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Emotional Alchemy: How the Mind Can Heal the Heart

Emotional Alchemy: How the Mind Can Heal the Heart

4.5 10
by Tara Bennett-Goleman, Dalai Lama (Foreword by)

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“May this very important and enticing book find its way into the hearts of readers near and far so that it can perform its mysterious and healing alchemy for the benefit of all.” —John Kabat-Zinn, author of Wherever You Go, There You Are and
Professor of Medicine, University of Massachusetts Medical School

The Transformative Power of


“May this very important and enticing book find its way into the hearts of readers near and far so that it can perform its mysterious and healing alchemy for the benefit of all.” —John Kabat-Zinn, author of Wherever You Go, There You Are and
Professor of Medicine, University of Massachusetts Medical School

The Transformative Power of Mindfulness

Alchemists sought to transform lead into gold. In the same way, says Tara Bennett- Goleman, we all have the natural ability to turn our moments of confusion or emotional pain into insightful clarity.

Emotional Alchemy maps the mind and shows how, according to recent advances in cognitive therapy, most of what troubles us falls into ten basic emotional patterns, including fear of abandonment, social exclusion (the feeling that we don’t belong), and vulnerability (the feeling that some catastrophe will occur). This remarkable book also teaches us how we can free ourselves of such patterns and replace them with empathy for ourselves and others through the simple practice of mindfulness, an awareness that lets us see things as they truly are without distortion or judgment. Emotional Alchemy provides an insightful explanation of how mindfulness can change not only our lives, but the very structure of our brains, giving us the freedom to be more creative and alive.

Here is a beautifully rendered work full of Buddhist wisdom and stories of how people have used mindfulness to conquer their self-defeating habits. The result is a whole new way of approaching our relationships, work, and internal lives.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A wonderfully clear, compassionate, and insightful guide to freeing ourselves from difficult emotions."
-- Sharon Salzberg, author of Lovingkindness

"A wonderfully wise book, one that is down to earth and immensely practical. I know I will be using it as a resource in my own life for a long time."
-- Susan Griffin, author of A Chorus of Stones and What Her Body Thought

"May this very important and enticing book find its way into the hearts of readers near and far so that it can perform its mysterious and healing alchemy for the benefit of all. Tara Bennett-Goleman has done a great service in describing in such inspiring and precise ways how meditative practices can liberate us from the patterns of emotional reactions that, unexamined, lead invariably to suffering and harm."
-- Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of Wherever You Go There You Are and professor of medicine at University of Massachusetts Medical School

"A rare accomplishment, bringing the synthesis of Western psychology and Buddhist mindfulness practice to an entirely new level. Much more than theory, it is a wise and pragmatic guide to emotional freedom. Tara Bennett-Goleman weaves together with consummate skill the wisdom teachings of the East, the latest understandings of cognitive therapy and neuroscience, and the innumerable personal stories that bring all of it to life."
-- Joseph Goldstein, author of Insight Meditation

"Gliding effortlessly from personal reminiscence to the latest in neuroscience, from meditation instruction to the intricacies of cognitive therapy, Tara Bennett-Goleman invites us to be part of her journey. In showing us how to use our minds to heal our emotions, she heals our minds with her heart."
-- Mark Epstein, M.D., author of Thoughts Without a Thinker and Going to Pieces Without Falling Apart

"A very accessible and practical guide to transforming emotions. If you wish to know how your emotional habits can be changed, this book is for you."
-- Richard J. Davidson, director, Wisconsin Center for Affective Science and W. M. Keck Laboratory for Functional Brain Imaging and Behavior, University of Wisconsin

"A beautiful blend of spiritual wisdom and psychological insight. Based on many years of intensive meditation and experience as a practicing psychotherapist, the author offers guidance that is relevant for anyone who wishes to be free from suffering or to help others on the way. This book is an engaging invitation to bring the art of mindfulness to emotional transformation and well-being."
-- Frances Vaughan, author of Shadows of the Sacred

"Emotional Alchemy is an amazing feast of knowledge of East and West, traditional and current. It shows how everyday emotions can be transmuted as a means of healing. All the principles of the alchemy of mind explained in one book -- a must-read handbook."
-- Tulku Thondup, author of Healing and the Mind

"Written with humor, warmheartedness in lively prose . . . a landmark step forward for us all."
-- Naomi Wolf, author of The Beauty Myth

From the Hardcover edition.

The Barnes & Noble Review
Peter Cook once reflected: "I'm sure I've learned from my mistakes. I could repeat them exactly."

Most of us feel the same way. We see our emotional patterns but feel powerless to change them. Instead, we repeat our errors; our feelings loop into constant replays; we get stuck.

Tara Bennett-Goleman addresses this problem in her thoughtful treatise, Emotional Alchemy: How the Mind Can Heal the Heart. In it, Bennett-Goleman proposes a new way to get unstuck. She explains: "I've found two methods to be especially potent for detecting and transforming emotional patterns: mindfulness meditation and a recent adaptation of cognitive therapy called schema therapy, which focuses on repairing maladaptive emotional habits." Through the conjunction of these two disciplines, ancient and modern, Bennett-Goleman promises that folks can learn from their mistakes -- and change.

Readers can begin, she suggests, by practicing mindfulness meditation to explore both thoughts and feelings. Bennett-Goleman hints: "Mindfulness lets us experience more directly, not through the clouded lens of assumptions and expectations but with an exploratory awareness." To achieve this delicate, clear gaze, Bennett-Goleman suggests: "Focus your attention on the place in your body where you experience your breath most clearly.... Use the breath as an anchor for your attention, a place to come home to whenever your mind wanders. Then gradually open your awareness to include your other senses, and finally, focus on whatever appears in your awareness." By practicing this technique over a long period, Bennett-Goleman assures us, we can become more conscious of our shifting patterns of thoughts and feelings. We can see thoughts and feelings dispassionately: not as parts of the self, but as habitual reactions.

Once we recognize our habitual reactions, we are able to challenge them. That's where schema therapy comes in. "A schema is a powerful set of negative thoughts and feelings," Bennett-Goleman explains. "Maladaptive schemas lead us to neurotic solutions." When people make the same mistakes time and again -- like quitting good jobs or pampering an unfaithful lover -- they may be unconsciously following the track of a bad schema. Many of us find ourselves repeatedly reacting to some emotional trigger: a fear of abandonment, perhaps, or a fear that we are unlovable at core. Bennett-Goleman summarizes the most common schemas for her readers and then suggests how mindfulness can help resolve them. "Mindfulness changes our relationship to the moments when we are most upset and distressed," Bennett-Goleman notes. "Mindfulness can be emotionally freeing: it brings an active awareness to our otherwise automatic emotional patterns, interposing a reflecting consciousness between emotional impulse and action. And that breaks the chain of emotional habit." By bringing mindfulness to our most frightening moments, she insists, we can quiet the fears that dog us.

Bennett-Goleman's process is not easy. But with time, she promises, mindfulness meditation can help us break emotional schemas. We can quit reacting to the same impulses and fears. We can learn from our mistakes -- and change.

--Jesse Gale

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
"We all desire happiness and do not want suffering." The Dalai Lama introduces Bennett-Goleman's first book with this trademark refrain, adding the deceptively simple Buddhist truth that much suffering is caused by our "disturbing emotions." Bennett-Goleman, a psychotherapist and longtime student of Buddhist meditation, draws on decades of experience to elucidate how the Buddhist practices of nonjudgmental awareness or mindfulness and the cultivation of compassion can unclasp the grip of the most addictive and deeply entrenched emotional patterns. What sets Bennett-Goleman's work apart from other contributions to the emerging field of Buddhist-oriented psychotherapy is her particular expertise in "schema therapy," which applies the consciousness of thought patterns that characterizes cognitive therapy to the deep-seated emotional habits that are formed in childhood. Thus she shows readers how our habitual fears and defenses get triggered again and again in our relationships, mechanically perpetuating old pain and obscuring reality. The author offers anecdotes from her clinical work and from workshops she conducts with her husband, Daniel Goleman, author of the megabestseller Emotional Intelligence. While Bennett-Goleman will undoubtedly benefit from the huge interest in her husband's book and from the burgeoning market for applied Buddhist wisdom in general, her distinct power flows from her sincerity. She is not given to neat formulations, yet her stories have the persuasiveness of experience, of transformation drop by drop. "In Western psychology it is often said that one needs a strong ego," writes Bennett-Goleman. "But in the Buddhist sense what we need is strong confidence." Many readers will trust the path that she forges here. (Jan.) Forecast: Foreign rights to this title have been sold in Brazil, Denmark, France, Germany, Holland, Italy, Spain and Latin America, Sweden, Taiwan and the U.K. Given the excellence of the book, a planned major push from Harmony, and the obvious benefit of a title and author name approximating those of Daniel Goleman's Emotional Intelligence, hefty sales and major interest are likely Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
What is it exactly that makes up human emotions? What internal alchemy makes a person respond to situations in the way that they do? Bennett-Goleman, a psychotherapist and teacher, contends that most of a person's emotional turmoil stems from one of ten basic patterns or schemas. She explores the "magic quarter-second," where a potentially negative thought can be captured, examined, and ultimately robbed of its power to bring about an undesirable emotional reaction. By combining this modernistic research with that of ancient Buddhist wisdom, listeners will be well on their way toward freeing themselves forever from these self-destructive habits. Paralleling much of Mark Epstein's Going on Being, Emotional Alchemy is another brilliant work that must be added to psychology/spirituality sections. Highly recommended. Marty D. Evensvold, Arkansas City P.L., KS Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

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Read an Excerpt

From Chapter One

From the window of my London hotel room Big Ben displays itself, a prominent, elegant presence amid the vista of river, billowing clouds, and spreading jumble of skyline. Big Ben has a grandeur as a piece of architecture, but I find my eye drawn more to the broad, open expanse of sky and river.

The panorama above and below Big Ben's rounded bluntness includes a resplendence of steeples and bridges that occupy the central view from my window. I notice how my mind, at first glance, takes in the spaciousness of the cloud-filled sky and the soothing expanse of the river below like a regal oil painting by some turn-of-the-century landscape artist, or like a postcard-perfect snapshot.

But as I gaze more carefully, with a sustained attention, I notice that the still snapshot-like rendering of this scene dissolves into a whirl of constant motion, a continuing series of tiny movements that add up to a vastly altered picture. There are tiny successive changes in the shape of clouds as they glide across the sky, sometimes opening up patches of sky through which rays of sunlight spill along the landscape, illuminating shadows into patches of light. There's the translucent shine of buildings and roads and bright red buses as they momentarily bathe in the glow. The scene before me shimmers with kinetic energy.

And so it is with our inner landscapes. This shift in my perception mirrors how the mind works: the tendency to assume it has got the whole picture on first glance, to rush on without a closer look, and the sometimes startling fact that if one continues to look more carefully, there is always more to be discovered beyond those initial assumptions. Too often we take our first impressions, the conclusions from a first hasty glance, as the lasting truth of the moment. But if we keep looking and noticing, we become aware of greater detail and nuance, of changes and second thoughts, and much more. We can see things more as they actually are, rather than as they appear to be. We can bring a more precise understanding to the moment.

If we sustain our gaze within, sometimes our probe may detect pain behind the masks we wear. But if we continue to look, we can see how the patterns of pain hold that very mask in place, and as we investigate further we see even these patterns shift and rearrange themselves. We see how our reactions to our emotions can keep us at a distance from ourselves. And if we sustain our focus, allowing ourselves to open more honestly, our awareness penetrates further, unraveling and dissolving, peeling away the layers as we look still further. We begin to connect with more genuine parts of ourselves, at first in glimpses. Then, as we sustain our gaze, we connect with a source that breathes awareness into every layer of our being.

This book is about seeing ourselves as we genuinely are, not as we seem on first glance as viewed through the filters of our habitual assumptions and emotional patterns. We will explore how through the practice of mindfulness--a method for training the mind to expand the scope of awareness while refining its precision--we can reach beyond the limiting ways we see ourselves. We will see how to disengage from the emotional habits that undermine our lives and our relationships. We will discover how a precise mindfulness can investigate these emotional habits, bringing an insightful clarity to distinguish between the seeming and the actual.

From the Hardcover edition.

Meet the Author

TARA BENNETT-GOLEMAN, a psychotherapist and teacher, has been offering workshops on the synthesis of Buddhism and psychotherapy for close to ten years with her husband, Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence. She lives in Massachusetts.

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Emotional Alchemy: How the Mind Can Heal the Heart 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is for anyone searching for a work that blends buddhist psychology - - meditation and mindfulness work - - with cognitive therapy. A very enjoyable and accessible read with practical exercises at the end of each chapter for the reader to complete. An important work that deserves the recognition that 'The Art of Happiness' by the Dalai Lama and 'Emotional Intelligence' by Daniel Goleman have received. Well worth the investment. A natural follow-up would be a more in-depth workbook/manual/guidebook providing an actual schema assessment/evaluation tool and additional exercises - - I was left wanting more in this area.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Amazing book. Walks you through forgiveness and how to love yourself.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
I've found this book to be immense help in recognizing repetitive thought patterns that no longer are useful or helpful me. Tara's book not only helps me recognize these common patterns, but also gives me a new way of working with them. I've read many self-help books but none have been so helpful and practical. It's also been helpful for me to realize that these thought patterns are not unique to me (i.e. not alone), but are common. With mindfulness and practice, they can be changed. This book has touched my life and my heart.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I agree with much of what I found in this book, although nothing in it was new to me. I'm sorry to say the hype around this book is more impressive than the book itself. Anything that can manage to get the Dalai Lama's name attached to it seems to be an instant hit no matter what the actual content or quality. On the bright side, however, the same day I bought this book I also discovered a little gem called 'Open Your Mind, Open Your Life: A Little Book of Eastern Wisdom' by Taro Gold. To my surprise and delight, I actually found many more unique, refreshing and thought-provoking concepts in 'Open Your Mind, Open Your Life.'
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book has been excellent in helping me refine and eradicate repetitive problems and patterns in my closest relationships. It has helped me stay positive and connect to something larger than my immediate difficulties. I can't recommend it enough.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have only recently begun to delve into how I can apply Buddhist teachings and philosophies to my everyday life in an effort to live more in the present and become a happier person. I decided to give this book a try, and I was blown away by the powerful message. I have read all sorts of self-help books, which have gotten me through some tough times because of their positive messages. But this book and its topic really touch something deep inside me like no other book has been able to do. Even though the author conveys that healing is a long process, I have nevertheless been able to get immediate benefit out of the breathing mindfulness techniques she describes, and that are also described in similar materials I have read. I would recommend this book to anyone seeking inner peace.