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Altruism. Empathy. Integrity. Respect. Engagement. These five psychological states are keys to living a compassionate, courageous life, according to Buddhist teacher, anthropologist, and social activist Roshi Joan Halifax. However, each has the potential to become counter-productive: altruism can become pathological, empathy can prevent you from seeing another’s situation clearly, and engagement can become an endless to-do list.
In her latest book, Standing at the Edge, Roshi Halifax likens these states to ecosystems—hospitable at times, hazardous at others—that are the most instructive when we work from their edges, where we might just slip from the cliff of integrity into a quagmire of suffering. Psychological growth requires crises that help us learn and reorganize our actions, she says, citing the work of Polish psychiatrist and psychologist Kazimierz Dabrowski. And by navigating the ridgelines of these states, we can learn to act in ways that do more good than harm.
Here, Roshi Joan Halifax speaks to author Sandy Boucher about how “edge states” have been vital to her work as a change-agent, and how they might help us nourish love and justice in society today.
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