Taking Our Places

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This engaging contemplation of maturity addresses the long neglected topic of what it means to grow up, and provides a hands–on guide for skilfully navigating the demands of our adult lives.

Growing up happens whether we like it or not, but maturity must be cultivated. Challenged to consider his own sense of maturity while mentoring a group of teenage boys, Fischer began to investigate our preconceptions about what it means to be "an adult" and shows how crucial true maturity is...

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This engaging contemplation of maturity addresses the long neglected topic of what it means to grow up, and provides a hands–on guide for skilfully navigating the demands of our adult lives.

Growing up happens whether we like it or not, but maturity must be cultivated. Challenged to consider his own sense of maturity while mentoring a group of teenage boys, Fischer began to investigate our preconceptions about what it means to be "an adult" and shows how crucial true maturity is to leading an engaged, fulfilled life. Taking Our Places details the marks of a mature person and shows how these attributes can help alleviate our suffering and enrich our relationships. Discussing such qualities as awareness, responsibility, humour, acceptance, and humility, Fischer brings a fresh and at times surprising new perspective that can turn old ideas on their heads and reinvigorate our understanding of what it means to be mature.

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Editorial Reviews

Jack Kornfield
“Thoughtful, wise, considered, beautiful. Helps you ask the questions of the heart.”
Joseph Goldstein
“Taking Our Places is wise, compassionate, poetic, and deeply moving. Growing up (at any age) at its best.”
Sharon Salzberg
“A beautiful expression of deep spiritual maturity by a teacher whose wisdom shines brightly on every page.”
Sylvia Boorstein
“Zen-like in its elegant simplicity, this wonderfully wise presentation of maturity is inspirational.”
Jon Kabat-Zinn
“Remarkably profound, moving, and far-ranging....Every word is an occasion to align yourself in the most practical of ways with what it might mean for you to be your best self and follow a path of wise action, compassion, and integrity.”
Rabbi - Alan Lew
"Warm and endlessly wise... offers indispensable answers to the only question worth asking; What do we do with this life?"
Noah Levine
“This book beautifully illustrates that true maturity is more than a physical endeavor, it is a lifetime process.”
Charlotte Joko Beck
“A refreshing book! For anyone who has struggled with their practice amid the complexities, frustrations, and ambiguities of real life.”
Mark Epstein
“Fischer offers us a lifetime of experience in making sense of Zen.”
Rabbi Alan Lew
“Warm and endlessly wise... offers indispensable answers to the only question worth asking; What do we do with this life?”
Jewish Bulletin
“Remarkable for its clarity in expressing complex concepts... this work focuses Fischer’s intellectual power into visceral, emotional reading.”
Jewish Bulletin
“Remarkable for its clarity in expressing complex concepts... this work focuses Fischer’s intellectual power into visceral, emotional reading.”
Publishers Weekly
"We usually take maturity for granted-one of life's givens," says Fischer, a former abbot of the San Francisco Zen Center. Many people equate biological age with spiritual maturity, a fundamental mistake. In this warm and simple book, Fischer draws from his experience as a spiritual mentor to four teenage boys and his well-honed dharma knowledge to impart nuggets of wisdom about "truly growing up." While the book draws most heavily upon Buddhist examples-particularly the guru-disciple relationships that are a staple of the Zen tradition-it is wide-reaching in its approach, and would be accessible to people from other faith traditions or no faith tradition. There are Jewish talmudic stories and Christian examples, as well as relevant illustrations from popular culture and Fischer's own life. Fischer explores several values and activities that contribute to spiritual maturity, including listening, persistence, connection, meditation, vowing, and right conduct. Overall, he says, these values help people cultivate responsibility-the ability to respond appropriately in changing situations. While there's nothing that is earth-shattering in all this, the book has a freshness forged out of its stubborn insistence that spiritual maturity is something to consciously strive for. As Fischer writes, "The journey to adulthood can be lackluster if we only drift, but it can be profoundly valuable if we completely say yes to it and are willing to travel on wholeheartedly." (May) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Fischer, former abbot of the San Francisco Zen Center, and Brach, a clinical psychologist and Insight Meditation teacher, draw on years of experience as Buddhist practitioners to help form their respective theses. Fischer bases his discussion on an examination of what it truly means to be mature. Having taken on the task of mentoring a group of adolescent boys, Fischer describes how the process informed and was informed by his spiritual practice, leading him to the conclusion that genuine spiritual practice naturally reflects a genuine maturity. Brach takes as her starting point what she refers to as the "trance of unworthiness," in which we consider ourselves somehow damaged or incomplete. Working with Buddhist ideas of compassion and mindfulness, she describes "radical acceptance" as the path that can lead to a more open and fulfilling life. In both cases, the grounding in Buddhism helps the authors guide those who have entrusted themselves to their care. Of the two books, Fischer's has more to do with Buddhism directly, treating such things as Buddhist precepts, meditation, and the notion of vowing, but finally it has a greater affinity with self-help and pop psychology titles than with Buddhist philosophy or practice. This is even more true of the Brach title, as her tone is more logical and oriented toward psychology. While experienced practitioners will recognize her concepts, drawn largely from Insight Meditation, the language and methodology and the numerous case studies tend to blur the distinctions between clinical psychology and Buddhist practice. Neither title breaks any new ground, and neither will satisfy readers seeking to clarify their ideas about Buddhist practice. But both books have merit as sources of encouragement and support for readers and would be suitable for public libraries with an interest in self-improvement titles.-Mark Woodhouse, Elmira Coll. Lib., NY Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060587192
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 5/4/2004
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 208
  • Sales rank: 672,466
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.47 (d)

Meet the Author

Norman Fischer is a Zen priest, teacher, poet, former abbot of San Francisco Zen Center, and founder of The Everyday Zen Foundation, an organization created to broaden the reach of engaged Buddhist practice. Fischer leads retreats and workshops across the country and in Canada and Mexico. He is the author of Opening to You: Zen-Inspired Translations of the Psalms, and has published several books of poetry. In addition to giving Zen lectures and retreats, he leads Jewish meditation classes and is also actively involved in interfaith dialogue.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: Ryokan's Tears 1
1 Meeting 7
2 Maturity 15
3 Listening 41
4 Persistence 63
5 Connection 85
6 Meditation 105
7 Vowing 123
8 Conduct 141
Afterword: Buddha's Smile 185
Selected Mentoring Resources 197
Acknowledgments 198
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First Chapter

Taking Our Places
The Buddhist Path to Truly Growing Up



We have been given in the best way we could.

When I think about the world of the future, with so many difficult choices ahead, I know that only mature people will be able to deal with what arises. I am heartened by the many people I know -- young and old alike -- who are concerned with their own maturity and willing to work toward it with full courage and energy. The development of human maturity does take much work and effort. But I am sure we are all capable of doing the work and enjoying its fruits. Maturity can't be hurried or produced on schedule. Growth takes time. We have to steep ourselves for a while, like a good cup of tea. We need to go through what's necessary for us to endure. We need time and commitment. Probably we also need some luck. But most of all we need encouragement and vision and mentors, grown-ups in our lives who can help.

Our particular lineage of Zen, founded by Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, puts little emphasis on enlightenment. It's not that we are unconcerned about enlightenment or that we are opposed to it. Enlightenment is certainly important. Personally seeing the truth of the teachings, breaking through the habit of self-centeredness, opening out to something much wider, and having some clarity and flexibility -- all of this is crucial. But just as important, or more important, as a sign of readiness to teach Zen is a person's simple human maturity. Maybe someone is not very enlightened, or not enlightened at all. But if he or she is mature, it is good enough, for as Suzuki Roshi taught us, it is the ongoing practice, carried out with balance, faith, perseverance, kindness, and willingness to reach out to others, that is the most important thing. To practice like this takes a quiet and stable maturity.

It is humbling to realize what an immense job it is to truly accept the task of being human. There is so much room for growth and improvement, and the journey is endless. When you consider the lives of exemplary human beings -- those who, like Jesus or Buddha, gave themselves totally to their paths -- you begin to get a feeling for the depth and breadth that is not only possible but called for in each of us. It's a challenge, maybe even an impossible challenge, but one that all of us have to undertake, for our humanness demands it of us and won't let us settle for less.

Really growing up, becoming truly yourself -- this takes openness and receptivity, inspiration, a loving heart, stability and persistence, trust in the world and in yourself. It takes a peaceful mind, but also an active, decisive, and courageous mind. It takes knowing how to live, knowing how to choose, and knowing how to share those choices with others.

What I have to say about all of this comes from my practice and experience through the years, but it is certainly not the last word. There is no last word. Maturity must be contemplated by each of us thoughtfully, and through action, as our lives unfold.

I think most of us are terrified by the idea of growing up -- or would be if we ever considered the idea seriously. Mostly we don't. We usually take maturity for granted, as one of life's givens. You reach a certain age, you get out of school, you get a job, maybe you marry or settle down, maybe not, but time goes by and you're a grown-up. You get a diploma, a credit card, a job, a car, a house or apartment. After you acquire these emblematic prizes, each of which feels like a milestone, you are there. You are an adult. What more is there to it than that? We think growing up, becoming a mature human being, is natural, almost biological, something we all do automatically simply by virtue of the passage of years and the natural course of things. Life happens to us and we go along with it, and there we are, grown up, developed, wise people.

But like so many other commonplace notions that people in the past did not particularly feel a need to examine (like getting married and having children, choosing a profession and staying with it your whole life), what it means to be a grown-up is something that we today, for better or worse, are being forced to take a fresh look at as the confusion and dissatisfaction of our culture and of our personal lives becomes ever more apparent.

And when we do contemplate the question of what it really means to be an adult, fear sets in. We recognize that despite our social position or accomplishments, despite our relationships, our education, and our psychological astuteness, we really don't know what we are doing with our lives. Where is our life going? What is the purpose for which we were born, the fulfillment we deeply seek? We look like grown-ups, we talk like grown-ups, maybe we have grown-up bank accounts and grown-up responsibilities -- but do we really have any idea what we are about?

And if, after much struggle, we think we know the answers to such questions, we are forced to ask another, more agonizing question: Are we living those answers? Or do our lives, in the light of those answers, seem like afterthoughts, like still unformed story lines?

Questions like these about the real meaning of growing up were on the minds of four couples in our Zen community. They all had sons about the same age, from eleven to thirteen, and they were concerned about the rocky transition into young adulthood the boys would soon be facing as they entered their teenage years and began to move through high school. So the parents began a series of conversations ...

Taking Our Places
The Buddhist Path to Truly Growing Up
. Copyright © by Norman Fischer. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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