The Time for Thought and Action – Institute for Zen Leadership
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The Time for thought and action

Jen Ayres reflects on the dynamism between thought and action and Ginny adds her comments – June 2020


Coronavirus has amplified my preoccupation with thought vs action. For those of us who score high in the FEBI© Visionary category, 12 weeks of lockdown limiting external distractions is verdant breeding ground for introspection. However, what is absolutely needed right now is action. Action to tackle racism, climate change, inequality, physical and mental health, economic fallout and much, much more. And action firmly belongs in the FEBI© Driver category

Embodied Leadership (the heart of Zen Leadership) is something I’ve struggled against. As someone who spends most of their time in their own head, getting the brain to quieten and relinquish control is a little bit like telling me to stop being who I am. I certainly understand the joy that flows when you let go of the mind (e.g. during exercise) but what happens when you stop the endlessly whirring brain cogs? Will we be left with a mounting pile of problems without solutions or action that isn’t cohesive and effective?

So, how do we balance Visionary with Driver energy? At what point does too much thought begin to stifle action? And, conversely, at what point does too much action become reckless? This is when I start to get swallowed up in a mental loop… as often can happen with a paradox.

I know the answer lies in chapter 3 of The Zen Leader – the flip from OR to AND – which focuses on creating a framework for healthy tension between two seemingly opposing forces. Meaning this isn’t a question of either thinking OR taking action but instead the need to understand how to balance thought AND action.

I don’t yet know how to master the above but I’m off to re-read chapter 3 and if you have any practical tips for managing this paradox, please leave a comment under this blog post on the website. I’d love to hear what works for you.

Ginny’s comment: Jen, you beautifully lay out this paradox and prompt me to offer a couple tips of my own.  What we know of the “and” mindset of flip #3 is that it resolves dualistic opposites with a  higher level truth, what we might call right sensing where right action naturally springs forth.  This doesn’t happen by throwing in another thought to wrestle with – that’s still feeding one side of the paradox.  It happens through embodied wisdom grounded by hara that can stop whirling thoughts and move us to action.  It happens through natural resonance between what we sense in our environment, what particularly moves us based on our differentiated skills and opportunities, and then how we move our environment to bring about positive change. 

So my tip, if it can be called that, is settle into hara with deep hara breathing, and listen to life with the sincere commitment to let it change you, to act on what is yours to do.  With that centeredness and that commitment, you’re on the right track.

Curious about the “flips” of The Zen Leader? Read more and get the book here.

Resonating a Better World into Being – 3- part webinar series tackling the hottest issues of our summer: racism, healthcare and the heating up planet.

Join us in exploring 3 aspects of the white/domination culture that are radiating readiness for change and how the principles of resonance and the practices of Zen and Zen Leadership can help us be better instruments of change.

June 23 – Resonance and Dismantling Racism

June 30 – Resonance and Healing Healthcare

July 7 – Resonating with the Earth

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Comments (1)

Jen – I know from long experience that I don’t master anything other than through repetition. I don’t know what I’m doing but I try something. Hmm…how did that go? Try again. Any better? Try again. What aren’t I paying attention to? Try again. I’m getting worse and not better. Try again.

Maybe some people can think their way to mastery but I’m not one of them. There is a certain kind of courage needed. And vulnerability. And a willingness to make mistakes. And an ability to admit mistakes.

Yours in the struggle – Gordon

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