August 2003 Founder's Letter
by Norman Fischer | August 01, 2003 at 7:57 PM
Muir Beach, CA, August 2003
I've been busy lately supporting the publication of my recent book Taking Our Places: the Buddhist Path to Truly Growing Up (available through this website). As I found last year with the psalms book, it is good to travel a little bit and speak with general audiences in bookstores and other venues about the things that matter most to all of us. Contrary to my expectations, this can be done. I have always had some suspicion about the idea of "the public," but I have discovered the obvious: that the public is you and I, awash in the middle of this overwhelming world we live in. All of us have the same concerns; we all live, love (or try our best to), and die. And we all want to try to be better people, and to help.
Writing the book was a struggle for me. I began it out of a desire to write about a mentoring project I did with four teenage boys some years ago, but in the process (nine, I think, re-writes!) the book morphed into a practice book that includes some of my most cherished feelings about spiritual practice. It's theme - taking our places in this world, manifesting our practice not only on the meditation cushion but every where in our lives, through our relationships, work, and ethical conduct - has turned out to be one that many people are vitally interested in. And the book speaks to the intention I had in beginning the Everyday Zen Foundation in January of 2000: that I wanted to participate creatively in the emerging new spiritual practice that I see cropping up everywhere. A spirituality that is inclusive rather than inclusive, and that honors the many sides of our lives without sacrificing commitment or depth. The new world we have lived in since September 11, 2001 only makes the need for this new kind of spiritual practice even more apparent to me. It's hard to imagine how we can get by without it.
The book also retains its initial emphasis on the crucial importance of honoring and working with young people, probably the most fundamental of all political acts. In telling about our small mentoring group I am hoping to encourage others to find a way to work with loving and in a heart-felt way with youth, the best way to ensure a future world that is more humane than this one.
This past year I've also been involved in two new projects that further Everyday Zen's mission to "change and be changed by the world." One is as a faculty member for Zen Hospice Project's new End of Life Counselor Training Program. This is a year long course for training health care professionals, chaplains, and psychotherapists in a spiritually based way of caring for the dying. We hope through this program, to turn out a cadre of visionary practitioners who will be of tremendous assistance to their patients, helping them to approach death as transformation not tragedy. We are also ambitious for the program to help change the way dying is viewed and treated in America. I share the faculty table with some wonderful people from whom I am constantly learning: Charlie Garfield (who started the Shanti Project), Ram Das, Rachel Naomi Remen, Rabbi Alan Lew, the transpersonal psychologist Francis Vaughn, and anthropologist and spiritual teacher Angeles Arrien, along with Frank Ostaseski of Hospice. Our faculty meetings are endless fun.
The second project is in collaboration with Contemplative Mind in Society, an Massachussets organization, headed by Mirabai Bush, that I have always admired. It's called the lawyer's project, and is a sort of think tank to work through how meditation practice and the perspective that comes out of it can be helpful to the legal profession, which is, these days, rife with problems both personally for lawyers, and systemically. With this project too I have wonderful partners. We had our first retreat last Spring at Sprit Rock Meditation center in Woodacre, with about sixty lawyers, judges, and law school professors and students from all over the country.
All in all I am managing, with all this activity, to stay out of trouble. Like many of you, I am anchored in my daily sitting, the weekly Dharma seminars, the monthly all day sittings, and the sesshins that come around every few months. I am lucky to have all of you for support: your practice inspires me and keeps me going.
Yours, Zoketsu Norman Fischer