Varvaloucas 10:26 AM
Impressive!! (Sorry if I’m overwhelming you with questions)
Waylon Lewis 10:27 AM
But there’s plenty of challenges. We make zero money online. Readers aren’t used to paying, and advertisers don’t like to pay much, and want us to cross the advertising line over into editorial and talk up their events/products. New media is an immoral world, journalistically-speaking. So I’m having to push back more and more on that, while finding innovative ways to make a buck.
10:27 AM
Not at all. More questions the merrier!
Emma Varvaloucas 10:28 AM
Yeah, I wanted to ask you about your role in new media…how do you use new media “morally”? What does good journalism look like on Twitter, for instance?
Waylon Lewis 10:31 AM
Twitter and Facebook, if use for editorial, are straightforward. There’s just new vessels for the same old wonderful thing: communication. But if a company wants me to talk up their service/product, that becomes complicated. Given that readers don’t like to pay, online, generally, most new media companies do a ton of “promotion” to their readers. We have to. We’re all broke. Even Huff Post was losing money up until a few years back, when they got their advertising more together, probably in preparation to sell.
Emma Varvaloucas 10:33 AM
So how does Elephant Journal stay afloat without compromising journalistic integrity?
Waylon Lewis 10:34 AM
So six months ago, with no money, I created a system to get readers to pay a small amount: $1 buck a month—optionally, only if they wanted to read a ton of elephant. 98% of our readers read less than 3 articles in one visit. So we charge readers who want to read more than 4 or 5 clicks-worth per visit, only. And even those readers, if they don’t want to pay, can just come back tomorrow and read another three articles for free. Home page clicks and searches are free. I pioneered that model before the NY Times put forth their new media game-changing subscription model, so I didn’t have that as a helpful reference point. They spent $40 million on their system. It’s much more sophisticated. I spent a few hundred bucks on mine. It was a simple idea based on seeing folks browse for free when they pick up the NY Times Sunday edition in a cafe…you’re allowed to pick it up, read the front page…but if you take it to your table, start opening it up and messing it up and getting your coffee on it, you’re expected to buy it.
Emma Varvaloucas 10:35 AM
Pretty smart…and that model is working?
Waylon Lewis 10:36 AM
Right now, elephant is breaking even for the first time in three years. We have zero staff, though, so editorially we’re still all over the place. We have a lot of amazing articles, fun articles, deep articles, silly articles. But, we also have some really crap articles. Less and less. But when we are able to afford an editor, or many editors (we have many volunteer editors coming on board), things will get more consistent. We’re not where I expect us to be in terms of quality or size or income, yet, but we’re moving fast.
Emma Varvaloucas 10:36 AM
Awesome…all right, time for some more personal questions!
10:37 AM
You have on elephantjournal.com that you’re a “dharma brat” and grew up around Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, and also that you were straying from Buddhism until you did a retreat when you were 16. Where do you stand with Buddhism in your life now?
Waylon Lewis 10:44 AM
Yah. The Paygate, as I call it, instead of Paywall, you know, is more than half our revenues and tied directly to traffic/readership, so the outlook is suddenly rosey. If I had a PR team, we’d be getting some crazy business articles on this.
10:44 AM
Well, I never really strayed, I just didn’t get it. I used to think that all these people meditating around me all the time were avoiding something. I was a child, exuberant, full of life, I wanted to run around and do stuff. These people, on the other hand, were just practicing “being.” Booooring.
Emma Varvaloucas 10:45 AM


Waylon, I’m sorry, the Internet is terrible here and it just cut out…I’m not sure if you’ve sent something within the last 5 mins or not
Waylon Lewis 10:46 AM
I grew up in Boulder, went to a Buddhist private school here called Vidya for free ’cause my mom, Linda Lewis, was a teacher there. Later on we moved to Karme Choling, in Vermont. So I had a verrrrrrrry Buddhist upbringing. I loved it—Buddhism is non-theistic so there’s not a whole lot to rebel against, except our tendency as a community to be uptight and anti-children (children are chaos, personified) and to suppress dialogue/gossip). But finally when I did that weekthun, I got it: meditation was directly relevant to me, to becoming sane, to figuring out who the hell I was.
10:47 AM
Up to then I’d done Shambhala Sun Summer Camps and that was, along with kyudo (Japanese moving meditation/archery) and ikebana (flower arranging) one of the main ways I “got” mindfulness or how to come back to the present moment.
10:47 AM
You got this? Yah. The Paygate, as I call it, instead of Paywall, you know, is more than half our revenues and tied directly to traffic/readership, so the outlook is suddenly rosey. If I had a PR team, we’d be getting some crazy business articles on this.
10:44 AM
Well, I never really strayed, I just didn’t get it. I used to think that all these people meditating around me all the time were avoiding something. I was a child, exuberant, full of life, I wanted to run around and do stuff. These people, on the other hand, were just practicing “being.” Booooring.


10:48 AM
And this? I grew up in Boulder, went to a Buddhist private school here called Vidya for free ’cause my mom, Linda Lewis, was a teacher there. Later on we moved to Karme Choling, in Vermont. So I had a verrrrrrrry Buddhist upbringing. I loved it—Buddhism is non-theistic so there’s not a whole lot to rebel against, except our tendency as a community to be uptight and anti-children (children are chaos, personified) and to suppress dialogue/gossip). But finally when I did that weekthun, I got it: meditation was directly relevant to me, to becoming sane, to figuring out who the hell I was.
10:47 AM
Up to then I’d done Shambhala Sun Summer Camps and that was, along with kyudo (Japanese moving meditation/archery) and ikebana (flower arranging) one of the main ways I “got” mindfulness or how to come back to the present moment.
Emma Varvaloucas 10:48 AM
Ah, yes, I got it now, thank you!
Waylon Lewis 10:48 AM
I just ran into two fellow Dharma Brats here at the Trident, one who I used to date a bit just told me she’s engaged, the other I haven’t seen in Boulder for years, she’s been traveling with a Rinpoche for yeeeears. So I got distracted and ran off for a sec.
Emma Varvaloucas 10:49 AM
Haha, no problem, no problem
10:49 AM
Where are you at with Buddhism now?
Waylon Lewis 10:53 AM
I’ve had a few falling outs with my Shambhala Buddhist community. That said, I still consider Sakyong Mipham my teacher and the community to be my sangha, the unsurpassable guide. I practice meditation in the morning and evening, just a bit as per Sakyong Mipham and Pema Chodron’s urgings to practice at least a bit, and morning and eve are rightly considered the most effective times to practice. I practice raising windhorse, Shambhala stuff, just naturally all the time. Most of my best friends are sangha. I see my Meditation Instructor, Dan Hessey, pretty regularly, and Frank Berliner is one of my closest advisors. I’m very involved in Naropa, generally.
Emma Varvaloucas 10:55 AM
Cool. So I’ve read on elephantjournal.com that 73% of its readers are female. How does it feel to have attracted the attention of so many ladies?
Waylon Lewis 10:57 AM
All that said, I’ve found it tough to do what I’m doing within the sangha. The sangha is much more settled, mature now than it used to be. That said, it’s also a lot less fun, crazy, forward and outward looking. I feel it to be my life’s purpose, command from my parent’s guru, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, to offfer the best of his legacy, the teachings of meditation and compassion and community to a wider world. There’s a story of the Karmapa, the 16th Karmapa, looking down from a skyscraper in Hong Kong and crying. Someone asked him why he was crying. He could see all the people below, looking just like little ants. He said, there’s so much suffering out there. That’s how I see Boulder. We’re happy, sunny, healthy, community-focused…and yet, personally, we’re all suffering so much. It’s world-wide. Meditation and the teachings of the Buddhadharma give us a practical framework to “think about others, and be happy, instead of thinking about ourselves and being unhappy.” If Coke could bottle meditation, the ability to become sane and happy and offer that to others—folks would buy. Even better, it’s free!


10:58 AM
Cool. So I’ve read on elephantjournal.com that 73% of its readers are female. How does it feel to have attracted the attention of so many ladies?

Hahahaha. Well unfortunately or fortunately, when it comes to community, eco-living, yoga, health, wellness, meditation, spirituality or faith…women show up. Men are busy playing video games, drinking, businessing, and thinking about women.
Emma Varvaloucas 10:59 AM
Fair enough!
10:59 AM
About your Walk the Talk Show…who’s been your favorite person to interview?
Waylon Lewis 11:04 AM
I’ve interviewed Deepak Chopra twice, he’s fun. There’s a reason he’s so successful—he’s a live wire. Bill McKibben is great. Pema Chodron’s declined four times, now, but she’d be great. Sakyong Mipham, Sister Helen Prejean, Khandro Rinpoche, Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche, Sharon Salzberg (twice), Robert Thurman, Terry Tempest Williams, Byron Katie, Paul Hawken, Laurie David, Seane Corn, John Friend, Amy Goodman, Dr. Andrew Weil, Alice Walker, Natalie Goldberg, Richard Freeman, Rabbi Zalman Shalomi-Schacter, Anne Waldman, John Perkins, Krishna Das…all wonderful. Michael Pollan mighta been my fave. Lester Brown, too. Those two are doing more to export what I consider Budhist values to a wider world who didn’t know they gave a shiiite than just about anyone else I know. Our talk show is getting picked up, looks like, by PBS, so we’ll have a chacne to reach far bigger audiences. Our mission is to bring together those working (and playing) to create enlightened society. To keep it fun, yet fundamentally serious.
Emma Varvaloucas 11:06 AM
Do you think that Elephant Journal falls more on the fun side or the serious side?
Waylon Lewis 11:07 AM
It’s got to be both. The two make each other more powerful. Serious without fun isn’t accessible, even to serious people. Fun without serious is fluff. Jon Stewart, personal idol, combines both expertly.
Emma Varvaloucas 11:08 AM
Do you have a favorite Jon Stewart episode?
11:09 AM
Or the best Daily Show episode that’s aired lately?
Waylon Lewis 11:14 AM
My childhood dharma brat buddy just took me out to meet her teacher, right outside, so I was gone for last few minutes–her teacher is Dsongzar Khentyse Rinpoche, so we just hung out, talked, bowed a lot, took a few photos. Just another day in Boulder! He’s here for a Miksang (contemplative photography) workshop.
Emma Varvaloucas 11:15 AM
Ah, sometimes it’s hard to believe that the people in Boulder are suffering just as much as the rest of us!
11:16 AM

Waylon Lewis 11:16 AM
Ummm…well Jon Stewart is most powerful when he, once in awhile, goes on another network and is serious. Always amazing. Like, the very bottom video here: http://www.elephantjournal.com/2009/03/the-most-watched-daily-show-clip-of-the-year-cramer-vs-jon-stewart/ him on Crossfire from years back. But, day-to-day, he’s amazing–just calling everyone on their shiite, not from a mean pov, but from a fundamentally caring and patriotic pov.
11:16 AM
ahaha
Emma Varvaloucas 11:18 AM
So you are trying to do the same thing from a yoga/green/spiritual perspective–calling everyone out on their shiite?
Waylon Lewis 11:19 AM
Well, let’s just say that Spiritual Materialism makes me gag, viscerally. It’s not good for us. And, the rest of the world seeings our tendencies to take our spiritual paths seriously better than we do. So Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism—with humor, hopefully—is also a great way to communicate our path beyond the choir.
Emma Varvaloucas 11:20 AM
Gotcha. Okay, just a couple more questions
11:21 AM
If you could tell someone who is indifferent about protecting the environment one thing in the hopes that you could make them eco-conscious, what would it be?
Waylon Lewis 11:23 AM
You might enjoy this http://www.elephantjournal.com/2011/07/spiritual-wisdom-from-an-idiot/ or http://www.elephantjournal.com/2010/07/10-must-have-buys-for-the-spiritual-materialist/
Emma Varvaloucas 11:26 AM
Hahah, oh man, I definitely own a few things on that list…
Waylon Lewis 11:28 AM
That eco-responsibility is, on a physical level, the same as meditation on a inner level. It’s a mindfulness practice, a way to come back throughout the day to the present moment. Remember to turn off your wifi when done. Why? The electricity comes from a coal plant. Coal is why we’re cutting the tops of mountains off in Virginia and poisoning their water supply. Coat poisons our air, and the air our children breathe. Ride your bike, or walk. It’s more fun. It slows our speediness down, and helps us enjoy and appreciate our daily life, moment by moment. I need it! And it saves gas, which saves pollution, transporation, foreign wars and the lives and money they take away. We talk about interdependence? There’s no better way to jump into the knot of eternity than to enjoy, sugata, being responsible in our daily lives. It’s not about perfection. I eff up all the time. I take hot baths. We all have our things. But we can enjoy our life, enjoy being eco, not from a pov of deprivation but from a pov of appreciation. It’s easy, and fun, for me. Eating food from farms in this area…it has much more power to it than eating food of a Sisco truck.
11:28 AM
That said, in some relationships, living eco can be tough. Tough stuff.
Emma Varvaloucas 11:29 AM
Definitely. About the eating food from farms in this area…are you a vegetarian? I’ve noticed some hardcore vegans on elephantjournal.com going nuts over things you’ve posted about “mindful meat consumption.” Where do you stand on that?
Waylon Lewis 11:34 AM
I am veggie. I’m trending vegan, cutting out dairy slowly. Given healthy / yum vegan options, it’s getting easier and easier.  In terms of hard core vegans going at it at meat-eaters, that’s really the heart of what elephant’s about, unlike most other media. We’re about dialogue. I want more Republicans on elephant. We’re all about promoting and sharing the work of those we disagree with. The nature of the web—2.0, the give and take of comments—means we can actually promote Spiritual Materialism, say, in an article, and argue it down in the comment section—respectfully. Re-learning how to disagree with one another respectfully—to argue against the argument, not insult the person—is a skill I and most Americans have more or less forgot.
Emma Varvaloucas 11:34 AM
And it’s a skill that’s harder online!
11:35 AM
Cool, that’s all the questions I have…is there anything else you want to add about yourself or Elephant Journal?
11:35 AM
(or anything really)
Waylon Lewis 11:41 AM
Um, “just” that, compared with the yoga community, Buddhists are navel-gazing. We’re living our lives, which is great, we’re bringing the great gift that is the Buddhadharma to bear with our family, or work. But, with amazing exceptions like Bernie Glassman or Fleet Maull—we’re doing very little to connect with the greater world. I’d like to see us really lift our gaze up and offer what we’ve been given to the wider world. Who cares if anyone becomes Buddhist, of course. But meditation and tonglen and such are literally like water for a world dying of thirst.
Emma Varvaloucas 11:42 AM
Basically, you think that the Buddhist community needs to give back more?
Waylon Lewis 11:43 AM
Also, that I’ve been reading Tricycle since I was a child living at Karme Choling. There was always a big stack in the, uh, er, men’s bathroom!
Emma Varvaloucas 11:43 AM
Haha that’s great…as an intern I archive a lot, so lately I’ve been going through all the issues from the 90s…it’s very cool!
Waylon Lewis 11:44 AM
I think it’s a shame that meditation and basic Buddhist teachings are less accessible or out there than yoga studios and The Forum and Deepak and The Secret and Eckhart Tolle, the Now guy who was on Oprah. Meditation is, as Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche says, a basic tool that can train the mind much in the way we all realize we need to take care of our body.
Emma Varvaloucas 11:46 AM
Maybe that’s because popular culture is usually associated with “spiritually materializing” the dharma?
Waylon Lewis 11:47 AM
The good news is that, Chogyam Trungpa taught, the more we do that the more fun we have. Sugata: he or she who crosses the river of suffering…with joy! Ki ki so so! So, it’s been an honor, and fun!
Emma Varvaloucas 11:47 AM
Same you too! Thanks so much for your time
11:48 AM
The interview will be up late today or early tomorrow
11:48 AM
and good luck with Elephant!
Waylon Lewis 11:49 AM
Thanks, you! Good to “meet”!

Waylon and Graham Hill, founder of Treehugger, pre-interview: Walk the Talk Show.

About Waylon Lewis

Waylon Lewis, founder of elephant magazine, now elephantjournal.com & host of Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis, is a 1st generation American Buddhist “Dharma Brat." Voted #1 in U.S. on twitter for #green two years running, Changemaker & Eco Ambassador by Treehugger, Green Hero by Discovery’s Planet Green, Best (!) Shameless Self-Promoter at Westword's Web Awards, Prominent Buddhist by Shambhala Sun, & 100 Most Influential People in Health & Fitness 2011 by "Greatist", Waylon is a mediocre climber, lazy yogi, 365-day bicycle commuter & best friend to Redford (his rescue hound). His aim: to bring the good news re: "the mindful life" beyond the choir & to all those who didn't know they gave a care. elephantjournal.com | facebook.com/elephantjournal | twitter.com/elephantjournal | facebook.com/waylonhlewis | twitter.com/waylonlewis | Google+ For more: publisherelephantjournalcom

703 views

Like this article? Leave a tip!

(We use PayPal but you don't need an account with PayPal.)

Elephriends - Mindful Affiliates

3 Responses to “Raw transcript: my interview re Buddhism in America, New Media, elephant…on Tricycle Magazine.”

  1. [...] and bigger, and louder, and there were fewer of “me”—I was usually the only boy at Karme Choling, except for during the summers, when everyone vacationed there—I ran into more and more tight, [...]

  2. [...] Boston Shambhala Center many years ago, as Rusung, I saw it firsthand. But then when I worked with Jeff Waltcher at Shambhala Mountain Center, we tried to pay folks well and it was a whole new ballgame, with [...]

Leave a Reply