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Ego, Disrupted. How Buddhist Wisdom Meets Western Therapy with Dr. Mark Epstein

Lesson 30 from: The Chase Jarvis LIVE Show

Chase Jarvis

Ego, Disrupted. How Buddhist Wisdom Meets Western Therapy with Dr. Mark Epstein

Lesson 30 from: The Chase Jarvis LIVE Show

Chase Jarvis

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30. Ego, Disrupted. How Buddhist Wisdom Meets Western Therapy with Dr. Mark Epstein


Class Trailer

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Lesson Info

Ego, Disrupted. How Buddhist Wisdom Meets Western Therapy with Dr. Mark Epstein

Hey everybody, What's up? This is Chase Travis. Welcome to an episode of the Chase Travis live show here on Creative Live. This is The Shore. I sit down with the world's most incredible humans. I unpacked their brain with the goal of helping you live your dreams and today's guest is Dr Mark Epstein. Dr Epstein is a psychiatrist in private practice in new york city and the author of a number of books that help us understand and reconcile Eastern wisdom with Western medicine and western science. Generally this is an incredible conversation. We talk about cultivating a healthy relationship with our ego, why ego is both good and bad, How it's are are the thing that keeps us alive and his biological functions. But it also undermines so much of what we want to do in this life that we have this one precious life. Um in this episode we talk about the difference between doing which Western culture is obsessed with and being. How are you? How how does one be content whether or not we're succeedi...

ng, whether or not we're being recognized for our pursuits on a day to day business, there is more to life than that. And importantly we talk about how meditation and therapy, the combination of those two things specifically can train the mind to deal with the unpredictable world that we all live in. This is a super powerful episode. I'm very excited about both the tradition that Mark come from and the work that he's done in the Western world to unite this and what I think is a super profound way, enjoy this episode. Yours truly with Doctor Mark Epstein, mm hmm. So Doctor Mark Epstein, welcome to the show. Thank you so much for being here. Thank you Chase. It's a pleasure. Of course I shared with you before we share recording that um my wife and I are big fans. My wife is a longtime zen practitioner and of course your work is this amazing commingling between sort of Western and Eastern. But rather than me try and explain you and your work, you've been talking about it for your entire life. So for those who may be unfamiliar with your work, give us an introduction a little bit of a background on who you are and where you like to focus your energy and attention. Sure, well I'm a I'm a Western trained psychiatrist, which means I went to medical school in order to become a therapist. Which is a kind of roundabout way of becoming a therapist, you know. Um but it's turned out to have been a good path. But the unusual thing about my background was that before I went to medical school with the idea of becoming a psychiatrist, I was deeply immersed in the study and the practice of buddhism in particular mindfulness meditation. Uh and I discovered that early on, like when I was, you know, 18, 19 years old when I first got to college and I was lucky enough to meet a number of the first Western translators and practitioners of buddhist thought and practice and I studied with them, became friends with them, traveled in asia with them and did long, Long meaning two week retreats with them um for six or seven years before deciding, I had to figure out what to do with my life. Um and that's when I, you know, went back and took all the science courses to go to medical school, went to Harvard Medical School. I was one of only, I think two people in my class of 100 or so who wanted to be a psychiatrist. Um, so then I was, so I got a, you know, good training in uh in in Western psychotherapy, but I was always looking at it through the prism of what I had already learned about buddhist thought. So, um and and despite all of that good training in Western psychiatry and whatnot, they don't really teach you how to be a therapist. They follow the medical model where what one day you're, you're the psychiatrist and they give you a patient and you close the door and you're there with the patient and you have to function. So I was always drawing from the very beginning on what I had learned from meditation, deciding that, you know, I have learned how to look at my own mind. So what if I tried to apply that to looking at somebody else's mind and heart, you know, looking at their emotional life. Uh and so gradually I realized that I was at this nexus between the two worlds and that I would try to start writing about uh you know, how buddhist thought was actually applicable, or how it complemented Western psychotherapy and uh and the writing trying to write about it forced me to think about it and to consolidate my ideas about it. And that launched me on uh what I used to think about as a kind of translation of buddhist Thought into the language of Western psychotherapy. Um and now I've written a lot and now a new book about that, that maybe we can talk about some Yes, I will drop the title here, that the new book is the zen of therapy and covering a hidden kindness in life and it is exquisite, I want to say congratulations. But before we go too much into the book, you there was a lot in that in that intro, which I find no, no, this is this is look at first of all, this is long form, this is exactly what we want. And second of all, a lot means that I find, you know, as I endeavor to do with guests on the show, the background is myriad your interests are uh different than the mainstream and that is what makes you you that is that is the reason you're on the show. So first you mentioned um studying with some of the folks who were original in Transit in translating, I think used the word, some of that western western thought into the eastern thought, into a western mindset. Um I'm wondering if you could name drop so that we can orient some folks may be aware of some of these folks or who are some of the folks you studied with and uh you know, early on and what was the sort of the time frame that that was emerging? Yeah, no, I'd be I'd be happy to that because I'm I'm completely indebted to all of these people who really were there for me when I was trying to figure myself out and both of these worlds out. So, and I lucked into all of these people. So I'm I'm I'm very grateful to all of them. So I I got to go to college to Harvard in 1971. So in 1971 In Cambridge was sort of like still the 60s or it was the end of the 60s and I knew I wanted to focus on psychology somehow. I had the idea even then of being a therapist, that it was work, but it wasn't real work, you know, sitting and talking with people. I knew that was something I could do. Um but the, so the department of psychology at Harvard in those days had been roiled, it had been there had been a big uproar before I got there, timothy leary and Richard Alpert, the the avatars of LSD had been there in the sixties in this very department that I was wanting to study in. And the the professor, the tenured professor who had both hired leary and Alpert and then had to fire them, was still there and was one of my professors and a year or two into my time there, I found out that this professor who was a very austere figure that we were all kind of afraid of, that he and his wife, who was a painter lived in a, the highest house on the highest hill in Cambridge and that he was still in touch with Richard Alpert who had gone to India and become Ramdas. Um This professor of mine, David Mcclelland was still in touch with Ramdas and had kind of turned his house into a commune of sorts for all of the people around the, the hippies around Ramdas who were back and forth from India. So, once I discovered that I was over there as much as I was in in school, so, and I got to know Ramdas very early on who took an interest in me because there I was at Harvard studying psychology, but I was a generation behind him. So I didn't need to embrace the counterculture with the same 100% devotion, you know, I could straddle the middle. Um and and stay in school etcetera, but still study all of this stuff on the side. So, so Ramdas was a big influence from the beginning and then there was a graduate student teaching fellow? And one of the first psychology classes that I took whose name was Daniel Goldman and he went on to become the psychology writer for the New york Times and then he wrote a bestseller called emotional intelligence um that many people have read and has affected the business world and so on. Um but in those days he was a graduate student at Harvard in psychology and I walked into the section, the the way the classes worked was that there would be a big lecture uh and then it was broken up into smaller groups that were run by graduate students. So he was my graduate student, I walked in and there was this guy with long frizzy hair and he was wearing purple bell bottom pants and and I knew basically from the pants that he had, he knew something that I wanted to know and I, I made friends with him, gravitated towards him and it turned out that he had already been in India with Ramdas had come back to Harvard and was interested in not just mental illness, but mental health, you know, trying to, trying to describe, trying to talk about what these exceptional uh spiritually evolved people that he had met in India already like what made them special. What what? But there was no support for that at Harvard, the professors, they're all thought that he was off on the wrong track and you know, but but I made friends with him and he and I said how do you, where did, where did you learn, how can I learn what, you know, you know? And he said, well if you want, if you want to pursue that, you should go out to Boulder colorado this summer to this place called Europa Institute because all these friends of mine are going to be teaching there. So I I listened to him and went and Europa Institute in 1970 for was sort of like the last vestiges of the counterculture. Uh It was, it was the faculty was was, it was run by a a renegade tibetan lama named Chucky um trump alcoholic tibetan lama but brilliant who had been educated at Cambridge or Oxford and then come to America and he got Ramdas to come and teach their Gregory. Bateson was there, john cage was there the the whole new york art world of which I was ignorant of, you know, dance famous modern dancers, psychologists, hippies, musicians, you know, it was like, it was like heaven. Um so I went out there and and I I was sort of frightened of the tibetan lama because this the alcoholism was poking through, But there were 2, 3 mindfulness teachers who just back from Asia Joseph Goldstein, Jack Cornfield and Sharon Salzberg and they were all like Sharon was my age, which was like 21 2021 Joseph Goldstein and Jack Cornfield. We're like 30 already and they had been in the Peace Corps and then stayed on in Asia and studied joseph for seven years, Jack in a time monastery for several years. They studied with these asian teachers and they were just back in America and they have been recruited to come to Europa to teach and I took all of their classes and made friends with them. They seemed the most Uh intelligent and together people that I that I found there and they started teaching retreats together, Jack Cornfield and Joseph Goldstein and Sharon Salzberg and I went on all their first retreats. Um so I was like the young acolyte and they seemed like all grown up, you know, but they were like 30 years old and I followed them around, I was still in college but I, I took independent studies and did the retreats and then I wrote my senior thesis on buddhist psychology and and then I went to Asia with them. I traveled with them after I graduated from college and we went to bodh Gaya, the village in India where the buddha was enlightened and I met joseph's teacher, we went to Burma and I met joseph's teachers teacher who was Mukasey Cida. Uh we met up with Ramdas and went to Thailand and went to the monastery on the Lao border where Jack cornfield had studied with the teacher named Dajuan Shah, I went to Dharamsala and and uh I met the Dalai Lama for the first time. So uh and then I then I came back and went to medical school and started my medical training. So that's that's the background. Well if for those who may be new to that world, uh what you just got from Dr Mark, there was a tour of all of the most influential uh people in that space. You just literally named every person that I could ever name and that you just worked directly with them for them. Um So the the nice thing about all that and in addition to you know like I received a big download of information but I got to know all these people as friends, you know, so any any um ah motivation that I might have had to idealize them, you know like that these are realized beings or something. They they were just people. They were just, they were, they were just all struggling you know with their relationships with what it meant to be a teacher with being in America, you know with being human and that was such a relief to me because it let me, it showed me that I just had to be myself and I and and that and you know, I wasn't so sure I wanted to be myself, you know, I would rather be somebody else, but there wasn't there, they uh that was really the the greatest teaching of all, you know that you could be pursuing all of this stuff, but you had to do it from a true place, not not from a pretend place. Yeah. And again, speaking to those watchers and listeners right now, if this podcast as it unfolds and you're interested, obviously I'm having Mark on the show because of the profound impact that he's had on culture and his work. Also, all the names that he's dropped there, basically a life of study uh just reading the works of those people. Um and it's interesting how so much of this does come back to Rome, does my wife and I went to his funeral and now, you know, my wife studied under him and uh and and Jack cornfield as well. And the two to have had a relationship with those folks is incredible. Ramdas. What the thing, the thing about Ramdas was that he was for many years, he was always pretending to be the person, you know, that he was wanting to be And then struggling on this side. But I went to visit him the year before he died and I hadn't seen him in 20 years and stayed in his house for a couple of days and spent time with him. And he had really become the person that he was always a spot he really had. So the impact that he's having now after passing away and on the culture is pretty interesting to see because because he had faded out. You know, he had faded out in terms of, but he's but now he's coming back. It's interesting. It is, it is. And so clearly you've studied with um I don't know what you would call it. First generation Buddhists coming back to the coming back to the western culture and part of what a very common thread on the show. Uh my my goal, as I mentioned, is hosting a huge array of people from all kinds of different backgrounds, artists, athletes, to spiritualists too, scientists and everything in between. One extremely common thread of what I call some of the most interesting and top performing people in the world. Each of their fields is some practice of meditation or mindfulness and awareness and time spent on, on being if you will. And I'm my hope to start this conversation out is why is that? So why is there this this, there's something magical in that water that it helps people become the biggest, best most interesting, unique perhaps versions of themselves. And I'm putting Western words on an Eastern concept here. So, you know, feel free to to slap it around a little bit. But what is it? And why should anyone who's listening be attracted to this process of meditation? Mindfulness awareness practice? I think I could answer it in a couple of different ways. But but the first, the first way that comes to my mind is that for most of us brought up, I don't think it's a Western thing. I think it's just as true in the East, but for most of us brought up in the world as like, you know, human beings who were trying to exist in the world. We're we're driven by our egos and and we're living sort of on the surface of ourselves, you know, like, like we're we're just trying to cope with being a person and getting along in the world and, you know, getting through school or what, what, what family, whatever it is and we need our egos, you know, which are both helping us cope, but also imprisoning us in in sort of the day to day, ruminating, worrying anxieties of our own minds and all of us uh were much deeper than that. You know, there's much more going on inside all of us than than the superficial layers that were mostly existing in. So I remember in my and an early psychiatry rotation, I had a teacher who who asked me, um, you know, it was a one on one dialogue with him meeting him for the first time. He was like, he was testing me. He's like, what's the unconscious? And I was like, oh, what's the unconscious? And I, and I pulled sort of from my meditation from my retreat experience. And I was like, the unconscious is like the repository of mystery. I remember that was my answer to him the repository of mystery and this guy Western cycle, he loved that answer, like like from then on, you know. Uh so I so I think that, you know, that we're there there's so much inside of us that we don't know and the mindfulness practice is the meditation practices of whatever form, whether they're from a religious tradition or whether someone just discovers them from out walking and nature, you know, um they clue us into something beyond the ego or underneath the ego or they allow the unconscious, whatever that means to someone too, that they allow us to inhabit ourselves more fully is what I would say. That's the gift of it. And and so that that can be variants, but one can find inspiration in inhabiting oneself more following. So the idea of ego, I'd like to trot that out a little bit because for those who may not be trained in the in the the traditions that ego is the, how would you describe ego rather? So that people, you know, is it the voice in your head is the thing that's telling you to sit up straight and to, you know, suck in your gut and to be a be a be good at stuff and you know, what what how would you describe the ego for those people so that we can realize that it basically is in all of us and it is, you know, as you said, it's important, but it's also potentially are one of our biggest enemies. I think it's both, it's our, it's our greatest friend in a certain way and our biggest enemy in that we all like around age 345, you know, that's when in terms of psychological development, the ego starts to come into play because the demands on a, on a young child start to increase. So the the ego is um, uh, it's like that aspect of our minds that's that's mediating, uh, if that word makes sense. But between the the the inner demands, the inner drives, you know, like your emotional life and the external demands like society, school your parents, your your siblings, like you have to learn how to get along in the world and be a person and you have to manage everything that's going on inside of you, which is like your sexuality and your anger and uh, you know, you have to learn how to go to the bathroom properly and how to read. And so, so the the the ego is like the, the internal manager, you know, uh, and it plugs into your thinking so in order to like to plan for tomorrow and to, to deal with the uh, the frustrations that one has your, the way that you're thinking about everything is really important. And so your your ego and your thinking mind, they they're they're connected for sure if they're not exactly the same thing. Um, so, and the sense of self, like who who am I, how do I, how do I convey? What's my identity? How do I convey myself in the world? That's all the job of the ego. So you can see how important that is, but also how restricting that can become because the, the, the ego tends to tends to see itself as both the most important thing in the world. Like I'm I have to take care of myself, but also it's like me against little Me against this whole big world out there. So it's, it's inherently dualistic, It sets up this, this insecurity. The ego is inherently insecure because there's only one little me and there's all of you. And so how am I going to cope? So that, you know, that's the ego's job is coping, I would say. Um and so one can become uh tyrannized by, by that ego and uh and that's um, a big burden. So, you know, the perfectionistic striving or the feeling terribly insecure? Or, you know, those two things are two aspects to sides of one coin and uh there can be a big drive to like how do I, how can I shut this voice up? You know, how can I get? And that's where alcoholism or drug use, You know, like I can finally, I can be relieved for a few moments of that voice in my head or that perfectionistic striving, etcetera? So that's the double bond of the ego? And then if I go back to my question just a moment ago, it's like, what is why, why is there this thread from top performers? And would you then if you connect to what you just had to say about the ego, would it be somehow this threat of people who uh either appear enlightened or more connected, more balance, understood whatever the attributes that we would say and folks that we appreciate and admire. Is it, what is the relationship that that that they, you would say they have with their ego because it's not a control, it's not a manage, it's a what is it about, you know, these, you know, high performers and the threat as I suggested that it just seems it's very, it's very common that the people that I've had on this show, there is a mindfulness and awareness. Some sort of meditation or prayer. That is a, I would say that 80th percentile going through the show of these worlds, top performers have this. So what is the relationship that they have with their ego? Yeah. Well, um I wrote a book, I wrote a book once about 20 years ago now that was called going to pieces without falling apart. So which is I think my best title. So what but I still love from somebody else, you know, But so this idea of going to pieces without falling apart comes out of a british psychoanalyst who studied mothers and young Children and what he found was that uh huh in the, in the kids, in the, in the young Children and in the parents who totally emphasized just performance, just ego, you know, that those those kids developed what he called a kind of false self, you know, a caretaker self like there, they were all the ego was too strong and the kids went too early to their thinking, mind to try to manage the, you know, everything that that foreign, a more benign environment, the parents knew how to give the kids enough space where they didn't feel abandoned by the mother or by the parents. Now we would say they didn't feel abandoned, but they didn't feel intruded upon so that they could actually play in the next room knowing that the parents were there, but not bothering them all the time, you know? So this idea of play, that's the going to pieces because when a when a child plays or when a musician plays or when an actor performs or when a writer writes or when a when a basketball player plays that this idea of play extends from infancy, young childhood all the way into adulthood and that in order to tap into the imagination or into the unconscious, whatever words you want to put on it in order to play in the greatest sense or to create, to make art. We have to be able to um have fluidity with the ego that's going to pieces without falling apart, the ego is important, but it doesn't have to rule us, It doesn't have to become rigid and over defining, You know, it can be flexible. So it's just the flexibility of the, of the, of the ego so that there can be periods of letting go, periods of relaxation, but not just physical relaxation, like emotional, mental, imaginative relaxation. I think that's that's how I would describe what you're asking about. And and so I think it's not just in like The Great my the great artists, but I think everyone has that capacity and they experience it in different ways. Well, again, just a couple of the book titles for those folks, you you mentioned going to pieces without falling apart a Buddhist perspective on Wholeness, which was a 1998 book, if I'm not mistaken. Um, another one going on being buddhism in the way of change, Another trauma of every day uh, of the 2013 title. Oh, sorry, yes, sorry, trauma of everyday life advice. Not given a guide to getting over yourself. So if we can pull on this, that was a 2020 18 title right? Consistent. Yes. And and that's, you know, this is why I'm trotting out the idea of the ego because so let's talk about this, the, the guide to getting over yourself. Is it true then that these folks, you said everyone has access to this? I'm using it as the thread of top performers. And is it then that this interplay with the ego? It's there just enough, but you can give it up when need be, you know, Flow States is the ability to get over yourself. Trainable because doesn't that, you know, I read the the Harvard uh gazette piece that it opens with that question, right? It's like the subtitle of your book seems to suggest the impossible. So you're here, you've written about it at length the master question then, how do we have this relationship with our ego that you have just helped us identify is the right, the right relationship or a healthy relationship to be in with the ego? Clearly, if we could just make a list please and we could all just check the boxes, that would be great. I know you've been studying it for your whole life, but where does one begin? Oh, I think one can begin in in any number of places, but I, but I think that both meditation and psychotherapy, you know, amongst many other practices and traditions that are all about training the mind, training the self to get over the self, training the mind to tap into its deeper potential. You know, training attention. It starts with training attention and it starts with examining the the concepts, you know, the concepts, the mental structures that are ruling us unconsciously that we, that we, you know, I'm the kind of person who, you know, I can, I'm good at this, I'm not good at that, you know, all the all the the ways we have identified ourselves to ourselves. One of the things that Ramdas, he always used to say when he would start a lecture or whatever, uh you're not who you think you are, you know, and just that you're not who you think you are, Oh really? I'm not who I am not who I thought. I was like, what a relief. You know? So and that's what people are always asking me. You know, like how do you bring the mindfulness? How do you bring buddhist psychology into your work as a therapist? And I was always actually very resistant to answering that question, because I didn't want to be just teaching my patients how to meditate. You know, it doesn't really work if you impose it on people, they have to they have to discover it for themselves, because it's hard work actually trying working with your own mind. Uh but I wanted to use being a therapist in a in a slightly more insidious way, you know, to uh to use the relationship to use the trust that is established in the relationship to help people examine where they were holding themselves back and then to release it. So how to do that, definitely, you know, in in conversation, I never really wanted to to define that too much, because I didn't really know how I was doing it. I was having to make it up on the spot, but this, in writing this latest book, I tried to to actually write, I took a year's worth of psychotherapy sessions where I thought something of that was happening, and I tried to write them down as as literally as possible, and then two, and then to open it up to to try to see or where was the buddhist influence, you know, what, what am I doing? Um and and so I so I think therapy is just as powerful a tool as much as meditation can be, and and that the two together when they're influencing each other might be making something, even something new, you know, that could help people. That's what I found profound about your most recent work, this exploration of the therapeutic relationship, the relationship that one has with one therapy with one therapist, with the therapy itself, what what what what inspired you to pull on that thread, because that is there's a meta sort of a meta cognition at work here. What what inspired you to to study the study of the therapeutic relationship and what did you find when you pull on that thread? Well, the the study of the thing, that's mostly what I'm doing, Like, all the all the writing I've done has been on the side, like I said one day a week aside to, Right, and the rest of the time I've just been seeing patients. So, um uh and I I think I think of myself more as just as a therapist and then the writing has surprised me when it when it's happened. Um But because that question is always arising as to what is what really what how are you integrating these things? And and and because really I have been just making it up as I've been going along um and I didn't want to write the same book over again, which is what tends to happen, you know, even though it changes because I'm changing, but but I wanted to approach my writing time a little bit differently and I didn't quite know um if I had anything left to say so, so I decided, okay, why don't you just focus on what you're doing anyway. And uh and and I made myself, you know, write down these singles, one pick one session a week and write down what happened. I was sort of I don't take a lot of notes. Normally in in my therapy work only if I'm prescribing a medicine or if someone tells me something that I know I better try to remember this because, you know, but I don't take a lot of notes, but for this, I decided, you know, actually as soon as the session ended, I would write it down as much as I could remember accurately, and then over the weekend I would type it up and I did that for a year um just 1 1 or two sessions a week basically, and as a project not knowing that it would be a book? Just like, okay, this is what I can do with my writing time. Uh and I and I didn't even look at this, I didn't read it over until the year was up. Uh and and then I read it over and I saw, oh there's something, I think there's something here. Um I think maybe I could tease out some of what I'm actually doing, you know? And I showed I showed what I had to my editor who I've worked with over for a couple of books who I really trust. And she I said, yeah, I think there's something here, but I think the only through line, because you're picking different patients every time, the only through line really is you, so what what we need is for you to go through it and write a reflection or a commentary about like we need to see what you're thinking, you know, in order not just what you're doing, but what's what's the background, you know? So I did that in the first year of Covid and that was the whole project that's really what were the books emerged, how the book emerged? And I learned, I learned something, I feel like I learned a lot in doing that. Um and so what did I learn? I tried to say in the book, what I learned that that that my effort is always in Mhm disrupting the systems that people are operating with about themselves. So, so how can I disrupt? How am I disrupting them in different ways? Sometimes with humor sometimes by pointing out how it just doesn't make sense? You know, some sometimes um uh by just being surprising and what I'm saying, you know, talking about the mundane instead of trying to be a therapist who's finding the original trauma that made someone who they are, you know, just showing them that owe their own minds are are capable of releasing that thought. You know, that's what you learn from meditation, that a thought is nothing, you know, a thought. It's so evanescent, a thought is just a thought, like, why do we torture ourselves with them. So, I think it's possible in therapy to give people that that revelation and then it's then they can take it and run with it. So, I wanna, I wanna go back to thoughts and trauma. So, I'm going to put those on our little pin board here. But before I do that, to to close the loop on this current um little journey that we're on, I want to read something to you and then ask you a question based on my own experiences. So, the the I'm reading some of the materials written about your most recent book. And again, the title for those listening is the zen of therapy uncovering a hidden hidden kindness in life. So, you know, I'm going to read about the writing is this reveals how a therapist can help patients cultivate a sense that there is something magical, something wonderful and something to trust running through our lives, no matter how fraught they have been or might become for when we realize how readily we have misinterpreted ourselves when we stop clinging to our falsely conceived constructs, when we touch the ground of being, we come home. So hold on to that thought for a second. And now I'm going to juxtapose some of this with my own experience here, which is prior to going into this universe, this universe of thought and meditation and my influence and awareness. I believed and I told myself the story that part of why I had achieved anything in my life that I was willing to cheer about or that I got accolades for or or fist bumps or a good job kid from my parents or teachers or career counselors was because of grit and because of grinding and hard work. And and so I was resistant early on to having a relationship with myself that felt anything like magic or felt anything like a coming home. And I believe that there are a lot of people in our Western world and a lot of people that I talked to in in my universe that have told themselves a similar story. This is so different than what I just read about magic and trust and joy and connection despite how how afraid these things may have become. So, can you using my own experience of, I didn't trust this stuff. Help help. What would you first? I've come through this a little bit, but no, first of all, there's already magic in the grit, you know, the fact that you you using you, what you just said, the fact that you had that drive and could devote yourself with that with that kind of energy, you know, with that kind of effort, um, already inspired by something, going for something, you know, there's that that's already, you know, wonderful. So it's on and I see a lot of, a lot of people who come to me for therapy have similar experiences where they have already worked through a lot of adversity or achieved something, you know, that they're really proud of, but but, you know, we're never satisfied, you know, as far as you, you know, you get to one level and, and okay, how come I'm still not happy, you know, and what's missing what's missing now, So, you know, you might never come to a therapist, you know, it might be enough that you had already achieved what you've achieved, and now it's like, okay, I'm happy and in that case fine, but if there still was, you know, some kind of, okay, what's missing, um I always like to think like doing, you know, doing and being doing and being are like the two sides of what we're capable of, you know, and many of us are so pushed on the doing side, like we just think it's all about doing like you're, you know, achieving accumulating etcetera that we, that we neglect the being side and so what's the being side about? You know? Well it's about love, it's about relationships, it's about inspiration, it's about creativity, you know, and it's about being, you know, it's about being okay with this, with with transience, with temporary nous, with what we cannot control, you know, with with chaos that is unfortunately all around us, you know? So um so that aspect of things is often neglected and and I think is one of the reasons that otherwise high achieving and successful people still seek out either therapy or spirituals, you know, some kind of spiritual life they know deep down, you know, something's missing and so how do you, how do you find that? How do you get there? You know, what's the path you know now that you just put it that way, that seems to me to be thread, there's this inter inter relationship between, you know, hire performers realizing, get to the top of the mountain and realizing that there's nothing there and having to look for another thing and at some point recognizing that the doing is is is there's a big absence there and it's the being part, so I don't know if it's the therapy that helps the achievement or it's the achievement that induces us to therapy. Yeah, it can work in the way and it's not that there's nothing there, there's so much there, you know, there's so much there to be grateful for and proud of but there's still a sense of, okay, what what what else? So in in in a way that the thing that's been driving us the whole time, you know, that's that same grit is still looking for the next thing, you know? But you know, you've realized, okay, it's not how many accolades, how much money, like what what what else could it be? You know? And the dalai lama always says, you know, it's a selfish thing that propels us but but you end up finding often that it's it's in the giving to others in some way that that that's the most selfish thing because because actually that makes you feel better than anything. Um and and often that's the even people who come to meditation and do a lot of inner work. Then the resolution of all that inner work is to come back out into the world and figure out how to give back, you know, that's what, because because it's not just all about your own little ego, we're actually all also connected. That that it matters what each individual does. I had a guest on the show, Cheri huber and one of her colleagues Ashwini uh they are monks and in the buddhist tradition and uh my wife has studied with with that monastery for some time and when my wife is getting into this early, I was I struggle as just me and my own flesh with my own traumas and experiences in life, how this is a question I asked them and I've asked my wife a lot and I'm curious, you're your answer. How does one both be driven and be okay with being because being, there's not a lot. one may say, you know, whatever you may judge this, but one may say, you know, being is the absence of doing. Mhm. And So how does one both have goals and strive and still find peace with whatever outcome. How are we not attached to the outcome? How do those to coexist? Um, I think, I think being and doing do coexist. It's not it's they complement each other. It's not so much that being is the absence of doing it. It's that it's that being gives context to doing be, you know, and and doing gives context to being. So, I I think it's the ability to hold both to be both like even in even in in sexual relations, you know, to like bring it down to to that level if it's only about doing, you know, it's like, okay, you did it, you know? But where were you, you know, like, what, what did you where was the co mingling? You know, like what's the what's the spiritual, you know, or the soul aspect or the heart aspect, you know, of the, of the sexual relation, you know? Where does that come? You know? And and one has to learn to relax into the being this that's there even in sexual relations, you know, because we're also focused on at least the men are so focused on the on performance, you know? So and then in the buddhist, in the esoteric buddhist world, they use that example, you know, like they say that the closest you can come in regular life to the liberation, the deliberative quality of being that comes from meditation is in sexual relations, you know, and they they talk about the four stages of highest yoga tantra as like falling in love, like looking like when you make icon looking smiling, embracing an orgasm, those are the nicknames for the four highest levels of realization. So I but I think we can all understand that, you know, from down here, is it something of a preference? How do we not become attached to an outcome? I I recognize that at different times in my experience and as I've asked others around their journey to achieve something, whether it's a gold medalist or or a business person or something. I have heard two different experiences. I've heard the experience of visualizing that you're going to win and knowing you're going to do it and this sort of obsessed obsession on the outcome and then I've also experienced myself and heard from others that there is a detachment was successful because they were detached from the outcome and they were in the moment, I'm sure in your, in your work you've seen the, you know, the conflation of these two things I'm wondering is one right? Are they both, are they both really like, how do we reconcile this? Um, they both might be wrong. I think you have to, you have to assume that both might be wrong also. Um, I think I think either can work and both can mess up. Um, I have a I have a patient who's a very good golfer and I don't play golf, but he, but he talks about it a lot and he talks about how there's a uh, it's both in golf and in poker. He talks about it, that there's a, an expression that I think it's with poker, about being on tilt, that you can be on tilt when you're over involved too anxious trying too hard to like, um, to win back the losses in poker or to hit the good shot in, in golf and that in poker, like the other players know when you're on tilt and they'll take advantage of it, you know, so that the the obsessive need to achieve can be the downfall, you know, because it it gets you ahead of yourself and that and that, you know, we know there are all those like books about the inner game of golf and the inner game of tennis or the flow state and basketball, you know, that when you're able to put your mind in that you're going to pieces without falling apart place, you know, where you're just in the flow and you're you're just like hitting the ball, but you're not thinking about uh winning uh that the, your inherent intelligence that's in your body that knows the sport can just do the thing, you know, sink the be Steph curry or whoever you're trying to be, you know, um and or a dancer. You I mean, I think it but but I think that that thing of visualizing, you know, that's a kind of meditation, the visualizing of I'm gonna win the gold medal and seeing the whole thing that's that can be a powerful yoking of the mind to the intent and that's another form of meditation. That's the thing about meditation. Uh, the the eastern psychologist that this is what they studied. They didn't know anything, they didn't not, they don't know anything. They didn't study the external world the way the Western science did, but they really studied the internal world. So there's like, you know, 1000 kinds of meditation, you can visualize for achievement. That's meditation, you you can learn to relax the mind into the awareness that's already present, you know, that underlies all of our experience, that's a different kind of meditation, the the the effortful or non effortful manipulation of attention, that's meditation. So learning what's going to work in any given situation that's experimenting, you know, and that's improvisation and everyone is going to be different for everybody. You know, I think bottom line, one of the things I appreciate about your work in preparing for our conversation today is this allowance, there's sort of like a lack of rigidity and allowance for so many so many um things that you just described with meditation being visualization, it's not like nope visualizations, attachment to the outcome. You gotta not be attached this. Um, I think that's that that's from being a therapist that I think that no, really, I think that that's what makes a therapist, the therapist is that sense of allowance because everybody people come, people are so, you know, ashamed or guilty or afraid or you know, uptight or angry or you know, frustrated. And the first step, I mean I think I learned this from meditation with myself, but the first step is making room for whatever it is. You know, that's the when the when the buddha taught the buddha's famous psychological teaching is the four noble truths, you know? And the first truth is always translated as life is suffering, which is like such a downer. Um, but that isn't really what he said, He used the word, he used the word Duca that's always translated as suffering, but Duka means if you take the word apart Duca cause face and do is like it's difficult or hard. It's hard to face. So the buddha, his first noble truth is that there's an aspect to life, no matter how successful you are, how much you've achieved. There's an aspect to life that's hard to face. And we don't want to face it, you know, old age illness, death, covid, what, you know, disappointment, separation, loss, illness, you know, to repeat myself. Um, and so his whole the the whole teaching is how do you learn to face what we don't want to face? You know, and that in that doing that, allowing it to surface, allowing it to come into awareness is liberating. That's what's liberating, you know, and the material liberates itself. It liberate, it floats into awareness and then it, you know, and then it's like, oh okay, that's all it was. You know. Um and so that as a therapist, I think that even if you're not trained in buddhist thought that's what a good therapist is conveying, you know, or that's what the therapist is being. You know, and it gets communicated, let's so this beautiful marriage that you have um cultivated between Western therapy, Eastern buddhist tradition, let's say that this is a stretch. But I want you to try try this with me here. It's almost if we play fill in the blank, the most common challenge that you see when you see patients is fill in the blank. And the prescription that you give using all of your faculties, Eastern and Western for that condition or that disposition or whatever. The fill in the blank was the the the the advice that you give. And you've written a book about how to give advice without giving advice. So this is a I realized there's some meta stuff going on here. But the most common challenge that your patients that you're aware of is X. And what you know, dr marshall would would prescribe is why what's the X. And the the most common challenge? At first I thought you were asking the most common challenge for me as the therapist. But I won't answer that question. The most common challenge. The most common challenge for the patients I would say is judgment, some kind of judgment. And the prescription for that is kindness. So you know, self kindness externally or kindness too Well what the therapist function I think is kindness but the but that's not what I'm saying. And answering your question, the prescription. The internal prescription is like kindness, which I prefer that word to compassion. But we could use compassion if we wanted to kindness for the person that you think you are. You know, or kindness for the child in you that suffered or for the woman in you that suffered or whatever. You know, kindness towards the self that you imagine yourself to be or that you actually have been. You know because we have that meta you've used that meta word a couple of times we as human beings, we have that meta capacity, you know, to be both subject and object to ourselves. We can be the suffering, you know, cranky frustrated person in pain. And but we also can turn our minds on ourselves, you know, or or open our hearts to ourselves. It's another way of saying the same thing and that capacity of it's a kind of forgiveness to oneself or about oneself. I think that that capacity is inherent um, and can be learned and does the practice of learning that is, it's sort of like meditation, you're just returning to the breath every time. It's the process of bringing back, it's the process of just directing awareness. Is it this is it a similar experiences, the train kind. Um, I think the, what you're describing the watching the breath and the bringing the mind back when it wanders. And that that's sort of like the technology, you know, the technology of the sacred in a way. But behind that, you know, you can do that technology in a, in a rigid obsessive judging way. But, you know, like my mind wandered and I can never really feel the breath and what's wrong with me and, you know, thinking again and, you know, in my mind, I'm in everybody's mind, this is my mind, but we're all the same is the thing, we're all the same. And so to learn. So, so, seeing that, you know, once you see, oh, I'm doing it that way. Like, obviously, that's wrong, you know? Uh, and so what? So, the attitude behind that is really more important, I think, and and they feed each other, doing that repetitive li you learn how to be kind to yourself, because it because it's hopeless otherwise, because you because your mind is impossible. You know, It doesn't it doesn't quiet down because you tell it to. I was intrigued by the subtitle, and now we've stumbled here on kindness, which is, to me, a big unlock again, the zen of therapy uncovering a hidden kindness in life. Why is our kindness hidden? Because it's it's it's origin is in the is in our early life that we can't remember. It's a it's origin is in the I would call it the maternal capacity, but it doesn't just have to come from the mother. But, but inherently, when we have a baby were kind to it, whoever, we are very, very rare, that one isn't, you know, and and so immediately that this this infant is pulling us out of ourselves, you know, and it's pulling on this quality and we learn it's there and the baby. So, the baby and the parent connect. Their eyes connect, you know, Their bodies connect, they're even their orifices connect, you know. Um, and so that it's a latent? It's a latent capacity. It's there and the parent that emerges, where does it come from, you know, it's just evoked by the baby and the but it's there already in the baby. So uh and there are these tibetan buddhist practices where you imagine all beings as your mother, you know, or you imagine yourself as being mother to all beings, you know? And that's a way of of pulling on this hidden but also latent, but also inherent quality. That's about being human. It's part of being a mammal, you know, but it it can infuse our minds, you know, it's like they're it's really there in us, it wants to come out and is the training of kindness specifically the kindness that we were talking about a moment ago, you know, I say that we're the most important words in the world are the ones we say to ourselves, right? I remind myself of that phrase and and those listeners or the listeners of the show often is is that is that is that a place to start this practice, this kindness practice. And how do we recognize that? Yeah. Um the place to start is seeing the judgments like you were asking, you know, the X and the Y. The place to start is just seeing how judgmental you if if your mind is like my mind, you know, how judgmental how anxious, how afraid, you know, fear is just to recognize that, you know, those tendencies and how restrictive those, you know, you know, what a drag that is and how we would like to be free from that. That's the place to start. And then the the to apply kindness to those um uh inherently unpleasant feelings, you know, rather than judging them. Um rather than judging the judging etcetera. You know? Um that's that's the place to start. I would say. Alright, I promised that we would revisit this ominous term on the pin board here. That I stuck a pin in a while ago. Which is trauma our We all have it. Um from all kinds of aspects of our childhood. I'm wondering right now there's someone mm hmm. There's some of us who are aware of trauma or there are traumas in our life rather that we are aware of their traumas in our lives that we are not aware of. It's not uncommon for me when I'm thinking about this and having a conversation with someone that person will say like, oh, I don't have fill in the blank and I'm like, wow, wouldn't that be awesome to not have this aspect of childhood trauma, But for people who may, you know, may be adverse to the term or you know, be disconnected from it. I think that it doesn't apply. How, how could you, can you shine a flashlight on that for us and help people understand um your view on trauma that we all have it or we don't or whatever your view is and Sure and how it manifests and yeah that's what your your your your work is about remedying some of these things being a therapist is about that, you know, because people, people are coming either for one reason or another, but you could usually trace it back to something involving trauma if we want to use that word. Um they didn't have that word trauma in the in the in the buddha's time, you know? So he he used that word I was talking about before, which was Duca, you know, which is that there's some, there's always something, there's there's always something that's hard to face, you know. Um the people who write about trauma in our world, they talk about big T trauma and and little T trauma. So the big T traumas, what we read about in the news and you know, the tornadoes or the hurricanes or the tsunamis or the fires or murders or car accidents or you know, you covid even could be, but so we all sort of have an understanding of the big T trauma and it's very possible to get through a life where you're not directly affected by what's called big T trauma. So uh, if you're only going to talk about trauma that way, not everyone experiences it and we're all kind of scared that we will and hoping that we won't and doing obsessive rituals to try to prevent it from hitting us, you know, from our own selfish points of view. Um and then hoping that people who are affected by the big t trauma, the shootings or whatever that they'll get back to normal as quickly as possible. So we don't have to think about it that much. But the the little t trauma um is also sometimes talked about as developmental trauma or relational trauma and that's more the kind of trauma that you were referring to that could happen in childhood, where there can be trauma of something bad happening. Like a parent who is depressed or alcoholic or dies or there's trauma where nothing happened when something should have, you know, where there's too much neglect. Um even in a, you know, a middle class household where there's enough food and money and so on. But the parents are distracted because they're so busy achieving uh and they haven't bothered to like play with the kids or put them to bed or you know, you just left alone too much or you're having to perform for your supper instead of just being, you know, seen for who you are, that kind of business. So, so I would class all of that as a kind of trauma. And when I was writing about this from the buddhist perspective, I made a big deal out of the fact that in the uh the history, the life history of the buddha, his mother dies when he's a week old, which isn't always talked about, she gives birth to him and then she's there for a week and then she dies. And I think that was an early trauma for the buddha that he lost his connection to the mother and that's what led him to leave his own wife and child after his child was born and that he was in some way trying to rediscover this maternal capacity that had been taken away from him. And that's what meditation it was all about. So that was a kind of reductionist IQ, you know, view from psychoanalytic perspective, talking about how there's this kind of relational or developmental or little T trauma even in the buddha's story, but I think a lot of us are suffering from that. Um and that brings some people to therapy because they have a feeling of absence or emptiness or you know, what's wrong with me or you know, and um that both therapy and meditation can be very healing for that. So that, so there's the big t trauma, the little t trauma and then just the inevitable traumas of aging and illness and death that even if we find love that was one of us is usually destined to see the other one die and our parents are going to die or parents lose their Children or you know, we can't as proficient as we are scientifically and as developed as our egos are, we can't avert every everything that we can't predict, you know, And so that's the kind of trauma. And so they both meditation and therapy are like useful for training our minds to be able to go with the flow of uh, the unpredictable uh, and to be able to rest in uncertainty when we have to, not that we don't try as hard as we can to solve the problems and live a good life, but that uh we're destined to uh come up against uncertainty and uh, we can struggle against it or we can learn how to be with it. Thank you so much for so eloquently weaving together the wisdom of these two worlds. I've long looked for something that was able to, you know, hold true. Many of the, the experiences that those of us who have grown up in the west have been raised with? That makes sense to us. And you know, have this infusion of the East that which I have practiced and felt. And to so eloquently we've the wisdom of those two together in your work and to then write about your process as a therapist of doing it. Um, congratulations on the new book. It's profound. Again for those listening, the zen of therapy uncovering a hidden kindness in life. Of course, I, I shared a bunch of other titles that you've written um incredibly prolific. I want to say, thank you so much for for doing the work. And is there anywhere else in the world you would steer the work? This community is great at helping authors whose books are launching, you know, and we're going to time the launch of your show of the show here around uh you're the publication of your new book in january. What is there anyone else you would steer us aside from your new work, knowing that this community is full of creators and entrepreneurs, people who aspire to be the best versions of themselves. Where would they, where would you steer this community in your in your world? Um I was I was very touched that a friend of mine named Dan Harris, he was he was a newscaster on abc, you know, but he got in a little bit through my influence, he he got into this whole mindfulness world and he has a uh you know, an app and a podcast, all this, he wrote a book called 10% Happier, that was about his discovery, but he got my he got joseph Goldstein, who I, you know who I am, I owe a lot to who I think is a great meditation teacher. He got joseph into the studio and got joseph to record his meditation instruction Uh that he then, you know, is repurposing on on his 10% app, so not to, not to suggest a competing thing, I don't want to be, you know, but um but that's a really, that's opened the doors to a lot of people. So um that's that's one good platform that I would say people could look to. Excellent, we'll put that in the show notes and of course uh this community will purchase your latest book. Congratulations. Thank you so much for sharing The last 75 minutes with us, grateful for your time. And uh our our paths will cross again, I'm sure, and thanks so much for being on the show again. Dr Mark Epstein, thank you so much uh for everyone out there in the world. We uh we bid you at you until next time. Yeah.

Ratings and Reviews

Dream Focus Studio

By far the best classes on Creative Live!! Thanks Chase Jarvis for bringing so much greatness to the table for discussion! Just LOVE it!

René Vidal

@ChaseJarvis - love chat with Gabby about hope and the "relentless optimism" you share at the end of Creative Calling. Many thanks. -- René Vidal McKendree Tennis


Excellent interview with thoughtful questions. Thanks!!

Student Work