Today’s podcast episode is the final episode of the Dandelion Effect Podcast as we know it. We are tying a beautiful ribbon on a project that began in the fall of 2020 as an avenue for continued positive outreach and community engagement in the heat of the pandemic. This podcast has far exceeded our expectations, and while it’s bittersweet, we are moving onto different creative adventures that we are all so excited for!
As a way to wrap this up, we’ve decided to bring it full circle and give you a compilation episode of a handful of voices from within the Feathered Pipe Ranch team, an inside-out approach, so to speak. It’s an ode to the Ranch: the changes we’ve been through over the years, the gratitude for this project, and a chance to hear from staff, board members and family members, why they believe this little retreat center in the forest of Helena, MT is, in fact, a life-changing place.
We have six guests on today’s podcast—Howard Levin, Anne Jablonski, Matt Lambie, Amanda Ellefsen, Eric Myers and Crystal Water—all weighing in about what keeps them coming back year after year, and adding their two cents into where this ship is heading as we look toward the future.
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This program is brought you by the Feathered Pipe Foundation and its kind supporting community, who has been inspiring positive change in the world since its inception in 1975. Please consider joining us with your kind donation.
Eric Myers (00:00:01):
Is it the land? Is it the people? I can’t put my finger on it, but it is unique to the Ranch itself. The environment just… facilitates, subtly inspires, encourages, coaxes you to step into a different way of relating with yourself and with others.
Andy Vantrease (00:00:43):
Welcome to the Dandelion Effect Podcast, a space for organic conversation about the magic of living a connected life. Just like the natural world around us, we are all linked through an intricate web, a never ending ripple that spans across the globe. Here we explore the ideas that our guests carry through the world, remember who and what inspired them along the way, and uncover the seeds that helped them blossom into their unique version of this human experience. This podcast is a production of the Feathered Pipe Foundation, whose mission is to help people find their direction through access to programs and experiences that support healing, education, community, and empowerment.
Welcome back everybody. I am Andy Vantrease, and this is the Dandelion Effect Podcast. So, today’s podcast episode is significant, and that’s because it’s actually the last episode of our show. We are tying a beautiful ribbon on a project that began in the fall of 2020 as an avenue for continued positive outreach and community engagement in the heat of the pandemic. The Dandelion Effect Podcast has far exceeded our expectations, my expectations, and while it’s bittersweet, we are moving on to different creative adventures that we are all so excited for.
So to wrap this up, we’ve decided to bring it full circle and give you a compilation episode of a handful of voices from within the Feathered Pipe Ranch team, an inside-out approach, so to speak. It’s an ode to the Feathered Pipe, the changes we’ve been through over the years, the gratitude for this project, and a chance to hear from staff, board members and family members why they believe this little retreat center in the forest of Helena, Montana is, in fact, a life-changing place.
We have six guests on today’s episode, all weighing in about what keeps them coming back year after year, and adding their two cents into where this ship is headed as we look toward the future. But first, I didn’t think it would be right to scoot out of here without weighing in myself and answering the question that you’ll hear me ask several guests in this episode: How has the Ranch aided in your personal evolution?
Well, it’s been six years since I began working in some capacity at the ranch. First, having the opportunities to stay for the summer, attend various retreats, and write about my experience for yoga, wellness, and lifestyle magazines in order to help them beef up the online presence and press page. Like many others, that first summer changed my life. India was like a fairy grandmother to me, or a fairy godmother, and I learned an entirely different way of being in relationship with people, overriding my learned behavior of transactional relating, and beginning to feel the true interconnectedness, the reciprocation that’s pouring through every moment in nature. The truth that we are all worthy and valuable simply for existing. India and the embrace of the Ranch community have allowed me to grow into that truth these last six years, to believe it, to embody it, to pass it on to other people who have forgotten.
As the resident millennial, in a conversation on the back deck of the lake cabin in 2020, I offered up the idea, What if we do a podcast? But I had no idea how to actually make one. I was just obsessed with listening to them. The following summer, I created Storymapping, a private one-on-one life interview experience for workshop guests. So between the podcast and Storymapping, I’ve interviewed more than 150 people through this work at the Ranch, and I’ve learned several universal truths from the humans I’ve had the honor of talking with. Most remarkably, that I believe we need the other in order to see ourselves.
I’m interested in how people become who they are, and the people who are foundational to their sense of self. I ask people, Who has been someone who believed in you, who saw something in you before you even knew who you were, and before you saw anything in yourself? And this is where I’ve watched people of all ages break down in tears, remembering teachers, coaches, parents, aunts and uncles, grandparents, neighbors. People who were kind to them, who showed them love and respect at a young age, who helped them understand that they were a person worthy of attention. Sometimes people had multiple examples, and many times people had one shining example. One person who extended their reach, shared their love and changed their lives.
So when I say that we need the other in order to see ourselves, I mean that we cannot grow alone. As Don Rheem shared in his podcast, “The ecology of human beings is other human beings.” The way we treat each other matters. It quite literally creates the building blocks for raising confident, inspired humans who go out into the world with purpose.
This is what I’ve learned from the Dandelion Effect Podcast, from Storymapping, from being with people these last six years at the Feathered Pipe Ranch, as they gave me a window into their emotions, their thoughts, their dreams, their reasons for living and working in the fields they do, their advice and insights that stem from mistakes and shortcomings, their greatest accomplishments and most treasured moments, their truths and deepest desires for their lives.
So I wanna say thank you. Thank you for coming on this journey with me. For any words of feedback you gave me. Encouragement and excitement for new episodes, for watching me grow in real time as an interviewer and a host, for sharing conversations with your friends and using them for conversation starters on meaningful topics, for telling me which episode struck a chord or even inspired you to come all the way out to the Ranch itself.
I’m beyond grateful to all the guests who are now friends, listeners who are now guests, and to my colleagues, especially Eric Myers and Crystal Water, for believing in me and allowing me the space to discover parts of myself that I didn’t even know were in here. So thank you for everything. And as always, please enjoy this podcast episode and help me welcome our first guest, Howard Levin, who was the general manager of the Ranch for 25 years, and now is the resident storyteller and comedian here. He talks about the Ranch as a spiritual home for many people.
Howard Levin (00:07:11):
It’s had this self-contained energy because of its physical location, because it’s in the little valley. And because of India’s personality, you know. Of course you knew India and she had such a magnetic personality, and when she looked at you and you met her and talked to her, you felt like she was your oldest friend, and that she knew you better than anybody, and she loved you. Everybody felt comfortable with her, and everybody felt connected to her. I mean, she had her own kind of magical power, if you will. Our friend Caroline from New York used to say, She’s no threat to anybody on the earth. Everybody can find a place where they’re comfortable with India. You open up to her, you tell her things you would never tell anybody else. And she always insisted on this energy of love and kindness and service.
India used to say, We’re not anybody’s servants, but we’re here to serve. And that energy of the Ranch, that spiritual energy has been there consistently through the ups and downs. The ups and downs have been more physical things like financial stress or environmental stress. Like maybe there’s been some very smokey times with forest fires. The spiritual energy has stayed and grown and solidified through the years. And I think that spiritual energy is what draws people to the Ranch. Turning people inward—that’s the real mission of the Ranch, is to turn people inward and to find that connection to spirit. And we’ve embraced all the traditions: the eastern religion, the shaman tradition, especially Tibetan Buddhism, because we wanna promote that spiritual path, that awakening of consciousness. And I see the Ranch continuing as a center for that, as a place for people to come, to get away from the world for a week, to be in this beautiful natural setting and to do some introspection, to do yoga, and to learn how to control their minds.
Andy Vantrease (00:09:21):
You’re in San Francisco in the off season, and then every May you come back and every September you go back to San Francisco. So maybe the reasons have changed over the years, but for you in this part of your life now, what is the the draw for you that keeps you coming and saying like, I’m gonna buy that flight again this year? Like, it’s not even a question type of thing.
Howard Levin (00:09:53):
Because of what the Ranch stands for and its transformative effect on people. Just to be in any way a part of that and contribute to it is something I wanna continue doing in my senior years until the end, you know? I mean, this is home for me. And I’ve been here, this is my 38th season, and it’s part of me. It’s my family. I mean, I’ve known Crystal her entire life since she was born, and I babysat her when she was an infant and a little child, you know, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 years old. And it’s coming home to something I deeply believe in. Because I think we need good in the world very much—and this is a very good place.
Andy Vantrease (00:10:37):
Mm-hmm. I think a lot of people would really say like, the Feathered Pipe Ranch changed my life. A lot of people.
Howard Levin (00:10:47):
Yeah. Many people. It’s their spiritual home.
Andy Vantrease (00:10:50):
I’m curious for you to reflect back on how it has changed your life. What would you say to that? Like, if there was like a before-the-Ranch Howard and after-the-Ranch Howard.
Howard Levin (00:11:05):
India and I and her sister VJ, we were on a spiritual path since we were in our early twenties. I was working in the world doing high-end interior design before I came here. And I wanted to do something spiritual. I wanted to promote the spirituality and the traditions that I learned over in India. And when I came here to visit India the first time, which was 1981, only six years after it opened, I just felt the energy right away and it started to pull on me. And I would come back every summer, take two weeks off, so 82, 83, 84, 85, like that, and come back every summer. And it just kept building in me the feeling of this is something I wanna be part of, this is what I really wanna do. I wanna get out of this worldly career that I’m in.
And even though it’s glamorous and I’m making good money, I just felt so drawn to the Ranch, and I don’t even know what it was. It was just an inner feeling that this is where I belong, this is where I should be. I was able to use my design skills to help improve the facility and work with Tom Ryan in getting all these new things like the dining hall and the teacher’s cabin and the remodel of the bathhouse and VJ’s house here—which we’re now calling Matt’s house <laugh>—renovation of Sky Farm. And so many projects I was able to work on besides managing the Ranch, but using my design skills to grow the facility so it’s better and more comfortable for everybody that comes. It’s very fulfilling to know that you’ve helped to create something that means so much to so many people.
Andy Vantrease (00:12:48):
Yeah. I have to imagine it’s such a deep sense of true service of like, Wow, I was a part of something that really was transformational to people.
Howard Levin (00:12:58):
Right. And we struggled for many, many, many years. We struggled being on the edge of the whole thing just falling into bankruptcy. But I think we did the right prayers and the put up enough prayer flags over at the Stupa <laugh>. And here we are, we’re going along and we’re strong. But somehow we just keep going.
Andy Vantrease (00:13:21):
Yeah. So what is that “somehow?”
Howard Levin (00:13:23):
You know, I think it’s a combination of faith and tenacity and determination that India had to see this place carry on and do whatever it took, as long as it was legal and legit and not hurting anybody, of course, to keep it going, you know? And I think because of her personality, such a unique person, she was able to gather so many good people around her, and so many people who helped, in many ways, either financially or physically or whatever. More and more in this crazy world we live in, we need a place like this. We need a place where people can come and unwind and connect to the spirit and do some self inner exploration and learn yoga. I mean, yoga’s been around 5,000 years. People used to say, Oh, Americans are gonna ruin yoga.
And I said, No, yoga’s gonna change Americans. Yoga’s more powerful. It’s been around for a long time. We’re not gonna ruin yoga. Yoga’s gonna change us and make us better. And I really believe in that. I really believe in the path of yoga and the power of yoga, not as a practice, but as a spiritual path. I hope that this place always continues as a center for spiritual conscious raising activities, be it yoga or health and nutrition or shamanism or whatever comes our way. But as long as we stay in that direction, and I think we will.
Andy Vantrease (00:14:58):
Anne Jablonski, the Feathered Pipe Foundation board president. She speaks of the collaboration between the team behind the scenes, her favorite spot on the lawn, and how her involvement with the Ranch has taught her about faith.
Anne Jablonski (00:15:13):
19 years I’ve been coming to the ranch, which I kind of can’t believe. 11 on the board, but yeah… 19 years.
Andy Vantrease (00:15:20):
Yeah. So like, what the heck? <laugh> Why do you keep coming back? Like what is the magic?
Anne Jablonski (00:15:28):
The sensory banquet that is Feathered Pipe is just so sumptuous. I wrote about this in this blog that I published last week. I go for the sights and the smells and the sounds and the hugs. There’s a spot right at the edge of the lawn when you’re at the lake, sort of if you’re facing the lake, just to the right of the dock when you can look up into the mountains. And to me, even in a meditation, if you have to go to your happy place, I’m sitting right there.
Andy Vantrease (00:15:58):
I think I’ve sat with you there before, you and Pat!
Anne Jablonski (00:16:01):
Yes. It’s the spot. And I know that there’s beautiful places all around the world and I’ve been to a lot of ’em, but none of them for me give me that feeling like I’m home. And that was the feeling I felt the very first time I walked down from the parking lot, didn’t know what the place was gonna be like, and it was as though a whole layer of gripping just disappeared. Watching that happen for other people, I think that’s my greatest joy now, is watching people when they get out of the van and they’re a little dazed cuz they’ve been traveling and they get out and they go, Ahhhhh.
Andy Vantrease (00:16:41):
I know! Those feelings that never actually get old. For me, nature has a way—certain places in nature have a way—of doing that, where it’s like you never tire of seeing a beautiful sunset or sitting at that place at the lawn, like you said, and the night sky here is something to behold in an entirely different way. And just recognizing how special it is that amidst all of the other things that we can kind of get tired of and move on from, there are places and there are experiences in life where it’s always that awe-inspiring,
Anne Jablonski (00:17:21):
Even though you’ve seen that sky before, you’ve seen those aspens before, it blows this fresh air into your life and your heart. There’s just nothing like it.
Andy Vantrease (00:17:32):
What are things that you’re really proud of in that time period? Specifically being on the board of the Feathered Pipe Foundation, which is a 501c3. I think most people know that, but it’s always nice to reiterate and have people understand that it is the root system of the Feathered Pipe retreat center.
Anne Jablonski (00:17:54):
I don’t know if pride is the right word, but what lights me up is how meaningful it is to be part of a project in collaboration with other people, all of whom are from very different backgrounds, had different careers, practiced different kinds of contemplative practices or yoga, but it’s a total dedication to service. And not just the words, but really walking the talk. For years, of course India Supera was the organizing principle around which it all revolved. And when she passed away, there was sort of this question of, Were we gonna be really off balance? You know, if the hub of the wheel is gone, do the spokes just fly off the wheel? And the answer was no.
Bearing witness to being part of collaborating with a bunch of people where they all care about service, and how we’ve been able to navigate this together. I’ve worked in companies or in government where I always had to work with a team of people and you work to get stuff done. But there’s an amazing way this works when we all come together that I just have never seen any place else. You know, when we have our board meetings, there’s always things to work through, whether it’s budget issues or this issue or that issue, but it never gets contentious and full of conflict. Even though we don’t necessarily all agree at first, everybody just puts their eyes on what it is we’re trying to do. What are our real values? And we end up in a good place. You know, India always talked about that it’s not just one person. It sounds kind of cheesy, but it’s really being part of a high functioning team that genuinely love each other.
I mean, everybody genuinely loves each other. If somebody’s got something going on in their life, we’re all there for each other. And that spirit extends out to how it is we feel about everybody on the staff and then everybody who comes through those gates under that arch. I think I’ve become a better person because of that experience. I’ve become less cynical about the world—because part of me thinks that if something like Feathered Pipe can happen, anything can happen <laugh>.
Andy Vantrease (00:20:15):
Anne Jablonski (00:20:16):
It’s such an unlikely place, right. If you were just starting from nowhere and you said, I know what I’m gonna do, I’m gonna put a retreat center far away from any big population centers, that’s really hard to get to, that can only operate a few months of the year because of the weather, and that is a monstrous thing to maintain… You’d say, No, I’m gonna pass. And it happens anyway!
I think I told you this story: When I first came onto the board, and I was just getting my arms around like, How does this thing work and how do we handle the money and who does what? And Howard was walking with me and he’s been around what, since the beginning or nearly the beginning. And he says, So what do you think? And I said, Well, I’m new to the board, but I don’t get how this works. I don’t get how this is possibly sustainable. And he looked at me, he says, Oh Anne, it hasn’t been sustainable since 1975 <laugh>. We just keep doing it anyway!
Andy Vantrease (00:21:18):
I can totally hear Howard saying that. <laugh>
Anne Jablonski (00:21:20):
And I remember thinking, Okay… and over time I began to understand how it works. In the past few years, especially because working with Crystal, I just feel like I have more insight into, the guts of the system and she’s so grounded, so solid, so practical and so kind that I now feel like I get how this works and how it is sustainable.
Andy Vantrease (00:21:45):
It has been built on this hippie dream, as they say. But as the years have gone by, just the years that I’ve been involved, it really does seem like the essence is still there, but what you all have been able to accomplish between the board and the staff and Crystal and everybody who’s involved, that hippie dream is becoming more sustainable. The community has been growing, the number of people coming continues to rise each year for the past few years. I think it’s important, like you said, to note that there was so much uncertainty when India passed away because she did start it and there had never been the Feathered Pipe Ranch without India Supera. And so what was going to happen? It’s been really beautiful to watch you guys navigate these uncertain waters and come out in a really strong place.
Anne Jablonski (00:22:44):
And you can’t live off of nostalgia. We can honor the past, but Feathered Pipe has always been about being relevant to the times we’re in. And when India started it, it was the Vietnam War. It was, you know, the flowering of American counterculture. But 1975 is different than 2023. And watching people come who weren’t part of the Ranch in the “old days”—and the old days weren’t that long ago—they still feel that same magic. That same golden thread that’s been running through since the beginning hasn’t lost any of its tarnish. Despite the fact that yeah, there’s been tremendous organizational changes and structural changes.
Andy Vantrease (00:23:27):
Anne Jablonski (00:23:29):
Yeah. Like this!
Andy Vantrease (00:23:31):
Like this. And you know, right when I got involved, just timing happened to work out where they were like, Wow, we really need to build an online presence, maybe you could help us do that with the writing and the audio, all of that.
Anne Jablonski (00:23:45):
Right. Actually, two of my favorite things that have happened in the past couple of years at the Feathered Pipe: One is you coming onto the scene. And I’m not just trying to flatter you, I’m serious. I can’t imagine this place and it’s spirit without you. But the Dandelion Effect. I remember when I heard we were talking about that and my first thought was, God, I hope this is gonna be okay. <laugh>
Andy Vantrease (00:24:07):
Anne Jablonski (00:24:08):
And then after I listened, I’m like, Wow, not only is it okay, it’s great! And you know, I’m pretty fussy about podcasts and how people communicate. So you’ve been one of the biggest happy surprises. And the other was how we managed—it’s a more tangible thing—how we managed to put up that nature deck.
Andy Vantrease (00:24:29):
Anne Jablonski (00:24:29):
Which had been something we’ve talked about. We should have an outdoor practice space. And it was dreamed up, and it happened. We raised the money and it happened, and it’s one of those, Ohhh, like if we all really stay focused and honest about what we want and talk to our donors about we’d like to do this, are you up for it? And there’s a big yes, it happens.
Andy Vantrease (00:24:49):
Yeah. I would love to hear what you envision for the future of the Ranch. What would you like to see continue to grow? What’s the vision there?
Anne Jablonski (00:25:03):
Those are good questions. Part of it, when I think about where do I want it to go, instantly, there’s a little voice in the back of my head that starts to laugh at me because I’ve always thought the Ranch has a will of its own. So part of it is, you know, we can try and push it in a direction—and the Ranch always wins. Like, No, where this is where we’re going. So part of it is the Ranch’s will be done. That said, where I’d like to see us go, and things that we all sort of dream about and we talk about on the board: One is really simple and pretty obvious is expanding access to all of the programs for more people. The idea that somebody would benefit from one of the programs there but can’t do it because of the cost is just not okay.
So scholarships. I’d like to see the scholarship program grow. I mean we have grown it a lot in the last couple of years. I’d like to see it grow even more. Money shouldn’t stop you from being able to come to a place like that as far as we’re concerned. Fresh teaching voices, with a caveat that, you know, teachers that come need to be able to bring their communities. But there are so many great voices out there. Older voices, middle-aged voices, younger voices that are these untapped, not necessarily well-know that I’d like for us to incubate. And I think this is sort of happening organically on its own cuz you can’t force it, but having partnerships and collaborations with other organizations who have values that align with our own. They don’t have to be yoga organizations or necessarily wellness organizations, but there are people doing work in the world that very much lines up in a beautiful way with what we care about and finding ways to work with them.
I don’t know what it looks like, but usually it starts with a conversation. You know, there’s a number of people we’ve been in conversation with and we both said, I know there’s something here where we can do something. I don’t know if it’s that person running a program out there or us doing something with them, but that community part of it and those potential partnerships I think are potentially really good for us. So I guess, ultimately, it’s about making the big tent that we’ve always had, even bigger.
Andy Vantrease (00:27:28):
Matt Lambie, who is the director of operations, in his third year with the Ranch. He shares about shifting from chasing money and material achievements to seeking a life of deeper purpose and service and growing from a place of radical honesty and self responsibility.
Matt Lambie (00:27:45):
I mean, where it all started was I was looking for more purpose. I was in the corporate world, had insomnia for several years, wasn’t happy with where my life was at, and left the corporate world and thought, What’s next? And where do I go to recover from a health perspective first? I always had this affinity for the mountains when I moved to the west coast and Montana was always on the mind for some reason. I was into wellness and yoga before, but I Googled “wellness yoga ranch” and Feathered Pipe came up on the top, you know, thank you Eric <laugh>.
Andy Vantrease (00:28:20):
Matt Lambie (00:28:22):
As soon as I did the first video call I knew it was like, That’s where I want to be. So going there summer of ’21 as a volunteer, and then being all around these people that are so kind and nice and through the hands-on work that I was able to do, it was very healing and soothing. Landscaping and using tools, that’s kind of how I grew up too. I’m so grateful to this day for that. I mean, it changed my life, going there in ’21. That first summer, I remember the first conversation with Anne in the sauna. Like it snowed 28 inches in May, met the board present, we’re talking in there and within 10 minutes we’re talking about guides and how do you meditate and how do you tap into your guides? And she’s walking me through this to get answers, and so that was the start of the journey. And it was just like all these messages and signs coming through that all my life I was ignoring. Cause I didn’t even know what that meant. I didn’t have a lens to see it or feel it.
Andy Vantrease (00:29:20):
Mm-hmm. So you going from workaholic and being very—and I’m just pulling pieces from parts of your story that I know—but just being very focused and driven on this kind of narrow version of success of maybe, you know, how to make the most money and all the things we’re taught about like living a very safe and secure and certain life. The year that you got involved with the Ranch, you have also changed a lot of things in your life to now do a lot more traveling and following your heart more than your head.
Matt Lambie (00:29:56):
I was 0% with the heart when I arrived at the Ranch. I don’t know what percent I am today, but I’ve made a lot of progress. Definitely more to go. It’s like the feeling part, the intuition, like the trust and then like tapping into guides and meditation and asking questions to get all these resources that are inside you. I didn’t even know what that meant before. So I think that was the biggest thing. And it’s interesting when said chasing money and title and all that, I mean obviously we know it’s ego and when you said security, I know for me, like I was doing all that cuz I was insecure. And so again, stuff I’m working on, you know. Part of the mission in the future I’d like to be working with men, and I am coaching men in the corporate world that are leading businesses and own businesses.
And at the end of the day, everyone’s trying to change your brain patterns. You know, these old patterns, like the analogy of the hard drive and then how you rewrite that, right? That takes a while depending on how deep the traumas are, the wounds. And I mean, that’s what Feathered Pipe provides—a place where people can go either initially, the first time they’re gonna dig into this or they’re on a purposeful mission to figure it out. So I think that’s a big piece of what the Ranch can do.
Andy Vantrease (00:31:10):
Have there been any really poignant teachings or teachers along the way that you’ve been able to have access to?
Matt Lambie (00:31:19):
A specific teacher I think is Nat Kendall. Nat and I connected, and I was asking him about going to do a 200 hour teacher training at that point. And he sat with me, took a book out, went through it. He was like, Read this, think about this. He’s like, Here’s my email. And I emailed him a couple times, and then when I first met him, I thought, is this for real? I don’t even know how to be around people this nice! You know? <laugh>
Andy Vantrease (00:31:45):
Matt Lambie (00:31:45):
And his presence and how he carries himself. Like he’s practicing it every day, right? Again, he’s not perfect, but I was like, really? And then I thought after the whole week I’m like, No, this guy, this is for real. He’s the embodiment of what he’s practicing, right? And so that was a big deal to see that, being a male and leading that way. That was a stepping stone for me.
The hardest thing to do in life is face yourself. The first year I was there, I realized that’s something that I’ve never done. And in the last couple years, I’ve learned so much. The veil is removed and I’m looking at myself and especially when it comes to being a male in the world and how we show up. That has inspired me to be better. And then also when I’m ready and the universe tells me I’m ready, how can I share that or help other men in that way?
Andy Vantrease (00:32:41):
That’s really cool. And what I hear in all of that is also just this showing up yourself as more whole, bringing, inviting all the different parts of yourself into the picture, what it means to be a man under our society’s conditioning and like what it actually feels like to be you and to be a man and everything that comes with that. And in you doing that, you are giving other people permission to dig into themselves deeper.
Matt Lambie (00:33:11):
I think that’s another piece about the Ranch now that is, you can be yourself there, you can be your authentic self and no one judges you. We have, I’d say, 95% of our team returning from last year, and the few that we added are amazing people that came referred through other employees or family members at the Ranch. So I think that shows a lot about how people are experiencing it from a staffing level. Taking the layers of the corporate world away and continually learning how can we move from the heart more when we work with everybody including staff. And so that’s been a great teacher for me.
Andy Vantrease (00:34:27):
Amanda Ellefson. She’s in her second summer with the Ranch as kitchen and housekeeping staff. She graduated from high school in Helena this year and gladly shares how her time at the Ranch has resulted in a kinder relationship with herself, role models that inspire her, and a newfound urge to travel the world.
Amanda Ellefson (00:34:47):
Before I really knew anyone there, I was so mean to myself that I was kind of like mean to others. And I didn’t treat myself very well. Through time meeting people that are a lot different from me, I started to really like myself and realize there’s these things that I’ve been doing that I didn’t realize are hurtful, and I feel like I’ve become such a more positive person. I’ve become nicer. I didn’t know what I was gonna do with my life, and I still don’t know exactly what I’m gonna do, but I know that I wanna be a positive person. I wanna travel, and I wanna do all these things and I didn’t want that at the beginning of the summer.
Andy Vantrease (00:35:21):
Yeah. And what do you think it is that helped you with that? Was it the people that you worked with? Was it guests that you met? Conversations you had? Like what are the factors that have led to that… it feels like an opening or an expansion of yourself.
Amanda Ellefson (00:35:39):
Mostly it was the people that I had worked with—Luna and Ilan and Ian. I love everyone at the Ranch and meeting like all these people that have all these experiences. Especially a lot of the people that came to the retreats, I really learned a lot from them. I had a lot of women open up to me and we would open up to each other some nights. I’m surrounded by people that teach me new things that it’s really helped me. For a long time, I really couldn’t figure out who I wanted to be my role model. I felt like I don’t really know who’s like my role model. And then when I came to the Ranch, I’m like everyone! Even though a lot of the people that I work with aren’t a lot like me, I think that everyone’s supportive of everything we do. There’s no judgment and people are open to new ideas and they wanna have conversations with you. And I think that’s the most like important part. And also the fact that we’re in like such a peaceful place. I’ve learned that I like meditating and I never really thought about that before. And life, the universe, something was telling me that this place is really what I need. I feel like I have such a different outlook on myself through working there.
Andy Vantrease (00:36:50):
I’m curious of how everything that you are learning in the summers working at the Feathered Pipe is actually then coming out into the world with you in other times of the year and when you’re not at the Ranch and all of that.
Amanda Ellefson (00:37:05):
It’s definitely helped most aspects of my life. I have a better relationship with my parents now. I feel like I look at everyone as these beautiful people, and I feel like I start loving other people a lot more. People that are there tell me they love it and they come every year and it’s the best week of the year. I definitely think that was the best summer of my life last summer—and I really hope it gets better!
Andy Vantrease (00:37:31):
Eric Myers. Our jack of all trades who heads up IT, networking, marketing, programming, and much more. Eric’s bond with India began decades ago and is the foundation of his devotion and motivation to keep her legacy and the Ranch alive as we know it today.
Eric Myers (00:37:49):
It’s been more of the connection I had with India as a mentor as well as a big sister, and in some way, not knowing my mother that I discovered she’s basically the same age as my birth mother would’ve been. So, that’s really been my connection as well as my reason for the devotion I have. The important connection that I had with land was primarily just because of the depth of connection I had with India.
Andy Vantrease (00:38:20):
How is it that you came to have such a close relationship with her to the point where so much motivation and devotion stems out of that relationship?
Eric Myers (00:38:32):
My wife at that time in 1996 had moved to Montana from Texas and she was very ill. That motivated me to get into a job truck driving, then to keep myself together health-wise, I was trying to learn about yoga and the teacher that I was studying with privately when I was in town and off the road, she told me about the Feathered Pipe. I didn’t think there was any way I could afford that with the medical bills we were already dealing with. But she said, Well, they give really good scholarships to people from Montana and people with a good story. And she said, You certainly have a good story. So I wrote India, just a handwritten in pencil letter and she said, Sure, come on over. And she gave me a scholarship for $500 for a Ramanand Patel and George Purvis Iyengar Yoga weeklong program.
That was ’96. I’m pretty sure that was the last year that Ramanand was here as far as with George Purvis. And Ramanand was one of the early, early-on, one of the first teachers beyond Judith that was at the Ranch. So that week changed my life. I had broken my back in college. I was an athlete, had severe pain, and when I came away from that week, I was pretty much pain free. So that allowed me to let go of painkillers and also just tolerating immense amount of pain—and that was huge. So over the years I continued to come back on a scholarship. Told India that I had worked on tepees, that I used to make them for my own business. I had my own sewing machine and so forth, industrial sewing machine and that perked up her interest.
So I took on actually repairing the yurts, which were canvas at that time, and in bad shape as well as repairing the teepees. So I did that over the winter in exchange for the next year’s program. And then from there it just evolved into me helping in different ways. I’d jump off the road for a week or so and come up and set up the teepees or help with a landscaping project or whatever, and India and I just slowly got closer and closer.
Ultimately Maile died, and India was totally there for me. She knew what I had been through for those 10 years and she said, You just come up to the Ranch and you stay until you’re okay. So that explains why India was so important to me, as well as practicing with Patricia Walden, who’s the senior most Iyengar yoga teacher. She got me an invite to study with Iyengar and then I went to India and was there pretty much for five years. And then I came back and knew that India had had health problems and the Ranch wasn’t in good shape as far as we lost most of our senior teachers. Financially the economy was in bad shape and the Ranch was too. So I offered to get us online and that’s what I did.
So that very much accelerated me and India’s working together and become closer. Between the two of us, really built up the online presence that we have as well as trying to get the history out there, the incredible history of the Ranch and of the foundation and India’s story. So that was the project for 10 years until she passed away. And that’s one of the things that’s really cool, was cool about India. She was so empowering to people that she had, you know, gotten a sense of who they were just as a person, just what kind of character they were and if they came to her with a good idea—just like you did—and the willingness to take something on even if you didn’t know anything. But just to have the belief and the inspiration. She would say, Do it. That’s what every person wants and needs is someone to say, Do it. I know you can do it.
Andy Vantrease (00:43:00):
Right. I know you can do it. Like really having that trust in you and the trust in your abilities, even before you know what those abilities are. Imbuing you with confidence. This person that’s looking at you and you get to see that they believe in you and it just builds you up, makes you think, Yeah, I can do this. And then it usually comes along with the opportunity to create, right? Like here we are, I mean so many of the people that I’ve talked to in the last few years just happened to Google “yoga retreats” or Google “wellness programs” and it comes up and that’s how they find the Ranch. Nobody even really understands the amount of work that it has taken and still takes to kind of feed that technology beast of staying at the top of Google. It’s no secret that running a place like this takes an incredible, incredible amount of work.
Eric Myers (00:44:06):
A lot of times the Ranch doesn’t feel like a job, though. It just feels like sort of doing something of service then kind of looking around saying, How can I be helpful? How can I be of service to, if nothing else, the simplest thing, put a smile on your face? Maybe I can help that person out. Maybe I can do something to make that person’s burden or whatever it is, a little bit lighter for today. So I think, or at least I’m hoping that that’s motivating a lot of the new generation of people, staff, volunteers, and even guests—why we all congregate and come together at the Ranch. And it’s an experiment of showing there’s another way to form community and to organize society and to get things done, to make progress that it doesn’t have to be just pushing and look at what I’ve accumulated through my efforts.
It’s more just a matter of you give and something comes back that’s even more so. And we’ve talked about that Andy, particularly during the year we took off, what we were putting into the Ranch was coming back tenfold. You know, the land is becoming very much an experience of proving that just like nature works: A tree grows and how many seeds it puts, pine cones it puts out, it’s more abundant than it needs to be. You know, it’s not one to one, where I give this and I get this transactionally. I get this amount back. It’s a different way of organizing society where I give, and I have the faith that something will come back, and over time you start to realize more than faith, you have trust. And actually you see the truth that I give and even more comes back to me.
Andy Vantrease (00:46:08):
Yeah. There’s been so much change in the last maybe four years within the organization, within the world, within ourselves. I mean it feels like it’s just kind of like expedited <laugh>. And you know, when I was talking to Crystal, I was asking her about her getting involved is just a huge opportunity to reconnect with the original mission, to reassess how that happens in modern day operating and modern day needs. And then really look forward to what is it that the Ranch is continuing to try to accomplish, and who do we wanna be as individuals and how can we come together as an organization collectively and continue to serve? Where is this ship—that is not in distress anymore—where is it heading? Where would you like it to be heading?
Eric Myers (00:47:07):
Touching on what I just spoke about: an experiment. I believe it was that at the beginning, clearly, because they had no money. They had an idea. They said, Well, let’s go for it, and very much so for India and for the original founders, it was the idea that coming out of Vietnam, you know, all the things that were going on in the world, there’s gotta be a different way to organize society that is more helpful for everyone and more satisfying and fulfilling. So I hope in what ways I can steer or at least assist in moving us even more so towards being living proof that there is another way and being able to disseminate that and to get that out there into our community that surrounds as well as the world on a larger scale. As India believed, one small ripple just spreads out and out and out. Sometimes that’s not so clear and tangible, but I do believe it happens. So if we just keep putting that energy out there that, No life doesn’t have to be this way. We actually have some ability to manifest our dreams, create something that is more fulfilling for us all… then we’ve really accomplished and are accomplishing what I believe is our mission.
Andy Vantrease (00:48:39):
Crystal Water, the current executive director of the Feathered Pipe Foundation, who took over responsibility of ED after her mother India Supera passed away in 2019. She discusses heart-based leadership and teamwork, being open to receiving support and trust as the fulcrum of a conscious organization.
Crystal Water (00:49:00):
When my mom got sick in 2019, she basically just said, Here, you gotta start taking care of everything <laugh>. And I just moved in to take care of her and to try to get certain things organized in her life. The Feathered Pipe Foundation board approached me as well as a couple of the main players who were working at the Feathered Pipe at the time, and they said, Is this something you would be interested in doing, becoming the executive director? It sounded interesting, but I don’t know if I have the skillset. And so I basically said, Let me think about it. I really want my family to come first. I have three children and I wanna make sure that I’m there for my husband and my family and can really do that.
My mom got sicker and it became clear that she definitely was not gonna be able to be the ED anymore. Yeah, so I said, Okay, I’ll take it on. And, it was wild ever since that moment. What was kind of funny is that I realized I literally had been in training since I was born for this job: I grew up in the community. I spent my most of my life here at this place and also traveled a lot so I kind of had this social grasp of what our community was. And having run my own business, I kind of knew the business aspect. So yes, since then it’s been quite the wild ride because we went into a huge transition time with my mom passing away and then the pandemic. And so it was just like massive transitions.
Andy Vantrease (00:50:27):
Well, and I think you told me one time that once you started to recognize that your job as the executive director isn’t actually to be India Supera; it’s to be Crystal Water as the executive director. And you doing it to the best of your ability and in the way that you do, it seems to have like freed you up from expectation of trying to be somebody that you’re not. You have a lot of the similarities because you’re obviously family, but of course you’re gonna do it in a different way and it’s gonna look different.
Crystal Water (00:51:03):
That was actually one of the key things because then I was like, Okay, by this point in my life in my forties, I’m like, yeah, I’m never gonna be my mom. She’s a different person. And, yet there’s so much I learned from her and she carved this beautiful path and made this gorgeous vision of this place and laid this foundation for what we’re doing. And then that’s like a springboard for putting my own shoes on, going and making some new paths. As soon as you realize that yeah, you can be you, then that’s absolutely the most important part about it. And then also, I mean, all of the skills I learned from her: heart-based leadership and really leading with love. Then also people contribute in so many ways, whether it’s weeding the garden or cleaning, working on the payroll or donating things, you doing this podcast—there are so many different ways each individual contribute. It makes it this exponential power that you have as a great team. And then that’s when you really know that you don’t have to do it alone. It’s not an individual game! <laugh>.
Andy Vantrease (00:52:10):
Right. And I think there’s a huge part of that that is being open to receiving contributions and support in ways that you can sometimes not even imagine. And I think we really saw this when India passed, how many lives she touched and like those people kind of coming out of the woodworks to support the Ranch in this next phase. Some people say like the Ranch runs on hard work and magic. Some people talk about it kind of mystically as its own entity because it is such a special place to so many people. But I’m curious from your perspective, what are the components that make this place different than any other place on earth?
Crystal Water (00:52:55):
Aside from me having been born there, for me it’s especially special, but I think in general the land is just incredible. It really is like a vortex and then it’s just surrounded by these massive beautiful mountains on every side, and you can walk up and look out over the peaks. And so many animals that are there, the birds chirping, the trees, the water, and I guess just that pristine nature is part of it. And then another component I think is really the community that’s formed around it. People just come there and sometimes people don’t even know why they’re coming. Sometimes they just show up by accident. We’ve had so many people, they just showed up by accident or their car broke down and then some people never left.
Like Tom Ryan, you know, he had a similar thing. He just came and then he never left. Or my dad, he came to be a cook the summer of 1975 and he was gonna come for, you know, three or four weeks. And now here he is also 50 years later. So I think it maybe just draws people in. And then of course this is really a crossroads of different cultures, visitors from all over the world. And I think the biggest element of the healing part is just having a supportive community where you can feel that you can be yourself and that you can grow and give your ideas and share our lives with one another. Just having somebody there who cares about you and who hears you. And I think nowadays, especially with so much being online, I think it comes at the sacrifice of real social connections. And I know you’ve talked about that in other podcasts. What did Don Rheem say?
Andy Vantrease (00:54:36):
The ecology of humans is other humans.
Crystal Water (00:54:38):
That’s really what we’re doing at the Ranch—making a human ecology. And it’s really like the aspen trees connected together and they’re like one huge organism. And I feel like that’s what Feathered Pipe kind of does. We have all these little limbs and it’s almost like we kind of work together like ants or something, but just this really deep connection that you just don’t even, you can’t even describe it, you just kind of feel.
Andy Vantrease (00:55:03):
One thing that I have always loved about the Ranch is how I have never experienced it to be this kind of strict, pretentious spiritual center. Like the Ranch has always just felt so welcoming and a place that really allows people to be human and to not have to transcend the human experience in order to fit in or in order to be accepted. Like there’s so many things that go on that are just everyday life there. And it is spiritual because I think we’re all spiritual beings, but it’s just so real. People are doing yoga in the main lodge and you know, the guys in the kitchen are jamming to whatever they’re jamming to and they’re making delicious food and they’re building friendships with each other. And then after dinner they’re playing frisbee on the lawn and people are jumping in the lake and then maybe later there’s like a bonfire and they’re doing some chanting. So it’s just like this weaving in and out of devotion, in and out of exploration and all of that is on the foundation of like, Hey, we’re human and this is our everyday lives and we’re trying to make it through the best we can.
Crystal Water (00:56:21):
Yeah, exactly. Yeah, I love that. Like thinking about the kitchen crew just playing music, and if they’re making Indian food, they might play like Indian music to get in the vibe. It’s a community together. And so it’s not like there’s a separation between, you know, the housekeeping and the guests or something like that. We’re all one, we’re showing up, we’re doing our thing and it’s not pretentious. It’s not about what you do, it’s just about being there together. It’s very much based in the human potential movement and exploring what our potentials are, how we can bring that out in each other. I know my mom was like a master at bringing that out in people. But we also try to bring out the best in people, whether it’s people that are coming to work at the Ranch and they are just coming to cook for a summer, but they might be an amazing musician or they might be wanting to do something else. And it kind of sometimes is this amazing starting place and getting some skills or getting some social connections or these things and then going off to do something great that really fits on with what they do or what they’re good at, their talents.
Andy Vantrease (00:57:29):
It’s such an incubator.
Crystal Water (00:57:31):
Andy Vantrease (00:57:32):
You know, each person that’s on staff, each person that’s on the board, and the people who are involved in kind of a working, serving role, I really believe that they’re growing and learning and evolving alongside the people who are coming from the workshop. So I think there’s a lot of room for exploration there and personal growth. And I’m curious, what have been one or two points of your personal growth through this role at the Ranch in the last few years?
Crystal Water (00:58:07):
Hmm. That’s a hard one <laugh>. I’ve been really putting a lot of energy into building the team and community and also realizing again and again, everything that we’re doing is really only about our human connection and that is the key thing about why we’re doing any of this. Whether it’s that connection that I have with people who are working at the Ranch, or I’m connecting with guests or people we meet online, it’s just that deep connection and I think that’s what we’ve been exploring through the podcast too. Also just really trying to look seriously at how you can foster a good work culture and really focus on heart-based leadership and what that really means. I think once you have that, it’s like you can create such an incredible environment for people to work. You can create this incredible place on every level—it feels nice, the vibe is nice, it looks beautiful for guests to come. And it just opens it up to this beautiful way that we can be humans together.
I think also just really focusing on having our generations together. I think that’s the other cool thing I just wanted to mention: At the Ranch, it’s really always been an intergenerational thing. So whether it’s our elders who are there, or like the new staff, we’ve got so many people that are second or third generation coming in and their parents worked there or taught there and now they’re doing the same or being in a different function. And it’s so fun to see the kids, like you said, after a shift, they all run out together, and I think, Oh gosh, how did I get so old that we’re the parents of these kids that are now finishing up a shift? But I see even in my own kids how exciting it is for them to be able to have a job and to feel a sense of belonging and value and love. I think that’s what we’re doing for staff, for guests, for everybody within our organization.
Andy Vantrease (01:00:05):
Yeah, the rest is like a byproduct of those connections.
Crystal Water (01:00:09):
And leadership is guiding through change. We’re always in a state of change and sometimes that’s really hard, especially with these big changes that we’ve gone through with my mom passing away, with changes in the world. Sometimes we freak out and go, How can we deal with this change? And so if you can get yourself calm to a sense of center and go, okay, how can we do this with love? How can we do this as a team? It’s just something that we do together and not alone. We’re not isolated.
Andy Vantrease (01:00:40):
Mm-hmm. Is there anything that I didn’t ask about that you wanna comment on or any final thoughts in these realms?
Crystal Water (01:00:47):
No, I mean mainly I just wanna thank you for so much. I mean, this has been so fun doing this project. It’s been so fun working with you through all of this and helping each other deal with change through the pandemic and beyond. So I just wanna thank you for your insight and your beautiful way of interviewing and I just love it. So thank you so much.
Andy Vantrease (01:01:14):
Thank you. I mean, I really think of this project and how it started and it was like just having so much trust in me from the beginning and exercising that muscle of allowing yourself to do things you’ve never done before. You guys giving me a lot of autonomy and freedom to just say, Hey, we trust your judgment, we trust your way of communicating, let’s go out and make it and we’re all learning on the fly. How to edit, how to find guests, how to choose guests. All of it was on the fly. I feel like I’ve had this experience of being able to birth a creative project, and it has been a confidence builder in like, I can do these things that I’ve never done before.
Crystal Water (01:02:04):
Absolutely. And actually that reminds me of a couple of things. One was that actually my mom said, I remember her saying to Heidi when she was, I mean my mom was actually quite sick and not all the way together, but she would come in and out of being lucid and she just said, Yeah, we just didn’t even know we made it all up, did we? <laugh> Or, we faked it. And that’s a key thing what you mentioned about trust. Really our value and mission too is just about trusting that everything’s gonna be okay. None of us know how to do what we’re doing, we’re just doing it as we go along. And in each moment of every day as it comes up in the present moment, trust it and say, Let’s lean into it. Let’s see what’s happening, and go with our creativity. Then that brings you to the next place and you really do learn these skills and you go, Oh wow, maybe I knew nothing about this in the beginning except that I trusted and that we trusted each other as a team and here we are. We did this really cool thing together. So thank you.
Andy Vantrease (01:03:00):
Yeah, thank you. Well, that’s a wrap—and what a sweet finale it was! Many tears were shed in the editing of this episode. I am in awe of these people who I’ve gotten to call friends and of this place that literally has the power to change the direction of people’s lives. What a gift to be a part of this team.
Speaking of team, we added in Jacob Bradley’s song Inspired by Skye Farm as the halftime interlude to this episode. Jacob is one of the second generation staff members that Crystal mentioned who came to the Ranch as a kid when his parents Kari and Gabrielle worked in the kitchen. And we now have the pleasure of having Jacob on staff each summer. He’s a wicked talented musician and makes the best vegan orange cake. Find his music on Spotify under Jacob Bradley to hear more.
A big shout out to Matthew Marsolek and the Drum Brothers, whose music you hear at the beginning and end of this podcast, as well as Dr. Jean Shinoda Bolen, who first turned us on to the phenomenon of the Dandelion Effect and how ideas and people move through the world.
This podcast is brought to you by the Feathered Pipe Foundation. We want to thank everyone who supported the project over the years, through donations, ratings and reviews, shares and feedback. We hope the Dandelion Effect Podcast delivered inspiration, perspective and more love into the world through the stories of real people sharing their truths. And we couldn’t have done it without you. Thank you, thank you, thank you. And from all of us at the Dandelion Effect Podcast, we hope to see you soon!