focus on winter, 2018

FocusOn Winter, 2018

Moving beyond fear into the New Year

“Fear is excitement without the breath.” – Fritz Perls

Just back from integral Life’s What Now conference that rang in the New Year: a great gathering of teachers and traditions, new and old, all lovingly held in Ken Wilber’s sweeping Integral framework. Beyond theory or opinions, the central question of the weekend, indeed a key question of leadership and perhaps the very question you ask yourself going into this New Year: What now? What is my value to add in this disruptive, polarized, uncertain, mishmash of a time? And how do I add it?

Of course the answer has to be your own, but if I could point you toward it, I would say, first, you don’t have to do it alone. One of the great joys I find in this time is being part of a vibrant community at the International Zen Dojo Wisconsin and Institute for Zen Leadership with Gordon Greene Roshi, Ken Kushner Roshi, and a host of emerging leaders. For example, Gordon’s penetration of suffering and Ken’s determination to make hara a household word endlessly inspire me to bring out the connections to leadership that move us beyond fear, and any words I share on the matter could just as easily be theirs as mine. So, point 1: connect with people who stretch and inspire you.

Point 2: Put the question of What Now in your hara, not your head. In other words, settle your breath into your lower abdomen tobuild energy, expand into a visceral sense of connectedness, and clarify the thinking mind. If you’d like to explore this further, you can listen to the podcast I had the pleasure of doing with Joel Monk of Coaches Rising on the Guts of Leadership, or explore Ken Kushner’s hara-dedicated website. The truth is, you can physically build the body that can sense what’s worth doing.

Even after you sense What Now in the form of, say, a leadership intent or New Year’s resolve, you’ll still encounter resistance. The pattern of the Hero’s Journey – replayed in countless Star Wars episodes – reminds us that “hearing the calling” is followed by refusing it, and only after some personal transformation (the heroic part!) is it possible to fully live into that calling. But that refusal is none other than fear: an ego afraid of dying to the story it knows itself by. We’ll feed ourselves lines like: “That’s too big and impossible, I’m not up to it.” Or, “I’m too busy and exhausted.” Or, “Life was good enough before, I don’t really have to change.”

But here’s the flip: if we can simply accept that we may not know how to get from here to there but we’re all-in anyway, and expand into that not-knowing hara-first, we enter a realm of creativity and abundance. Point 3: you can physically build the body of transformation, where the world is an exciting, not fearful, place. Breathing down into your hara-center, which is also the center of physical movement in the everyday world, you increasingly connect your movements to universal inspiration. I’ve come to appreciate that Zen meditation is none other than an opportunity to build that connectedness with every breath. If this calls you, call on us; some program information follows. If another tradition calls you, dive in there. But whatever you do, here’s wishing you a wondrous New Year where you sense your value to add and move in fearlessly to express that value like fireworks.

Upcoming opportunities at the Institute for Zen Leadership (IZL):

The Zen Leader – US: April 19-22, 2018, Spring Green Dojo, Wisconsin. Download flyer.

The Zen Leader – UK: April 5-8, 2018, 42 Acres, Frome, Somerset. Download flyer.

The Zen Leader – Asia – see below

HEAL – Healthy Embodied Agile Leadership – the foundation of Zen Leadership targeted to healthcare professionals: March 8-11, 2018 Spring Green Dojo, Wisconsin. Download flyer.

from Focus Leadership: online, anytime: FEBI Certification – a gateway to working with the body mindas one; for coaches and development professionals, this view into the physicality of personality becomes a powerful coaching tool and way to build authentic leadership agility in yourself and others.

“…I left re-energized, restored, and excited about a new vision for my business. In a word: Transformative.”

-Amanda Blake, Founder, Embright


“You are more powerful than you can imagine…This program positions you to burst with your potential and make practical steps toward meaningful change.”

–Bethany Howlett, M.D.


“I now think about the [FEBI] energy patterns all the time at work. I’m always asking, ‘OK, which pattern does this situation need?’…They have really helped me.

-Beth Potter, M.D., Director of Employee Wellness, University of WI

Coming Full Circle: Zen Leadership in Asia

I have been so grateful to see the growth in IZL in this past year: from the development of new instructors and programs to reaching new leaders in healthcare and non-profits. But nowhere has this growth popped more than in Vietnam under the leadership of Le Thi (Sridevi) To Hai, our IZL Director in Asia and her team at Golden Hearts. Starting last July, a cohort of ~30 people committed to a 3-year pathway of training in Zen leadership, to fully bring it through their work and, in some cases, become coaches and instructors. Many in the cohort are managers within Golden Hearts, making it the first company to truly apply Zen leadership; they were a remarkable growth story before and I can’t wait to see what this training makes possible for them going forward.

A few weeks ago, we held a week along training that included FEBI certification as well as the intensive Zen training that is sesshin. I thought many of them might be turned off by the rigors of pure Zen training, but just the opposite, they came away with a genuine experience of the roots from which Zen leadership springs. After we finished sesshin with a closing tea ceremony, I said some words about the power of what I saw developing here. Sridevi frequently speaks of “Another Vietnam” – the better version of her country that she’s determined to build. I said I didn’t know if it would be Another Vietnam, a wiser Asia, or a safer world of less fear, but they were building something, and I was deeply grateful for their efforts. As I got up to leave they stopped me.  Apparently some of their last night training had been working out a song they wanted to thank me with. Mr Thong – a senior leader among this group – pulled out a guitar and started a beautiful old Vietnamese song about choosing happiness. They had rehearsed multiple voice parts and a resounding chorus, and the effect was truly beautiful. We all started getting teary as the words culminated in something along the lines of “now I know what I’m doing: building a great heart for this country.” These are people who know they’re not just training for themselves. 

In 2018, our efforts in Asia will expand further, as Golden Hearts is expanding its work in Japan and elsewhere. Dates for trainings in Asia are still being worked out; contact Ms Tran Nguyen for the most up-to-date information. Of course, bringing Zen leadership to Asia is a kind of coming full circle, for that is where both Zen and business began. Yet it also matches the vision I hold of fully circling the earth in the connected consciousness of Zen leadership, that we can lead wisely through this pivotal time in human history.

-Ginny Whitelaw

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