Just the other day I was at a social/business gathering of people who are going to be teaching at the University of New Hampshire this summer. I mentioned to one of the other teachers that I have a book coming out in October, and of course she asked what it was about.
Oh, oh! I launched into a several-paragraph long explanation of the book, knowing that once again, I’d failed to put my finger on the pulse of my own book.
I wrote Living as a River because I’m fascinated by the Buddhist Six Element Practice, and I wanted to communicate my explorations. But my book isn’t really about the Six Element Practice, which is really just the framework for the explorations it contains.
The Six Element Practice is a way of exploring the nature of the self, and how we cling onto notions of what we are. It’s a way of letting go of our clinging so that we can, eventually, lose our clinging and find freedom. But that’s not an very adequate description of the book either.
But those are the kind of descriptions I keep giving people. I just couldn’t think of a pithy way of expressing what the book was about that wasn’t too narrow or long-winded. I needed to find a “pitch.”
You know that when an agent is trying to get a Hollywood studio to buy a movie, they have a one-sentence opener to provide a “hook” and to describe the essence of the film. So you’ll get things like “Jaws on Paws” (a real-life example about a rampaging dog), or “You’ve Got Mail meets Blue Velvet” (to give an example I made up).
A couple of days my last flailing attempt to describe my book, it finally came to be how I could describe the book in just two words: “Embracing change.” So that’s what the book’s about. It uses the structure of the Six Element meditation in order to face up to the reality of change, and to help us let go of clinging so that we can embrace impermanence.
It’s strange it’s taken me so long to figure out exactly what my book’s about! You’d kind of expect that I’d know that before I wrote the book. In fact it probably would have been handy to have had “embracing change” in my mind as a theme while I was writing.
On the other hand, I think that idea was in my mind the whole time, even though I never quite articulated it, so it’s not as if I’ve suddenly realized I’ve written the wrong book.
I’m just relieved and glad that when an interviewer asks me what the book’s about, I can now express its essence in just two words: