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

Mark Epstein

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In the Zen tradition of Buddhism there is a story of a smart and eager university professor who comes to an old Zen master for teachings. The Zen master offers him tea and upon the man's acceptance he pours the tea into the cup until it overflows. As the professor politely expresses his dismay at the overflowing cup, the Zen master keeps on pouring.

"A mind that is already full cannot take in anything new," the master explains. "Like this cup, you are full of opinions and preconceptions." In order to find happiness, he teaches his disciple, he must first empty his cup.

The central premise of this book is that the Western psychological notion of what it means to have a self is flawed. We are all trained to approach life like the professor in the story, filling ourselves up the way the master filled the cup with tea. Afflicted, as we are, with a kind of psychological materialism, we are concerned primarily with beefing ourselves up. Self-development, self-esteem, self-confidence, self-expression, self-awareness, and self-control are our most sought after attributes. But Buddhism teaches us that happiness does not come from any kind of acquisitiveness, be it material or psychological. Happiness comes from letting go. In Buddhism, the impenetrable, separate, and individuated self is more of the problem than the solution.

One of my first teachings about the limitations of the self came during my freshman year at Harvard. My first roommate there was a young man from the South named Steve who was the hardest worker I had ever seen. Steve spent every waking moment, and an increasing number of what should have been sleeping moments, studying for the five hardest courses that a freshman could take. As the semester wore on, Steve stopped bathing, going out for meals, and playing his guitar, while becoming increasingly obsessed with mastering every detail of economics, philosophy, and so on. He was intent on becoming the embodiment of what he imagined a successful Harvard freshman to be.

On his way to his first final exam, Steve slipped on the concrete stairs of our dorm and slid down several flights, knocking himself out. When he awoke, he had amnesia for the entire semester: He could remember only the first week of school and going home for Christmas. His memory for that semester of work never came back. He took the rest of the year off and returned the following year, chastened, to begin anew.

Steve went to pieces and fell apart. If he could have permitted himself more of the former, he might have escaped the intensity of the latter. Yet Steve's predicament typified all of ours that year. We all felt that we had to strive to consolidate our egos, to master our insecurities, and to become as "together" as the next person was. Steve merely went at it with more zeal than the rest of us could stomach. Just as the full cup could not hold any more tea, so too Steve could not contain all of the knowledge, information, and psychological attributes that he was attempting to swallow. What he needed instead was some recognition of his capacity to relax the grip of his ego and to empty his mind.

A few years after witnessing Steve's collapse, I heard the Dalai Lama speak for the first time on his first visit to the United States.

"All beings are seeking happiness," he said. "It is the purpose of life."

When I heard him say this, I remember scoffing at the idea. Something about it sounded so simplistic. But after I heard him say it eight or nine more times over the next few years, I started to pay attention to his actual meaning. He was addressing this idea of psychological materialism and the search for happiness through the acquisition of things, experiences, and beliefs. When we seek happiness through accumulation, either outside of ourselves--from other people, relationships, or material goods--or from our own self-development, we are missing the essential point. In either case we are trying to find completion. But according to Buddhism, such a strategy is doomed. Completion comes not from adding another piece to ourselves but from surrendering our ideas of perfection.

My roommate's experience was a metaphor for the limitations of self-development. Cramming himself full of the imagined constituents of a self, Steve succeeded only in knocking himself out. He could never be the perfect person he was trying to be. Unless he, and we, learn the lessons that Harvard was not teaching that year (how to lose ourselves, surrender control, or go to pieces without disintegrating), we will never be happy.

While psychotherapy has a long tradition of encouraging the development of a strong sense of self, Buddhism has an even longer tradition of teaching the value of collapsing that self. Part of my attraction to Buddhist meditation lies in this difference. Many of us come to therapy--and to psychological self-improvement in general--feeling that we are having trouble letting ourselves go: We are blocked creatively or emotionally, we have trouble falling asleep or having satisfying sex, or we suffer from feelings of isolation or alienation. Often we are afraid of falling apart, but the problem is that we have not learned how to give up control of ourselves. The traditional view of therapy as building up the self simply does not do justice to what we actually seek from the therapeutic process. We are looking for a way to feel more real, but we do not realize that to feel more real we have to push ourselves further into the unknown.

Buddhism has always made the self's ability to relax its boundaries the centerpiece of its teachings. It recognizes that the central issues of our lives, from falling in love to facing death, require an ability to surrender that often eludes us. Psychotherapy, through its analysis of childhood, has tended to turn us in a reflective direction, searching for the causes of unhappiness in an attempt to break free from the traumas of the past. Too often, though, it degenerates into finding someone to blame for our suffering. But within psychotherapy lies the potential for an approach that is compatible with Buddhist understanding, one in which the therapist, like the Zen master, can aid in making space in the mind.

People who know that I practice Buddhism as well as psychiatry are often surprised or disappointed to find that I do not promote some kind of hybrid "Buddhist" therapy. They want to know if I meditate together with my patients or if I teach them special techniques or spiritual disciplines. I tell them that this is mostly unnecessary. I like to quote the famous phrase of Sßndor Ferenczi, the Hungarian psychoanalyst who was one of Freud's most intimate disciples. "The patient is not cured by free-associating," Ferenczi asserted, "he is cured when he can free-associate." Creating an environment in which a person can discover this inherent capacity seems to me to be healing in its own right. As the British child psychotherapist Adam Phillips has written, "It is only when two people forget themselves, in each other's presence, that they can recognize each other." Psychotherapy, like meditation, hinges on showing us a new way to be with ourselves, and with others. Whether we learn this from meditation or therapy is not the important thing. What matters is that we learn it at all.

I have divided this book into four parts, based on the nicknames that Tibetan Buddhists sometimes give to their spiritual practices. In the Tibetan tradition, the closest available comparison to the joy of meditation is the experience of simultaneously forgetting and discovering oneself that occurs in falling in love. Thus, the four levels of practice are often referred to as Looking, Smiling, Embracing, and Orgasm. There is a common happiness in each of these states--the joy of momentarily dropping the ego boundaries that prevent us from connecting with one another.

I have taken these four states and used them to present the essence of what I have learned from meditation and psychotherapy over the past twenty-five years. In organizing the book in this way, I have woven together the accumulated wisdom of Buddhism and psychotherapy to show how the happiness that we seek depends on our ability to balance the ego's need to do with our inherent capacity to be. I have mixed the teachings of various schools of Buddhism with those of therapy to show how the two grand traditions can work together to enhance one another. Implicit and explicit throughout the text is the understanding that meditative wisdom does not have to be isolated from daily life. Our need to expand awareness beyond our isolated egos is as necessary in relationships as it is in meditation.

When the Zen master kept pouring tea into the professor's cup, he was trying to shock him into a new way of seeing himself. He wanted him to tune into the empty space of his mind rather than identify only with its contents. In the same way I hope that the material in this book can provoke in the reader a new experience of the self. As my roommate Steve's experience taught me, there is a difference between accumulating knowledge and discovering wisdom. As my Buddhist teachers have shown me, wisdom emerges in the space around words as much as from language itself.

Revue de presse

"[Epstein] elegantly describes how psychotherapy and meditation can help us manage our most powerful emotions--and make us feel more alive and whole in the process."
--Psychology Today

"Exhilarating . . . brilliant and original. . . . Important because it shows how work on the pains and pleasures of our own lives can be a means of transformation."
--New Age

"A daring and profound synthesis of intelligence about emotions East and West . . . establishes Mark Epstein as one of psychology's most dazzling thinkers."
--Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence

"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."                           --New England Journal of Medicine

"A thought-provoking look at how to break free from psychological materialism."
--Utne Reader

Détails sur le produit

  • Format : Format Kindle
  • Taille du fichier : 1249 KB
  • Nombre de pages de l'édition imprimée : 226 pages
  • Pagination - ISBN de l'édition imprimée de référence : 0767902351
  • Editeur : Harmony; Édition : Reprint (17 avril 2013)
  • Vendu par : Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Langue : Anglais
  • ASIN: B00C0AM01U
  • Synthèse vocale : Activée
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Commentaires client les plus utiles sur (beta) 4.3 étoiles sur 5  87 commentaires
83 internautes sur 86 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 How to overcome depression through meditation 22 mai 1999
Par Un client - Publié sur
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.
51 internautes sur 53 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 Taking the sting out of emptiness 1 juin 2005
Par Michael J. Warby - Publié sur
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.
44 internautes sur 49 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Reasoned paen to meditative Buddhism and psychotherapy 4 août 2003
Par Tanya Gupta - Publié sur
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.
22 internautes sur 24 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Going To Pieces and AA 22 août 1999
Par Un client - Publié sur
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!
14 internautes sur 15 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Couldn't have explained it better 10 février 2003
Par "sekelly5" - Publié sur
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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