Staring at the Sun: Overcoming the Terror of Death

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Written in Irv Yalom’s inimitable story-telling style, Staring at the Sun is a profoundly encouraging approach to the universal issue of mortality. In this magisterial opus, capping a lifetime of work and personal experience, Dr. Yalom helps us recognize that the fear of death is at the heart of much of our anxiety. Such recognition is often catalyzed by an “awakening experience”—a dream, or loss (the death of a loved one, divorce, loss of a job or home), illness, trauma, or aging.

Once we confront our own mortality, Dr. Yalom writes, we are inspired to rearrange our priorities, communicate more deeply with those we love, appreciate more keenly the beauty of life, and increase our willingness to take the risks necessary for personal fulfillment.

Customer Reviews:

  • Not my cup of tea
    I think death and religion are interesting topics to read about, so I thought this book would be right up my alley. While it focuses on a live-in-the-moment attitude, I found this book depressing and somewhat morbid. I am sure that this book is amazing to some people, but since I don't believe my soul is mortal, nor am I particularly existentialist, I didn't really find this to be a great read....more info
  • Staring at the Sun
    Very well witten, wise, touching book about taming death. A must for thinking and curious earth's inhabitants....more info
  • Opening fully to life through awareness of death
    Staring at the Sun: Overcoming the Terror of Death Irvin Yalom, M.D.
    2008 Jossey-Bass; 256 pages $24.95

    In wondering how to write this review, I took a cue from Yalom's new book. Writing letters of gratitude to those we deeply admire helps to bring life into the open and to express our true feelings that are often left unspoken, or put in eulogies or memorials after death. So this is my expression of gratitude to Yalom for his writing.

    Being a psychotherapist and one who works with end of life, he has given me so much that the depth of my gratitude is difficult to convey - all he has written has changed me. I am grateful to Yalom as a model of who I am becoming as a psychotherapist - his courage to stand out in the open and speak his heart allows me to trust what I see and to speak my truth. Where other supervision has failed, his writing has guided me through the most difficult cases I have experienced. He has the courage to face that from which others run. Courage comes from the Latin cor meaning heart - and Yalom has heart.

    Facing death - whether it's our own or a loved one - opens us to life. Ten years ago, when my mother was dying I remember sobbing as my father and I left the hospital. My father put his arm around me saying, "Honey, we all have to die someday". His gesture was not only a comfort, but an awakening. I have been working as an end of life counselor now for the past 6 years, and teach a course "Embracing the Inevitable."

    We are a culture that does not talk about death. By the time we begin thinking about death, it's on top of us. Staring at the Sun looks at death head-on with Yalom weaving together his story-telling flair of real life, along with his knowledge of philosophy, existential psychotherapy, literature, poetry, and film. For therapists, he reminds us to pay attention to symptoms that have their roots in existential issues of mortality, and to remain in the here and now with our patients. For everyone, he takes death out of the closet and puts it into the world where it belongs.

    Yalom sees both broad and deep as he walks the line on the cutting edge. His synergy of ideas, humor, and connection are a framework to practice everyday life, and to live more fully. For those brave enough to face the sun, Staring at the Sun is a trove of insights from years of practice.

    He deals with real problems - those of existence. Both in facing death and as a therapist who works in a real way - he has encouraged me to be more real with my clients and in my own life - to be in the moment and to stay focused on the importance of connection.

    I admire his brilliance, his wisdom, his breadth not laced with hope of an afterlife, but a pragmatic map along a road that we all travel. No training program prepares therapists for this kind of work. Often therapists avoid the topic of death, even though in this country someone dies every 13 seconds. Yalom encourages me to walk the tight wire between being with clients in a way we don't learn in school or internships and at the same time remain ethical - real ethics - not ethics based on a rigid one size fits all formula set up by licensing agencies. Keeping death as a companion allows us to see the therapeutic process more clearly.

    He reminds me to lose the role - it doesn't work when someone is dying and it doesn't work when someone is living. "No uniforms, no paradigms, no diploma, prestige, or pretense, no hiding behind the role." he says. These are the lessons we can learn from the dying - they are our teachers. They show us how to be present in the moment, they are the clearest mirrors - allowing us to live more fully; they show us the future and its possibilities.

    Our culture creates a silence and isolation around the dying, which grow more distant as we hide our fears from each other. We attempt to shut out pain by not hearing, speaking, or listening. In working with end of life, I know that dying doesn't have to be the lonely experience it's come to be in modern times.

    We are isolated when we don't show our fear of death, or our grief. New doors open when we can speak from the heart - reveal ourselves, our own fears, and to hold the dying one in any way that gives comfort - it is the opening of deep connection that overcomes death anxiety. In his Yalomesck way, he and the dying continue to remind me of the importance of human connection - it is the relationship that heals.

    Confrontation with death arouses anxiety that has the potential to improve our lives. The power of presence looks straight into the heart of panic. As a child, my father had me confront my fears - with all lights on and holding the edge of his shirt, we looked under the bed and in the closet for the creature - I was certain existed - that had long spindly arms that would grab my legs...pull me under...and we found none night after night, and with patience he had me look directly into the dark corners of my fear.

    Yalom reminds us that we need to ask certain questions in the face of fear, and to look at the relationship between fear of death and a sense of an unlived life. He asks - how well do we live? What will we regret 6 months from now, a year? What can we do now in our lives? These are lessons for the living. Feeling regret is a tool that can help us to take action to prevent further accumulation. How can we live now without building new regrets? Discomfort in the present is the best guide for direction.

    I love Yalom's style of writing and theories, what he has to offer. I savor every word. The philosophic view may not be useful to everyone, as he illustrates with a case example. But looking death square in the face is necessary if we want the fullest life possible. Walking side by side with death, we open to the mysteries of life. By facing death heart on, we gain greater clarity.

    I don't claim to know what happens after death or not - I am also a pragmatist - and perhaps go a step further than Yalom in where I find comfort. Being a lover of nature, what gives me comfort is watching the ever changing process as it unfolds through the seasons and to see myself in this place - as nature ever taking different appearances from birth to death, and am certain that when I die I will become, in some form, part of the earth.... so

    I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
    If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.

    You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,
    But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
    And filter and fibre your blood.
    ~Walt Whitman - song of myself

    So as with my father, Yalom's work has washed over me - "I have taken some part of you into me. It has changed and enriched me and I shall pass it on to others". And I continue to bob and float on the ripples of Yalom's work, and am grateful to him for his gift.
    ...more info
  • A good approach
    I agree with Dr. Yalom that the "soul" is mortal. It is a fact (although most deny it) that what we call the soul is an emergent property of our vast neural network. When that network (the brain) dies, so do the patterns that reside within it, which is truly all that we are. All available evidence coupled with the principle of Occam's Razor make this abundantly clear.

    Given this, it is important to come to terms with death as quickly as possible and learn to enjoy this life for what it is; the only life any of us will ever have. Dr. Yalom's approach to helping people get past their fear so they don't waste the precious moments in their lives is a breath of fresh air.
    ...more info
  • Equanimity in the face of death...
    Death is scary. A more profound language might call death an existential challenge, a deep and abiding well of darkness in the life of every conscious person...

    Scary means searing, in that a fear of death can be depressing, crippling, a drag or a disaster.

    Irvin Yalom confronts death by seeking equanimity in the lives of the patients he has counseled, and in his own life. His guiding philosopher is Epicurus, and his approach is to think about death as a balancing force within your life, as a reality to be lived with and even as a goad, or a spur, to living better.

    This approach offers what might be called a "good death", a death with dignity.. it offers a way to confront suffering that the overwhelming fear of death causes. The book is very wise, and the author has a wealth of experience and erudition communicated simply and in a useful fashion. This is a good book for we lay readers.

    There is an underlying belief system that Yalom brings, a thought that a belief in an afterlife is merely a form of fanciful compensation for the fear of death. Asserted with a casual arrogance in asides, this dismissal should have been confronted more directly. Choosing Epicurus is a grand chose for an atheistic or agnostic therapist, because balance in the face of certain death is all that one can expect or hope for... Yalom is careful not to offer Hope as a real alternative, because hope requires faith, some belief in an afterlife, of a sort.

    Lacking a belief in an afterlife, the best one can do is balance one's self carefully, stand on both two feet, and face the end with equanimity. This book can help you do that, can help avoid the searing scars of the fear of death. But it stops short of faith or hope, and a serious examination of your own faith will risk stepping back into the existential angst of despair, once again, if you take this next step, to examine belief, your own and that of religion, as a source of possible hope.

    ...more info
  • Don't fear the Reaper...
    According to Irvin D. Yalom, people can be so consumed with their own mortality that they become crippled by "unmanageable death anxiety." This disorder manifests in ways that include anxiety attacks, bad dreams, and depression. Dr. Yalom believes that this is a key psychological problem, one that goes even deeper than Freud's emphasis on sexual repression. Therefore, he's based his practice on helping people overcome this issue and enjoy life to the fullest. I found "Staring at the Sun" to be an intriguing and readable book, not to mention helpful for my own battles with this issue.

    It should be noted up front that the author is not religious. If his patient follows a certain faith, Dr. Yalom encourages his or her belief if it is helpful to the healing process. But he is a rationalist who is more in line with evolutionary thought and secular philosophy than with spiritual leanings. His treatment methods include guided dream interpretation, and encouraging awakening experiences as a form of existential shock therapy. Along those lines, Dr. Yalom advocates some of the philosophical teachings of Epicurus, Nietzsche, and Schopenhauer to help his patients come to terms with their mortality and cultivate the ability to "create the fate that [they] can love."

    There is much to like about this book. I admired the author's candor about his own fears of impending death at the age of 76, and how his struggles have enabled him to help others in the same boat. In addition, I appreciated the personal touch he brings to his practice, including appropriate self-revelation and a commitment to help his patients even at inconvenient times. I got the sense that he truly cares about them, but still manages to maintain appropriate boundaries without being rigid or condescending. Finally, his tactics of "rippling" (positively influencing others with one's life), forming genuine connections with people, living free from regret (or using what regret you have to avoid more of it), and internalizing life-affirming philosophies to achieve a holistic strategy for living well makes sense to me. Indeed, if he practiced close by, I'd make an appointment with him.

    However, I had a couple of minor blind spots with "Staring at the Sun." First, as part of treatment, the author recommends activities that his patients may already be doing - achievement, relationships, taking risks, etc. I inferred that internal motivation is the major defining factor here, but I wish he would've made that idea clearer. Along those lines, does eliminating death anxiety make one a better person? Changing selfishness to selflessness is a whole different ballgame. I'm not certain that curing the fear of death automatically makes one more altruistic. Nihilism is a danger here, especially if the patient takes a wrong turn into Nietzsche's darker corners. Also, he brought up some other tantalizing angles that I wanted to hear more about, such as the illusion of upward mobility. That's a key issue for men at midlife who are confronted with their mortality via physical decline and dwindling life options (like me).

    In "Staring at the Sun," Dr. Yalom has done an excellent job of defining the fear of death as a key psychological health issue, and also creating a successful path of treatment. More importantly, he's made his ideas available to a wide audience in an interesting and accessible manner. Even the chapter dedicated to therapists is, as the author recommends, readable by laypersons - especially since it will help him or her avoid a bad shrink and select a good one instead. ...more info
  • Facing Death Means Living Better
    Diabetes: Sugar-Coated Crisis: Who Gets it, Who Profits and How to Stop it

    Staring at the Sun helps readers face the reality of death and live more fulfilled lives because of it. I didn't think it would speak to me, but it definitely does.

    As I described in my first book, The Art of Getting Well: Maximizing Health When You Have a Chronic Illness, (Hunter House 2002, available on Amazon), facing death comes naturally when you have a chronic illness. I have multiple sclerosis (MS,) and the illness reminds me of mortality every day. So I knew a lot about the issues Yalom raises, but his wise words still helped me focus on making the best of the time I have.

    Yalom calls himself an "existential psychotherapist." He knows about all the psychodynamic issues and all the therapies, from Freud's psychoanalysis to Beck's cognitive therapy. But his approach is based on philosophy, not psychology.

    His favorite philosophers are Epicurus and other Greeks, mainly the Stoics. He also quotes Nietzche a lot, including his "thought experiment" - imagine you will live the same life over and over again, for all eternity, with nothing changed. How would that change your attitude toward life and death?

    Yalom's view is that most fear of death stems from the feeling of not having really lived. So the key to getting over the fear is to start living fully. He quotes Montaigne to the effect that all writers should have their studios overlooking a graveyard. It would help them focus.
    I'm taking this one to heart. Since my second book Diabetes: Sugar-coated Crisis, (New Society 2006, available on Amazon) I have been scattering energy on a lot of little projects. Now I'm going to focus more. Thanks, Irv Yalom! (If you want to see more about me and my work, visit Davidsperorndotcom.)

    Along with living completely, the author stresses connection as being crucial to overcoming death anxiety. People who feel alone tend to fear death much more. We need other people for life and also in death.

    A couple of criticisms
    My biggest problem with this book is that Yalom seems to accept certain attitudes as universal, when they actually have strong cultural influences. He says fear of death is genetic, biological. You can't avoid it. But some cultures (historically most cultures) have had much less fear of death, probably because it was so commonplace. Our modern terror of death is partly a result of death's becoming such a rarity.

    Not that our ancestors didn't fear death. Of course they did! But our modern culture makes that fear much worse, partly by pushing us to live relatively empty lives and gain satisfaction from consuming products. No wonder we get near the end and start to feel like failures.

    The other thing about Staring at the Sun, is that it's quite entertaining. The philosophy is illustrated by dozens of case studies from Yalom's career. You meet some interesting people.

    The book can serve as a manual for therapists and others working with people with death anxiety issues. There's a whole chapter on therapy techniques and other advice scattered through the book. I'm not a therapist; I'm a coach, but I learned a lot about therapy that will be useful to me in my work.

    Fear of death cripples millions of people. Living as if they're never going to die also stunts many people's lives. This book will help both groups, and be an enjoyable read for anyone.
    ...more info
  • Exploring your feelings towards death
    This book is an easy read that offers many examples of various peoples' concerns and suggested therapy for coming to terms with the subject of death. Topics include recognizing the anxieties of death and the numerous ways it is outwardly expressed, confronting those anxieties, and the multiple philosophies of death, which I found most interesting and enlightening. He also offers a chapter by chapter readers' guide for additional self-exploration. I think this is a thoughtful book to begin exploration of this subject. As a R.N. I was taught the Elisabeth Kubler-Ross viewpoint. If one has an interest in more information I would suggest reading her books(library)and also Rabbi Kushner's books (I'm not Jewish and his books are not religion specific). When I worked on an adolescent unit I had to come to terms with the difference between prolonging life and prolonging death, in conjunction w/ my anger at God for taking a young life before major milestones had been completed. That was quite a challenging and painful growth experience! In fact after 7 years I had to remove myself from it, but I think those experiences prepared me for my eventual parents' death as well as my own. Well on reflection, at least that is how I feel right now, as often how one thinks they will respond and actually do my be quite different. ...more info
  • Thought-provoking--and emotion-provoking
    I was drawn to Staring at the Sun out of general interest, not because I'm afraid of death--so I thought. But Yalom's stories were revelatory. I suspect this book holds wisdom for just about anyone, especially people like me who are trying to face the finiteness of the last third (or so--who knows?) of their lives. I was struck repeatedly by the ideas he crystallizes so effectively, and at times moved to tears by an insight that hit home for me. And I appreciate Yalom's wide scholarship which so enriches his work, seamlessly invoking great thinkers from philosophy and literature.
    I am not a fan of Yalom's writing style, too measured and simplistic for my taste, but easily ignored in view of the powerful content.
    But on the whole this is a book that I heartily recommend, and one which I will re-read and savor further. ...more info
  • excellent resource for hospice family the dying and clinicians
    reading yalom's work, "staring at the sun" is like talking with an old friend. his approach reflects his training, presenting cases and discussing them and his behaviors and insights. as an existentialist, yalom might focus more than the typical CBT-trained therapist on issues of identity, existence, and death. this is much more readable than his previous works and ought to be recommended reading for all those who work in hospice or other settings in which issues such as these surface. he is one of the greats whom i would love to know. his work is a gift to us all that ripples through us all! if there were one thing i would change, it would be that it might include more information from ernest becker's award-winning denial of death. while, itself, a dry tome, i appreciate why adding that scholarly information might not have suited Yalom's excellent work....more info
  • Recommended with reservations.
    In psychiatrist Irvin Yalom's new book on overcoming the terror of death and dying, Staring at the Sun, he takes us into his practice and shares the stories of his patients, whom he attempts to help using something he calls existential psychotherapy. Yalom is an amateur philosopher who has written novels about Schopenhauer (The Schopenhauer Cure) and Nietzsche (When Nietzsche Wept). He uses the insights of these men to help his patients understand and come to terms with their anxiety and fears.

    For me, the most interesting parts of his book concern his insights on the philosophers mentioned. He summarizes or quotes appropriate portions of their work as it relates to his psychiatric practice. I was so impressed with the value of this material that I read The Schopenhauer Cure and then bought a book of Schopenhauer's essays.

    The Schopenhauer Cure is the novelistic counterpart to Staring at the Sun. In this novel a dying psychiatrist uses Schopenhauer to assist his patients in group therapy. Again, as in Staring at the Sun, I found the biographical information on Schopenhauer and the summaries of his philosophy to be the most interesting and valuable portion of the novel.

    Not as successful, I think, are the many summaries of Yalom's work with his patients in Staring at the Sun. I would have preferred a tight summary of each case with Yalom's thoughts about understanding the meaning of death and how we can face it with courage and understanding. Perhaps the best example of effective counsel about the meaning of death comes from Plato's dialogues concerning the death of Socrates, who examines the possibilities of what happens at death and then accepts as good this end of life.

    Readers who are able to skim through the lengthy descriptions of Yalom's case studies will discover, occasionally, some wise words from Yalom and his favorite philosophers. They may find Staring at the Sun worth the time and effort. Recommended with noted reservations
    ...more info
  • Sun Burned
    If the many, many vignettes taken from his personal sessions are any indication, Dr. Yalom is an excellent therapist. His approach to patients appears to have enough detachment to be professional without losing any of the intense connection that therapy is supposed to both foster and maintain. His writing isn't florid or fancy, and he doesn't hide behind obscure terminologies or lofty proclamations.

    However, although the man himself may be accomplished (seventy-five years young, he has many credits and awards to his name), this book is not likewise accomplished.

    Whether you agree with him that most (if not all) neuroses stem from mankind's unavoidable struggle with death, it's hard find much in this slim and straight-forward tome that is either insightful or of much use. His basic point, if I may ruin it for you, is that we should accept our mortality as the ultimate badge of beauty, as that thing that gives any part of the life it ends a reason to be admired. Sprinkled liberally among these repeated sentiments are various exhortations for us to embrace intimacy with others, to find ways to allow our lives to ripple forward into a future that may only remember us by proxy, and to quit seeking solace in things that are unknowable (religion) or distracting (everything else).

    His points are certainly valid, but they aren't very unique or profound. Furthermore, much of his work here is self-aggrandizing to the point of distraction. I'm not familiar with books of this nature (I suppose you could classify it a "self-helper"), but it seems ill-conceived and beside the point for an author to go out of his way to laud his own accomplishments, whether he's casually mentioning that he started the first ever (to his knowledge) group therapy session for cancer patients, or whether he's compiling a list of the many, many people who have been aided by his therapeutic instructions.

    In fact, the section of the book that he writes expressly for other therapists (Chapter 7) is the most informative and interesting. Here he finally gets into the complex details of psychological mortality, he really dismantles the machinery of death's morbid fascination and shows us its nuts and bolts. Maybe I'm just a man who is far more interested in the explication of ideas themselves and not in the endless exposition that comes from someone who wants to show those ideas in action.

    Because the bulk of Dr. Yalom's book is nothing but how dozens and dozens of patients have come to terms with their own final stop, it ends up sounding both repetitive and cute. Examples are all well and good, but they are meant to propel larger themes, and here it is just the opposite. What the good doctor ends up doing is exposing the natural simplicity of his ideas. Simplicity isn't a bad thing at all, but it does make one wonder why he bothered writing a book at all, and he spends so much time quoting greater thinkers (Nietzsche foremost among them) and explaining their beliefs in unnecessary detail, that one gets the impression that reading their older and more established works would provide far greater illumination.

    I don't think Dr. Yalom intends the book to cure anyone's death terror; he seems grounded enough, at least, to know what his literature is capable of. But, in lieu of this, he has opted instead to provide some kind of impetus, a starter pistol for your own personal revelations. Ultimately, although his aspirations are admirable and his credentials sound, he does little more than pat his own back and suggest you find others to help you pat yours....more info
  • A good book of perspectives
    While I can't say I agree with Yalom on everything (I find pure existentialism to be a bit of a downer) he makes convincing arguments from his perspective, and I can see where he's coming from. I enjoyed the frank and candid discussion of death from someone who has quite obviously gotten over his own terror.

    One thing I very much enjoyed was the inclusion of case studies as a way of illustrating some of his points. It's obvious he's been putting his perspectives into practice, using the existential model as a way of helping people, regardless of background, to confront their fear of death with much success. However, he's also confident enough in his work that he also gives some examples where things didn't work quite so well.

    While I am not a therapist, I do intend to use some of the material in my own self-improvement. This is not a spoonfeeding book; it is not a workbook, and it's not full of exercises (though the back of the book has some questions to help the readers, especially laymen, to work with the material in each chapter). What it is, is a valuable source of brain food. It prompted me to think about how death impacts me--not just directly, but also in subtle ways. And it's gotten me to think about how I can confront death and turn it from something I fear, to something that I can accept will eventually happen--and that's okay....more info
  • Illuminating life through death
    In his classic Existential Psychotherapy textbook, Irvin Yalom proposes that many of our key struggles in life are based on the four ultimate concerns, or "existential givens," of: death, groundlessness, isolation, and meaning. In the same manner that his Existential Psychotherapy textbook helps therapists bring these four ultimate concerns into the therapy sessions, his Staring in the Sun book guides all of us on how to incorporate the inevitability of death into our lives. Paradoxically enough, Yalom shows that in order to engage fully in life, we need to confront our mortality and overcome the "terror of death." This book provides a collection of highly readable, affirming, and inspiring stories--from both Yalom's patients and Yalom himself--where "awakening experiences" have allowed individuals to view their own mortality in ways that enlighten--rather than blind--them.
    ...more info
  • Unflinching, brilliant, profound ....
    A brilliant and lucid discussion that examines man's revulsion at the prospect of death and looks unflinchingly at ways to cope. Psychiatrist Irvin Yalom offers an approach that he terms existential therapy to help patients deal with the dread of death. By so doing, he helps patients - and readers - liberate themselves from this angst and savor ever more life's poignancy.

    Drawing in varying degrees from philosophers such as Epicurus, Nietzsche and Schopenhauer, Yalom plumbs from real-life vignettes with patients to underscore his points. In one chapter, he trains the examination light on his own life. Yalom does not resort to any kind of religious faith as a death-coping mechanism. He does not believe in an afterlife.

    Yalom's approach I might sum up from an excerpt in his afterword,

    "Staring into the face of death, with guidance, not only quells terror but renders life more poignant, more precious, more vital. Such an approach to death leads to instruction about life."

    Yalom's writing is crystalline and devoid of jargon. This is not a morbid book in any way. It addresses a question common to all humans and one from which we are tempted to run.

    For the youth, death is often an abstract concept. As one reaches middle age and later, the faint contours of that distant shore start to emerge in finer detail. "Staring at the Sun" is a profound but non-dogmatic guidebook for that journey to acceptance and self-awareness.
    ...more info
  • Just shy of the unborn and deathless
    The old master of existential therapy stares back at the sun with wisdom, kindness, patience and fortitude. Though he does not console his clients with traditional notions of reincarnation or reunion with loved ones in heaven, he also doesn't deny beliefs that offer comfort to religious clients facing their fear of death. Instead, he turns to the ancient philosopher, Epicurus, who took comfort in knowing that since he didn't fear death before birth, death is really no different than the state before life. It works for some, but not for others. Yalom doesn't take a step beyond the existential realm to the transpersonal to challenge the illusion of self that lives and dies. Hence, neither he nor his clients encounter the realms of the unborn and deathless, which the enlightened mind apprehends. Still, Yalom gets close enough, and for this readers will be grateful....more info
  • A Powerful Way to View Life
    To begin with, I share Yalom's secular view of life and share, for the most part, his view of religion, though I am not an atheist, but an agnostic, admitting the possibility of something 'more' after death. Having said that, this book and its ideas can be used by anyone, regardless of their religious views.

    Yalom reviews disguised case histories to illustrate the priciples he used in helping his patients to overcome death terror. They are extremely interesting and, to me, very useful in understanding death anxiety and perhaps alleviating death terror. Yalom is an excellent writer whose prose is clear, accessible, and sensible. I recommend this book for anyone who is experiencing death anxiety personally or knows someone who is. I know I found it very interesting and useful....more info
  • Interesting and insightful
    I found the writer's style to be almost like listening to the man speak in person, a proof of the man's talent. I found his views on death to be refreshing actually and he manages to make the book inviting enough to read while still managing to retain the clinical aspect of death and dealing with the anticipation of it. A worthy read....more info
  • Poignant reflections on Overcoming the Fear of Death
    In "Staring at the Sun," Irvin Yalom, renowned author of extensive works on existential and group psychotherapy, has offered poignant reflections and insights on overcoming the fear of death. Ben Franklin once wrote that "nothing is certain but death and taxes," which is a reminder that our own human mortality is a constant reminder. Those who care for the dying hear consistently that consistently that people are afraid most of the process of dying, as well as the apparent finality of it.

    In this thoughtful book, Yalom puts forth that we can only overcome the fear of death if we face it, acknowledge its reality, and move beyond it. Then and only then can we liberate ourselves from death's power over us as finite human beings. "Staring at the Sun" is a refreshing integration of the psychology of coping with dying, along with insightful reflections from the realm of existential philosophy that is one of the foundations of Yalom's practice.

    This book fulfills the purpose for which Yalom wrote it, however, it is not a sociological analysis of death, or a purely clinical exploration. Neither does it espouse a traditional religious perspective. There are elements of humanistic philosophy in his perspective, but the crux of it explores the fear of death both from a psychological and existential perspective.

    There is nothing earth-shattering or tremendously new within these pages, however, it is well worth reading. Enjoy!

    ...more info
  • Very Insightful Book
    This is a very insightful book by a giant in the field of psychiatry/counseling. Yalom's ability to present theoretical concepts in a language understandable to the lay person is invaluable. If you counsel the bereaved or are a bereaved person youself, I highly recommend this book. The only caveat that comes to mind is that Yalom's existential/atheistic tendencies are presented through out. In my humble opinion, a person's faith tradition can be extremely helpful in their grief journey. The techniques presented in this book may be extremely helpful with intellectual persons/clients with introspective tendencies. All in all...a very insightful book for both the bereaved and counselors working in the field of bereavement. ...more info
  • This Book is Death
    IY "caught my attention" with case histories interspersed with selections from literature. Russian literature shows up a lot. Depressing subject! I think Yalom and George Carlin ought to get together and mix it up. Can we really discover or interpret the cause of our anxieties as our knowledge of our death? I am sure you can, but is it useful to do this? Therapeutic? His answer: "a confrontation with death arouses anxiety but also has the potential of vastly enriching life" (p. 75) IY gives a wonderful summation of Epicurus' arguments. It is interesting that IY argues religious arguments understood to reassure us actually make the terror of death worse. Also, the idea of "rippling" does the same. This does require the acceptance of the argument that there is no life after death. But I wonder. Contemporary physicists tell us that theoretically all time exists at once and is eternal. If this moment exists for all eternity, then in some sense my consciousness continues. (See Brian Greene's "The Fabric of the Cosmos" in the chapter titled "The Frozen River".) The power of ideas is an interesting chapter and his use of Nietzsche reminds me of his book "When Nietzsche Wept." Interestingly, I see a great deal in common between IY's approach and C. S. Lewis in "The Problem of Pain." Yes. There it is. "The way to value life, the way to feel compassion for others, the way to love anything with greatest depth is to be aware that these experiences are about to be lost." (p. 147) The subsequent portion of the book deals with IY's own history and is very touching. I will leave that. The advice for therapists is also good. In general, if "Existential Psychotherapy" was good theoretically, this book is good practically.

    ...more info
  • The Ripple Effect
    Yalom, as always puts a human face on concepts that can seem intellectual or psychological. I particularly liked that he not only offered concrete suggestions to therapists dealing with clients with death anxiety, but offered suggestions to all readers who may be struggling with their feelings of terror. Yalom's work is written in clear, concise and straightforward terms that are easily understood, whether you are psychologically sophisticated or not. I especially appreciate his discussion of his own death anxiety and his journey towards ameliorating his fears. He is definitely "rippling." I have turned my attention to how I, too, can ripple through the next generations....more info
  • "You Cannot Stare Straight into the Face of the Sun, or Death."
    Death anxiety is something every person faces. To know one's mortality is to be human. At 77 years of age, most of them as an existential therapist and philosopher, Irvin D. Yalom knows death.

    In his most recent book, Yalom pays homage to Epicurus, the Greek philosopher who contended the "proper mission of philosophy is to relieve human misery." And the cause of human misery? You might have guessed--our omnipresent fear of death.

    Though noteworthy, Yalom does not stop at referencing Epicurus. Yalom cites sources ranging from Socrates to the Jim Carrey movie Eternal Sunshine and the Spotless Mind.

    No Case Studies

    When it comes to therapy books, there are vignettes, and then there are case studies. The later make for a better read (though are more difficult to write). In the past, some of Yalom's best works have been case study oriented (Love's Executioner, Every Day Get's a Little Closer).

    It is a disappointment that this book contains vignettes, not case studies (no client-story last more than a few pages): effective for teaching about death anxiety, but less enthralling as literature.

    Something for Therapists

    While this book is written to reach wide audiences, Yalom knows therapists will read anything he publishes.
    Not to disappoint, the last chapter, "Addressing Death Anxiety: Advice for Therapists" provides a number of suggestions for the professional to "increase meaningfulness and effectiveness of the therapy relationship."

    According to Yalom, death anxiety rarely enters the discourse of therapy. Therapists avoid the topic because they:
    * deny its presence or relevance
    * claim it is, in fact, anxiety over something else
    * may fear igniting their own fears
    * feel too perplexed or despairing about mortality themselves

    Finally, Yalom leaves clinicians with more than sound clinical material. He leaves them with good wisdom:

    "When I keep my gaze fixed on the existential facts of life, I perceive no clear boundary between my patients, the afflicted, and myself, the healer...I am resolved to act in good faith: no uniforms of costumes; no parading of diplomas, professional degrees, and awards; no pretense of knowledge I do not possess; no denying that existential dilemmas strike home for me as well; no refusal to answer questions; no hiding behind my role; and, finally, no concealing my own humanness and my own vulnerabilities."

    Final Note: Online Counseling and Telephone Counseling have been found to be effective methods for providing existential therapy. To learn how to provide telephone and online counseling, try this handbook: The Therapist's Clinical Guide to Online Counseling and Telephone Counseling: The Definitive Training Guide for Clinical Practice...more info
  • Discussion of the Fear of Everything
    This book simply discusses, as the title implies, "Overcoming the Terror of Death." It also goes into the fears of other things, moving, starting a new job (my personal biggest fear), but mainly death. I think its more for people who are extremely anxious about death (which I am not), so, if you're in good health and aren't really worrying about death, this isn't the book for you....more info
  • Staring at the Sun
    Death is---Dr. Yalom presents some thoughts about death that are both realistic and hopeful. If we want to explore this event, this is the book....more info
  • An agnostic view of death's terror
    The root cause of misery, according to the Greek philosopher Epicurus, is our "omnipresent fear of death" Irving D. Yalom, the emeritus professor of psychiatry at Stanford University School of Medicine, and the author of "Staring at the Sun: Overcoming the Terror of Death," gives Epicurus' ideas quite a workout in his book.

    With its reverence for Greek philosophers, "Staring at the Sun" may prove useful to atheists and agnostics but is not likely to have much value or to offer much comfort to those with any kind of religious faith. Of course, those who believe in God and the promise of an afterlife in which rewards are given to the faithful and punishments doled out to the wicked may be less susceptible to the fear of death, but they are not immune from them. Yalom rarely acknowledges those with a spiritual anchor except to regard their beliefs as just that, an anchor to "soften the pain of mortality . . ."

    Like the psychiatrist he is, Yalom offers casebook examples of patients dealing with their fears. At times, the prose ("Let's examine why Pat's decision was so agonizing") reminds me of a book by another M.D. , Dr. David Reuben whose "Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (but were afraid to ask)" was reminiscent of those "hygiene" documentaries produced in the `50s and which are laughable today. There's nothing laughable about "Staring at the Sun," but I disagree with Epicurus and with Yalom that the root cause of misery is our fear of death. Our root cause of misery is our estrangement from God, and a fear of death is ultimately a positive force, one that reminds us that there are, as the Bible tells us, there are far worse things awaiting man than death, namely judgment.

    Brian W. Fairbanks...more info
  • Staring At the Sun

    Excellent book! Yalom is brilliant!!! and the journey he takes you on is so valuable in looking at the fear and wonderment of death.
    ...more info
  • Sunglasses on & ready!
    "Staring at the Sun, Overcoming the Terror of Death" by Irvin D. Yalom was a very quick read for me. I am curious of all views of death and thus was very excited to read this book!

    Dr. Yalom makes no effort to hide that he is not a religious man. He does not believe in the afterlife or reincarnation. However, I do not find this book offensive at all to those who do believe in these things. He simply offers his methods of dealing with his own death anxiety, as well as how he deals with his patients' fear of death in therapy. His studies of Socrates, Gilgamesh, Epicurus, and other Greek Philosophers are apparent throughout the book and he quotes them often.

    I found Dr. Yalom's methods very interesting. I learned a lot about myself while reading his book. I appreciate his view that it is up to each of us to decide how to live as fully, happily and meaningfully as possible. I appreciate this as there are those who use the "excuse" that it is "God's will." And mostly I believe we all need to take accountability for ourselves. {This is not to say that I do not believe that God's will exists ... just that I think it can be a crutch for some. For example, some believe that it is okay to sin, as long as they go to church on Sunday and pray for forgiveness. That God forgives is not an excuse to go ahead and sin. (Have I made myself clear here?)} Dr. Yalom expresses that he does respect persons of faith even if he does not share their views. And in writing this book, I believe he has done a good job of avoiding phrases that might turn the religious reader away.

    My favorite chapter was #4, `The Power of Ideas'. It speaks of Rippling, which is, "that each of us creates - often without our conscious intent or knowledge - concentric circles of influence that may affect others for years, even for generations ... much like the ripples in a pond go on & on." This chapter also poses the need to reflect on, "what if you had to live the identical life over and over again for all eternity?" What would you begin to change about your life RIGHT NOW!? I highlighted so many things in this chapter that the only way to do them justice is for you to read it yourself!

    I highly recommend this book to those who have ever pondered death and what it is all about. It discusses many issues as well as offering some of his patients' issues he addressed as examples. There is a lot to this book! It probably won't resolve all of your questions, but it does give one viewpoint worth learning.

    - 1smileycat :-)
    ...more info
  • Soul-food for thought
    This is a fine introduction to the subject, filled with a wide range of anecdotes and convincing argument (from a secular humanist standpoint -- others, for example, those with some religious beliefs may have cause to disagree with some of Dr. Yalom's propositions). In the end, the topic is not one that can be settled one way or the other with anything approaching conclusive finality; however, this is a worthwhile read. Some readers may wish to balance it with other perspectives....more info
  • interesting but disappointing
    This is a difficult review for me to write. I was prepared for some insights into death, how our culture deals with it, and how to rise above all that to live a more rewarding life. I didn't get that from this book. I prefer not to be negative about someone else's work, but there is much in this book I simply didn't like.

    If you prefer the worldview of reductionist materialism, then this book might hold something of value for you. The author makes it clear he is firmly in that camp, and believes that life is a meaningless accident of biochemical randomness, that our existence begins and ends with our physical bodies, and that the fear of death is the single central theme that drives all of life. If you buy that line of reasoning, then you will enjoy this book.

    The book fleshes out that theme with quotes from philosophers, (mostly old Greeks, especially Epicurus, with a few more modern ones thrown in here and there), stories of patient sessions, and the occasional book and movie quote. There is no research mentioned or cited, no scientific studies that bolster the author's personal beliefs, no mention of our advancing knowledge of brain and nerve chemistry, only opinion and anecdotes.

    The author's stories and exposition of his own feelings and explorations in the function of his practice and career are interesting and bravely revealing. Unfortunately, I think they are somewhat ill-conceived and shallow. It seems obvious to me as I read his accounts that he is not really seeing situations clearly, and allows his vision to be clouded by his theme of the centrality of death.

    For example, take the case mentioned of Jennifer being teased by her sisters with a song about death when she was a child. Yalom feels her adult problems are about death and his therapeutic approach is based on this idea. It seems to me the situation is more about programming a young and plastic nervous system with overwhelming stimulus firmly anchored to an idea, which just happens to be death. I believe that a similar situation would have happened if the song had been about something else, say eating too much and getting fat. The operative driver to me was the intensity of the teasing and the emotional distress it caused. Granted, I was not there and am not a shrink. Still, that is how it struck me. I have seen such problems dealt with in very short order with energy therapies like Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT).

    His approach seems too cerebral in a kind of Victorian, Freudian, academic way. Humans are not rational creatures, and the rational mind does not rule (although it certainly likes to think it does). Humans make decisions on emotional bases (as advertising and mind control types know very well), and the rational mind is used to justify things after the fact.

    I also find that his knowledge of current science is lacking. In more than one place, he points out quite clearly that he doesn't hold with "bizarre beliefs," like aromatherapy, homeopathy, astral travel, past lives, and many other things. Well, I have astral traveled and done past life regressions, and while they may be "hallucinatory" to some, they are nonetheless repeatable, controllable experiences. There are also quite good studies regarding the effectiveness of both aromatherapy and homeopathy. To call those two healing modalities "bizarre beliefs" displays an irrational prejudice and lack of study.

    I also think he completely misses the point of Scrooge's transformation in Dicken's Christmas Carol. I think it has less to do with death itself (since death for Scrooge was NOT the existential dead end of Yalom's pet theory, but rather eternal suffering for the harm he had caused), than it does with Scrooge letting go of his attachment to pain and the desire to make everyone else suffer along with him. Death is used as an emotional fulcrum by the "spirits" because there is no going back afterwards. Death cannot be bargained with or bought, which is Scrooge's usual method of dealing with life.

    The book is well written, and has many interesting comments and anecdotes. The author is obviously quite intelligent, but I feel that he is stuck in something of an academic rut. I didn't find any revelations or practices that would be helpful or enlightening about life and death.

    Again, if you like the dead, meaningless, clockwork universe of reductionist materialism, then you may find this book a great read. If not, I don't think you will like it.

    ...more info
  • An Anthropology of the Mind
    In his introduction, to Existential Psychotherapy, Yalom states "Yet I believe deeply that, when no one is looking, the therapist throws in the real thing'." Staring at the Sun ia a series of examples of his own "real things" trown into various therapy sessions. This is just one of many books (e.g. Momma and the Meaning of Life: Lying on the Couch) where Yalom explicates the different approaches to the death anxiety...more info
  • Seize the Day!
    This is a tough book to get into. That's not a knock on Yalom, whose writing is engaging and warm throughout despite a chilly topic. But who really wants to ponder their own mortality for 300 pages?

    But this is a book that, once you get into it, can change your life. I finished it two months ago, and I am reviewing it now because I've finally had time for it to sink in. I challenge you to read this book and not come away reconsidering your priorities, questioning whether the choices you have made in life are the right ones, wondering if you're letting your fears dominate your life.

    So much of what we fear, Yalom argues, is really our fear of death, of the transitory nature of existence, of the one way flow of time. And only by facing up to these realities, and to the possibility that this is all there is, can we wake up, grasp what a gift it is to be alive, and seize the opportunity we have in whatever time we have left.

    In short, this seemingly morbid little tome can wake you from your slumber and get you pursuing happiness again. Give it a shot....more info
  • Another Winner from Dr. Yalom
    Dr. Yalom has a way of writing non-fiction that can make you forget it's not a page-turning novel. I was introduced to Yalom through "When Nietzsche Wept" (which *was* a novel) and through this title, "Staring At The Sun." I have since gone on to read, "The Schopenhauer Cure"..."Lying On The Couch"..."Love's Executioner" and "Momma and the Meaning of Life." I cannot recommend Irvin Yalom's books highly enough for lay people and therapists alike. He is a treasure.

    Like so many others have said, "Staring At The Sun" will give you a look at death that is strangely uplifting. He deals with things as they are - not as some of us wish them to be. That includes death. It's gonna happen, folks. Fighting it off for as long as possible is looked at in a totally different light after reading this book. You'll find yourself "Staring At The Sun" and not feel blinded by the reality of death. This is an easy five-star book for me....more info
  • Non-sectarian view of the terror of death, and how to help
    Irvin D. Yalom's "Staring at the Sun: Overcoming the Terror of Death" is a good look at something that challenges just about everyone -- how to live with the constant fear of death. And to my mind, Yalom does an excellent job explaining why we have this fear, what we can do about this fear, and about the role of psychotherapy (how it can help, how empathy overall from anyone, a doctor/therapist or not, can help) in aiding to help us live with this fear.

    Yalom is compassionate, and writes from a non-sectarian perspective mostly because (as he admits in the book) he is an atheist. His belief about what happens to consciousness after our body dies is not the view of most spiritually-inclined people (religious denomination/spiritual path aside), and he says so up front. I found that refreshing.

    It is Yalom's compassion that makes this book enjoyable; in addition, Yalom doesn't talk down to anyone, yet makes the concepts he discusses completely understandable -- that's extremely difficult to do, that balance, and I felt he did it extremely well.

    I doubt anyone could write a better book on this particular subject, especially from the non-sectarian point of view; this is why I give "Staring at the Sun" five stars, and would highly recommend it to anyone wishing for a frank discussion of why we have this fear, and what we can do about it.

    Barb Caffrey...more info
  • Sane, wise, and encouraging
    Overall, a quite encouraging book, even inspirational at times. I found the idea of "Rippling" (Chapter 4) to be new and engaging. Rippling is Yalom's image for the ongoing impact of our individual lives beyond death, and if we are indeed "thrown" into existence (as Yalom's existentialist perspective suggests), then Rippling also offers a creative, playful image to assist us in "overcoming the terror of death." ...more info


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