There Are No Superheroes; It’s You!
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There Are No Superheroes; It’s You!

There are no superheroes – it’s you!

Christmas excess leads Andy Robins to ponder a challenge from Thich Nhat Hahn ~ January 2022

It was the first time in many years that I spent Christmas staying at my mum’s home in rural Dorset, the area in which I spent my childhood. Christmas can be a noisy family time, especially this year with four adults and two excited young children packed into a small house.

Each morning I was awake at 5.30 am, staring into the darkness, adjusting my eyes and listening to the silence before getting up and tiptoeing out of the room and down the stairs to sit zazen online with the Chosei Zen community. There is something slightly magical about mid-winter in the higher reaches of the Northern Hemisphere, the short days and long hours of darkness, with the sun rising around 8.00 am and setting soon after 3.30 pm. Stonehenge lies not far from my mother’s house, where our prehistoric ancestors laid out a ring of stones to celebrate these circadian rhythms. The words to the Hymn Silent Night, Holy Night ring in my ears; I chuckle as I open my lap and light floods the room, All is calm, All is bright. The 30 minutes of sitting turn into something profoundly beautiful, way beyond the reach of the commercial trappings of Christmas. It is as though something weighty hangs in the air, pulling me down towards a deep inner peace, bringing a profound meaning to the silence. 

There is also something spellbinding being in a house full of childhood memories. Maybe I have always been a morning person, but the time of rising for zazen coincides with my teenage years when I would get up and head out in the dark on a cold Christmas morning to scour the fields to bring the cows home to milk. The realisation comes to me that, unlike my children, my early years were a gift of living in the present, with nothing other than my own mind to pull me away. I listen to the pulse of the pump as I lean into a cow and attach the milking machine. A moment of lost concentration, a thought drags me away as the cold bites my numb fingers, like the stick of a zen master, the cow kicks out, narrowly missing my cheek, ensuring I remain awake at this early hour. 

An image arose in my mind of children opening Christmas presents sitting on a snow-covered peak on a mountain of landfill. What had it taken to produce this stuff, and where would it end its life?

This reflection carries a growing concern about bringing up young children in a world of distraction, where everything seems to be aimed at pulling them from that precious peace. Back in London a few weeks earlier, we had taken the children to visit Hamleys Toy Shop, known as ‘The Finest Toy Shop in the World. The shop is six floors of every conceivable toy you can imagine highly packaged to catch the eye of each passing child. Fraught parents followed eager children, desperately negotiating how to acquire their next must-have toy. No one looked happy. An image arose in my mind of children opening Christmas presents sitting on a snow-covered peak on a mountain of landfill. What had it taken to produce this stuff, and where would it end its life?

Regular zazen practice undoubtedly brings insight, enabling us to see beyond the distractions that prevent us from witnessing the reality in which we live. But in addition to zazen, we also need the occasional whack from the stick of the Zen master, or in my case, some piercing words from the 95-year-old Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. In his new book, Zen and The Art of Saving The Planet, published during COP26 ‘The UN Climate Change Conference’, he hits me in the opening chapter with the words, “If you see the suffering in the world, but you haven’t changed your way of living yet, it means the awakening isn’t strong enough. You haven’t really woken up.” WHACK, a blow from the stick of the Zen master himself. Yes, I see the suffering and the future suffering to come as global warming heats our planet. The pain we face over the next few decades as people lose their homes to rising sea levels, wildfires, hurricanes, floods, tsunamis, and droughts. Populations migrating as they look for new homes increasing tensions in countries where immigration is already seen as problematic. I repeat the question several times, have I changed the way I live? Finally, I take to the cushion, have I changed the way I live?

Community living during a week-long Sesshin at Spring Green is probably the closest I get to living without borrowing too much from the planet itself. Sesshin is a great leveller, bringing you into direct contact with nature, stripping away life’s non-essentials. It teaches us that it is possible to live a happy life with little. During a week of training, we travel nowhere, we sleep and practise under one roof, eat vegetarian food, share bathwater, the tea we drink is used to wash our bowls at mealtimes and other than our Gi and Hakama (robes), we have no clothes to wash. Yes, you could say sesshin is an eco-friendly, highly efficient way of living. Knowing how much I can strip away, I ask myself the question again, ‘have I changed the way I live’. I hear myself saying, ‘not really, but I do enough’ I recycle, turn off lights, buy food without packaging, and compost the vegetable peelings, my mind trying hard to convince me that I am doing something. And many would say something is better than nothing, which I agree with for those with no insight! But with insight comes the need for action; otherwise, the understanding is a waste. A million species are in the balance over the next 70 years, including our own.

The world needs radical change, and that change has to begin with each of us. The Superheros sitting on the shelves in Hamley’s Toy Store will not arrive and save the world single-handedly. Instead, we need to create new stories for our children based on teamship, community, and collective energy. Even Superheros cannot change the world if they cannot change our way of thinking, our consciousness. As Thich Nhat Hanh writes, “Collective change in our way of thinking and seeing things is crucial; Without it, we cannot expect the world to change.” 

First, we must be fully awake to give those we lead any sort of chance. And if we believe we are already awake, perhaps we can begin 2022 by asking ourselves, is the awakening significant enough to change the way we live? We are the ones that future generations are counting on!

Andy Robins is a Zen Priest, Zen Leadership Instructor and Coach

Ginny Joins Cathleen Merkel on
Legendary Leaders Podcast

Ginny Whitelaw joins Cathleen Merkel on the “Legendary Leaders” podcast to discuss how Zen Leadership can bring you to a place of greater energy, resonance, and connection with purpose.  Ginny shares experiences around the importance of listening to life even as you go after your dreams, on ways to use breath to build awareness, and how to work with fears as a path to freedom. 

New Year, new fEBi

What a big year for FEBI! We have a new FEBI admin site, a new FEBI introductory course, and new curriculum and resources for FEBI certification. 

We want to give a huge thank you to our coaches who have helped us in this update and to our partners at BeTalent. The new site will be launched any day now.

FEBI-4U, the new course, is for you if you’re new to FEBI and the mind-body patterns it measures. You’ll learn what patterns you prefer, what each pattern is best at, how to read the energy patterns in others, and how to cultivate any pattern that could serve you better now.  FEBI-4U is taught in two sessions, February 1st and 15th (10:00am – 12:00pm CT) with a chance for practice in between. 

If you want to coach, teach or facilitate using FEBI, or are considering coaching or teaching Zen Leadership, you can keep right on going into FEBI Certification, starting March 1, and running for 4 sessions  (Tuesday March 1st, 15th, 29th, and April 12th from 10:00am – 12:00pm CT). Learn more about IZL’s certification pathways, including the FEBI Certified Coach Pathway

All 6 sessions will be led by Dr. Ginny Whitelaw, with support from seasoned FEBI coaches. With all this new going on, even if FEBI is an old friend, this could be a great time for a refresh. Contact us for refresh pricing if you’re already FEBI certified. 

Feeling like it’s all just a bit too much lately?

Have you found yourself feeling like it’s all just a bit too much lately?

You’re not alone.

The last two years have been deeply destabilizing, and we’re likely going to take a while to properly find ‘normal’ again.

That’s why our friends over at Embodiment Unlimited are hosting Mark’s top 5 practical embodiment tools for self-regulation free & online from 10-14th Jan 2022.

Sign up free to find your center a little more easily as you move into the new year.

making the new year new –
and why that’s surprisingly important

To find new ways of working and addressing difficult issues, we need to see anew, sense anew, and sense ourselves anew. Here’s how.

Making the shift from outer space, to inner space:
A New hope in 2022

Melanie Fawcett on dropping out of hyper-speed – January 2022

“Healing from trauma, freeing up stuck points, particularly in the lower body, re-establishes a healthy flow of upward energy called in yogic traditions, the liberating current. It’s an essential contributor to the field we radiate and how we resonate. Similar to inhale and exhale, it pairs with the downward manifesting current to create a vital flow through our being, except instead of moving air, these currents move energy.”

Ginny Whitelaw, Resonate, p. 49

The holiday season represents many different things to different people. For some of us, it is about sharing time with our special people, perhaps eating great food we don’t normally cook, giving gifts, spending more money than we should, traveling great distances, or in the Covid world, staying closer to home.

But the concept of “home” is not the same for all of us. The holidays can also be a time when the challenges that we face throughout the year become even more obvious and painful too. Perhaps we struggle with family, or our financial situation is not where we had hoped it would be. Perhaps we have lost ones we love throughout the year, or we can’t be with the ones we love on special days, for reasons we have absolutely no control over. Maybe we are divorced, maybe we co-parent and miss our kids. Maybe the “magic” is hard to feel when the unforeseen external challenges of the year have pushed us in ways we just never would have chosen for ourselves.

My holidays this year did not go as planned. Not even a little bit. In fact, as I write this, I can now see with a slightly painful grimace on my face that one day soon (not just yet) I will be able to look back and maybe even laugh at how my internal expectations of how the holiday would go and the external reality of how it did go, were pretty much on different planets, in different solar systems, in hyper-jump-Star-Wars-style-through-space-like-parallel-universes.

And just like a hyper-jump-situation, when you are in the midst of the not-so-enjoyable transition between Life Expectation Planet X and Life Reality Planet Y, all you can see are strange streaks of light while feeling nauseous, dizzy and not knowing which way is up, let alone how to get back “home” to the safety and certainty of The Milky Way.

I am divorced, I co-parent and this year was the first year that I did not have my son for either his very close to Christmas birthday or Christmas Day. So, what’s a mother to do? I focused my best organizer energy into controlling every single external aspect of my very different looking holiday period (which I was not-so-secretly internally dreading) and made as many positive alternative plans as I could to avoid the impending wave of challenging emotions that I knew would arise, that I absolutely wanted to avoid. I wanted to take my looming grief and wrap it in colorful Christmas paper and put a bow on it, embracing and accepting life as it is, with optimism! Well done Zen Master!

However, as the Emperor bluntly states in Star Wars, “Resistance is futile.”

And of course, when it comes to not feeling your emotions, it most certainly is.

When my perfect plans continued to be completely externally turned upside down including: serious health issues with close family members, cyclonic weather systems, Covid restrictions and Government mandate changes daily, my son struggling to cope, driving between different families hundreds of miles apart on chaotic roads – somewhere in the holiday-heartbreak-in-hyper-space I realized, that I had not stopped to be still, once.

And there was only one reason for that.

Fear. And a nervous system to match.

So finally, a couple of days before New Year’s Eve, when I was on my own, I switched off hyper-speed and parked the now very damaged looking ship.

And I allowed myself to actually be still.

It wasn’t fun.

All of the emotions I had been avoiding became overwhelming at first. It took time before I could journal to see the patterns I had been creating. They were not small pretty patterns you might find in the sand at a beach resort, but more like Death-Star size in an ominous dark sky, not so Christmas cheery. As I allowed myself to be silent and the internal dialogue continued to flow, I began to notice that what I was seeing inside myself, was mirroring what I saw on the outside too. The patterns within of self-avoidance, lack of self-acceptance, perfectionism and self-abuse with addictive emotional patterns, were just as I had grown up with. My inner world and outer worlds were showing me the places I needed to see and to accept. Merry Christmas! Not exactly what I asked for from Santa, but such is the true gift of stillness. It may not come with ribbons, but it does illuminate where we are avoiding and judging ourselves in an unconscious loop-de-loop of the mind.

I began to think. As an Educator who works with young people with trauma, how do we intervene into these cycles we see in ourselves internally and then in the world, externally? I need to consider how I do this better for myself, so that I can help to create a pathway with young people in our Inclusive Education Program.

But what is the pathway to hope after stillness? Or what if stillness might seem a galaxy away? What way to hope, then?

After listening to audio books on some long walks and feeling how nature, movement and silence helped me to shift from a feeling of being under a cloud of hopelessness, to seeing beyond it to hopefulness, I began to see a path that was more accessible to me than trying to resolve all the challenges my mind was perceiving.

As I moved my body and listened to my favorite authors talk of ideas, talk of humanity, talk of hard times and history and even space, I began to feel the shift within to words again, I even began to write down some ideas of my own. I could feel something inside of myself collaborating with those authors somehow, sparking a shift to visionary thinking, opening and seeing that I did not need to “solve” anything but rather to give myself permission to allow the creative spark we all have within to help me to see beyond my own world, and how challenges are what we humans do. I did not find all the answers in my collaborating energy, but as my thinking began to build on what I was listening to, the visionary energy started wanting to make something. Nothing Oscar-winning. Again, it wasn’t an answer. Or a fix. Or even a band aid. But it didn’t have to be for anyone else, but me.

This was the shift. From out there, I felt the spark in here. And then from in here, I could create a spark, again, out there.

And it felt like A New Hope, sitting with The Resistance.

No hyper-speed required.

Melanie Fawcett is a writer, researcher, film maker and educator. She completed her first Zen Leader program in 2021.

izl to celebrate 10th year!

The Institute for Zen Leadership was founded in 2012, and with the beginning of the Lunar New Year we will be celebrating virtually with music, conversation and inspiring talks from faculty and alumni. If you are new to IZL (i.e. not yet taken a program or made a donation) and would like to join us, email for more information about the 2-2-2022 event. If you’re already in our community, watch your inbox for a special invite.

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