Monday, August 30, 2010

Book Review: Dreaming Me by Jan Willis

I picked up this book after receiving recommendations for it from two sources.  It's not often you hear about a Black woman's experience with Buddhism and so I knew I had to read it.  And I'm so pleased that I did.  I related in so many ways to Willis especially when it comes to wondering why I was born into the family I was when I am the way I am.  I found myself nodding in agreement so often, I had to chuckle.  No surprise that I found my way to Buddhism like Willis did!  

The book was hard emotionally in some parts.  I know that having never lived in the segregated south with the KKK as a serious threat, I can't really appreciate the kind of terror Black folks had to live in.  Willis made this existence stunningly clear.  I mean, things like having to drive around in the sweltering heat with the windows rolled up for fear that some racist would throw acid to blind a Black child . . . it's hard to imagine.  But it's the truth.  Also, Willis does some work to find out her family's history and there were some parts of her search that made me boil with anger.  

And there were some parts that just really struck home like when Willis father tried to let her know that she was just as valuable as her White counterparts.  Meanwhile, society had let her know differently.  Willis wishes that the foundation for a strong self-esteem was laid right from the beginning because in truth, that is the only effective way to do it.  Trying to instill self-esteem in a child who has already been barraged with only negativity about themselves is an uphill (and mostly futile) endeavor.  

Willis also struggled with some phobias like a fear of snakes (like I do) and lightning.  She lives in a house where there are snakes all around.  One gets in her house.  She doesn't freeze or go into shock or anything like I would so I don't think her fear of snakes is as profound as mine.  Her fear of lightning is and I could totally sympathize.  She goes through a form of therapy that helps to realize her fear of lightning is rooted in the terror that the KKK caused for her earlier in life.  This really saddened me but at the same time I was happy that she got to the bottom of it and was able to live life a little more freely.

It was amazing how she tied the book in at the end to her beginnings in the Baptist church, realizing that she didn't need to reject one path to embrace another.  I just loved the way this book ended and had to go back to read that part again.  It was just really sumptuous!  It's a brilliantly written, honest book that chronicles one woman's extraordinary journey: the struggles, the lessons, the hurts and failures as well as the triumphs. 

I really enjoyed this memoir and highly recommend it especially if you are a woman interested in Buddhism.  There are so many pearls of wisdom and insights in this book that I would really love to own it.  I will be keeping my eyes open.

By the way, keeping my eyes open has yielded me three books from the thrift store, I'm happy to say:  Eat, Pray, Love, Autobiography of a Yogi, and a collection of O. Henry's short stories.  All for less than $2.  Can't be mad at that at all. 

I'm currently reading Three Cups of Tea.  It's taking me a little while to get into it (i.e. it has a slow start) but it comes highly recommended by my good friend. 

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