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Author takes Buddhist journey, shares gift

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Happily, both truths and beautiful metaphors abound in this contemplative memoir. Paterson shares her insights gained through 40 days of learning, meditating and healing in a Buddhist monastery located in southern France in 40 short, but illuminating chapters.

Where Elizabeth Gilbert's popular 2006 memoir Eat, Pray, Love seemed destined to become a movie (which it did in 2010 with Julia Roberts portraying Gilbert), Paterson's musings feel more like an introductory teaser or novice's handbook for the concepts and teachings of Buddhism.

More specifically, it is a guide to the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh, the Zen Buddhist master who founded Plum Village, the monastery and retreat centre in southern France where the 86-year-old Vietnamese monk still conducts daily Dharma talks.

It takes Paterson some time to settle into the monastery with its stripped-down accommodations, extremely early mornings, and dramatically slowed pace, but she adapts to its rhythms and is ultimately inspired and transformed by her retreat.

Similarly, it may take a few pages to settle into The Monks and Me, but it does offer inspiration and transformation to its reader.

Part of the beauty of this book is that, while it centres on the tenets of Buddhist philosophy, it does not feel religious or preachy.

Buddhism adopts the definition of faith as "confidence or trust in a person or thing." And followers are encouraged to put Buddhism to the test in order to earn that confidence.

While implementing its principles, we should "look for evidence that our meditation and studies are creating positive change within us." Perhaps science and religion can be friends after all.

Each chapter has both a title and a subtitle and is followed by a quote exemplifying the chapter's theme. A few of the quotes are from Buddhist sources, as one would expect. Most, however, are from unexpected sources such as William Blake, Albert Schweitzer, Jean Paul Sartre, Theodore Roosevelt and even the Beatles.

This clever format leaves one with the insight that the teachings and beliefs of Buddhism are far more universal than one might previously have been aware.

Paterson's decision to embark on a this retreat, she writes, was spurred by the death of her father. Parentless at 40, she felt orphaned and in need of finding a new, grounded definition of "home" within herself.

Ultimately, she finds that for which she is searching. Her greater gift -- to herself and to us -- are the lessons learned on the journey to her goal.

CindyMarie Small is a former soloist with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet.

 

The Monks and Me

How 40 Days in Thich Nhat Hanh's French Monastery Guided Me Home

By Mary Paterson

Hampton Roads Publishing, 256 pages, $17

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 1, 2012 J8

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