Last Wednesday I attended an open house to learn more about the University of Santa Monica Spiritual Psychology Master's Program (USM). "You did what?" Screams my ego or whatever it is that is constantly saying silly, useless things in my head. "Make sure you don't end up in a cult," my mother told me just before I walked in, gave them all my personal information and donned a nametag.
If you had told me one year ago that I would be considering a master’s degree in anything, especially Spiritual Psychology, I would thought you were crazy and definitely didn’t know me very well. I would also mostly likely have been half listening to you while I was multi-tasking or text messaging someone else.
I feel like I have entered a second puberty where my mind, instead of my shins, is experiencing awkward growing pains. “Ahh yes, you are almost thirty. Brace yourself honey, these next few years are going to be a doozy AND mercury is in retrograde,” a friend once predicted. I had no idea what she was talking about but now I know she was right. Between 28 and almost 30 years old, I have experienced seismic professional and personal shifts that have led me to sell everything I couldn’t fit into a backpack, give up my apartment, spend time reflecting on the past six years and pursue adventures that would radically shift my perspective.
It officially started in May of 2009, after much struggle and heartbreak, when I ended a six-year relationship with my first start-up love, a socially conscious film production company. I don’t know if you have ever had a job that felt more like a baby or husband than a profession but this was that. It was the kind of love that lifts you up on a wave of enthusiasm*, whirls up time and kidnaps your perspective. It was also the kind of love that you don’t realize is no longer working until reality punches you swiftly in the gut and you recognize you feel more lonely in the relationship than out. We had been incredibly fortunate to be able to produce movies we truly loved and experience the incredible highs of the film business but the reality was we couldn’t sustain it as a business and our shared vision had started to diverge. It was no longer “we” but “I” and that was going to take some getting used to. So now what? It can’t be a coincidence that I am going through adult puberty and now questioning who I am and what my purpose is right?
“Life is an X and a Y axis, where you shift your focus back and forth between the Goal Line (X) and the Learning (Y) line.” A former professor/Sufi mystic tried to explain. So I drew that out. (See image above)
Ok. Hmm, considering my attention has been 100% focused on X it might make sense that Y has come aknockin. But what is Y? How does one go about climbing that axis?
It is amazing how wise your friends are if you start asking them this question. A Joseph Campbell Companion was one of the first books recommended to me that truly rocked my world.
“We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” Joseph Campbell
The themes of surrender and letting go were hammered from every angle and much to my dismay it started to make the most sense. The more guilt and pressure I put on myself to figure it out and get my act together, the further away clarity felt. I was soon to be homeless and unemployed so I decided to embrace this window of precious time. The first thing I did was save money like crazy. I set up an auto-withdrawal to put money into my savings account with every paycheck. I read biographies of people like Joseph Campbell and Nelson Mandela that gave the middle finger to convention and followed their heart. I plotted out places on a map where I had friends to crash with and joined couchsurfing.com for the places I didn’t. I applied for a fellowship at TEDIndia (www.ted.com) and asked adventurous friends for recommendations of cheap places to live and learn anywhere in the world.
What was supposed to have been a six month sabbatical has become a year of extremes from falling in and out of love in Berlin, surfing and walking throughout Spain, a pilgrimage with Tibetan monks in Nepal, the TED conference in India, studying Yoga and Tantra in Thailand and releasing a documentary around the world. “How very Elizabeth Gilbert,” some have said with a sneer and some with love. Actually, it is quite similar indeed but imagine Eat, Prey, Love couch surfing on a shoestring! (oh, but I am still single.)
I feel like I just graduated college, moved to Los Angeles and am in line at a Souplantation of possibility. I am taste testing a bunch of stuff before I commit and pretty much figuring out what I don’t want as a way of knowing what I do.
But I digress: the latest sampler is USM. I happened to meet two impressive USM graduates in Bali who actually, in all seriousness, radiate love ALL the time. Fully sober these women dance their asses off in the morning and tend to laugh in the face of fear. Um, I'll have what they’re having. Hence, the USM open house. According to the USM website Spiritual Psychology is the "study and practice of the art and science of human evolution in consciousness."
What in the world does that mean?
They continue, "We must begin by distinguishing the essence of human evolution—what does it mean to evolve? In short, it means surrendering anything in consciousness that disturbs one’s peace…Essentially, this ‘surrendering’ and ‘sacrificing’ is work that can be called ‘healing,’ which includes healing on the physical, mental, and emotional levels in service to the deeper revelation of who we truly are as Loving, Peaceful, Compassionate and Joyful beings.”
So we get a master’s in being better people? Random but I kind of dig it. Do they have loans for this?! I sat among a wildly diverse group of people, all ages and races and one woman who flew in from Sweden. I spied the cups on the snack table for any suspicious cool-aid and watched the speakers carefully for any culty-like behavior. We listened to testimonials from alums that had written novels, volunteered in Haiti, and pursued personal and professional goals while dealing with any emotional baggage that would pop up through the supportive environment of USM.
As I enter my 30s with a seriously arresting transformational vengeance I am trying to let go of my need TO DO and just, as Joseph Campbell so simply puts it, follow my bliss. It may lead to prostitution and bankruptcy (or just moving in with my parents) but I will follow it for now and against every “rational” bone in my body give this surrendering thing a shot. Let me know if you have any tasty additions you would like to add to the salad bar. I am open to try just about anything! At this moment I am seeking a semi-structured school/community/colony of artists and thinkers who get excited about filmmaking, fractals, political art, photography, mythology, neuroscience, science fiction, writing, yoga and social justice. Any ideas???
*”Enthusiasm”, according to Eckardt Tolle, is the deep enjoyment of what you do toward a goal, an enormous intensity that resonates with the energy of the universe and gives out of its’ own abundance.