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notable excerpts

I’ve finally finished reading Norman Fischer’s Taking Our Places: The Buddhist Path to Growing Up. It’s been a valuable read, and certain passages really spoke to me. I’ll excerpt a few here.  Various emphases are mine.


“The point of all this is to explore and try to understand what it means to be a grown-up. You might think that I know, or that someone else knows, or that it is obvious, but it is not obvious. I am not talking about received notions of adulthood, the magazine or TV ideas of it or your parents’ ideas of it. What do you actually think about it? How would you define growing up? And how does it come about? Just by time going by? Are all the adults you know really grown-ups? Is growing up automatic? If not, how do you go about it?


“In its truest and most literal sense, responsibility is simply the capacity to respond. Being responsible is an inherently lively quality. It is the capacity to react completely freely to conditions. It has nothing to do with control and conformity. Quite the contrary, responsibility is the willingness to confront nakedly and clearly what’s in front of you on its own terms and to be called forth fresh  by what occurs. The Greek root of the word response means ‘to offer, to pledge.’ To be responsible is to offer yourself to what happens to you, to pledge yourself to your life.

Being responsible in this sense isn’t easy. Because it is so active and creative, responsibility is the enemy of all forms of laziness. It requires discovery and self-transendence. To respond with authenticity, to really be present with what you life is, you have to let go of self-concern and preconception as much as possible and be true to your situation. You must have the courage to let yourself be overcome by what happens to you.

A mature person is someone who is willing to hear the call, no matter how faint or unexpected it may be, and respond. It is not necessary, however, to look around for things to be responsible for if nothing appears. But when something does appear, you are ready to respond with all of your attention and loving care, and with no excuses, no avoidance, no fanfare. You just roll up your sleeves and do it.


“As we catalog and define our experiences, cataloging and posessing them without ever really being posessed by them, we begin to expect that new situations will just be reptitions of old ones. Soone we feel as if we’ve seen it all before. We know what to expect. Our point of view gradually becomes a set of blinders rather than a searching flashlight.

But if we pay close and open attention to our experiences, life’s larger patterns begin to come into view. We see that all things are transitory and unique. Nothing repeats. We understand that, though always instructive, the past can never tell us what the future will be. Within the larger patterns that experience reveals there are endless variations. Insofar as we see this, our experience increases our wonder and appreciation of all that happens.”


As we become familiar with our weaknesses and all the trouble they have caused us, we are less dismayed at  them and do not run away from them as often. As time goes on and our self-acceptance deepens, the very idea of strengths and weaknesses seems off the mark because the closer we look the harder it is to distinguish between the two. All human qualities have a flip side: we’re loving, but we meddle; we’re fearful, but we’re helpfully prudent; we’re critical, but we are very perceptive. It’s all a dance. As we realize this, it seems increasingly silly to judge ourselves one way or the other.


Self-confidence isn’t egotism. Egotism is being stuck on yourself, insisitng, perhaps quite unconsciously, on seeing everything through the lens of your interests, your own intelligence, and your own views, capacities and opinions. With too much egotism, listening is impossible. True self-confidence is different. It isn’t confidence in your superficial self, in your views, capabilites, and resume. It is, on the contrary, the willingness to suspend all of that for a while in favor of a faith in yourself that goes beyond the surface of who you are.


The truth is that it is very difficult to have a positive attitude of persistence with the fundamental frustrations of life: everything we set up will fall down, and we eventually lose our family and freinds, our bodies and minds, to old age and death. Zen practice focuses on persistence at this level. Zen practice is mostly the practice of failure.

Practicing failure, total failure, is the ultimate practice of persistence. In Zen practice we come back over and over again to this point: right now, just the way we are, with all our problems, with all the built-in human frustrations that come from loss and impermancence and the final vanity of everything human, we are also perfect and everything in the world is complete. The only thing necessary is to embrace this point.

Of course we can’t do it. We always fall to one side or the other, either crying over our problems or, stupidly, thinking in a moment of transendence that we are beyond all problems. Many of the Zen stories turn on this point: how to see any failure as absolute failure, beyond any idea of success or failure.


i was gonna write more here but i’m done i think


About Justin Jacoby Smith

I’m Justin Jacoby Smith. Some people call me “hoosteen.” I live just outside Washington, DC. I like punk rock & country songs. I’m a data monkey. I Occupy DC, because a better world is possible. I’m a cohost & contributor for Voices of the 99%. I’ve served on the editorial board of the DC Mic Check. I briefly developed digital strategy for The Parley. I write poems. Sometimes I get published. Dig it.

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