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Regular Zazen practice gives Jo Anne Preston a “knowing” deep in her bones ~ February 2022

I have a pretty good track record of doubting myself. Like most people I suppose, I like to be regarded highly and to not make a mess of things but my imagination is active. I have always been able to easily create a movie in my head of the worst case failure scenario, very little of which has ever met reality. This is the kind of thinking that goes on behind the “imposter syndrome” that troubles so many leaders, feeling like they’ll soon be found out to not know what they are doing. Way too much energy can get siphoned into this bucket!

Practicing the Zen sitting meditation, Zazen, most days for the last four years has not cured me once and for all of self-doubt, but it has changed me. It has resulted in something quite precious and valuable: a sense of knowing. Knowing in my bones; solid answers that come to me unbidden. By “knowing” I don’t mean having all the answers. It is about trusting myself that I am enough even when I don’t have the answers.

Join me in my head for what often goes on in my 20 minute sit:

You get the idea. Eventually I listen to my own directive to myself, “SURRENDER,” and somehow I lean my body and breathing into the gifts I’ve learned to trust of this time.

This delightful shift in Zazen shows up off the cushion in the remaining 23 hours and 40 minutes of the day as trust in myself. I approach my work feeling solid in what I have to contribute, not leaking energy with fear of judgments.

What almost always happens is that at some point, a question I hadn’t even thought about gets answered. Some solution or wisdom just pops up so clearly, and there is no doubt with it. Often this is in the moments just before the timer goes off. It is exquisite really, this non-striving, answers coming.

My mom was probably a Zen master without ever knowing it. When she tried to teach me how to ride a bicycle (over 50 years ago), I was trying so hard to get it and kept failing. I remember feeling so frustrated and determined, pushing myself harder and harder, but it just wasn’t happening. She said to me, “I’ll bet if you put it away, and get some good rest tonight, you will be able to do this tomorrow.” She was wise, and correct, and this is just what happens with a regular Zazen practice.

This delightful shift in Zazen shows up off the cushion in the remaining 23 hours and 40 minutes of the day as trust in myself. I approach my work feeling solid in what I have to contribute, not leaking energy with fear of judgments.

For me, sitting still without moving even when my leg goes to sleep or my nose itches translates to giving a presentation or teaching a class knowing that I can roll with whatever happens. It’s not something I’ve talked myself into. Zazen has trained my body into a different way to show up: I show up trusting myself.

As I thought about the bicycle story, I pondered why that one significant lesson with my wise mama wasn’t enough. I think it is the ego asserting itself as being in charge, seeking outside approval, reminding me of my favorite list of “what ifs.” It’s the ego encouraging me lately to just sleep in, no need for a discipline to sit Zazen. But regular practice strengthens the muscles that support “knowing,” and that is too joyous to lose.

Jo Anne Preston is a Zen Leader Practitioner, published author and a Workforce & Organizational Development Senior Manager at Rural Wisconsin Hospital Cooperative. Read her leadership blog for the RWHC here.

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