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'Tottering on the brink of enlightenment'

Local author publishes seventh book

With the job titles of mountaineer, mountain guide, business consultant, educator and adventure company operator, local author Peter Austen has a wealth of life experiences and adventures to contribute to his latest book, released last week, entitled Tottering on the Brink of Enlightenment. Drawing from a medley of experiences and using his tragic comic humour writing style, Austen shares his journey to discover the elusive nature of enlightenment.

His first book, Everest Canada: The Climb for Hope, outlines his expedition to Mount Everest in 1991. The Climb for Hope marked the first time Everest had been attempted for charitable purposes and the climb helped to raise awareness of the Rett Syndrome in Canada. Three climbers reached 26,000 feet but were beaten back by 100 mile per hour jet stream winds. They were lucky to return alive.

"We were not a 'normal' Everest expedition. We travelled twice round the world. We climbed ninety percent of the mountain and underwent fantastic experiences and dangers en route," said Austen.

After writing several other books on narrow escapes and paddling adventures, "I thought I would branch out a bit," he said. "There are a few mountain topics in it but it is more about self-actualization... it is categorized as self-actualization, psychology and anecdotes."

Austen describes his latest book as his way of presenting his own enlightenments on life. "It's basically a search for enlightenment, for myself and everybody else."

The chapters reveal a diversity of life experiences that have influenced his philosophies, including Austen's six-year-long struggle with tinnitus, or ringing in the ears syndrome. Now president of the Tinnitus Association of Canada, Austen heads a tinnitus group here in Squamish and describes in the book some of the treatments he has undertaken in an attempt to find a cure, some of them bordering on ridiculous, he said.

Austen's time volunteering as a dental assistant in Bhutan last year, where he travelled to the eastern part of the country, is conveyed in another chapter.

"We went to areas no Westerner had ever been," he said.

There the volunteer project visited villages and helped people with dental problems.

"Then we had a big fundraiser in Vancouver and raised $50,000 for a mobile [dental] clinic," said Austen.

A chapter on animal encounters relays Austen's experiences with wildlife, including being bitten by a raccoon on his front porch.

"Racoons don't have rabies in B.C.," he said, "but I had to get bitten to find that out."

He goes on to describe presentations to corporations that went wrong, and outlines different jobs he has held and why people work these jobs.

All of this entailed his journey in search of enlightenment, which Austen divulges in later chapters in the book.

"All the time I was looking for enlightenment," he said. "There is a whole section on enlightenment and what I have found out in my last 50 years, and what enlightenments we can expect."

Austen emphasizes there is no religious context in his book, although Buddhism is mentioned in the introduction.

"I don't think you could call it spiritual enlightenment, just looking for enlightenment, to brighten people up," he said. "It's the search for yourself, because not many people know where they're at."

When asked whether it was a lighter view on enlightenment, he replied that he wishes to convey that "there are possibilities beyond the depth of despair that may be your final message of your philosophy and enlightenment. So it's a bit more serious than that, but it uses humour to get the message out."

Austen's book, Tottering on the Brink of Enlightenment, is for sale from the author. Contact him on (604) 898-9775 and check out his website at

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