Out With The Snake, In With The Horse – Zen Leadership
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out with the snake, in with the horse

I’m no expert in Chinese astrology, nor sold on its scientific merit.  But one of the people I’ve respected most in this life – Tanouye Roshi – found it a useful framework for understanding the year-to-year changes in the students he faced as a music teacher and Zen teacher, or large-scale shifts in the Zeitgeist. Somehow the shift from Snake to Horse particularly speaks to me now, as I feel the shedding of old skin, and a latent, pent up energy whose form is still unknown, getting ready to gallop forward.  Perhaps you feel it as well.  Or maybe if I describe its contours in my life, you’ll recognize it in yours and be ready to put the energy of this New Year to the best possible use.

If you look up the Year of the Snake, you’ll read about a quiet year of preparation, laying in plans, latent possibility: snake-in-the-grass sort of descriptions.  But if I look at my own life, its most snake-y quality has been shed, shed, shed.  Both of my parents and a lifelong friend died this past year. The hollowness of those losses is still with me, even as I recognize the new space it has created. Many wonderful things have also happened this year: continued growth in theInstitute for Zen Leadership (IZL), continued work with terrific colleagues who are as close as family, more people using FEBI, and more readiness in the culture – thanks to neuroscience – for whole, embodied leadership.   But I can also see in my own work this past year where many things have been on hold. Eighteen months and counting, we’re still awaiting IRS review of our 501c3 application for IZL’s non-profit status, the lack of which has cost us momentum.  FEBI is reaching more people, but it has hardly gone viral. Several leadership programs that were supposed to have launched in 2013 are still on the pad.

Enter the Year of Horse.  Technically, the Chinese astrologers would tell us it doesn’t begin until the end of January.  But energy doesn’t start and stop on the dime of a date, so much as shift organically and generally a month or two before we’re celebrating it. So, it’s happening right now. If you inquire into the nature of this coming year, you’ll read about spontaneity, sharp, dramatic moves, rags and riches, with good fortune going to those who can ride the wild Horse. And already I’m seeing signs of it in our business.  Anthony Attan, who will continue to work with our FEBI coach network on a part-time consulting basis, was recently – almost instantly –hired by Inovalon (a builder of data systems for healthcare) to be their internal business partner in leadership development and organization effectiveness.  We’re thrilled for Anthony, as this internal experience is essential for anyone in our business, and we know how lucky Inovalon is to get him. But what strikes me about it is just how fast it happened.

I also see this “pop” happening at the Spring Greene Dojo and IZL.  I keep getting notes from Gordon Greene Roshi, the head priest at Spring Greene, about all these great next-gen leaders-in-training at the dojo, their ideas-ready-to-launch, and how we can best support them through expansion of IZL, fellowship programs, or new ventures, any and all of which you may be hearing about in 2014. Next week marks our winter sesshin – a week of intense Zen training – and I hope to empty completely for the wild ride ahead because I already feel it, and I’m already too slow.

What I remind myself of and say to you as well is: pay attention, sense the rhythm, and go with it completely giving it your best. Renew and repeat. For the other thing you’d read about in the Year of the Horse or the year of any animal, is that it’s auspicious for one type of person and difficult for another.  The animal that is too slow will especially struggle with this year. And what makes us slow? Pointing the finger at myself it’s when I’m being stubborn in old ways, comfortable in old habits, or flat out of energy.  And what’s the antidote? Pay attention, sense the rhythm, and go with it completely giving it your best.  Renew and repeat.

In other words, become the Horse. Enjoy the ride!

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