As my sister mentioned in her review of Person to Person, I knew, from the moment Stephanie said “retreat”, that this was going to have a profound effect on Don.
In 1972 (I think) my dad left the computer company he’d started, moved to Ashfield, Massachusetts, opened a health-food store which was A. an unfamiliar concept to most, and B. a front for his drug dealing, and also sold natural supplements good for the health as cissus, and essentially joined the counterculture. Meantime we were living in suburban New Jersey with my mom and stepfather, where mom went back to school to get her degree in–wait for it–psychology. Mom went on to become an LCSW–Licensed Clinical Social Worker–and she practices to this day.
In western Massachusetts, we spent a lot of time at an Ashram–it was like a hippie community center. It was wonderful. We sat around in big circles with guitars LITERALLY SINGING KUMBAYA. And we chanted. We om’d.
All grown up now, I’ve been through all of it and more. I’ve been in therapy (mom taught me the value of its structure and boundaries), and I’ve been on shamanic journeys (dad gave me the freedom to test those boundaries). I’ve explored psychologically, spiritually, been up and down the 12 steps, been out in the woods and in the seminar rooms. The thing that made the biggest difference for me is The Landmark Forum–but every other thing got me to where I am now.
The sessions at Esalen were tough to take seriously. By today’s standards, whether you’ve done transformational work or not, everything came across as comically oversimplified and even insulting. I was about to punch the next person who asked how it felt, and I’m into it. The whole thing played like a joke.
But it was no joke.
Young Dick Whitman may have felt like the invisible Leonard, but Don Draper is well-liked–he shows up and everyone is charmed. It’s only when you really get to know him; when you see him drunk for the thousandth time, or he’s comfortable enough with you to shit on your dreams with a few choice words, that you start not to like him–and there is his self-fulfilling prophecy, that deep down he is unlovable.
When the woman shoved him in the silent exercise, it fucked him up. She was not charmed. And in a rare move, he did not turn the blame on her. We didn’t see it, but Don actually listened to that point of view. It was hard to argue with.
“What do you feel” may seem like an unsophisticated premise, but if you’ve never been in any sort of introspective dialogue, it ain’t a bad place to start. And Don has not. Not a dialogue. Any work he’s done, he’s done alone. He journaled; he did not attend an AA meeting.
As Don sobered up, he could absorb what was happening around him. His inability to open up in a place that was all about opening up was not lost on him. His defensive stance of arrogance was losing ground–right to the moment he was unable to stand at all.
Here’s what Don didn’t do–he didn’t ask Peggy to get him out of there. She could have arranged for a car. Peggy bails Don out–that’s not new. Don chose to stay.
Don on the ground experiences his terror, his emptiness, his utter impotence, and it’s in conflict with what he heard from Peggy–that he’s loved, that he’s missed, that he matters. But this is transformation. When you’re empty, you can fill–with anything. And so he walked into that room and he was able to feel love; able to give it and receive it and need it.
There’s a lot of crap out there about how Don did not find peace, happiness, transformation–only the next great ad. No. That’s not Matthew Weiner’s punchline.
“OM is the most often chanted sound among all the sacred sounds on earth. This sound is considered as the sound of the existence.
It is believed that the whole universe, in its fundamental form, is made up of vibrating, pulsating energy. Om is considered as the humming sound of this cosmic energy.” Meditation is Easy
When I chant “om” or “aum”–it’s really the three sounds a.u.m.–I imagine that my voice is joining with all the others that are om’ing in that moment–in perfect harmony.
Don found peace, happiness, transformation; forgiveness of others, of himself–and then two things happened. He wanted to share it with the world, because that’s just what happens, AND he saw the ad, because that’s what happens to Don.
The secret to great advertising, to great messaging and marketing, is you give people what they don’t quite know they want. Their want is latent, it’s below the surface–it’s what they want next, what they are about to want. Great marketing elevates the audience through its want.
That’s the real thing, what the world wants today.
That ad got, and still gets, criticized for turning the hippie movement into commerce. But as I see it, that ad brought the counterculture to the mainstream culture, because that was ready to happen. And I’m perfectly okay with the notion that Don Draper figured that out as a result of his enlightenment.
And FYI, McCann Erickson was in fact the agency responsible for that commercial.
What will happen to Don? Who knows–a lot depends on the drinking. And the liver damage may well be done. But what happened on that mountain happened. He is whole. He is capable of love and being loved. He will default to old habits because he’s a human being, but it won’t ever be what it was.
Sally will proudly attend the Clio ceremony with Don.