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Sailing Home: Using the Wisdom of Homer's Odyssey to Navigate Life's Perils and Pitfalls

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Homer's "Odyssey" has a timeless allure. It is an ancient story that is significant for every generation: the struggle of a homesick, battle-weary man longing to return to love and family. Odysseus's strivings to overcome divine and earthly obstacles and to control his own impulsive nature hold valuable lessons for people facing their own metaphorical battles and everyday Homer's "Odyssey" has a timeless allure. It is an ancient story that is significant for every generation: the struggle of a homesick, battle-weary man longing to return to love and family. Odysseus's strivings to overcome divine and earthly obstacles and to control his own impulsive nature hold valuable lessons for people facing their own metaphorical battles and everyday conflicts -- people who are, like Odysseus, "heartsick on the open sea," whether from dealing with daily skirmishes at the office or from fighting in an international war. "Sailing Home" breathes fresh air into a classic we thought we knew, revealing its profound guidance for navigating life's pitfalls, perils, and spiritual challenges. Norman Fischer deftly incorporates Buddhist, Judaic, Christian, and popular thought, as well as his own unique and sympathetic understanding of life, in his reinterpretation of Odysseus's familiar wanderings as lessons that everyone can use. We see how to resist the seduction of the Sirens' song to stop sailing and give up; how to bide our time in a situation and wait for the right opportunity -- as Odysseus does when faced with the murderous, one-eyed Cyclops; and how to reassess our story and rediscover our purpose and identity if, like the Lotus-Eaters, we have forgotten the past. With meditations that yield personal revelations, illuminating anecdotes from Fischer's and his students' lives, and stories from many wisdom traditions, "Sailing Home" shows the way to greater purpose in your own life.You will learn a new way to view your path, when to wait and when to act, when to speak your mind and when to exercise discretion, how to draw on your innate strength and distinguish between truth and deception, and how to deal with aging and changing relationships. "Sailing Home" provides the courage you need for your journey, to renew bonds with your loved ones, and to make the latter portion of life a heartfelt time of spirit and love, so that -- just as Odysseus does -- you can defeat the forces of entropy and death.


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Homer's "Odyssey" has a timeless allure. It is an ancient story that is significant for every generation: the struggle of a homesick, battle-weary man longing to return to love and family. Odysseus's strivings to overcome divine and earthly obstacles and to control his own impulsive nature hold valuable lessons for people facing their own metaphorical battles and everyday Homer's "Odyssey" has a timeless allure. It is an ancient story that is significant for every generation: the struggle of a homesick, battle-weary man longing to return to love and family. Odysseus's strivings to overcome divine and earthly obstacles and to control his own impulsive nature hold valuable lessons for people facing their own metaphorical battles and everyday conflicts -- people who are, like Odysseus, "heartsick on the open sea," whether from dealing with daily skirmishes at the office or from fighting in an international war. "Sailing Home" breathes fresh air into a classic we thought we knew, revealing its profound guidance for navigating life's pitfalls, perils, and spiritual challenges. Norman Fischer deftly incorporates Buddhist, Judaic, Christian, and popular thought, as well as his own unique and sympathetic understanding of life, in his reinterpretation of Odysseus's familiar wanderings as lessons that everyone can use. We see how to resist the seduction of the Sirens' song to stop sailing and give up; how to bide our time in a situation and wait for the right opportunity -- as Odysseus does when faced with the murderous, one-eyed Cyclops; and how to reassess our story and rediscover our purpose and identity if, like the Lotus-Eaters, we have forgotten the past. With meditations that yield personal revelations, illuminating anecdotes from Fischer's and his students' lives, and stories from many wisdom traditions, "Sailing Home" shows the way to greater purpose in your own life.You will learn a new way to view your path, when to wait and when to act, when to speak your mind and when to exercise discretion, how to draw on your innate strength and distinguish between truth and deception, and how to deal with aging and changing relationships. "Sailing Home" provides the courage you need for your journey, to renew bonds with your loved ones, and to make the latter portion of life a heartfelt time of spirit and love, so that -- just as Odysseus does -- you can defeat the forces of entropy and death.

30 review for Sailing Home: Using the Wisdom of Homer's Odyssey to Navigate Life's Perils and Pitfalls

  1. 5 out of 5

    Barbara Rhine

    I read this book during a difficult period in my marriage, and found it to be of great help. Not only does Fischer tell us every committed relationship has intractable problems, but he also teaches so much about the journey of life. I worried that the story of Ulysses would be too male-centered to mean much for me, and I certainly did not want to identify with the waiting Penelope. But no--each stage of the myth held great import for every human life, including my own.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Samiam

    Plucking a hair from a bowl of milk.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Joe

    Thought provoking, useful, and beautifully written.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Debra

    Sage advise for living and realizing how important is every bit of your journey especially your way home.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Áine

    "The Chinese ideograph for forbearance is a heart with a sword dangling over it, another instance of language's brilliant way of showing us something surprising and important fossilized inside the meaning of a word. Vulnerability is built into our hearts, which can be sliced open at any moment by some sudden shift in the arrangements, some pain, some horror, some hurt. We all know and instinctively fear this, so we protect our hearts by covering them against exposure. But this doesn't work. Cove "The Chinese ideograph for forbearance is a heart with a sword dangling over it, another instance of language's brilliant way of showing us something surprising and important fossilized inside the meaning of a word. Vulnerability is built into our hearts, which can be sliced open at any moment by some sudden shift in the arrangements, some pain, some horror, some hurt. We all know and instinctively fear this, so we protect our hearts by covering them against exposure. But this doesn't work. Covering the heart binds and suffocates it until, like a wound that has been kept dressed for too long, the heart starts to fester and becomes fetid. Eventually, without air, the heart is all but killed off, and there's no feeling, no experiencing at all. To practice forbearance is to appreciate and celebrate the heart's vulnerability, and to see that the slicing or piercing of the heart does not require defense; that the heart's vulnerability is a good thing, because wounds can make us more peaceful and more real—if, that is, we are willing to hang on to the leopard of our fear, the serpent of our grief, the boar of our shame without running away or being hurled off. Forbearance is simply holding on steadfastly with whatever it is that unexpectedly arises: not doing anything; not fixing anything (because doing and fixing can be a way to cover up the heart, to leap over the hurt and pain by occupying ourselves with schemes and plans to get rid of it.) Just holding on for hear life. Holding on with what comes is what makes life dear. ...Simply holding on this way may sound passive. Forbearance has a bad reputation in our culture, whose conventional wisdom tells us that we ought to solve problems, fix what's broken, grab what we want, speak out, shake things up, make things happen. And should none of this work out, then we are told we ought to move on, take a new tack, start something else. But this line of thinking only makes sense when we are attempting to gain external satisfaction. It doesn't take into account internal well-being; nor does it engage the deeper questions of who you really are and what makes you truly happy, questions that no one can ignore for long... Insofar as forbearance helps us to embrace transformative energy and allow its magic to work on us... forbearance isn't passive at all. It's a powerfully active spiritual force," (67-70). "In a Zen retreat we have a format for working with these quicksilver changes: we sit with them, we pay attention to them... Being steady with mindfulness as an anchor for all the changes we go through is the way we practice forbearance. And you can employ this same method anywhere anytime: just pay close attention to the details of what is going on internally and externally. Don't flinch, don't run away. Trust what happens. Take your stand there." (71) "The only difference between meditation and non meditation is that when we meditate we are not grasping anything or trying to do anything: instead we are releasing ourselves to our lives, with trust that our lives are all we need." (78) "How can we know if we're fooling ourselves? How can we tell we've gone off track? What are the sure signs that show us that what we think is the journey's way is actually a seductive dead end? It's hard to say. We just have to pay attention, trust the feedback we get from inside and out, and be willing to have the courage to change course when we've gone off." (103) "Renunciation isn't a moral imperative or a form of self-denial. It's simply cooperation with the way things are: for moments do pass away, one after the other. Resisting this natural unfolding doesn't change it; resistance only makes it painful. So we renounce our resistance, our noncooperation, our stubborn refusal to enter life as it is. We renounce our fantasy of a beautiful past and an exciting future we can cherish and hold on to. Life just isn't like this. Life, time, is letting go, moment after moment. Life and time redeem themselves constantly, heal themselves constantly, only we don't know this, and much as we long to be healed and redeemed, we refuse to recognize this truth. This is why the sirens' songs are so attractive and so deadly. They propose a world of indulgence and wishful thinking, an unreal world that is seductive and destructive." (142)

  6. 5 out of 5

    Reid

    Part of being human is the lifelong search for meaning. What is a life for? Is there something we can point to as a universal truth? How do we discover it? Why must we struggle so hard? Norman Fischer uses what is perhaps the most well-known story in the entire human experience—that of Odysseus's return from the Trojan War, the Odyssey—as a frame and metaphor for the journey we all must take: the exploration of inner space in contact with this unpredictable, shocking, surprising, grief-stricken, Part of being human is the lifelong search for meaning. What is a life for? Is there something we can point to as a universal truth? How do we discover it? Why must we struggle so hard? Norman Fischer uses what is perhaps the most well-known story in the entire human experience—that of Odysseus's return from the Trojan War, the Odyssey—as a frame and metaphor for the journey we all must take: the exploration of inner space in contact with this unpredictable, shocking, surprising, grief-stricken, wonderful world and the life we lead within it. Fischer is a Zen priest, former abbot of the San Francisco Zen Center and the author of many other books of poetry and prose. But what informs his work here is not so much all that experience and knowledge but that he has lived a long and thoughtful life. He's been through what most of us must—pain, joy, birth, death, sorrow, ecstacy—and lived to tell the tale. Like Odysseus, we all must journey away from home (our true selves) in order to learn what we need to know in order to come back to that home again. Life, he amply demonstrates, describes a parabola of experience that begins and ends in the same place. This may seem like a pointless and exhausting task (and at many points Odysseus would certainly agree), but this book eloquently describes the absolute necessity of the trip. We may be back at the start when we finish, but though the place is the same, we are not.Dig a pit, pour libations, make a sacrifice, and then, in the nether world of dreams and automatic thinking, summon the dead (the past and its terrible mythic power) to speak to you truthfully. For lack of knowing such truths we fall ill.There is something truly poetic in the Odyssey of our lives. Sometimes they may not feel like it (nothing particularly uplifting about getting our teeth cleaned or watching our 500th youth soccer game, we think), yet it has all the elements of the great tales of old. Fischer is a wise and insightful guide and we are fortunate to have him by our side. It has been my experience with books of this sort that the framing story is brought to bear on the thesis of the book most strongly at the beginning and peters out as the applicability of the tale wanes. This work avoids this pitfall; Fischer has clearly thought through his topic and worked with it over many years (indeed, these are teachings her gave for quite some time before committing them to paper, so had ample opportunity to revise and refine). I cannot recommend this book too highly, though I must admit that, at the risk of alienating younger readers (when I was a young adult, I always hated to be told things like this), it will make much more sense to those of us in our 50s and beyond than to those who are younger. The fact is that the journey cannot be understood as it is being lived; it can only be lived. While this is a good guide to how one goes about the journey, it is at its best, and most profound, when it serves as a road map for where we have been.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Maggie

    an excellent book. i will be rereading this book for years to come. fischer analyzes the odyssey from a spiritual perspective of our life's journey: it's challenges and how we meet our challenges. primarily it is a spiritual analysis from the zen perspective but with great wisdom and tact fischer -- seeing the interrelatedness of all spiritual/religious paths -- includes the major world religions and their particular perspectives on life and its challenges. metaphorical analysis (over literal st an excellent book. i will be rereading this book for years to come. fischer analyzes the odyssey from a spiritual perspective of our life's journey: it's challenges and how we meet our challenges. primarily it is a spiritual analysis from the zen perspective but with great wisdom and tact fischer -- seeing the interrelatedness of all spiritual/religious paths -- includes the major world religions and their particular perspectives on life and its challenges. metaphorical analysis (over literal story-telling) at its finest. highly recommended. gifts of this book will be distributed. happily.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Brian

    Sailing home beautifully weaves the tale of the Odyssey and Buddhist thought into a coherent whole. The narrative guides you through the obstacles and setbacks that occur in every life, and provides perspective to help you examine them more fully. Ultimately the book is an inspiring manual for living a more awakened life. Some of the meditation exercises feel a bit too precious at times, but mostly they are quite worthwhile. Even at the times when they aren't enhancing the book, they do not detra Sailing home beautifully weaves the tale of the Odyssey and Buddhist thought into a coherent whole. The narrative guides you through the obstacles and setbacks that occur in every life, and provides perspective to help you examine them more fully. Ultimately the book is an inspiring manual for living a more awakened life. Some of the meditation exercises feel a bit too precious at times, but mostly they are quite worthwhile. Even at the times when they aren't enhancing the book, they do not detract from it.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Karl Nehring

    Norman Fischer uses Homer's Odyssey to offer reflections on how to live, how to meditate, how to forgive, how to die, and how to be. Although he writes from the perspective of Zen Buddhism, he also weaves in Jewish and Christian perspectives. One need not be Buddhist -- nor a scholar of Homer -- to appreciate and benefit from the insights into living and dying that Fischer offers. Moreover, his prose is straightforward and lucid, generously seasoned with stories, verses, and quotations from both Norman Fischer uses Homer's Odyssey to offer reflections on how to live, how to meditate, how to forgive, how to die, and how to be. Although he writes from the perspective of Zen Buddhism, he also weaves in Jewish and Christian perspectives. One need not be Buddhist -- nor a scholar of Homer -- to appreciate and benefit from the insights into living and dying that Fischer offers. Moreover, his prose is straightforward and lucid, generously seasoned with stories, verses, and quotations from both sages and everyday folks. To read this book is to be entertained, educated, and uplifted.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Mike Angelillo

    Sailing home uses the Homer epic of the Odyssey to as a background to teach the essential lessons of Buddhism. The book is very well written and appeals to me because of my love of epics and the lessons taught. The prayer which closes the book (and is used earlier) is simply beautiful. Outside of the spiritual aspect of the book, I also think it provides a wider understanding and interpretation of the Odyssey.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Harley

    I'll be reading this again, because I rushed through it without stopping to take in the wisdom in any depth. (Besides, Norman Fischer is the guiding teacher of our local sangha, and comes for retreats several times a year.) He takes the story of Odysseus' voyage home to Ithica as a blueprint for our return to ourselves in our maturity, with the trials we must go through. Fascinating. I'll be reading this again, because I rushed through it without stopping to take in the wisdom in any depth. (Besides, Norman Fischer is the guiding teacher of our local sangha, and comes for retreats several times a year.) He takes the story of Odysseus' voyage home to Ithica as a blueprint for our return to ourselves in our maturity, with the trials we must go through. Fascinating.

  12. 5 out of 5

    40for20

    I've had the pleasure of hearing Norman Fischer live and enjoyed his book just as much as his talk. Thought-provoking, interesting and inspiring. I'm looking forward to re-reading the Odyssey with the lessons of this book in mind. I've had the pleasure of hearing Norman Fischer live and enjoyed his book just as much as his talk. Thought-provoking, interesting and inspiring. I'm looking forward to re-reading the Odyssey with the lessons of this book in mind.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Mb

    I really enjoyed this book. It's easy to read and makes you think about life, how we relate to others and what we do with our time. No matter your religion this book gives you something to think about. I really enjoyed this book. It's easy to read and makes you think about life, how we relate to others and what we do with our time. No matter your religion this book gives you something to think about.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Patrick

    just wonderful. the perspectives offered breathe new life into the already rich classic for me. mr fischer illuminates areas i did not realize were present in this book and reading them now helps me understand why it has been one of my favorite stories of all time.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Anne

    I got about 80 pages into it and couldn't seem to maintain my interest. I'm not sure if I'd get more out of it if I'd read the "Odyssey" rather than rely on my general knowledge of the story. I had high hopes as the book was rated highly. Maybe someday I can get back to it. I got about 80 pages into it and couldn't seem to maintain my interest. I'm not sure if I'd get more out of it if I'd read the "Odyssey" rather than rely on my general knowledge of the story. I had high hopes as the book was rated highly. Maybe someday I can get back to it.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Cecilia Moar

    I wept on account of this book in the main reading room of the New York Public Library. The clarity of NF's prose is astounding. I challenge anyone to read this and not remain deeply moved. A classic tale retold in a fresh and pertinent manner - just right for our contemporary environment. I wept on account of this book in the main reading room of the New York Public Library. The clarity of NF's prose is astounding. I challenge anyone to read this and not remain deeply moved. A classic tale retold in a fresh and pertinent manner - just right for our contemporary environment.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Hannahdanielhotmail.com

    Insightful reading of Homer's epic poem The Oddessey. Imagining ourselves as the returning hero gives us perspective on our lives. The benefit of meditation is carefully woven into the text via the author's personal anecdotes. Very down to earth read! Insightful reading of Homer's epic poem The Oddessey. Imagining ourselves as the returning hero gives us perspective on our lives. The benefit of meditation is carefully woven into the text via the author's personal anecdotes. Very down to earth read!

  18. 5 out of 5

    Fred Sampson

    It took me two tries to actually get through "Sailing Home." I think it was easier this time because I've been reconsidering the literature of voyaging, about which I started creating a syllabus many years ago. So, finally finished during my week of reading at Lake Tahoe. It took me two tries to actually get through "Sailing Home." I think it was easier this time because I've been reconsidering the literature of voyaging, about which I started creating a syllabus many years ago. So, finally finished during my week of reading at Lake Tahoe.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Patti Summerville

    Liked it tho' it did drone on toward the end. Liked it tho' it did drone on toward the end.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jen

    Recommended by Jaime in bookclub

  21. 5 out of 5

    Matthieu

    very nice book ; easy read, giving a Zen perspective on the Odyssey. Recaps and explains the different main passages of the trip.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Gillian

    I'm on page 75 of this book and find myself unable to rush through the pages. I would be a zen master in another life. I'm on page 75 of this book and find myself unable to rush through the pages. I would be a zen master in another life.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Sue

    Thoughtful, clear, relevant

  24. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    Loved this book about looking at life's passages in a spiritual way, through the lens of the Odyssey. Loved this book about looking at life's passages in a spiritual way, through the lens of the Odyssey.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Judy

    A Zen interpretation of The Odyssey, this book re-tells one of the greatest stories of all time while inviting personal reflection and contemplation. Highly recommend!

  26. 5 out of 5

    Melanie

    I really liked the concept reading the Odyssey from a Buddhist perspective, but towards the end, the idea kinda fell apart and to me came across as bit stretched.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Tom

    Thought provoking and insightful. The Odyssey through the eyes of a Jewish Zen priest. I liked it.

  28. 4 out of 5

    John

    Nice blend of zen , journey and the power of Greek myth.... should of had this when I taught the Odyssey in College!!!

  29. 4 out of 5

    Sol

    Love keeps us grounded

  30. 5 out of 5

    Sol

    Can not wait to read it again.. Every time I love something different ... Homer a human like No other ...

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