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.
"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."—Rebecca Solnit
"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 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
“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
"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
“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
“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
“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
"[A] wise exploration of the search for meaning . . . Clear, detailed, and profound, this remarkable book will be appreciated by anyone seeking a framework for a meaningful life."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Reviews from Goodreads
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,...