When Gary Gorrow and Tim Brown met 15 years ago, both men were stuck in a career rut, providing the impetus to try something a little unorthodox.
They founded The Conscious Club, a sort of anti-nightclub that eschews the culture of drinking to excess - and its eventual side-effect of memory loss - in favour of stimulating music, meditation, good food and thought-provoking entertainment.
“The concept was to create a fun night out, which was social, interesting and uplifting, rather than one where people ended up with a hangover,” says Gorrow, 35.
The first Conscious Club event at Bondi ran in August 2011. “We had 210 paying customers to that event and that was the birth of the Conscious Club," says Brown, 39.
"Over the last 18 months we've outgrown the venue, and we have moved to the Paddington Town Hall. The last event in January 2013, 600 people attended. We had to turn away 200 people."
Each event features live music, a short film, and a key note speaker, group meditation, and concludes with a vegetarian feast. One past speaker was Australian of the Year and Oz Harvest founder, Ronnie Khan.
The common ground between the two founders was meditation, which each had discovered as their respective careers stalled.
Gorrow had tried his hand at various production roles in the film industry, and then left to work with his brother George Gorrow, the man behind the Ksubi fashion label.
“The film and fashion industry is really stressful. I was burnt out and I felt as though my life was heading down the toilet. I had to get out and that's why I turned to meditation,” he says.
During his time in the fashion industry, Gorrow noted how his brother was always calm. Later, he discovered that George had learnt to meditate a year earlier.
“I didn't know that he was practising meditation. He kept it a secret, but it did explain why he kept calm under stressful conditions.”
Gorrow decided to try meditation and attended classes with meditation expert Thom Knoles.
Meanwhile, Brown had just returned from Uzbekistan where he'd been working for two years helping to reform the country's agricultural sector.
“I came back from overseas in 1998. I found it was tough coming home and readjusting to Western society,” he says.
Brown's aunt suggested he try meditation.
“At first I scoffed – meditation wasn't on my radar. I was a typical beer drinker. I was out partying at nights and trying to find a job through the day.”
Brown says the decision to attend meditation classes changed his life. “After a few classes, I had more energy and more clarity in my thoughts. I met Gary and we had an instant rapport."
Later, the two men studied to become meditation teachers and hold classes themselves.
“We got talking one day,” Brown says. “Our clients were saying a similar thing, once they started attending meditation classes; they were no longer interested in going to the pub and getting pissed.”
The men discussed the idea of bringing people together in a much larger forum. The idea for the Conscious Club was born.
“Our aim is to make meditation approachable, take away the nonsense and make it very relevant to modern-day living, rather than some airy-fairy stuff,” said Brown. “We get right down to the nuts and bolts of making it workable. We even have our offices opposite a pub. We like this as it shows people we are right in the thick of it.”
“There is no financial gain here,” adds Gorrow. “We are just facilitating something that needed to happen.”
Enquiries to run similar events interstate and internationally are under way.
“We've received calls from people wanting to host Conscious Club events. We have given it a distinct flavour. The challenge will be to maintain the integrity, while allowing people to enjoy the whole experience, here and overseas.”
Both men agree that societal pressure is a huge issue, and that expectations on men are increasing.
“Being the bread-winner is no longer enough, men need to be more intuitive and connect to women and children. The lack of contact between fathers and children is a massive issue. We're both fathers and we have made a conscious decision to spend time with our children,” Brown says.
“A colleague who works in the finance industry came to one event. His job is highly stressful. He said the night was life-changing. He made five or six friends. One of the rules of the Conscious Club event is you must introduce yourself to three people. Everyone wants to connect.”
The audience mix is equally male and female, with 50 per cent coming for social reasons, Gorrow says. "It's a great place to meet people. Forget about online dating. If you're a single this is the best place to be."