Near death experience

In A Piece of Peace, Sweta Vikram departs from her poetry and fiction to share with readers the roadmap and tools she used to re-claim meaning and quality of life as she dealt with severe and chronic illness and a near-death experience.

Beginning with excerpts from the journal she kept during her illness, she adds self-reflection, anecdotes, snippets, observation and advice to describe her approach.

Pain has been my greatest teacher, she writes. She learns to adjust her expectations of herself and others, to be kind to herself, and build the best life for herself that she possibly can. She skillfully describes the power of her tools—the tools she advocates to her readers: writing (no surprise!), gratitude, positivity, forgiveness, yoga, mindfulness, meditation and Ayurveda. Whether you are well or ill, A Piece of Peace has something for your own quality of life toolbox as well.  

The cover of Sweta Vikram’s book. Image credit: Sweta Vikram

Honesty and sharing

Vikram uses a tried-and-true approach to connect with another person—telling her story. Her vivid recounting has the power to draw the audience into the world she inhabited. By sharing her own experiences and intimate thoughts, she is able to connect with her audience at an emotional level and obtain their trust.

It is so bloody scary to rebuild your body, strength, career, and life from scratch, she recounts in an excerpt from her journal, these past few months have been such a diligent teacher… I will never take a single breath for granted. I will never take a single word that leaves my pen as a given.

Implicitly driven to reflection, readers are able to place her stories in the context of their own lives. They are enabled to utilize their own interpretation of Vikram’s stories to address issues that are affecting the quality of their own lives.

It is powerful to learn that to feel vulnerable and weak and lost is normal. To understand that from that acceptance of our condition, each of us can find our own hidden strength. We learn not to blame ourselves for our condition—to accept that it is not our fault.

Author Sweta Vikram. Image credit: Sweta Vikram.

What not to say when someone is struggling

We are taught that many of those around us, even with the best intentions, cannot understand what we are going through. In an effort to give us a boost, they say or do things that often have the opposite effect: they further aggravate our pain. Vikram shows us how she eventually learnt to deal with this, and deftly offers compassionate strength and guidance to readers struggling with their own chronic conditions.

Vikram’s book sometimes appears directed to women and writers; however, readers who do not fall into either category can also extract a useful message. At one point, she writes: Here is my friendly advice to anyone who identifies as a woman: stop relying on people to build you up. Stop giving away your power. Instead of seeking outside validation and approval, focus on staying authentic and building your own path. It might feel lonely at first, but you will find your tribe.

Powerful advice for women to follow, and, I would argue, for men as well! Vikram’s story gives us reason to hope that we too can leverage any adversity that befalls us, overcome it, and come away stronger and better equipped to deal with whatever the future may hold for us. 

Tools for healing

There is nothing new or unique about the toolkit she offers to the reader.  Practicing gratitude, mindfulness, and yoga, and seeking purpose and positivity are all well recognized for their benefits. The power of Ayurveda has been well-established for thousands of years. What’s different is that Vikram tells us how she used these tools for her own benefit, and in doing so, she provides us with recipes to adapt those tools to our own needs.

The second half of this book is devoted to providing the reader tips on Ayurveda and mindfulness, and on negotiating the COVID-19 pandemic. For this reviewer, the power of this book is in the first one hundred or so pages.

This review is timed for the first anniversary of the publication of A Piece of Peace. I hope it will help readers to find within its pages some valuable nuggets for themselves!

Mukund Acharya is a regular columnist for India Currents. He is also President and a co-founder of Sukham, an all-volunteer non-profit organization in the Bay Area that advocates for healthy aging within...