Inspired by Buddhist teachings and psychoanalytic thought, this book explores gentleness as a way of being and a developmental achievement. It offers reflections on the unique position of "gentle people", as well as certain gentle layers of the psyche in general, as they meet the world. Examining the perceptual-sensory-conscious discrepancy that often exists between a gentle person and their surroundings, it follows the intricate relationship between sensitivity and fear, the need for self-holding, and the possibility of letting go.
Incorporating theoretical investigation, clinical vignettes, and personal contemplation, the book looks into those states of mind and qualities of attention that may compose a favorable environment, internal and interpersonal, where gentleness can be delicately held. There, it is suggested, gentleness may gradually shed the fragility, confusion, and destructiveness that often get entangled with it, and serve as a valuable recourse.
Offering a unique perspective on a topic rarely discussed, the book has broad appeal for both students and practitioners of psychoanalysis and psychotherapy, as well as Buddhist practitioners and scholars.
Table of Contents
Chapter One: On Gentleness
- To Be in the World Unheld
- The Gap
- Sensitivity and Gentleness
- Gentleness, Violence and the Drive toward the Good
Chapter Two: The Path of Gentleness
- Behavior, Meditation, and Wisdom
- The Necessary Equipment
- Gentleness and Destructiveness
- Nina: An Unconscious Struggle between the Gentleness of Mind and Internalized Social Norms
- Beyond Mindfulness
- Some Reflections on the Attitude to Truth
Chapter Three: Between Pain and Pleasure
- Khaṇasutta: The Opportunity
- The Mind’s Substrate
- The Good Object
- A Good Environment
- Holding a Gentle Baby
- Louise: A Choreography of Nuances
- Necessary Goodness and Instinctual Gratification
- The Adult Mind
- From Prince to Ascetic
- Sensation and Thirst
- The Mind that Sees Itself
- The Objects of Desire
- Subtle Pleasantness
Chapter Four: A Home in the Universe
- Becoming, Separation, and Fear
- The Big Bang
- Truth and Faith: Following the Signs of Existence
- Some Words about Memory, Desire, and Knowledge
- Faith as a Scientific State of Mind
- Saddhā: Sober Faith
- Holding and Surrender
- Dwelling in the Unsettled Space of Not-Knowing
Chapter Five: Attention as an Environment
- Conditioned Arising: Self-Environment Relations
- Associating: Examining the Elements in the Environment
- A Sense of Environmental Toxicity
- Discord and Harmony
- Two Species of Accuracy
- Inner Attentional Environment: The Mental Space
- The Interpersonal Attentional Environment: Quiet Love and Openness to Truth
- Marina: To Lend an Ear to the Feeble, To See the Hidden Through a Veil
- Holding and Letting Go
- Non-Clinging and Movement
- Instrumental vs Non-Instrumental Thinking
- Rigidity, Flexibility and Dissolution
- Giving up on a Sense of Expertise
- Out of Chaos, Form Arises
- Conditioned Arising: An Environment within the Self within the Environment
Epilogue: Reflections on Time and Space
Michal Barnea-Astrog, PhD, is a researcher of psychoanalysis and Buddhism, a senior Hakomi trainer, and a therapist in private practice. She teaches at the East Asian Studies Department at Tel Aviv University and is the founder and head of the Three-Year Hakomi Training in Israel. She is the author of Carved by Experience: Vipassana, Psychoanalysis, and the Mind Investigating Itself.
"A beautiful book exploring the role, fate and possibilities of gentleness in life. Professor Barnea-Astrog draws from psychoanalysis and Buddhism and a rich reservoir of resources that play a role in our makeup. She discusses difficulties we face and supports us in our quest for opening to the call of existence, its mysteries and hopes. A long overdue caring, thoughtful and detailed study of the importance of gentleness, its challenges and gifts."
- Michael Eigen, The Challenge of Being Human
"Barnea-Astrog’s choice to study ‘gentleness’ as a phenomenon and consider it in a way hitherto unattempted in psychoanalysis is astounding. Her book offers a rich, profound yet simple and accessible lexicon of psychoanalytic and Buddhist insights and their interrelations, which enables us to understand gentleness as an existential substrate and avenue to a unique experience of being in the world. The author’s personal manner of writing, interspersed with clinical vignettes and illustrations from both western and eastern wisdom, allows for an exciting and instructive, intimate and dreaming associative reading experience. In tumultuous and violent times, this book not only illuminates but also holds out the relief of gentleness."
- Merav Roth, PhD, Psychoanalyst, Chair of Klein studies and PhD interdisciplinary unit for psychoanalysis in Tel Aviv University, Author of Reading the Reader - A Psychoanalytic Perspective
"In this book Michal Barnea-Astrog beautifully describes the experience of gentleness that some of us carry throughout the life cycle. If you have sensed and learned to protect yourself from the too-much-ness of life, you will find yourself in this book. With skill and sensitivity, Barnea-Astrog offers a way to understand and appreciate this gentle nature and the many developmental challenges that accompany it. Using psychoanalytic theory and Buddhist spiritual teachings, she offers the reader a rare glimpse into a way of being that can be supported and nurtured in family systems, communities, and intimate relationships of all kinds. This is a timely book that encourages us all to find our gentleness within and offer it to a world in need of an ethics informed by a tender and open heart."
- Pilar Jennings, PhD, psychoanalyst, lecturer, and author of To Heal a Wounded Heart
"In recent years, the psychoanalytic-Buddhist dialogue has been converging from a general comparative discussion into a more focused examination of certain phenomena. Michal Barnea-Astrog’s book is a profound and important addition to this new direction. Attentively and meticulously, the author considers this dialogue and sketches its contribution to our understanding of gentleness as a "developmental achievement". Her book is written with sensitivity and wisdom and demonstrates, often poetically, how ‘gentleness of mind nurtures the gentleness of action, and gentleness of action nurtures the gentleness of mind."
- Yorai Sella, PhD, clinical psychologist. Co-director, Demut Institute, and lecturer at the Tel Aviv University and Hebrew University of Jerusalem training programs for Psychotherapy; an associate at the Tel Aviv Institute of Contemporary Psychoanalysis, a Tai Chi trainer and a student of Zen Buddhism