We call Global Spirit the first “internal travel” series, because the topics and the discussions so often lead to a kind of inner exploration. Unlike programming on Animal Planet or National Geographic, Global Spirit is not about discovering anything that is outside of yourself. The opening program in our series, “The Spiritual Quest,” was one of our more exciting and challenging to produce.
Our only chance to have renowned author Karen Armstrong on a program was to meet her in New York, on a particular evening that she was free. It was her last night in the U.S. before she flew back to England to work on a new book for the next six or seven months. Since we so wanted to have Karen on our series, and because Tenzin Bob Thurman lived in New York, we decided to ship the Global Spirit set from San Francisco to New York, and do this program in an auditorium at CUNY. For me, as the producer/director, this show had all the excitement of New York, with a new setting, a new crew and even a live audience of 500 people!
For Karen and Bob, it was one of those “first-time meetings” that we try to achieve on Global Spirit -- to bring two people together for the first time, in this case, two highly articulate teachers and authors from distinct religious traditions, who have always wanted to meet each other. You can sense a kind of magic in the air, as they both experience the sheer delight of discovering things about each other they’ve always wanted to know. Yes, it was an uplifting show, with a good amount of spontaneous humor.
As I am originally a filmmaker, on Global Spirit, we typically combine compelling experiential film segments with deep conversation, to let both film and conversation do what each does best. However, “The Spiritual Quest” is one of only two of our programs that doesn’t incorporate what I call “experiential” video segments.
I remember the frustration of not being able to either produce or to find video footage that would somehow illustrate or speak authentically to the personal, spiritual quest of a Karen Armstrong or a Robert Thurman.
“The Spiritual Quest” relies more on the visual power of storytelling and real conversation. The program is full of rich, personal stories including some colorful, surprising, coming-of-age tales like that of the 19-year-old Thurman and his Mexican friend getting turned back from joining Fidel’s revolutionary army by Fidel’s recruiters: “I was 6’ 3” and my Mexican friend was 5’1” and quite rotund. So they said: Ah, here is “Don Quixote and Sancho Panza … but we can’t use you! Quixote, that blonde head of yours will be blown off immediately.”
Our series host Phil Cousineau, a true spiritual seeker himself, who deftly poses the perennial questions, then jumps in to share the occasional hilarity. The personal chemistry between Armstrong and Thurman is stimulating and electric. This is of course something we can never totally predict, or even understand. For a producer, it’s the “x” factor, that mystical psycho-spiritual alchemy between two guests or actors that either ignites or doesn’t. And here we were very fortunate -- both Thurman and Armstrong were witty and they connected effortlessly in humorous ways over a wide range of topics, including their shared monastic periods, their triumphs and disillusionments and their admittedly naïve quests for what they thought of as “enlightenment.” Now older and wiser, they are able to look back and share some of those raw spiritual ambitions of their early 20s, now redefined, but still burning brightly, perhaps as a more enduring spiritual quest for a life of true peace and compassion. Robert Thurman meeting Karen Armstrong was a meeting of two oceans.
“Global Spirit” is an invitation to enter some uncharted seas for a unique inner journey. And while this new series might not have the ratings of an Animal Planet Special or a National Geo Explorer, there are for the brave of heart, some uncharted continents awaiting. - Stephen Olsson, Director of Global Spirit
GLOBAL SPIRIT is a unique inquiry into humankind's belief systems, wisdom traditions, and states of consciousness. Hosted by author and spiritual seeker Phil Cousineau and featuring renowned experts such as Deepak Chopra, Karen Armstrong, Robert Thurman, Riane Eisler and many others, this new critically acclaimed series takes viewers on a mind and soul-expanding journey, exploring the relationships between ancient wisdom traditions, diverse belief systems, world religions, metaphysics and modern science.
Stephen Olsson is a HuffPost blogger.