Author's Preface | Books | Wellness

Author’s Preface

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different kind of story. It is a memoir, but not just a memoir; a collection of essays, but not just a collection of essays; a treasury of Zen teachings, yet not just a treasury of Zen teachings; a sailor’s yarn, yet not just a simple sailor’s tale spun over a glass of rum. The story ranges far and wide, covering many themes: Traumatic Brain Injury, divorce, sailing, Zen, love, compassion, poetry, hope, family, kids, dogs…. Except the story is about more than Traumatic Brain Injury, divorce, sailing, Zen, love, compassion, poetry, hope, family, kids and dogs. “Passage to Nirvana” is about the poetry of living. At its core, the story is about healing, it’s about what happens when everything that defines you, everything you are, is totally, completely stripped away. “Passage to Nirvana” is about finding a path to happiness after a traumatic life event. The title’s acronym PTN could just as easily stand for finding a path to “Post-Trauma Nirvana,” a path that will confront all of us at one point in our lives, whether we’re affected by the death of a loved one, a divorce, or an extreme physical trauma—an accident, a debilitating addiction or a life-threatening disease. The book is a work of nonf iction, based on real life experiences. Even though much of the story revolves around two traumatic
assage to nirvana is a

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Lee ca r Lson

brain injuries, there is little discussion of parts of the brain, modern neuroscience, neurotransmitters and other state-of-the-art medical understanding. There are plenty of other good books on those subjects. Instead, using art instead of science, the book conveys what it feels like to live with a Traumatic Brain Injury, or care for someone with a Traumatic Brain Injury. The story gives a sense of the struggle, the darkness, and the joy of finally finding a path out of that darkness. “Passage to Nirvana” is an artist’s expedition of discovery into the mysterious oceans of the human mind. “Passage to Nirvana” is not a conventional narrative. A voyage to nirvana is not easy; the passagemaker moves forward in fits and starts, is sometimes driven backwards by howling storms, and is sometimes becalmed in maddening, airless doldrums. The voyager’s route can fetch up against impassable reefs so they must double back and set a new course. “Passage to Nirvana” mimics that process. Part I, “Prologue: A Journey Begins,” is an introduction that lays the framework and sets the course for the journey, providing keel, ribs, fasteners, planks, charts, parallel rules and compass. Part II, “The Book of Po,” finishes the fitting out and puts to sea, providing the necessary equipment: sails, masts, paint, winches, ropes, anchors, caulking, bunks, portholes and hatches for gazing at the sky, provisions for nourishment and sustenance. “The Book of Po” is the log of the voyage. Part III, “Bricolage,” is like fine adornment: varnish, brass lamps, decorative rope work, cinnamon and nutmeg in the coffee, things that give the voyage another layer of enjoyment. Some people consider these components essential enhancement, while others consider them unnecessary, extra ornamentation. Personally, I consider man’s urge to expand his world to be an fundamental need. As my father often quoted to me, “Variety is the spice of life.” “The Book of Po,” is designed so that one can read sequentially, like a conventional memoir, or by titles that catch one’s fancy, such as “New England Nirvana” or “Lover’s Lament,” since each chapter is a self-contained essay. The chapters are like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle; by putting them together the picture will slowly come into focus, but there is no “right” order in putting together the pieces. If you have ever talked to a brain-injured person, you know it can be a frustrating, challenging experience, with the level of frustration
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Pa s s a g e t o n i r va n a

dependant on the degree of the person’s injury. The brain injury survivor can get angry, can say inappropriate things; they sometimes have trouble focusing on the conversation and sticking with any one thread of thought. They can just stop in the middle of the conversation, lost, or they can simply be slow on the uptake. “Passage to Nirvana” mimics not only the course of a path to nirvana, but also the way the traumaticbrain-injured-mind works, having trouble concentrating on one thing for any length of time, jumping from unruly shaped puzzle piece to unruly piece, dancing back and forth from the present moment to memories to future possibilities and back again, searching for a way to make sense of the chaos. But dealing with a brain-injured person can also be an immensely rewarding experience. The brain-injured person can be thankful, upbeat, just happy to be alive. They often operate without guile or falsehood. There can be an energy around them that is infectious. For the “normal” person who is dealing with a brain injury survivor, one usually needs to bring an attitude of patience and compassion, otherwise you may be driven crazy. Coming face to face with a brain-injured person can be an experience that teaches you about yourself. “Passage to Nirvana” mimics that odyssey as well. I had a philosophy teacher in high school whose classroom had a clock on the front wall that had stopped working. She refused to call maintenance, saying that since she taught existentialism, having a classroom where normal rules didn’t apply, where time stood still, fit right in. I feel the same way about “Passage to Nirvana.” It does not follow the “normal” rules for how a book should behave. This difference can be exasperating, it can be challenging, but it can also be enlightening, forcing you to slow down and rethink your assumptions. Since this is a story about existence, having a narrative that operates without guile, that relishes the joy of being alive, that energetically jumps forward, backwards and then sometimes stands perfectly still while it makes sense of the chaos is not a thing that needs fixing. –Lee Carlson, March 2010

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