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Not Quite Nirvana: A Skeptic's Journey to Mindfulness

Rachel Neumann tells the story of her unique journey from skeptical, fast-talking lefty New Yorker to the editor of famed Buddhist writers.

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The more I observe the world, the more I can’t help but be aware of the suffering and injustice in it. I am also more aware of the many different forms and practices that compassionate action can take. Protest is one form, but if my only form of action is protest, I’m missing so many daily opportunities for action. At its base, compassionate action must have compassion and insight. The history professor Cornel West puts it this way, which I think Thay would agree with: “Justice is what love looks like in public.”

I have locked arms in protest with people like the author Grace Paley, whose insight and compassion continue to inspire me every day. And I have removed my arms from those people who pushed their ideas through, who had no idea how to listen. They had the abstract knowledge of what was the right thing to do, but not the body knowledge.

As a child, I used to ask my father when the revolution would come and how to make it come faster. I was eager for the rush and the thrill of these public displays, the joy of that large evidence of our interdependence. There are moments when the most effective way to make change is to get out into the street. From Tiananmen to Tahrir Square to Zucotti Park, people have demonstrated the power of a publicly visible response to suffering. But while these moments come, the day after these moments still comes as well. There are hundreds of moments in any given day when compassionate action is less dramatic but no less necessary. If justice is love in public, anytime I am in public, I have the opportunity to create justice. Listening deeply to someone else’s suffering, taking care of a neighbor’s child, opening the door and inviting people in to eat—these are little moments of justice that add to the larger moments that come. Sometimes I think of the little moments as practice for the big moments, but the big moments are also practice for the little ones. I want to act as if I’m in a world where compassion, kindness, and the awareness of our mutual dependence is the status quo. There is no need to wait.


Click here for a copy of  Not Quite Nirvana: A Skeptic's Journey to Mindfulness

Rachel Neumann is the author of the new book Not Quite Nirvana: A Skeptic's Journey to Mindfulness. She has worked with numerous leading Buddhist and spiritual authors, including the Dalai Lama, Sylvia Boorstein, and Sulak Sivaraksa.

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