How do you stay sane in a world careening toward chaos?
Hundreds of Southern Californians have found an antidote in jumping out of bed before dawn to spend 2 1/2 hours at their local weekly meeting of the Inside Edge--an organization that's been described as "a watering hole for the soul," "an on-going reunion of self-help junkies," "the next evolutionary step in networking," and "the New Age's answer to the Kiwanis Club."
Founded in October, 1985, by cookbook authors Paul and Diana von Welanetz, the organization has expanded from its original nucleus of 55 members, who met weekly at a Beverly Hills restaurant, to meetings in Irvine, Encino, San Diego and Manhattan Beach. Inside Edge practitioners now number 500 and the Von Welanetzes, who say their organization is "beyond networking" ("What we do here is heart networking . . . "), expect to open chapters next year in the Pasadena/Glendale area, San Juan Capistrano/San Clemente, Oxnard/Ventura/Santa Barbara and San Francisco.
Depending on locale, meetings are held on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday mornings at local restaurants or, in the case of the recently launched Manhattan Beach chapter, at the Manhattan Country Club.
A Shot of Optimism
Members typically gather by 6 a.m. for the shot of optimism they say comes from simply spending time with so many positive thinkers, and to hear motivational speakers such as "The Aquarian Conspiracy" author Marilyn Ferguson, noted cancer specialist Dr. Carl Simonton and others carrying an upbeat and frequently metaphysical message. Also lecturing in recent months have been Assemblyman John Vasconcellos (creator of California's State Task Force on Self-Esteem and Personal and Social Responsibility), author Warren Farrell ("Why Men Are the Way They Are") and media psychologist/author Barbara de Angelis ("How to Make Love All the Time").
Live music is performed as participants and their guests enter the restaurant, and most members have breakfast. But more important, according to Inside Edge devotees, is the opportunity to visit with positive-thinking friends and to tap into a small but powerful support system. (Typical question from one member to another: "What are you doing to love yourself more this week?") And there's the opportunity to hug total strangers, as some meetings include a hug-a-thon in which participants move around the room, giving and receiving as many hugs as possible.
Susan Jeffers, author of "Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway," considers her weekly visits to the Beverly Hills restaurant 385 North to be her weapon against the increasingly grim news of the day.
"This is a very negative world and this is an opportunity to be with very positive people who want to expand their vision . . . and create a better world," the psychotherapist turned author says. "My husband and I say that Tuesday starts our week."
When Jeffers joined the Santa Monica-based group two years ago as a founding member, she had recently moved to Los Angeles and decided to write a book. She noticed there were several successful authors in the organization and quickly created the first of many Inside Edge sub-groups: The Writer's Edge. (Others include the Film Edge, the Business Edge, the Razor's Edge (a men's group), and the Curving Edge (a women's group).)
"I was encouraged by people who had published books and, in fact, they gave me ideas I had never thought of," Jeffers recalls. "When you're in the presence of successful people it rubs off."
(Her book, published earlier this year, is in its third printing and is scheduled for editions in Australia, England, Holland and Argentina.)
Jeffers, who has progressed from aspiring writer to successful author in less than two years time, echoes the sentiments of many Inside Edge regulars: "I realize I'm capable of doing in life so much more--just as a result of being with people who support your growing all the time. We consider it our extended family of choice."
The Von Welanetzes, who together have authored such cookbooks as "With Love From Your Kitchen" and once hosted a cable television show on cooking and entertaining, like to point out that, although business successes often flow from interactions at their organization, that is not the group's true purpose.
The two founded the non-political, nonsectarian organization in late 1985 after returning from a tour of the Soviet Union with other New Age "citizen diplomats" such as actor Dennis Weaver and his wife, Gerry (both on the organization's board of advisers), (Hindu) Swami Satchidananda, futurist Patricia Sun (also on the board), and actor Mike Farrell. (Others on the board include Bill Galt, founder of the Good Earth restaurant chain, futurist Barbara Marx Hubbard and "One Minute Manager" author Ken Blanchard.)