Bob Caron sees a resolution to the gap between our desire for stability and the constant change of the world around us – June 2021
It’s not surprising in an environment where almost everything around us is changing nearly constantly, that our species is so attached to keeping things the same. Reminiscent of Newton’s third law, our equal and opposite reaction to constant change is a vigilance to hold onto something that isn’t changing. However, our feeble attempts at holding on don’t do us much good. You’d think that after several decades or more of this game we’d finally learn our lesson – but most of us don’t – and even those of us who are consciously aware of this paradox can still get caught up in the emotional experience of loss. We get hurt when people don’t meet our expectations. We are deeply disrupted by loss of jobs, social status and roles, functional abilities, loved ones and so on. People come up with faith-based justifications for the seeming randomness of it all; like “everything happens for a reason.” I’ll cut to the chase on that one – I’m not buying it – at least the part of that phrase that suggests a deliberate reason has been planned.
What is easy to see as we look backward is that wherever you sit right now is the result of infinite chains of cause and effect; an interconnected web of existence that is in flux and, yes, all those changes resulted in now. So, it feels natural for humans to make meaning of those causes, as though they were planned.
What is easy to see as we look backward is that wherever you sit right now is the result of infinite chains of cause and effect; an interconnected web of existence that is in flux and, yes, all those changes resulted in now. So, it feels natural for humans to make meaning of those causes, as though they were planned. Creating meaning has its usefulness, so long as we’re not attached to the idea that the meaning will stay the same. Have you noticed how often we rewrite our past? As we add experience and insight to our lives, we see our past from a different perspective and evolve the meaning we apply to it. Even our past is changing constantly!
Getting caught up in the rough seas of these constant changes is a major source of mental health issues. It fosters coping and defensive mechanisms, lack of trust, social issues, and builds habits that don’t serve our greater purpose. The earlier in life we’re exposed to radical changes the worse off we are. Most child psychologists would agree that structure, routine and consistency are things that a developing nervous system will thrive around. Massive disruptions to support systems, environment and caregivers can have consequences that reverberate through an entire lifetime. Yet as we grow through our stages of development and begin to accept the ceaseless march of time and the continual changes that it brings, there’s a point in our lives where we begin to see ourselves as part of that continuum and not separate from it. We have the ability to surrender the fight and enter into the rhythms of the Universe.
In my Aikido practice I learned not to get attached so I could deal with the next attack, and in my Zen practice I learned that I was creating those attacks myself. I don’t experience unwanted changes as pleasant by any measure, yet the less resistance I apply to them and the more I see myself as co-creating those changes, the less I get caught up in the unpleasantness of it all. If we wait long enough, things change again, and the natural rhythms of the Universe conspire with our intention and efforts to create new openings and opportunities. I sense the tide changing after a tough year from where I sit, and I’m sure many of you have had a tough go of the past year as well. As I look forward to a long-awaited exhale this summer, I’m also reminded that’s it’s just another peak in the continuous wave, and to enjoy the ride on the upside and on the down.
Bob Caron is a Zen Leadership Coach and Instructor, and a member of the IZL Board of Directors.
A trip back in time
For this summer edition we join Jen Ayres in October 2018, 3 weeks after her first Zen Leader program. For her next piece she plans to talk about finishing the Zen Leader series with her recent ZL3 program. – June 2021
If a colleague or client had asked me 3 weeks ago how I was I’d have said “I’m good!” That would have been a lie. If someone close to me had asked me if I was coping with everything that was happening in my life, I would have said “Yes.” A more accurate answer would’ve been “barely”.
The truth is I was struggling but determined to cope, as if coping was the goal. But 3 weeks ago, I was shown that coping is a place no one wants to be. It’s a place of mental and physical exhaustion, of trying to tolerate a situation you can’t stand, of constant worries about the future, of swirling negative thoughts and of disharmony in your most important relationships. My stores of resilience were running dry and I desperately needed ‘something’ to help me out of spiraling frustration.
That ‘something’ was actual ‘some people’. Ginny, Andy, Katie and the rest of the truly wonderful people I met at a Zen Leader weekend 3 weeks ago. I’ve known Andy for a number of years and so have had a gradual introduction into some elements of Zen but it wasn’t until I joined the immersive weekend retreat in Somerset that I had a major breakthrough.
I’d never been to anything like this retreat before and in the week leading up to it my anxiety levels were high. I wasn’t sure what to expect, didn’t know if all of this ‘Zen stuff’ would go over my head and had no idea what anyone else would be like. I was also joining Zen Leader 2 (ZL2) and worried that I’d find it difficult to keep up with the rest of the group who’d largely been on ZL1 together earlier that year.
The first evening, to be honest, is now a bit of a blur but during the first yurt-based classroom session after dinner I was still feeling nervous. As I listened to the discussion taking place, I was also worried that some of what would take place over the following 3 days was going to be bit more ‘alternative’ that I was comfortable with. But I was there and so would just keep an open mind and go with the flow.
3 days of meditation, chanting, tai chi, yoga, group work and classroom discussion later, plus much, much laughter and delicious food, I was genuinely euphoric. I’d arrived knackered and mildly depressed and I was going to leave a bundle of excited energy, full of joy and with a new group of lovely, supportive and inspirational friends.
So, what had taken place? It’s honestly difficult to put into words but I’d tackled some deep-rooted fears stemming from events that’d happened 25 years ago and somehow cut the negative emotional ties to them that had always lurked inside me. I’d also made a huge leap forward in soothing my intensely itchy need to know what the future held, and joy was starting to take its place.
Ginny Whitelaw, Zen Master and creator of the Zen Leader programme, had asked me how much joy I would allow into my life and I was determined that my living answer would be ‘as much as possible’.
As we were preparing to leave, I was concerned that my new-found, energetic state of peace and happiness would dissipate as I left the Zen bubble we’d been living in. ZL2 had unstuck me from the past and I wanted to remain unstuck. Ginny Whitelaw, Zen Master and creator of the Zen Leader programme, had asked me how much joy I would allow into my life and I was determined that my living answer would be ‘as much as possible’. So, what has happened in the last 3 weeks of being back in the normal world?
Ginny talks about moving from coping to transforming, from a place of struggle to a place where we can proactively make positive change and how much joy and energy we can then find. This transition requires daily focus. Zen Leader teaches you to move out of your head and into your body, meaning you can’t think your way into a more peaceful state. You need to mediate and open up the body in any way you can by moving and exercise. So, every day since the programme I’ve meditated for 30 minutes first thing in the morning and practised chanting – both of which I love and help me to feel lighter. I’d like to say that I’ve been doing more exercise, but that just hasn’t happened yet. What I have been doing is using the tools we learnt to reflect on potentially negative situations that have arisen since, viewing them instead as opportunities to understand more about myself, how I react and how those reactions affect the people around me.
The euphoria has definitely died down, but on a daily basis I feel calm, relaxed and less worried about the future. I have more energy and have made progress on personal projects that I’d procrastinated on doing for years. Random feelings of joy for no particular reason are also starting to seep in, even first thing on a grey Monday morning! I never expected to see such dramatic personal development from one, four-day course. There’s still a lot of work to come and many other challenges I need to face, but I’m enjoying life day-by-day.
There’s something about Zen that has connected with me in quite a deep way and I want to learn more. I don’t know where this will take me or even whether I’m genuinely comfortable exploring something that feels so different to my life up to now, but I’m happy and relaxed for the first time in many years and I want that to continue.
I really can’t express enough gratitude for the support of Ginny, Andy, Katie and the entire ZL2 group. It was a privilege to spend that time with you all and I can’t wait for ZL3!
Jen Ayres first attended a Zen Leadership program in 2018, which had an immediate and major impact on her life during a very difficult time. She’s (slowly) breathing into Zen practice, gradually understanding just how beneficial this practice is and sharing her journey with all of us.
renew and reimagine
It’s day 10 as we join with our sister organization, Chosei Zen, in their 21-day fundraising campaign to raise $21K. At last check, we’re at 46% of our goal – a good start, but with a gap I would ask you to join in closing. Many of you already train with Chosei Zen, so you know how priceless is the Zen training they provide as a companion pathway to our work at IZL. It’s also literally without price, in that it’s offered on a donation basis, and it’s donations like yours that make it possible.
We at IZL are especially motivated by this campaign because it’s needed to complete construction for rezoning of Chosei Zen’s Mifflin St. dojo, which will make it able to be fully utilized, rentable and financially sustainable. Moreover, IZL is ready to become its first tenant. With a successful campaign, we can get in by July, bringing new energy to both organizations.
As we all renew and reimagine what’s on the other side of this pandemic-stricken year, please join with us in strengthening the liberating lifeline of training available through Chosei Zen and the urban, rural and virtual dojos that make it possible.
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“Everything’s a mess and all is well.”
Leaders are more effective making a positive difference if they exude positivity. But how can we do that authentically in the thick of a mess? Ginny explores in her latest Forbes.com article: What All Great Wisdom Traditions Agree On And How It Can Help Leaders
chosei zen makes the news, big time!
Our sister organization, Chosei Zen, is in the news in a big way.
‘All-in’ Buddhist practice combines meditation and martial arts, an article written by Liz Kineke, originally for the Religion News Service, has been picked up by the AP and Washington Post, as well as local news outlets in various places.
Kineke originally covered Chosei Zen in an article about Buddhist centers responding to the Covid-19 Pandemic. She became interested in the the story behind our CZ style Zen training, and so embedded with the group for a month to research the longer article.
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