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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.

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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

"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 embodies what she teaches: equanimity, dedication to benefiting others, and putting compassion into action. Her no-nonsense approach to the emotions that push 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

"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 thes… More…


"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 embodies what she teaches: equanimity, dedication to benefiting others, and putting compassion into action. Her no-nonsense approach to the emotions that push 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

"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

"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

"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

"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, author of Advice Not Given: A Guide to Getting Over Yourself and Going to Pieces without Falling Apart

"With her book, Standing at the Edge, Joan Halifax has given the world a timeless and 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 the Cook: A Zen Master's Lessons in Living a Life That Matters

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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