Tom Ryan: A Life Built on the Law of Attraction

Tom Ryan: A Life Built on the Law of Attraction

Tom Ryan was the caretaker of the Feathered Pipe Ranch for 33 years, originally coming to the Feathered Pipe Ranch in 1975 for a part-time job–and as the story goes, he fell in love and stuck around. Tom has been around the retreat center longer than almost anyone else at this point, and preserving his stories have been a priority to us. If you haven’t yet, check out the interview I did with him two years ago on our Feathered Pipe Roots page under the Community tab of our website. It’s titled “More than a Job, It was a Love Affair.”

These days, Tom lives in a gorgeous house that he designed and built, just above the Ranch property on Old Hippie Lane and he keeps busy as a property manager, dog dad to his new two-year old lab puppy, Bodhi, and resident elder in the summers.

If you’ve been to the Ranch, you’ve probably seen him at meal times, making everyone at his table laugh with stories of his life of adventure and serendipity. At the ripe age of 82, Tom’s sense of humor is vibrant and a bit mischievous, which keeps us all entertained—and there’s a softness and simplicity to his wisdom that I have found incredibly supportive and helpful in my own journey.

Tom tells stories about going from Navy communications specialist to hairdresser to pipe fitter to caretaker of the Ranch. We talk about the Law of Attraction, what it’s meant to him to be given the gift of fatherhood and how he shows up to this role.

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Episode Transcript

Andy Vantrease  00:17
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.

And today I’m bringing you one of the sweetest episodes I’ve ever recorded with someone who has become like extended family to me over the years: Tom Ryan.

Tom was the caretaker of the Feathered Pipe Ranch for 33 years, originally coming to the Ranch in 1975 for a part-time job–and as the story goes, he fell in love and stuck around. Tom has been around the retreat center longer than almost anyone else at this point, and preserving his stories have been a priority to us. If you haven’t yet, check out the interview I did with him two years ago on our Feathered Pipe Roots page under the Community tab of our website. It’s titled “More than a Job.”

These days, Tom lives in a gorgeous house that he designed and built, just above the Ranch property on Old Hippie Lane and he keeps busy as a property manager, dog dad to his new two-year old lab puppy, Bodhi, and resident elder in the summers.

If you’ve been to the Ranch, you’ve probably seen him at meal times, making everyone at his table laugh with stories of his life of adventure and serendipity. At the ripe age of 82, Tom’s sense of humor is vibrant and a bit mischievous, which keeps us all entertained—and there’s a softness and simplicity to his wisdom that I have found incredibly supportive and helpful in my own journey.

Today, Tom tells stories about going from Navy communications specialist to hairdresser to pipe fitter to caretaker of the Ranch. We talk about the Law of Attraction, what it’s meant to him to be given the gift of fatherhood and how he shows up to this role.

Because I have come to know Tom so well over the years, this conversation may feel more like friendly banter than a professional interview. But that’s what’s special about this podcast, a variety of guests who bring out different parts of me as a host and you as a listener. We’re also joined by his puppy in the background at times, trying to get his two cents in, as the two of us sit at Tom’s kitchen table on a beautiful snowy day on the mountain.

Without further adieu, please enjoy this conversation and help me welcome my friend Tom Ryan.

Andy Vantrease 03:16
The place that I want to start is telling the story of how we met, because I started to think about the only way that we really know somebody is kind of in the context of ourselves. Since you and I know each other so well, I thought it’d be fun. So, I came in 2016, but I don’t think we met then.

Tom Ryan
No.

Andy Vantrease 03:35
And then I packed up my Nissan Altima and came back and was going to just live here and stay in Montana. Unbeknownst to the Ranch, I had put the intention out and they invited me for two weeks, and I thought, “I think I’m going to try to stay all summer.” So I was staying in a tent when that was available. I stayed in a yurt for a little while. But then there were a couple of workshops where it was full, and of course, I wasn’t a paying guest or a staff member or anything. I was just kind of a vagabond. So I remember sitting on a picnic table and since you’re a property manager, you had different places rented out. And there was one on the Gulch. I asked you like, “What do you think about me moving in?” and you said, “I have a better idea: Move in with me.” And we didn’t really know each other too well at the time.

Tom Ryan
I didn’t know you at all.

Andy Vantrease
So why did you do that?

Tom Ryan  04:26
Why did I do that? Well, number one, you approached me and asked me if I could talk to Christine and have her rent you a space in that house, which was Heidi’s house on the Ranch there. And I said no. I mean, even though she was a single woman and it’s only one bedroom, she had a weight room. She had a jewelry making room. She had a printmaking room, she had everything going, but I’ll give you a better offer: You can come live in my house, no questions asked, no rent.

Why did I do that? I have a daughter about the same age as you, and she’s out in the world also. I felt, you know, someday, hopefully somebody would do a nice turnaround for her. It was easy for me to do it for you. I am living in a house with four bedrooms, and I’m the only one there and a dog, so—sure. No commitment, no nothing. Just come there if you want. If not, alright.

Andy Vantrease  05:53
So that’s where it began. And since then, I’ve lived with you a handful of times at different times. Yeah, and it’s just blossomed from there. I would imagine the question you get the most is, “How did you come to the Ranch?”

Tom Ryan  06:11
My stock answer is: I drove here in my ‘54 Chevy half ton pickup with a camper on the back.

Andy Vantrease  06:17
Yeah, that paints a good hippie picture. In context of maybe how you found out about the Ranch, because there’s so much that happened in your life leading up to coming to the Ranch. You were in your mid 30s when you came here…

Tom Ryan
Thirty-six.

Andy Vantrease
Thirty-six. So of course, tons of life happened before that. But I’d love you to tell the story of being in California and housesitting for Judith Lasater, who I just interviewed for the last episode, and, like, how you even found out that this place existed and ended up here.

Tom Ryan  07:00
Okay, I was living in Berkeley with Heidi, who was going to school at the San Francisco Art Institute and doing yoga classes with Judith, and they were going to the San Francisco [yoga] center. So I would see Judith dropping Heidi off or picking her up or something like that. And I knew nothing about Montana at the time. In fact, I had a friend that I met in Death Valley who built a place in Montana, in Victor area, and always wanted me to come to Montana—and I never did. So anyways, Judith got invited to come to Montana to teach the first yoga workshop. And then Laughing Water, actually it was Paul Superak at the time.

Andy Vantrease  08:08
Before his name was Laughing Water.

Tom Ryan  08:10
He was supposed to house-sit, and he agreed to, but they found out he was vegetarian and asked him if he would come and cook at the Ranch for the workshop. So he agreed to do that and so then they asked Heidi if she would house-sit. She said, “Okay,” because her house that she was living in, there were two other women and they were done school and were leaving. So, she said that she would. But then a week before the workshop was supposed to start, or Ike and Judith were going to leave, Heidi decided to go back East for the summer. Well, then they were desperate. They just wanted a warm body.

Andy Vantrease  08:58
Someone to keep a light on or two.

Tom Ryan  09:00
Right, and they asked me if I would house-sit. I mean, they didn’t know me other than I was Heidi’s boyfriend and that was about it. I agreed to it and said I would. Well, they weren’t taking any more chances—they quick packed up and left and got out of town as quick as they could. And I took over house hitting the house.

When the workshop was over, they came home and it was the first time I’d really met Ike, her husband. And we sat down one evening and talked until two o’clock in the morning, telling me all about the Ranch and asking me about what I did, etc. etc. He found out that I had some building experience and asked me if I’d be interested to come to the Ranch to do some building, just as a part time job. Well, I had interest at that point to go into sailing, but I decided, okay, it’s only going to be short while; I can come up.

And I had to be interviewed to do so. So, I went to William Staniger at Holistic Life Seminars and he called India, saying, “Hey, we have this guy here willing to come to the Ranch. What do you say?” And first of all, she said, “No, we have somebody, we don’t need anybody. Forget it.”

Andy Vantrease  10:30
Haha you’re like, “This was confusing, I was invited.”

Tom Ryan  10:33
Right, but before he could get from his office to the living room I was waiting in, India called him back and said, “Oh, we just heard from our caretaker. He was on vacation, and he’s not coming back. So yeah, send this guy up.” Two weeks later, I drove up to Montana, and showed up at the ranch in my ‘54 Chevy half ton pickup with a homemade camper on the back. And there I was. I had never met India and knew nothing about the Ranch, except what Ike had told me. There’s the Feathered Pipe Ranch, a couple old log cabins and a nice pond and I thought, “Okay, well, this might work out.”

So India, her sister Vijaya, and another woman were sitting on the front lawn, and I went over and introduced myself. We sat and chatted for a while about what was going on, and India then had to take this woman to the doctor. So they got up to leave, and India came over, shook my hand and said, “The Ranch is yours.” And it has been ever since!

Andy Vantrease  11:50
She trusted you enough just in that short period of time. I’ve heard you say that in Montana, a handshake is a contract, right? She shook her hand and left the property and said, “Okay, treat it as if it’s your own. And I know that you consider this place to be such sacred land. I’m curious if you had that feeling right when you got there? Or is it something that has just grown over time—or maybe a little bit of both?

Tom Ryan  12:19
It’s a little bit of both. I mean, when I got there and stepped out of my truck, and first stepped on the property of the Feathered Pipe Ranch. Something hit me. I knew at that point that I had arrived someplace that was special—and that feeling has gone with me forever. It’s still there. I mean, I still think the Ranch and this area is special. And to be part of it was phenomenal. I came for a part-time job, and it only lasted 33 years!

Andy Vantrease  13:01
And was very full-time.

Tom Ryan  13:03
It was a lot of full-time, yeah. There were workshops going on all the time, during the summer anyways.  Occasionally I would sit in on part of a workshop. The only workshop I ever got into full time was an Out of Body workshop with Robert Monroe, and that was an easy workshop because we laid on pads in the main lodge with earphones and fell asleep. Actually, India had been pregnant with Crystal, and at the end of that workshop, Crystal decided to be born. She was born outside behind the lake cabin with about 20 people of the Out of Body workshop in the audience watching this birth.

Andy Vantrease  14:05
Wow, she could not nail the timing any better.

Tom Ryan  14:09
It was great, and one of the people was even Jon Voight, the movie actor who just finished a movie where he got an Oscar. He was part of the audience. So, it was a special moment. It was a special birth. That was, like I said, the only workshop that I really did full. I would go and sit in on a lecture or something like that, but I was too busy and there was too much going on.

I always said that my yoga was Karma Yoga.

Andy Vantrease  14:41
Yeah, being out there and being in service to the land and maintaining the property. India said something in her interview like, “I always think it’s ridiculous how much money we spend to make it look like nothing ever happened here.” The amount of work just cleaning up the land after a long winter, you know, gathering sticks and figuring out what has happened during the winter to the facilities, and trying to prevent that. But then also, it’s inevitable when there’s a couple feet of snow on the ground for months.

Tom Ryan  15:15
I mean, setting back up again was always a chore. We’d have busted pipes, water pipes that we had to put back together again, and firewood to get in. It was like I said, I’d never considered it a job; it was a love affair—but there was a hell of a lot of work involved in it!

And I didn’t do it by myself. I mean, everything that was going on and the different buildings that we did: The bath house was the first thing that we did, and there were always other people there, which is good. I basically never had any education in building or construction or anything. I just knew I could do it… so I did it.

Andy Vantrease  16:04
Yeah, I want to talk about that because one of the things that I admire about you so much is that you have an attitude of trusting your capabilities, and that the right opportunities will come to you. And if the right opportunities come to you, you’re going to take a chance on yourself.

Tom Ryan
Right.

Andy Vantrease
So many of your stories of traveling both before the Ranch—living in Death Valley, your mom used to say, “Why do you want to live in a town of 10 people?” and you’re like, “I’ve met everybody I ever needed to meet in Death Valley.” You met your best friends. You met Heidi, and you know, life happens from there. But as far as building, and not having any formal experience in that, but then showing up to be a caretaker and essentially, jack of all trades, whatever needed to be done at the Ranch, that’s a huge undertaking for somebody who hasn’t gone through any kind of apprenticeship.

Tom Ryan  17:07
Right, well, basically, the only training I’ve ever actually had outside of the military was cosmetology. I had a license to do hair. And people asked me, “So if you have a license to do hair, what are you doing building houses?” Well, I was a better builder than it was a hairdresser.

Andy Vantrease  17:31
But you still did some people’s hair.

Tom Ryan  17:33
Yeah, the first workshop after I was there, it was all women, and I think I did almost all their hair.

Andy Vantrease  17:40
Pretty dynamic! You know, I even consider it to be kind of courage, just knowing that you can do something, even though you haven’t done it before. But having the courage to try. I think there’s so many people that get held back by perfectionism, right? Where like, I’m going to stay safe and I’m only going to do things that I know I can do. And I’m not going to take a risk to build an entire bath house when I’ve never done something like this or put in a full extension on the lake cabin or build a whole dining hall or so many of the structures down at the Ranch you built and helped design, and kitchen renovations and all that. So how do you reflect on that and view that in your mind? It seems like a life philosophy for you.

Tom Ryan  18:30
Once I was here, everything had to be done. And fingers kept pointing at me as the guy that had to make sure it got done. I had to figure out how to do it. And I had, you know, a little experience just doing things, remodeling a little bit. So it was just a continuation of it only on a grander stakes scale, more or less. I had to redo a lot of the plumbing in the main lodge; we went from old galvanized pipes to copper pipes, and then some PVC pipes. And electricity; I had to do a lot of the electrical work. My theory with electricity was just do one wire at a time.

Andy Vantrease  19:22
Test one wire at a time?

Tom Ryan  19:24
Right, don’t touch them both. It always worked! Even in the military, I just did what had to be done, and I ended up being head of a crew. Wherever I was, I had four or five guys working under me. I guess it just fell naturally for me to do what had to be done and show up to do it.

Andy Vantrease  19:49
Who have been some of the influential people in your life? Whether it’s people that you remember as a young kid looking up to or even later in life. Does anybody come to mind when you think about like, who instilled in you the things that you’ve used and have helped you through life even until today?

Tom Ryan  20:16
Wow. My dad, just as being a dad, not necessarily as being a teacher or anything. I mean, he had six kids. And so just learning to be a dad from him was probably my biggest thing.

Andy Vantrease  20:40
I know you tell that one story of being at Scotty’s Castle in Death Valley—not that that was a person that instilled anything in you, but that was a big moment…

Tom Ryan  20:53
That changed our lives. I mean, I was just finishing up working with the phone company in Anaheim, California and had been working for them for seven years, in different positions. I had acquired my license to do hair. So I was hired on to start in a salon in Newport Beach and we had some vacation time coming from the phone company, and decided we better take it now because once I started in the salon, I’m not going to have time.

We went to Death Valley on a week vacation, toured the valley, and ended up one day at Scotty’s Castle at the north end of the valley. We did a tour through the castle and the next morning, we’re still camped out, and we’re watching these tour buses pull up to the castle. Mostly senior citizens and a few younger people would get off the bus and go into the gift shop and have a cup of coffee and buy something for the grandkids and wait until everybody got ready to go. My wife at the time, Diane, and I looked at each other and we said, “No way. We are not going to wait until I’m 65 to go tour.”

So we cut our vacation short, even a week, we cut that short, went home, sold our house, sold our cars, quit our jobs, sold a whole bunch of furniture and bought a brand new VW bus.

Andy Vantrease
What color?

Tom Ryan
It was cream colored, and had air conditioning. That was nice. And we outfitted it for camping, loaded it up and spent my 30th birthday on the road to Alaska. So that was a turning point in my life, and basically have never looked back from there.

Andy Vantrease  23:01
Yeah, you haven’t had too many straight jobs in your life, outside of the Navy. Right?

Tom Ryan  23:07
Right. The phone company was the longest ever had a job like that. Navy, I was in there for four years. Some friends of mine, John, who I met in Death Valley, and Gretchen, who met in Berkeley, were visiting, and I made a bold statement that I don’t think I’ll ever have another straight job in my life again. But I have enough confidence in myself that whatever I want, I’ll have. If I want a sailboat, I’ll have a sailboat. It doesn’t have to be mine, but I can come and go, sail on it and do what I want. Or if I want a ranch, I’ll have a ranch. Doesn’t have to be mine, but I can go live on it, be there, work there, whatever.

Before that month was over, I had five sailboats and one ranch at my disposal. And as it turns out, I took the ranch!

Andy Vantrease  24:09
That theme is coming up again, that trust and you know, things happening. Some people, I would say maybe even people that are associated with the Ranch and the spiritual realm of things, might call that manifestation or the Law of Attraction. I know that’s something that you have recently found language around. Tell me about what you are learning about the Law of Attraction and how it relates to how your life has unfolded.

Tom Ryan  24:41
Heidi had for years been sending me information about Law of Attraction but I never really tied it on to anything that had to do with my life. They were nice quotes, nice sayings and that, but it didn’t really mean anything to my life, until one day I read something on my own about the Law of Attraction and realizes, “Oh my God, that’s how I got to the Ranch.” So, I had all them sailboats, just because I sent something out into the universe and it came back a hell of a lot faster than I ever thought it could happen. And that was my biggest eye opening to how it actually can work. As I look back, I see that different things in my life, how my life unfolded, was probably a lot to do with that.

Andy Vantrease  25:42
What are some of those things?

Tom Ryan  25:46
Well, reflecting on when I got out of the military, I went to work with the phone company. In the military, I was a radio man. I had a secret, cryptographic need-to-know clearance, and I had applied for a job on Navy Times before I got out. I got a letter back once I got to California, as it turned out, it was the CIA looking for me.

Andy Vantrease  26:16
They weren’t looking for you as like a ‘wanted’ person…

Tom Ryan  26:19
Well, they wanted me to go to work. And I couldn’t believe that. I mean, the application was in hard copy, triplicate, over eight pages long, questions about everything. Luckily, I had a job with the phone company, and I tried to put it off, but they wanted me now, so that didn’t happen. I think the Law of Attraction at that point was preventing me from making a foul move.

Then I went to work in Alaska in communications and was assigned to man one of the microwave stations in the outback of Alaska. We came back from Alaska, and we wanted to get back in the desert, so we went to El Centro. We knew nothing about it, except that it was in the desert.

Andy Vantrease
Where’s that?

Tom Ryan
Right on the border of Mexico and California. So we went there, and rented a little house and got the utilities hooked up and spent a day to go out and look for a job. And within an hour, Diane and I met back and realized that El Centro was not our town. We quickly got out of there, I called Death Valley and asked if they were hiring, they said yes, that they were opening in two weeks, and were hiring people. So, we drove all night to get to Death Valley and we applied for a job with the general manager of the Furnace Creek facilities. My wife at that point, Diane, applied to work in the kitchen or the bakery, and my application said I would work in maintenance or work mowing the lawns or washing dishes. I just wanted to be in the desert, I didn’t care what I was doing.

So the guy says,” Is there anything else you can do? It’s a pretty, you know, bold statement to say you want to do dishes or mow the lawn.” And Diane piped up and she said, “He has a license to do hair.” And the guy about fell off his chair. He says, “You have a license to do hair and you want to wash dishes?” And I said, “Well, I figured there’s more dishes to wash than hair to cut.”

He said, “We’re opening up in two weeks. I have a salon in the hotel. I do not have an operator. Would you be interested in running the salon?”  And I said, “Hey, I have a license. I’ve never worked in a shop other than going to school. I don’t know about that.” He says, “I’ll mention it again: We’re opening in two weeks. I have a salon and I don’t have an operator. Are you interested?”

I told him if he was game then I was game. It ended up that I got a salon to work in, they supplied the water, the clientele, the room, a house to live in, three meals a in a dining room with a white tablecloth and a waitress who takes our order. It was incredible. We just got done camping all over the place.

Andy Vantrease  29:40
I’m sure it felt like luxury—”and you’re going to pay me?”

Tom Ryan  29:43
Yes, that fell into our laps, more or less. That had to do something with Law of Attraction. You put something out, you know, this is what I want, and it happened. So I went to work for a season. And there was a little town on the outskirts called Death Valley Junction, which was owned by two families, and the women of the two families one day came down to get their hair done at my salon. Come to find out, getting their hair done was just part of the trip—they wanted to check me out and see if I’d be interested in going to Death Valley Junction and opening up a shop. Well, that wasn’t in the cards at this point because when we finished at Furnace Creek in Death Valley, we were going to go back to Alaska. And then that didn’t work out, so we turned around and went to Mexico, way down into Oaxaca, Mexico. That first year, I put over 36,000 miles on my VW van.

Andy Vantrease  30:54
Oh my gosh, sounds like some of my cross-country travels.

Tom Ryan  30:59
So when we got back, we went to do a couple other things, and I made a call to Death Valley Junction asking if the offer was still good. They said, “Yes,” so bingo, we drove in the middle of July to Death Valley to go do a job. Crazy as we were, they gave us a house to live in—we could pick any part of this hotel that we wanted to renovate to make our living accommodations—and we had a gift shop, a barber shop, beauty shop, kitchen, bathroom, store room and living room, bedroom situation. And it’s like it just fell to us, these things just kept happening.

Andy Vantrease  31:53
So this is really reminding me of this quote that I have seen or read somewhere where it says like, “What’s meant for you will not miss you.”

Tom Ryan
Right.

Andy Vantrease 
You had some opportunities, like the Death Valley Junction opportunity that you said, “No, not right now. We’re going to go to Alaska, we’re going to Mexico.” But then it was there when you were ready for it. I think that a lot of people—I guess I’ll just speak for myself—sometimes I put so much pressure on myself for making the right decision. You know, if I come to a crossroads or all the million times a day I’m trying to figure life out. Sometimes I think I can really make a wrong decision as far as which path that I want to take. And when I can fall into a place of more trust, and like co-creation with life, I really believe that what I am meant to do and what is meant for me will find a way. It doesn’t matter if I veer off and go on these off-ramps and side tangents and stuff. That’s part of it. And you will come back to what path is meant for you.

Tom Ryan  33:12
Right. You can’t make a wrong turn; you can make different turns. But it’ll always come back to where you’re supposed to be going. I was in Berkeley with Heidi, and I hired on at a salon on Telegraph Road, a shop called Great Lengths. (I had long hair at that time.) But I had a week, unfortunately, before the job started, and I went to another place, a school in San Francisco, to brush up on a few techniques. The last day there, there was another school on the ground floor of this building, and I was studying there to pick up on what they were doing. A guy was working on my hair, and I just told him to, you know, trim it up. And an instructor came over and cut my hair really short on one side. I kept from knocking him out, but I did yell at him and got up and left without paying. And I went home and tried to make one side long and one side short—it must have been something out of Alice in Wonderland.

Monday I showed up at Great Lengths to go to work, and they wouldn’t hire me because my hair was too short! So I went over the hill to Walnut Creek and hired on to a shop there. I was there for at least a week, maybe a little longer, but not very long. And one day I was doing this woman’s hair and standing in the back of the chair telling stories. She said, “Well, you seem like you’ve done a few things. What are you doing standing here doing hair?” I thought about that, and I said, “That’s a good question.” So, I quit and walked out.

Andy Vantrease  35:11
Did you finish her hair?

Tom Ryan  35:13
I did finish her hair.

Andy Vantrease  35:15
Yeah, you weren’t going to leave her in the same place as you got left, with the hair half short and half long.

Tom Ryan  35:20
So there I was, needing something to do. And a friend of Heidi’s that she had met was working a job, and I got hired through him to become a crew leader on a pipe fitting crew, building a submarine rescue ship for the U.S. Navy. Now, that’s a bit of a stretch to go from cutting hair to building a submarine rescue ship. But, what the hell, somebody had to do it. I knew which end of a pipe fitting tool to pick up, so it worked. And around that point was when I got invited to go to the Ranch. So anyway, all this cycle, you know, through all this stuff, and ended up at the Feathered Pipe Ranch.

Andy Vantrease  36:20
Yeah. It seems like you’re in a phase of your life now where you’re doing a lot of reflection. You started writing this book, this memoir that you’re working on, and you’re really wanting to preserve stories and get them down, seemingly for yourself, but also because they’re fantastic to share with people, and because there’s such magic in the way that things have unfolded in your life. Is there anything in particular that sparked this reflective period for you?

Tom Ryan  36:58
Traveling was a lot of it, travel memories and a lot of it was with the Ranch. One year, we went to Peru, another year we went to India, another year we went to Nepal. Those were special moments to travel with India, Vijaya, Crystal, Nikki and Chris Petaja, bless his soul. Danny Libby was one of them. John P., another great one who has now left us. And just being here, just being at the Ranch and seeing it grow and become what it is.

Andy Vantrease  37:47
How do you feel about the way that the Ranch has grown? I mean, you are still so involved, going down for meals, being a mentor to the people who are trying to keep things going on the staff side of things and being a sounding board, as an elder to those of us who are trying to stay connected with the original mission and preserve the essence of it. We’re trying to do that in a way that fits with the times, you know, moving things online, doing things like this podcast, upgrading facilities to have to compare to this retreat industry that exists now that didn’t exist when you guys first started. How does it feel to now be in this position that you are in? What’s that experience like?

Tom Ryan  38:40
Well, I think in a sense, it has arrived, and it’s just continuing to grow into what it is. I’ll go back to my first summer here: India and I were on the boat (that old boat that’s still at the Ranch) in the lake one afternoon. India’s telling me, “I don’t know how I’m going to pay you for being here. We don’t have much money.” I said to her, “I have a nice place to live, food to eat, and a lot of people to be with. I’m in great shape. I don’t need that.” I said, “Let’s just see if we can put this place on the map.” And I said that if we do—fine, and if we fall on our face in attempt to do it, hopefully we can walk out of here with a quarter in our pocket and say we had a great time.

Then I remember when she was on her deathbed, and I went to visit her. I told her, I says,  “India, we did it. It’s on the map—it was just voted as the number one retreat center in the country. So, you can go in peace.” And she did.

So that’s a big reflection right there as to where we are, from where we started. I think there’s a song about it: “We’ve come a long ways.” We did. And it’s nice to see the people who are here now, working at the Ranch and trying to keep it going and improving and upgrading. The energy that these people have, they’re here because they want to be here, and that helps. I mean, a lot of people have a job that they’re going to because they need some money, and I’m sure that these people also need the money. But they’re here because they want to be here. Everybody seems to mesh together nicely. And as long as we’re talking about telling stories and history, the person that you want to get for history of the Ranch is Howard. I mean, he can tell you who was here on such and such a day, what they were wearing and what we were having for dinner that day. And it’s nice to be able to share the elderhood with him.

Andy Vantrease  41:30
Yeah, yeah, it’s really special to me—and I have said it before—where part of what makes the Ranch so special and different from other retreat centers, is like, you can go to Omega and Kripalu and some of those other places that are doing fantastic conferences and workshops and things. And they’re big. They’re big centers, so there’s thousands or at least hundreds of people there at a time. With the Ranch, it’s like one workshop at a time, very intimate. When you come in, you become a part of the family. I mean, how cool is it that people get to come into orientation, and they’re in the main lodge and sitting in the circle, and the first people that they get to meet are you, who’s been here for 46 years; Howard, who’s been here, you know, close to that; Aimee was here this year, able to say, “I’m Tom’s daughter and I grew up at the Ranch;” Heidi, who’s been here too. It’s like, you don’t get that at other places. And for me, developing such a close relationship with the Ranch and having a big part of my work and my path and my support team and friends here, that original crew of people have been such an important part of that.

Tom Ryan  43:00
Another elder that we have to mention also is Vijaya. She’s another one with a thousand stories. You get her going and it’s another adventure.

Andy Vantrease  43:12
Oh gosh, you’re basically swept off into another world.

Tom Ryan  43:16
Another world, like on a magic carpet ride.

Andy Vantrease  43:19
Maybe the last topic that I want to touch on, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t, is you as a parent. You are such a loving, involved and engaged dad to Sean and Aimee, and I know from previous conversations that you being a dad and doing it in the way that you show up to it has been a really intentional thing. Wanting to create a relationship with your kids that you wish you had had: open lines of communication, being able to say “I love you,” to tell the truth about things and to really have your emotions be involved in the relationships. I’m curious just to have you reflect on what you have created as a life and as a dad.

Tom Ryan  44:14
Well, first of all, I wouldn’t be a dad if I didn’t have a mother for these kids, and that’s where Heidi came in. She came to the Ranch I think a year after I came, and pretty much spent years and years here running Yoga Vacations after she was first running the kitchen. Then we actually got married at the Ranch and we lived in Skye Farm for, I think, seven to nine years. Sean was born while we were still living at Skye Farm. Then we were starting to build this house at that point.

Heidi was a great mom, still is a great mom. And I think, because of the fact that I was more mature—I won’t say I was older, I don’t use that word much—but I was advanced in age and had a little more experience in life, it was easier to be able to devote time to these two little people that came into our lives. It’s always been a great treat for me to be a dad. They love the Ranch. Even though they’re both in California working, their hearts and minds are still with the Ranch. In fact, Sean is planning on coming back for a couple weeks this summer to do a workshop. They were here partially during the summer. Aimee was here two months this summer, luckily being able to work remotely.

It’s a treat to be with these kids. And the nice thing about it is that the kids like to be with their parents, which doesn’t really happen a lot in this society. I mean, kids grow up, and the first thing they want to do is get as far away from the parents as they can. My kids like to go on vacation with us. They’ll even plan it like, let’s go here or let’s go there. Let’s do this. So, it’s beyond belief almost to have two kids that love to be with the parents, and the parents love to be with the kids. Even though at this point, Heidi and I are separated and divorced, we are in constant contact, and it helps keep the family as a family and helps me be able to be a good dad. We’ve always tried to give them as much support as we can. Aimee was on the varsity football team in high school.

Andy Vantrease  47:15
I’ve seen that picture!

Tom Ryan  47:18
And why would she do it? Because she was gutsy enough, and she knew that somewhere down the line, something that she got from her parents was that she could do anything.

Andy Vantrease  47:28
Yeah, I was going to ask: What exactly were you trying to instill in them that was either different than what you had or that you just knew that this is how you wanted to be as a parent?

Tom Ryan  47:42
Just that you are your own person, and you can do what you want to do. We will support you in what you do and help you along the way as best we can. My family, I grew up and my mother was great. She was a great mom. My dad actually was a great dad also; he loved his children—he had six! But he was hardcore in raising his kids. He definitely believed in punishment, and my brother and I knew what it was all about. I didn’t want to be that kind of dad. I wanted to be easy, love, and make everything nicer for them. It worked, you know. It made it easy for them to want to be with us and be around me.

One of the things we did was build the only skate park in Helena, and it was one of the first ones in Montana. For some odd reason, I got involved in it and became the parent helping these kids along the way with this project. I became involved in the Youth Advisory Council—I didn’t ever have anything to do with a government whatsoever. And now I’m in meetings with the mayor and the city lawyers. In fact, it was one point that we had it all designed to be in the Memorial Park and that wasn’t working. So the mayor found out that we could do it over by the YMCA, and I told the mayor, I says, “Whatever you do, don’t put that word out. You go ask the kids if it’s okay. Don’t tell them that we’re going to move over there. You ask them if it’s okay that we move over and put the skatepark there instead of where we had it designed for.” So she did. She called a meeting, and she asked the kids if we can do it there, and they said, “We don’t care where you build it, just get it built!”

Andy Vantrease
Yeah, we’re ready to skate!

Tom Ryan
Right. From the beginning of when we got involved with it, it was a five-and-a-half-year project to get to the opening day. These kids were in middle school when we started this project; when we finished, they graduated from high school.

Andy Vantrease
Wow, that’s huge.

Tom Ryan
But they left a legacy. What they left the city of Helena was the skatepark, and I supported that whole crew of kids. We would have meetings and parties up at the house here. At one point, they decided that a segment of the skate park would not work, and it was already under construction. I said, “Well then call a meeting—the head of the parks department, the city, another city official, the contractor—and get them down there and tell them this won’t work, and ask what we can do.” And they did. They got up first thing in the morning and called everybody they had to call. They called the meeting with everybody, and they changed how the park was going to be built and redesigned it on the hood of my truck. Sean had even gone online and found a guy that designed skate parks, and he had just finished one in Bozeman. They hired him to come here and run the project. They did it because they had support.

Andy Vantrease  51:26
You know, you think about all of the different systems that run our society, and I think we’re in a huge moment right now of trying to figure out a way where those systems—starting at the smallest level up to the largest level—can give people the support they need in order to live well and to thrive. It’s complex, but it’s amazing to see how humans and how kids flourish and mature when given the proper attention and care and love.

Tom Ryan  52:05
The mayor, which was Colleen McCarthy at the time, she was in favor of the park. The city was in our favor, on our side with the park. So we’d go to the city county meeting, and I had like six or eight of the skateboarders and they would be huddled over in the corner and hope nobody would notice they were there. But the mayor knew who they were and knew them by name. She would call him say, “Sean, why don’t you come up to the podium and say what you think about this. Matt, Matt Clinch: Why don’t you come up and say something.” These kids would shudder at the fact that they had to get up and say something.

But they learned that they had a voice, and that they had support. And that was great. So, it was just an extension of what you can do, you know, just support them. And that’s basically what I did. And I still do with my kids.

Andy Vantrease  53:10
So given that you’ve lived at a yoga center and conscious living center for a majority of your life (almost the last 50 years), there’s so much along the way that I’m sure that you’ve picked up. I’m curious of what you would say today is your spiritual practice or your sacred practices or the things that keep you connected and…

Tom Ryan
Sane?

Andy Vantrease
Sane, and you know, just keep you thriving and engaged in life.

Tom Ryan  53:45
My biggest thing is being thankful. I mean, I go through my house when I’m here by myself, and I look at different segments of this house and know how it came together. Or I look out the windows and see what’s out there. I just give thanks to the power that made all this possible, made me being here possible. I was raised as a Catholic until I had a foul experience with the Catholic Church and walked away from it. And coming to the Ranch, there’s a lot of spiritual awareness here. India brought Hinduism here. I never knew anything about Hinduism, and now I know a little bit about Hinduism, and I know of Sai Baba, and have been in his presence as close as I am to you right now. And Buddhism. Those are probably my two closest touchstones to any spirituality at this point.

I don’t have any particular practice that I follow. I just live in this place. I feel I live in a cathedral. The whole place, I mean, I look out the window at the snow-capped mountains around me. I don’t see anybody else’s house or wires or roads, anything. So, it’s what God, or that energy or that force, put here. That’s what I get to enjoy every day, to look at that with thanks every day. Thank you for being here. Thank you for this house. Thank you for these people that I get to associate with. Everything. It’s just a big thank you. Just give thanks for what you have.

Andy Vantrease  56:00
Tom Ryan, a jack of many trades and a reliable source of grounded calm energy. After digging into the law of attraction, I’m walking away from this conversation with a sense of trust in my life path, which isn’t always easy to embody. I don’t know about you, but it’s always been helpful to me to ask questions of those who have had a lot more life experience than I have, to listen to their stories and learn from their explorations and findings of how I may be able to live more true to myself.

Tom’s certainty in his own life reflections were inspiring—why things happened the way they did and how the universe delivered exactly the experiences that he needed to get him to where he is today. The nugget of wisdom that I’m taking with me is the idea that we can’t possibly take a wrong turn. Your lived experience is the path, no matter how many things you think you’re missing out on or how many decisions do you think will make or break you… that’s all part of it. And the universe will continue to nudge you in the direction that allows you to realize your full potential, even if it doesn’t make sense at the time.

To connect further with Tom, please visit BlackMountainPropertyManagement.com.

A special thank you 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 move through the world.

This podcast is a production of the Feathered Pipe Foundation, a 501c3 dedicated to healing, education, community and empowerment. If you’d like to help support this project, please visit FeatheredPipe.com/gratitude or leave a review on Apple podcasts and share with your friends. Be sure to tune in to our next episode in two weeks. We cannot wait to share another amazing conversation with you. Until then, have a beautiful day.