“Embrace your skeletons in the closet. Pull them out and paint them pink. Celebrate them. Your skeletons are probably the most interesting part about you. Your difference is your destiny.” Renee Linnell
Renee Linnell is a true renaissance woman. The author of The Burn Zone, her memoir of experiences in a new-age cult, has an arm’s length of accomplishments. World traveller, dancer, and surfer name just a few. She has confessed to being in love with watersports and freedom, the latter which brings us to the choice she made to join the University of Mysticism after a few out of body experiences during meditation classes which the leader called “the burn zone.” Renee’s harrowing experience includes brainwashing, psychological torment, and the journey back to herself. Her story is part thriller, and part “cautionary tale” about what happens when you give away your power. Anyone who is teetering on the edge of joining a group that promises to provide enlightenment should read this.
Woman Around Town sat down with Renee to discuss her story, and the purpose for the memoir, just released on She Write Press this month, and what she hopes readers will take away.
WAT: Why do you think you were searching for something as mentioned in your Introduction? What is society as a whole searching for?
I was searching because my father died on Thanksgiving Day when I was 15 and most of the rest of my family died before that. I felt like there had to be more to life than you live, you make money, you get married, you have kids, you die, it’s over. That all seemed pointless and cruel. It made no sense to me that we fall so deeply in love with each other and with our pets only to have them taken away; there simply had to be more. I felt like there had to be a Divine Plan and there had to be a way for us to reunite with our loved ones; and what I was learning in the Catholic church and at school didn’t hold the answers for me, it didn’t seem deep enough, it didn’t resonate as Truth inside my heart.
I think society as a whole is searching for peace and happiness; we all really just want to love and be loved and to enjoy our time here on earth. We just get confused when we believe that what we are searching for is outside of ourselves—can come to us through another person, or through a different life situation, or through owning more things. This confused thinking makes us insatiable. As Dallin H. Oaks said, “You can never get enough of what you don’t need . . .” Eventually, if we are fortunate, life comes along and shatters us to the point that we slow down enough to finally realize that what is truly important in this life is love, and connection to Source (whatever that is to each person. Sometimes it’s nature, sometimes it’s meditating, sometimes it’s a form of worship, sometimes it’s doing activities that make one’s heart sing, etc.)
WAT: Do you know what may have caused the intense feeling that you were “in the hands of God,” as well as the other extreme feelings of energy in those early sessions? Could it have been manifested by your own power? The group’s power?
I think any time we truly still our minds (whether it is through strenuous exercise, intense focus in a task, making love, or meditation) we tap into our true mind state, which is total quiet, utter peace, and love. All the saints and mystics tell us to quiet our minds in order to tap into All That We Are. I believe that when I sat in front of my spiritual teacher I actually stopped my mind for the first time in my life, and I felt what we are made of: pure white light and love. I felt what we are: eternal beings of light. I erroneously attributed that to her. We all tend to do this: when we fall in love we get to experience the ecstasy of love pouring out of our hearts into the other person and we erroneously attribute that feeling to the other person, but it is our love that is pouring out, we can do this any time we want. We are made of love, we are love, so when we are loving we get to feel what we naturally are, what we were as babies, without all the confusion of the mind getting in the way.
WAT: It seemed that you were pulled into her orbit so quickly. Some say that things happen for a reason. Do you believe this whole experience “had to happen?” If so, what would be the number one reason, that is, if you’ve come up with one. Sometimes that answer doesn’t appear for a while after the event.
I definitely believe it had to happen. I learned so much and grew so much, softened so much and opened so much, as we all do after life comes along and shatters us; it is the way we learn compassion. I believe everything happens for a reason, and much of the messaging of my book is about that. I would say the number one reason this had to happen to me is so that I would trust my own Inner Guidance and so that I could help encourage others to do the same. The shattering I went through caused me to finally understand that the peace and love for which I was searching had to come from within me.
WAT: When you wrote the book, did anything become clearer, any “a ha” moments?”
Yes, I had so many “a ha” moments as I wrote the book; it was a deep catharsis. My biggest may have been: I realized that we are all brainwashed to some degree. Anytime we believe we are ugly or stupid or not good enough, we have been brainwashed. Anytime we believe we need to buy another product to be happy or hide our sexuality to fit in or cut into our face and body in order to be beautiful, we have been brainwashed. We are bombarded by messaging that tells us we are not okay the way we are; it is time for messaging that tells us the opposite: there is room for all of us, with all our diversity, and each one of us is incredibly worthy. By believing in and loving and being true to ourselves, we add our light to the sum of light, and we shift the consciousness of the planet from fear to love. I spent my whole life wondering why we are here. This is why we are here: to live in joy and be a true, full, loving expression of who we truly are. Is there anything else more worthy of our time?
WAT: Why were you susceptible to become a disciple of the group? Although you knew it was “weird,” you felt that you were still being given “enlightenment?”
I was susceptible for a number of reasons. First, I am an A-student. If I do something, I do it to the best of my ability, which made me the perfect person to get sucked in because I was a teacher-pleaser and wanted so desperately to be liked and approved of. Second, I am extreme; when I do something, I do it all the way. (I wanted to learn to surf, I moved to the North Shore of Oahu; I wanted to learn to dance Tango, I moved to Buenos Aires, Argentina; I wanted to get an MBA, I moved to New York and went to NYU Stern; I wanted to learn about Buddhism, I got ordained as a monk in Bhutan.) So, when I decided to trust these two people as spiritual teachers, I decided to do everything they told me to do. Third, I was a seeker, and spiritual seekers tend to be more naïve and trusting than the masses; we are searching for answers and when we find someone that we think has the answers, we put ourselves in their service. And, until it happens to us, we have no paradigm in our mind to hold the scenario that someone posing as a spiritual teacher could instead be doing us harm. And yes, although I knew it was “weird,” I had been living life my way for 33 years and even though I lived a “dream life” as a model and professional dancer traveling the world, I was still so soul sick; I still felt a void inside.
I believed these teachers knew how to fix that and every time my intuition told me to run, that I was on the wrong path and the group was not good for me, I thought about going back to life as I knew it and I couldn’t bear the thought of continuing to live with that void inside . . . I was desperate to try something new, to live a new way, to learn to something new. I believed Enlightenment meant I would no longer live in human states of mind, that I would radiate peace and love and light the way the Saints did and that anyone in my presence would be filled up with joy and peace and love and clarity. I was willing to do anything to achieve this. The ironic thing is, after all I went through I realized I can radiate peace and love and light every day just by doing tiny little things like leaving a larger tip in a taxi or restaurant, leaving my house 15 minutes early so I’m not a jerk in traffic, leaving my hotel room neat and with a $5 bill on the bed so the person cleaning it is greeted with caring when s/he enters the room, smiling at people when I’m in a bad mood, listening more and talking less, holding a door open for someone, choosing to be kind instead of right; there are so many tiny ways each day to act Saint-like. No one needs a Guru to discover this.
Renee Linnell is also a serial entrepreneur who has founded and co-founded five companies and has an Executive Masters in Business Administration from New York University. Currently she is working on starting a publishing company to give people from diverse walks of life an opportunity to tell their stories. She divides her time between Colorado and Southern California.
For more information, please visit her website.
Photo Credit: Her Image Photography