Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Art of Flourishing

"Many of us fight a daily war," writes psychotherapist Dr. Jeff Rubin in The Art of Flourishing, "in which life--as well as our feelings--is the enemy. We strive to force and direct our world, mightily trying to get what we want even when it isn't possible."

Tell me about it; it's the story of my life: trying to get people, events, and circumstances, to do what I want them to. If only the world would listen to me and do what I want it to, I tell myself more than I would like to admit, then my life would be perfect.

I think we are all familiar with this inner monologue.

But the problem is that our lives will never be perfect. No matter how much we try to bend and manipulate things, our lives are always going to come up short. Partly because once we satisfy one desire, another emerges.

But even though our lives will never be perfect, we can still thrive and blossom. The Art of Flourishing shows us how.

Dr. Rubin has been practicing meditation, yoga, and psychotherapy for over thirty years, and is a pioneer in integrating wisdom from the East and West. In The Art of Flourishing, Dr. Rubin's newest book, he shares his decades of experience as both a meditator and therapist by incorporating them into one cohesive whole, into what he calls meditative therapy.

Many meditative traditions encourage us to ignore the content of our thoughts and feelings, viewing them as obstacles to spiritual development. But in meditative therapy, Dr. Rubin prompts us to explore our emotional and psychological lives through a process he calls emotional composting.

"When we compost a garden," he writes, "we take organic refuse...and break it nourish the soil. In emotional composting we use unpleasant feelings that appear to be waste or garbage--such as anger, guilt, and fear--to enrich our lives. We study painful emotions...which deepen self-understanding and expand our empathy."

If that's not a great description of Buddhist practice--deepening self-understanding and expanding our empathy--I don't know what is.

Meditative therapy and emotional composting remind us that our emotions need not be obstacles to our practice, but can actually be our practice itself. As Dr. Rubin explains: "We can practice emotional recycling by treating both our adversity and our symptoms--from sadness to outrage--as our teachers. Instead of trying to get rid of such feelings, we can ask what they teach us about how we are conditioned and what we need to change."

Our emotions are not going to disappear, no matter how much we repress them; they're simply going to manifest themselves in more subtle, and probably more painful, ways. Like it or not, we can't trick our unconscious.

So why not be open to our emotions and learn from them; in fact, use them as practice itself?

The Art of Flourishing, while not exclusively Buddhist, provide an invaluable complement to any Buddhist's practice. Its treasure trove of psychological and meditative approaches can help us be open and honest to relationships, our emotions, and ultimately, ourselves, to avoid what Dr. Rubin calls a lopsided self--the tendency in spiritual practice to neglect or ignore aspects of ourselves. Lopsidedness leads to disassociation and division, not wholeness, which is the ultimate goal of Zen practice.

The Art of Flourishing is the kind of book that makes me jealous because, even more than wishing that I could have written it, I wish I had half as much wisdom as Dr. Rubin. The book is available on June 7. Definitely check it out!

Authors on the Web has graciously offered Zen and Back Again two free copies of The Art of Flourishing to give away to lucky readers.

Click HERE for a chance to win. See below for rules and regulations.*

I would like to thank Dr. Rubin for writing such a wonderful book. May it help all sentient beings. Also, special thanks to Wiley at Authors on the Web for offering me the opportunity to review the book.

* Contest ends on midnight, June 12, 2011 EST. Two winners will be chosen using Y0u must have a U.S. or Canadian mailing address to be eligible to win. Odds of winning depend on number of entries. No purchase necessary. Winners will be notified via email. Void where prohibited. One entry per person.

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