I had come home from India in the summer of ’72 to help my friend Jermain Duncan fix up the Feathered Pipe Ranch in order to start some kind of think tank there. We really had no idea what we were going to do. The early fall of that year Jermain was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer.
We were living in San Francisco and had planned to get a place in Arizona to do a summer workshop. Jerri already owned the ranch in Montana. We decided one day to go and listen to Dr. Chaudhuri of the Institute for Asian Studies speak at a nearby church in Pacific Heights, San Francisco.
We were sitting on the front porch steps of the church after the lectures, when William Staniger, later Golden, recognized me from our time in India together. We had been studying with separate teachers. I had gone over to Krishnamacharya’s place with Indra Devi. William was there studying with Desikachar, his primary yoga teacher. William decided to come to Sai Baba‘s to get darshan and there we met for the second time.
On the steps of that church William came over and said, “Hi. Aren’t you India Supera? We met at Sai Baba’s.” And that was the beginning of all the work we did. Jerri found him very interesting and right away we picked up with him and went over to his house and yoga studio where he was teaching 30-40 students one-on-one, Desikachar’s method. It was a beautiful little house in which the living room was his yoga studio. It amazed me that he could bring the energy, the smell, everything of India to that little flat on 10th Avenue. At the end of that day Jerri invited William and his closest students, which turned out to be around 30, to come up to the ranch in the summer and teach yoga for what was going to be our think tank.
In the meantime, unfortunately, Jerri’s cancer prognosis became worse. So while were trying to deal with her dying, William was at the Feathered Pipe Ranch with his students. Oddly enough, William had grown up on the other side mountain from the Ranch, an easy walk. It was yet another cosmic connection that he was from Helena. Right away he started bringing the old Helena community in for soirees/discussion groups.
After Jerri died, I returned to the ranch to put things in order and there William and I were able to spend most of the summer of’ ’73 together, planning out everything we wanted to do. Even though our official anniversary is ’75, it took us a while to plan everything we wanted to do – which was massive for people with no idea how to do it. There were three of us after Janis Paulsen, a very wonderful and competent student, joined us. It was our energy together that really made the ranch go. I was the heart, Janis the practical, business person and William, the visionary. William was so stubborn in his vision that we all used to just beat our heads against the wall, but thanks to that we have the Yoga Journal today and the Feathered Pipe Foundation (formerly the Holistic Life Foundation).
We started the most interesting things together – we started a school in San Francisco called the Holistic Life University and regular yoga programs at the ranch, definitely the first in the nation that were not guru-based. Third, under the auspicious of the California Yoga Teachers Association, which William started to cover the yoga section of the school, he was able, with Janis, to start the Yoga Journal. We did that in our rented 10th Avenue house/mansion.
The landlords were so taken with William that they let him remodel the house. He, being from Montana, of course had the skills to do it. He put a bay window in the attic, he made class rooms, a big greenhouse/garden in the back, and a sound studio where Christopher Wentworth made “Five Women, Five Births” with Susan Armes.
There was just no limit to the things we could do in those first years – it was so exciting. Our school was a life-death transition school. We had a birthing school and we were able to participate in the birthing laws in California. Janis was such a good business person. Some of you may remember she helped many organizations get off the ground. She was also the first assistant editor of the Yoga Journal. She was very practical and William very visionary and practical and I was just the heart, as I said earlier. Even if a vision made no sense and there seemed no way to do it, with those three sets of skills we were able to push them forward in a way that they are still lasting today. I’m not going to say that we invented holistic travel because Edgar Cayce did it before, for sure. We were one of the first organizations to do yoga trips to power points around the world. We studied with great people – we basically decided who we wanted to learn from and those were the people we booked. It all felt so wonderful! In a strange way we were a success from the very second our feet hit the ground. The right people showed up at the ranch, at the Yoga Journal and at the school. When we stopped doing those other branches of the Holistic Life Foundation they didn’t just die, other people carried them on. Our program director, Richard Miller (not the yoga instructor) took a set of programs over to the JFK University and some of them are part of the curriculum today. CYTA was the definitive word in yoga and the Iyengar Institute bought it and carried on as the first Iyengar school. Once you throw the pebbles in the lake there’s no telling where the ripples will stop.
At the beginning of the ranch we had to fight off neighbors – who called us the “Hippies in the gulch -who didn’t want to have retreats in the gulch but William’s family knew most of the neighbors and everybody loved them so much, especially William’s mother Mary, that we got sort of grandfathered in. Now, of course, the neighbors are very grateful because we did not build a big development on the land.
All in all it was an effort founded on hard work, vision and no money. The Holistic Life Travel was a blast. William and I went to India together, we went to Egypt together. He did Peru. We worked with the wonderful Joseph Jochmans, Patricia Sun, Jack Schwartz, Bob Monroe and so many others. After his time with us William continued his incredible work helping people on their spiritual lives. Janis, William and I had the best teachers of the day. We did the 1979 Evolution of Consciousness Cruise. We accomplished so much and now that 45 years have gone by our body of work speaks for itself.
William left a large imprint on the new age movement and I am sure that without his leadership, it would have been a very different story. I think that we can be very proud of the body of work we created. It started with William and it is with great gratitude and love in my heart I thank William and Kathleen as a partnership carrying the work forward. Their contributions will live for a long, long time.