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, Renee Linnell, 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." Writing this book started as a catharsis. When I moved to Colorado I needed to get the story out of me so I could heal and move on with my life. In the beginning it was about anger. Now it’s about love. In order to heal I had to let go of the past. I had to excavate my true Self from all of the rubble. I had to find a way to embrace the version of me that came out the other side, utterly changed. And I had to find a way to forgive my mother, to forgive my spiritual teachers, to forgive the ex-lover in New York, and ultimately to forgive myself.
As my story unfolded onto the page, I realized that sharing my story could and would help others. It could help release people from the chains that bind them to facades they no longer need; it would encourage them to accept themselves and let go of their past, inspire them to step into their wholeness; help them forgive and heal, and ultimately embrace life with more excitement and a truer sense of Self. Written with honesty and humor, my story is everybody’s story and my victory is everybody’s victory. We all owe it to this world to be the loudest brightest truest versions of ourselves that we can possibly be, let's get started, shall we?