A Day In The Life Of Zen LA Creative Mr William Fowler
Every morning, Mr William Fowler wakes up at 5:30am, feeds the dog, then walks out of his home in Topanga Canyon and down the slope of his property to a stand-alone writing hut where he meditates. In the winter, he makes this walk through snake-, coyote- and mountain lion-friendly terrain in the dark. Not that he’s bothered. He’s fine to “just sit and watch the breath”, as he describes it, without fear of attack because of the animating spirit of the property protecting him. Well, not exactly a spirit. “The Wizard of Topanga”, as Mr Fowler calls him, was a hermit and writer, Mr Doug Corey, who, for more than 30 years, lived in another cottage on Mr Fowler’s property (his wife Ms Kristin Fowler, a furniture designer, now uses it as her studio). “When I first came to see the place,” Mr Fowler says, “it was all very impersonal – all these people walking around, ho, hum – and I thought, ‘What are all these people doing in my house?’ Then, as I was leaving, a voice in the big rock at the top of the drive told me, ‘You will live here.’ I think that was The Wizard.”
After years working as a copywriter, journalist and creative director in London, Mr Fowler moved to Los Angeles in 2014 to follow Kristin (then his long-distance girlfriend) and work at the meditation and mindfulness app Headspace. In his half decade at the company – one of the early starters in the field of tech-powered wellness – he has held various titles, from head of copy to creative director. But the top of his CV now reads “head of programming”, meaning he oversees much of the audio and visual content that goes into the app. It’s rewarding work, he says. “I’m kind of a cynical person, but I believe that we are doing something that’s contributing to good in the world,” he says of Headspace’s mission. “I think that more people should meditate and if they did, the world would be happier.”
Mr Fowler sits in his English Edwardian armchair upholstered with a Mr Josef Frank textile called “Poisons”
The kitchen remains mostly untouched but Mr Fowler’s wife and furniture designer, Ms Kristin Fowler, made the cabinet doors and attached wooden knobs found in Arezzo, Italy
Mr Fowler himself practises Zen meditation, which, to put it very, very simply, is all about training the mind to focus on nothing in particular. He has gone on several retreats to the Mount Baldy Zen Center – the same monastery at which Mr Leonard Cohen became a monk – but says that he remains “very much a tourist in meditation terms”. Mr Andy Puddicombe, the co-founder of Headspace, was a monk in Myanmar, India, and Tibet for a decade. “By comparison,” says Mr Fowler, “I have only dipped a toe in the water.”
Once his daily dip is done, he says good morning and goodbye to Kristin and drives down to the 18th Street Coffee House in Santa Monica for another form of practice: writing. In the past few years, Mr Fowler has, in his daily two-hour sessions at the café, written a novel (now on submission with United Agents) and a screenplay – all before he goes to his day job.
The hut where Mr Fowler retreats to meditate each morning
“I’ve been very lucky in that I’ve found a job that gives me the space I need to have some kind of art life that is nourishing,” he says. “When I was a bit younger, I thought I would gain access to the kind of life that I wanted by becoming a writer. But what happened was, over time, I didn’t manage to publish anything that sort of rocketed me into the stratosphere of fame and fortune. But I did attain a life that I really liked.” He continues to make time for writing in the same way that the app tries to get people to make time for meditation. “I tried not doing it,” he says, “thinking that if I could just abandon the idea of also being a writer or some kind of artist, then I’d be happier. I wasn’t.”
The Headspace office is down the road in Santa Monica. When Mr Fowler first arrived there, there were six people in the room – now it’s closer to 200. After his day there, he doesn’t go straight home, but takes a detour to Churchill Boxing Club, a gym co-founded by actor and director Mr Peter Berg, the late Hollywood heavyweight Mr Garry Shandling and the record producer Mr Scott Burns. This, for the record, is not just for fitness reasons. “After I train, I’ve missed the traffic,” Mr Fowler says. “I leave Santa Monica at 7:15pm and it takes only 20 minutes to get back. That’s my LA life hack – never sitting in traffic – and I’m willing to make the sacrifices to do that.”
If this all sounds a bit rigorous, even without the bother of gridlock, it’s because it absolutely is. “Kristin would say I’m obsessive about routines,” he says, “but I just I find routine incredibly comforting. There’s a great Leonard Cohen lyric, ‘I’m living in this temple where they tell you what to do.’ He also said that the thing about being a monk is that it relieves you of the terrible burden of deciding how to spend your time.”
Long before he came to Los Angeles, at the very beginning of his career, Mr Fowler worked for a few years with Sir Paul Smith (the designer helped him decide how to spend his time by having him make tea and pick up his dry-cleaning, he jokes), and he still dresses smartly in Sir Paul’s suits most days (though he was easily tempted into some other choice items from the likes of RRL, KAPITAL and Story Mfg. for his MR PORTER shoot). He clearly likes nice things – things like the golden Ford Mustang parked out back. Things that, no matter how nice, are the antithesis of a tidy, Zen-gardened mind, right? Or is it, in fact, the case that our exterior worlds, our homes, clothes, cars and such, are simply continuations of our minds?
“I think that my home and my stuff are a reflection of my internal landscape,” he says. “But what you learn from meditation is that the sensation of wanting and the sensation of having are not actually really related at all. It’s sort of pleasurable to want something. It’s much less satisfying to have something. In the end, I’m thrown back on those inner resources. They’re just a better solution to the happiness problem.”
Except for its radio, Mr Fowler’s 1968 Ford Mustang GT 302 has not been modified