Jim Channon, corporate shaman and basis for Hollywood character, dies at 77

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KAILUA-KONA — Jim Channon, a Hawi resident since 1989, was many things: an artist, a Vietnam veteran, author of the First Earth Battalion operations manual and the world’s first “corporate shaman,” consulting with blue chip companies to enable them to expand their visions.

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KAILUA-KONA — Jim Channon, a Hawi resident since 1989, was many things: an artist, a Vietnam veteran, author of the First Earth Battalion operations manual and the world’s first “corporate shaman,” consulting with blue chip companies to enable them to expand their visions.

But for Brooke Channon Dee and Parker Channon, he was a father with an eager curiosity who involved his kids in explorations into the world around them, including ideas like cloudbursting — the dispersal of clouds with the mind — and pyramid power, the concept that pyramid shapes possess special power.

Channon, whose work with the U.S. military was featured in the book “The Men Who Stare at Goats,” and served as the basis for a character in the film of the same name, died Sept. 10 at his ecohomestead in Hawi. He was 77.

On her ninth birthday, Dee said, she wanted to have an outside party, but the weather was gray, cloudy and rainy. Her father offered a possible solution.

“He said, ‘No, no, no. Come with me, come with me,’” Dee, now 48, said Thursday. “‘Come sit down and we’re just gonna lie on our backs and stare at those clouds and we’re just gonna burst the clouds — burst the clouds with your mind, spread those clouds apart.’”

“And honestly, I can’t remember if it worked or not, but I just remember the experience of that,” she said.

Parker Channon recalled growing up on Army bases, “where the dads I think are more alike than probably any normal group of dads even.”

“There’s a lot of conformity obviously in the military; it may be it’s just the dress and the hair and everything, but it feels like a lot of sameness,” he said. “So dad always seemed so different than everybody else … Open-minded in ways that just nobody else was.”

Their father, Parker Channon said, represented a dichotomy between being a military man of 20 years with two tours of duty in Vietnam while also being an artist with a master of fine arts.

Dee said the experience of his two tours in Vietnam as a young man was the genesis of his outlook and approach to life.

“It was one of those, ‘If I ever get out of this hell, I’m gonna do everything, and I’m gonna figure out how to live better, be better and stronger,” she said. “And then whatever I learn, I’m going to take back to the Army so the future generations of soldiers don’t have to go through this.’”

First Earth Battalion

In 1979, Channon returned from a two-year research trip, presenting Pentagon leaders with the “First Earth Battalion Operations Manual,” according to a report from The Boston Globe.

The book, a copy of which can be found at Channon’s online archive, is the man’s vision for “warrior monks” in the U.S. Army.

“The First Earth wants the action orientation of the warrior, but tempered with the patience and sensitivity and ethics of the monk,” reads a page from the manual. “These are the soldiers who have the power to make paradise. Why go for anything less?”

Channon later pivoted to consulting work for corporations, becoming the first “corporate shaman,” consulting with the likes of AT&T, Du Pont and Whirlpool, according to an article published in Fortune.

“I think for him it was the collision of the two worlds,” Dee said of the corporate shaman moniker. “You know, very straight, stiff corporate guys. And here’s this wild medicine man talking to them not just about numbers and spreadsheets but also heart and soul and vision and corporate values and just kind of turning up the color on that part of their work.”

Parker Channon said he believes his father’s attitude and clear position as an intelligent, curious explorer got people to give him their attention.

“I think his open-minded spirit and intelligence and knowledge about things came through,” he said. “And I think so even though a cynical, skeptical person could put down that guard for a minute and embrace what he was talking about and at least give it a thought.”

Jim Channon’s First Earth Battalion operations manual was covered in the 2004 book “The Men Who Stare at Goats,” by Jon Ronson, which in turn was the basis of the 2009 film. The movie starred Jeff Bridges as Bill Django, an Army officer based on Jim Channon himself.

When the book and film came out, Parker Channon said he was apprehensive and protective about how his dad and his dad’s ideas would be received or interpreted.

But for Jim Channon, his son said, he was happy to have his ideas and thoughts put out there, even if it wasn’t exactly as they were.

“That was a moment of real admiration I had for him, where he wasn’t worried about what people might think,” Parker Channon said. “He thought the bigger ideas were important to get out there and if they made a little fun of him along the way, that just didn’t really matter.”

During one scene in the film, George Clooney’s character is driving through the desert, intently focused on the sky.

Clooney’s passenger, Ewan McGregor, asks him what he’s doing.

“Cloudbursting. Keeps me in shape,” Clooney replies, followed soon thereafter of a shot of a cloud in the sky dispersing.

“I nearly fell out of my chair,” Dee said of that scene. “I was so overwhelmed with delight that that made it into the movie and that they too – these brilliant guys in Hollywood — saw what an awesome concept that is.”

In a letter he left for his children, Jim Channon included a quote from Socrates: “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

“Look for the adventure in life; it is there,” Dee recalled from the letter. “It is your task to seek it out.”

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Dee added that the lessons her father taught her will stay with her, saying she’s never known any different.

“I do believe that the impossible is possible. I do believe that eventually we’ll be able to split a wall and run through it,” she said, with a laugh. “How it applies to my daily life now? I don’t know; maybe it’s just a sense of deep connectiveness to this planet and the people that I share it with and feeling a sense of gratitude about all of it and really, whatever the experience of my life is, I will be aware of it and take note of it and do my best to live it to the fullest because of him.”