"Joan Halifax is a clearheaded and fearless traveler and in this book…she offers us a map of how to travel courageously and fruitfully, for our own benefit and the benefit of all beings." —From the foreword by Rebecca Solnit
Standing at the Edge is an evocative examination of how we can respond to suffering, live our fullest lives, and remain open to the full spectrum of our human experience.
Joan Halifax has enriched thousands of lives around the world through her work as a humanitarian, a social activist, an anthropologist, and as a Buddhist teacher. Over many decades, she has also collaborated with neuroscientists, clinicians, and psychologists to understand how contemplative practice can be a vehicle for social transformation. Through her unusual background, she developed an understanding of how our greatest challenges can become the most valuable source of our wisdom—and how we can transform our experience of suffering into the power of compassion for the benefit of others.
Halifax has identified five psychological territories she calls Edge States—altruism, empathy, integrity, respect, and engagement—that epitomize strength of character. Yet each of these states can also be the cause of personal and social suffering. In this way, these five psychological experiences form edges, and it is only when we stand at these edges that we become open to the full range of our human experience and discover who we really are.
Recounting the experiences of caregivers, activists, humanitarians, politicians, parents, and teachers, incorporating the wisdom of Zen traditions and mindfulness practices, and rooted in Halifax's groundbreaking research on compassion, Standing at the Edge is destined to become a contemporary classic. A powerful guide on how to find the freedom we seek for others and ourselves, it is a book that will serve us all.
In this wise exploration of the search for meaning, Halifax (Being with Dying), an anthropologist and Buddhist teacher, lays out a philosophy of life through a central metaphor of "edge states" (interpersonal qualities "where opposites meet"), which she deems key values necessary for a life worth living. These include altruism, empathy, integrity, respect, and engagement. Halifax notes that those who pursue them risk suffering burnout or other emotional distress if they concentrate on one attribute above others. She delves deeply into each value, explaining the ideal and how to achieve it through a combination of personal stories, quotes, and lessons from Buddhist teachers (such as Thich Nhat Hanh and the Dalai Lama) and scientific research. For instance, when talking about respect, she gives an example of the Dalai Lama pausing a lecture to help an insect escape the room, then later contrasts such deep conscientiousness with disturbing statistics about bullying, which she considers a reaction to a perceived lack of respect. Halifax's personal stories resonate deeply, particularly with regard to her work with incarcerated people in New Mexico and poor communities in Nepal; her life experiences as a scholar, activist, and nun have much to teach any reader, and her generous honesty invites reflection. Clear, detailed, and profound, this remarkable book will be appreciated by anyone seeking a framework for a meaningful life.