006: Creating Empty Spaces, Toinette Lippe on the Mindful Art of Being


“Each day is valuable…Do not compare it with a dragon’s bright pearl. A dragon’s pearl may be found. But this one day out of a hundred years cannot be retrieved once it is lost.”
– Zen Master Dogen*

This quote easily tripped off the lips of author, editor, illustrator and brush painter Toinette Lippe. An artist of many pursuits, Lippe had a distinguished publishing career at Simon and Schuster (under Robert Gottlieb, who later became editor of The New Yorker), Knopf and then as the editorial director of Bell Tower. She edited 141 books from such luminaries as Ram Dass (How Can I Help?), Frederick Franck (four books), Thomas Berry, Mirabai Starr (God of Love), Stephen Levine, Rabbi Rami Shapiro, Lao Tsu (Tao Te Ching) and many others. Lippe has authored two of her own books, Nothing Left Over: A Plain and Simple Life (published 2002, reissued 2014) and Caught in the Act: Reflections on Being, Knowing and Doing (published 2004, reissued 2014) and is the illustrator of the upcoming book On the Wing: Lyrical Moments by Gunilla Norris (to be published December 2016). In this conversation, Toinette and I dive into the themes of harmonizing work and play (and if it is actually possible), ease of being a teacher and difficulty of being a student, lessons learned along the twists of life, and most beautifully, Toinette’s life philosophy that came to her unexpectedly and under book deadline.

Toinette Lippe is an artist, author and editor living in New York City.  You can learn more about Toinette and her work through her website here.

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Books by Toinette Lippe

Books edited by Toinette Lippe

  • Tao Te Ching by Lao Tsu
  • The Zen of Seeing by Frederick Franck
  • How Can I Help? by Ram Dass and Paul Gorman
  • The Great Work by Thomas Berry
  • A Year to Live by Stephen Levine
  • Minyan by Rabbi Rami M. Shapiro
  • Self-Reliance: The Wisdom of Ralph Waldo Emerson as Inspiration for Daily Living
  • God of Love by Mirabai Starr
  • and many more

Books and Resources Mentioned

  • The New Yorker
  • How Can I Help? by Ram Dass and Paul Gorman
  • Be Here Now by Ram Dass
  • A Year to Live by Stephen Levine
  • The Zen of Seeing by Frederick Franck
  • Never Done: The History of Housework by Susan Strasser


  • Robert Gottlieb
  • Ram Dass
  • Stephen Levine
  • Frederick Franck
  • William Shakespeare
  • Vincent Van Gogh
  • Zen Master Dogen
  • Jane English
  • Lao Tzu

Contemplative Practices (29m45s)

Drinks Pairings 

  • A cool , clear glass of water


5m What author or book that you worked on has had the most profound effect on your life?
9m30s Do you align with any particular religion or philosophical system?
14m Why did you write Caught in the Act?
17m Do you consider yourself a contemplative?
20m Does the practice or teaching of brush painting feel more like ‘play’?
29m45s What is your primary contemplative practice?
35m30s Has vulnerability always come easily to you?
37m40s If you could spend time with one spiritual master in your garden, who would that be, and why?
41m08s What is your personal life philosophy? (If you only have time to listen to piece of this interview, jump to this point)

*Reprinted here from Caught in the Act by Toinette Lippe, by permission of Monkfish Book Publishing Company.

Photo credit: Death to Stock Photo