Becoming The Future We Want
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Becoming The Future We Want

Becoming The Future We Want

by Ginny Whitelaw. Originally published on

Years ago, I was getting ready to open a dojo—a training place for Zen and Aikido. The date for our grand opening was fixed on the calendar and my beloved Aikido teacher, Toyoda Shihan, was coming to town to help us grandly open the place with a seminar. But our construction efforts were not fixed on the calendar and we were behind schedule. With only a few days to go, I was on hands and knees in my own amateurish way, laying out the hardwood floor for our entry foyer. This was going to take a while. Through the front door walked a stranger, a person I imagined inquiring about classes. I greeted him and explained it would be another week before we opened, but here was a flyer with information and how pleased we would be for him to join us. He asked me what I was doing and I told him about getting the floor in place for our grand opening.

“Would you like help?” he asked simply.

“Sure!” I answered, as most of our construction volunteers were available only at night after work and here it was early in the morning. He proceeded to work side-by-side with me for the entire day, with much more skill than I had, and the floor project took off. He came back the following day to help further. And the day after that to finish the job. I told him he’d be our guest of honor at the grand opening, but he never came back. Not to the opening. Not to classes. I never saw or heard from him again. Had he not been seen by another student I might have thought he was a figment of my imagination.

I have no explanation for that story, except that it’s one of the startling ways I’ve experienced the power of resonance true to one of its monikers, the Law of Attraction. I was determined to create a particular future and the very help I needed walked in the door. But I’ve also been determined to do many things that have not come about (or at least, not yet), such as becoming an astronaut or reaching 10 million leaders through our Institute for Zen Leadership. What’s the difference? What makes it possible to create a future we want? The answer is so close we may miss it: weare the litmus test for whether a desired future is possible by our ability to match the leader we would be, including the entire constellation of our relationships, when that future becomes present.

This question of how we create a future we want is not only key to leadership, but urgent in the world today. While many leaders may still be attempting business as usual, increasingly it’s a short-term play resting on a crumbling foundation of collapsing biodiversity, accelerating climate emergencies, pandemic disruptions, war, social and political upheaval, mass shootings, widespread mental illness, rage, outrage, and overwhelm. While no single leader would have wanted to create exactly this future, this is exactly the future our behaviors and relationships match. That’s why it’s present.

But leaders are often the poets of the future, the first to sense something in the Zeitgeist, something ready to happen that becomes an activating vision. Being able to reimagine a desired future is essential for leaders because it focuses energy positively on what they want, not on what they don’t want. In the research that has grown up around positive psychology as recounted in Becoming Supernatural, it is the combination of clear intention and positive emotion that is most likely to bring about a positive outcome. From a resonance point of view, this makes sense, as positive emotions correlate with a more coherent and powerful electromagnetic field around a person; it’s easier to imagine how a stronger magnet can be more attractive. Moreover, as energy gets focused—think of sunlight through a magnifying glass–little waves can add up to big ones that have real-world effects, like burning through paper obstacles. For energy to move the world of matter, it needs to build resonance, and that’s what leaders can do.

Once leaders imagine a future they want, how do they attract that into the present? Sometimes the language around the Law of Attraction can seem abstract and woo-woo, such as becoming a “vibrational match” to that future or creating an “energy boomerang.” While those words aren’t incorrect, they’re hard to put on a to-do list or into the body. But matching a desired future state is an eminently practical and practice-able venture. Here’s a way we approach it in Zen Leadership:

As an example of this process, say the future I imagine for my business is a flourishing company that thrives because we help our customers thrive, our employees thrive and the planet thrive. Centering myself and standing in that future, I am taller, more confident, and enjoy a deeper sense of connection with nature. I see many new relationships in our business with like-hearted organizations with whom we share customers, and who can provide what we don’t offer. I picture the talented people around me and how we’ve all grown as a team. I sense my top priorities, which are on a whole different level than what is consuming my time today. Sensing many areas where there are gaps and I pick a few to focus on that are logical next steps. For example, I might add a get-out-in-nature practice in my day to strengthen my sense of natural connectedness. I might get my team together for an offsite to share the future I imagine, elaborate it through our collective intelligence and commit to ways of closing the gap to being the team we need to be in that future. I might start building stronger relationships with like-hearted organizations, one per month.

This is not magical, mystical, woo-woo, but patient day-after-day training to become the future we want to realize. We are literally using ourselves as the instruments of resonance to conduct energy from a possible future into now. It’s that simple. But it’s not easy.

The more that desired future represents a departure from now, the bigger the transformation needed to bring it about. Looking back on my own dance with the Law of Attraction, it’s pretty easy to see that imagining that wooden floor down in the dojo was much closer to what was then present reality than is a vision involving 10 million other people. A lot more resonance has to come together and add up for big change to happen. And all change is nested within an even bigger context that may support or preclude our particular vision. That’s why it becomes crucial to keep listening to life and adapting our vision as we cycle through the gap-closing process, because our vision will almost certainly change, or may re-focus altogether.

But neither should we aim low or be bound by what experience tells us is realistic. When guided by a true sense of connection, such as fostered through meditation, intuition outflanks logic. Or as Jack Canfield, one of the chief “lawyers” of the Law of Attraction, would put it, “expect miracles.” Even short of miracles, inasmuch as the future we want to become fills us with clear, positive intention, the process of becoming it will itself bring joy. What better way to expend our leadership chops and precious life?

Ginny Whitelaw is the Founder and CEO of the Institute for Zen Leadership.

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