The Reign of Mind is Over

Hey Soulmate,

The Escape: Guide to Big Sur
Harpersbazaar.com

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

The Reign of Mind is Over

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

Cuddling with Not Knowing

Hey Soulmate,

I saw a movie called ‘Chappie’ the other day and I found myself sobbing uncontrollably for about 30 seconds during a few scenes that were definitely not sob worthy. It was confusing. It was one of those scenes where a totally innocent, adult sized robot has just become sentient and is essentially a newborn child absorbing his new world. He was skittish, frightened, curious, open, and a complete sponge. Immediately, the people (who happened to be thugs) start projecting their own desires onto him and assaulting him with their shitty conditioning. It was devastating. It was the perfect summary of the human experience. We are born into a family with a lineage of conditioning and based on that conditioning, our parents are doing the best they can with the tools they have been given. The cycle is so clear. As I sobbed I felt equal parts devastated by the world and unconditional love for it. We are all little robots absorbing the world around us and doing the best we can to survive; part animal, part consciousness.

I realized a few hours later this sobbing was unveiling yet another layer of this seemingly endless existential inquiry. There is a part of me that refuses to accept reality. I don’t want to believe that suffering and pain are a natural part of life. This part of me feels a great weight to fix/change/save the world because I was born into a safe, loving, privileged home. “With great power comes great responsibility” and “to whom much is given, much is expected” are the sayings that this part holds true. If I follow the logic of this belief I am essentially born guilty and must earn my goodness by doing everything I can to right the injustice of the world; the brutal unfairness that is everywhere. Sound familiar? Born sinful? Good works getting you into heaven? I swear I was never raised religious but this waspy lineage runs deep. But here is something I don’t get Soulmate, if the point of Christ’s epic sacrifice was to absolve us of our sin then why do we still consider ourselves innately unworthy? It doesn’t make sense.

This part of my ego is furious with the overall design of this place. WTF?! How can suburban comfort exist in the same world as ISIS? How dare I seek my own happiness when there is such pain in the world? And yet if I am gifted with a loving life how dare I not enjoy every moment of it?  If I let go of this layer and believe the world just IS and the mystery of “why” is beyond the answering of the human mind I feel equal parts selfish, guilty, and relieved. The truth is I am not in charge. Even if I was the most powerful person in the world I could not alleviate all the suffering in the world. The chaos or divine structure within which I play my part is made up of dimensions we are only beginning to discover. When I follow this belief to its’ origin I find it leads to the unknown and there is nothing more horrifying to the human ego that not knowing.

I observe the mind cycle like this:

Experience of Not Knowing -> Experience of Fear & Helplessness -> Panic -> Stress -> Refusal to accept not knowing -> Pretend to know or hypothesize -> Hustle to prove the thought -> Manifest proof or Pretend to prove thought -> Fight to defend thought and Pretend Knowing -> Have thought destroyed by life somehow and return to the origin of not knowing OR dig in heels and defend thought till death.
The truth I am discovering is that I don’t know why the world is the way it is and why we are born into the lives we are born into and what we are here for. So instead of moving into the panic of not knowing I am going to try to sit in it, cuddle with it, let it be, and surrender to it. I find that when I do that with anything it tends to reveal something. I’ll let you know how it goes!

Love, Bristol

Cuddling with Not Knowing

I Am Single Because…

Hey Soulmate,

Isn’t it wild how we tell ourselves stories that aren’t true ALL the time? An anthropologist friend just called it “constructing meaning.” I feel like the ego thinks its’ full time job is to write our lives into after-school specials for Lifetime. I find this especially true when it comes to the stories women (and their friends and their Mothers) tell themselves about being single. What is even more sad-funny is that newly spiritual women (ahem, yours truly) can come up with even more nuanced and often contradictory stories like…

I am single because…

  1. I am special.

I am sooooo special and whomever is meant to match me must be equal in their specialness, thus, they are rare but oh so worth the wait.

  1. I am not special enough.

There must be something wrong with me. It has been forever. I am too picky, want too much, am too intense, too transparent, etc.

  1. I am on a serious mission (to save the world) and men are just a distraction.

Who needs a man? I have very important work here to do. Maybe when the job is done…

  1. Men are emotionally retarded (I apologize for the use of this word but it is appropriately word-knifey for this limiting belief)

Men are wholly unaware of themselves, can’t articulate their thoughts or feelings, and are only interested in preserving their ego, playing video games, and being admired by young women who don’t challenge them.

  1. I like being alone.

It is too late. I sleep splayed out in an X that covers the entire bed. I am a blast, have an incredible crew, and can always have younger lovers.

  1. I need to heal.

If I haven’t met my soulmate yet then it must mean I have some unresolved issue to heal. It is my karma or spiritual curriculum or whatever. Once I heal “x” then he will appear.

  1. I need to lose weight, dress sluttier, drink more or less, and do “Calling in The One”, etc.

If I “do” one more thing then it will happen.

  1. First, I need to be in a healthy relationship with myself.

Am I taking care of myself? Loving myself? Oh, “not enough”, well that’s why he isn’t here yet.

  1. God has abandoned me.

I have been single for so long I am clearly being punished by God for something I did in this lifetime or another.

  1. I need to heal the collective feminine and masculine.

Jeez. (See #3)
When I bought into these stories as truth it was torture. Each story served as a belief prison of my own construction that caused serious suffering. Now I can look at this list with wincing amusement. The truth “I am single” is just a neutral fact. No story necessary. Instead of just feeling lonely, when I felt lonely, I made up a story about it and spent days or weeks or even years spinning a tale that gave my mind a chew toy.

Loneliness is just energy if we don’t tell a story about it. Easier said than done I know. Who the F knows why we remain single? To imagine that God is some “bubbe” (Jewish Grandmother) in the sky waiting till just the right moment to initiate the perfect Tinder moment or dinner party intro, is hilarious. Another story that feels really true is that this loneliness has served me. It has led me to get to know the inner recesses of my mind and heart and body in a way that I could have never imagined. My loneliness guided me home to myself. Is it true? Maybe, maybe not. Does it matter? No.

I Am Single Because…

Hot Tub of Heroin

Hey Soulmate,

I feel like a giggling kid high on laughing gas. I have an awkward smile on my face and my eyes are pointed sideways and upward like, “Can you see it? Can you feel it?” I think this is bliss. The thing that, somewhat abused but totally true, Joseph Campbell quote is going on about. It is soft and subtle and full. I wish I could put it in a syringe and shoot you up with it. Imagine yourself as a baby just floating in a sea of gooey placenta, no wait, a warm hot tub of heroin. Whatever, just imagine yourself in a state of complete surrender, no wanting or needing or thinking. Pure being. As babies in utero we don’t even have to think of eating or going to the bathroom. It’s all handled. An unknown science-magic has got this. It is kind of like that. The ego doesn’t disappear, it just kind of goes on mute. Road rage can still flare up but it only lasts a second and then everything returns to this feeling of floating. It is kind of hilarious and goes like this:

  • Blissful floaty feeling
  • Thought bubble: “Shouldn’t I be doing something?”
  • Answer: “Sure or Not. Both are the same.”
  • Confused, neutral, shrug
  • Blissful floaty feeling
  • Thought bubble: “Is this going to last forever?”
  • Answer: “Maybe. Probably not. Does it matter?”
  • Baffled eyebrow shrug
  • Blissful floaty feeling

I feel like I am learning to swim again. I am learning to swim in a world that isn’t broken and my responsibility to fix. It doesn’t mean I don’t care, I do. It just means my ego doesn’t have to invent a life where it will “save the day.” I am learning to swim without ambition to prove my worth. I am learning to swim from an alternative energy source. I can’t explain it really but I know that this feels awesome! I want to give you some (but I don’t have to, you already have it!) I recognize the insane luxury of these thoughts. I can’t make sense of “why” but it doesn’t matter. I would love to share this high with you but I don’t need you, or anyone, or anything, to experience it. It just is. I thought all these new age people were lame and nuts but I’m telling you there is something to this stuff. Judging self-love is the ego’s way of keeping you its’ slave.

Ps. I watch a lot of movies. It was kind of my church growing up. We made a game of checking the movie times and racing to the theater to see if we could make it just in time. So just in case you aren’t a movie person I’ve compiled a handy list for you. The ones at the bottom are pretty obvious and I have starred the ones that would be fun to watch together. x

Flight of the Navigator

Legend

The Mosquito Coast

Dune*

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

Amandla! Revolution in Four Part Harmony

Memento

Dr. Strangelove*

Being There*

Pi*

Y Tu Mama Tambien

Street Fight

Force Majeure*

Point & Shoot*

12 Angry Men

Network

War Games

Last of the Mohicans

Shakespeare in Love*

Goonies

Terminator 2

Little Mermaid

Finding Nemo

Toy Story

Hot Tub of Heroin