The Reign of Mind is Over

Hey Soulmate,

The Escape: Guide to Big Sur
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Something changed these past few weeks. I got bored with my mind. It feels like the final baton hand-off from my head to my heart. The reign of mind is over. Phew. I’ve been trying to figure it all out. The big IT, ie. what is it all about? Who are we and why are we here? I thought that if I could figure that out then I could finally relax and just be. Be ok with the world as it is. Only then could I really play. The baton pass was catalyzed two weekends ago at the end of the spiritual seeker rainbow, the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, CA. It was there in the 1970s that Huxley, Maslow, Leonard, Murphy and others gave the finger to conventional society and explored the big IT at every level. I was there for a weekend retreat called The Return, led by the Founder of Esalen’s son and healer in his own right Mac Murphy and Zach Bell, an experience maker and entrepreneur. Together they are curating a conversation around the next chapter of the Human Potential Movement. It was magical and idyllic and hot springs full of naked people.

One morning we went on a guided hike into a canyon where our guide, imagine Hemingway goes to Burning Man, placed each of us in a “special spot” under the trees to meditate and write on the question, “How can community support our individuality?” The first ten minutes of my hour meditation was spent paralyzed by a voice inside my head pressuring me to, “BE PROFOUND!”

Then I gave up and wrote:

Huxley at Esalen

“You call this a “special spot”? Pfff. This spot is a mound of dirt and I can feel rocks poking me in the ass. This spot is right on the path with loud hikers and two kids shooting a sling shot. Is that a freeway I hear? This is not the spot I imagined. I’d like an aesthetically pleasing spot that really inspires reflection and truth please. A picturesque spot I can Instagram #unfiltered. The perfect spot would be completely private and covered in soft, plush, bug-free moss. Nature’s mattress without the pea. In this spot I could rest, quiet the mind, take off all my masks, and be free. But not this spot. No, definitely not this one. I want a luxurious pain-free spot with occasional back-rubs and a view of the ocean. In that spot I’ll find enlightenment and total freedom. In that spot I will no longer care about what spot I’ve been assigned! Who says I need to take what I’ve been given, fuck that! I deserve a better spot. There is a spot by the river where someone just left. Maybe I should take her spot. Can I ask for another spot? If I tell you I want another spot you will judge me as superficial and spiritually retarded. You will tell me I am suffering from victim consciousness and tell me to leave and demand I find another spot elsewhere. Then, I’ll be alone. (Tiny pause) Wait, who are you to tell ME upon which spot I should sit? Do you know who I am?! You have no idea the badass spots I’ve sat in. The spots I have seen. Wow, such incredible, mind-blowing spots. How lucky I’ve been. Ugh, you are right, I should just appreciate the spot I’m in. I’m being an asshole. Listen to that creek you selfish little brat. Suck it up and be grateful for this spot. I probably don’t deserve it. Who complains in a glorious cathedral of ancient trees? I wish I could tear this part out, the part for which no spot is ever good enough. Wait, do you smell that? It smells like pancakes! Whaaat? Where are the pancakes? I’m in the woods! The smell of pancakes and a perfect sunbeam hitting the green leaves to my immediate right. This spot rocks!”

Once I allowed the mind to swing from one extreme to the other, I was able to break from the rabbitty mind fuck of ego/judgement itself. Ugh. I’m exhausted. I could smoke the proverbial cigarette. Ha. The idea that one spot is greater or lesser, a five star portal to freedom. As I sat in the space just outside the mind spin I could feel the undercurrent of fear fueling it. The tension of deep longing to connect completely to you Soulmate, to community, to God and the equal terror of losing my perceived “special-ness”, my individuality, my me-ness. And under that of course is the fear of death and a sweet layer of grief that is worried that if I’m not special and no special soul remains, then there is nothing left of my father. He wouldn’t be special either. And that I can’t abide.

In the end, Soulmate, who the F knows? Who knows the answer to the big IT? So sweet (and intense) is the mind’s longing to figure it out, to beat the video game. To be both player and played. To be both breather and breath. I like to fantasize that once we die we wake up in a rad realm laughing at all the things we believed over here. There we can project any character we have played throughout our many lifetimes and feel connection in dimensions beyond what our human mind is capable of perceiving.  For now, I’m going to go see about the pancakes.

Love, B

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The Reign of Mind is Over

Where the F are you?

Hey Soulmate,

I gave a TEDx talk a week ago in Phoenix! It is a super vulnerable, rock bottom to recovery kind of talk about addiction to work and external validation. It is also about the time I was hijacked by my soul and rerouted toward a sense of inner fulfillment. The internet will soon be the judge. When I got home I felt a little high and speedy and then I started a swift and humbling descent. Something was brewing. I started to feel agitated, hungry, and horny. I found myself back on Tinder, Hinge, and OkCupid, judging and swiping away. I ate a giant Cinnabon. I don’t eat Cinnabons. Three days later I went to see my therapist and surprised myself by bursting into tears talking about you.

A new waving of longing was moving through. Longing for you. The return of this longing made me realize that I have been without it for the first time in my entire life these past six months. I was floating in a space of fulfillment and faith that I would find you. I was free.  So when the wave of longing came through I judged it. “Oh no, not again, no more longing.” I thought I beat it. It became clear that the particles making up this wave of longing are all the rad, life moments spent without you. I’m sitting Shiva for all the memories we could have shared. For example, I would have liked for you to have been there in the audience when I gave my TEDx talk reminding me that if I peed myself and burst into tears your love would remain same-same. I grieve every missed New Year’s Eve, my best friends’ weddings, and waking up with you in the middle of the Serengeti on a crazy, awesome Safari in Tanzania. I grieve all the moments I could have been touched by you. I grieve all the “yous” you have been as you stretched into manhood. And the weddings of your best friends’ and siblings and possibly their first born. Most of all, I grieve the relationship you would have had with my father. He would have breathed a deep sigh of relief to see me loved by you. I grieve the marriage he will never witness and the speech he will never give.

This longing is sweet and animal and only knows longing. I know it well and in all its forms. Right now it is about you but it is just the aching, empty space that follows any desire. I think, next to death, it a universal human experience. I can’t beat it when the wave comes through and instead of distracting myself with real or virtual sugar and judging it, I want to harness it. According to Einstein, “Feeling and longing are the motive behavior behind all human endeavor and human creations.” So even though I can’t wait for us to project things each other and realize it and make-up and have tons of sex, I’ll lean into this longing and see where it takes me.

Miss you.

Bristol

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Where the F are you?

Face Tattoos & Forgiveness

Hey Soulmate,

So I went to prison this past weekend. I was volunteering with the Freedom to Choose Project in Madera, CA at the Central California Women’s Facility. There is a Cannes award-winning, short documentary about it here! When we first entered the three phases of security to get into the prison it reminded me of a school campus but a school surrounded by a fourteen foot fence covered in barbed wire, rows of concrete buildings, and a yard patrolled by huge, white guys with guns. A few of the guards were on man-sized tricycles with thick tires. Guns and tricycles. It was surreal.

I felt like a freshman on The Senior Varsity Service team. Most of the volunteers had been coming to this prison for over 10 years and they all seemed to have a faith and openness and unconditional love for these inmates that I didn’t. I’ve been trying on this faith thing and it is still somewhat sporadic depending on my mood and the whether or not it is working for my ego. My job was to take the inmate’s IDs at the entrance of the gymnasium where we were holding the workshop. I said “Good Morning” over 150 times and as each face met mine I could feel something happening. It was both anti-climactic and profound. First, these women look exactly like everyone else on the outside, save the few who looked like they had been cast in the opening credits of Orange is the New Black (a series on Netflix). They were every race, surprisingly old and devastatingly young, hard and soft, feminine and masculine. As we took our seats I found myself surrounded by a few older, Latina women with scars and missing teeth and young, timid eyes. They had been to the workshop before and when I told them it was my first time they smiled and welcomed me.

We all sat and listened to the workshop facilitators at the front talk about our fight or flight response, how the animal part of our brain works, and how to breathe, slow things down, and choose a response. They quoted the legendary holocaust survivor and psychologist, Viktor Frankl, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

We broke into groups of three and took turns getting vulnerable, listening without judgement, and observing. I went in thinking I was there to teach inmates a few skills I have learned lately to manage emotions, heal, and forgive. But of course I had my ego handed to me over and over by the wisdom of these women, leaving me deeply humbled.

When it was my turn in the client chair I told them about the times I unconsciously abandoned myself and others and dressed it up as work and busyness. I told them how I recently discovered my primary motivation for everything I did was a seemingly young desire to be “good”. They listened intently and no matter how hard I looked for judgment of my champagne problems I couldn’t find it. I heard about their lives, their abuse, their actual abandonment by their parents, their botched suicides, their kids in prison, their parents in prison, and their siblings on Death Row. They knew Shakespearean level betrayal. The stuff I only watch movies about. The stuff I get furious about when I look at the injustice of the world and especially how many people of color, from poor neighborhoods go to prison, get out, go back to prison and often for life. I felt ashamed and watched my mind judge the beauty of my life as wrong. I wanted to know what they did so I could stop caring so unconditionally for them. If I knew their “badness” then maybe I would feel better about myself, the system, and the world.

I went home that night and had a dream that remained intact long after I awoke. It wasn’t abstract or blurry. It was absolutely clear. In my dream a man with a scarred face showed up and handed me a toddler. She was wiggling about and on the verge of crying and I awkwardly held her at arm’s length. “She is yours,” he said to me. I was confused. Only a man could ever experience a moment of confusion around ownership of a child. She looked exactly like me. He was patient and it was clear he had been beaten beyond recognition. The little one climbed into my arms and put her arms around my neck. I felt awkward, a hesitant new mother. The man told me, “whenever she needed you, you always just said ‘Hand me the computer.'” It is beyond awkward to recollect a thought about a thought about an experience in a dream but that is exactly what is happening. I awoke confused and half baked, an awareness just before dawn.

The second day in the prison was life changing. Soulmate, I can’t wait to take you there! My heart was wide open. I shared my dream with a much too young looking woman with thick eyeliner, three teardrop tattoos, and anxious, tapping feet. With her as my witness I recognized the parts I had abandoned along the way; the playful, young, innocent, soft, girly and emotional parts. All the parts that made vulnerable. All the parts that made me human. I realized I had banished them at various points throughout my life in an effort to project the image of what I considered successful and good. As I’m wiping snot and tears and getting myself together she leans forward and asks, “Can I give you some feedback?” “Yes! Please.” “Well, I see you being so hard on yourself to be good and stuff and this little baby seems like she is a part of you. Are you willing to just hold this little baby?” I blinked. It was like a moment in a myth when the Siren sings some wisdom and the matrix is revealed. “Yes,” I responded. “I can try. Thank you.”

A white woman with tattoos covering most of her face and neck stood up to share in front of the room. She burst into tears as she told us how her mother was locked up most of her life,  and how she also went to prison when her daughter was three-years-old, and how recently her daughter was in prison, sentenced to life. Three generations. She took responsibility for the choices she made but it was, without a doubt clear, that she really was doing the best she knew how. If no one teaches you how to respond to pain and then life assaults you with immeasurable amounts of it what the hell would you do? In that moment I loved them all, regardless of what they did. We were one. Not in a hokey, new age, conceptual kind of way, but in a grounded, real, all trying to cope in the prison of our mind, kind of way.

Soulmate, selfishly I hope you aren’t in prison and I hope you have been taught, or are learning, tools to cope with whatever pain you’ve been given. I also hope someone is showing you unconditional love. I think I’m starting to get the hang of it. Unconditional loving means exactly that. Loving what is, without condition. Loving self and loving other, regardless of any behavior, as exactly the same thing. No separation.

And then a second later another, very human, thought comes into my mind and creates separation. (Thought: whoever is showing you unconditional love better be your mother. 😉

Love, Bristol

Face Tattoos & Forgiveness