It Is What It Is — Grace through acceptance
Thomas W E Budge (see: profile)
Dr Peter Merrington, affiliated professor extraordinaire in the English Department, University of the Western Cape
General non-fiction in the areas of politics, African interest, history, autobiography and personal empowerment
The Namasté Trust, South Africa
Thomas's book is autobiographical. It reads like a novel. As one of an initial group of white English-speaking conscientious objectors to refuse military training under South Africa's former regime, he was held in military custody in the Detention Barracks in Voortrekkerhoogte, Pretoria shortly after matriculating in the early 1970's. Of the 512 days of his incarceration, most of them were spent in solitary confinement and as much as a year in total isolation with a concurrent period spent in the notoriously awful dark-cells, a punishment that broke the spirit of many a young man.
Whilst detention was an obviously difficult period for Thomas, it was extra tough because, as a gay man, he had to hide his sexual orientation from his family and friends out of fear. He had to live a double life: on one hand being the faithful child adhering to the strict dogma of the Jehovah's Witnesses, the religion under which he was raised; and simultaneously suppressing his sexual identity which he couldn't eradicate from his being. Deeply conflicted and misunderstood, soon, matters had to come to a head and he was excommunicated from the Witness faith because he chose to be himself.
Excommunication (called disfellowshipping) is the Witnesses harshest form of punishment. Any disfellowshipped person is shunned — literally. No Witness is allowed to associate with a disfellowshipped person — not even eating a meal with him or her. And so, having been freed from apartheid policies, Thomas found himself punished yet again. This time having to face the loss of his family and community support — a sentence that lasted to the present, some thirty-five years on. At the time of his disfellowshipping, his father said: 'Today is the day my son died.'
It took a few decades for him to find his way again, and only after he was introduced to his spiritual teacher Ram Dass who gave him a different and more positive perspective on life. Thomas is a motivational councillor who has worked with many thousands of people, many from the influential ranks of Johannesburg's rich and famous. Their stories, melded with his own, is a recipe for the creation of some really useful life-skills. His book is uplifting. It has a refreshingly different perspective on life.
Thomas says in his introduction: 'Part of my story is about injustice, the ways in which the state, society, and creed systems often suppress the life of individuals like you and me. But, through and out of this, I also speak of the release and deeper transformation that comes from wise and courageous choices.'
What is the book about and how is it original?
A nineteen year old, English speaking, white South African boy faces detention and solitary confinement for refusing military training during the apartheid regime. But, instead of his religion helping him through his ordeal, the Jehovah's Witnesses abandon him because of his sexuality as a gay man. What might have been a story of despair, becomes one of encouragement. It's a deeply thoughtful book about acceptance and contemporary spirituality. It's a touching and personal account of his friendship with his spiritual teacher, Ram Dass. This book transforms lives, untangles complicated circumstances in life and inspires the reader to achieve more.
For whom is the book intended and to whom is it aimed?
It's an important read for anyone wishing to find renewed purpose in life.
What are three unique selling points of the book?
It documents a forgotten part of South African history.
It comments on the differences between religion and spirituality.
It uses the story of one ordinary South African to give hope and encouragement to many other people. People don't have to be lucky or special to live fulfilled lives; anyone can. This book shows how that is possible.
JS, Johannesburg: I have just finished reading your book and would like to express my appreciation for all that you shared. I found your expression to be genuine and honest and really appreciated this. I also appreciated the references to Ram Dass. Since reading of him in your book I have downloaded several of his talks and have benefited so much from them. I have also benefited from your discussions in the book regarding the mind and body as well as on surrender and trust.
RB, Johannesburg: I have repeatedly been impressed by the meticulousness and clarity of the construction of your line of thought and the disarming simplicity with which it has been expressed. Well done! It is very apparent how much deep thought was put into it.
KM, San Francisco: Thank you for writing this book. A gift of heart to your friends and the world.
JVDB, Auckland, New Zealand: It's a great achievement, congratulations. It's a rich, complex and rewarding journey. Took me on a landslide of memories and perceptions.
GW, Bryanston: I just finished reading your book — just couldn't put it down! What an amazing story you have to tell. The bin full of used tissues lies testament to how moved I have been! I know that you don't need praise to stroke your ego — but I really feel … enlightened?! And privileged to be in the company of one so special.
PM, Switzerland: I finished this minute your book and I am deeply touched by your life with all the ups and downs, the joys and sorrows and the remarkable spiritual journey you have undertaken. I am honestly in awe and I thank you not only for the book, but for having written it.
Short descriptions of the contents of chapters
Chapter 1: The Army (pages 1 — 98)
Painstakingly reconstructed from a forgotten box of correspondence found amongst Thomas's late father's possessions (view them here), pieces together the emotional story of his imprisonment as a nineteen-year old in military custody in the detention barracks in Voortrekkerhoogte, Pretoria. It's a story of brutality, psychological bullying, solitary confinement, isolation, spare rations and dark cells. But the psychological torture wasn't only meted out by the authorities, it also came in no small measure from the myopic and dogmatic expectations of the Jehovah's Witnesses.
Chapter 2: Bittersweet Liberty (pages 99 — 122)
Following his release from detention Thomas found himself deeply conflicted. He knew there was no place for him inside the Jehovah's Witnesses organisation as a gay man. Staying meant living a double life. He couldn't talk to his family about his predicament as they would be obliged to refer the matter to the congregation elders. If that occurred, expulsion from the organisation would be inevitable. So, after failed attempts at sexual denial, Thomas faded from religious service and took up a secular career in IT in Durban. But conniving troublemakers forced disclosure and brought him before a tribunal of congregational elders. He was excommunicated with immediate loss of his family through the process of shunning. Thomas turned to science and technology for answers and an opulent lifestyle for fulfilment.
Chapter 3: 'More is never enough' (pages 123 — 146)
One night, sitting next to a Herbalife saleswoman at a friend's birthday party, Thomas rudely dismissed the woman when she asked him if he believed in reincarnation. He left, peeved and in a huff but the idea haunted him throughout the night. Thomas says: 'She had no proof of reincarnation's existence but neither did I have any empirical evidence that life ceased at death.' Faced with this conundrum, Thomas spent the night exploring the pros and cons of both beliefs. From that arose much insight about the myths of material wealth and the cliché that money can't buy happiness. 'More is never enough' is one of life's paradoxes. The more one has, the more one strives for more. Could there be another fulfilled existence in a different paradigm? A simpler lifestyle where one's wealth wasn't measured materially? And so, a chance meeting with a stranger became a turning point that altered Thomas's outlook on life.
Chapter 4: Changing Perceptions (pages 147 — 154)
Primed for change by his chance encounter, all it took was meeting Ram Dass, a spiritual teacher who served four generations of seekers. Ram Dass held out a set of beliefs that resonated deeply with Thomas. Jehovah's Witnesses raised Thomas's beliefs to the ground but new seeds had been planted and they were ready to grow as a new spring awoke, full of possibility.
Chapter 5: Validating my Guru (pages 155 — 174)
Although Ram Dass's teachings made sense, Thomas wasn't about to be beguiled by anyone again after his disappointment at the way supposed holy men behaved. Thomas had to meet Ram Dass in person to 'validate' him. The chapter is a delightful description of Thomas's journey to Maui, Hawaii to attend a retreat hosted by Ram Dass and Deepak Chopra. During a stopover in Singapore, Thomas describes how deep the old roots of indoctrination tunnelled into his being when he chanced upon a Hindu Temple and stood in line for a blessing from one of its priests. Old demons were let loose when he found himself, at the end of the queue, standing in front of the deity Kali — a goddess with blood running from her mouth, wearing a girdle of severed heads, poised triumphantly atop the corpse of a man. Perhaps the Witnesses were right — one shouldn't meddle in heathen practices. But fear soon gave rise to a better understanding of the dangers of judgement, for judging separates. It never unites.
Chapter 6: Spiritual Evolution (pages 175 — 186)
Slowly new insights percolated through a once fearful mind and as they did, so came a new freedom. Old shackles of belief fell away as Thomas studied many religions, creating a collage of wisdom from most of the holy texts. This motivated a career change. Thomas left the company which he helped form two decades earlier (see here) and opened up a motivational consultancy through which he serves others, helping them find grace and renewed purpose.
Chapter 7: Discovering the Real Me (pages 187 — 250)
As Thomas grew into his new role in life, soon, a shadow of self-doubt cast over him. He asked the questions: 'Why me? Who authorises what I do? Am I not falling prey to my ego?' He needed answers and who better to approach than his teacher in Hawaii. Instead of attending another group retreat, Thomas was invited to spend a week with Ram Dass at his home as his guest. This is an endearing account of their time together and the wisdom that emanated from it. It opened the door to a more personal relationship and subsequent return visits. Thomas returned to South Africa determined to set aside his reticence and to fully devote his attention to the mental and spiritual wellbeing of others.
Chapter 8: Not all Help is Helpful (pages 251 — 276)
However, helping others was soon to have its disadvantages. There were some who exploited his kindness and preyed upon his generosity. How was it possible to find balance between helpfulness and exploitation? Many people understand the concept of 'compassion fatigue' when trying to be the Good Samaritan amongst an ocean of needy people experiencing poverty and suffering. Thomas explores ways to keep one's heart open to another's difficulties in a manner that become truly helpful to that person. Thomas learned about 'helpful' help when a close friend believed that suicide was his only way out of his difficult life. Was Thomas going to call for medical help to save his friend or was he going to sit with him to let him die, as his friend had urged? Another test of truly 'helpful' help was when Thomas's mother call upon him to help her nurse his father in the last two weeks of his life. Was he going to decline because of the decades of abuse he'd received under Witness rules of shunning or would he step forward and offer help?
Chapter 9: Conclusion (page 277)
Thomas concludes with a half-page statement of gratitude and a summation of the principles of his book. Thomas writes: 'The book, however, is not only a personal cathartic experience, choosing to share what I've never dared to share before, but also an opportunity, through writing, to organise my spiritual thinking.'
Readers and Marketing
Will the book be a General Reader, Main Text, Supplementary Reading or a Research Monograph?
There are many international motivational writers offering inspiration to their readers. As South Africans, we tend to hold these iconic men and women in high regard. But, home-grown writers are slowly emerging, bringing South African motivational stories to encourage South Africans. This is one of those books.
Why will customers buy this book?
This is not another book of clichéd motivational one-liners. Readers will want to read this book because it's real. If it happened to one ordinary South African, it can happen to many others too. Although inspired from a wide swath of different beliefs, the wisdom is original. The book exposes injustice, the ways in which the state, society, and creed systems often suppress the life of individuals. Yet it goes much further by offering an alternative solution — a contemporary way of embracing one's spirituality without looking stupid in a modern, technologically savvy world. The book is also very inspiring to a gay readership (as is Edwin Cameron's autobiography, Justice) who often feel marginalised and believe they don't have much to offer to a generally bigoted world.
What existing books compete with (or complement) yours, and how will this book differ from the competition?
There are other popular books that offer contemporary spiritual wisdom to the readers, like: The monk who sold his Ferrari, by Robin Sharma. But, his story is a fable. Books that complement this one are: The Celestine Prophecy: An Adventure, by James Redfield; A Course in Miracles, Foundation for Inner Peace; and Neale Donald Walsch's very popular trilogy, Conversations with God. Since this book is a tribute to Ram Dass, any of his vast international readership might also find this book compelling.
How will Thomas help promote and market the book?
Thomas enjoys guest appearances, talks to book clubs, and speaking assignments at business and private functions. He's a polished speaker having had a decade of experience lecturing in the Johannesburg Planetarium. He also hosted radio and TV programmes.
Author's Biography and CV
Thomas attended Eastleigh Primary and Edenvale High school. He matriculated in 1970 before being detained by the South African army in solitary confinement for refusing military training. After his release, he worked at the Jehovah's Witnesses head office in a voluntary capacity but, due to personal conflict, left the Witnesses to pursue a career in information technology. He and two other friends started their own computer science business in 1984. The venture flourished. Thomas took his interest in astronomy as far as possible, lecturing in the Planetarium, scripting and hosting a TV series and presenting a popular radio show every Saturday for four years. He obtained his private pilot's licence and flew his own aircraft. But, it was not until his forties, when he decided to dedicate his life to helping others. Helped by his mentor and guru, Ram Dass, Thomas now runs a well-respected, professional and busy transformational practice at his home, Protea Ranch, near to Johannesburg and Pretoria. He's helped many experience life abundantly. (click for more…)