by Steve Palopoli on Oct 02, 2012
Rachel Neumann is the author of 'Not Quite Nirvana: A Skeptic's Guide To Mindfulness.'
When Rachel Neumann says “skeptic,” she means skeptic.
“Reverence is difficult for me,” admits the author of Not Quite Nirvana: A Skeptic’s Journey to Mindfulness, who will speak at Bookshop Santa Cruz Oct. 11.
So it was not with reverence that she approached working as an editor for famed Vietnamese Buddhist spiritual leader Thich Nhat Hanh a decade ago. But with a solid background in journalism and the corresponding curiosity that usually accompanies it, she did have an open mind and an eagerness to uncover whatever insights were locked away in his experience.
But she was also a somewhat jaded New Yorker, with kids and a fast-paced life and career. She could sense that Thich Nhat Hanh did indeed possess the mindfulness—the “there-ness,” as she calls it in the book—that she longed for, but her earliest experiences trying to put what she learned from him into practice in her daily life were a disaster. She was trying too hard to reach that fabled perfect state that Americans usually think of, to quote The Big Lebowski, as “some kind of Eastern thing.”
That’s when she came up with the idea of “not quite nirvana.”
“The trick,” she says by telephone from her current home in the East Bay, “is not trying to get to that perfect place.”
And ironically, it’s even more difficult now that she lives in the Bay Area—as opposed to New York, where nobody is expecting enlightenment, anyway.
“Living in the Bay Area, there’s so many lovely things around, I think you can be fooled into thinking that nirvana can actually happen.”
The book charts her learning curve, relating her highs and lows on her own personal path to semi-enlightenment, and many of the hard lessons on the way. Throughout, she considers the questions we can all ask about how present we are really being in our everyday lives. It’s a smart, relatable repackaging for our times of a very old idea: mindfulness is not a destination, it’s a journey.
“I had no interest in mindfulness when I started this job, which I think is funny in itself,” she says. “I’d never been interested in personal serenity. I thought it had very little to do with me.”
Now, of course, she does. But the reverence thing—that’s been harder to come around to.
“I’m getting there,” she says. “I guess I’m a slow learner.”
Rachel Neumann will speak at Bookshop Santa Cruz on Oct. 11 at 7pm.