Open to Desire – Mark Epstein

Open to Desire: Embracing a Lust For Life (Insights from Buddhism & Psychotherapy)
Mark Epstein, M.D.
Gotham Books
227 pages

My husband, Taylor, recommended this to me. I’m normally not a huge fan of Eastern philosophy; there’s nothing wrong with it, but I suppose at this point I’m still pretty Western in my worldview. However, he gave it rave reviews, so I decided to see what all the fuss was about.

One of the tenets of Buddhism is overcoming of desire. This is often translated into pure asceticism, particularly in the right hand path of Tantra. The left hand path, however, takes a different approach, one that Epstein combines with 30 years as a psychotherapist.

He makes a great distinction between desire, and clinging, which is what causes desire to overpower us. We objectify and idealize that which we desire, and are disappointed when our desires are not met exactly as we expect. Epstein shows how to move beyond that clinging and to let go of expectations.

This is a remarkable look at desire, and how to work with it within the left hand philosophy of Tantra (which, by the way, is not the same as Left Hand Path as defined by modern paganism–yet another casualty of neopagan appropriation of other religions). The psychotherapeutic influece is a nice touch, and the author gives anecdotes which support his ideas quite nicely. Anyone with good observational skills should be able to use this material without needing a spoon-fed how-to.

Epstein gives us a valuable tool; rather than having to give up all earthly pleasures, we can overcome the clinging aspects of desire while allowing ourselves to experience it. Rather than being a contradiction, it shows a lesser-revealed aspect of Buddhism, and gives it a new twist. All in all, excellent!

Five pawprints out of five.

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