Editor’s Desk: A Conversation with Michael Toms – Introduction

POSTED March 27, 2024 IN

Recently I re-connected with Kelly Townsend, a good friend of mine and of Michael Toms (who, most of you know was co-founder of New Dimensions and my husband for 42 years until his passing in 2013). Kelly was asked to introduce Michael at a gathering at the graduate school of the California Institute of Integral Studies, known as CIIS, in San Francisco.

Kelly archived his introduction to Michael and recently sent it to me.

I was transported to the earlier days of the beginnings of New Dimensions as well as the men’s group that Michael was a part of when we lived in Mendocino County in California.

Enjoy his intro as I did:

A Conversation with Michael Toms—Introduction

Hello. My name is Kelly Townsend. I’d like to welcome you to our speaker event tonight—A Conversation With Michael Toms.

By way of introduction I’d like to tell you a bit of a story of how my world intersected with Michael’s.

Some thirty-odd years ago, late on summer nights, in muggy Memphis, Tennessee, while lying in my girlfriend’s bedroom, I remember hearing a gentle voice streaming from the radio speakers, asking penetrating questions of incredible thinkers of the time—such as the visionary designer, architect and inventor Buckminister Fuller, the great mythologist Joseph Campbell, Pulitzer Prize nominee Poet Maya Angelou, and Integrative Medicine Physician Dr. Andrew Weil. I was invariably transported, or more accurately, propelled into worlds where imagination and creativity seemed limitless. I followed their conversations in awe. These radio moments took me far beyond the limits of my own hometown, Memphis, Tennessee.

Turns out I was listening to Michael Toms and New Dimensions Radio.

Through the years, no matter where I lived, I found that if I searched the public radio dial, I could generally find a station that aired New Dimensions. So it was that I found myself stimulated by innovators and leading edge thinkers in every field, from mythology and psychology, physics and poetry, ecology and planetary systems, healers, dreamers, alchemists, rinpoches, priests, and even priestesses such as Starhawk.

Fast forward to the mid-late 1980’s—I’m newly married, living in the hills of Mendocino County. I find myself invited into a small men’s group with four other core-members. Within this group, this Medicine Lodge of sorts, I recognize the familiar voice of Michael Toms. I find myself fascinated by the notion of spending evenings with someone who has offered me so much over the years, a man who has seemingly been a mentor to me via the radio waves.

During those eight years, we were never any sort of process group—though we supported each other through life’s losses and transitions, and certainly there were many of those. But most of the time, we came together just to be together, to connect and talk about whatever was up—the day, the week, movies, politics (the politics of relationship.) Even if sports came up it was all right with me because being together in the moment, something more was being transmitted, something nonverbal—a kind of a bond. If I can speak for Michael, I think some nights he may have come just to leave the bigger world behind, to leave the world of ideas at the office for awhile.

But invariably, I would get a stirring and I’d want to know who Michael had been interviewing, what sort of ideas had been coming up, what kind of people were they? How was it to spend a week in London at the home of Sir Laurens van der Post in dialogue? Or, what was it like to be invited by the Dalai Lama for a week of Synthesis Dialogues—a gathering of 30 or so leaders in their fields—each one representing either Science, Business, Education, Spirituality, Medicine,—or in Michael & Justine’s case—Media. And, maybe a bit tired but ever compassionate, with that elfin-Irish glint in his eye, Michael would throw me a bone—or maybe even a golden nugget—and we’d be off, transported into a world far more fascinating than any world that Disney might ever provide.

Once I heard the eloquent naturalist Terry Tempest Williams speak at a celebration for New Dimensions. She told of her life in Utah, growing up as a fifth-generation Mormon, of how small her worldview had been. She began hearing the voices of New Dimensions on the radio and she heard things she’d never considered. Such as… Other Mythologies….Such as… Other Creation Stories. It seemed there were people out there who believed the world had begun in ways far different from the story she had always been told—of a couple… in a garden… a woman… born from a man’s bone. This opened Terry’s spiritual world exponentially. That evening, I heard Terry Tempest Williams say that New Dimensions had literally saved her life.

I can echo those sentiments with some variation. At times when I have felt pessimistic about our politics, or the future of the world, or for some reason or other felt isolated in my views, I might happen to catch an interview on New Dimensions Radio, giving me some perspective, helping me see the problem from a holistic view, encouraging me to step back from my own personal angst, and identify with a worldwide community, a network of sorts, a web of like minds, who are willing to acknowledge our problems and challenges, and are able to identify and create solutions. There is a curative power there. Isolation is disempowering. Identifying with community is empowering.

By 1971, Michael Toms had risen to the top of his advertising field, only to find, as Joseph Campbell said, that his ladder had been attached to the wrong wall. Michael and Justine met in the early 1970’s and went on a vision quest of sorts—traveling through the United States for about four months. They returned to the Bay Area and in 1973 Michael and Justine founded New Dimensions Radio—getting their start with a live half-hour program on KQED, that soon thereafter evolved into a four-hour show. Today, New Dimensions can be heard on over 400 stations nationwide, on various international networks, and on the Sirius Satellite Network. Michael and Justine have conducted over four thousand interviews, each relevant to our changing world. Michael has interviewed more of the leading thinkers concerning what Joanna Macy calls The Great Turning than any other journalist in the world.

He is a former board member of KQED Incorporated, a founding board member of KZYX & Z radio, a former senior acquisitions editor for HarperSanFrancisco, where he midwifed over 50 titles including books by Jean Houston, Joseph Chilton Pearce, and Sogyal Rinpoche.

He is co-author with his partner, Justine, of the book True Work: Doing What You Love and Loving What You Do and is the author of the bestselling A Time for Choices: Deep Dialogues for Deep Democracy. His nationally acclaimed book, An Open Life: Joseph Campbell in Conversation with Michael Toms, has sold more than two hundred thousand copies.

Once called the Socrates of radio, he has received numerous awards for his broadcast endeavors, including two honorary doctorates for his vanguard work in media, and a doctorate in theology from St. Basil the Great Seminary in Sydney, Australia for his “contribution to the spiritual benefit of humanity on the planet.” At the request of CIIS founder Haridas Chauduri’s wife, Bina, Michael joined the Board of Directors of the California Institute of Asian Studies and served as Chairman from 1979-1982, during which time the name was changed from Asian Studies to California Institute of Integral Studies.

Michael and Justine are not only a shining example of a couple thriving in their relationship, but also as a team working together. While Michael conducts the majority of New Dimensions interviews, Justine, as executive producer, deftly selects all the well-suited music for the interview breaks. Michael has been an exceptional role model for his commitment to turning his quest for wisdom, knowledge and understanding into a viable livelihood, embodying his core belief that one’s passion can become one’s work.

It is my great pleasure to introduce to you, a true planetary citizen, and—if I may say so —an embodiment of Integral Learning. Ladies and Gentlemen, please join me in a warm welcome for Michael Toms.






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