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Continuing to explore how Zen comes off the cushion and into greater service of a world that seems wackier every week.   – Ginny Whitelaw


Where have I been lately? In the French Alps with a wonderful group pulled together by Cris Nakano for a round of Zen Leader 1. Here we are above doing “neee” in the Mu-I Tai Chi. Once again, I’m filled with wonder at the greater sense of connectedness that people expanded into and the cohesion of the group as a whole. Once again, I’m struck by what’s possible over such a short period of time AND how few people invest the time in doing this depth of inner work that propels their outer work to a new level. We worked with that very paradox during the program, and I could feel into how completely complete the outer work can seem: how it can fill our days, fill our minds, fill every moment with another to-do or problem to be solved. I could feel into how the inner work can seem like a navel-gazing luxury, or be too hard to do when we’re already tired, and hard to justify to the families we temporarily step away from.

Doesn’t Zen leadership resolve this duality between inner and outer? Yes, Zen resolves all dualities, including this one, pulling us toward the unifying truth that our being is both revealed and sculpted by our doing. In a sense, inner work, such as Zen training, uses the present to change our embodied being for the future. While outer work, such as our job, uses our embodied being up to now to change the present. But if people believe the outer work is complete and sufficient in itself, they won’t see this paradox and they won’t seek, much less find, this greater truth. 

What’s wrong with just doing the outer work? As with all paradox, when we tend to only one side, we get into trouble. There are two kinds of trouble I hear about as a coach and teacher. One is a kind of meaninglessness, being perpetually busy, but not on purpose, feeling stuck in a job yet afraid of losing it, feeling adrift in search of the next promotion, financial security, or some kind of external validation, with no sense of inner compass. The other kind of trouble has plenty of compass and purpose, but gets exhausted by the magnitude of the work to be done,  frustrated by insurmountable challenges, and angry that the world isn’t more cooperative with one’s cause.

How does inner work help?  Because it improves our resonance. To resonate is to vibrate with, and productive inner work lets us vibrate with more of who we are, and ultimately our whole Self (for more on the upcoming book, Resonate, I invite you to the podcast below). Zen training, for example, becomes productive inner work by increasing our awareness and sensitivity, which means we literally vibrate with more of the energy available. It also reduces our embodied tension and constriction, which means more of our physical being vibrates coherently. Finally, it opens us to the possibility of Samadhi where inner and outer drop away altogether and we simply vibrate with the whole picture. As insight from such a state is translated into thought and actions, we resonate true to our purpose and true to conditions. Matters of meaninglessness or exhaustion fall away. What’s left is a more resonant being having a more resonant impact. I would wish this for everyone trying to make a positive difference – which is what we mean by leadership – whether they work for a living or a cause, for the sake of other people or the planet.

So that’s taking Zen off the cushion? Yes, you could say Zen comes off the cushion by being embodied in us, and changing how, with what, and with whom we resonate. Certainly there are ways besides Zen to do productive inner work, and the way Zen comes off the cushion can take many forms in our outer work. Yet what’s resonating with me is a sense of urgency to make known what Zen has to offer people working for positive change, that they can see that their important outer work needs the inner work, that no matter how completely consuming the outer work feels, it isn’t complete and we can’t let it consume us. This wild, uncertain, polarized, fake-news, unjust, inequitable, frequently violent, technology-turbocharged and heating-up world needs us resonating at our best.


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