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Donor Spotlight: A Conversation with Jonathan Rotenberg – Insight Meditation Society

Donor Spotlight: A Conversation with Jonathan Rotenberg – Insight Meditation Society


Jonathan Rotenberg has worn many hats over his profession—government coach, administration marketing consultant, philanthropist, and now aspiring creator. Although a graduate of Brown University, the place he studied economics, and Harvard Business School, the place he earned an MBA, Jonathan started to make his mark on the world when he was only a freshman in highschool. In 1977, he began The Boston Computer Society, which quickly grew to become the main worldwide discussion board the place pc firms unveiled their newest and biggest merchandise to the general public.

Jonathan’s success with BCS was coated in all places from Time journal to CBS Evening News, and the Association of Collegiate Entrepreneurs named him one of many “Top 100 Young Entrepreneurs in America.”

A devoted meditator for many years, Jonathan has been a daily IMS yogi and donor since 2006.

This month, IMS’s John Spalding met with Jonathan at a coffee store in Harvard Square, the place they mentioned Jonathan’s early success in enterprise, his present tasks (together with the e-book he’s writing about Steve Jobs), and the trail that led Jonathan to IMS.

Tell us about your non secular path. How did you come to meditation?

Part of my non secular path started with my experiencing an uncommon degree of success at a really younger age. I cofounded The Boston Computer Society [BCS] in 1977, once I was 13 years outdated. I didn’t set out with a plan to succeed, and even with a transparent concept of what I used to be doing. Still, the BCS took off loopy quick, changing into essentially the most influential private pc consumer group on the earth with 32,000 members in all 50 states and in 47 nations. When I used to be 19, I used to be profiled on the entrance web page of The Wall Street Journal.

I earned fame and fortune however in actuality was overcome with stress and fear. I used to be in a really highly effective place the place business leaders would take heed to me and comply with my recommendation. Fame, fortune, and energy—isn’t that what everybody craves who goes into enterprise? It didn’t really feel like a reward to me; it was an amazing burden. I felt personally chargeable for so many individuals, and wanting everybody to have a beautiful expertise.

With the peaks got here valleys—identification crises and a few severe non secular questioning. Who am I? What’s my goal? And it was by means of my early years on the BCS that I met Steve Jobs, who began me on my non secular path. Steve launched me to meditation and have become a central teacher for me.

How did you meet Steve Jobs, and what are you able to share concerning the e-book you’re writing?

I met Steve in 1981, once I was 18 and he was 26. Steve was my hero. Apple had simply gone public shortly earlier than we met, and Steve went from being this, like, barefoot monastic with out two nickels to rub collectively to instantly being one of many biggest expertise entrepreneurs ever—value greater than $250 million, which might be over a billion {dollars} immediately.

Steve had come to Boston for Applefest ’81, the world”s first worldwide convention and exposition for Apple customers. I used to be the creator and head of Applefest. I met Steve on the Top of the Hub for lunch, and we instantly hit it off. It was as if we’d recognized one another all our lives. We wound up spending 10 hours collectively that day. And on the finish of the day, he walked me again to my mother and father’ home, the place he gave me a gold pen with the Apple brand on it. Then he mentioned, “On Monday morning, give my assistant a name. I’d wish to fly you out to California, so we will discuss extra about all this.” That’s how our friendship started.

The e-book I’m writing known as My Teacher, Steve Jobs. Steve Jobs was an intensely devoted Zen Soto practitioner. He was a complicated protégé of Kobun Chino Otogawa and some of the extensively learn Buddhists I’ve ever met. My e-book tells the story of Steve’s personal non secular path—starting in his early teenagers—and the way he grew to become the primary chief in enterprise historical past to combine Eastern Wisdom teachings with Western Capitalism. It looks like lots of people immediately have very sturdy (and sometimes very damaging) impressions of Steve Jobs. Once individuals perceive extra totally what Steve was making an attempt to do—what he was making an attempt to guard us from and what he was up in opposition to—I feel individuals will start to acknowledge the depth of compassion and knowledge that guided every of his selections.

I stay up for studying your e-book. When did you begin doing meditation retreats?

My first retreat was an LGBTQ+ retreat I attended in Santa Fe in 2000. It was an incredible expertise, and from that retreat onward the LGBTQ+ group has supported me in my meditation observe and improvement. After I bought again from Santa Fe, I began going to the Cambridge Insight Meditation Center, the place I realized about Buddha Buddies, an LGBTQ+ meditation group that met on the Cambridge Zen Center. I began going to that group each Sunday. It was a beautiful sangha. It appeared like all of us have been going by means of very tough issues in our personal lives, but in addition collectively as a group, which was very supportive.

In 2009, a number of of us who had met by means of Buddha Buddies began a brand new “meta sangha” referred to as OutBreath. OutBreath works with meditation facilities of all completely different lineages to develop welcoming programming for LGBTQ+ individuals. We publicize our occasions on Meetup and have nearly 3,500 members. We supply meditation lessons, retreats, affinity teams, and workshops at facilities across the Boston space.

I perceive you’re concerned with tasks in Uganda that assist their LGBTQ+ inhabitants.

That’s proper. This 12 months the Ugandan Parliament handed the 2023 Anti-Homosexuality Act (AHA), some of the excessive, violent, anti-LGBTQ+ legal guidelines in human historical past. The regulation not solely punishes LGBTQ+ individuals with life imprisonment and demise however requires each Ugandan citizen to report back to the police anybody they believe could have “dedicated or intends to commit the offence of homosexuality.” Furthermore, it’s now unlawful for landlords to hire to or home an LGBTQ+ individual, which has led to a wave of evictions and homelessness. It’s completely mind-boggling.

I’m working with a company referred to as Create a Smile to Kids Uganda that gives emergency shelter, medical care, and disaster counseling for LGBTQ+ youth in Kampala who’ve been thrown out onto the road by their evangelical mother and father. I’m serving to them with operational, safety, and program points, and elevating cash to fund their 2024 working bills. I created a GoFundMe web page to assist pay for meals, shelter, safety and different important wants. People can go to in the event that they’d wish to be taught extra and assist out.

Another group I’m working with is the Uganda Minority Shelters Consortium, a coalition of 25 shelters throughout the nation that secretly present housing for homeless LGBTQ+ individuals. I’m now serving to them to develop a U.S. fundraising technique.

When did IMS enter your life?

I began going to IMS within the mid-2000s, proper round once I left the administration consulting enterprise. At that time, I’d been a profitable marketing consultant for quite a few years, working 70 to 90 hours per week. Basically, my life had been lowered to going from airports to automotive leases to purchasers’ workplaces and again, time and again.

The tipping level was once I was working at AT&T’s company headquarters in New Jersey on a undertaking that required pulling all-nighters. I slept on the workplace sofa of the chief vp who’d employed my agency. The afternoon we completed, I walked out of the constructing and had a rare expertise that’s tough to convey. Suddenly every part round me grew to become fuzzy. I finished in my tracks, and l felt like I had actually died. I left my physique, and I may see it beneath me, mendacity lifeless within the car parking zone. I’d been feeling for a while like there was one thing spiritually lacking from my life, however that’s when the belief hit me—I’m dead. I wasn’t upset about it. “Oh,” I assumed, “I’ve died. That’s fascinating.” And in a approach I actually had died.

After that, I shifted the vitality I had put into work into my non secular observe. I did my first retreat at IMS in August 2006. It was a seven-day retreat with Howard Cohn, Mark Coleman, and Anna Douglas. That retreat modified every part for me, and I’ve principally completed a retreat at IMS yearly since then.

In what approach was that IMS retreat a recreation changer?

[Laughing] I bear in mind it now as being wonderful and profound and in contrast to something I’d ever completed earlier than. It felt life-changing to me, and it was! But I chuckle as a result of that’s not how I felt throughout the retreat. The fact is it was an actual wrestle for me, notably the primary couple of days. There have been moments I wasn’t certain I may stick it out for all the retreat.

Around day three, although, one thing shifted and I felt extra settled. The knowledge of IMS academics nonetheless at all times amazes me. They are so attuned to the place you’re at that they’re capable of counsel even slight changes that may assist maintain you going and transfer you deeper into observe.

Meditation lessons and day workshops and retreats are fantastic, however nothing compares to what a protracted silent residential retreat can supply. I consider the retreats I did earlier than IMS as like driving a motorbike with coaching wheels. When I bought to IMS, the coaching wheels got here off, and I found, Hey, I actually can experience this bike!

But I see the significance of IMS as way more vital than that. It actually is a world beacon for vipassana, for perception meditation. I feel that because the world faces larger and larger challenges, curiosity in meditation will proceed to develop, and IMS could have a chance to play a bigger position.

A bigger position in what sense?

There will probably be a larger want for extremely educated and skilled meditation academics. I feel IMS has the potential to set the gold normal for meditation teacher coaching.

And as curiosity in meditation continues to develop, IMS will seemingly must develop bodily—to extend capability. As it’s, IMS retreats refill quick and there are ready lists, fairly lengthy ready lists for some retreats. It hasn’t at all times been tough to get right into a retreat. Mind you, this isn’t a criticism of IMS. These are simply rising pains, a part of the worth of success.

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