Note: The Burn Zone is a cult survivor’s story, filled with inspiration and encouragement for anyone struggling to find a sense of purpose, spiritual fulfillment, or the answers to their problems. This article is written by the author, Renee Linnell.
Why I Wrote The Burn Zone
After getting ordained as a Buddhist monk in 2010, I moved from San Diego to New York, where I believed I would continue on my journey to Enlightenment. Instead, I got creamed: I lost over $500,000 in three months and was smeared all over the NY tabloids as the jaded lover who abandoned her business partner/ex-lover on a jealous whim. Betrayed and broken, I moved to Colorado to heal, thinking the hard part was over, but discovered rapidly it had only just begun. Alone, empty, and suicidal I was left with some pretty serious questions: How had I let this happen? How had I been so naïve? What the hell was I thinking?
And then, in the darkness of my solitude, it dawned on me: I was in a cult. I had been in a cult for close to seven years and I was severely brainwashed. But how had I let that happen? Me. I graduated Magna Cum Laude with a double degree. I travelled to nearly fifty countries alone before I turned thirty-five. I was a surf model. I was a professional Argentine Tango dancer. I had started five different companies. I was getting an MBA from NYU! How could someone like me end up brainwashed in a cult?
I began to backtrack through my life to find answers. They began with this: I was surrounded by death at an early age — most of my family died when I was young. With my father’s death on Thanksgiving Day when I was fifteen, I started searching for the big answers about life: why are we here; what happens after we die?
My search led me to remote corners of the world. It led me through countless self-help books and to many different types of healers. It led me to embrace my wild side in the beds of many different men. It led me to fantastically fun careers.
Then, when I was in my late twenties, my mother went missing. . . days later, I found her in a morgue: death by drowning in a hotel bathtub. A few years later I watched my godmother die slowly and painfully of brain cancer. More wounds that cut me deeply. I had no family left besides my brother and I was lost.
A wild child with a dream life, lost. Until I wandered into a Tantric Buddhist Meditation seminar and I walked out completely changed. I had found what I had been looking for since my father died: Peace. Overwhelming Peace. And I had found it in the form of a magnificent spiritual teacher.
The Burn Zone: A Memoir is the story of my search for Truth, my struggle to forgive, and my ultimate freedom on the other side of “deranged and damaged.” I wrote it as a catharsis; I had to get the story out of me.
Dr. Maya Angelou once said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” I believe she is right. The story was consuming me. It was tearing me apart from within. I was filled with anger and hatred and confusion and I had to let it go.
So I wrote. And wrote and wrote and wrote. I vomited all of it onto paper. Over and over and over again. The same scenarios, the same pain, the same periods of my life. I wrote hate letters that I never sent. I screamed into pillows. I wrote letters to God. Over 700 pages I wrote. And it helped. The heaviness began to lift. The anger began to abate. The fits of rage dissipated. The overwhelming sadness turned to hope.
As this happened I began to speak bits of my story to loved ones. I began to share what I went through, what I signed up for. People were shocked, amazed, and . . . impressed.
I began to realize my story had worth. I began to realize it was a story of strength; a story of the fight of the human spirit; a story of uncovering my True Self from deep within the shattered pile of a whole lifetime’s worth of rubble.
As I spoke my story I began to get a consistent similar response, “You have to write a book.” It was then that I realized I had been writing a book; it was then that I made the decision to publish what I had written.
But, it wasn’t easy. Reading through my journals was painful. Reliving those stories, those states of mind, was sickening. However, I kept doing it. Because as I did it I realized I had inscribed a map. It was a description of what so many of us (I may even venture to say all of us) do as we create a life to please others. And it was a map, a stepping stone path, out, back to authenticity. I realized I had to print and share my story; even if it helped only one other person.
I suppose my background as a seeker and as a Buddhist monk influenced my writing in that I felt safe being raw. Vulnerable.
“In my defenselessness, my safety lies,” says The Course in Miracles. I took it to heart. And it has been liberating. Publishing my whole story is so freeing because I get to just be me. And it turns out I’m really good at being me.
I sucked at being the versions of me I thought I was supposed to be to please my parents, my teachers, my friends, the rest of the world; but it’s actually not much effort at all to just be me. I had a great writing teacher in high school who taught us all the rules of grammar, but then encouraged us to break them. So, you will notice I break a lot of writing rules, but I write the way I would tell a story. Thought by thought, sentence by sentence. Again, authenticity. This is the way I would tell you a story if we were face to face in my living room; why should I write it any other way?
It is my sincere desire that readers would feel liberated after reading my book. I love to imagine the little child within them smiling, finally feeling like s/he gets to call the shots. I love the idea of my readers making the commitment to love and nurture themselves; to treat themselves to the little joys in life that they love.
I would love for my readers to finally let go of shame; to start claiming and even celebrating their stories. Especially the “skeletons in the closet.” I imagine shackles around the soul being removed; the shackles of shame, the shackles of not-forgiving, the shackles of wishing this or that never happened.
I love imagining the spirits of my readers dancing around in the joy and wonder of their Earth Walk. Changing their mental paradigms to believing their life has been a wild adventure instead of lugging around the baggage of regret.
I love imagining the flames within their hearts, the light within, igniting. And I would love for my readers to pull up to the surface, and feel safe in the exposing of, the parts of them that make them different.
I would love for them to put my book down knowing their difference is their destiny and feeling ready to show and tell the world about their story, their fight of the human spirit, all that they have gone through, all that they have learned.
I would love for them to discover the exhilarating freedom that comes with forgiving all of it, embracing their battle scars, and using those scars to go out in the world and fulfill their true Divine Purpose.
About the Author:
Renee Linnell is the author of The Burn Zone: A Memoir (She Writes Press; October 2018). She is 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 https://reneelinnell.com and follow Renee on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.