stories from the training: kate

Taking Away Fear

Zen Leadership: Taking Away Fear

I took my first Zen Leader weekend training in January 2015 and immediately knew in my bones that this was not an ordinary leadership seminar, not the usual set of matrices and tests, not the typical training for executives. We meditated! We moved! We ate delicious and healthy food! We looked inward and outward and all around.

Ginny challenged us to be curious, to discover, to think differently, and I left the weekend feeling a bit shaken, but also with a renewed sense of solidity in a foundation that I had sort of forgotten was mine.

I returned in September 2015 for the Alumni weekend, themed “Overcoming Fear,” at the dojo in Spring Green thinking that I might be able to find some tools to help my growing environmental and human rights organization deal with the increasingly hostile environment we work in, where the rule of law doesn’t really exist, where the existing rules of the game have been changing without warning over the past few years, and where our colleagues are under increasing threat. So, I came in to the training thinking that I would learn and grow and grapple with the tough things.

But, it wasn’t until I found myself in a small group answering the question, “What are your fears in the workplace?” that I realized my fear was huge. I was afraid that a mistake—my mistake—could mean harassment, imprisonment, torture, or death for a colleague. When I articulated those words, I was suddenly face to face with it. Yep, that was fear. And if I was feeling that, what the heck were my employees and colleagues feeling? Very likely, the same thing.

My teammates in that discussion were invaluable in helping me see that there are systems that could be put in place to reduce fear, and, simultaneously, increase security. There were actions we could take that would minimize the personal weight each of us feels in this work. There were concrete things we could do, problems we could identify, plans we could make. None of this would change the external realities, but it could change our response. And that response begins with breath, with intention, with vision and the ensuing clarity.

The lessons I took away from the Overcoming Fear workshop helped me identify the tools we as an organization needed to be more secure and to minimize the personal fear each of us feels in our work. Since then, we have been trained in digital and personal security. As a result, we have created a series of security protocols for the organization to help maneuver the changing landscape and enable us to communicate more safely with our partners. We have systematized our programmatic responses in a new and more effective way. We have reduced fear.

Sometimes the naming of things is the beginning of identifying—and shaking off—their hold on a person. The Institute for Zen Leadership has helped me name things, it has diminished fear, replacing it with steady breath and a 180 degree viewing that takes in and identifies what is happening.

Ginny says that 20 minutes of meditation a day will change your life. It has changed mine. It has changed the way I listen. It has changed the way I breathe. It has changed the way I see and smell and taste the world around me. And this is changing the way I react to the challenges in my work and in my life.

Steadiness, resolve, honesty, kindness, exploration, curiosity. These are the qualities of the Institute for Zen Leadership. These are the qualities it brings out in those of us fortunate enough to sit in the dojo and breathe into and from our hara. This is all accompanied by a healthy dose of humor, buckets and buckets of love, and profound wisdom to guide us through it all. Thank you, Ginny, thank you to everyone at the Institute, for the enormous gift of your leadership.

Kate Watters, Executive Director, Crude Accountability