i n t e g r a l   c o u n s e l i n g   i n s t i t u t e

                        e n e r g i z i n g    t r a n s f o r m a t i o n    t  h r o u g h    i n q u i r y ,   i n s i g h t ,   a n d   i n t e g r a t i o n


                   June 2005 Book Review and Quotes Archive


                                                                          Open to Desire

                                                              Embracing A Lust for Life

                                           Insights from Buddhism and Psychotherapy

                                                                 By Mark Epstein, MD

                                                                       Gotham Books

                                                                 ISBN 1-592-40108-2


Mark Epstein is well known for his books integrating Buddhist philosophy, psychodynamic psychotherapy and the

usefulness of meditative practice in therapy.  Using "case" examples from his therapy practice and mythology

from Buddhist and Indian spiritual traditions, he presents a new perspective on the troublesome phenomenon of desire. 

Desire is a particularly interesting emotion in Western culture and I think the American struggle with it is uniquely

poignant.  The notion that all suffering is rooted in desire is recast as an issue of clinging to the desired object, not a

problem with desire itself.  Desire in fact, as the author asserts, can be a useful practice as one investigates it's

meaning in one's experience.  The gap between the object of desire and the desirer "is the space where the most

critical emotional and spiritual work takes place", he states.  He further emphasizes the gap between the desiring

and the object (person, feeling, thing) that is always "tinged with a sense of pervasive unsatisfactoriness", if you

buy the First Noble Truth of Buddha's teaching's.  Clinging and craving causes this discontent according to the

teachings.  Epstein's reinterpretation involves a view that one must go into this experience of unsatisfactoriness,

to face the lack of complete satisfaction.   The desire for full merging with the love object, be it your husband or your

shoes, can be made a focus of mindfulness. I appreciated Dr. Epstein's challenge that spiritual life and sensual pleasure

are not incompatible, but the tendency is for people to either indulge or suppress such desires.


Dr. Epstein emphasizes the desire we feel in love relationship as, of course, the most potent of forces and where we

can learn the most from our desire. To want merging to replace the loneliness and separation that are intrinsic to

love of another being is the natural state of our conditioning.  Without possessing love grows and the gaps or disparities

that desire creates can be fully experienced and learned from.  Love makes us feel separate yet only when viewed

from a stance of self and other or subject and object.  Buddhist teachings tell us it is only attachments to self-

representation such as these that create the sense of loneliness.  Awareness of "being" is a reconciliation of the

dilemma.  He notes," the primary function of formal Buddhist meditations to create the possibility of the experience of

"being," my work as a therapist has shown me that the demands of intimate life can be just as useful as meditation

in moving people toward this capacity."  The author makes the point that while desire in any form, seeks 

satisfaction or completion, there is another level of awareness, without egoistic or dualistic qualities where we can "be."


Through many stories of both his clients processes of discovering and through tales from Indian spirituality, Epstein weaves

through topics of male and female desire manifestations, sex and tantric practices, addictions and psychoanalytic 

interpretations of desire.  Overall, I enjoyed the clinical examples of how Epstein works wit these issues of desire in the day

to day of human relating.  I bogged down in the mythological stories but I think he offers his examples in a variety of modes

that are accessible for a range of reader perspectives.  His Buddhist ideas are fairly traditional but the way he integrates

psychotherapy and eastern philosophy is impressive.  The book ends with advice regarding how to work with desire and to

tolerate the gap between expectation and what is experienced suggesting meditation, psychotherapy and love relationships

as the most helpful modalities.  If we see desire as a more impersonal force and shed the shame we tend to wrap around

it, we may inhabit more fully the lives we lead in the phenomenal world of doing, I think Dr Epstein's view of opening to

desire values the world of relationship and our conditioned tendency to cling as a golden opportunity for  spiritual practice,

a notion often neglected in other Buddhist writings.

Review by Shelley Norton Ph.D.




                                             June 2005 Weekly Quotes    


“Breathe long, slow, and deep like there is no hurry. Sing like no one is listening. Dance like no one is watching. Dream

like there is no waking.  Laugh like it's your belly's last. Love like there is no tomorrow. Live like there is nothing left to lose.

Now, take the first breath of the rest of your life.”
Tom Tower

"Intuition is often taken to mean making a choice or forming an opinion without analytical or deductive reasoning. A broader

meaning is a faculty for apprehension of the whole."
Barney McDowell

"I'm not sure that personal choice and karma can be separated from the cultural context of morality."
Jack Russell

"It's sobering to contemplate the many events and encounters that lead to such a pivotal moment in one's life. Singly, they

seem almost random, and they could have resolved differently. Seen as a sequence, they can evoke the indifferent majesty

of predestination. I didn't know or care if this trip would last more than a week - I was going to give it all I had while it lasted."
Phil Lesh, Searching for the Sound - My Life with the Grateful Dead, Little Brown and Company 2005




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