The Evolution of The Shine

A behind-the-scenes look at starting a movement to inspire

Light Watkins
Jun 22, 2015 · 12 min read

After living in L.A. for over twelve years, I realized how Los Angelenos are starved for community, or at least the kind of community that leaves you feeling uplifted.

I also have a wide range of interests:

As a meditation teacher, naturally I see a fit for meditation in many of the activities that I do. If I camp, I meditate. If I take a road trip, I meditate. If I party, I also want to meditate. Like most people, I also love good storytelling. Music-wise, I listen to everything from Tupac to Krishna Das. I am obsessed with asking people (and strangers in particular) hypothetical questions. And I really love stand-up comedy, often listening to Bill Burr, Louis C.K., and Katt Williams while I’m driving or while working out.

There was obviously no place to go in Los Angeles that had the confluence of all of those experiences.

I was sure there were others like me, who were spiritual, but not airy-fairy; who appreciated a good meditation, and who can also cite an array of Jay-Z lyrics applicable to just about any life circumstance.

I decided that a new movement needed to be born.

The closest model I could find to what I had envisioned was called The Conscious Club, a meditation-centric social event started a few years back by two meditation-teacher friends of mine down in Sydney.

Apparently, the Aussies can’t get enough of it, and were selling out 400-seat events two days after they were announced. That gave me hope.

The founders of The Conscious Club, Sydney meditation teachers Gary Garrow and Tim Brown.

But Australia was 4,000 miles away, which reduced my chances of attending to virtually 0%.

LA would be a different challenge.

Unlike Sydney, there are already a plethora of pseudo-spiritual offerings with social components.

Even though I felt that the one I had in mind would be different, I also realized that people would be quick to lump it in with the rest — that in order to stand out and garner the support required for market penetration, my event would have to start small, and build slowly.

I would use the formula I employed to increase the attendance in my first year as a yoga teacher:

  • Keep 90% of the experience the same
  • Be consistent with the schedule (Always show up. Never cancel)
  • Attend to the details
  • Give more value than people are expecting
  • Make people feel like they are a part of the community
  • Have ice-breakers
  • Always play good music

It was through teaching yoga that I discovered the natural ebbs and flows of building a movement.

Even though you may enjoy a surge in attendance, don’t get your hopes up, because it will likely be followed by a significant dip the next week. Then another swell will happen, followed by a less significant dip. Like that.

Over time, there should be less and less fluctuations. And eventually, you reach a point where there are no more dips. Only swells — where everyone in attendance is devoted and committed to the cause.

Coming Up With A Name

In June 2014, I had a meeting with Lisa Schaefer, who was a meditator that I trained a few years before in Chicago. Lisa had relocated to LA and volunteered to help me cultivate more community for meditators.

We met at Cafe Gratitude in Venice and I pitched her my idea to start this event that I had been carrying around for a couple of years.

“Let’s create a space where people could make meaningful connections, and be inspired. There would be soulful music, great food, inspirational storytelling and philanthropy,” I told her.

I envisioned the audience including more than just meditators, yogis, and the spiritually inclined. Instead, I imagined this to be the kind of event that would attract entrepreneurs, creatives, and anyone else looking to tap into their passion and purpose.

We would start small, be consistent, and it would grow into Conscious Club-like numbers after maybe a couple of years, I hoped. The event would be an alcohol-free gathering, with no particular social agenda except to leave people feeling inspired to do more, be more and give more.

She was game, and asked, “What shall we call it?”

“I’m not sure,” I replied.

My friends Allison Kunath and Preston Smiles had recently started a movement called The Love Mob, which hosted community gatherings that they referred to simply as, “The Beat.”

I loved that name. It was so easy to remember, yet slightly ambiguous, and I thought our event should be called “The (something)” as well. But nothing came.

We brainstormed for days. And on my birthday two weeks later, when I finally stopped obsessing over it, “The Shine” came to me, almost as an after thought.

“The SHINE! That’s it!” I announced excitedly to Lisa over the phone.

After a quick internet search we found that “The Shine” was being used for some religious groups — so we added “Movement” to the end, and The Shine Movement was born.

The original Shine poster for our first event on Pico Blvd. in West L.A.

Starting small

Our first event was at a dance studio that we rented for $30 an hour in west L.A.

I sent an email out to my 600 or so meditation students, inviting them, and letting them know it was free and open to the public.

We ended up having about 10 people show up, and only about half of them were people I knew.

That first event consisted of a group meditation, a Q&A, and a short talk about creating inner happiness, which was the subject of a book I had been writing at the time called, The Inner Gym.

I led our first event, which was held in a rented dance studio on Pico Blvd in West L.A. There were about 10 people in attendance.

The numbers grew slowly, and Lisa and I eventually began inviting other speakers to share what they were passionate about.

One presenter came and talked about her work with hosting death and dying dinner parties.

Another week, my salsa teacher, Solomon Russell, gave a talk on how dancing taught him to live more boldly. Afterwards, he led the group in a fun salsa routine.

A singer/songwriter Chris Assaad spoke about the healing power of music.

Fashion designer, Domenica Peterson, shared her passion for sustainable fashion.

Week after week, we enjoyed a variety of topics, and word began to spread.

Typical social media post announcing The Shine.

Hypothetical Questions

I’ve always had a fascination for hypothetical questions. Not only do they serve as perfect ice-breakers, but with the right amount of chutzpah, seeing everyone’s answers could be quite entertaining.

Upon entering The Shine, we would ask participants to write down their answer to our “question of the week” on their name tag.

It could be a silly question like, “Which famous actor would portray you in a movie about your life?” or something more thought-provoking, such as, “If you could spend a day with any non-relative historical figure, who would you choose?”

The answer to the question was your entry to the event, and the opening to fascinating conversations with other participants, many of whom came alone.

This was the question of the night at the March 2015 Shine.

Borrowing a page from The Alchemist

The idea to serve tea at The Shine was inspired by The Alchemist — the part of the story where the main character, Santiago, helps the crystal shop keeper at the top of the hill increase his business by offering refreshing tea served in beautiful crystals glasses to customers.

From my several trips to northern India, I had learned to make fresh lemon, honey and fresh ginger tea, and would prepare it in my kitchen right before each event.

The recipe was simple: hand-squeeze about five organic lemons, pound half a ginger root (using a rock), and mix in a dab of organic honey and a couple of fresh cinnamon sticks.

There was no more perfect beverage for bringing people together.

Anatomy Professor Dr. Beth Phillips came to speak to the group one week in August 2014 about how to eat chocolate mindfully.

The money

Our budget for each weekly event was about $50 ($30 for the space, $10 for the tea, and a little more for miscellaneous supplies).

We weren’t sure how the event was going to pay for itself. But while we were in the growing phase, we wanted as many people as possible to attend, and not have money be a barrier.

Eventually, we began soliciting “suggested” donations of $10 at the end of each event.

I initially thought we could make enough to compensate Lisa for the time she invested in finding speakers and performers, which required hours of scouring the web, and back and forth emails.

But people were only dropping a few bucks into our donation basket, and some weeks, it wasn’t enough to even reimburse me for the space.

At that point, she and I were averaging about 8 hours a week planning for the event, and none of the speakers were being compensated.

It didn’t matter though, because we were so excited and by devoting time to something that left us personally inspired.

Solomon Russell leads The Shine in a salsa routine.

The Shine On Challenge

One day, after collecting about $85 in donations, I suggested to Lisa that we repurpose the entire amount to charity. We can let one of The Shine participants decide how best to spend it.

This became known as The Shine On Challenge.

At the next event, my buddy Kahari was in attendance, and his name was drawn from a bowl by another attendee.

Kahari came up, and we handed him an envelope with $85 and a letter charging him with the task of using our donations to help others in any way he saw fit.

Needless to say, the donations that night doubled, and began increasing exponentially at each event.

This was really the turning point in our numbers growing as well, as word got out about The Shine On Challenge.

Kahari ended up using our donations to fund a scholarship for an arts and music program for kids in Simi Valley.

This is an example of what the Shine On Challenge recipient received at the event.

On the Rise

We started averaging around 40 people a week, and felt that we were outgrowing the dance studio.

My friend Dhru Purohit offered to host us at his company’s loft in Santa Monica.

This meant a potential increase in attendance since we were going to be closer to our target demographic — mainly young entrepreneurs and creatives from Venice and Santa Monica.

Dhru started to help co-produce the events while Lisa left to pursue her passion of starting a Reiki program at a local LA hospital, and a new Shine team began to take shape, comprised mostly of people who had attended a few prior events and felt inspired to volunteer their help.

Dhru and Light pose with LA indie band Magic Giant after the October 2014 Shine.

At this point, we had crowds of 50 or 60 and felt confident enough to approach bigger performers and speakers, such as the indie band Magic Giant.

With the increase in numbers and more high-profile speakers, the Shine On Challenge began averaging around $300.

One of the Shine On Challenge winners, Daniel Vasquez, was a videographer and he made a video of how he spent the money.

This started a trend of people filming their Shine On Challenge, and screening them at the event. Below is Daniel’s first video:

Being a stand-up comedy enthusiast, a personal goal of mine was to have a comedian give the keynote talk.

We were connected to comedian Kyle Cease through another speaker, and he agreed to give the Shine talk at our December 2014 Shine.

That was our biggest event to date, and after Kyle performed, we realized we had outgrown Dhru’s loft.

Transformational comedian Kyle Cease speaking at The Shine in December 2014.

A personal connection at TOMS Shoes organized for us to host our February 2015 Shine at their flagship store on Abbott Kinney in Venice. They had a capacity of about 75.

When word got out that we were being hosted at TOMS, the number of RSVPs for the February 2015 event swelled from our usual 75 to over 200.

We were excited by all of the interest, but disappointed that we could only allow in about 130.

Me thanking the team and sponsors at the end of the February 2015 Shine. There were about 130 people in attendance.

Later that night, two things became clear:

  1. The Shine was too big for TOMS after just one event.
  2. We needed to pay for a bigger space, which meant charging for entry.

The original idea was always to charge at some stage, and now we had to, because when you’re dealing with attendance in the hundreds for a monthly event, you don’t want to chance it with people doing you favors.

We figured we could charge $20 bucks per person and that would be enough to cover our costs and still leave around $400 for The Shine On Challenge.

Ideally, The Shine On Challenge would be capped at $400, because the message we wanted to convey was that you didn’t need a lot of money to do good in the world and help a lot of people.

Shinesters entering the March 2015 event.

We were lucky enough to find another space off of Rose Avenue in Venice that could hold 175 people.

This would be our first time charging, so we weren’t sure what to expect.

The weeks leading up to the event were nerve-racking as we watched registrations trickle in.

Slowly but surely the event started filling up, and it ended up selling out two days before.

This would be our biggest Shine yet, and we were getting closer to the original vision, with hundreds in attendance, food, a short film, proper lighting and audio, and a prominent speaker.

The Shine was evolving.

Dhru and I after setting up 175 chairs for the March 2015 Shine.

Inspirational Storytelling

For the March 2015 Shine, we were lucky enough to secure former MTV personality Quddus Philippe to host, and Robert Egger, the founder of DC Kitchen and LA Kitchen, to speak.

Quddus is a friend, and when he came to the previous Shine, I cornered him at the end and told him that he should consider hosting it. He had won the Shine On Challenge that night, and was so excited that he agreed to host on the spot.

Quddus Philippe welcoming the audience at the March 2015 Shine.

I met Robert at TEDx Venice Beach, where he gave what I thought was the most impactful talk of the day on how small strides can create a tidal wave of change down the line, and Robert was gracious enough to accept my invitation to speak at The Shine.

Quddus lifted our host game to a new level, and Robert’s talk was a big hit. Through them both, we were connected to more high-profile speakers and performers.

LA Kitchen founder, Robert Egger, giving a moving talk on Following From The Front, and Leading from Behind, at the March 2015 Shine.

Starting in April 2015, we hosted The Shine at Full Circle in Venice to a sell-out crowd of nearly 200 people.

Over the next two months, our audiences heard inspirational talks by Inner City Arts co-founder Bob Bates, Hollywood producer and champion for children in need Scott Budnick, and former gang-member James Anderson.

Meditation expert Charlie Knoles preparing to lead the group meditation at the April 2015 Shine.

We’ve given over $6000 through our Shine On Challenge since we started, and our all-volunteer team helps to make each event more amazing than the last.

The Shine Team, from left to right: Alison Burger, Dhru Purohit, Light Watkins, Devon Craig, Megan Monahan, Dani Beutell, Carla Phillips, and Kaya Purohit

What I’ve learned from this experience is you don’t need a lot to start following your passion. If you begin with small steps, stay true to your heart, and accept the help that comes your way, everything will work out in the way it should.

This movement gives the team and I a means to devote our time and energy to causes that feel good in every way, and The Shine has become a living example of how we can all do a lot more with what we already have.

The Shine is having it’s one year anniversary on Wednesday, June 24th and, as usual, we’ve got an incredible line-up of speakers and performers. If you would like to be a part of the most inspiring night of the month, please get your ticket at

Me welcoming the crowd of 200 at the May 2015 Shine, held at Full Circle in Venice, CA.
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