Feel your spirit aligning with a greater energy,” says the woman on the CD. “Picture a magnificent golden light surrounding your body.... Perhaps,” she continues, “you would like thinner thighs and a flat stomach.... Your feelings will create the reality.”
Forget world peace. This is meditation, Madison Avenue style, and the woman behind it is Kathy Freston. The second wife of former Viacom chief Tom Freston, she’s released four meditation CDs and two self-help books, including the 2006 best-seller The One: Discovering the Secrets of Soul Mate Love. In June Weinstein Books will release her third title, Quantum Wellness: A Practical and Spiritual Guide to Health and Happiness.
Freston’s booming business is based on her own philosophy—a mix, she says, of Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism and “plain old self-help practical sense.” But unlike others peddling enlightenment, she has an audience beyond the housewives who caught her on Oprah last spring. It also includes her peers—a fast-paced, media-savvy group unaccustomed to browsing the self-help aisle.
The wife of a media titan, Freston is not an obvious guru on the mountaintop. But as the scent of incense wafts through her Upper East Side living room, the 43-year-old insists she’s able to reconcile her spirituality with her lifestyle. Three years ago she became a vegan and stopped wearing leather. “Giving up steak was easy,” she says. “Giving up Manolo Blahniks, that was hard.” But she’s hardly shopping the Whole Earth Catalog. She had a nylon and faux leather handbag custom made at Tod’s and buys vegan shoes at Stella McCartney. Still, she’s not above popping into Payless for pleather. Once, she dragged her friend Wendi Murdoch, whom she met at Herb Allen’s Sun Valley conference, hoping to persuade her of the chain’s merits. No dice. “I find shopping at Payless not very appealing,” says Murdoch.
“Life gives us opportunities to push past our attachments,” Freston says. “I’m grateful for these challenges with shopping.”
To suit her dietary restrictions, Freston calls ahead to restaurants like Le Bernardin to request meat- and dairy-free entrées. On occasion, she’s been able to convert her dining companions. Murdoch has given up poultry, and Tom eschews most animal protein, though he admits he’s not religious about it. “I’m what she calls a select-atarian,” he quips.
Elizabeth Wiatt, a board member of the Natural Resources Defense Council who met Freston through her husband, William Morris Agency CEO Jim Wiatt, recalls Freston begging her to meet with PETA to discuss the connection between global warming and vegetarianism. “We were having a hard enough time moving global warming forward in the mainstream without linking it to PETA,” Wiatt remembers. In the end, though, she relented. “I’ll do anything for Kathy,” she says. “And I’ve been a vegetarian now for two years.”