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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group
Standing at the Edge

Standing at the Edge

Finding Freedom Where Fear and Courage Meet

Joan Halifax; Foreword by Rebecca Solnit

Flatiron Books

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"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, human… More…

"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.

Less…

I. AT THE HIGH EDGE OF ALTRUISM


THE WORD ALTRUISM WAS COINED in 1830 by French philosopher Auguste Comte, who derived it from vivre pour autrui, or “live for others.” An antidote to the selfishness of living for ourselves, altruism...

Praise for Standing at the Edge

"This book is an invitation to dive deeper into those uncomfortable places and learn new skills to navigate them.... Through a lifetime of contemplative practice, Roshi Joan Halifax inspires us to be present and to remember our humanity regardless of circumstances. What seems impossible becomes possible if you’re willing to go to the edge with her." —Tara Well, PhD, Psychology Today

“Reflecting on her decades long experience as a social activist, medical anthropologist, Zen Roshi, and wise elder, Joan Halifax introduces us to Edge States—qualities of mind that invite optimal balance. Through the extraordinary example of her own remarkable life, and her re-telling of the stories of many others, this book is a must-read to help us navigate these turbulent times, regain our footing, and recognize the balance that is our true nature.” —Richard J. Davidson, New York Times-bestselling author of The Emotional Life of Your Brain and Altered Traits

“Roshi Joan Halifax embodies what she teaches: equanimity, dedication to benefiting others, and putting compassion into action. Her no-nonsense approach to the emotions tha tpush us to our edge—and can also propel our greatest good—truly inspires. In Standing at the Edge she offers us all a fascinating read and a practical roadmap to fulfilling our personal good work.” —Daniel Goleman, New York Times bestselling author of Altered Traits and Emotional Intelligence

“Joan Halif… More…

"This book is an invitation to dive deeper into those uncomfortable places and learn new skills to navigate them.... Through a lifetime of contemplative practice, Roshi Joan Halifax inspires us to be present and to remember our humanity regardless of circumstances. What seems impossible becomes possible if you’re willing to go to the edge with her." —Tara Well, PhD, Psychology Today

“Reflecting on her decades long experience as a social activist, medical anthropologist, Zen Roshi, and wise elder, Joan Halifax introduces us to Edge States—qualities of mind that invite optimal balance. Through the extraordinary example of her own remarkable life, and her re-telling of the stories of many others, this book is a must-read to help us navigate these turbulent times, regain our footing, and recognize the balance that is our true nature.” —Richard J. Davidson, New York Times-bestselling author of The Emotional Life of Your Brain and Altered Traits

“Roshi Joan Halifax embodies what she teaches: equanimity, dedication to benefiting others, and putting compassion into action. Her no-nonsense approach to the emotions tha tpush us to our edge—and can also propel our greatest good—truly inspires. In Standing at the Edge she offers us all a fascinating read and a practical roadmap to fulfilling our personal good work.” —Daniel Goleman, New York Times bestselling author of Altered Traits and Emotional Intelligence

“Joan Halifax knows of what she speaks. Standing at the Edge is powerful, honest, wise, and personal.” —Sharon Salzberg, author of Real Happiness and Real Love

"A magnificent exploration of our lives as moral creatures capable of virtue, and the shadow side of the impulse to help. The downsides of indifference and selfishness are well known. But Joan Halifax's hard won wisdom—and her distinguishing effective compassion from empathic distress and pathological altruism—will stay with me for a long time. So will her practical advice for more flexible, modest, and effective ways of responding to suffering, including my own. Plan to take this book to heart. It's wide ranging, ambitious, insightful, and kind." —Katy Butler, author of the New York Times-bestseller Knocking on Heaven's Door

Standing at the Edge is a moving contemplation, a guidebook of how to be a caring human being, filled with practical advice, rich experience, tenderness, wisdom and courage.” —Jack Kornfield, author of A Path With Heart

“In Standing at the Edge, Joan Halifax weaves together scientific research and her own powerful personal experiences as a social activist and humanitarian to show how we can transform our biggest challenges with compassion and wisdom. Standing at the Edge is essential reading for our time.” —Arianna Huffington, founder and CEO of Thrive Global

"Roshi Joan Halifax’s new book, Standing at the Edge is a reflection of her enormous courage, compassion, and wisdom. In her willingness to cozy up to the great mystery she transforms fear into wonder. But most of all it is her great love that shines through the pages of this wonderful book and gives us a clear path to a graceful life.” —Ram Dass

“In this brilliant book with its depth of humanity, wisdom, and nuance, Joan Halifax explores the subtle complexities of altruism, empathy, integrity, respect, and engagement, and concludes that compassion is the means by which we navigate from the edge where courage overcomes fear. Reading it will lead to richer, fuller lives.” —Bill George, author of Discover Your True North, senior fellow at Harvard Business School and former chair & CEO of Medtronic

“This book is a gift to anyone who seeks to serve others. With unwavering honesty and startling clarity, Joan Halifax examines the potential pitfalls of our virtuous intentions, taking on issues that concern people who are drawn to service. With characteristic intellectual precision, scholarship, and real-world experience, Standing at the Edge is food for the soul.” —Ira Byock, MD, author of Dying Well and The Best Care Possible

Standing at the Edge is a book that inspires us to rise into our better selves and gives us the tools to do that.” —Jane Fonda

“Reading Standing at the Edge, I am struck by Joan Halifax’s honesty and hard-won humility. This is an unusual, courageous, and inspiring work, a true guide to keeping one’s footing in these unstable and perilous times.” —Mark Epstein, MD and author of Advice Not Given: A Guide to Getting Over Yourself and Going to Pieces Without Falling Apart

“People everywhere will be able to benefit from Roshi Joan’s truth and her wisdom. Her courage and straightforward message should touch the hearts of all who want to create a better world for all of us and move them to action.” —Jody Williams, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and Chair, Nobel Women’s Initiative

“In this moving and timely reflection on embracing life with passionate care, Roshi Joan shares her insights from Zen Buddhism, social engagement, and neuroscience but, above all, from half a century of living fearlessly.” —Stephen Batchelor, author of After Buddhism

“Joan Halifax is wise, compassionate, grounded, and truly powerful. Her stories and insights come from life experience, and the wisdom of facing realities that are often uncomfortable with maturity and optimism. Standing at The Edge is a resource, an inspiration, and an important book. It offers hope and tools in a time of turmoil.” —Mallika Chopra, author of Living with Intent

“An important, thorough book. Halifax covers every angle of our interactions with compassion, even willing to tread on its dark side. As I read I found myself excited, inspired, nodding my head at its clear truth. Written in precise, beautiful prose, this is not an abstract tome—it’s backed by Halifax’s years of experience, close observation, and honest scrutiny. This needs to be read by everyone so we have a new language for love.” —Natalie Goldberg, author of The Great Spring and Writing Down the Bones

“With her book, Standing at the Edge, Joan Halifax has given the world a timeless sand necessary gift. An engaging, story-filled excavation on the meaning of compassion and the psychological states that define the human experience, Standing at the Edge has profound lessons for individuals and organizations. Halifax’s writing is infused with the strength of character, honesty, and authenticity that have earned her a reputation for being a fearless and steadfast spiritual leader, activist, and humanitarian. This book has wisdom for us all.” —Bernie Glassman, author of Instructions to theCook: A Zen Master's Lessons in Living a Life That Matters

“In Standing at the Edge, Roshi Joan Halifax offers powerful insights from what she has discovered about 'Edge States.' The lessons she has learned—while listening to fellow civil rights worker Fannie Lou Hamer, to sitting with the suffering in refugee camps—provide essential wisdom and principled compassion during our troubled times.” —Rhonda V. Magee, law professor, mindfulness teacher, and author of The Way of ColorInsight

Standing at the Edge is medicine for our times. Roshi Joan’s well-earned wisdom walks us to our own edges, where we see our inner landscape and the immense learning that comes from lingering there. Reading these pages is like sitting down with the village elder soaking in a lifetime of service, compassion, courage, and activism.” —Michelle Gale, author of Mindful Parenting in a Messy World

“There is no easily accessible education on how to stay well in the midst of stress and suffering—our own or of the people around us—until now. Halifax lays out a clear map for how to transform the challenging states we all experience to those of growth—building the foundation of our desperately needed ability to become more stress-resilient and compassionate. There is nothing abstract here. Through science and contemplative wisdom, through examples of courageous lives, and especially the powerful exemplar of Halifax’s own life and immense service to humanitarian causes, you will see how your own courage can overcome your fear to live your best life possible.” —Elissa Epel, Ph.D., professor at University of California, San Francisco, member of The National Academy of Medicine, and coauthor of the New York Times bestseller The Telomere Effect

“In this beautifully-written volume, Joan Halifax combines a spiritual master’s depth, the insight of a psychologist, and the vision of a prophet to help us fulfill our humane duty towards others while maintaining respect and care for our own body, mind, and soul.” —Gabor Maté, MD, author of In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters With Addiction

“In this unflinchingly honest book, Roshi Joan Halifax calls upon us to understand how close to the edge we truly stand and teaches us to be unafraid of falling. This book is an extraordinary gift to those of us trying to make a positive difference in our world; a sobering and yet, uplifting teaching that methodically takes us from ignorance to realization in our personal journey. It is beautiful and clear-sighted but most importantly, it is rooted in compassion. I am deeply grateful for her courageous insight and wisdom.” —Dekila Chungyalpa, founder and director of Sacred Earth at the World Wildlife Fund, Environmental Coordinator for His Holiness the 17th Karmapa, and Associate Research Scientist at Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies

“The wisdom that Roshi Joan Halifax has distilled from her work with cancer patients, clinicians, teachers, disaster relief workers, CEOs, and Zen students is all here, recast into a guide to the way we live now that is urgent, principled, practical, and deftly psychological. An astonishing gift.” —Anthony Back, MD, professor at University of Washington, Cambia Palliative Care Center of Excellence, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and founder of VitalTalk

“I thought I knew these words: altruism, empathy, integrity, respect, and engagement. Not until I read this book did I realize that I have not really understood the words thoroughly. This book is a result of the author’s long years of spiritual practice and service. It is a book in which one needs to anchor oneself in order to survive the stormy sea of our present reality.” —Dhammananda Bhikkhuni, the first Bhikkhuni in Theravada Buddhism in Thailand and abbess of Songdhammakalyani Monastery

Standing at the Edge arrives at a critical moment in history, when the world is searching for a new way to reconnect with the deep roots of our spirituality. The book is profoundly engaging and ruthlessly poetic. It is a vital exploration of how we can transform this world through compassionate action.” —Dr. A. T. Ariyaratne, founder and president of the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement in Sri Lanka

“I love this book. Standing at the Edge places Roshi alongside our greatest teachers and practitioners—Pema Chodron, Thich Nhat Hanh, Gandhi, Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, and Dr. King. Reading it, I was reminded of the old adage: ‘Don’t just do something—stand there!’ By exploring the big themes of altruism, empathy, integrity, respect, engagement, and compassion, Roshi helps us to take a stand in a bad time, and to know where we stand, and to stand there in the fullness of wisdom and compassion. Given our violent, inhuman world, this timely book will help us become more nonviolent and more human, to do our part for a more nonviolent world. With Roshi as our guide, we, too, can stand at the edge, learn to see a new vision of humanity and enter into universal compassion, nonviolence, and peace. What a gift!” —Father John Dear, author of The Nonviolent Life and The Beatitudes of Peace

Standing at the Edge is a must-read not only for all clinicians but for anyone who is caring for others in their suffering. Roshi Joan has a gift to transform the complexity of scientific, theological, and philosophical theories into practical models for everyone to express compassion to others. She enables us to being able to sit in the midst of the other’s suffering—offering presence and love.” —Christina Puchalski, MD, OCDS, Professor of Medicine, Director of the George Washington University’s Institute for Spirituality and Health, author of Time for Listening and Caring, and coauthor of Making Healthcare Whole

“At this precipitous moment of history, when so many of us are unbalanced and suffering, Roshi Joan Halifax offers us a modern classic. Her essential wisdom, compassion, and experience dare to lead us—as it has led her—in and through the dark places of our lives and minds, to a ground of steadfast clarity. With stories and accessible practices, documented by cutting-edge research, Halifax points the way to our own ease and completeness.” —Sensei Hozan Alan Senauke, Clear View Project

“With the clear eyes of a social scientist and the warm heart of a Buddhist, Roshi Joan explores those liminal spaces where burnout is transformed into recalibration, empathy grows the wings of wisdom, and in tending the broken heart of the world we are brought home to our fullest humanity.” —Mirabai Starr, translator of John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, and Julian of Norwich, and author of Caravan of No Despair: A Memoir of Loss and Transformation

“Through her insightful reflection and intimate research, Roshi Joan maps the dividing points between our failures and genuine, wholesome activities. Standing at the Edge is a most generous gift from her lifetime of meditation, deep thinking, and amazing scale of service to society.” —Kazuaki Tanahashi, author of Painting Peace: Art in a Time of Global Crisis

“A must-have guidebook for altruists, seekers, caregivers, and all those wishing to make a difference. Standing at the Edge reminds us that good intentions are not enough to change the world; Nothing short of deep inner work—both contemplative and psychological—is required. Roshi Joan’s voice, fierce and wise, reveals the edge as a place where true spiritual transformation happens.” —Cheryl A. Giles, PsyD and Willa B. Miller, PhD, authors of The Arts of Contemplative Care

“Joan Halifax shares with us the wise insights derived from a life of deep inquiry and service to others. This is a work of heart and of substance.” —Hal Roth, author of Original Tao: Inward Training and the Foundations of Taoist Mysticism, Professor of Religious Studies, and Director of the Brown University Program in Contemplative Studies

“Life is marked by edges, which are often hard to identify, given the busyness of our daily lives and the avalanche of opinions, information, judgments, cultural and religious influences that we are faced with constantly. Roshi Joan Halifax stresses the importance of understanding when and how positive, nurturing emotions like altruism and empathy turn toxic, causing more harm than benefit and how we can stay on the sane side of these mental qualities. Another way to put it is to use the terms skillful altruism and skillful empathy. These states of mind become skillful when we take into account the time period and environment we are in, the religious and cultural context, as well as our own mental and physical health. Roshi’s book is essential for anyone dedicated to enhance wholesome emotions whilst staying vigilant not to fall over the edge.” —Dolpo Tulku Rinpoche

“Roshi Joan Halifax has been a tireless pioneer and faithful guide for us all, exploring the edges of human heart and our capacity for caring and compassion with grace and grit for more than four decades. Standing at the Edge draws on a lifetime of Zen practice and fearless and compassionate engagement in the charnel grounds of society. With traditional wisdom teachings, real life stories, and penetrating insight, this tour-de-force guide illuminates the distinctions and boundaries between the healthy and shadow dimensions of altruism, empathy, respect, integrity, and compassionate engagement. Standing at the Edge is a practical wisdom guide for all of us aspiring to serve humanity and steward our planet in these challenging times.” —Acharya Fleet Maull, author of Dharma In Hell and founder of Prison Mindfulness Institute

“Roshi defines and explores in her book Standing at the Edge human qualities that are essential for living a fulfilling life while serving a larger human community—integrity, respect, altruism, empathy, compassion, and engagement. She calls them edge states, because each of them has a potential shadow side or ‘near-enemy’ which represents a pitfall on the spiritual journey. Showing how to differentiate between them, she draws on decades of meditation practice, her rich life story, and personal study with shamans, Zen masters, Tibetan Lamas, and Native American elders. Written in a clear, engaging style, and illustrated by many moving stories, Standing at the Edge is a source of invaluable information for spiritual seekers.” —Stanislav Grof, MD, author of Psychology of the Future, The Cosmic Game, and When the Impossible Happens

“Joan Halifax has been an ‘Edge’ adventurer all her life. I am astounded by what she has accomplished, in so many fields and in so many places, simply by following her curiosity and love. But even more astonishing to me is her ability to digest and conceptualize what she has seen and done, so that we, her readers, can learn how to grow in courage and wisdom as we face the precipitous ‘Edges’ that loom in our own lives. Combining personal stories with a wide range of studies and techniques, Standing at the Edge is a valuable sourcebook for anyone trying to cope ?in this tragic world, with eyes and heart wide open, and with hands willing to help.” —Norman Fischer, poet, Zen priest, author of What Is Zen?: Plain Talk For a Beginner’s Mind

“In this exquisite work Roshi Joan Halifax takes us on a tour of the checkered landscape of compassion, exploring with acute psychological insight the precious qualities—the ‘edge states’—that contribute to the success of compassionate action and their dark underbellies that can lead to frustration and burnout. Especially useful to those in the care-giving and helping professions, this book will prove an essential guide for all who aspire to make the world a better place.” —Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

“Definingmoments arise in all of our lives when we least expect them. These momentsare ones in which the decisions we make and actions we take can have resoundingimpacts on ourselves and others near and far. Often at these times we are‘standing at the edge’—we might feeloverwhelmed, fearful, protective, and act from these self-protective motives,or we might find the capacity to care, have compassion, patience, andgenerosity. In this moving and inspiring book, Roshi Joan Halifax deeplyexplores these ‘edge states’ and with openness and grace provides us with aroadmap and practices to support us in these defining moments. Wisdom aboundsin a time in which it is greatly needed!” Mark T. GreenbergPh.D., Bennett Chair of Prevention Research, Edna Bennett PiercePrevention Research Center, Penn State University

"With the mastery of an adept mountaineer, Roshi Joan Halifax nimbly guides the reader along the razor’s edge that leads to the high places of kindness and wisdom. This is a profound, nuanced, and eminently instructive meditation on spiritual balance." —Pir Zia Inayat-Khan, author of Mingled Waters: Sufism and the Mystical Unity of Religions

“Compassion, altruism, empathy, integrity, respect, and engagement—these are all necessary ingredients for a healthy, fulfilling life and also absolutely essential for the survival of humanity, now more than ever. However, because these are complex, non-linear, highly emotional issues, we easily become lost, discouraged, and disconnected. Roshi Halifax’s brilliant new book is a beacon of light which brings razor-sharp clarity and shines for us a pathway towards leading better lives through these virtues. If you care about a meaningful, connected life for yourself and others, and/or if you want make difference for humanity, this book will educate and inspire both your mind and heart like no other.” —Kimiko Bokura-Shafé, founder of Mindful Leadership Institute Japan

"In Standing at the Edge Joan Halifax has created a panoramic, yet detailed view of those human qualities that afford deep meaning to life. Drawing on decades of engagement with suffering in many forms, her lucid, reflective prose communicates wisdom, honesty, and a hopeful sense of our self-renewing capacity to heal when our aspirations and intentions exceed our grasp. She leaves the reader with a palpable sense of the value to be gained by moving to the edge of, and sometimes beyond, the limits of our vision to make the world a better place." —Clifford Saron, PhD, research scientist at Center for Mind and Brain, University of California Davis

"In this important book, Roshi Joan Halifax opens a window to shed light on how we can skillfully navigate the road to our highest human qualities. Integrating her courageous heart and inquisitive mind, and drawing from a lifetime of compassionate service to others, she explores the nuance of how we might reach our fullest potential without slipping into harmful territory. There is profound truth here—Standing at the Edge offers wisdom that is deeply needed in our times." —Wendy Hasenkamp, science director of Mind & Life Institute

"Roshi Joan Halifax has achieved a literary trifecta in this book. She offers her readers the clarity and rigor of a social scientist, the poignant guidance of a teacher, and the wisdom of a deep practitioner." —Amishi P. Jha

"Roshi Joan Halifax has a simple yet daunting challenge: To live fully we must live at the edge. Some may think that means pushing ourselves toward ever more busy action to somehow take care of the suffering we encounter. She offers a different lens. Compassion requires us to recognize a hidden gift. Standing at the edge affords us a place from where we can both embrace the vista of great light and live into awareness that the precipice of our own deep shadow is but a step away. The wisdom of Roshi’s life experience and writing could not arrive at a more opportune time for our divided world and for those of us who seek to live in ways that embody healthy, compassionate lives." —John Paul Lederach, Professor Emeritus, University of Notre Dame and Senior Fellow Humanity United

“An insightful and invaluable resource to help us skillfully navigate the enormous challenges of our time.”
—Susan Bauer-Wu, President of the Mind & Life Institute and author of Leaves Falling Gently

"Having worked for decades in the field of child abuse, helping other healthcare and social work professionals recognize and practice with states called burnout, compassion fatigue, and secondary trauma, I welcome Joan Halifax’s book Standing at the Edge. It is a clearly written labor of love, a deep and detailed plunge into the positive as well as the difficult aspects of active engagement in the world of suffering. She weaves in illustrative examples, relevant research from neuroscience and social psychology, and, most importantly, practices that can be taken up to help all of us, no matter where in this troubled world we work, to restore much-needed balance, kindness and sanity, both for ourselves and those we serve." —Jan Chozen Bays, MD, abbot at Great Vow Monastery

“In response to the incredible complexity of moral distress that abounds in an unsettled world, Roshi Joan Halifax appeals to the innate goodness that each of us as humans carry—providing a clear and wise path for living with integrity, moral resilience, and fortitude. Standing at the Edge is a practical guide for compassion in action that shows us how to approach our most challenging adversities in relation to others with skillfulness, courage, and grace, while also providing the skills necessary to avoid harming ourselves or those we intend to serve.” —David Vago, Research Director at the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine and Associate Professor at Vanderbilt University Medical Center

"Our journey into the meaningful life is guided by such positive qualities as altruism, empathy, integrity, respect, and engagement. However, as Joan Halifax clearly illustrates in her book, these qualities have shadow sides, which can push our life into turmoil. Nevertheless, we can learn a lot from suffering and find boundless possibilities from it. Standing at the Edge reminds us that working skillfully with suffering can bring us new life, and with compassion our life will be firm on the path of fulfillment. I found that this book is very inspiring, it brings us hope, and cultivates compassion in our hearts." Phra Paisal Visalo, Abbot of Wat Pasukato, Chaiyaphum province Thailand, cofounder of Sekiyadhamma, and recipient of the Asian Public Intellectual Fellowship of the Nippon Foundation

“Standing at the Edge is a guide to help us cultivate the courage and creativity to face the reality of these life challenges as the world changes and confronts us with troubles and turmoil. Offering us a unique and powerful framework for understanding the 'edge states' of altruism, empathy, integrity, respect, engagement, and compassion, exploring their important upsides and helping us to navigate their inherent downsides, Joan Halifax has created an essential reading guide to bring a sanctuary of clarity to our inner lives and to this magnificent world we all share. This is a work of heart filled with the hard-earned wisdom of a master teacher and our loving guide, Joan Halifax, that will provide you, no matter your place in life’s journey—young and starting out on your journey, in the midst of your professional and personal life, or senior in your position in the world—with life-changing insights, cutting-edge science, and a comprehensive, in-depth view of how we can embrace the fullness of life as we bring resilience to our inner world and service to those around us. This is a life-affirming, life-transforming work that is a gift to us all.” —Dr. Dan Siegel, MD, clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine, Executive Director of the Mindsight Institute, and author of The Yes Brain, Mindsight, and The Developing Mind

"Understanding the intricacies of the edge states offers a courageous approach to engaging in today's uncertain and perilous world. It is an invitation to embrace our strength and our suffering with compassion, insight, and wisdom. A primer for preserving integrity in the midst of confusion, complexity, and conflict." —
Cynda Rushton PhD, RN, FAAN, Bunting Professor of Clinical Ethics at Johns Hopkins University

"Joan Halifax’s book is a powerful narrative that deeply engages and educates in the pursuit of selfless courage. Brilliantly composed and written to explore synergistic edge states of the mind, it is a work born out of her astounding life of ceaseless engagement and pure love." —Michael Lobatz, MD, Director of Neurosciences at Scripps Health

"While reading Roshi Joan Halifax's provocative new book, Standing at the Edge, I thought several times of a few lines by the early twentieth-century French poet Guillaume Apollinaire, who wrote, 'Come to the edge ... And so they came. And he pushed them. And they flew.' Similarly, Halifax describes here, in pellucid prose, how we might learn better how to take flight with our lives. For her, it begins with learning how to alleviate our own suffering and the suffering of others through the power of what she elegantly calls 'Edge States.' Through the cultivation of these threshold realms of altruism, empathy, integrity, respect, and engagement, she reveals a unique political-spiritual road map that can help us transform our encounters with suffering into compassion, and our uncertainty into character. Read this powerful book not to improve your life, but to deepen it, and give it a numinous edge." —Phil Cousineau, author of The Art of Pilgrimage, and host of Global Spirit on PBS and Link TV

"Roshi Joan Halifax has combined ancient wisdom, modern science, and her rich personal experience to produce this gem of wisdom and a joyful to read classic Standing at the Edge, which is most needed for humankind at this time and age. This is a thorough study of compassion with practical instructions on how to put it into action and avoid pitfalls." —Ringu Tulku, founder of Bodhicharya and author of The Lazy Lama

"Standing at the Edge will be a touchstone for anyone concerned to live in compassion; it shows in vital detail how we can engage every dimension of our emotional, psychological, and physical experience to transform our lives—and the world—for good. Roshi Joan Halifax’s wisdom spans religions and cultures, inviting us to see true compassion as clear-eyed and courageous. And her caring spirit shines through this book, guiding us, inspiring us, blessing us." —Andrew Dreitcer, PhD, author of Living Compassion: Loving Like Jesus

"In Standing at the Edge, a true master both upholds her Zen tradition and updates it—with insight, depth, and practicality. By guiding us meticulously through five 'edge states'—those inner places where our deepest obstacles and greatest opportunities meet—Roshi Joan Halifax offers an enormously generous and well-researched exposition. This text will be helpful to anyone and everyone trying to wake up and bring our world back from the precipice upon which our society currently dangles." —Ethan Nichtern, author of The Road Home: A Contemporary Exploration of The Buddhist Path

"Joan Halifax often uses the metaphor of standing on a high mesa as she navigates us to the edge states where growth of character is possible. At this moment in time, breathing in the bracing and rarified air of morality and integrity has more urgency than ever, and Halifax guides us there with the sure-footedness of a Himalayan sherpa. But this is not armchair philosophy or intellectual hairsplitting. It's clear that long before neuroscience and social psychology had given us terms like moral distress, empathic arousal and horizontal hostility, Joan Halifax had already charted this territory, not only intellectually, but in the immediacy of her own tireless work as an agent of social change. Beginning with a dramatic and disabling childhood illness, she has spent at least one lifetime exploring every conceivable detour, cul-de-sac and hazard along the high road towards embodied integrity. With generosity, clarity, humility, and pragmatism, she systematically shows us how mere mortals might prevail over the all-too-human fears and conditioning that stand between us and our highest aspirations. In 'Edge States,' we hear a rare female voice that combines industrial strength, intelligence, fierce compassion, and intrepid inquiry." —Margaret Cullen, MA, MFT Founding Faculty of the Compassion Institute

"This wise and engaging book is about the joy of being a humble human being. Roshi Joan Halifax shares with us her journey into the truth of interconnectedness in which we are not separate, yet also distinct from each other. This truth is revealed through our practice of the five 'Edge States'—altruism, empathy, integrity, respect, and engagement. Drawing from her rich life experience, Roshi guides us in discovering these qualities as a source of strength, courage, and refuge, and helps us awaken the wisdom that will protect us from falling into the shadow side of each Edge State." —Tempa Dukte Lama, author of Journey into Buddhahood, Heart Drop of the Loving Mother, Inexhaustible Miracles, and The Intimate Mind

"Roshi Joan Hallifax shows in this book that responding to the needs of others is of the very essence of Buddhism. She articulates, skillfully and engagingly, five attitudes or 'paramitas' of relevance to all Buddhist practitioners today, giving us a map of the way and exploring its many difficulties, dangers, opportunities, and riches. She does this from her own deep practice and understanding sustained over many years, as well as from her encounters with others across the spectrum of social engagement. Getting to know her and her teaching through Standing on the Edge has given me new life in my practice. This is an invaluable guide for all who want to venture onto 'the edge' and take their practice of Buddhism deeper in today’s world." —Lokamitra, founder of the Triratna Movement in India and Chair of the Nagaloka Center for the new Indian Buddhist movement

“Just as there are plant or animal species that can only thrive along the edges, at the extreme border of things, there are human virtues that can flourish only as we approach the limits of our endurance, our understanding, our capacity to experience beauty...or to love. Joan Halifax has given us a flower on a precipice that invites us to lean out from our comfort zones—and into our true nature." —Clark Strand, author of Waking Up to the Dark: Ancient Wisdom for a Sleepless Age

"In Standing at the Edge, noted meditation and Zen teacher Joan Halifax distills the essence of her lifelong experience and insights on the crucial question of how to live a life of meaning with compassion and courage. This most remarkable book both challenges as well as invites us to a journey that could reveal who we truly are and what we are capable of. A true gift to the world and must-read for anyone who takes the idea of compassion seriously." —Thupten Jinpa, principal translator to the Dalai Lama and author of A Fearless Heart: How the Courage to be Compassionate Can Transform Our Lives.

"Based on her many years of experience in meditation and social activism, Roshi Joan shares her deep insights into how to make our lives genuinely meaningful through cultivating the qualities of altruism, empathy, integrity, respect, and engagement. With clarity and conviction, she examines the ways in which these important qualities can be incorporated into, and so transform, our everyday lives." —Tenzin Palmo, author, teacher and founder of the Dongyu Gatsal Ling Nunnery in Himachal Pradesh, India

"In Standing at the Edge, Roshi Joan Halifax gives readers clear and powerful insights on how to meet and navigate through life's challenges with grace, dignity and compassion. Drawn from her lifetime of service combined with her background in science and human development, Roshi Joan offers us an important book on renewal during challenging times. This book is essential reading for anyone seeking to overcome life's difficulties and flourish—not in spite of those difficulties, but because of the lessons learned and hidden opportunities in them. This book is literally life-changing." —Rich Fernandez, Ph.D., CEO of Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute

"A fresh and fascinating look at the rewards and risks we run in the subtle choices we make as agents of social change." —Joanna Macy, author of Coming Back to Life

"Roshi Joan Halifax has always had the courage to walk towards the edge and stand at the edge. In Standing At The Edge she teaches us how to do it through altruism, empathy, integrity, respect, and engagement. This book is really about living the full range of our human experiences and discovering who we truly are." —Gopi Kallayil, Chief Evangelist, Brand Marketing at Google, and author of The Internet to the Inner-net

"How rare to encounter a book of such honesty and hope about the human condition. In an age of moral confusion and anxiety, in which spiritual bypass, inertia, and overwork dulls our passion and vision, Standing at the Edge invites us onto the solid ground of a clear-seeing relationship with the responsibility of our precious human lives. This is wisdom for now and for everyone." —Rev. angel Kyodo williams, coauthor of Radical Dharma: Talking Race, Love & Liberation and author of Being Black: Zen and The Art of Living With Fearlessness and Grace

"Standing at the Edge is an inspiration from a master teacher. This book rings true. Its authenticity is born from the lived experience of a life dedicated to service and contemplative inquiry. Joan Halifax recognizes that 'every stick has two ends' and so speaks with the equanimity of one who knows first-hand both the purity and pitfalls of altruism. She engages us with clarity, elegant prose, pragmatic wisdom, and principled compassion. Her writing, like her life, is wholehearted and fearless. This book will both awaken and challenge you. This is not about indulging the addiction to our comfort zones. Joan offers the bold encouragement and skills necessary to grow at the edges of our life. It will guide you to grounded, courageous, and loving action." —Frank Ostaseski, author of The Five Invitations: Discovering What Death Can Teach Us About Living Fully

"In Standing at the Edge, Joan Halifax shares with us the remarkable range of her life experience. The depth of her insights and her great open heart shine on every page illuminating the path of love and freedom in these challenging times." —Joseph Goldstein, author of Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening

"Filled with timeless wisdom and practical advice, Standing at the Edge is essential reading for anyone who wishes to make their life, their community, and the world more compassionate and loving. Roshi Joan Halifax exemplifies in her life and words the path of the bodhisattva." —Sulak Sivaraksa, founder and director of Sathirakoses-Nagapradeepa Foundation


"Standing At The Edge is an authentic guidebook on discovering our inherent goodness and wisdom, and at the same time, how to manifest these qualities in daily life for the benefit of others. Roshi Joan’s courageous and sagacious counsel is needed today more than ever." —Matteo Pistono, author of In the Shadow of the Buddha and Meditation

Standing at the Edge provides vital guidance for anyone who wants to do good work in the world. I know my staff, the families we serve, and all of those in healthcare will benefit from reading it, and putting into practice the wisdom being offered… I believe our healthcare system would be radically improved if doctors, nurses and administrators read and studied Standing at the Edge… Joan is a brilliant theoretician, who balances intellectual rigor with practical tools we can apply in our daily lives. This is the field of compassion she lays out in Standing at the Edge. It is where life happens, and where we are encouraged give fully from the risky edges of active kindness. Joan truly is a treasure, a voice to be listened to.” —Ron Hoffman, founder of Compassionate Care ALS and author of Sacred Bullet

"Standing at the Edge is profoundly insightful and clear guidance for Buddhist peace activists and anyone committed to transform personal and societal suffering caused by structural injustice. I am deeply moved by Roshi Joan's life path of wisdom, fearlessness, dedication, and honesty, and this book will definitely influence everyone on this path." —Ouyporn Khuankaew, cofounder and director of the International Women's Partnership for Peace and Justice

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Reviews from Goodreads

Joan Halifax; Foreword by Rebecca Solnit

Roshi Joan Halifax, Ph.D., is a Buddhist teacher, Zen priest and anthropologist. She is Founder, Abbot, and Head Teacher of Upaya Institute and Zen Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She received her Ph.D. in medical anthropology and received a National Science Foundation Fellowship in Visual Anthropology, was an Honorary Research Fellow in Medical Ethnobotany at Harvard University, and was a Distinguished Visiting Scholar at the Library of Congress. She is the founder of the Upaya Prison Project and of the Nomads Clinic in Nepal.

image of Joan Halifaxo
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Visit the author's profile at Upaya Institute and Zen Center