Snowmass author and former cult member encourages readers to live life to the fullest

Kimberly Nicoletti
Special to The Aspen Times
Renee Linnell
Courtesy photo

Renee Linnell aims to transform people’s lives by taking them from ho-hum to fulfillment.

And, she certainly hasn’t lived an average life. In 2018, she published “The Burn Zone,” a memoir about getting ordained as a Buddhist monk in 2010, then being brainwashed by a Buddhist cult — after graduating magna cum laude with a double degree from New York University; at age 33, she joined the cult, burned almost everything she owned and, after nearly seven years in the cult and breaking away, became suicidal.

Her new memoir, “Still on Fire,” Linnell recounts her hard-learned lessons from years of bad choices and crushing blows. Through it, she hopes to help others find, and live, their passion.

Her overarching message: “Stop making excuses for why mediocrity is okay for you and take the leap into a life that you love,” she said.

Her story speaks to all kinds of people and experiences, from those suffering from illness or loss to those struggling with financial hardship, overwork or fatigue from the pandemic and other recent tragedies.

Linnell draws from 49 years of experience, encouraging readers to trust their instincts, as well as the Divine, and follow their heart by finding gratitude and joy in the present moment. Her definition of happiness involves being present in, and appreciating, “all the tiny moments that we miss right now when we’re continuously looking forward to living a happy life.” 

In addition to breaking free from a cult, Linnell understands loss; her father died on Thanksgiving Day when she was 15. Then, after more than 12 years of conflict and estrangement, her mother disappeared; days later, Linnell discovered her mother had drowned in a hotel bathtub. Linnell also knows about financial loss; she lost hundreds of thousands of dollars after a nasty lawsuit with a business partner she met in a karate dojo.

After carrying around shame for years, she made peace with her flaws and failures and focused on living life to the fullest. 

“We shouldn’t be afraid of our stories,” she said. “And we shouldn’t see anything that happened to us as ‘wrong.’ We are in these human bodies for such a brief period of time. Why hide who we are?”

“Still on Fire” reflects on the decisions she made, what it takes to open up to love, pleasure and even mystical possibilities and how to be whole and free. It reviews the pointlessness of trying to get others to see our point of view; why people attract others who treat them poorly and how to stop abandoning ourselves to please others; and how life is an ongoing adventure, in which none of us are alone, but rather, backed by “something bigger than ourselves.”

She talks about how most people are afraid of the unknown, so they create “safe,” or familiar, environments as adults, which can ultimately trap them in unfulfilling lives.

“What we don’t realize is that the deep soul pain that comes with ‘being stuck’ is much more painful than whatever we would experience if we jumped into the unknown,” she said. 

She views her trials and tribulations as rites of passage, which taught her that she can handle whatever life brings. Through her healing, she has learned to stay present to the gifts each moment offers.

“The empowering realization that I can survive whatever life throws my way helps me relax into the present more often — and the present is where all the power and magic lies,” she said.

She also touches upon how quantum physics “is finally confirming what saints and shamans have been saying for thousands of years: our thoughts create our reality,” which is why she believes it’s useless to try to force others to see our point of view.

Renee Linnell’s new memoir, ‘Still on Fire.’
Courtesy photo

“Most people are too afraid and are only able to see through a new point of view after life has come along and smashed them around a little. Words don’t teach, only life experience teaches,” she said. “It is so much easier, kinder and more efficient to allow people their point of view and to use our energy instead to be a living example of the ways we wish to teach.” 

She encourages the subtle art of self-love: “making healthy, self-loving, self-nurturing choices in every moment. It’s as subtle as leaving 15 minutes early so we’re not stressed and angry in traffic, or checking in with our body when it’s time to choose food to see what our body really wants as nourishment. It’s not criticizing inside our mind, when we look in the mirror, when we make a mistake. Self-love takes constant vigilance and practice. It’s treating the child inside of us the way we wish a parent, friend, co-worker, the world or a lover would treat her/him.”

That said, she doesn’t believe we’re supposed to be happy all the time, because we wouldn’t know pleasure if we didn’t know pain. Rather than avoiding pain and clinging to pleasure, she advocates learning “to be in awe of the human experience,” and even noticing glimmers of joy and peace during despair.

“If we could see lows and painful moments of our lives as necessary parts of our Divine Plan, we could surrender into them and allow the pain to cut through us, hollowing out more space to eventually hold more light, remembering that this too shall pass,” she said.

She says it’s healthy, and makes sense, to believe in divine intervention and instructs people to start by being present.

If you go…

What: Author Renee Linnell’s ‘Still on Fire: A Memoir’ release event, in collaboration with Explore Booksellers

When: 5:30-7:30 p.m. Aug. 16

Where: The Aspen Hive, 429 E. Cooper Ave.

“When we pay attention to what is unfolding in front of us in each moment, we don’t miss the rainbow or the butterfly or the string of green traffic lights just when we need them most. We notice the lyrics that we most need to hear in the song playing in the store we just entered,” she said. “The more we notice, the more they will appear — the same way when we decide to buy a certain car or pair of shoes, we start to see them everywhere.”

Overall, she encourages people to turn pain into purpose, partially by luxuriating in everything that you might miss on earth if this was your last day. In addition to savoring the little (and big) things in life:

“All we can do is take the next step that feels right, that feels thrilling,” she said. “And trust.”      

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