A literate meditation on how to recognize and invest oneself in the truly essential aspects of living.
We each hold deep-seated beliefs about three facets of our lives: what we do (and are not willing to do); what we know (and are certain that we don’t know); and what we are (and are not). These are basic activities and we invest each of them with our life force. Yet they always slip through our fingers: Being, doing, and knowing come and go.
In Caught in the Act, Toinette Lippe—with wit, a laser-sharp eye for detail, and a sense of the contemplative—brings us on a journey of daily awareness so that we can truly see the makeup and direction of these forces and how they shape our existence. With this book, we learn to give up the illusion of identifying with the thoughts, things, and activities that we call “I”—a vital step on the spiritual path and in the search for an authentic life.
In this elegantly written paperback, Toinette Lippe keeps her focus on the intimate details of her life. Lippe is an editor and a writer but she bristles at the notion of being confined to these categories. As she demonstrates on these pages, she is also an Englishwoman; a mother; a daughter; a traveler to Japan, South America and Turkey; a beginning gardener; a painter of flowers; a lover of trees; a tai chi practitioner, and much more. Being a hard worker all her life, the author is cautious about letting go. It’s easier said than done for an achiever. Lippe confesses that she is always “leaning into the next moment.” Control is what so many of us aim for and yet surrender to experience is what all the sages in every mystical tradition tell us to do. Lippe counsels herself to be welcoming to everything and to relinquish the attachments that stop her from being present.
Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, Spirituality & Health
Toinette Lippe writes from a Buddhist perspective, refreshingly unenlightened, confessing that she has meditated for 40 years without ever really enjoying it. Such faithfulness and disarming honesty characterize the book, which mingles glimpses from the life of a perfection-driven, always-on-time individual with ruminations on her process of thinking and making meaning.
Toinette Lippe’s first book, Nothing Left Over, was an elegant memoir of a life stripped to its essence. But where that work focused on paring down, this new volume is an invitation to open up and explore. Noting how often what we do overshadows what we are—how easily we get “caught in the act”—Lippe offers her own life as a lucid lesson in surrender and simple presence.
One Spirit Book Club
Caught in the Act witnesses a mature woman, mostly quit now of career and child-rearing, contemplating how what you do becomes what you are. She has a curious mind, an indefatigable eye for detail, and a serious intellect. To see what a mind like that does with semi-retirement, read Caught in the Act.
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 your 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 book is about finding that balance in your daily life.
Gloria Lee, Nondual Highlights