Learning to Breathe: One Woman's Journey of Spirit and Survival

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9780452295353: Learning to Breathe: One Woman's Journey of Spirit and Survival
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An extraordinary spiritual memoir about the will to survive . . . one breath at a time
Alison Wright, covered human conflict with her camera until her own life was nearly cut short during a horrific bus accident with a logging truck on a remote jungle road in Laos. Suffering from excruciating life threatening injuries she drew upon her years of meditation practice, concentrating upon each breathe believing it to be her last. Wright's recent memoir, "Learning to Breathe; One Woman's Journey of Spirit and Survival," chronicles this inspirational story of survival and years of rehabilitation, and her ongoing determination to recover and continue traveling the world as an intrepid photojournalist. The book details her ascent of Mt. Kilimanjaro as well as her circumambulation of Mt. Kailash in Tibet.

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About the Author:

Alison Wright, a social documentary photographer, has spent a career capturing the universal human spirit through her photographs and writing. For many of her editorial and commercial projects, Alison travels to all regions of the globe photographing endangered cultures and people while covering issues concerning the human condition. She was recently named a National Geographic Traveler of the year as someone who travels with a sense of passion and purpose. Alison is a recipient of the 1993 Dorothea Lange Award in Documentary Photography for her photographs of child labor in Asia and a twice awarded the Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Award.  

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Introduction

"One step at a time, one breath at a time" is my mantra as I struggle up the snowy 18,700-foot Dolma pass, icy wind whistling around my head and searing my lungs. My stomach churns and my head aches from altitude sickness, but my spirits are buoyed by the Tibetan pilgrims who trudge with me on this sacred thirty-three-mile circumambulation of Mount Kailash, the holiest peak in Tibet.

Despite the cold and the blinding snow, I stop at the crest of the pass to rest and have a warm drink. Pungent incense wafts through the thin air. I join my companions in adding to an array of prayer flags, which whip so hard in the wind they sound like horses' hooves drumming the ground. Each color symbolizes an element: earth, fire, water, and lung, or wind. We tie flags to lines strung up at the mountaintop, so prayers will blow to the heavens. Kneeling, I make an altar by propping up photos of Claire, Hannah, and Erin—my three young nieces—with the colorful hand-painted rocks they gave me to leave at the pinnacle of my pilgrimage.

Both Buddhists and Hindus believe Mount Kailash to be the center of the universe. It is considered so powerful that simply visualizing loved ones here will bring them good fortune. Circling it is said to cleanse one's karma: each circumambulation inches you closer to nirvana and washes away a lifetime of sins. As I plod along, I can see pilgrims scattered along the path far ahead and far behind me, some of them creeping along one prostration at a time. It is humbling to be surrounded by such unwavering faith and devotion.

Even as my lungs labor and my legs protest, I feel a huge wave of gratitude wash over me, a prayer of thanks that I'm alive and that I've recovered the strength to make this journey. Many Tibetans save for years and travel hundreds or even thousands of miles to perform the kora, this ritual trek around the mountain. But for me, this is more than the fulfillment of a fifteen-year dream. Every step is a celebration of the life I nearly lost and a symbol of the physical and emotional challenges I've faced in my long, arduous healing.

I am a photographer. I have spent a lifetime immersed in other cultures, documenting the human condition in a quest to understand the world around me. Living in Asia has led me to insightful encounters with the Dalai Lama; Aung San Suu Kyi, living under house arrest in Burma (the politically correct name for the country that the military junta, her captors, have attempted to rename Myanmar); and Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese monk and teacher who for years was exiled from his country. I admire their courage and fearlessness.

I aspired to develop their attributes of wisdom and compassion in my own heart while documenting the human dramas and devastating social conditions—the poverty, disease, and suffering—unfolding around me. I strived to find a way to balance my not-so-subtle yearning for a sense of inner peace while bearing witness to life's atrocities and injustices.

Apparently, the universe felt I needed more than a gentle nudge. In fact, it took the impact of a one-ton logging truck to find it.

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9781594630460: Learning to Breathe: One Woman's Journey of Spirit and Survival

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ISBN 10:  1594630461 ISBN 13:  9781594630460
Publisher: Hudson Street Press, 2008
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