I may not have chosen a lucrative career but there’s no one better than Peter Coyote to help me see that there are far more valuable riches than money. Bottom line: I didn’t earn much for this story but got to spend nearly three hours with Peter at his home in the west Sonoma County hils, drinking coffee, telling jokes and talking to him about his books, his life as an actor and his political activism. Here’s an excerpt from the story, for the full feature, click here to read it in The Press Democrat.

Now an ordained Buddhist priest, Coyote is a modern renaissance man with more than 140 acting credits, including playing the scientist Keys in “E.T. the Extra Terrestrial.”

He’s a guitarist, singer and songwriter, and the author of two memoirs, “Sleeping Where I Fall” about the counterculture figures he knew in his youth, and “The Rainman’s Third Cure” about his mentors.

Photo of Peter Coyote by Alvin Jornada of The Press Democrat

Yet he may be best known, or most heard, as the authoritative narrator of Ken Burns’ documentaries, including “The Vietnam War,” “The Roosevelts” and “Country Music.”

Vulture, an online culture magazine, called him “God’s stenographer” and said, “His calm, cowboy-around-a-campfire timbre is basically the voice of America.”

At the Zen center, Coyote began teaching acting and “started to realize there were certain parallels between meditative states and the freedom of improvised states.”

He began experimenting with masks, and “learned that if I worked with you by giving you exercises that would push you against the edges of yourself, I’m going to change your feelings.”

By enacting scenarios “where you don’t have time to think, you have to leap into ridiculous situations. Your life is not at risk, but your ego is at risk.”

Coyote celebrated his 80th birthday last fall, and though the pandemic has halted his in-person classes, he occasionally conducts mask workshops online.

“In 40 years of doing these classes, when I put a mask on you and hold a mirror up in front of you, I’ve never had a person not discover a character, cold sober, and have 10 minutes of absolute freedom, no self criticism, no self consciousness.”

Coyote calls these tastes of liberation “enlightenment light.” Then he makes his pitch for meditation and explains that we have no fixed self.

“There’s no organ that corresponds to yourself. It’s just an awareness,” he said.