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Konda Mason has Love Capital
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Konda Mason has Love Capital
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"We have given our power to money. And money is what we think makes us powerful. And what's powerful is our time with each other. What's powerful is the time I spend with you."
Conversations
7 June 2018

Konda Mason has Love Capital

Interview by Berry Liberman
Photography by Angela Decenzo

Berry Liberman on Konda Mason

To impress you, I might have started with this: Konda Mason is an Oscar-nominated filmmaker, Grammy Award-winning music producer and former co-founder and CEO of Impact HUB Oakland. When it comes to finance and the economy, however, it is the fact that Konda has one of the most expansive, soulful and brilliant minds— which will inspire you to reframe your unconscious biases and lead you to stretch your assumptions—that makes her a true leader.

Her bio makes you want to drop the mic. She is project director of the Runway Project Oakland, a micro-lending fund for African American entrepreneurs, co-founder of The Wellbeing In Business Lab and co-founder of the annual COCAP (Community Capital) conference in Oakland, which focuses on “Building the We Economy.” She sits on the Board of Directors of The Good Work Institute, Krista Tippett’s On Being, United Roots, and Spirit Rock Meditation Center where she is in a four-year Dharma Teacher Training with Jack Kornfield as her personal mentor. In her spare time she leads annual eco-tourism trips to the Amazon rainforest of Ecuador in order to wake people up to become active stewards of this vital earth ecosystem. She is also co-founder of Jubilee, a new business of wisdom keepers and wealth holders focused on joyfully preparing the next generation of investors to meet this moment and to defend the sacred.

Konda’s work is fuelled by a passion to witness in her lifetime a world that is environmentally regenerative, spiritually fulfilling, socially just and economically equitable. She is one of a network of leaders who can help us reclaim a sense of pride in being expansive, soulful sentient beings. We humans have very delicate nervous systems; the stories we tell ourselves become Truth. Our leaders become our ballasts, whom we strap ourselves to for good or evil. We are moving into a new era. What’s called for is to orient ourselves towards the enlightened, the compassionate and the soulful.

Recently Konda told me that if she were a superhero, she would definitely be the Black Panther. I, however, think she is closer to Yoda, that wise master of The Force. As a student of another Jedi master, Jack Kornfield, Konda has chosen to spend half her time in spiritual retreat and half her time in the relative world, working to inspire and guide others. This chosen path of 50/50 living in spirit and living in “doing” shocked me. Can we protect the sacred like that in such a fast paced world? Why not? Who wrote the rules for how we are supposed to live this one glorious life? We need the morally robust to help us think about inequality in the world. We need those skilled in holding sacred spaces—not those co-opted by religion or dogma—we need to recover the things that have left us out in the wilderness of our own inner lives. We need to orient towards those strong enough to be vulnerable in the face of so much pain. It may sound soft but it’s a revolution really.

This story originally ran in issue #55 of Dumbo Feather

BERRY LIBERMAN: I was thinking it’s going to be challenging to really articulate what a magical unicorn you are.

KONDA MASON: Am I? You say that to all the girls.

[Laughs].

I don’t know how true that is.

It’s pretty true. So what is a typical day in the life of Konda Mason?

Oh god. I don’t think there is such a thing. I wish there… no I don’t. Hell no I don’t! A typical day would mean I would have had a job and I’ve never had a job. All my days are so atypical. I wake up and think, Okay, what is today, what’s at the end? And I decided I should write myself little notes so I don’t freak out when I wake up. So I remember the few things that I have to do. But it always begins with meditation. It always begins with time for myself. I have this beautiful app, Insight Timer, which allows you to choose any kind of meditation, and then see who else you meditated with from all over the world.

Actually Michelle Long and I had a conversation yesterday where she was saying that it’s super groovy to be investing in mindfulness technology, and that everyone’s looking for their return of investment on mindfulness.

[Laughs].

What do you think about mindfulness and technology coming together at this time? Benefit or murky swamp?

I have a similar question. I’m a yoga teacher. And when you used to learn yoga, you learned about the entire body of yoga. The eight limbs of yoga. Asana is the practice that we do where the body is involved, and in the US and most places we think that is what yoga is. But that’s only one of the eight limbs. Yoga is a complete system of life. Of how you live. The yamas and the niyamas and so many beautiful parts to it. But we gravitate towards the piece around the body, asana practice, that the hierarchal competitive Western mind loves, that shows up in gyms. And the question for many yoga teachers is whether this proliferation of yoga is ruining yoga? And I had to really think about that. Because I don’t go to those classes personally. They don’t feed me. And yet I do believe that if you go to that yoga class that’s for a tighter butt, you are bound to get a kernel of something else that actually feeds the soul. And so I believe that it’s all good. May it all be good. May it all happen. So I feel the same about this mindfulness explosion. Can it be better and deeper? Absolutely. Will people still make transformations in their lives that make them better and therefore make the person next to you happier and better? Absolutely. I believe that it’s all happening the way it should. And I’m all about it. The investment which you say, does it get murky and messy and all of that? As we bring our same mentality of greed, hierarchy, privilege into anything we do, we’re mucking it up. That’s the thing that I’m hoping people are actually working on.

So you’ve had such a rich and varied life. And it feels like you’ve probably had some epic past lives. If we were meeting for the first time, how would you introduce yourself?

Oh god. Berry! I hate that question!

All right I’m going to reframe it! Last night I was invited to sit on a panel called, “The Power of the Feminine.” One of the amazing things about that is you go in raw. And you have to introduce yourself. So I said to the other panel members, “I’ve read your bio, but like, who are you? Where do you stand?” And one of the women who’s just lost her husband and was in deep grief, she looked at me quizzically and said, “Well why don’t you answer that question?” She felt like you just felt, then I was like, “Oh! It’s a big fucking question!” [Laughs]. And so I get it. But then I’m also like, it’s interesting the things we choose to say about who we are. How we articulate ourselves to the world. Because context is important.

Context is very important. I always have to go back to family. I began with my family. And I am the manifestation and the recipient of unconditional love. And I am hyper aware of the preciousness of that and the responsibility of that. And the paying it forward of that. I was the youngest of four children. And there was love and activism and intelligence and rigour and all of that. I had an older brother, Larry Mason, who’s not with us anymore, and I think he made me his project. We were seven years apart and he was brilliant. And he fed me books from the time I could read. And he kept me informed, he gave me The Communist Manifesto when I was 14. And so I am kind of a composite of this family that I cherish. And I feel, like you mentioned, there’s some lifetimes that got me to this blessed lifetime that I’m living right now. The start was so important, that seed that we plant from the very, very beginning.

This story originally ran in issue #55 of Dumbo Feather

This story originally ran in issue #55 of Dumbo Feather

The world is so hurt by people who are hurt and who keep hurting each other. And there’s a process of undoing all those layers of harm, and not acting out.

I mean I’ve got my own shit. But I don’t have to spend a lot of time undoing. And so I spend time doing. And it’s really a blessing in this lifetime for me.

What a privilege.

Truly.

So I’ve heard rumours that you’ve been nominated for Grammys and an Oscar.

Oh yeah.

How did you get from the music and film world to the social justice entrepreneurial and impact investing world?

Oh it’s all the same. Honestly. The films that I have been involved in have everything to do with change and are just another way of delivering it through the media. And media is very powerful. It’s really important that media is filled with activists, right? Filled with change-makers. So a lot of the media that I did was that. The film that me and my friend, Dianne Houston, got nominated for an Academy Award for was a short film called Tuesday Morning Ride. It’s a really interesting movie that pissed a lot of people off. Other people cry at the end of it.

So you came from the storytelling world, storytelling being both music and film.

Yes. And theatre. I did a lot of theatre in New York. Love theatre.

And then you became one of the founders and CEO of Impact Hub Oakland. Can you explain what Impact Hub Oakland is and why it’s so important in the landscape of social justice?

My life unfolds in a way that I get these deep taps on the shoulder from this internal voice. And I got tapped by a group of people who own the Hub in San Francisco. So Impact Hubs are a network of co-working spaces, there’s over a hundred around the world, but at the time there was only 30-something. And they tapped me because I spoke at SOCAP on a panel with three black women colleagues, and we were dissing a lot of these impact investors who are doing great work in Africa and Asia and South America and I was like, “What about in your own backyard?” And so we did this panel pointing out the fact that impact investors were not investing locally in urban towns like Oakland with lots of complexity and beauty. And yet millions of dollars going out there in the world. So at the end of it the people who own Hub San Francisco said to me and my colleagues, “You should open up a Hub in Oakland.” I was like, “I’m not interested in that.” The only Hub I knew was the one in San Francisco. And it was filled with a bunch of white middle-class millennial tech guys doing their techie thing. And I thought, It’s great that this happens. But that’s not what I’m interested in. And I thought that’s what a Hub was. And then in the middle of the night, which is where a lot of my intuition comes, I realised, It doesn’t have to be that. It can be something totally different. It can be what you want it to be. And what I wanted it to be was a space where this movement—what my dear friend Paul Hawken may call “this blessed unrest movement”—was centre. So the real remaking of a world with a spiritual underpinning focused on economic equity and social justice. That’s what needs to happen in Oakland. So at Impact Hub Oakland our front is that we are a co-working space. What we really are is a place of deeper transformation. Yes, people come and co-work, but there’s a deeper conversation happening there all the time. We have amazing events. One of the things that I created with another partner is called COCAP, which is a conference around building the “we” economy. One of my biggest paths on this planet right now has been to address the wealth gap. The fact that we are allowing that to happen in this country and all over the world, the few people who have so much of the money and the power. And the masses who don’t. I grew up as somebody who didn’t have much. I’m from the most devastated communities that weren’t invested in, that aren’t invested in. And I know the beauty of the people who need more resources. But the resources we have are also priceless.

So let’s talk about that. Because that was one of the massive lights that went on when we were together just recently talking about the different kinds of capital, and the relative and the universal.

When we look at the world that we live in there’s really two equally important layers: this relative world and this universal world. And on the relative plane, that’s the plane that we live in, this material world, this computer that we’re talking through. In this relative way of looking at things, the disparity is just enormous about how we live. In this relative world I’m a black American woman who bears an enormous amount of systemic oppression. That impacts us individually, that impacts our communities, and has had a real devastating effect. The history of black people in America, period. We know that history. And all of that needs to be fixed. So I work on the plane of, how can we restructure the systems that we have created? We’ve created a lot of systems that are not working for anybody. Even those that think that they are winning on one end are really not winning. So I work in the relative plane to help make conditions more fair on the planet. More distributed. On the universal side, we are deeply interconnected because we are all from the same source. And that same source has individuated and created me, it created you. And it’s still the same source. And it means that honestly when people say, “We are all one” there’s truth to that. Because we are all born from the same stardust that created all of this.

We are inextricably interconnected. And that’s the beauty of being a human being, having the cognition that there is this absolutely gorgeous amazing living universe and living planet that we are on.

So we have this relative plane that I am this black woman in America that grew up in this family that a system has shit on. And then there’s this universal plane that is way bigger than all of that. And many of my white brothers and sisters who are on this spiritual path, they will often use the universal lens when confronted with systemic issues that they benefit from and say, “Hey but we’re all just one!” And, this is what we call spiritual bypass. Spiritual bypass is when we use the universal truth to justify not working on the relative plane to make things better for all of us. So there’s this, “But we’re all one! It’s all good!” And yes we are all one and all this other shit exists at the same time. Even the whole thing of colour blindness that happens so often makes me crazy. The, “I just see you as a human being! And so I don’t even see you as black!” For me that is actually an insult. You must see me as black. I am a black woman. I have a rich culture that comes with that, that I’m really proud of. And if you can’t see me as a black woman then you also can’t see the system that is oppressing black people. And so therefore you are no longer an ally and you are nobody that I can count on to actually participate in dismantling this system. So this spiritual bypass is a way of inaction really.

Do you think that as a Buddhist, as a dharma teacher, that you would explain that as avoiding suffering?

That they’re trying to avoid suffering when you do that?

The spiritual bypass or colour blindness is a way of avoiding discomfort, avoiding suffering, avoiding over-identifying with the dark side of our relative plane?

You know it might be a way of trying to avoid suffering. But it’s just another form of racism that creates suffering for everyone. And it’s primarily, again, it’s our liberal friends who would vehemently resist being thought of as racist. And the thing is they’re already suffering. And there’s a cognitive dissonance that exists. Would you want to be a black man in America? Would you want to be a black woman in America? As a white person. The answer is always “no.” Because you know that there’s a huge difference in the way life comes at you. And so that cognitive dissonance of knowing that you’re living this privileged life and that the system is built for you to completely keep things as they are. You are this progressive-minded person and there’s this dissonance. And so

privilege is interesting because it is so misunderstood. It is not an emotion or something to be ashamed of. It is structurally created.

A roll of the dice. It’s what you were born into. You were born into this structure where you got more good news than I got. However, where agency comes in is how you use your privilege. This is your responsibility to use your privilege to benefit the whole.

And that’s a lottery. That’s a lottery, it needs to be acknowledged

Yes. That’s right. It’s interesting. You know, a digression. I’m in a battle right now with my landlord at Impact Hub Oakland. White guy who owns everything. Just owns, owns, owns, wants more and more and more. And I look at him and I’m on the other side of the table of him and he’s all dressed and he’s this and that. He’s younger than I am. And I look at him, I think, You know what? The only difference between you and I is that you have a shitload more money than I do and a lot more power. And that was handed to you.

No you’re not equal. So you mentioned the love privilege that you were born into, the fact that you don’t have to unpack all this bad shit and spend 40 years offloading your traumatic childhood or whatever. You have love privilege. That’s a thing that maybe this guy you’re working with doesn’t have. And so because he doesn’t have it he’s still trapped in his own personal suffering and narcissism and can’t see that he’s talking to Konda Mason. Now I know that there is a discomfort in putting social capital, love capital, spiritual capital, however you want to say it, in the same context as financial capital. But I feel like it’s useful to say that what this guy has is financial capital. And in our Western world…

That is God, money is God.

It’s God. So how do we get to a place where all capital is equal? I mean, I’m a white woman with a lot of property and financial capital. I got a big kahuna of a lottery. I was loved. I’ve had a lot of love privilege, which has positioned me perfectly to give. To use everything I have to heal the world around me and to make a contribution that hopefully builds enough healthy soil for the next generation to do better. This man perhaps lives in scarcity and fear. ’Cause no matter how much property he owns, it will never be enough.

That’s right. And that, my dear, is the difference between the different types of capital. There is an unlimited, absolutely abundant unlimited amount of spiritual and social capital. And financial capital, I don’t know how unlimited that is. I go back to the neighbourhood that I grew up in, or any neighbourhoods that are quote unquote “under resourced.” And what you will find, typically, is huge social capital. It’s about family. It’s about community. It’s about what people are now calling the sharing economy. The sharing economy is just a way that people have lived forever who have depended upon each other and shared our resources together to take the next step in life.

Are we going to get lost calling it the share economy and love capital and social capital? Is that going to fuck it up? Financial capital needs to come off its pedestal.

We have given our power to money. And money is what we think makes us powerful. And what’s powerful is our time with each other. What’s powerful is the time that I spend with you. What’s powerful is the time that I spend going to the hospital with my sister, taking care of my neighbour’s cat. We look at the meaningful things and they seem so small. Because we’re all trying to do such big things. I just want to get a grip that as we’re doing all these big and wonderful things, saving the world, also ask, do you know your neighbour? Do you know the person who is cleaning your building? Are we part of each other’s world? We have to see each other. Not be afraid to fill each other’s hearts. And there’s so much fear. We’re driven by fear, lack, all of that.

How do we get beyond it?

Hmm. It’s interesting how crises bring us together. If a crisis was to happen right now in your neighbourhood and you don’t know your neighbours, people suddenly are out in the streets getting to know each other. But after the crisis is over, we go our way. And that shows me that we are built to care for each other.

It is our natural DNA to care and support each other and collaborate. That is really who we are.

So we have to walk towards each other. How do we open our hearts? It’s practice. It can be cultivated. You can give yourself a challenge of, I’m going to do one random act of kindness every day. What if everybody did that?

So I’m meditating, which I used to find really hard with very young children. But now I know if I don’t even sit for 10 minutes a day, there is a powerful resource that I did not plug into. And I will not be able to pause between reaction, there will be no breath. I need to hunt through my day just to carve out that time because it makes all the difference.

For me it is absolutely the meditation because you get to connect to, like you said, that place inside you that is one with all life. And you’re really able to watch yourself ’til you can see your mind and how your mind works and you get to say, “I can make a choice on how my mind works. I can make a choice on the way I react.” Shit can happen always. That’s what life is. It’s always going to happen. And so the difference is how you respond.

And also I think it’s not just your response but it’s your framing which guides the response. So it’s not reaction, breath, then you can respond. But before you react you reframe it.

Because within that there is empathy and compassion.

Yes.

And loving kindness.

Yes.

Okay. So there’s space, right? And suddenly it’s a question of, “I don’t know what that person is going through today.” Something happens—you open yourself up to having compassion for somebody. I’m from LA and I used to drive in traffic a lot, there’s a lot of road rage. So say there’s an accident. You’re trying to get somewhere. You’re concerned about being late. Now pause for a moment. There’s an ambulance. Somebody’s in trouble. As soon as I’m hearing an ambulance I have the habit of going straight into metta for the person. May they be well. May they be safe. And I repeat that over and over, may you be well, may you be safe. And what that does, I’m sending metta to this person that I don’t know. It calms me down. My little worry of being late becomes very minuscule to the fact that somebody could be dying. It puts it in perspective. That right there changes my…

Framing.

Framing! And it cultivates me as a compassionate person. And it feels great. And it’s not just for that person, it’s for me too. ’Cause if I’m in a bad mood and I hear an ambulance—because now it’s so automatic—I go into metta, ah! It’s for me as well. The peace that I receive from the compassion I send out. It works both ways.

Can we talk about your very special life? Because the thing that moves me about your life, I tell a lot of people about it. Half your life is devoted to your spiritual practice. And half your life is devoted to your work in the world. Can you talk about that and also the remarkable opportunity you have to be one of the last students of Jack Kornfield, one of the great spiritual teachers on the planet.

Yeah. It’s a blessing. I met Jack in 1995. He just out of the blue reached out to me. I got a phone call from Jack Kornfield! And I was like Jack Kornfield? It was crazy. And it was really Jack, I thought it was a hoax. And he’d gotten my number from someone and he wanted me to teach with him. I was a yoga teacher at the time. And I said, “Absolutely I’ll teach with you. Are you fucking kidding me?” And so I get on a plane and I meet Jack Kornfield. And he’s been in my world ever since. And then I started coming to Spirit Rock and working and being a yoga teacher at his retreats.

Could you explain just quickly what Spirit Rock is?

Spirit Rock is a Theravada Buddhism meditation centre which is the meditation of insight meditation, Vipassana meditation. It is the centre here on the West Coast, the biggest one. And it is a beautiful place where people sit and have retreats, and learn how to meditate and learn about the dharma and the Buddhist teachings. And create sangha, which is community. As a freelancer and an entrepreneur I built a life so that my spiritual practice has always been there, I mean I don’t even know how to live in the world without it honestly. And Jack is my personal mentor. And he is retiring. And he is just a beautiful man and means the world to me. Things happen in the world and I think, What would Jack do? What would Jack say? And he’s my moral compass. And sometimes I will actually email him and say “Jack…” And he’s always there. I’m really blessed that way. And so now I am in this four-year dharma course, which is requiring a lot of me. There’s a lot of study. Like I’m back in school, and I love it. I’m really learning the dharma. And I am teaching. And I am assistant teaching. And I am sitting. For example at the end of this year I will be sitting for six weeks. I’ll be gone from the end of October to first week of December in a six-week silent meditation on the East Coast. The other part of my life is in the world of business and finance. And how the two must come together. Because what I believe is that we are all deeply interconnected and yet we live our lives in our business life and in finance as if we are not. ’Cause if we were deeply connected, if we worked from that place, if we invested from that place, we could not do the kind of harm that we are doing. And so what has happened is that we have separated ourselves from our own interior and from each other and from all life. And so we as human beings use life as a resource. We use this planet as a resource. That tree is a resource that I have dominion over. That relationship is devastating. All life is sacred. And the planet is a living planet. That’s the story that we need to be telling. Instead, we are financing the destruction of our own living planet. That’s insane. Who destroys their own home? And we can put on our blinders and put up our walls and our fences and not look at it and continue to look at the bank account and make sure that we are continuing to make that money. As investments go up, resources go down. It has an inverse relationship. As this GDP goes up, the planet goes down. What about your children? What about your children’s children? We are completely delusional if we think we’re going to get away with this. We’re all suffering. We’re suffering from our separation, we are trying to buy our way out of our suffering. Buy more, get more, have more. Something is dying in the way we have set this up. The species, the people, the soil, the rainforest. We’d better start connecting the dots. So

there’s really no difference between my dharma work and my finance work.

I would love you to articulate that incredible quadrant that you talk about as a way for everybody to place themselves in this in a pragmatic way without feeling overcome by despair. Because between despair and denial is action. But that has a nuance to it. And you’ve got a great way of articulating that nuance.

In any movement for change there are these four quadrants. And people are typically drawn more to one than the other. So there’s the quadrant of “resist.” There are people who are resisters. They resist the current system that is happening right now, and okay, I’m in America, you know who’s the President of the United States. He who goes unnamed. There is a lot of resistance to this regime and it’s really important. The Women’s March is an example of resistance. The next quadrant is “reform.” The reform quadrant is people who are on the inside of the system. They say, “The only way to do this is to be in government or to be in whatever it might be, the system,” and you may be reforming the place that you work. And that is really important. Then there are the “re-creators.” And the re-creators are like, “You know what? I am over here outside of the system and I’m going to create a new world. I am re-creating.” And my place at Impact Hub Oakland is filled with a lot of re-creators, right? Re-creating a new system that has no waste, for example. The fourth quadrant is “re-imagine.” The re-imaginers are actually way out front, saying, “Come this direction. I have a vision of what the world can look like.” And the re-imaginers can’t do any of it if you don’t have what you’re working towards instead of what you’re working against. And the re-imaginers are those folks who are mainly creatives. ’Cause there’s never a movement without art leading and being a major part of it. The artist, the magicians, the seers. And so those are the four quadrants: resist, reform, re-create and re-imagine. And everybody’s doing their part. And with all of it, change happens. But often what happens is that we set ourselves in one quadrant and say, “That’s not going to work. Why are you resisting? Why are you inside the system? Get out of the system!” No, no, no, no, no, all of it is necessary. And that is what is going to bring about the kind of transformation that we want to happen with the planet.

This conversation features in our bumper Issue 55 of Dumbo Feather—”Creating the next economy.”  For more wisdom, conversations and practical ideas about building a more inclusive economy, purchase the magazine or subscribe

Berry Liberman

Berry Liberman, Dumbo Feather’s publisher and editor-in-chief, drives our passion and purpose. While she’s not immersed in the heady scent of old fashioned flowers, she’s also the Creative Director of Small Giants and a mum to the three cutest kids in the world.

Photography by Angela Decenzo

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