I thank NetGalley and Bloomsbury Publishing Plc (UK & ANZ) for providing an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
Title: I May Be Wrong
Author(s): Bjoern Natthiko Lindeblat (Caroline Bankler & Navid Modiri)
Publishing Date: 17 February 2022
Genre: Memoir, non-fiction, self-help, Health, Mind & Body
Rating: 4 Lemonades Great Read
Book Summary: Bjoern Lindeblat always felt that there is more to life than just to earn money. He also had different experiences of spiritual awakening. And he listens to his intuition which leads him at the age of 26 to a forest monastery in Thailand. He spent several years there as a Buddhist forest monk, after which he is led to an English and later Swizz forest monastery too. And after 17 years he leaves. He describes his incredible journey in this book.
I was always interested in religions. As a teen, I started to read up on Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism. So, I was excited when I saw Bjoern Natthiko Lindeblat’s memoir on NetGalley. He co-wrote it with Caroline Bankler and Navid Modiri and it describes his journey from Spain where he worked in finance to Thailand and back to Europe.
This book was a joy to read. It’s calm but full of humour style flows along Bjoerns life like a beautiful river which I feel is a symbol of Buddhist thinking. It starts with him describing a summer’s morning when he was 8. He woke up before everybody else and experiences a moment of full conscious awareness in which his thoughts fell silent. He describes it as the world saying to him “Welcome Home”. Natthiko (which means “he who grows in wisdom) says, that he probably couldn’t find words for it then but would try now. He also explains that there was a feeling of deep gratitude and the hope this would never end. But, of course, it didn’t.
“Open your hand” and “I may be wrong”
There is not much more mention of his childhood. He leaves school with good grades but no plan for his life like so many of us have experienced. But life guides him to the Stockholm School of Economics which he again leaves with good grades and a job offer at hand even though he isn’t particularly interested in economics. When he is transferred to Spain he experiences more and more anxiety about how good he is doing his job. However, he also finds a book that guides him to meditation. The book is “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”. To him, it emphasises the importance of finding your inner stillness but he doesn’t know how to get there. What he knows is, that people who meditate seem to find that inner calm place and that meditation has something to do with engaging with your breath.
So, he tries it out and gets not far. As soon as he tries to engage with his breathing his thoughts go haywire as they do. This made me smile because mine still do even after practising meditation for 30 years. But in the end, he gets to a point where he figures that his job doesn’t fulfil him. Bjoern describes this in a matter of fact way. There is no huge emotional upheaval. Just the knowledge: This is wrong and I need to do something else. In the wake of that knowledge, he quits his job at 26 and after some time back in Sweden goes travelling. On these travels, he finds his way to the Thai Forest Monastery where he feels he should stay as a novice. So he does and becomes eventually a monk. He is also given the name “Natthiko”.
This book is so refreshing because Natthiko mentions so many issues all of us are facing like anxiety about how good we are doing and gives the answers he had learned in a way that doesn’t make you feel guilty. It is also refreshing because he tells us so much of the struggles he went through with meditation. For years, he says, he keeps falling asleep in the daily meditation practises in Thailand. In his opinion, one reason, for these troubles with meditation, are this inner critical voice that we seem to have inherited in the west. In contrast to that, he describes how he experienced Thai people. He writes:
“The Thai people seemed, simply put, to like themselves much more. Rarely have I met a westerner who radiated the same kind of genuine certainty that the world will welcome them as they are. I felt like any Thai would be able to walk into a room and with an astonishing confidence exude something along the lines of: “Hi, I’m here! Great, isn’t it?…”
His memoir meanders along different scenes and experiences of his life. Many parts explain how appreciated forest monks are in Thai society. Even the king comes along to learn from their teachers. And so he describes many of his “Aha Moments” he had in connection with his fellow monks. One of them is Ajahn (Thai word for teacher) Sucitto who mentions to him that:” Chaos may rattle you, but order can kill you.” when Bjoern is struggling with the less organised life in the English monastery. At this moment he learns: ” Right. I was clenching my fist too hard again. I was imagining I knew what the world should look like. And when it didn’t conform to my ideas, I seized up. Thoughts with the word “should” make me small, dull and lonely.”
This book isn’t only a memoir. It also gives the reader ideas on how to deal with issues we face in life. And struggling with chaos or the world not looking how we think it should look like is one of them. Natthiko’s advice? “If you can relate to that feeling, try practising this hand movement – clench your fist hard, then let it unfold into an open hand. I hope you can carry that with you s a reminder. I often use that gesture during my lectures and meditations because it epitomises so much of what I’m trying to communicate. It’s simple, but it’s a good illustration of how we can let go of things we cling to too hard: things, feelings, convictions. Clench your fist hard, then relax it into an open hand.”
One lesson that made me think: “Oh, that’s something!” is the title of the book: “I May Be Wrong”. Natthiko describes another experience in which he felt things should be different. However, he had learned over time that it eases the pressure on all of us if we keep in mind, that we absolutely might be wrong and that that’s ok.
But this book isn’t only about struggle. It is full of humor. One example of monastery life that made me laugh was the enormous amount of toilet paper they always seem to receive. As forest monks are not allowed to ask for anything people mostly give what they think the monks need the most. And toilet paper seemed an easy answer. After experiencing the toilet roll panic buying of the pandemic year 2020, I couldn’t help but laugh. Also, his experience of walking 300 miles back from being a hermit had hilarious aspects: As forest monks only eat once a day, he can’t accept the food offers he got regularly throughout the day. So after long conversations, Nattiko ends up accepting fizzy drinks. He then ponders: “So, I kept walking, mile after mile, with eight or ten Pepsis in my bloodstream, wondering whether this was really what the Buddha was referring to when he talked about the holy way of life.”
I enjoyed this book a lot because it describes an extraordinary human and his experiences. He teaches not only with his life and the extraordinary teachers he met but also with stories about how we can deal better with our lives. “I May Be Wrong” is full of humour and love for humanity in all its deficiencies. It lets you experience how life is for a forest monk in the Thai Buddhist tradition but also challenges our western thinking patterns. And it is simply a wonderful tale about life.
You like this book if you enjoy reading memoirs, self-help books and are interested in Buddhism and Southasian life.
Good vibes your way
You can do it!
Liz’s Rating System
1 Lemon could not read it
2 Lemons could read it but didn’t impress
3 Lemonades it was ok
4 Lemonades Great Read
5 Lemonades Incredible read, I’ll read it again