In 2006， I was 50—and I was falling apart.
Until then， I had always known exactly who I was： an exceptionally fortunate and happy woman， full of irrational exuberance2 and everyday joy.
I knew who I was professionally. When I was 16， I’d discovered cognitive science and analytic philosophy3， and knew at once that I wanted the tough-minded， rigorous， intellectual life they could offer me. I’d gotten my doctorate at 25 and had gone on to become a professor of psychology and philosophy at UC Berkeley.4
More than anything， though， I was a mother. I’d had a son at 23， and then two more in the years that followed. For me， raising children had been the most intellectually interesting and morally profound of experiences， and the happiest. I’d had a long marriage， with a good man who was as involved with our children as I was. Our youngest son was on his way to college.
I’d been able to combine these different roles， another piece of good fortune. My life’s work had been to demonstrate the scientific and philosophical importance of children， and I kept a playpen in my office long after my children had outgrown it.5 Children had been the center of my life and my work—the foundation of my identity.
And then， suddenly， I had no idea who I was at all. My children had grown up， my marriage had unraveled6， and I decided to leave. I moved out of the big， professorial home where I had raised my children， and rented a room in a crumbling old house.7 I was living alone for the first time， full of guilt and anxiety， hope and excitement.
I fell in love and we talked about starting a new life together. And then he vanished. Grief took its place.8 I’d chosen my new room for its faded grandeur： blackoak beams and paneling， a sooty brick fireplace in lieu of central heating.9 But I hadn’t realized just how dark and cold the room would be during the rainy Northern California winter. I forced myself to eat the way I had once coaxed10 my children （“just three more bites”）， but I still lost 20 pounds in two months. I measured each day by how many hours had gone by since the last crying jag.11
I couldn’t work. The dissolution of my own family made the very thought of children unbearable.12 I had signed a contract to write a book on the philosophy of childhood， but I couldn’t pass a playground without tears， let alone13 design an experiment for 3-year-olds or write about the moral significance of parental love.
Everything that had defined me was gone. I was no longer a scientist or a philosopher or a wife or a mother or a lover.
My doctors prescribed Prozac， yoga， and meditation.14 I hated Prozac. I was terrible at yoga. But meditation seemed to help， and it was interesting， at least. In fact， researching meditation seemed to help as much as actually doing it. Where did it come from？ Why did it work？
I had always been curious about Buddhism， although， as a committed atheist，15 I was suspicious of anything religious. And turning 50 now and Buddhist did seem far too predictable. But still， I began to read Buddhist philosophy.
In 1734， in Scotland， a 23-year-old was falling apart.
As a teenager， he’d thought he had glimpsed16 a new way of thinking and living， and ever since， he’d been trying to work it out and convey it to others in a great book. The effort was literally driving him mad. His heart raced and his stomach churned17. He couldn’t concentrate. Most of all， he just couldn’t get himself to write his book. His doctors diagnosed vapors， weak spirits， and “the Disease of the Learned.”18 Today we would say he was suffering from anxiety and depression.
The young man’s name was David Hume19. Somehow， during the next three years， he managed not only to recover but also， remarkably， to write his book. Even more remarkably， it turned out to be one of the greatest books in the history of philosophy： A Treatise of Human Nature20.
In his Treatise， Hume rejected the traditional religious and philosophical accounts of human nature. Instead， he took Newton as a model and announced a new science of the mind， based on observation and experiment. That new science led him to radical new conclusions. He argued that there was no soul， no coherent21 self， no “I.”
Hume had always been one of my heroes. I had known and loved his work since I was an undergraduate.
Here’s Hume’s really great idea： Ultimately， the metaphysical22 foundations don’t matter. Experience is enough all by itself. In fact， if you let yourself think this way， your life might actually get better. Give up the prospect of life after death， and you will finally really appreciate life before it.23 Give up the idea of your precious， unique， irreplaceable self， and you might actually be more sympathetic to other people.
How did Hume come up with these ideas， so profoundly at odds with24 the Western philosophy and religion of his day？
As I read， I kept finding parallels. The Buddha doubted the existence of an omnipotent， benevolent God.25 In his doctrine of“emptiness，” he suggested that we have no real evidence for the existence of the outside world. He said that our sense of self is an illusion26， too.
I settled into a new routine. Instead of going to therapy， I haunted the theology sections of used-book stores and spent the solitary evenings reading.27 I would sit in front of my grand fireplace， where a single sawdust log smoldered， wrapped in several duvets， and learn more about Buddhism.28
1. midlife crisis： 中年危机。
2. exuberance： // 精力充沛，热情洋溢。
3. analytic philosophy： 分析哲学，一种哲学传统，偏重观念的逻辑分析和对表达观念的语言的研究。
4. doctorate： 博士学位；UC Berkeley：加州大学伯克利分校（University of California， Berkeley），位于美國旧金山湾区伯克利市，是世界著名公立研究型大学，在学术界享有盛誉。
5. 我一生的事业就是论证孩子在科学上及哲学上的重要性。我的办公室内还保留着游戏围栏，尽管我的孩子们早就长大了不玩这个了。playpen： 供婴孩在内爬着玩的携带式游戏围栏。
6. unravel： 解散。
7. professorial： 教授似的；crumbling：摇摇欲坠的。
9. 我选了一个新的房间，因为它有一种过时的气派：黑橡木的房梁和镶板，替代中央暖气的满是烟尘的砖砌壁炉。grandeur： 宏伟壮丽；black-oak： 黑橡木；beam： 房梁；paneling： 用于装饰墙壁、天花板等的镶板、嵌板；sooty： 烟尘覆盖的，满是煤烟的；fireplace： 壁炉；in lieu of：代替。
10. coax： 哄骗。
11. 自从上次大哭一场后，我每天都以小时为单位，艰难度日。crying jag： 大哭一场。
12. 家庭的分裂让我一想到孩子就难过得受不了。dissolution： 瓦解，分裂。
13. let alone： 更别提，更不用说。
14. 我的医生给我开了百忧解，又向我推荐了瑜伽和冥想的疗法。Prozac： 百忧解，一种治愈精神抑郁的药物；meditation：冥想。
15. committed： 坚定的；atheist： 无神论者。
16. glimpse： 开始领悟，开始认识到。
17. churn： 因紧张或惊慌而反胃。
18. 医生诊断他患有忧郁病，精神萎靡，以及“学究病”。vapor： 发自人体内对健康有害的郁气，忧郁病。
19. David Hume： 大卫·休谟（1711—1776），苏格兰不可知论哲学家、经济学家、历史学家，被视为苏格兰启蒙运动以及西方哲学史中最重要的人物之一，其著作包括《人性论》、《英国史》、《自然宗教对话录》和《人类理解研究》等。
20. A Treatise of Human Nature：
21. coherent： 始终一致的。
22. metaphysical： 形而上学的，玄学的。
24. at odds with： 与？？不一致的，相矛盾的。
25. 佛陀质疑一个全能、仁慈的上帝的存在。Buddha： 佛陀，佛教徒对佛教创始人释迦牟尼的尊称；omnipotent： 全能的；benevolent： 仁慈的。
26. illusion： 幻觉。
27. 我不再接受治疗，而是流连于旧书店的神学区，在独处的夜晚潜心阅读。haunt： 常到，常去；theology： 神学；solitary： 独处的。
28. 我会坐在大壁炉前，壁炉里一根木屑芯的原木慢慢燃烧。我会裹着几床羽绒被，继续研究佛教。sawdust： 木屑填塞的，木屑芯的；log： 原木；smolder：无明火地阴燃，闷燃；duvet：羽绒被。