For more years than I can remember, my mother used to tell me the same thing on my birthday:
"__ years ago, you came barreling down the birth canal, blossoming into the world on a glorious wave of bliss."
This phrase, delivered with romantic sentiments and bookended with a fair bit flowery nostalgia, her love for me, and the revery of the unique home birth circumstances of my arrival via candle lit bean bag; has served to remind me over and over again that my life began with the miracle of an orgasmic birth.
Now that I have your attention...
My counter-culture childhood was shaped in unusual ways, beginning with a 1980 sojourn to the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh Ashram in Poona, India. Like so many other seekers of the time, my mother was transformed by the message of Bhagwan (now commonly known as Osho) after listening to him on cassette tape. She had reached a point of crisis in her own life and all of the stress had manifested into Bells Palsey, paralyzing half of her face. After listen to Osho, she felt called to meet him in person, and because I was so young, she took me with her.
Everyday my mother went to the Ashram while I was cared for by an Indian nanny and made the rounds through the city. We stayed for three months. Crowds of children would gather around as as we moved through the streets, as foreigners we were subjects of interest.
My first memory of my life is running through the streets of Poona, and laughing. My mother was running after me, calling "Suzie! Suzie! Suzie!" and I was consumed with glee that she could not catch me. I was too small and too fast, darting through the crowded street. At one point after crossing a little bridge over a small creek through a copse of trees, I saw a street vendor with a snack cart and identified a familiar bag of potato chips. I immediately knew they were delicious and that I wanted them; but I also knew they were an "unhealthy food" that I was not supposed to eat, and that I had no chance of getting them. I lingered only a moment longing for the chips before continuing my jaunt. My memory ends there, but my mother tells me I ran into a fancy hotel and straight into the arms of a swiss woman (another sannyassin) sitting in a lobby chair. My mother finally caught up to me, still calling my name.
Handing me back to my mother, the woman said, "your daughter's name is Suzie?"
"Yes, and that's actually my name too. Thank you, for catching her!"
"Well this is a coincidence, my name is Suzie too!"
So there we were, three Suzie's in Poona.
Meeting Osho in person was entirely transformative for my mother. During her time at the Ashram in Poona, she experienced a sort of "faith healing," and the paralysis left her face. Before we left, she became a sannyassin.
As was his custom, Osho gave my mother a new name, Prem Gyan, which means "Love Wisdom." He said to her:
Because I was present at the time, my mother presented me to Osho for inspection. To this mere child of 19 months, he said "this one needs nothing. Her name is Susan, which is Sanskrit for 'grace.' All she needs is love, so she will be 'Full of Love and Grace.'"
So on that day I was dubbed Prem Susan by Osho, and given a tiny little mala to wear.
My mother says that as he was putting his signature on our official sannyassin papers, I kept trying to steal his pen. After making several attempts, he finally just gave me his pen.
When we came back from India, my mother began a holistic massage therapy practice at home and also became a student of Oriental Medicine. In light of the recent Wild Wild Country documentary on Netflix, I feel it is important to say that our experience with Osho was not negative, cultish, or fanatical -- we never wore all red, we didn't always wear the malas, we never went to Oregon. Growing up, Osho was simply another source of philosophical and spiritual wisdom, not unlike Kahlil Gibran, Gurdjeiff, Prem Rawat, Eckhart Tolle, or Rudolf Steiner.
I attended first a Seek school, and then a Waldorf school; thoroughly rounding out my alternative new age upbringing. Because my mother was always working in the other room with a client, I spent a lot of time entertaining myself with My Little Ponies, craft and cooking projects, or slipping notes under her door asking permission to go to the park or walk to the library. I had a lot of freedom as a child, and became very independent from a young age.
I've always loved food, and was immediately entrepreneurial. At seven years old I was baking muffins by myself, and walking them around the neighborhood wearing a sandwich board offering them for sale. All of this was fueled by the burning motivation to save up enough money to order a forbidden pizza, so very coveted and rare, the holy grail of junk foods. Imagine my mother's astonishment to find her 7 year daughter, armed with the knowledge of a cupcake recipe, had rock climbed to the upper kitchen cupboards, located the necessary ingredients (improvising upon what could not be found), turned on the oven (burning off my eyebrows lighting the gas pilot), baked cupcakes, frosted and decorated them, built and colored cardboard sandwich board to advertise them, and had walked around the block going door to door, making about $25 dollars in the process. How could she refuse me a pizza under such conditions? This was the mastery of my plan. Sometimes I had a co-conspirator in these endeavors, my best friend April.
Together we were hard to resist.
The 1980s feel so innocent now. It's hard to imagine a youngster performing such liabilities today. Nonetheless, such reflections say something about the cunning and resource we possess as children when given the opportunity to take risks and explore the world around us. This speaks volumes about the human species.
But I digress...
I spent two novel years in public school before enrolling at the prestigious Albuquerque Academy, where I went from 7th grade through 12th grade. There I earned a nick name that some people still use to this day:
I made a reputation for myself as a theatrical person, writing, directing, and acting in plays and engrossing myself with the eccentric theater kids -- the "Green Roomers," who wore black trench coats and had great parties. I also competed in Speech and Debate, flying all over the country and winning state and national championships for my Humorous Interp, Dramatic Interp, and Original Oratory.
After my high school graduation in 1996 I decided to take a year off to travel and relax before starting Hampshire College. During this summer, my mother hosted another esoteric heavy weight, Ra Uru Hu, at our house so he could give a number of presentations on Human Design -- something no one had heard of back then. He sat down with me one afternoon and read my rave chart, which I still have a cassette recording of to this day. I didn't know it at the time because I was too young, but he told me all about myself that afternoon. It would be another decade before the truth of his insights would hit me. And the hits just keep on coming!
At 19 years old, I went to Maui, Hawaii for the summer before college. It was here that I met raw foods and we fell in love, and have been together ever since. It was all fiery infatuation and starry eyed life long promises in the early days, which eventually gave way to affairs with green chile burritos, french bread and mashed potatoes -- leaving me full of remorse and crawling back to raw foods, begging for forgiveness. Now we've come to an understanding though: an open relationship that's finally become steady and peaceful.
I stayed on Maui for three years after dropping out of Hampshire College in order to pursue my culinary interests. My time in Hawaii was transformative on many levels, as it was here that I began working as a chef for health retreats. My early childhood joy of playing in the kitchen took flight again with my raw food experiments. This began shortly after I started working at The Raw Experience, a cafe owned by Jeremy Saffron and Renée Loux. We had a lot of fun there together, and soon began working with Nature's First Law, another group of rogue raw foodists from San Diego powered by David Wolfe and Stephen Arlin; together we created raw food health retreats. I worked in the kitchen making food for everyone with Renée, and then eventually on my own. Soon, we were working with Annie and David Jubb and doing retreats with them as well.
I left Maui when I was 22, but I continued to work as a raw food chef, at Quintessence in New York and privately for parties and classes. During this time, I also fell in with a community of communes in the Huerfano Valley of southern Colorado. I spent a lot of time at Libre, a community of artists, situated on 800 acres backed up against the national forest, and it was here that I met my dear friend Waska Lamb, who years later introduced me to the Ashram in Calabasas.
When I was 24, I decided my hippie galavanting was over and it was time for me to go back to school, to learn how to make movies once and for all -- a long held childhood dream. So I began working on my BA in earnest, and three years later I was accepted as a Regent Scholar into the UCLA School of Film, Theater and Television to study filmmaking and screenwriting in 2005. I was the Valedictorian and graduated Summa Cum Laude in 2007, but then stayed for an extra year to complete a second concentration in screenwriting. During this time I wrote my script Spin Cycle, for which I won a Samuel Goldwyn Writing Award in 2008.
Done with film school, I began the hustle that is required of everyone who wants to live in a big city, and worked as an assistant to various producers and entertainment professionals, including a stint at The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, which happened to be right next door to my little apartment in Beverly Hills. All the while, I continued to work as a chef for both private clients and health retreats, and consult with The Ashram. It was during this time that the message of Ra Uru Hu really began to sink in, and I became much more aware of my design as a manifesting generator.
One moody evening in March at a birthday party for Alan Moyle, I locked eyes with a handsome gentleman across the room, and destiny dealt me a hand. We quickly fell in love, and our son Mylo was born the following year, changing our lives forever.
There were two soft markers in his structural ultrasound, hydro nephrosis and echo foci, and taken in consideration with my age (31) and the absence of any testing that had been done (the early detection blood test hadn't come out yet), the doctors told me I had a 1 in 400 chance of Mylo being born with Down Syndrome.
As you can imagine, this was challenging news for a first time parent. Mylo's father and I, like a lot of people, wanted our child to be "perfect," and I had put a lot of time an energy already into being a super healthy pregnant lady -- eating organic greens, fruits & vegetables, beans, eggs, fish, cheese, fruits, supplements, prenatal vitamins, along with prenatal yoga, walking, going to the gym, etc... I was followed by both doctors and midwives! In the wake of this diagnosis, I spent hours poring over the chat room discussions about soft markers, looking for the outcome that I wanted to hear: two soft markers but not born with DS.
One day my mother called me and said:
I let her words sink in, and thus officially began my journey into the practice of radical acceptance. That day, I imagined myself giving birth 400 times. I was taking a childbirth preparation class at the time, and every stage of the birthing process had been inscribed only eyelids, adding special gravitas to my musings. I thought to myself:
Lo and behold, on March 5th 2010, Mylo Dean Collard made his grand entrance, cancelling my plans to attend the Academy Awards (I had tickets at the time, and the obvious joke was that I would make a splash on the red carpet). I remember those first moments of his life so well: my mother, his dad, the doula, the midwives, and two very transfixed cats all watching and waiting for him to breath. His heart was beating, the cord was pumping, but he was small and floppy and not breathing. For whatever reason, I had no fear. I knew he would breath. We rubbed his little body and talked to him, encouraging him to take a breath. Finally he got his first kiss from Aleks, the midwife. After two puffs, he sputtered online. He had all the appearances of having Down Syndrome -- as well as some other possible medical complications -- so we made plans to go to Children's Hospital Los Angeles to have him checked out.
Upon arrival to the emergency room, I witnessed something no new mother wants to see: your tiny 5 pound baby strapped down, struggling and mewling in protest to the insertion of an IVs along with various other bits of medical flotsam and jetsam - O2 meter, heart rate monitor. Mylo was, and has been, a prime candidate for medical intervention since the day he was born. How perfect I have mused, both then and now: I have spent all my life avoiding western medicine, while my child's life literally depends on it.
Mylo was immediately scheduled for surgery to correct a malformation of his GI tract -- something that is not uncommon for people born with Down Syndrome. He spent the next two days under the bilirubin lights in the NICU in preparation, unable to breastfeed due to the surgery prep, and I spent the next two days living in the hospital nursing my own wounds of childbirth, storing my milk for the moment when he could finally drink it, and arguing with the doctors about what was and wasn't medically necessary -- and sometimes correcting them when they confused his diagnosis with a different child. It was a raw, primal time. As a parent, it certainly pays to be vigilant; but no one wants this sort experience.
It was not lost on me that for years, I had driven past CHLA on my way into Silverlake for film shoots, lazy brunches, or parties with friends. It always seemed so ominous and sad to me that there was a whole hospital just for kids. And now here I was, with my own medically complicated child -- the exact sort of person who needed to be in such a place. Did that mean that my own life had become ominous and sad? What unfortunate path through the woods had I become lost on?
I cannot give you the blow by blow of the next few years -- there is too much and it is squeamishly painful, so I will condense it into a nutshell so we can get past the nutty and see the bigger picture of the oak tree that grew from these experiences:
Mylo had four surgeries in the first year of his life while my relationship with his father imploded. I nursed Mylo through those surgeries and struggled to keep my full time job until everything fell apart. I could not both work and care for my child in the way that he needed to be cared for. There was no daycare in my budget that could provide the specialized services that he required. I found myself with no relationship, no job, no family living nearby, and no car. I went on welfare, and like many other parents, spent years with my ex sorting out our differences. Along the way, Mylo developed Type 1 diabetes, was in and out of the hospital with pneumonia or any number of other infections, and in the best possible way...
I lost my mind.
Do you know what I mean? Let me clarify. I didn't go crazy, although there were some days that I felt right on the edge. I lost my mind the way a car looses a tail with the diversion of a passing bus. I lost my mind the way a girl looses a sleezy guy at a party. I lost my mind the way I once lost a pick pocket who was following me through the streets of Haight Ashbury....
Everything was so bad, my whole identity so crushed. All of my dreams and fantasies of becoming a successful filmmaker were utterly eclipsed by the harsh realities of my life; with my identity crushed all that rattled through my head were the sad, crappy stories I would tell myself about how I was failure as a woman because I did not give birth to a "healthy child." My bandwidth went to distortion. Had I continued to think about everything that I was going through -- beyond what was required in response to developing situations -- I would have gone insane.
So what did I do? As an act of survival, I made a conscious choice to shift my attention and began focusing instead on my tactile and perceptual experiences, as a means to remain present for the needs of my baby. As soon as I did this, it was like my consciousness cracked open, and my subconscious gifted me with a series of cathartic dreams.
I had very little money and could not do much. I would take long stroller walks with Mylo, listening only to the birds in the trees or the sound of passing cars. I washed the dishes, concentrating on the warmth of the water and the slip of the soap between my fingers. The scents of food and household smells. I folded my laundry with a focused intention of doing it as precisely as I could, savoring the texture of the garments. When I drove, I observed the passing of objects as I approached and passed, watching them grow bigger and then magically shrink into the distance behind me. I watched the way light danced and reflected across surfaces, lighting motes of dust in the air. I marveled at the structure of plants, the natural world, and the phenomena of one moment giving birth to the next, the cosmic dance of cause and effect across time. It became a game: how much of the world beyond myself could I perceive?
In this way I settled myself within my own body, and began to marvel at my own movements through 3D reality. I began to notice the flock like precision with which perfect strangers will synchronize the speed of their vehicles on the freeway, thrumming down the roadway in a grand urban opera; feeling the heartbeat of Los Angeles as it pulses through its daily traffic cycles. Every day I would pick something, anything, to look forward to, even if it was simply walking to 7-Eleven for a candy bar. Every step I took along the way became an opening, a challenge: how much grace can I bring to this footstep? How expertly can I draw this syringe full of insulin? Mylo's medication log became a ritual for meditation. It was during this time, as all my fantasies died, that my appreciation for the beautiful reality of my own existence awakened, and I finally noticed the joy and peace inherent to my being was there all along.
It was also during this time that Waska reached out in earnest and encouraged me to finish my recipe book No Sweeter Than The Ripest Cherry. After I put Mylo to bed, I would stay up late into the night revising and designing the pages, perfecting the recipes. This project provided an outlet for everything else about my life that was beyond my control, and I will forever be grateful to Waska for this life line of encouragement. Some days I literally think it saved our lives.
We published the book in 2013, through our newly formed publishing company Honest Abe Press. Later that year, my other dear friend Damian Chaparro asked me to do the menu for Aro Ha, a wellness retreat center he was opening in New Zealand in 2014. These two dear friends have both in their own way, recognized my talents as a chef and called them forth, as a means to sustain me through my darkest times.
Mylo turned eight this year, and my life is completely different than it once was. His father and I have found a way to get along with each other. Mylo is stronger and sassier everyday, adored by one and all. He is a constant source of frustration, amusement and delight; sowing patience and bringing out the best in everyone he meets. I have accepted the overwhelm as a condition of my life and recognized this benevolent pressure that has summoned forth so many diamonds within me. My inner roots have grown deep, and some days I find myself seated with such poise I cannot help but marvel at the future -- the movement of my life. Where is my life taking me? Who am I becoming? What more will I have to offer in another 10 years? These are thrilling questions for me, and in some ways I cannot wait to be 50 -- to be able to observe my collected experiences and distill more truths.
I do not know what is in store for me, but do know this: I have finally met myself through the experience of becoming Mylo's mother. His presence in my life has opened me to my own depths, blossoming me and forging me. I have learned that the great waves of life are beautiful opportunities of experience should we choose to flow with them rather than fight them. Fighting what cannot be changed is useless, for nothing escapes polarity. There are and will always be highs and lows. Suffering has been my best teacher. The exquisite entrapment I experience each day as Mylo's mother drives me into, through, and beyond myself; no other experience has compelled such transcendence. I would not change anything about what I have gone through. I cherish the openings that have been forged within me, the self love I have quested for and claimed, and the better person I have become as a mother to my beautiful warrior child.
So there you have it. You've got all the context to make sense of what you will find within these pages. We talk a lot about branding in this day and age, how to market yourself for maximum impact. As a full time caregiver to Mylo's myriad special needs, my opportunities to follow through on my creative endeavors can at times be hindered, so its impossible for me to have any agenda at this point beyond my own authenticity. This website is a sharing of my unique self, useful information, creativity and perspective. Please be patient with my slow progress and my ineptitude with social media -- my first priority is always my son.