Stan Brainin: 1944-2022

The first time I saw Stan, he was weaving around in a solitary spin at the outer edges of an ecstatic dance event. We were both slower and more staid than the rest of the undulating, exuberant crowd. We ran into each other later gathering our shoes. He smiled. I smiled. We didn’t say anything, so it was some years before I knew his name, voice, opinions. In that moment, and for many ensuing events in our local New Age community, he was just the man with a kind face, one that reminded me of Buddhist monks, both contained in themselves and completely open.

In fact, Stan was a bit of a monk for the 25 years he lived in Santa Barbara. He had a committed meditation practice in the Hindu tradition, sprung from living in India prior. When he spoke of his time there, and the transformation that took hold of him, I imagined him like one of the Beatles sitting with the Maharishi, hippie accoutrements slowly giving way to something deeper than cultural iconography. In this community, he slipped into an epic awakening to much more than his true self. He went beyond to recognize there is no self at all.

He used to tell me about there being no self as we sat in various Santa Barbara cafés, where he was familiar to staff and would embarrass me — a father figure — bantering with the baristas. He was an older bachelor, and his day was enhanced by the open-heartedness he found in the service industry. He would go out two or three times for a coffee or a meal more interesting than he could make. He read library books alone or made conversation with those at the next table.

Away from the public, he meditated for hours each early morning, his sanctuary being the sea of higher consciousness, the empty mind. Imbued with that stillness, he could do his circuit of errands and interludes in cafés without seeming like someone caught in a repetitive to-do list. He could step into life as a senior citizen without being stuck in the backward gaze at his ancient history, lost triumphs, pangs of regret. He did have consequential stories, the most dramatic surrounding the drug addiction that originated in Washington, D.C., as he did, then blew apart in L.A., where he ran comfortably with Hell’s Angels and rock stars.

He got sober in the early ’90s. In his first clean years, his son died of an overdose. I think that kept Stan on a path that always had one edge in outer space. It might have fueled his capacity to sit outside his body in a deep meditative trance. It might have kept him connected to humanity predominantly through pursuit of mind-body integration: Feldenkrais bodywork, Dance Away then Dance Tribe, the Y on upper State for a hard sweat, and walks along the Mesa bike path as his body started to slow down in our COVID age.

And Stan was a COVID casualty by some estimation. It wasn’t that he got sick with the virus — he was desperately cautious because he had lost half a lung to cancer years before. It was that the lifestyle of staying away from people — from cafés and music venues and a gym workout — hurt his vibrancy, extinguished the outlets that kept him awake to the community, to life on earth. He couldn’t even get library books.

In the middle of COVID, I had the clear impulse to leave Santa Barbara after a 13-year tour and go back to Northern California. It was such a spiritually directed decision that I couldn’t keep Stan, who had become a dearest friend, in mind. It felt actually like a betrayal to his vigorous spirit if I would decide to stay and help him through whatever infirmity might be lurking. I would rather portray him as resilient, years ahead of any significant decline, ably independent. But it wasn’t that way at all. He took a bad fall that was hard to rebound from and then received the horrendous diagnosis of leukemia. I called him after too long a lapse, and he was lying in the hospital. You had to find out things like this by accident with him — he would not group-text his ills.

I was lucky to see him on a trip back just days later. We sat in his apartment at six-foot distance in N-95 masks talking about what he felt like there on the precipice of a real launch into the cosmos.

“Does your meditation prepare you for what’s beyond this?” I asked, longing for some further fatherly insight to how the world works, how the afterlife invites us in.

“Not so much,” he said, but I could tell it was his East Coast bent toward glibness, mixed with cultivated non-attachment. He was already disappearing into the other realm, only the tiniest tendrils anchoring him here.

“I shouldn’t have left,” I suggested. “I could be here helping you.” It was such an ache in my heart.

“Oh, sweetie,” he said. “You’re fine. Thank you for thinking of me.” I helped him put lotion on the places he couldn’t reach, the barrier of blue latex gloves making me feel bold in touching him through this pandemic’s terrible limitations on human contact and warmth.

Stan Brainin will be celebrated with a kirtan concert by Dave Stringer on March 26 at Yoga Soup.


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