I first met Helen Tworkov, Tricycle’s founder, in 1994. I was working at a business magazine, and an old friend and Tricycle contributing editor called to let me know that Helen was looking to replace the magazine’s managing editor, who would be moving to the UK. My knowledge of Buddhism was scant, however, and although I’d read several books on the topic, I hadn’t engaged in the practice. Intrigued by the opportunity, I showed up for an interview at Helen’s Chelsea loft, which doubled as the magazine’s offices in its early years. Within a few minutes I realized I was overdressed and out of my depth—and a bit put off by the cramped quarters and the puppy nibbling at my shoes. I also discovered that I knew even less about Buddhism than I’d imagined, and Helen and the magazine’s publisher, Lorraine Kisly, no doubt agreed: I didn’t hear back, and neither did they.

It wasn’t until two years later, in 1996, that Helen and Lorraine hired me. I would be the associate publisher, and train under Lorraine. I showed up on my first day more casually dressed if a bit frozen, having navigated shoulder-high snowdrifts in the aftermath of one of New York City’s “great blizzards.” The offices were now in a loft in a desolate neighborhood just above Canal Street, with a single corner office that Helen occupied. I sat on the opposite end of the loft, overlooking a dead-end street that hosted impromptu police drills. A bit disoriented, I wondered whether I’d made the career mistake my dad thought I had.

I no longer wonder: In my first months, Helen encouraged me to take advantage of the one week of paid retreat that Tricycle offered (and still does). I shopped around a bit before deciding on a retreat that Joseph Goldstein and Sharon Salzberg were leading at the Insight Meditation Society, the center they’d cofounded with Jack Kornfield twenty years before. It would be an understatement to say that my life changed. I might not have thought so at the time, but the decades of practice that followed have been a gift for which I owe Helen and my teachers a great debt of gratitude. And when Helen offered me her editorial seat five years later, in 2001, the idea that I might work with others to share that same gift was a welcome if somewhat daunting challenge, yet one I accepted with equal gratitude.

In March of this year, I sat across from Helen to record a podcast episode of Tricycle Talks. It struck me that I was now sitting in the seat Helen had held three decades earlier, when I first met her, only this time, I was interviewing her. Her memoir, Lotus Girl, was about to be published, and my mind wandered to the challenges she’d faced in bringing about the unlikely success of a nonprofit Buddhist magazine. Until then, not surprisingly, men dominated the discourse despite the fact that early convert sanghas were equally populated by women. Helen’s leadership represented a sometimes unwelcome change: The very qualities—perhaps best summed up by chutzpah—that allowed her to succeed were the same ones that led some—mostly men—to label her “a difficult woman.” I asked Helen about this one recent evening over dinner, and she answered with her characteristic blunt candor: “To tell the truth, I wish I’d been much more difficult much earlier.”

Lotus Girl tells the story of Tricycle’s founding, but that is only a chapter. The book also tells the remarkable story of a woman whose own life mirrors the life of a generation of seekers who encountered the dharma with wide-eyed expectation and, at times, sobering disappointment. To me, though, it is also the story of a woman who gave me that invaluable gift, the gift of the dharma.

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