Author Q&A with Colleen Morton Busch

July 25, 2011

Colleen Morton Busch wrote the non-fiction book “Fire Monks” (book review) which tells the amazing story of monks trying to save their sanctuary during the California wildfires wich ravaged the state. I’ve had some questions about the book, Zen and more which Ms. Busch was kind enough to answer.

Q. What are the connections between Zen and firefighting disciplines?
A. For both monks and firefighters, awareness is essential—staying present in difficult circumstances. Both learn to work closely with others, to rely on the mutual support of peers. Both often put the well-being of others before self.

Q. How did Zen help the Tassajara Five face the flames?
A. Zen cultivates composure—the ability to welcome whatever comes and to meet it completely and directly, without getting ensnared by ideas or emotions. During the fire, this meant that they could feel fear or anxiety but not let those emotions carry them away. It meant that they could just continue to respond to whatever needed doing because they weren’t stuck in expectations for how things “should” be or entertaining anxieties about what the next moment might bring.

Q. Did you find the Tassajara Five willing to openly share their experience for the public?
A.Yes, though some found this process of sharing easier than others. There was some discomfort within the community that the book would focus only on the five who stayed during the fire and ignore the significant efforts of others who worked to protect Tassajara before the fire and to clean it up afterward. The five were sensitive to this discomfort and did not want to draw any special attention. But from the beginning, I intended to be inclusive—to show how bravery is manifested in so many different ways. I interviewed many people to try to get as wide a picture of the event as possible and then to bring that to the page.

Q. What pulled you towards Buddhism?
A. I’d read Suzuki Roshi’s Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind when I was in my early 20’s, but it took me another ten years to seek out a meditation practice. It wasn’t “Buddhism” that I was drawn to, really, but the simple, pared-down practice of sitting still and watching the mind and breath.

Q. What are the challenges of book promotions in the social media age?
A. I think one challenge is how to use this technology wisely. There are so many ways to reach people now, and this is wonderful, but it has its shadow side: It’s hard to know what to pay attention to when we are being bombarded with email, tweets, and Facebook invitations.

Shame­less plug dis­guised as a wise ass ques­tion: Why do you love so much and often visit the web­site?
Wise Gal Answer: On the site, you rank a list of well-known books that you like so that blog readers can determine if your tastes are similar to theirs, and thus whether they are likely to find your reviews a good guide. Tastes can be so idiosyncratic, so I like that you acknowledge this up front. I love having books recommended to me by a friend. Reviews on and other blogs serve a similar function. Reading them is like having a friend say, “I read this great book…”

Very insightful answers, what do you think?

Zohar – Man of la Book

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