I met Robert Anton Patterson a few days after the 2016 presidential election. My partner at the time and I held a small meditation circle from our living room for our friends and family to gather and support one another. Sitting in silence while being surrounded by community can be powerful medicine. Nothing is spoken and yet everything seems to get said. Robert shares with me that he is a long-time practitioner of Vipassana meditation, which calls for clear awareness of exactly what is happening as it happens. He uses the practice as a way to get out of his head and into his body.
Our conversation begins with the topic of breaking up. Robert had recently ended a long, committed relationship and was reflecting on the juxtaposition that existed between his head and his heart in making the decision to walk away. He speaks about his ex with kindness and compassion, yet no matter how perfect she felt to him on an intellectual level, his body continuously had a way of demonstrating dis-ease while in relationship. Listening to him, I can tell that his rational brain did not support the breakup, but on a physical and somatic level, he truly didn’t have another choice. This separation between the mind and the heart is something I have always found rather fascinating about being human—and when you decide to awaken to the subtle messages of the body, you often receive information that you don’t want to hear. The challenge then becomes deciding how you want to metabolize the information that you are being given. I believe that often we are being asked to step into higher alignment with ourselves, which inevitably comes with making decisions that may seem crazy to certain parts of our person. As Robert mentions, when we don’t make these choices, it can generate into forms of stress, anxiety, and depression.
In this period of transition, Robert has found himself using exercise as an outlet to get further in touch with his body. He regularly practices judo and has found that his body craves the opportunity to be pushed and challenged as a means of working out some of his internal angst. Robert refers to the Hindu word “samskara,” which translates as a “mental impression, recollection, or psychological imprint” in the development of karma theory. According to various schools of Indian philosophy, every action, intent, or preparation by an individual leaves a samskara in the deeper structure of his or her mind. These eventually manifest through thoughts, feelings, actions, and behaviors that can impact an individual’s suffering and contentment.
In addition to judo, Robert has a dedicated surfing practice. Both of these forms of movement require intense discipline, focus, and attention to one’s physical safety. For Robert, being out in the ocean reminds him that we are always connected to source. Out in the water, Robert has found himself being forced to access deep patience: patience to read the ocean, patience to know when to surf the waves, patience to succumb to a schedule and timeline that he has no control over. When surfing, he is in relationship with the ocean and is forced to respect how she chooses to manifest herself in order to stay alive. There is a deep power born in acknowledging the smallness of humanity within the vast context of the universe.
Robert has lived all over the world, growing up in South America and Asia with parents of Latin and British descent. The diverse landscape of his upbringing has helped shape who Robert is today: an individual with very little attachment to cultural norms. This part of him has played a role in influencing how Robert accepts and rejects many of life’s supposed societal expectations.
When Robert was a teenager, he attended an international immersion school in Japan. He was set on going to college in California and therefore was encouraged to take the SAT. However, when Robert sat down to take the exam, he had a full body reaction of resistance. Thirty minutes after filling in the multiple choice questions with his number two pencil, he found himself raising his hand and asking to be excused from the rest of the exam. I deeply appreciated this part of our conversation because it touches on much more than just a feeling or a sensation in Robert’s body. It points to an unwavering knowing inside of him that rules aren’t always meant to be followed. He notes,
“People tell you that you have to do all kinds of things. Learn to question the system.”
For Robert, leaving the SAT exam didn’t have a drastic impact on his future (like so many of us are taught), and instead it actually deepened his connection to his inner guidance. I believe that external rules are only half of the problem. For most of us, it is the rules that we have created for ourselves that prevent us from feeling at home in our own skin.
Over the last decade Robert has successfully helped open a large handful of food establishments and retail spaces in San Francisco, some of them including: Black Sands Brewery, Ken Ken Ramen, and The Revolver / Voyager Shop SF. He shares not only how his gut instinct has played a role in helping him make smart business decisions, but also that in order to own a successful small business you have to be authentic toward your passion. He states,
“You have to have an intense passion and authenticity, and then everything else follows.”
At the end of our conversation, I ask Robert to pass along any offerings or truths that he has discovered for individuals looking to break rules and make changes in their lives. His responses are simple yet profound: learn to let go, go with the flow, settle into the uncomfortable, and make friends with discomfort, loneliness, sadness, and suffering. Learn to be okay with uncertainty. Robert catches himself before we finish and adds: “More self-compassion. People make mistakes and we don’t need to beat ourselves up.”
Robert Anton Patterson is a generalist entrepreneur with an interest in retail operations, technology products, and clean tech. He is also a drifter, surfer, taco fan, and meditator.