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Set Free

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Due to the Covid-19 restrictions, we couldn't meet, so posted these individual reviews:

Frankie Fisher

I much preferred this book to the Timmy Mallett book. Both were about pilgrimages, but it seemed to me that the first was almost totally self-centred; (I know he loved his brother, but!) There was very little of the places he went through except how they affected him. Judge not and all that, but he did not seem spiritually further on at the end and I thought that was what a pilgrimage was all about, when done properly?

Emma on the other hand, though her road was long and slow, achieved spiritual growth by the end and I found that profoundly impressive. There were long bits where I willed her to get on with it, but overall, I found it engaging. This was probably all the more so with reading it after Timmy's which I found so unsatisfactory. It was good to read something that showed there are many other paths to God.

Annelies Varsey

Emma Slade was a successful Banker who, during a business trip to Jakarta, was mugged in her hotel room and threatened with a gun. She thought initially that she had been able to cope with this frightening experience, but she found later that she could not cope and was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and fortunately received helpful treatment. However, the incident changed her attitude to life

After having watched a yoga teacher practising, she took up Yoga and found that it came to her quite naturally. She really loved it, trained hard with different teachers and became a Yoga teacher herself. She says that Yoga gives her inner peace. Yoga eventually led her to Buddhism. She attended a retreat at a Buddhist Monastery in Scotland in January 2003 and became a Buddhist.

Emma had several broken relationships, the last one was with Mark. Having previously been told that she was unable to have children, shortly after her relationship with Mark ended, she found however that she was pregnant. She decided to become a single parent and bring her son up on her own, but fortunately Mark is supportive and a father to Oscar.

Emma points out the importance of kindness (Ahimsa in Sanskrit), which is the very first principle of Yoga. Remembering and sounding it helps her especially with the problems she encounters in bringing up Oscar, who has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

Whilst in Scotland at the Buddhist Monastery, Emma talked to a woman who had been trekking in Bhutan, a country she had always been interested in, and her mother encouraged her to visit Bhutan. This visit had a profound impact on her. She met the Lama Nina Tschering, who became her teacher, and many more visits followed. During one of her visits her teacher encouraged her to become a Buddhist nun, wear nuns' robes, meditate and study Buddhism in depth, at the heart of which lies a state of peace and the release – set free – from selfish human desires. Emma had her head shaven and received the Buddhist name Pema Deki. Initially she was concerned how her son would react, especially to her shaven head, but to her relief it did not bother him.

In Bhutan, Emma became aware of a very poor boys' school and decided to support it as well as other disadvantaged and poor people, and she has set up a registered charity to help her do so. Emma made an amazing spiritual journey! The terrible experience she had and the impact it had on her life shows that good can come out of something very bad.

Emma comes across as a very strong and determined lady. She wears Buddhist nuns' robes and has a shaven head, which cannot be easy in England. It is admirable that she supports her son and herself, travels fairly frequently to Bhutan and spends considerable time studying, meditating, and practising Yoga as well as raising funds for her charity.

Set Free is a very thought-provoking book!!

Marilyn Dore

I enjoyed reading Set Free. It was a book that held my interest throughout. It was interesting reading about Emma's/Pema's experiences and how life changing events were to lead her down a very different path from the one she was used to (but one which was clearly very right for her).

I admired her dedication and commitment to learning and repeating long mantras and the other practices she had to undertake as part of her training. I was also pleased that she felt led to help others through starting a charity to help people in Bhutan.

This was certainly a good read.

Ann Prendergast

This book got off to an exciting start and I was captivated. It did get a little monotonous about the yoga & perhaps that part could have been condensed. Emma obviously felt it was important.

What a traumatic experience in Jakarta for Emma Slade. This event remained with her for many years, resulting in PTSD at its extreme level. Emma was changed by this shocking experience. She looked into her life & found it shallow. She found this strange, as she loved her work as a banker with its pace & focus. She liked her image- designer clothes & accessories plus money. Her life up to this time had not been easy. She never seemed to fit in. Whether this be school, Cambridge, art college. She enjoyed solitude.

Yoga was the lifeline she needed. She found she was a natural & she loved it. Meditation emerged from the yoga & she took on a simple daily lifestyle spending hours per day meditating. Emma's looked for love which she knew was missing in her life. She met Peter & found love with him. Still searching for something she went to a Scottish Buddhist Monastery & met Lama Yeshe. & discovered Buddhist philosophy so simple & sensible. Emma investigated Buddhism more seriously. She saw that it emphasises the importance of developing kindness & a calm mind. She became a Buddhist at a ceremony in Scotland

Peter & Emma separated. She found it hard. She then met Mark, quite the opposite of Peter. This relationship was short lived, but Emma soon discovered she was pregnant. She would have to be a single parent. Baby Oscar was born. Mark was to play a part in Oscar's life as time went on. Emma continued studying Buddhism & yoga.
She had an ambition to go to Bhutan where she learned from a Lama & practiced much more about the faith.She wanted to be kind to people& to help people. She had to learn concentration, discipline, daily prayers & meditation. After much study visits to Bhutan she became a Buddhist Nun. Her hair was shaved & she wore robes. Juggling motherhood & Buddhism as a Nun was challenging.
She wanted to help the poorest in Bhutan, families, monks, a primary school, disabled children. She set up Opening Your Heart To Bhutan Charity. This is to to achieve long lasting improvements of life of children in Bhutan especially those with special needs.
There are similarities in Christianity with the Buddhist faith. Kindness, helping people, daily prayer. Work with charities -Action for Children, Karibuni Children, meals for the homeless.
An interesting insight into Buddhism. Certainly, an inspirational woman with great determination, intelligence & a calm faith. She was able to put her banking experience to good use in setting up the charity.

David Neville

Emma Slade, or should I call her Pema Deki, her ordained name as a Buddhist nun, was obviously a very single tracked person set on high achievement and not really considering the needs of those around her. With a high-power corporate banking job she excelled at her project oriented world which left her little time for socialising or making meaningful relationships outside her work. In spite of her very loving relationship with Peter, when it became obvious they were totally different in their ways they parted and it caused great heartache to Emma. Also after her dramatic and traumatic encounter with the gun toting thief in her hotel room in Jakarta who was shot dead by police and her feeling she was getting over the shock, her briefer relationship with Mark which just as it ended made her aware she was pregnant with her son Oscar made her aware of her lonely state. Luckily, Mark continued to be a good friend and was keen to be a real father to Oscar which made Emma's life much more manageable later.

After Oscar's birth she started seriously to involve herself in Yoga and found it came naturally to her and gave her physical comfort and increasing spiritual peace. Delving into the meanings of the various forms of Yoga led her to Buddhism and because she understood Bhutan was a special centre for Buddhism and spiritual awareness she started many pilgrimages to that country undertaking special long distance training from the Lama Nima Tshering. She was encouraged to wear the robes of someone studying to become a Buddhist nun and do away with her western dress. This was easy in Bhutan but not so in Whitstable, England, but her strong determination made her persevere with this and her arduous studies of meditation and learning and reciting the very long mantras. The very heart of her studies was to free herself from her own selfish desires and to attain a state of peace and kindness to all other creatures. She was eventually ordained as a Buddhist nun in Bhutan and shaved her head completely. She was different to the others of her order in that she had a son to look after and had to earn money for herself and support her trips to Bhutan. But being very practical and trying to show her kindness got her into trying to support a very poor school in a rural area of Bhutan, eventually setting up a registered charity to help many poor and disadvantaged people in that country.

Several things in the book made me think. First there is no equivalent to Yoga as an introduction to Christianity, in this country. Although most people who go to Yoga classes do so purely for the physical and meditative benefits and never connect it to a religion, nevertheless there is a pathway there for those who want to follow as she did. Secondly, although we call ourselves Methodists and have many laid down protocols for property and ministry in all its forms, there is no equivalent for individual spiritual development. There is no prescribed way of conducting our daily prayers and our bible studies. Perhaps this is something we should consider instigating so members know what is expected in this spiritual realm.
Thirdly I was pleased to see a real parallel between the Buddhist outlook of kindness and our New Testament creed of loving our neighbour as ourselves and the list of spiritual gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit that Paul sets out. Also her putting her new faith into action through her charity reminded me very strongly of Karibuni Children which also started as one person's dream with little or no resources which has now become the large charity which so many of us support for the children of Kenya.
I really enjoyed this book and realised what a strong and dedicated character Emma Slade is.

Angela M. Smith

The dramatic start of Set Free by Emma Slade grabbed my interest and I understood how this led to Emma suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. When she wrote about her life, I wondered if the departure of her parents to America, had more of an affect upon her than she acknowledged and that was why she was so undecides about what to do with her future. She was fortunate that her family could afford to let her remain a student and to travel. It seemed to me, that a chapter was missing between chapter 8 and chapter9, for I could not understand how a girl, who started university courses in English, then History and who then got a degree in Art, could suddenly become a City financier, earning fabulous amounts of money.

The practical skill she learned in yoga seemed to cure her mental illness and become a continuing source of income for her, but then she selfishly left her child's father and her mother to look after her son, to seek to satisfy her quest for her personal development. Buddhism, for her appeared to consist of learning lots of meaningless mantras. I never discovered what "om ne pe me hung" actually meant. However, I do find counting to control my own breathing helpful, in order to acquire patience, is very helpful, so it has a physiological benefit. I feel that her mental health could have been improved and her philanthropy used nearer home.

Marion Green

I was very happy for the author that she did at last find her niche in life. It was rather a long and tortuous journey and she was so lucky to have so much support and money available to her to pursue her quest. I did at one stage think I would like to know what she would be doing in ten years time but part of this was answered near the end of the book.

It was an interesting story in how life's events changed her outlook on life completely and gave her the will and drive to find her true calling. You can only wish her fulfilment in the future.

Mike Cragg

I chose this book on the basis we might understand how she came to accept Buddhism as her "religion" but unless I missed something I believe it was just a natural progression from her interest in yoga as they are closely intertwined and the fact she was also naturally drawn to the far east and its history and culture, particularly that of Bhutan. I found the amount of detail she included was too much and not conducive to an easy read.

Ken Harris

This book was quite a contrast to Timmy Mallett's book, although like TM's it was the story of a journey or pilgrimage. While Timmy Mallett gave us an account of his cycle ride from Marlow to Santiago de Compostela, with some stories about his own life and some historical characters, Emma Slade's was a spiritual journey of transformation from being a financial analyst to becoming a Buddhist practitioner and teacher.

I found a depth in Set Free that I missed in the earlier book. Emma's journey was far from easy, and started with an act of violence, which eventually pushed her out of what could otherwise have been a materially successful life. She took us through the various stages of her journey, to a point where she combined both a new approach to her own inner life with working for the welfare and education of others, and particularly children in Bhutan.

While her particular path which lead her into Buddhism is clearly different from the journey into Christianity that members of the Good Faith Book Club will have taken, I thought that there was much that we can learn from her experiences that can deepen our own faith in both God and human nature.

Peter Green

From being a smart looking, high-flying, jet-setting, banking analyst to being a shaven-headed single parent, Buddhist nun and founder of a charity for disadvantaged children in Bhutan, Emma Slade has certain-ly had an eventful life. Her journey was via a life-threatening gunman in Jakarta, post-traumatic stress, several relationships, yoga, medita-tion, and distinguished Buddhist teachers.

The gunman incident triggered an eventual reflection on what was important in life. She realised that the earlier lifestyle she had was not giving her the happiness that she sought. I was reminded of one of our earliest book club reads, The Happiness Secret by J. John, which suggested that, "if we seek happiness directly, we may never find it, but if instead we seek a life of fulfilment we will find true and lasting happiness." Emma's lifestyle changes certainly brought about her transformation in the words of her son, "to being the happiest mum at the school gates."
Much of her story, however, is unique in the sense that few people would have the money, time, patience, commitment and seemingly innate yoga skills to be able to make numerous flights to Bhutan and free up six hours a day for yoga, meditation and Buddhist mantras. What could be shared with many though, is the importance of kind-ness, the need to be less self-centred and the satisfaction and fulfil-ment that comes from a helping those less fortunate than ourselves. We need look no further than our own Karibuni Children or our recent read about The Shed That Fed A Million Children.

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