Our addiction to the self, with Dr. Mark Epstein

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Dr. Mark Epstein is a hero of mine. He is a Buddhist psychiatrist and author who has been a voice of kindness and wisdom in our field for decades, and I’ve long looked to his work for inspiration and guidance. So it was an honor to speak with him for this episode of the Flourishing After Addiction podcast!

Mark does not have a personal history of a “classic” addiction like a substance problem, but as he articulates so nicely in our interview: “from the Buddhist point of view, we’re all addicted.” We talk about addiction to thinking, addiction to the self as the primary addiction, and how Mark worked with his own anxieties and insecurities—a path that led him to psychiatric training at Harvard, almost 50 years of meditation practice, and many influential books at the interface of Buddhism and psychotherapy. (There were so many fun surprises in this interview, such as Mark’s training with George Vaillant at Harvard, a giant of psychiatric research and a non-alcoholic member of the board of trustees of Alcoholics Anonymous.) In particular, we focus on his fantastic new book, The Zen of Therapy: Uncovering a Hidden Kindness in Life. It’s a lovely account of meditation practice, therapy, recovery, ease, and working with the self.

Mark Epstein, M.D., 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 Advice Not Given, The Trauma of Everyday Life, Thoughts without a Thinker and Going to Pieces without Falling Apart. His newest book, out now, is The Zen of Therapy: Uncovering a Hidden Kindness in Life. He received his undergraduate and medical degrees from Harvard University. For more, check out his website, and you can find him on Instagram and Twitter.

In this episode:
- Mark's most recent book: The Zen of Therapy (also discussed: Advice Not Given)
- George Vaillant (a summary of his book, The Natural History of Alcoholism)
- A fun book about Ram Dass and others at Harvard, The Harvard Psychedelic Club ("How Timothy Leary, Ram Dass, Huston Smith, and Andrew Weil Killed the Fifties and Ushered in a New Age for America")
- Gestalt therapy
- More on the Emmanuel Clinic - a repository of several articles on the early 20th century, pre-Freudian psychotherapy in the US that reported great success in working with alcoholism. (I like this article in particular)
- Revenge bedtime procrastination
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