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Nondual Highlights #2068 - Monday, February 28, 2005 - Editor: Gloria Lee    

Caught In the Act
Reflections on Being, Knowing and Doing
by Toinette Lippe

About the Author
Born in London, Toinette Lippe has had a long and distinguished career in publishing at Alfred A. Knopf. In 1989 she founded the imprint Bell Tower. She lives in New York City.

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"Our reluctance to remain in the present comes from our natural restlessness. We want to find tranquillity and fulfillment, and for some strange reason we believe that we have to go elsewhere to discover it."  

"If I see that something needs to be done, I must move forward and do it, not hold part of myself back to see if the rest of me is going to succeed. Because the part of me that holds back is the part that has the power. If there is no separation between different parts of me, then all my strength will be in one place. In addition, there will be no commenting from the part of me that refuses to take any action."  

"One of the things that is being engendered in me is a fuller trust in the universe that whatever I need will arrive. I may not always appreciate it if it is wearing a grim mask, but it is clear that whatever comes my way should be welcomed."  

Book Review by Gloria Lee

The introductory excerpts above seem to me to exemplify the wholeheartedness of the spirit of inquiry present throughout Toinette Lippe's writing. This account of beginning her semi-retirement, told with candor and vulnerability, wonderfully illustrates how the personal becomes universal. Who doesn't have an identity centered around what they do, think, and know? More than a flash of recognition in the mirror, Caught in the Act is an invitation to explore your own boundaries and to step out beyond them.  Best of all, the challenge is to step out playfully, to keep a sense of humor about how our conditioning limits us.  How to enjoy life just as it is now, while being open to seeing more than we think we already understand. This is no instructional manual of advice, thankfully, instead it is a book about learning to surrender. An informed and well-grounded wisdom shines forth on every page.  

While the stories from her life give the reader a sense of connection to her, somehow the book magically becomes about you. Her questions become your questions, too. She writes unpretentiously, as one who finds it unnecessary to state the obvious. It is tempting to credit her decades as a book editor for the clarity of  her writing, but the ability to turn a rigorous, analytical mind back on itself requires a degree of personal honesty that only comes with years of spiritual practice and contemplation. This is what makes her insight so recognizably human and relevant. It takes both humility and courage to first see, and then reveal oneself so forthrightly.

It is easy for anyone to relate to the challenges of losing the identity with one's work and filling free time creatively; you needn't wait for retirement to explore the territory of "doing non-doing" or to face the inner critic that turns play into more work. Learning to live at ease in the "don't know" zone sounds like the advice of many a Zen master. To watch how someone really applies these teachings to their own life is a wonderful opportunity.  Trips to Japanese Zen monasteries, classes in Chinese brush painting, and retreats with Dzogchen masters are fascinating enough just as stories, the inner life evoked by them contains observations you may find useful in any circumstances. I found myself saying "Oh, I do that, too" a hundred times over, as would anyone paying attention to the mind's usual antics. Her focus on the many ways we avoid being present shows (with the usual irony) how awareness of doing that immediately puts us in touch and makes us present in a deeper way. Sometimes just seeing how plain silly we can be might jolt us into whatever is real for us now.

Never mind that she calls herself an "almost-Buddhist", her grasp of the issues centered around "aimless aim" is right up there with Zen and the Art of Archery. If we don't have any goals or intentions with whatever activity we are doing, we may go nowhere. Yet if we are too focused on results, we burden our actions with heavy expectations. This principle is beautifully demonstrated in a passage about learning to paint with Chinese brushes.

"One morning while I was in Japan I tried using a fountain brush to draw the  miniature tiger lilies in my room, and although some essence of tiger lily appeared on the page, the strokes were infirm, tentative, and uncertain. It was clear that I needed to abandon the doubt that is always skulking just out of view: my doubt about whether I have mastered the technique, whether it is possible for me to represent on paper what is right in front of me. I saw that it is the desire to know--to understand how the flower grows and to express that on paper--that produces wobbly lines. The secret is just to move the brush and watch what happens as it happens. Observe the energy moving. Holding onto an idea of where you want to go puts a strain on the way in which you move, and the strokes you make while under the influence of this idea come in little lurches."

Toinette Lippe has graciously shared some images of her paintings with the Highlights, and we are especially fortunate to see them, as they are not in the book.



"Each moment that you can break the iron grip of 'doing' is a triumph. It's like an electrical connection. If you interrupt it, there is an immediate effect."  

"Every time I notice a black hole in my attention--for instance, I perform a movement in the tai chi form and come to the end of it without knowing how I got there--I need to go back and repeat the movement and be present to it. Otherwise I am just practicing inattention, and whatever you practice, you become very good at.   It is not a question of practicing for a certain amount of time or painting a certain number of pages. It is what happens in each moment of practice that counts."

"The eighteenth-century Japanese painter Ike Taiga was once asked, 'What is the  most difficult thing to paint?' He replied: 'The part that is not painted.'   

By dint of exquisite placement and juxtaposition, in traditional Japanese arts our attention is arrested time and again and we are presented with an opportunity to contemplate and appreciate discrete moments of eternity. The Japanese have refined everything to its essential elements. Theirs is a culture of illumination, highlighting instants of clarity by focusing on small details. Each movement or object is exactly prescribed, and nothing is left to chance. Spontaneity is allowed to rise but only within a certain form. Each stroke of the brush, movement of the fan, and so on stands alone as a gesture that can never be precisely replicated."    

About the Author
Born in London, Toinette Lippe has had a long and distinguished career in publishing at Alfred A. Knopf. In 1989 she founded the imprint Bell Tower. She lives in New York City.

Paperback: 175 pages, 4.5" x 7.5" $12.95
J P Tarcher/Penguin; ISBN: 1585423467
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