Enter the Brave House

We continued through California as the desert landscape became ever more populated and distinctly greener. After several hours of driving, we descended upon Venice Beach, where we encountered an eccentric hub of people that rendered our arrival to this place that much more surreal. We walked down to the water line and waded into the cool ocean wake, gazing out at the endless horizon in a state of reflective calm. We had made it, driving across the entirety of the country to reach this westernmost reach of the land. It felt good to have come this far, but though we had reached our geographic destination where we would drop off Soichi nearby, I knew this attainment was not an end in and of itself but one transitional point along a larger journey of personal growth and self actualization.

We spent a few days in Soichi’s new apartment, where we had the chance to slow down and seek closure before Dan and I would go our separate ways and continue on north. In hindsight, I realize it took a whole lot longer to process the depth of shared experiences we had just undergone, as we resided in a transitional juncture between a path we had planned out and an uncertain future yet to be realized. But reflecting back on it, the road trip constituted an indispensable rite of passage into the world of adulthood. I was able to physically and psychologically detach myself from the comforts of my former home and rebuild my life anew, while sharing that experience with some of the best friends I could ask for. And that made the journey that much richer–that this was not only my own story, but the story of those I carried with me, and who in turn carried me. The road trip reaffirmed that no aspect of my life or my personal identity has arisen in a vacuum, but has been shaped and molded by the people and places who have left an indelible impact on who I am. Dan and Soichi are two of those people. When I think of these guys, I can’t help but recall some of the teachings of the Hua-Yen school of Buddhism, which is an interest we all share. According to these teachings, all existing phenomena in our universe is not only interdependent on all other phenomena, but inter-causal. That is to say that all things not only depend on one another for their very existence, but actually cause each other to be indispensable parts of the whole. I don’t just think that I depend on Dan and Soichi in my life, or that they depend on me, but that they have directly caused and given rise to core aspects of who I am throughout our experiences together. I know I’ll continue to carry and negotiate those aspects of myself despite the places I go or the time that passes by, and these guys will always be woven into the complex mosaic of my life story. I hope I’ll have a place in theirs. After all, the open road of adulthood is better shared in the company of others.

IMG_1342We said our goodbyes, and Dan and I parted ways for our destination in the town of Orange, where my good friend Amiya from a study abroad program in Sri Lanka had invited us over for dinner. She mentioned something about a talk on “entrepreneurism” that afternoon, but we felt it more appropriate to come just before dinner. We arrived at a residential culdesac, and naturally got lost finding the precise address of the house. Eventually we located ‘247’ written on the curb and proceeded up to the pleasant-looking home at the base of a hilltop. Amiya had told me she was living with a number of interesting and highly motivated people in this place, and though I was excited to see her in her stomping grounds, we felt it best to give her a call before ringing the doorbell. Sure enough, Amiya emerged from the door with the same positivity and energetic spirit I had known from our daily tuk-tuk rides to school from our home village in the lush hill country of Sri Lanka. She showed us inside and introduced us to a diverse group of people who were here to attend the Sunday dinner, aweekly tradition open to anyone inclined to come. Very quickly, I experienced the comfort and welcome-nature of home as people asked me candidly about my past, my present interests, and my future goals. One of the residents I had just met, Shawn, promptly asked me what I would do if he handed me a million dollars right then and there. Not long into the dinner, Dan had already been encouraged to break out his cello and play some tunes for the group. It was a welcome refuge from the relative anonymity of the road, and a great opportunity to meaningfully connect with new people.

We said our goodbyes, and Dan and I parted ways for our destination in the town of Orange, where my good friend Amiya from a study abroad program in Sri Lanka had invited us over for dinner. She mentioned something about a talk on “entrepreneurism” that afternoon, but we felt it more appropriate to come just before dinner. We arrived at a residential culdesac, and naturally got lost finding the precise address of the house. Eventually we located ‘247’ written on the curb and proceeded up to the pleasant-looking home at the base of a hilltop. Amiya had told me she was living with a number of interesting and highly motivated people in this place, and though I was excited to see her in her stomping grounds, we felt it best to give her a call before ringing the doorbell. Sure enough, Amiya emerged from the door with the same positivity and energetic spirit I had known from our daily tuk-tuk rides to school from our home village in the lush hill country of Sri Lanka. She showed us inside and introduced us to a diverse group of people who were here to attend the Sunday dinner, a weekly tradition open to anyone inclined to come to this place. Very quickly, I experienced the comfort and welcome-nature of home as people asked me candidly about my past, my present interests, and my future goals. One of the residents I had just met, Shawn, promptly asked me what I would do if he handed me a million dollars right then and there. Not long into the dinner, Dan had already been encouraged to break out his cello and play some tunes for the group. It was a welcome refuge from the relative anonymity of the road, and a great opportunity to meaningfully connect with new people.

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We had arranged with Amiya to stay for a few nights, but as we experienced how open and engaging the people in this place were, we were interested in staying for a longer period of time. After all, we had been through a more transient “travelers'” phase during our road trip, and were looking to put our footholds down and get settled in a particular area on the west coast. This place felt right. To give some background, the house is owned by a man named Jaipaul, an entrepreneur and “life coach” who emigrated to the United States from India as a young man. Jaipaul was born into a lower caste in India, where he struggled to excel in an education system in which he was illiterate until the 10th grade. He overcame great obstacles to become an engineer and a Captain in the Indian Army, before coming to the United States and achieving overwhelming success in the mortgage real estate industry. More broadly, Jaipaul has dedicated his life to coaching young people to overcome self limitations and realize their full potential to connect with a greater purpose in the world. Opening his house for people to live in is a tangible example of that vision. Amiya had met Jaipaul in a coffee shop in Seal Beach and ultimately found her way there.

Dan and I talked it over for a while, and came to agreement that spending time in this place could be a highly enriching and enjoyable experience. Here was a group of diverse, interesting people who were all about living intentionally to do big things in the world, and what better environment could we think of to be so conducive to our development into the “Real World?” There was Tim, who speaks of his own transformation from an irresponsible early 20-year-old to a prominent IT consultant and a real mentor for others similarly conditioned with self-limitation. And there was Sydney, a highly perceptive writer and wonderful cook who fostered a real sense of community in this place. And Sydney’s husband Shawn, who is an account manager for Microsoft and a visionary for using technology to help ameliorate educational problems in the world. And there was Nadia, a single mom and consummate professional who worked her way out of poverty only to give back by work in a prominent position for the very non-profit organization that helped her. And, of course, Nadia’s son Luke, an adorably intrepid spirit who added a real sense of energy and humanity to the place.

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We decided to ask Jaipaul and the other members of the house if we could stay for an extended period of time, and sure enough, they were very receptive and said yes. It felt great to have a deliberate stake in creating “home” in another part of the country surrounded by a host of new people, and this was an instance where following my intuition and embracing shared experience felt right.

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We got situated in a small room upstairs where we were living in rather tight quarters and staying in a bunk bed. Honestly, it was all we needed, and I realized that what constituted “home” for me didn’t require particularly lavish sleeping amenities. More importantly, we had an open downstairs area conducive to having people over and facilitating conversations, as well as a well furnished kitchen to prepare meals in. We also had a beautiful backyard with banana trees, guava trees, a lemon tree, flowing water with a pocket full of koi fish, and an aviary host to dozens of parakeets. The place was highly animated with the presence of endearing babies, intense and spontaneous intellectual conversations about life, and the occasional turtle crawling into the house. It’s honestly difficult to encapsulate the ethos of this place, or an “immersive” household as Jaipaul would call it, but it never ceased to captivate and offer a real experience of community, something that was an integral component of my love for Bowdoin.IMG_1392IMG_1364

Much of the backdrop of the “BraveHouse” is the BraveLife program, which has constituted the main visionary pursuit of Jaipaul as well as Shawn, Sydney, Tim, Nadia, Kyle, and others who help in other capacities. BraveLife is a program dedicated to helping people overcome self-limitation and achieve the inner freedom necessary to reach their full potential in life. A central component of BraveLife is BraveLife Academy, an online education program Jaipaul and Shawn are spearheading that aims to integrate a K-12 curriculum, student life skills training, and parent coaching in a way that transcends some of the flaws they perceive in conventional education systems. They hope to market the program to students in the United States, and reinvest the profits into providing free online education to students without access to educational opportunity in places like India. A central piece of the education system is the weekly lecture series that Jaipaul gives on topics like identifying and overcoming limiting voices, entrepreneurial skills, spiritual fulfillment, budgeting for your future, and purpose-driven goal setting. So every Sunday, Jaipaul would give a morning and afternoon lecture, after which we would have a discussion on the content matter. I really valued how BraveLife provided a regular baseline of engagement and introspection that made it difficult to be anonymous or “float around” without living out intentionality and purposefully in everyday life.

That said, I would be lying if I said our experience in the Brave House was always easy. I would later come home after long days at work, content to chill out and pass out on the couch, but be challenged in an animated discussion that I’d sometimes want to forego altogether. And given the intensity and adulthood-focused content of much of our conversations, I felt a definitive need to express my relative youthfulness to remind myself that I didn’t always have to take life so seriously. We would go surfing on the beach, drink beers on the hilltop behind our house, and play around with the two babies who graced our home every morning. In contrast to my time in Las Vegas, which felt more like escapism than a beneficial cathartic experience, I valued this kind of anti-structure to balance out the intensity of everyday life and to manifest the independent, fun-loving, and adventurous aspects of youth I still valued at this point in my life. I had to be deliberate about listening to and acting on my own needs in such an intimate environment, where privacy was never a guarantee and it was easy to find myself on someone else’s time schedule rather than my own.

I also grappled with a central idea of BraveLife that stresses the importance of finding a “vision” for the future connecting with a greater need in the world, then working deliberately in the interim to realize that vision. How could I anticipate precisely where I wanted to be or what I wanted to do in 10, 20, 50 years? And would I be somehow limited in my own personal and professional development if I confined my own unique life trajectory to a rather narrowly defined, teleological end point? Looking back from where I was in life, I couldn’t have possibly anticipated all the rich yet trying experiences, attainments, and changes that shaped me into the person I had become at 22 years old. But were those choices and life events simply haphazard? No way. I knew some of my most enriching experiences–in addition to those in which I learned through failure or making poor choices– were those in which I made an informed decision uniting what I knew to be true in the world with what I was naturally gifted toward, and applied that understanding to an environmental opportunity that nurtured that “why” motivation. I may not have known exactly where it was taking me–what child or adolescent really does–but I knew these decisions changed me for the better and gave me a clearer idea of who I am.

Navigating some of these questions was some of my most formative experience at the Brave House. After long days going about our own pursuits, Dan, Amiya and I would come together and share our thoughts on BraveLife and the kinds of questions this place provoked us to think about. We would regularly find ourselves fixated in conversation until 3 am, and sometimes I would drift off into spells of sleep only to wake right back up and keep talking. This was a cathartic experience for all of us as we had an endless array of thoughts bottled up surrounding the launch into adulthood we all shared. My time with these guys was an absolute refuge of insight and solidarity, as we were all struggling to reconcile our youthful and adventurous spirit with a more mature resolve to cultivate a foundation of responsibility and independence from our parents. I think it was our drive to attain a real sense of rootedness and personal identity amid these tumultuous changes that prompted us to stay up so late and often contend against the receding will of our physical selves to get greater clarity on these issues.

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We ended up staying at the Brave House until mid October, at which point Dan and I had planned to take off for a week in northern California. The experience was an absolute roller coaster filled with excitement, inspiration, and frustration, but at the end of the day, the people we had come to know and cherish became a second family. Here was a group of people who invested their time and energy in helping us understand ourselves and the world around us better so as to live out purposeful and impact-oriented lives. As Dan and I packed up our noble Subaru and took off for our next horizon, our friends from the Brave House stood outside and waved farewell in a powerful tribute to the depth of our shared relationship. I left with renewed clarity in my resolve to do great things in my life, and profound gratitude for having experienced a newfound sense of home.

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