“All paths lead to the same goal: to convey to others what we are.”
…stated the great Chilean poet Pablo Neruda in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech.
But “what we are” is not always apparent to even ourselves at the beginning of our journey.
That was true of our friend David Leventhal. When we met for breakfast, one blue sky Saturday morning under the trees in the garden of the Delancey Street Café in San Francisco, David surprised us when he said, “You know, my friends of just a few years ago wouldn’t recognize me today”.
He then told the story of how he was once a Type A, hard charging, successful high-tech leader of business development and acquisitions. Looking at the happy, relaxed David that day in the garden it was hard to imagine him as that previous person.
(BTW — I am not telling this story to impress you with our friend David, even though he is quite impressive. I am sharing his story because we often have two versions of ourselves that surprise even us and that second version is very important to how we will live and work in the future. As David Brooks communicated in his book The Second Mountain, if we are open to discover the true nature of “what we are”, we often discover the person who climbed the first mountain of life…“it’s all about My Success”…is not the end of our story. We soon realize there is another version of ourselves that wants and needs to climb a second mountain…“it’s all about the Wellbeing of Others”. That’s when life gets interesting and much more fulfilling!)
David was already beginning to climb his second mountain when we first met him in Santa Fe, New Mexico at the home of our friends Bob and Pamela Mang. Pamela, is the co-founder of Regenesis, a consulting company of experts in natural systems and regenerative development. Pamela had invited us to join Regenesis and a diverse group of creative people, in a planning charrette with David. As participants in the charrette, it was our charge to support David in framing a regenerative approach to a new project he called Playa Viva, located thirty minutes south of Zihuantanejo in Mexico.
It was David’s dream to take two hundred acres of beautiful forest and beachfront land his wife had purchased and they wanted to turn it into an exemplar of good stewardship and regeneration. They envisioned creating an eco-resort to attract people from all over the world to relax, enjoy the beauty, and learn about power and importance of sustainability and regeneration. And David envisioned realizing his goal of increasing the wellbeing of the local Mexican people, helping to strengthen the schools, enterprises and community of the surrounding areas of Playa Viva.
Not too long after the planning charrette, David realized his dream.
So how did it come about that David, the hard driving tech leader, became this relaxed, warm man who deeply cared about preserving forests, protecting jaguars and turtles, helping a Mexican community thrive and introducing experience seekers to the world of regenerative flourishing?
Like so many of us businessmen who change, David’s story of transformation begins with a woman. In fact, in David’s case, his story begins with two women, his wife Sandy Kahn and his wife’s mother Elena Kahn Yarowinski. While David had been busy working at getting ahead in his tech career, they both were already deeply involved with land preservation and were working to create a private reserve out of a biosphere buffer zone that was losing its protected status. All this in order to protect the Jaguars in the jungles of Calakmul, Mexico.
Sandy first opened David to the world of sustainability and green building. From their home in California, Sandy and David traveled to Mexico to continue Sandy’s preservation work and there they discovered the land they eventually purchased. As they explored this beautiful land and its warm, loving people, David also began discovering a new part of himself.
During his outward and inward explorations, David met many people who deeply influenced him during his time of discovery and transition.
He told us of how his daily consciousness was shifted by Julia “Butterfly” Hill, the famous author and environmental activist who lived high atop a 150 ft. 1500-year-old Redwood for 738 days to prevent loggers from cutting it down. David said just watching her live her values by simple, small things… like always having a cloth napkin with her to avoid the waste of paper napkins…deeply impacted his own view of conscious living.
Of course, there were other influential people who shaped David’s thinking, like Shaun Paul at EcoLogic who got him thinking about taking a bigger, whole systems view to creating his dream. Then it was Bill Reed at Regenesis who showed him the meaning of a “Sense of Place.” Bill helped David clearly see how he could go about creating a commercially viable eco-resort enterprise, still “honor the place and the land” and help build an economically healthy community in Mexico.
Today David sees his “second mountain” work co-evolving and co-regenerative with both the land and the people.
What happens when a person like David makes such a fundamental shift in consciousness, a metanoia?
As David will tell you, he sees the world through fresh eyes. He will describe to you how the change from hermetically sealed glass buildings of the tech world to complete immersion and participation with nature on the beach and in the forest and farms, helped him better understand his place in the universe. He loves being at Playa Viva because it allows him to be keenly aware of the stages of the moon, the seasonal changes, the time of tides and sunsets. David has discovered he loves helping to nurture and grow things…plants, animals, local enterprises, people and community.
David has infused his understanding of personal transformation into creating transformative experiences for his guests at Playa Viva.
When we visited Playa Viva, we not only experienced an incredibly beautiful, open air resort along a pristine sandy beach, a swim in the ocean side swimming pool, morning yoga, wonderful natural food dining and wickedly delightful drinks, we experienced the place and people who so captivated David.
One early morning, we rode All-Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) high into the surrounding mountain forest to visit and learn from a Mexican family who grow Cacao for chocolate at their remote, no-electricity homestead (David helps them make their products economically viable by buying their chocolate to serve at Playa Viva). A couple of the Playa Viva students were also there helping out. At a big table that included the family, students and us visitors, we enjoyed a delicious home cooked lunch of traditional Mexican fare. In our lively discussions, punctuated with lots of laughter and stories, we began to understand the rich quality of life in a world so different from our San Francisco busyness.
Coming back from the mountains we passed by the local schools that Playa Viva helps support. Playa Viva has volunteers and students who come from all over the world who want to learn about Regeneration — how to develop Permaculture, not waste anything, and make the land better than you found it. They work at the Resort, and surrounding farms and gardens, and they also teach in the local schools. They teach and they learn from the people they teach.
During our stay at Playa Viva we got to participate in the joy and wonder of releasing of baby turtles into the sea. They are from the sea turtle sanctuary Playa Viva and the team preserve. When David first arrived at Playa Viva, many of the locals were poaching the endangered turtles. Now they have become active stewards and protectors of the turtles.
One cannot go through the Playa Viva experience and not walk away changed. It is a place to reconnect to all things important in life, including that better version of ourselves.
As Pablo Neruda tells us…We all have a goal to “convey what we are.” We do that by the choices we make, how we live and how we treat others who share our world.
As David explains, we can all learn to “trade Ego for Eco.” He expresses his philosophy through the Playa Viva Core Principles.
Playa Viva Core Principles
Promote Biodiversity; Develop cleaner and more abundant water and energy; Create transformational experiences; Promote meaningful community; Create a living legacy.
Transformations such as David Leventhal’s are transformations of consciousness that tap into new values or principles that reflect a different worldview, a different way of being, living and working. When we open ourselves to these changes, we often find a better version of ourselves that wants to play a role in making a better version of the world.
Then maybe one day we’ll say, as David did that day in San Francisco. — “You know, my friends of just a few years ago wouldn’t recognize me today”.