Taking Our Places

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  • Edition: Reprint
  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2009-11-12
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publications
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Supplemental Materials

What is included with this book?


This engaging contemplation of maturity addresses the long neglected topic of what it means to grow up, and provides a handson 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.

Author Biography

Norman Fischer is a Zen priest, teacher, poet, former abbot of the San Francisco Zen Center, and founder of The Everyday Zen Foundation. Fischer leads retreats and workshops across the country, and he is the author of Opening to You: Zen-Inspired Translations of the Psalms and several books of poetry

Table of Contents

Introduction RYOKAN'S TEARS 1(6)
One MEETING 7(8)
Two MATURITY 15(26)
Three LISTENING 41(22)
Five CONNECTION 85(20)
Six MEDITATION 105(18)
Seven VOWING 123(18)
Eight CONDUCT 141(44)
Afterword BUDDHA'S SMILE 185(12)
Selected Mentoring Resources 197(1)
Acknowledgments 198


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.

Excerpted from Taking Our Places: The Buddhist Path to Truly Growing Up by Norman Fischer
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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