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Gregory Bateson

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The Icebreaker Speech

Dave Ewoldt, April 2005

   My name is Dave Ewoldt, although for about 35 years I used my step-dad's surname of Paulsen. I had it legally changed back to my birth name right before my wife Allison and I got married last August on San Juan Island. The ceremony was co-officiated by Project NatureConnect founder Dr. Michael Cohen and Janet Thomas, author of "Battle in Seattle: The Story Behind and Beyond the WTO Demonstrations." Allison and I thought that since we were starting a new beginning, it made sense to go back to beginnings. I'd never paid much attention to names before, but Allison researched it, the name Ewoldt dates back to about 600 AD in Germany, and it's roots combine to mean "keeper of the laws of the forest." This turned out to be quite apropo for what has turned out to be my calling in life.

   I was born in Indiana and raised in Carson City, Nevada, and was politically active in my youth on the radical left, involved in Vietnam war protests, the peace and justice movement, generally raging against the machine of capitalism and the military-industrial complex, and was chairman of the Northern Nevada chapter of the Peace and Freedom party when they ran Benjamin Spock and Julian Hobson for president in 1972.

   But then I got married (for the first time), we had a child, and I ended up joining the Navy. The Army wouldn't take me because my eyes were too bad, but after taking the battery of aptitude and intelligence tests they give you in the Navy, my recruiter took one look at the test results, said they'd run a medical waiver on me, and asked me what I'd most like to do with my life. I replied that my dream job would be as a sound engineer for the Rolling Stones' mobile recording studio. He said in that case I needed to learn electronics. While still in the Navy, I got divorced, was awarded custody of my almost two year old son, and was a single parent for 16 years.

   So, my career path has gone from mechanic, carpenter and cabinet maker, to US Navy electronics technician specializing in communications equipment and cryptography, to electrical engineer, to high-energy particle physics research at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, to mechanical engineer, to computer programmer/scientist, to ecopsychology researcher, counselor, and healer. I'm an official Internet pioneer, and spent about 20 years doing work in communication protocol design, network systems design, network security, public key infrastructure, and large-scale distributed information systems. This included designing databases and search engines, and being on the design teams for Internet data centers that had over 100 servers for national phone companies and Internet Service Providerss in China, South Korea, Denmark, Norway, and intranet systems for Ameritech and MCI.

   Through all of this, I had always been drawn to finding ways to use technology and the creative, intelligent output of humans to further individual health and empowerment, and for social good. My proposed master's thesis at Stanford was "The Social Implications of Quantum Chromodynamics: Becoming Comfortable with Uncertainty." Even though I'd gotten away from politics, my '60s radicalism and idealism had stayed with me, as it just didn't make sense to me to aggregate wealth and power in the hands of a few at the expense of so many. While doing artificial intelligence research in support of the graduate robotics lab at the University of Texas in Austin in the mid-80s, it became apparent to me that we weren't going to get very far in answering the deep questions in AI if we really didn't have a firm grasp, or more than a cursory understanding really, of what intelligence itself actually was. I found myself slowly shifting toward studying the "soft" qualitative sciences.

   This eventually led to a chance encounter with Dr. Larry Vandervert while he was forming the International Society for Chaos Theory in Psychology. I was invited to present my research on a non-hierarchical theory of consciousness at the second annual conference for the society in 1992 where I had the honor of meeting the keynote speaker, Ervin Laszlo, the father of modern systems science. I obtained a psychology degree doing research combining cognitive science, systems science, chaos theory, and philosophy (the philosophy department actually paid for much of my psychology research). The hardest part of all that was getting the university to accept that being fluent in seven computer programming languages was an acceptable substitute for the two year foreign language requirement for an "arts" degree. To this day, the only foreign language I can speak is geek.

   Thinking I was finally done with school in '93, I took what was supposed to be a part-time job for a friend and fellow Bulletin Board Systems Operator who had a small computer consulting company. This was just a few months before the media "discovered" the Internet. My part time job was suddenly requiring 60 hours per week. I started teaching classes and giving workshops at the local hospitals and Gonzaga University on how to use Internet applications for research and personal enrichment, and working with businesses on the proper, 'net-friendly, way to do business on the Internet.

   Spokane, WA, however, is not exactly a technological mecca, so I ended up moving to Seattle and into the burgeoning world. I worked my way up to IT Director and CTO, did some consulting work for the evil empire (otherwise known as Microsoft), and survived numerous mergers, buyouts, and spectacular failures of business plans that had zero understanding of how the Internet, as a decentralized open system, actually worked. They also had zero interest in listening to anyone who could explain it to them, especially if those explanations ran counter to their get rich quick schemes... er, I mean business plans.

   I did meet quite a few really good and talented people, though. A group of them had gotten together with the idea of forming an e-commerce site dedicated to environmentally conscious shoppers. They asked me to help out with some systems design, but mainly to research consumer buying habits. They wanted to present people with a way of rating and then purchasing products according to their own values, instead of ones we would arbitrarily impose. Let's say you were concerned about a country or a company's human rights and labor record, or whether the product was produced by child labor, or from endangered Amazonian hardwoods, or how toxic it was to recycle. What combination of these issues would cause you to want to pay $2 more for a product that fit in with your own personal values?

   When I started researching psychology and ecology, I ran across the field of ecopsychology, and joined a mail list whose participants included Drs. John Scull, Michael Cohen, and Robert Greenway. Ecopsychology turned out to be the one aspect of psychology that actually made sense to me, because it included our larger body and mind, the environment we exist within, instead of focusing exclusively on the inner self. I had earlier decided I had no interest in being a clinician, mainly because they didn't seem able to handle the idea of individual differences, diversity, or the power (or existence) of the human will. Anyway, the project was generating a lot of interest, but, since we wanted to give control to the individual, we couldn't secure funding.

   After six years, I finally couldn't stand the greed of the world any longer, and I accepted a position as the Information Systems Director of a community mental health agency that was in financial trouble, and was trying to assemble a team to turn them around. Even though we managed to reduce operating losses by about 90% while actually increasing the quality of client care, it was too little, too late.

   It was so refreshing and invigorating, though, to be around a group of people who cared about anything that extended past the end of their own noses. The other senior staff at the community agency, once we knew the end was near, were encouraging me to start sending my resume out for an executive director position with a non-profit agency, and put a wider range of my talents to use, instead of focusing exclusively on the technology side.

   About that time, John Scull mentioned that he'd be moderating a panel discussion at a University of Oregon environmental conference. He was filling in for someone else who had something come up and couldn't make it, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to meet him in person. John and I hit it off well, and he suggested that if I was really interested in learning more about ecopsychology I might want to check out an upcoming two-week workshop on San Juan Island that focused on Mike Cohen's Natural Systems Thinking Process (NSTP).

   This was April of 2001, and when I first met my future partner and wife Allison in person. Since she was the workshop organizer, we'd been communicating via e-mail for about a month as I finalized my workshop registration details, and it turned out that she was the person Dr. Scull was filling in for at the UofO conference.

   After being introduced to the NSTP, I finally became aware that the "so many" with no voice and no power I mentioned earlier included the living Earth itself. My nature epiphany had occurred about a year earlier with a Banyan tree on the island of Maui while there on a consulting contract to design a web site for a physical therapist. But at the time I didn't have a way to verbalize the experience, nor did I feel comfortable even telling most people about it. My scientifically trained mind knew what they did with crazy people who talked to (well, listened to, actually) trees.

   Allison and a few other Project NatureConnect old-timers at the Spring 2001 Gathering were discussing starting some type of non-profit retreat center based on the NSTP for education, healing, and for PNC grad students to do internships, or at least be able to spend more time in a supportive community of kindred spirits while working on their ecopsychology degrees, and to have more in person time with Dr. Cohen. No one else had the time, or the background in non-profit organization (and mine was really pretty minimal at that point), but it seemed like such a good idea. I had experienced the power the NSTP held, wanted to share it as widely as possible, and this seemed to be the executive director position I had been encouraged to find. So I said, "Let's do it!" while simultaneously finding myself back in school again, working on a doctorate in applied ecopsychology.

   This was the birthing of Attraction Retreat (AR), the name for which was gifted to me by what I call my direction tree on the grounds of the old Insight Meditation Center on San Juan Island, one of the locations where we did some of our nature reconnecting activities during that spring gathering.

   Allison and I started working on the business plan for AR, and writing proposals to get it funded so we could purchase property on San Juan Island. We also began presenting NSTP based workshops together at conferences in Seattle and Vancouver BC, and offering classes at the Unitarian Fellowship we attended. The more we worked together, the more it became apparent that we were not just soul mates, but that we were twin souls. For myself, I had finally found the Yin energy that both balanced and complemented my Yang energy.

   When San Juan Island didn't work out, we were drawn to a progressive energy vortex on the mainland known as Bellingham, settled in, and things just keep growing. The NSTP has become the perfect process to help people become aware of their intimate connection to a system much larger than the self. When people experience that they are a part of a system that needs to be healthy in order for them to be healthy, they often want to know what has kept them separated from an essential part of who they are, and what has kept them from reaching the full potential of who they could be.

   This is where corporatism, which is the current manifestation of the dominator paradigm, and the engine driving the polluting, toxic Industrial Growth Society that sees materialism as a substitute for psychological and spiritual health, rears its ugly head and can finally be seen for what it actually is. The IGS sees the Earth as a dead resource to endlessly exploit; as a bottomless receptacle for waste; and expends countless and constant energy to keep humans separated from the Earth and each other. This, for me, is the connection between offerings such as the abolishing corporate personhood class we facilitate at AR, and the NSTP.

   Because, what is the alternative to corporatism? Social systems that model the cooperation, peace, and beauty of healthily functioning natural ecosystems. How can we create social systems based on Nature's model? By remembering that this wisdom is a natural part of who we are, and by reconnecting with Nature--by learning to follow and trust our natural attractions using all 53 of our senses--we can gain the guidance we need to do so. Helping to facilitate this shift in consciousness not only fills my life with meaning, but is a career I can feel truly good about.

   If you would like to schedule an introductory consultation session or arrange a presentation or workshop for your group, please contact or give Dave or Allison, co-founders of Attraction Retreat, a call at (360) 756-7998.


"You didn't come into this world. You came out of it, like a wave from the ocean. You are not a stranger here."
Alan Watts


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