Friday, June 8, 2012

Book Review - Priscilla Warner's "Learning to Breathe"

Just about a month ago, Priscilla Warner was the guest on Michele Rosenthal's radio show, Your Life After Trauma. I sent Priscilla a message on facebook letting her know how much I enjoyed the interview and astounded by the similarities in our journey. I told her I just had to read her book. She was kind enough to have her publisher send me a copy and would I be willing to write a review of the book. Would I? You can read my review on Amazon. "Learning to Breathe" is another gift the Universe has presented to me on my trauma recovery journey. Priscilla and I are six months apart in age. "I was teaching myself to breathe at the age of 56," Priscilla writes. How heartening to find a contemporary soul sister. I came to my yoga mat and began learning to breathe shortly after my 57th birthday.

As we enter into Priscilla's world, she writes, "His Holiness, the Dalai Lama believes human beings can change the negative emotions in their brains into positive ones. And who was I to doubt the Dalai Lama? Maybe my journey would resemble something like Siddhartha meets Diary of a Mad Jewish Housewife.....My new mantra would be 'Neurotic, heal thyself and please stop complaining."

When I entered Priscilla's world, a door opened to a banquet hall filled with the most sumptuous spiritual treats ever gathered in one place. I fed myself on the spiritual wisdom Priscilla so generously shares from meditation masters, Buddhist monks, mystics and healers including the Dalai Lama himself as she sets out on a quest to free herself from the crippling panic attacks she experienced for decades.

"When you're ready to learn, your lessons find you in the oddest places," Priscilla writes. How true! Once we open ourselves to the possibility of freedom from pain and suffering, synchronicities, 'coincidences' and wondrous meetings begin to unfold in one's life - like my meeting Priscilla. Sharon Salzburg quoted Krishna Das who quoted someone else, "The grace of God is coming down all the time, like rain, but we forget to cup our hands."

My copy of "Learning to Breathe" is dog eared, underlined and I have taken notes in my yoga teacher training journal. My meditation practice has deepened, becoming more meaningful and healing not only for myself but as my compassionate and loving kindness heart continues to grow extends into the world. In yesterday's blog post, I speak to how the teachings Priscilla garnered from her healing quest blesses my life. You need not transform was the theme of a reading that David read during savasana after a Sunday morning practice. The next day I found myself reading in Priscilla's book:

"I'm on a mission to transform myself from a neurotic Jew to a serene Tibetan monk," I blurted out to the facilitator I'd met earlier outside Mingyur's living quarters.
"Why would you want to do that? he asked, ushering me into an adjacent room. You're not a monk, and you're not Tibetan. Why not just be the best neurotic Jew you can be."

Themes in Priscilla's book paralleled themes in my yoga classes which speaks to the interconnectedness and wonder of it all (no I'm not referring to the Foxwoods commercial). When the student is ready so many teachers appear bringing the soul lessons on a beautiful path lined with cherry blossoms. You'll have to read Priscilla's book to fully embrace the cherry blossoms image.

I laughed. I cried. I experienced awakening and enlightenment. I smiled. My breath caught with the similarities in our journeys. One of my favorite moments although there are so many it's hard to choose is when her questioning of why and how transforms from feelings of abandonment and neglect by her parents to gratitude for the resident who saved her life with an emergency tracheotomy at the age of 16 months old. In that moment she is able to get out of the story she'd been focusing on that brought her so much pain and suffering to a place of gratitude both to the resident and for her own survival.

"I thought about happiness, tears streaming down my cheeks," Priscilla writes as she shares what's happening in a therapy session.

"If I become happy and healthy," I said, "then I will no longer be related to those people that I came from. I won't belong to the family that I gres up in."

As Priscilla weaves the beautiful tapestry of her life together with clarity and acceptance, she is able to let go of the panic which in part she held to benefit her family members. She discovers how to experience compassion and loving kindness without her having to suffer. "Learning to Breathe" is an exquisitely crafted memoir blending the story of Priscilla's family with therapists and sages of modern day thought and trauma recovery. One of the most compelling features of "Learning to Breathe" is how Priscilla brings in the studies that are being done to demonstrate the effects of meditation on the brain. For those of us who believed that the damage from traumatic experiences are permanent and irreversible; for those who believe that the only way to quell panic or anxiety is with medication; for any one who enjoys a great read and a story of courage, warmth, humor, triumph, honesty, clarity, acceptance and embracing life with grace and gusto -- "Learning to Breathe" is for you! It's for everybody, mind and soul. I know that I will keep returning to "Learning to Breathe" as I absorb the wisdom into the very fiber of my being. Priscilla generously includes a bibliography and resource list for continuing the healing journey.

From my heart to yours
With total love and deepest gratitude,

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