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Threads of Awakening: An American Woman’s Journey into Tibet’s Sacred Textile Art

Several years ago, in an attempt to quiet my fidgeting and distract the constant chatter and running monologues in my mind, a dear friend taught me to knit. The repetitive motion, the way in which different stitches produced different patterns, not to mention the vast array of fiber to consider, was exactly what I needed. And somewhere along the way, I became a fiber nerd. Lately though, I have been thinking of taking my knitting up a notch and learning to weave.

So, it seemed like divine intervention, or perhaps a Universal nudge to get to it, when I received a review of Rinchen-Wongmo’s from by a friend. As always, I started with the Publisher’s overview:

Part art book, part memoir, part spiritual travelogue, Threads of Awakening is a delightful and inspiring blend of adventure and introspection. Leslie Rinchen-Wongmo shares her experience as a California woman traveling to the seat of the Tibetan government-in-exile in India to manage an economic development fund, only to wind up sewing pictures of Buddha instead. Through her remarkable journey, she discovered that a path is made by walking it—and that some of the best paths are made by walking off course. For more than 500 years, Tibetans have been creating sacred images from pieces of silk. Much rarer than paintings and sculptures, these stitched fabric thangkas are among Tibet's finest artworks. Leslie studied this little-known textile art with two of its brightest living masters and let herself discover where curiosity and devotion can lead. In this book, she reveals the unique stitches of an ancient needlework tradition, introduces the Buddhist deities it depicts, and shares insights into the compassion, interdependence, and possibility they embody.

Wow—part art book, part memoir, part spiritual travelogue, all a delightful and inspiring blend of adventure and introspection! Just want I needed after reading Eat Sleep Sit by Kaoru Nonomura and realizing the secret plan I harbored, escaping my life and starting fresh in a Zen Monastery was a non-starter. Okay then, time for Plan B. An inspiring adventure and travelogue, with art and Buddhism at its core, and India as the backdrop, held great potential. I was ready.

To begin, the Author is the real deal. Rinchen-Wongmo is the name given to her by a Llama, a Buddhist monk, when she took part in the formal Buddhist Refuge Ceremony, stating her intention to live a spiritual life. Rinchen-Wongmo, which means Precious Initiate in Tibetan, is authentically on the path. Her insights and teaching come from her heart and shine through to her words.

In the Introduction, Rinchen-Wongmo makes very clear her intention for the book:

This book is story about wonder—finding it, seeing it, making it.

I hope my story will fuel your sense of wonder and embolden you to follow your own threads to a uniquely beautiful and meaningful life.

Do any of us really know where we are going? We set a direction, for this moment, for today. Then life happens. And before we know it, we’re headed somewhere else.

To this end, this book does not disappoint. Rinchen-Wongmo’s story is refreshing, encouraging, stimulating, and beautifully written. And her story of the applique process is fascinating. The accompanying pictures, some in color and some in black and white, bring her story to life.

Though Rinchen-Wongmo uses weaving as a metaphor for the book, with Chapters such as Fibers, Threads, Warp, Weft, etc, they actually underscore the process by which Rinchen-Wongmo created the tapestry of her own life. She uses the metaphor of weaving to make her life discoveries accessible. Such as:

Aren’t we all pieced together every day, every moment? We imagine a through-line, a thread, a base, a self, an “I.” But is it really there? Instead, do we discover a thread of stories, experiences, thoughts, memories, sensations, relationships …

The fabric of reality is woven from everything.

We see what we have a framework for. We see what our beliefs allow.

As we travel with her, Rinchen-Wongmo challenges us to see for ourselves what she had already uncovered:

We seek shelter from the untrustworthiness of the world or, more precisely, from the trustworthy inadequacy of that world—as we see it—to meet our needs and make us whole.

It took me a while to figure out that fear is rooted in the most fundamental ignorance, the mistaken idea that there’s a self to protect.

My name (Precious Initiate) reminds me of the rare opportunity I have in this human life, to practice, to discern, to make choices, to teach, to give. It trains me not to disparage myself, nor to waste the great resource of being me.

This book not only provides a subtle challenge to summon the courage to follow your heart and discover your dreams, it asks the fundamental question of how to live freely.

I am taking these words to heart. I can no longer waste the great resource of being me.


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