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Going to Pieces Without Falling Apart: A Buddhist Perspective on Wholeness [Kindle Edition]

Mark Epstein
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (93 customer reviews)

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Book Description

For decades, Western psychology has promised fulfillment through building and strengthening the ego. We are taught that the ideal is a strong, individuated self, constructed and reinforced over a lifetime. But Buddhist psychiatrist Mark Epstein has found a different way.

Going to Pieces Without Falling Apart shows us that happiness doesn't come from any kind of acquisitiveness, be it material or psychological. Happiness comes from letting go. Weaving together the accumulated wisdom of his two worlds--Buddhism and Western psychotherapy--Epstein shows how "the happiness that we seek depends on our ability to balance the ego's need to do with our inherent capacity to be." He encourages us to relax the ever-vigilant mind in order to experience the freedom that comes only from relinquishing control.

Drawing on events in his own life and stories from his patients, Going to Pieces  Without Falling Apart teaches us that only by letting go can we start on the path to a more peaceful and spiritually satisfying life.

Editorial Reviews Review

In the era of self-empowerment and the relentless glorification of self-esteem, Mark Epstein is questioning whether we have it all backward. As a psychiatrist and practicing Buddhist for 25 years, Epstein has come to believe that the self-help movement has encouraged us to spend enormous amounts of time, money, and mental energy on patching up our egos, rather than pursuing true self-awareness. Instead, Epstein suggests we carefully shatter the ego, as if it were a fat piggy bank, to see what's inside--a scary prospect for those who spend their lives in fear of falling apart. But fear not. Epstein artfully shows readers how to patch the pieces together again into a far richer and more meaningful mosaic. --Gail Hudson

From The New England Journal of Medicine

In the introduction to his book, psychiatrist Mark Epstein recounts the story of a smart and eager professor who sought wisdom from an old Zen master. The master offered him tea and, on the professor's acceptance, poured the tea into a cup. To the professor's dismay, however, the master kept pouring the tea into an overflowing cup, even as the tea spread across the floor.

"A mind that is full cannot take in anything new," the master explained. "Like this cup, you are full of opinions and preconceptions." Wisdom and happiness are to be found only by emptying one's cup.

With this story, Epstein illustrates what he believes is an important problem for modern Western culture. Trained to approach life in the same way as the professor in the parable, Westerners tend to fill their lives with things and knowledge the way the master filled the cup with tea. In the psychological arena, this gives rise to a sort of psychological acquisitiveness, whereby we attempt to beef ourselves up with self-esteem, self-confidence, self-expression, or self-control. The message of Buddhism, Epstein argues, is that this Western tendency to build and strengthen the ego toward the ideal of a strong, individuated self will not work. We come to wisdom and peace of mind only by acknowledging the difficulties that are created by the ego's blind need to control and by allowing emptiness to be present as an inevitable and often valuable state.

Beginning with his own sense of emptiness as a boy in high school and then presenting a variety of Buddhist parables, clinical anecdotes, and personal examples, Epstein recounts what he has learned so far in his lifelong journey to understand the mind. Observations of his undergraduate classmates at Harvard, his contacts with the Dalai Lama, his deepening ability to understand and live in both Eastern and Western worlds during medical school and residency, and his subsequent contact with several schools of psychoanalysis, Gestalt therapy, and especially the writings of Winnicott -- this very personal journey reflects Epstein's growing conviction that the Western psychological notion of what it means to have a self is flawed.

Western thought tends to pathologize what is understood in Buddhism as a universally human starting point for wisdom and self-understanding. The "deficiencies" of childhood and the "errors" of adult life often do not represent darkness or void, as they initially seem to, but rather, are occasions that create the possibility of life and freedom. Human urges and conflicts are not necessarily pathologic; instead, they reflect the movement of life as it attempts to become manifest within us. The point is to allow the conflicts to surface and become visible.

In response to the Western proclivity for knowledge, Epstein offers wisdom from the ancient texts of Buddhism; in response to the Western bias toward individuation, he offers connection; in response to the emphasis on rational mind, he offers mind-in-the-heart. In response to the warring of our cultural dualisms, whether between mind and body, individual and community, or men and women, he offers unity and reciprocity. All of this becomes possible through a "middle way" of nonjudgmental awareness that avoids either "attachment" or "aversion" to any of these polarities and, in so doing, transforms experience. Then, says Epstein, one can live in the lion's den of life with honesty and authenticity.

In sizing up the possible relevance of Eastern mysticism to Western postindustrial cultures, it is important to understand that both Western science and Christianity were born in what we now call the East and that many modern problems revolve around ways in which intellectual categories have been reshaped since then. In the emergence of the intellectual basis of Western culture, science and values developed in reaction to each other and, in so doing, became somewhat falsified and alienated from the way in which people actually lived their lives. The most extreme separation occurred in Descartes's sharp isolation of the worlds of mind and matter. Since then, medicine has come to view the body as a machine with parts that could be manipulated. Personhood came to be understood as an increasingly large and fragmented number of components and functions, and academic inquiry was cordoned off into disciplinary ghettos. It is only with growing recognition of the limits of the Cartesian-Newtonian framework for solving human problems, the development of quantum mechanics, general-systems theory, and brain science, and the increasing contact between the West and the East that these old separations are breaking down.

In general, Epstein's discussion is balanced, and he is aware of the paradoxical nature of his topic. In his efforts to explicate the Buddhist worldview, however, he occasionally parodies Western psychology and its notion of the self. Self-esteem, self-confidence, the building of a strong self -- these are not the problem, although some of his statements could lead readers to believe otherwise. Instead, the problem arises when selfhood becomes the only goal. To become oneself, one must also lose oneself. In the expression of an idea so dialectical, one statement immediately implies its opposite. The sweetness of the "middle way" is not learned easily or quickly, and fictions abound on both sides of the discussion.

Plato's Socrates once wondered whether he should be a politician or a physician -- that is, whether he should try to serve the existing tastes and interests of his fellow citizens or continually work to improve their minds and souls. Going to Pieces without Falling Apart will appeal to physicians, therapists, and patients who, like Socrates, opt for the latter.

Reviewed by Jeffrey Rediger, M.D., M.Div.

Product Details

  • File Size: 1249 KB
  • Print Length: 226 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0767902351
  • Publisher: Harmony; Reprint edition (April 17, 2013)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00C0AM01U
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #20,609 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
89 of 92 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How to overcome depression through meditation May 21, 1999
By A Customer
I have finally found a way, through this book, to stop negative thoughts from constantly bombarding my mind. This book is invaluable to those of us who suffer from "excessive thinking" as the author would put it. If you suffer from depression and negative thinking (depressive thoughts, angry thoughts, constant obsessive thinking about bad people and unpleasant situations), then try this book. Its techniques, if followed, will be a great relief. I cried when I read certain sections, because I finally understood the root of my negative thoughts and how to deal with them. Thank you, Dr. Epstein.
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56 of 58 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Taking the sting out of emptiness June 1, 2005
Having spent years suffering high levels of emotional pain, Buddhism was naturally a possible solution. But the typical Western summary of its path as `giving up desire' put me off: to give up desire struck me as to give up being human. A couple of years ago, I bought at a country newsagent Going to Pieces Without Falling Apart: A Buddhist Perspective on Wholeness by psychiatrist Mark Epstein. The book is simply about buddhism-as-psychology - as far as I can see, what it has to say is compatible with any religious tradition. I read it, and then re-read it. Thinking about what it had to say changed my perspective and effectively banished my pain. I was suffering an emptiness that I did not see as emptiness but as lack - in my case, a lack of intimate love and the deeper fear that lack was just. This book enabled me to see what I was suffering was emptiness, to embrace that emptiness and to have it no longer cause me pain. I came to feel whole; I feel more human not less.

I am also much calmer, far fewer things irritate me, I laugh more. Situations of stress are much easier to handle. I have a pervasive feeling of triumph and a confidence that there is much more to discover.

Reading Epstein's book meant that Gurdjieff's notion of the need to fight against sleep, the sleep of what the mind can do but normally doesn't, makes much more sense to me nowadays. Though it seems to me Gurdieff was fumbling towards much that was already in the Buddhist tradition.

This book is clearly written. The Freudian content is higher than I am comfortable with, but has the advantage of being based on Freud's original writings, Freud being a more complex and subtle thinker than his disciples (as is so often the way with founders of schools of thought). What it has to say is very perceptive and useful even for someone who does not accept Freudian ideas. Highly recommended.
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45 of 50 people found the following review helpful
Mark Epstein is remarkable in that his writing has a distinctly spiritual note, even while he is talking in scientific terms and refraining from engaging in a discourse of religion. "Going to pieces without falling apart" is an apt name for this book because it talks about the paradoxical nature of Buddhist meditation i.e. through the disintegration of the self and the ego you integrate yourself with all that is living. There is a simple poem that is quoted in this book that describes this process of falling apart and then coming together through an analogy about how a meditator sees mountains and rivers before nirvana and then all is changed during nirvana and then he sees mountains and rivers again. Epstein writes about how Buddhist meditation principles can be used in psychotherapy. In fact many principles are already being used, but without acknowledgement of the resemblance. He describes how Freud instructs therapists to listen to the patient in a careful non- judgmental way, very much like what Buddhist meditation ideally is - i.e. non-judgmental observation of all your thoughts and actions. Buddhism, however, goes beyond traditional therapy by working with the feeling of isolation we all have to actually finding a more satisfying answer than merely learning to cope. In conclusion, highly recommended for its focus on Buddhist meditation practices and links to psychology but if you are looking for the religious aspects of Buddhism this is not for you.
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Going To Pieces and AA August 22, 1999
By A Customer
The idea's expressed in this book are not at all incompatible with those of Alcoholics Anonymous. In fact, the idea's in this book dovetail nicely with the AA philosophy of finding oneself through self-forgetting, or getting out of oneself, rather than the usual psychotherpy method of just building up oneself through endless analaysis. After 10 minutes of meditation, really just doing nothng, which I found to be quite difficult, I discovered just how wild my mind really is. This is a great book for those of us in AA who are just now discovering that getting to know ones own mind is the ulitimate altered state of conciousness. Oh no, Mark, I best not get attached to that thought!
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Couldn't have explained it better February 10, 2003
I have been suffering from anxiety/depression and feelings of emptiness for 6 years since I went through a particularly stressful event. I have only read as far as chapter 3 but already I can see that this is the first self help book I have read (and I have read quite a few) that really hits the nail on the head and left me thinking "This is it. If only I had known that 6 years ago". It seems amazing to me that a person can understand the human mind so clearly and lay it out in a logical manner for a layman to understand. When I comeplete the book I will get back to you on what I thought of his practical implementation of the solution to the problem. I just wanted to get this out there for people to read now as if you are feeling any of the things I noted above then this book is the best place to start in my opinion.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars for your meditation enjoyment
another great meditation book
Published 2 days ago by alicec
5.0 out of 5 stars realistic
His realistic way of thinking,experiences of seince and knowledge of life.
I wish to all whom they like to live a pragmatic life.
Published 12 days ago by Vrej
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
First few chapter were good but then got hard to follow.
Published 27 days ago by DJ
4.0 out of 5 stars I loved it.
A very interesting book about different perspectives on Zen, Buddism, Meditation & Mindfullness. I loved it.
Published 28 days ago by charlotte prahl
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
A good read, but not quite as helpful as I had wanted.
Published 1 month ago by Jeanine Bugh
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
wonderful for anyone wanting to improve their life
Published 1 month ago by April Markul
5.0 out of 5 stars This is a great book. Author is kind and appears knowledgeable and ...
This is a great book. Author is kind and appears knowledgeable and experienced on the subject. This is a pleasant read. You don't feel judged or lectured. Just informed. Read more
Published 2 months ago by R. Lesner
5.0 out of 5 stars great for a westerner looking for a balanced description
I found myself reading faster than usual. It was very refreshing. I will look for other titles by Mr. Epstein.
Published 2 months ago by D. Dorbad
5.0 out of 5 stars A keeper for future reference
This is an excellent book on coming to terms and moving past what's bothering you. I too am a Buddhist and a psychologist (holistic practitioner). Read more
Published 2 months ago by Carolyn Dargevics
5.0 out of 5 stars Lucid and Accessible
I was led to read Going to Pieces after finishing 10% Happier by Dan Harris. These two books, along with The Ultimate Happiness Prescription by Deepak Chopra have been an important... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Rana Williamson
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