The Trauma of Everyday Life by Mark Epstein
Trauma does not just happen to a few unlucky people; it is the bedrock of our psychology. Death and illness touch us all, but even the everyday sufferings of loneliness and fear are traumatic. In The Trauma of Everyday Life renowned psychiatrist and author of Thoughts Without a Thinker Mark Epstein uncovers the transformational potential of trauma, revealing how it can be used for the mind’s own development.
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, Epstein argues, fail to recognize that trauma is an indivisible part of life and can be used as a lever for growth and an ever deeper understanding of change. 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 of pain is through it.
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’s book is a rare and remarkable achievement. It fuses deep scholarship with deep tenderness—in the spirit of the greatest Buddhist teachers—to investigate the nature and psychic repercussions of trauma. The fact that Epstein can effortlessly transit between the ancient truths of Buddhism and the most contemporary understanding of trauma is a testament to his agility as a thinker. This is a wise and important book.”
—Siddhartha Muhkerjee, author of The Emperor of All Maladies
“This daring psychobiography of the Buddha divines in tales of his life the sources of his early emotional pain and finds in the Buddha’s methods a balm for the human psyche. In a breathtaking display of the therapeutic art, Epstein does ingenious psychodynamic detective work, deducing what ailed the Buddha, and why his remedies work so well. The Trauma of Everyday Life reads like a gripping mystery one told by your warm and reassuring, but utterly candid, analyst. What’s true for the Buddha, Epstein explains, applies to us all.”
—Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence
“Written with authentic originality, from the author’s own inward struggles and achievements, it is the most loving, gentle, brave, insightful, and exquisite presentation of the all too fully human process of enlightenment I have seen. Reading it engages us to look deep within to the heart as we expand our mind to appreciate the Buddha’s example in the only real way—with the joy of natural relational knowing. Buddha would have loved it—I love it! I recommend it—a transforming pleasure!”
—Robert A. F. Thurman, Jey Tsong Khapa Professor of Buddhist Studies, Columbia University; author of Essential Tibetan Buddhism
“Mark Epstein is one of the very few writers who has been able to make the connections between psychoanalysis and Buddhism seem not merely interesting, but somehow riveting and useful. Written with Epstein’s characteristic lucidity and passion, this inspired and illuminating book clarifies a lot of our presuppositions about trauma and, indeed, about everyday life. It should be of considerable interest to a great many people.”
—Adam Phillips, author of Missing Out and Winnicott
“In this intriguing and deeply moving meditation on the human condition, Mark Epstein offers a psychoanalytic reading of the Buddha’s life that illuminates the same tragedies and joys that are just as much part of our life today.”
—Stephen Batchelor, author of Confession of a Buddhist Atheist
“As always, Mark Epstein meditates on experience—his own and that of others—with exemplary intelligence, sensitivity, and tact. It is hard to imagine a book this year with more lucid and bracing wisdom.”
—Pankaj Mishra, author of An End to Suffering: The Buddha in the World
About the Author
MARK EPSTEIN, MD, 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.