Q&A: Buddhism Is the New Black

James Truman, editorial director of Condé Nast, recently made the news after emerging from a monthlong search for enlightenment. But reports of the legendary bon vivant closeted in a Buddhist monastery were greatly exaggerated.

So the papers got it wrong. Where did you go?
I was living in a cabin outside Woodstock, New York, working with two teachers. The practice was fundamentally Buddhist – Tibetan, not Zen – but not monastic.

What were you escaping from?
To the contrary, it was about giving up the familiar escape routes: no entertainment, no Internet, no shopping, no gossip, no drinking, no parties, no tirami su at Da Silvano.

What were you looking for?
An end to the boredom of tired routines.

How did your daily rituals differ from a typical day at 4 Times Square?
I got up at four and went to bed at nine, which are not exactly my New York hours. Office life is driven by drama – the succession of daily crises. Here there were none. In their absence, I paid intense attention to all the details, including my liking for drama.

Did you miss the cafeteria?
Daily, and sometimes hourly.

How much media did you consume?
None at all.

What did you read?
I had a reading list of two books, The Places That Scare You by Pema Chodron and Consciousness Speaks by Ramesh Balsekar. Plus some poetry by Rilke and Rumi.

How did your boss, S. I. Newhouse, react to your decision to take a month’s retreat?
He was curious and supportive.

What did you learn from the experience?
A modest lesson in spaciousness, clarity, and kindness.

How might Condé Nast – and the media world in general – benefit from a little Buddhist awareness?
It is not Buddhist awareness, it is awareness, period. I believe that comes with or without a mystical wrapping. My experience of New York, and the media-fashion world in particular, is that it offers a seductive invitation to get lost in the distractions of glamour and status and nonstop work. Until you step outside it, you can forget the benefits of fresh air.

What did you think of the Post’s doctored picture of you as a shaven-headed monk?
It eased my anxiety about going bald.

Q&A: Buddhism Is the New Black