Going to Pieces Without Falling Apart: A Buddhist Perspective on Wholeness

AGoing to Pieces book coverfter reading about Mark Epstein in 10% Happier, I watched a few videos of him talking about his work, thought he was wonderful, and proceeded to buy three of his books. I finished this one yesterday and cannot recommend it highly enough (though I think I might like the one I’m currently reading, Open to Desire, even more).

A few of my favorite passages:

* “When the relationship with a parent is too fragile, a child naturally tries to compensate. This leads to the development of a precocious ‘caretaker self’ that is tinged with a feeling of falsity Besides feeling empty, a person in this predicament also fears emptiness. The fear of emptiness is really a sign of the fragility of the bond with the parent. We are afraid to venture into the unknown because to do so would remind us of how unsafe we once felt … Psychotherapy tends to focus on the personal melodrama … Buddhism seeks, instead, to purify the insight of emptiness. Emptiness is vast and astonishing … it does not have to be toxic. When we grasp the emptiness of our false selves, we are touching a little bit of truth … We must learn how to be with our feelings of emptiness without rushing to change them. Only then can we have access to the still, silent center of our own awareness that has been hiding, unbeknownst to our caretaker selves, behind our own embarrassment and shame.”

* “I had permitted myself to simply be, without worrying about keeping myself together.”

* From Freud (who I know near-nothing about): “The proneness to decay of all that is beautiful and perfect can, as we know, give rise to two different impulses in the mind … The one leads to the aching despondency felt by the young poet, with the other leads to rebellion against the fact asserted.” As Mark paraphrases, “Either we get depressed when confronted with impermanence (clinging attachment) … or we devalue what we see and push it away (aversion).” “[T]he heard of the Buddha’s teaching: [] it is possible to cultivate a mind that neither clings nor rejects ….”

* “The solution is not to deny attachment but to become less controlling in how we love. From a Buddhist perspective, it is the very tendency to protect ourselves against mourning that is the cause of the greatest dissatisfaction [because we either cling or avert].”

* “Most of us exist in a state similar to that of Freud’s friends. Our minds are running on without us, keeping us at a distance from that which we love, or from love itself. We justifiably complain of feeling unreal because we are busy keeping ourselves at arm’s length from the biggest reality of all – the transience of which we are a part. Rather than permitting a flow, we impose an interruption that interferes with satisfaction or fulfillment.” [This reminds of My Struggle: Volume One where he discusses how it is that when we see something like a car accident or endure some sort of huge event we often say it was “surreal” or “unreal,” which is odd because it’s really the opposite — such events are so real.

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