Sharon Salzberg – Metta Hour – Ep. 182 – Mark Epstein

For episode 182 of the Metta Hour, Sharon welcomes returning guest, author and psychotherapist, Dr. Mark Epstein.

Author and Psychotherapist Mark Epstein, M.D. returns to the Metta Hour Podcast for Episode 182.

A longtime friend and colleague, Mark and Sharon first met in 1974 at the Naropa Institute in Boulder, CO. Mark is a psychiatrist in private practice in New York City and a longtime Buddhist practitioner. He is the author of several books that explore the interface of Buddhism and psychotherapy, including Going to Pieces without Falling Apart and his 2022 release, The Zen of Therapy: Uncovering a Hidden Kindness in Life.
In this conversation, Mark and Sharon discuss:
• Their backstory meeting in 1974 in Boulder, CO
• Mark’s new book, The Zen of Therapy
• The Buddha’s origin story through Mark’s therapeutic lens
• How COVID is impacting Mental Health
• Exploring COVID as a collective trauma
• Mark’s insights while on a meditation retreat
• How to create a healthy holding environment for ourselves
• The importance of kindness in therapy
• The limitations of kindness
• How to find a good therapist
The episode closes with Mark leading a short guided meditation practice. To learn more about Mark’s work, you can visit his website.
Listen to Mark’s first appearance on the Metta Hour Podcast, Episode 56 from June 5th, 2017, released as part of the Real Love Series.
Naropa Institute, Boulder Colorado, 1974

Welcoming returning guest and longtime friend, Dr. Mark Epstein, to the Metta Hour podcast, Sharon invites him to describe his journey to Buddhism, vipassana, and psychotherapy leading up to wonderful circumstances under which they met in 1974, at the opening sessions of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s Naropa Institute (now Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado). From here, they begin to dive into Mark’s new book The Zen of Therapy: Uncovering a Hidden Kindness in Life.

“I started studying Buddhism, met Danny Goleman… Danny told me if you want to learn more about this, you should head out to this place in Boulder where all my friends are gonna be teaching. I listened to him, went there, and met Sharon, Joseph, and Jack, and began to study not just the philosophy and psychology from the books, but actually to learn to meditate and learn mindfulness and vipassana.” – Mark Epstein, M.D.

Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche & Ram Dass share Dharma at Naropa in 1974, on Ep. 112 of Here & Now
The Space In-Between (15:28)

Speaking to the inspiration behind Thoughts Without a Thinker, Mark and Sharon jam on ‘the space in-between,’ expressing the importance of tuning into that impersonal field – that which arises between two people. Paying attention to this space between people the way we pay attention to the space between thoughts in meditation, Mark invites us to contemplate where these thoughts are coming from and who they belong to.

“The thoughts come, but are we just paying attention to the thoughts? Or are we paying attention to the space around the thoughts? There’s some kind of communion that happens when two people can each be putting their minds in that intermittent, intercurrent, interpersonal space. Interesting things happen.” – Mark Epstein, M.D.

Ram Dass offers a story where he dives into the space in-between, on Ep. 171 of Here & Now
Buddha, Sujata, & the Mother’s Breast (31:28)

From here, Sharon prompts Mark to unpack some history of the Buddha, this time with a special emphasis on the teaching encased in his meaningful encounter with Sujata. After years of intense austerity as a forest ascetic, Buddha recognized in a childhood memory the joy of contentment. When contemplating this simple happiness, the young girl, Sujata, offered Buddha sweet rice porridge—a proverbial offering of the breast from The Mother—and a kindness which helped him discover the Middle Way.

“Sujata offering the Buddha the bowl of rice porridge is like the Buddha being given the breast, because to my mind, the Buddha’s mother—who died when he was just a week old—that loss in the Buddha’s psyche is there for modern day psychoanalysts to make something of.” – Mark Epstein, M.D.

Sharon Salzberg, Dr. Bob Thurman, & Dr. Mark Epstein meditate of selflessness, on Ep. 107 of the Metta Hour

The Holding Environment of Mindfulness // A Butterfly Resting on a Flower (51:28)

Speaking to the ‘holding environment’ cultivated by self-compassion and mindfulness, Sharon and Mark discuss how we can treat ourselves as we would treat children—not abandoning or punishing ourselves, but remaining open and creating a safe space for one’s emotional experience. To close, Mark leads a guided meditation practice inspired by Sharon’s line, “Rest your mind lightly like a butterfly resting on a flower.”

“Mindfulness is the creation of holding environment for ourselves, and that holding environment is analogous to what a parent instinctively does for an infant, for a young child. A parent instinctively doesn’t abandon and/or doesn’t retaliate in the face of the entire range of their child’s emotional experience.” – Mark Epstein, M.D.