Nothing Left Over

“Nothing Left Over : A Plain and Simple Life” by Toinette Lippe [Tarcher, 2004]
“Toinette Lippe was born in London where she began a career in publishing at Andre Deutsch. In 1964, she came to New York City to work at Simon & Schuster. Lippe then spent 32 years at Alfred A. Knopf as reprint rights director and editor. In 1989, she established Bell Tower, a spiritual imprint that is now part of Harmony Books. Under her leadership, Bell Tower released 53 books.
Elders in indigenous societies reach a certain point in their lives when they want to pass on the wisdom they have accrued over the years. To do this, they travel down memory lane and share their experiences with others. Early on in this philosophical memoir, Lippe notes: “I have been mulling over the word content. I find it wonderful that it means both ‘that which is contained’ and also ‘being satisfied.’ Both meanings come from the past participle of the Latin verb continere. Contentment is a peaceful and unruffled state, but nowadays it is all too rare.”
Contentment is not widespread in this culture because so many people are caught up in consumerism. They can never get enough. They always desire something more, better, or different. Lippe believes “less is enough.” Of course, such an attitude in America is blasphemous. Equally scandalous in mainstream culture is her contention that attachment to our possessions is not a good thing. To clarify her positions, Lippe gives us her ideas, derived from her experiences, about living a life of simplicity.
The author shares stories about practicing attention as an antidote to distraction, traveling light, being present, saying no, not allowing supply to exceed demand, letting go of what is unnecessary, and being industrious and generous. We were especially impressed with her habit of surrendering her New York apartment to a friend whenever she leaves town. Serving others can be a pleasure and is an essential ingredient of contentment.”

“Originally from London, Lippe came to New York in 1964 to work in publishing for a year. She ended up staying for 40 years, and after a brief marriage (her husband turned out to be gay), managed to live in Manhattan and put her son through private school. Now semiretired (she still works at home, editing books for Bell Tower, the Harmony imprint she started in 1989), she offers her ruminations on “how to live so that supply does not exceed demand or consumption.” Although she provides sound advice for living without the unnecessary and suggestions for traveling light, spring cleaning, and shopping and eating mindfully, Lippe’s real focus is “not so much about what needs to take place at the physical level… as about what goes on in the mind.” A one-time philosophy student and a devoted meditator and yoga practitioner, she calls on Buddhism and other Eastern religions, Judaism and the Bible to teach lessons in nonattachment to ownership or expectations, trust in the universe, present-moment living, openness and acceptance of what is. She also shares thought-provoking personal anecdotes about procrastination, honesty with self and others, single-minded focus and balance. That she lives alone clearly affects her ability to maintain space in her apartment, her mind and her life, and this creates the book’s single flaw: many will find that the presence of family members in their homes and lives complicates things considerably. Nonetheless, Lippe offers readers (primarily women) an unusually authentic perspective. Professing “I don’t like agony,” her voice is refreshingly unsentimental for this genre, self-aware and down-to-earth.”

See further

Toinette Lippe is also the author of “Caught in the Act: Reflections on Being, Knowing, and Doing” [Tarcher, 2004; Monkfish, 2014].
Caught in the act
“In this paperback, Toinette Lippe reflects on the changes in her life with elegant meditations on being, knowing, and doing. Here is an excerpt on the spiritual practice of openness.

“In the last few months I have had the sensation of floating. It is hard to tell whether this is because I am not facing any maxi or mini crisis at present. There are definitely times when I am content to sit and wait to see what turns up. I am no longer striving so hard. The spirit of inquiry perches on one of my branches, its head cocked on one side, alert and waiting. The other image that comes to mind is of the sea and its tides. The waves beat upon the shore and, day after day, odd fragments are cast up on the beach, each with its own history. Hardly anything arrives whole, and it is often a mystery as to what the original creatures and objects were and how they functioned. Yet the time they have spent in the ocean and the drubbing they have endured has stripped them of all that was superfluous, and often just the skeletons or shells remain.
“When our gaze falls on such artifacts from our lives, vague memories stir within us, and if we are patient, the significance of each one may reveal itself. If not, there is always another tide twelve hours later that will discharge more flotsam and jetsam from the storehouse within.
“My life appears to be ‘thinning out.’ Fewer and fewer demands are being put on me, and I am spending a great deal of time at home by myself. This is okay, as long as I accept being alone as much as being with others. I guess the crunch will come when there is ‘nothing’ to do. Will I be comfortable and content with nothing? The truth is that each time activity appears to have died down, something new arrives on my doorstep. The key is satisfaction — being willing to live with whatever happens but also with what doesn’t happen.
“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.””

“”Caught in the Act” is about surrender on several levels: surrendering what’s unnecessary in life, surrendering attitudes that keep you from pure enjoyment, surrendering yourself to the moment—letting it take you where it wants to go rather than where you wish to be taken. The book is unconventional in form and manner, and is told in a brisk, conversational style that’s immediate and engaging. It has a mystery and beauty all its own.”

Robert Leiter, “Jewish Exponent”:

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