Introducing The Walden Gathering: A Salon in Nature for Global Good

 A glimpse of the Gathering.

A glimpse of the Gathering.

"We need the tonic of wildness.” — Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Imagine a place where you can completely unplug and gather together with a diverse group of thinkers in nature for the chance to make a change in the world. Wouldn’t it be exciting to become part of a modern community that embraces curiosity and dares to ask unexpected questions? Imagine if the answers had the potential to create a real legacy of new solutions.

“Simplify! Simplify!” Thoreau wrote. It’s hard to worry about your email or social stream while sitting under a 200-year-old tree. You can’t help but think long term.


This is the idea behind the Walden Gathering, a day-long salon-style conversation in which nature is the tonic of inspiration. The difference between a Walden Gathering and other ideas-driven conferences like TED or Aspen Ideas is that we focus on one issue, provide a structure to find solutions and then share them with groups and individuals who can make them happen.

The Power of Time in Nature

The idea emerged soon after my company purchased a 600-acre piece of wilderness in Monterey, California, that we were considering turning into a golf course community. On a dare, I spent a week in a tent on a grassy terrace overlooking Monterey Bay. The land hosts 200-year-old coastal oaks and grassy fields filled with star thistle and purple lupines. For a week, I slept in this wilderness, hiked on the trails and, inspired by Thoreau, simply let nature influence my thoughts.

Every day I felt another layer of the complications of city life fall away. I stopped checking my phone and started thinking more deeply. As I became more immersed in these beautiful surroundings, I focused less on the daily minutiae and more on the present moment. “We should be blessed if we lived in the present moment always,” Thoreau wrote, inspired by Eastern philosophy. I found that being more present let me see more clearly the big picture of what really matters for the future of our planet, society — and this piece of land. We need more open spaces so nature can help us think in better and smarter ways.

I scrapped the golf course plan, and I decided to share my experience. I invited an all-star team of architects, artists, wellness specialists and sustainability professionals to stay in tents and participate in a day-long discussion. The team did an amazing job of re-imagining the property into a sustainable community that leaves the majority of the land untouched and doesn’t remove any of the one million trees. They also pushed me to think about what I could do to add more purpose to the community, which is how the idea for the Walden Gathering emerged.

Simplify and Unplug to Think Deeper


When Thoreau went to live in the Massachusetts woods to experience life away from daily civilization in a one-room cabin next to Walden Pond, he wrote: “Men have become the tools of their tools.” 

We believe that gathering twenty interesting people to talk about the big questions — and then helping them stay connected in order to execute on the solutions — has the chance to create real change.


It’s a philosophy that is more important than ever. As technology and screens are taking a grip of control over our lives, there’s a renaissance of people who are freeing themselves to new kinds of thinking by unplugging and communing with nature. Social media and technology connects us and lets us evolve ideas, but at the same time, many of us are craving community that’s less about our need for the instant gratification of answering emails and more about long-term thinking. Numerous new scientific studies show that spending time in nature will improve your psychological and physical health, and can make you kinder, happier and more creative.

“How do you like the world today?” Thoreau asked.


A Walden Gathering is an invite-only, intimate outdoor retreat that allows the group to focus deeply on global issues. My family is contributing $1,000,000 over the next five years to the Walden Gathering, which will allow for monthly gatherings.

We use a design-thinking format around the table, walking discussions on nature trails, and guided meditation to inspire the group to solve big problems. Instead of the hyper-intense networking of your typical conference, participants spend the entire day outside with a carefully curated small and diverse group of people. While sustainable living is an important recurring discussion, the salon themes can be about any topic that matters to the world. We believe that gathering twenty interesting people to talk about the big questions — and then helping them stay connected in order to execute on the solutions — has the chance to create real change.

We invite experts and non-experts alike because I don’t believe you need to be an expert to create a great solution. The discussions are recorded, and we cater lunch and dinner with farm-to-table food created by a local chef. Everyone is invited to drink wine from the local vineyards into the evening and camp overnight on the bluff in safari-style tents equipped with sleeping cots and bedding.

“Simplify! Simplify!” Thoreau wrote. It’s hard to worry about your email or social stream while sitting under a 200-year-old tree. You can’t help but think long term.

Open Source Solutions


Beyond the gatherings, we’ll work to establish a network through which gathering guests can help to execute on the solutions. We’ll take detailed notes, and after every gathering, publish a findings book. The findings will also be shared with individuals, organizations, and fellows who can focus on execution. Past gatherings have already created a solution for hosting in-laws and guests by creating a roving room that is being built for the community but is also on order for numerous other communities in the US. Another focused on mindfulness started a project to offer nature breaks in VR gaming. The first is being implemented this year. A gathering also initiated our goal to name all the trees on the property. If you name a tree, you don’t want to cut it down. A naming app is in the works for the community, but will also be used by a conservation non-profit.

If the Walden Gathering community is built in the right way, the oak tree will still be there in 200 years, the next generation will still be gathering under it and the solutions that we generate will be in full effect all over the world. I dare you to put down your phone, come outside and join our conversation and ask the questions that really matter for the long term.