Advice Not Given

Week Five, Book Five: Advice Not Given; A Guide to Getting Over Yourself by Mark Epstein. 

I like books about therapists doing therapist things.  I love all of Irvin Yalom’s books.  This book felt reminiscent of Irvin Yalom’s, albeit in this case therapy is viewed through  a Buddhist lens as opposed to an existential lens.  If you are not a therapist that last sentence probably sounded like mumbo jumbo, but the book itself is accessible to practitioner and laymen alike.  Although Epstein writes about the interweaving of Buddhism and psychotherapy, this book is more about Buddhism than anything else.

As such, it’s a simple guide and introduction to Buddhism’s Eightfold Path.  In addition to an exposition of Buddhist principles, Epstein’s thesis insofar as therapeutic application in concerned, in a nutshell, is that psychotherapy and Buddhism are similar in some ways and often complementary.  

I used to read a lot of Buddhist thought-Pema Chodron, Sharon Salzberg; Jack Kornfield; Thich Nhat Hanh; Tara Brach-and this book made me want to return to those readings.  I was reminded of how powerful these ideas can be, both in life and in psychotherapy.  For example, Epstein talks about ‘letting go’ and what it means in the context of Buddhism and psychotherapy.  He reminds us that letting go “has more to do with patience than it does with release”.  We don’t meditate so we can escape ourselves, but rather so we can learn to tolerate ourselves, so as to see ourselves clearly.  He quotes a famous phrase from Japanese Buddhism: “Learn the backward step that turns your light inward to illuminate yourself.  Then body and mind of themselves will drop away, and your original face will be manifest”.  

In fact, in reading Epstein, I came to realize how my new year’s resolution of reading a book a week has been both profoundly mindful as well as revealing.  Reading a book a week has been difficult-and not because the page count has overwhelmed me or because I am dying to watch TV instead of read, although both these things have at times been true.

I have a stack of approximately 25 books on what my husband calls my ‘book trough’-a three-tiered shelving unit on casters that follows me around the house wherever I go-and as I read my chosen book for the week, I struggle fiercely with the temptation to read something else.  There is so much to read in the world and reading feels so slow and plodding and inefficient and there isn’t enough time in a day to read everything I want to read!  It’s not about being bored by the book in my hands, but rather about the fact that my mind is constantly being pulled in the direction of my curiosity and inspiration.  

As Epstein writes in this book: “What we face in meditation is a mini version, or a magnified version, of what we do not want to face in life.  A brief experiment with meditation can make this clear”.   Given the fact that I have been in graduate programs for three entirely different subjects (Spanish Literature, Creative Nonfiction Writing, Counselling Psychology), not to mention my failure to choose and then complete a thesis during my counselling psychology degree, my experiment in reading a book a week feels like an apt exposition of my challenges.  

I give this book 4 out of 5 pug tails!