source: Banking to Buddhism: Lessons from a woman who left city for Bhutan;
In September 1997, Emma Slade completely overhauled her life.
A Cambridge graduate and chartered financial accountant at a fund management company working in Hong Kong – and previously New York and London – a business trip to Jakarta provided the context for her life-change.
Taking a break from the back-to-back meetings to unwind in her four star hotel, Slade [to the right: she "as a hugely successfully, articulate, well-dressed banker"] opened her room door and came face-to-face with a gunman. After prodding the gun to her chest and leading her back into the room, where he raided through her belongings and jewelry, she ended up in the room with him for three hours believing these were her final hours alive. Armed police eventually swooped into save her thus triggering a complete reversal of her life.
“The biggest impact for me was post-traumatic stress disorder. I’ve tried to make people understand what having this feels like including the confusion of the past and the present, there is no separation.
“But, mainly, I felt a great deal of compassion and sorrow for the man who had held me captive because he came out of the situation worse than I did, to be honest… the biggest impact was this feeling of concern and compassion for him.”
Following the burglary, Indonesian police showed Slade a picture of the partially-nude hostage taker surrounded by a pool of blood, an image firmly etched on her brain for years later.
“I didn’t feel any anger or hatred towards him. I just felt a huge sorrow for the suffering of this situation,” she says.
“I do think that incident propelled me to a different part, otherwise I would have carried on as a hugely successfully, articulate, well-dressed banker… once you think you are going to die you do start to live your life in a different way.”
“I wanted to explore more what it is to be a human being and what is this strange feeling of kindness we can have to each other even in these situations.”
Slade had therapy and visited a rehabilitation centre for hostages in order to tackle her PTSD before completely abandoning her financial career.
“I just felt I was worth more than that because I had not died,” she says. “I had survived this experience and I wanted to explore more of what I could potentially do with my life.”
She travelled the world for a few years, discovering yoga – which was not the popular health regime it is now. She returned to the UK basing herself in Somerset where she meditated intensively on her own for three months describing this stint as the point where she had "completely healed".
Slade visited Bhutan for the first time in 2011.
She now splits her time between her hometown of Whistable, Kent and Bhutan, where her Buddhist instructor is. She learns Tibetan, has founded a charity for disabled children in Bhutan (of which the royalties from her new book will go to) and hopes to reside there permanently on a long-term retreat.
She is currently the only western woman to have been ordained as a nun in Bhutan.
• “When you’re working in the city the focus is often on how much money you are earning, what you can buy, how successful you are etc… there is no real inner understanding… There is a void inside, there is no development apart from a hap-hazard feeling that you want to be a nice person, there is nothing properly trained there."
• “I wanted to be successful and do well, I wanted to get high marks and good bonuses and I thought when that happened I would be happy. I thought one would lead to the other and obviously I didn’t find it to be the case."
• Undertaking a vow of celibacy, which is Buddhist monk and nun custom:
“Most people’s idea of happiness is inextricably linked with the idea of finding someone they love and they spend the rest of their life with. That is what the idea is in the West, by saying no I’m saying my happiness is not about finding that person. That’s quite a big statement, let alone no sex… to say I do not believe that is the way for me in this life is a big decision.”
• “Difficulty isn’t the end of your life, it could be the start of something. Ironically enough, I am deeply grateful the [hostage situation] happened otherwise I would just have carried on in that way acquiring more suits and staying in fancier hotels on business trips. That was never going to bring me to the person I have become now. It was like being a confused child, wanting lots of toys.”