mask A Return to Innocence: Philosophical Guidance in an Age of Cynicism
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A Return to Innocence: Philosophical Guidance in an Age of Cynicism

Jeffrey M. Schwartz, MD & Annie Gottlieb

In an age of unprecedented affluence, personal freedom, and scientific power, millions of us–young and not so young–find ourselves emotionally and morally adrift. Even as our mastery of the material world reaches new heights almost daily, mastery of the inner world–of our actions, emotions, and deepest hopes–often tragically eludes our grasp. As families come apart, adults become bitter and emotionally detached. Children fall prey to a “culture” of sex and drugs, cynical materialism, and self-destructive nihilism. It increasingly seems that, in the piercing words of Jesus, we have “gained the whole world, and lost our own souls.”

In A Return to Innocence, psychiatrist and neuroscientist Jeffrey M. Schwartz–a Jewish student of both Buddhist meditation and Christian philosophy–combines 3,000 years of wisdom with cutting-edge brain and behavioral research to guide us in recovering our souls, our safety, our integrity and our capacity to love. After a 35-year experiment in unbridled self-gratification that has left a burden of tremendous suffering in its wake, at last we are ready to understand that innocence–in its original meaning of “not harming”–is actually the highest and most difficult of human achievements.

The lost art of self-command that empowers us not to harm ourselves or one another is the core teaching of humanity’s greatest spiritual masters, including Moses, Jesus, and Buddha. If we value our children, our culture, even our very freedom, we must return to true innocence as our source of inner lightness, clarity and spiritual power. A practical path to this wellspring of inner purity was mapped out 2,500 years ago by Gotama Buddha–in Dr. Schwartz’s view the greatest psychologist who ever lived–whose still-fresh insights into human nature can serve as a bridge joining the wisdom of the Bible to the discoveries of 21st century science.

A deeply felt, thought-provoking exchange of letters between “spiritual coach” Dr. Schwartz and sixteen-year-old Patrick Buckley, the son of a single mother, frames this fascinating, powerful code for living that shows how the best in each of us can thrive. Spiritual and philosophical ideas become hands-on tools for dealing with real-life dilemmas as Dr. Schwartz addresses Patrick’s urgent questions about morality, responsibility, and freedom of choice.

This book offers an empowering combination of hope, inspiration, accurate information about the biology of human nature, as well as desperately needed guidance for keeping that nature on a life-affirming path. To everyone–young and old–A Return to Innocence offers dynamic, concrete solutions for the pain in our hearts, the fear in our streets, and the cynicism that has corroded our ideals. It speaks directly to our longing for a decent, meaningful, and fulfilling life.

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About the Author Jeffrey M. Schwartz, MD & Annie Gottlieb

Jeffrey M. Schwartz, M.D. is Research Psychiatrist at UCLA School of Medicine and a seminal thinker and researcher in the field of self-directed neuroplasticity. He is the author of over 100 scientific publications in the fields of neuroscience and psychiatry, and several popular books including You Are Not Your Brain: The 4-Step Solution for Changing Bad Habits, Ending Unhealthy Thinking, and Taking Control of Your Life co-authored with Rebecca Gladding, M.D. (2011), as well as The Mind and the Brain: Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force (2002), and Brain Lock: Free Yourself from Obsessive-Compulsive Behavior (1997).

Dr Schwartz’s primary research interest over the past two decades has been brain imaging and cognitive-behavioral therapy, with a focus on the brain mechanisms and psychological treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Dr. Schwartz’s most recent academic writing has been in the field of philosophy of mind, specifically on the role of volition in human neurobiology.

After receiving an honors degree in philosophy from the University of Rochester, Dr. Schwartz began to devote a substantial amount of time to Buddhist philosophy — in particular to the philosophy of mindfulness, or conscious awareness, which revolves around the central idea that the mind is an active participant in the world and that its actions have a physical effect on the workings of the brain. He thus set out to find a scientific underpinning for the belief that mindfulness affects how the brain functions, and in the 1990s finally made his key discovery at UCLA. As shown on PET scans, a four-step cognitive behavioral therapy that he has pioneered is capable of actually changing the activity in a specific brain circuit of patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder.

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