New and Noteworthy:
Thanks to Our Participants and Presenters for An Inspiring Conference: Enlightening Conversations 2105
Our conference posed the question “Is enlightenment real or idealized?” and we answered the question with a resounding “Yes!” it is both. Our search to see more deeply into human life and its freedoms leads to more capacity to speak about truth, vulnerabilities, compassion and wisdom — as well as to tolerate disappointments, perhaps outrage and betrayals, with the ways we fail and are failed. We spent a lot of time talking about how unconscious dynamics interfere with teacher-student and analyst-patient relationships. These very obstacles, we learned, can be transformed into greater wisdom, and even compassion, when we face them honestly and kindly, never forgetting how much falls outside our awareness from moment to moment.
Enlightening Conversations — a non-profit series of conversational conferences — starts new conversations in different localities throughout the US by hearing dialogues between teachers and scholars from Buddhism (not Mindfulness) and psychoanalysis (not psychotherapy), two contemplative traditions that are unpopular in today’s fast-paced materialistic world.
Enlightening Conversations, a non-profit, depends on the generosity of our donors. This 2015 conference was supported by the Radius Foundation, Harvard Divinity School, and an anonymous foundation, as well as a volunteer Planning Committee. As we look forward to our next event in Chicago, 2017, we are once again looking for donors. The topic of that conversational conference is “Love & Hate, Unity & Schism” in which we will examine splits in ordinary relationships, in cultural and racial divides, and in nations and religions.
If you would like to donate to Enlightening Conversations or if you know a foundation that might support us, please visit to our website. You will find a tab that discusses donations.
Also, the entire conference will soon be available for streaming from the Harvard Divinity School website. If you were not able to attend, please look for it there!
Seven Days: Learning about Love Through Alzheimer’s Disease
by Kevin O’Connor
Vermont psychologist Polly Young-Eisendrath remembers all the questions she aimed at her husband: Why had he racked up some $70,000 in unexplained credit card bills; written another $57,000 in checks to himself from their joint account; and, most disturbingly, anxiously defied her repeated call for answers?
“The bottom has dropped out of everything that promised security in my life,” she recalls thinking. “I no longer can count on marriage, finances and any vestiges of control over my circumstances.”
Then Young-Eisendrath learned that her husband, Ed Epstein, had early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.
For some, the brain ailment is simply a plot point in dramas such as Still Alice, the current film in which Oscar front-runner Julianne Moore portrays a fiftysomething professor losing her memory. But for an estimated 200,000 Americans, depictions of that impairment hit painfully close to home.
“We knew something was seriously wrong, but when you’re in your fifties, you don’t want to think of that,” Young-Eisendrath says in an interview. “The day he was diagnosed, I had to revise all my plans for the future. I said to myself, Everything has changed. There’s no way to fix it. What can I do now?“
Like many clients blindsided by a death, divorce or layoff, the Worcester therapist and writer faced a tidal wave of emotions. She nevertheless found reason to stay with every terrifying yet teachable moment.
“As long as I don’t deny my feelings,” she remembers telling herself, “I can investigate with a gentle awareness what my life is now presenting me.” READ MORE
The Present Heart: A Memoir of Love, Loss and Discovery
The Present Heart is an insightful journey of living in the present moment. In a deeply moving yet unsentimental voice, Young-Eisendrath draws on her lifelong practices of Buddhism and psychoanalysis and her own unique view of love, as well as a circle of profound thinkers including author Abigail Thomas, psychoanalyst Nancy McWilliams, and Buddhist teacher Shinzen Young.
A thoughtful meditation on the human experience, The Present Heart shows how our most intimate relationships, often the source of our greatest pain, can prove to be our path to spiritual enlightenment. The book offers a new perspective on how to maintain engaged, reciprocal relationships—with a partner, parent, child, or friend—under any and all circumstances.
Available at book stores everywhere and online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and IndieBound.