August 20, 2013, 8:00 p.m.
Trauma does not just happen to a few unlucky people; it is the bedrock of our psychology. Death and illness impact us all, but even the everyday sufferings of loneliness and fear are traumatic.
Western psychology teaches that if we understand the cause of trauma, we might move past it, while many drawn to Eastern practices see meditation as a means of rising above, or distancing themselves from, their most difficult emotions. Both, Mark Epstein argues, fail to recognize that trauma is an indivisible part of life. It takes many forms but spares no one. When we regard trauma with this perspective, understanding that suffering is universal and without logic, our pain connects us to the world on a more fundamental level. The way out is through.
Epstein’s discovery begins in his analysis of the life of Buddha, looking to how the death of his mother informed his path and teachings. The Buddha’s spiritual journey can be read as an expression of primitive agony grounded in childhood trauma. Yet the Buddha’s story is only one of many in The Trauma of Everyday Life. Here, Epstein looks to his own experience, that of his patients’, and of the many fellow sojourners and teachers he encounters as a psychiatrist and Buddhist. They are alike only in that they share in trauma, large and small, as all of us do. Epstein finds throughout that trauma, if it doesn’t destroy us, wakes us up to both our minds’ own capacity and to the suffering of others. It makes us more human, caring, and wise. It can be our greatest teacher, our freedom itself, and it is available to all of us.
Mark Epstein, M.D. is a psychiatrist in private practice in New York City and the author of a number of books about the interface of Buddhism and psychotherapy, including Thoughts Without a Thinker and Psychotherapy Without the Self. He received his undergraduate and medical degrees from Harvard University.
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