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by Mark Epstein

Pub Date: Aug. 19th, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-59420-513-2
Publisher: Penguin Press

A practicing physician and Buddhism expert examines trauma as a natural part of life.

Psychiatrist Epstein (Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis/New York Univ.; Going on Being: Life at the Crossroads of Buddhism and Psychotherapy, 2008, etc.), a prolific author on Buddhism, invites readers to learn from the example of Buddha and deal with trauma through direct engagement and Zen mindfulness rather than distancing or dissociating from negative life experiences. Although the Buddhist wisdom he imparts isn’t always necessarily layman-friendly, the connections he makes mostly steer clear of spiritualist mumbo jumbo or, for that matter, clinical psychobabble. However, some readers may get the sense that his main thesis—which could probably be summed up in the line, “If one can treat trauma as a fact and not a failing, one has the chance to learn from the inevitable slings and arrows that come one’s way”—is stretched a bit too far and isn’t quite enough to effectively carry an entire book. Rather than rely on his own experiences and philosophies, Epstein uses an anecdotal approach to illustrate his points about how regular people have used the teachings of Buddha to come to terms with their trauma, as well as how Buddha educated himself along the so-called “middle path,” which was marked by many instances of traumatic events that were unique to him. No matter how many different examples the author provides from the life of Buddha and others, ultimately, everything contained in Epstein’s book circles back to more or less the same idea of accepting daily traumas instead of burying them in one’s subconscious mind, which can toe the line between obsessively driving home a major point and simple redundancy.

Useful and coherent but not as deep a study as it clearly wants to be.