Editors' Pick: 'The Art of Flourishing'

"The Art of Flourishing," by Jeffery B. Rubin
Purchase at amazon.com > The Art of Flourishing: A New East-West Approach to Staying Sane and Finding Love in an Insane World

Dr. Jeffrey Rubin combines the tools of psychoanalysis, Buddhism, and yoga in his therapeutic practice. The ideal he fosters, for his patients, his readers, and himself, is mastery of the “art of flourishing”—a mode of being in which we are “engaging our life wholeheartedly and thriving; living well and completely; leading a meaningful and rewarding life.”

This isn’t transcendental bliss he is talking about, because transcendence implies a disconnection from the things of the world—a goal of meditation, perhaps, but only one aspect of flourishing.

This isn’t transcendental bliss he is talking about, because transcendence implies a disconnection from the things of the world—a goal of meditation, perhaps, but only one aspect of flourishing. In order to truly thrive, we need to be open to the spiritual and the material, the inside and the outside. If we have to screen out the world’s noise and pollution, we need to engage with its beauty and pathos with clarity, equanimity, and generosity. We need to be ethical and caring, while also tending to our own lives. Before we can lay claim to the best within ourselves, we have to make stronger connections to others—to live by a set of aesthetic, ethical, and spiritual values, and to form and sustain mutually satisfying relationships. Connection is key.

Rubin begins his book, The Art of Flourishing: A New East-West Approach to Staying Sane and Finding Love in an Insane World, with an account of the moment in his life that changed everything. You wouldn’t call it an “epiphany” because it was so physical—it happened when he was playing in a high school basketball game. You couldn’t call it a “transformation” because the forces he tapped were latent in him all along.

With six seconds left in the game, his team was down by one. If it was a movie, it would have been filmed in slow motion:

There must have been noise, but when I dribbled up the left side of the court, the gym was as still as an empty cathedral. I didn’t hear the crowd, the squeaking of sneakers, or the thumping of the basketball. I was in a cocoon of concentration—alert, focused, undistracted. My mind was Grand Canyon quiet. And clear like the open sky.

Time seemed to slow down and elongate. I floated up court with no sense of exertion. I felt no pressure, no fear. The hope of victory, the dread of losing, did not exist.

After he made the shot, he sat in silence in the locker room, oblivious to his teammates’ exhilaration. “Victory paled to what I had just experienced.” The experience, he continues,

…changed my life. After that game, something in me (call it Western male conditioning) died; something else was born.…Although I couldn’t articulate it until years later, this experience taught me that when I completely engaged the present—wholeheartedly immersed in what I was doing, without either anticipating the future or replaying the past—I could live more freely than I ever imagined.

Of course, life isn’t a basketball game, neatly divided into 12-minute quarters and played according to a transparent, non-negotiable set of rules. We might think we’re playing to win, when really we’re sabotaging our chances for happiness by internalizing and perpetuating our parents’ unfair criticisms. We might think we’re winning, when victory as we define it (a big paycheck; a trophy wife) is on somebody else’s terms and will only leave us feeling more frustrated and unfulfilled.

 The art of flourishing requires us to be attentive to ourselves and to the world around us; it demands that we know ourselves as deeply as we can, our dreams and nightmares included, while remaining empathetic to our loved ones.

The art of flourishing requires us to be attentive to ourselves and to the world around us; it demands that we know ourselves as deeply as we can, our dreams and nightmares included, while remaining empathetic to our loved ones.

It also demands that we acknowledge, own, and use our power. We can even make use of our hatred. “Hate is never healed by hate, as noted in the Dhammapada, a core ethical text of Buddhism,” Rubin observes, “but hate doesn’t always have to destroy a relationship.” When we approach our hate as an object of meditation—nondefensively, with a spirit of equanimity and curiosity—it can become a pathway to healing and love.

The key to transformation, Rubin says, is self-nurturance: enabling what is already there to flower. And the cure for loneliness is a proper regard for the self. “When we truly nourish ourselves we not only transform our lives, we create the cornerstone for intimacy.”

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1 Comment

  • JT
    Posted April 21, 2013 8:05 pm 0Likes

    I haven’t read the book yet, but just the review is inspiring! Thank you!

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