How Prudence From The Beatles' "Dear Prudence" Changed With the Times

Prudence Farrow Bruns, the muse behind the Beatles tune, on how she embraced the future when it suddenly arrived.

by Hannah Margaret Allen

At Inverse we’re focused on the future. But what happens when the future has arrived? These adapters tell us how they’ve negotiated growing up, their advice for the next generation, and how to be prepared for the onslaught of the future, which for them is today.

I first met Prudence Farrow Bruns on the porch of an independent bookshop signing copies of her self-published memoir, Dear Prudence. Surely this isn’t the muse behind the Beatles’ song, touring in the Florida panhandle?

In fact she is that Prudence, of the Beatles’ tune “Dear Prudence,” as well as the sister of actress Mia Farrow and the daughter of filmmaker John Farrow and the OG Jane, actress Maureen O’Sullivan. She received her Ph.D. in Sanskrit at UC Berkeley in 2007 and still studies and teaches transcendental meditation (TM), a practice she learned while visiting the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in Rishikesh, India in 1968.

My father and I stood in line for a half-hour, watching her husband try to hurry her along and keep the line moving as vacationers, bold from trips to the complimentary white wine table, dawdled. Yet the author took the time to give everyone a genuine inscription in each of their books. Even as the women in front of us gushed about the striking resemblance she has to Mia (as if she hasn’t fought that comparison her whole life), she was gracious.

In the hours I’ve spent talking to Prudence since, I’ve learned that she adamantly avoids nonsense — perfect example being on that 1968 trip to India when she met the Beatles. When John Lennon wrote “won’t you come out to play,” he’s admiring Prudence’s ability to ignore the hubbub of the superstars and focus on the task at hand: meditation.

I was able to talk to her about the future, what she has learned, and where she wants to see us keep improving.

When you were young, what did you think the future would look like?

I was maybe like a lot of young people nowadays. I felt like the future was very bleak. My peers were feeling the same way. Remember, we had the Vietnam War going on, and people in the adult world couldn’t really explain that war to us properly.

We were growing up with the wonderful Disney World and all the happy television endings, but we also had these air raid sirens and the H-bomb. Growing up with these realities took a lot of us to a point where we were saying we have to change the way we do things. We can’t keep using violence as a solution. We have to become a much more enlightened species if we’re going to survive.

So what do we do? We have to break from the past and start a new future. I know that some people went in one direction, but a particular group of us, which I was a part of, looked to the wisdom of the East. Hearing that there was a solution to our own suffering as individuals but also possibly a solution to the future was very appealing.

What do you think of the future now that you’re in it?

There are a lot of amazing, positive grassroots activities going on — the organic food movement, the green movement, the yoga schools. There’s also a lot of very, very powerful and important things that have not reached the surface yet. But they will.

We have to be a different kind of people, meaning we care about others. We care about our world, and we realize each one of us makes a difference. That is why we’re alive. We are not alive to sit and watch the Kardashians and spend all of our money on ourselves, while somebody down the street is in dire poverty. We have too much technology now that we can destroy ourselves.

Do you see our advancement in technology being used for good or evil?

The technologies that we’ve created can be very dangerous. We have to start with ourselves because the technology is just technology, and if we’re in the right space of mind it can be a wonderful thing. We can develop ways to take better care of the Earth and make sure everybody has enough food. We can use it for good. It really boils down to us. That’s what the ‘60s were all about: Be the solution.

Do you remember a specific time in which you were blown away by a new technology development?

Well, the H-bomb. But other than that? The computer.

When I was 18 or 19, I worked as a batcher for some scientists at Harvard computer laboratory. A friend of mine worked as a machinist there and got me the job. I would arrange their cards and put them in the machine. I had a friend who was the machinist for his huge warehouse with the computer. I mean, it was like a gymnasium, but it was all one computer. Downstairs there was all the batching and upstairs there was the computer. I was really blown away by that. I still cannot really grasp that in my phone there’s about 10 of those huge warehouses.

It’s phenomenal how quickly we adapt. Look at us with our iPhones! It’s as if we’ve had them for centuries, but 10 years ago we didn’t have them. It’s just amazing how quickly we do adapt, which shows we can make change for the good too very fast if we were to focus on it.

I remember feeling that computers were the future, and it was really exciting. But I also felt it was incredibly dangerous because we aren’t really where we should be as humans. This means this could really get in the hands of the good people or the dark people.

How long did you work for the Harvard computer laboratory?

I worked about nine months there before I went to India. [ed. note: This is the point in the story where she goes to visit the Maharishi, and she meets the Beatles.]

And you got the job through the machinist you knew?

Yes! She actually got in touch with me through Facebook about a year ago.

Getty / Stringer

What do you think about Facebook and social media?

Connecting the world through the internet is our only hope. Well, it’s one of our only hopes. The next important thing is connecting the world. The new generations coming up get hope from the internet. We saw that with the Arab Spring.

The young people go on the internet, and they’re learning! Everything in their life is a learning experience. So I would say that I definitely believe that the internet is extremely important. We must protect it and we must give it to everyone.

Speaking of learning, you discuss in your book how rebellious you were in school, and yet, you now you have your Ph.D. Such a turn of the tables! What would you say to the young rebel now?

I would say, first off, that I love you. Most of the rebels are rebels because they’re different. They think outside the box. They can’t accept other people’s views, they can’t conform, and that’s a hard place to be. They’re used to living outside the system where nobody understands them. They’re used to failing. So they can navigate the world in a way the rest of us can’t. We need them badly. Those are the ones we should be protecting because those are the ones that will take the risks that will make the changes that are necessary to lead us in the right direction.

So few of these leaders, the people that are different who are outside the culture like Steve Jobs, make it through the system. Most of them become alcoholics or die or commit suicide or something. Because they’re different from us from the start and they get labeled and they begin to hate themselves and they self-destruct. Those are the gems we should be protecting.

Did you eventually grow out of being the “black sheep” of the family?

I’d never been understood by my family. They’re different than I am, and that was always hard for me because it wasn’t anything that I did. You go back to the rebels and some of the labels that were put on me were by my own siblings. I was always labeled for acting out, “Oh Prudy, there she goes again!” And I think to myself, when people label you, that’s your whole world! You think, “Oh, what’s wrong with me?”

Mia Farrow visiting Sudan with UNICEF.

You and your sister Mia [Farrow] took different paths. How do you handle someone close to you choosing a lifestyle that you don’t necessarily agree with?

I realized we were going after a similar thing in different ways. She went after a certain life. One that was really important to her, perhaps because of fear. I guess in some respect, she has some security. I wanted security, too, but to me I just knew fame would not give me the kind of security I needed. I went inward, she went way out.

At what point did you decide to stop caring about the things that don’t matter?

It’s hard to say if I was always that way, because I grew up in that world [Hollywood] and my father was always on movie sets. It was the hypocrisy — not the hypocrisy of the people — it was more of a hypocrisy of humanity that has gone full on materialism. The people were beautiful, they had fame, they had talent, they had money, they had the American dream — and they were the most unhappy people I’ve ever met!

Her mother, Maureen O'Sullivan, as Jane in the Tarzan series. 

You’ve been married for almost 50 years. What advice can you give in regards to relationships?

I mean, basically, it’s about commitment. If you find somebody who really loves you, and while they may be a jerk in many ways, as long as they’re not a jerk in really bad ways — you stand by that commitment. There have been plenty of times that I wished I could not be with this person. But you have to factor in the kids. It’s so destructive to their psyche to divorce and these people are our future. I’m just telling you from my perspective and you can take it or leave it, but the kids are the real commitment.

Have you ever doubted your relationship?

Well, I ran away the day of my wedding. I snuck out at about three in the morning with my suitcase. My husband found me down the road! I knew how serious this marriage thing was.

But I do love him, and we share so much. Sometimes I’m so furious I could just blow up, but I also know I can’t be happy alone, either. I’m one of those people who is social. I need somebody to protect me, to share my time with. I need someone to keep my feet on the ground. All of that. So I live with the consequences. There are periods that are half and half — half horrible and half great. There are times where I just find myself saying, “God, I wish he was dead!” Seriously! So my honest answer is commitment. Commitment based on all this other stuff.

How have you learned to handle difficult situations in life?

We have to live properly if we’re going to have happiness. It’s serious business being alive, but you can’t go into it blind and expect everything will work out for you. That’s why I think meditation is so important for all of us human beings. It gives you that deep connection inside that gives you a different perspective. If you’re just living in a purely sensory world, and living a very sensory way, just fulfilling your desires, you’re not living life as it should be lived.

Going into the future, what are your lingering thoughts about the past?

People romanticized the ‘60s. While there were a lot of good things that happened, we were in a war. I just hope the younger people take the best of what we were learning — the meditation, the awareness of what you eat, all of these things — and take that to heart.

I think the young people are facing a similar kind of crisis [now]. Who are we? What are we? What is this world? And there are a lot of people that are seeing what’s happening but feel powerless. Everyone is fed up. Soon the civilization that we are is going to be replenished by younger people. They’re more educated and more sophisticated. It’s you! You guys.

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