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Mark Epstein quotes (showing 1-30 of 54)

“Anxiety and desire are two, often conflicting, orientations to the unknown. Both are tilted toward the future. Desire implies a willingness, or a need, to engage this unknown, while anxiety suggests a fear of it. Desire takes one out of oneself, into the possibility or relationship, but it also takes one deeper into oneself. Anxiety turns one back on oneself, but only onto the self that is already known.”
Mark Epstein, Open to Desire: Embracing a Lust for Life - Insights from Buddhism and Psychotherapy
“There is a yearning that is as spiritual as it is sensual. Even when it degenerates into addiction, there is something salvageable from the original impulse that can only be described as sacred. Something in the person (dare we call it a soul?) wants to be free, and it seeks its freedom any way it can. ... There is a drive for transcendence that is implicit in even the most sensual of desires.”
Mark Epstein, Open to Desire: Embracing a Lust for Life - Insights from Buddhism and Psychotherapy
“Meditation did not relieve me of my anxiety so much as flesh it out. It took my anxious response to the world, about which I felt a lot of confusion and shame, and let me understand it more completely. Perhaps the best way to phrase it is to say that meditation showed me that the other side of anxiety is desire. They exist in relationship to each other, not independently.”
Mark Epstein, Open to Desire: Embracing a Lust for Life - Insights from Buddhism and Psychotherapy
“We are what we think, having become what we thought.”
Mark Epstein
“The teaching of the sexual tantras all come down to one point. Although desire, of whatever shape or form, seeks completion, there is another kind of union than the one we imagine. In this union, achieved when the egocentric model of dualistic thinking is no longer dominant, we are not united with it, nor am I united with you, but we all just are. The movement from object to subject, as described in both Eastern meditation and modern psychotherapy, is training for this union, but its perception usually comes as a surprise, even when this shift is well under way. It is a kind of grace. The emphasis on sexual relations in the tantric teachings make it clear that the ecstatic surprise of orgasm is the best approximation of this grace.”
Mark Epstein, Open to Desire: Embracing a Lust for Life - Insights from Buddhism and Psychotherapy
“While the primary function of formal Buddhist meditation is to create the possibility of the experience of "being," my work as a therapist has shown me that the demands of intimate life can be just as useful as meditation in moving people toward this capacity. Just as in formal meditation, intimate relationships teach us that the more we relate to each other as objects, the greater our disappointment. The trick, as in meditation, is to use this disappointment to change the way we relate.”
Mark Epstein, Open to Desire: Embracing a Lust for Life - Insights from Buddhism and Psychotherapy
“To free desire from the tendency to cling, we have to be willing to stumble over ourselves.”
Mark Epstein, Open to Desire: Embracing a Lust for Life - Insights from Buddhism and Psychotherapy
“Meditation is not a means of forgetting the ego; it is a method of using the ego to observe and tame its own manifestations.”
Mark Epstein
“If things do not exist as fixed, independent entities, then how can they die? Our notion of death as the sudden expiration of that which was once so real starts to unwind. If things do not exist in their own right and are flickering rather than static, then we can no longer fear their ultimate demise. We may fear their instability, or their emptiness, but the looming threat of death starts to seem absurd. Things are constantly dying, we find. Or rather, they are constantly in flux, arising and passing away with each moment of consciousness.”
Mark Epstein, Going on Being: Buddhism and the Way of Change
“We reduce, concretize, or substantialize experiences or feelings, which are, in their very nature, fleeting or evanescent. In so doing, we define ourselves by our moods and by our thoughts. We do not just let ourselves be happy or sad, for instance; we must become a happy person or a sad one. This is the chronic tendency of the ignorant or deluded mind, to make “things” out of that which is no thing.”
Mark Epstein, Thoughts Without a Thinker: Psychotherapy from a Buddhist Perspective
“The spiritual path means making a path rather than following one.”
Mark Epstein, Going to Pieces Without Falling Apart: A Buddhist Perspective on Wholeness
“In demonstrating this, the Buddha was making an important example for the ages. For almost no one is exempt from trauma. While some people have it in a much more pronounced way than others, the unpredictable and unstable nature of things makes life inherently traumatic. What the Buddha revealed through his dreams was that, true as this may be, the mind, by its very nature, is capable of holding trauma much the way a mother naturally relates to a baby. One does not have to be helpless and fearful, nor does one have to be hostile and self-referential. The mind knows intuitively how to find a middle path. Its implicit relational capacity is hardwired.”
Mark Epstein, The Trauma of Everyday Life
“Whether or not the historical Buddha actually suffered from the kind of primitive agonies Winnicott expounded upon, the meditations he taught in the aftermath of his awakening “hold” the mind just as Winnicott described a mother “holding” an infant. In making the observational posture of mindfulness central to his technique, the Buddha established another version of “an auxiliary ego-function” in the psyches of his followers, one that enabled them, to go back to his metaphor of pulling out an arrow, to tend to their own wounds with both their minds and their hearts. Far from eliminating the ego, as I naively believed I should when I first began to practice meditation, the Buddha encouraged a strengthening of the ego so that it could learn to hold primitive agonies without collapse.”
Mark Epstein, The Trauma of Everyday Life
“A recently deceased American Zen master and navy veteran, John Daido Loori, used to say that those who think Buddhism is just about stillness end up sitting very silently up to their necks in their own shit.”
Mark Epstein, The Trauma of Everyday Life
“Intimacy puts us in touch with fragility, he realized, and the acceptance of fragility opens us to intimacy.”
Mark Epstein, Going to Pieces Without Falling Apart: A Buddhist Perspective on Wholeness
“the Buddha may well have been the original psychoanalyst, or, at least, the first to use the mode of analytic inquiry that Freud was later to codify and develop.”
Mark Epstein, Thoughts Without a Thinker: Psychotherapy from a Buddhist Perspective
“To be free, to come to terms with our lives, we have to have a direct experience of ourselves as we really are, warts and all.”
Mark Epstein, The Trauma of Everyday Life
“[The Buddha] is not dividing himself into worthy and unworthy pieces; he is one being, indivisible, immune from the tendency to double back and beat up on himself. He has seen the worst in himself and not been taken down.”
Mark Epstein, The Trauma of Everyday Life
“In the practice of mindfulness, the ego’s usual insistence on control and security is deliberately and progressively undermined. This is accomplished by steadily shifting one’s center of gravity from the thinking mind to a neutral object like the breath, or in the case of my workshop, the random sounds of the environment.”
Mark Epstein, The Trauma of Everyday Life
“One of the age-old truths about love is that while it offers unparalleled opportunities for union and the lifting of ego boundaries, it also washes us up on the shores of the loved one's otherness. Sooner or later, love makes us feel inescapably separate.”
Mark Epstein
“The early parent-child environment, the balance between being and doing, lives on in the mind. Mindfulness offers an opportunity to see these patterns clearly. In seeing them, in bringing them into the domain of reflective self-awareness, there is a possibility of emerging from their constraints. Choice emerges where before there was only blind and conditioned behavior.”
Mark Epstein, The Trauma of Everyday Life
“Primitive agonies exist in many of us. Originating in painful experiences that occurred before we had the cognitive capacities to know what was happening, they tend to blindside us, traumatizing us again and again as we find ourselves enacting a pain we do not understand.”
Mark Epstein, The Trauma of Everyday Life
“Subliminally, the Buddha was saying, we are all tending these fires (of greed, hatred, and delusion), motivated as we are by our insecure place in the world, by the feeling, the dukkha, of not fitting in. The fires of greed, hatred, and delusion are defenses against acknowledging that everything is on fire, instinctive attempts at protecting ourselves from what feels like an impossible situation. The Buddha stressed the burning nature of the world in order to show his listeners what they were afraid of.”
Mark Epstein, The Trauma of Everyday Life
“Developmental trauma occurs when “emotional pain cannot find a relational home in which it can be held.”1 In retrospect, I can see that this was the case for”
Mark Epstein, The Trauma of Everyday Life
“After five minutes, or ten, or fifteen—it doesn’t matter—open your eyes and resume your day. For a moment or two things might seem more alive.”
Mark Epstein, The Trauma of Everyday Life
“Having released the wartime images he was carrying in his unconscious, he became worried that he would now be at their mercy, plagued by them in day as well as by night. But what he found was just the opposite. While he did retrieve the horrible images, he rediscovered a lost innocence as well. The beauty of the jungle, the glistening white sands of the Vietnamese beaches, and the intense greens of the rice paddies at dawn all filtered back to him. Not only did he remember his trauma, he remembered himself before his trauma.”
Mark Epstein, The Trauma of Everyday Life
“When we stop distancing ourselves from the pain in the world, our own or others’, we create the possibility of a new experience, one that often surprises because of how much joy, connection, or relief it yields. Destruction may continue, but humanity shines through.”
Mark Epstein, The Trauma of Everyday Life
“The Buddha, in recovering his capacity for nonsensual joy, learned that this joy was limitless. He found that if he got himself out of the way, his joy completely suffused his mindful awareness. This gave him the confidence, the stability, the trust, and the means to see clearly whatever presented itself to his mind. In the curious bifurcation of consciousness that meditation develops, where we can be both observer and that which is being observed, the quality of joy that he recovered did not remain an internal object. It was not only a memory or merely a feeling to be observed; it was also a quality of mind that could accompany every moment of mindfulness. The more he accepted the presence of this feeling and the more it toggled between being object and subject, the closer the Buddha came to understanding his true nature.”
Mark Epstein, The Trauma of Everyday Life
“These feelings of rage and distress and despair that you talk about,” I said, circling something I knew I would have trouble articulating. “They only exist because of your original love for your father. They are like signposts back to that love. His leaving took that love with him, or appeared to, but you will see, if you stay with your meditation, that all of that love is still there in you. From the infant’s perspective, it’s directed at only one or two people, but even if they failed you, that capacity for love is still there in you. It’s too bad for your father that he didn’t get to know it—but there are plenty of people now who will be grateful for it. There’s a whole roomful right here.”
Mark Epstein, The Trauma of Everyday Life
“He was aware of his trauma, but he was using it to distance himself from life. He had a story about himself but no access to who he might have been before his trauma derailed him. I was trying to use his feelings of deprivation as a means of bringing him back in touch with a more fundamental truth about himself, to guide him back toward—or at least help him to visualize—the intrinsic relational foundation of his being. By not fighting with his internal wounds, by not insisting on making them go away, by not recruiting everyone in his intimate life to save him from his feelings of abandonment, by simply resting with them the way we do in meditation, he could learn, as the Buddha did, that he already was the love he thought he lacked.”
Mark Epstein, The Trauma of Everyday Life

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