In this paperback, Natalie Goldberg writes about an order of Buddhist monks in Japan who run a thousand-day mountain marathon within seven years. After that, they go on a nine-day fast without food, water, or sleep. The point of all this exertion is to become totally awake. As a result of this practice, some monks have been able to hear ashes fall from incense sticks; others can smell food prepared miles away.

Goldberg uses writing as a tool to keep her senses alert and as a means of understanding her experience. "Our life is the path of learning, to wake up before we die. This book is about that."

The author reflects upon her suburban Long Island childhood, her teaching experiences with poor children in Mexico, and her writing seminars with adults. Best of all, Goldberg honors her Zen teacher Katagiri Roshi who enabled her to understand "the mind of no-self, of the Zen present moment, of wisdom and compassion, detail, care and humor." Readers will come away from the story of her journey with a fresh appreciation for writing as a spiritual discipline and for the important role teachers can play in helping us wake up and stay alert.