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Natural Awakenings Atlanta

Bill Fleming: Communitarian, Activist, Musician and All-Around Good Guy

Aug 04, 2021 06:00AM ● By Paul Chen

Bill Fleming, left, plays music with other 4th grade parents, 2004 (Photo: Paul Chen)

First, full disclosure: Bill Fleming, environmental activist, co-founder of Get Off the Grid Fest and the subject of our cover story, is a friend of mine. We’ve known each other for over two decades; our kids were in the same class for 12 years. We don’t talk often or visit much, but we get on extremely well.

If anyone has ever walked his talk, it’s Bill. For many years he drove what seemed like an ancient Chevy Suburban. It was special, though; it used biodiesel fuel. I’m glad I called to make sure I got the story straight; my memory of a conversation was that he would drive up to McDonald’s restaurants, pick up some of their used cooking oil, and pour it into his tank. It turns out that was incorrect; the oil first must be converted into usable fuel. Bill was buying fuel from someone who visited places like McDonald’s and then processed the oil into usable fuel. 

Bill is always willing to lend a hand in big and meaningful ways. When I shared fourth-grade-class parent responsibilities with another parent, we asked Bill to host the annual camping trip on his land, and he said “yes” immediately. When my son chose to make his 8th-grade cello recital a fundraising event for Southface Institute, Bill agreed to play on several songs. When I had friends interested in the community he was building, he took the whole day to show them around. And when I wanted to throw my former wife, Pam, an unforgettable 60th birthday party, he was all in with his band. Not only did he lend the occasion his always-on, upbeat energy, Bill, with no prompting from me, wrote her a personalized birthday song.

So, when Bill called to ask about support for Get Off the Grid Fest, it was an easy “yes” to support him. First and foremost, the topic of natural, sustainable living falls well within our editorial scope. I also knew that Bill presents only fabulous events. The only real hesitancy was that the Fest would be held in Chattanooga—not exactly within our franchise distribution zone. But it’s only a couple of hours away, and the music in and of itself would be a draw.

Now that I know more about it, I couldn’t be more positive about recommending readers make the drive to Chattanooga. For sure, you’re going to learn useful things. And for sure, you’re going to have fun. But most of all, the festival addresses the most important issue facing all of humanity right now: We all need to learn how we can do our part in saving this planet from ourselves.

Bill, thank you for being you and for doing all you can to ensure that this existential crisis will be put behind us. 

I’ve turned over responsibility for this letter to our managing editor for a while; she’ll be back in September. But I want to make a plug for retreats, the subject of last month’s cover story.

Here at Natural Awakenings, we’re all about stimulating and accelerating awakening, and retreats have played a huge part in my awakening.

All of the retreats I’ve taken have been spiritual in nature. One time, as our group was coming out of meditation, our retreat leader asked how the meditation went. Catching the look on my face, he noted that I must have had a good one. Indeed. It was the first time I arose from meditation with pure joy exploding from my heart. I remember grinning from ear to ear and not being able to stop.

Another time, I experienced one of the very few times that I received an intuitive download of truth. Until recently, I have not done anything to develop, much less pay attention to, my intuition. While the experience only lasted a few moments, the amount of information received about the nature of my relationship with someone very close to me was quite significant.

Retreats should be on everyone’s shortlist of essential self-care practices. Take one or two a year, whether personal in nature or led by a facilitator. Resting, reflecting and renewing: we all need a lot more of them. ❧

Paul Chen has been owner/publisher of Natural Awakenings Atlanta franchise since January 2017. He is a practicing Buddhist and a founding member of East Lake Commons, a cohousing community.

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