Community//

“Center yourself. ” With Jason Hartman & Dr. Ginny Whitelaw

The issues we face will not be tied up neatly with a bow, but I am optimistic that much that needs to fall apart is falling apart and we can build back better on the other side. I am also optimistic that we humans don’t need life to be easy. Indeed, we learn more from […]

The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres on our open platform. We publish pieces as written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team and must meet our guidelines prior to being published.

The issues we face will not be tied up neatly with a bow, but I am optimistic that much that needs to fall apart is falling apart and we can build back better on the other side. I am also optimistic that we humans don’t need life to be easy. Indeed, we learn more from our suffering than we learn from our successes, and we are evolving to higher states of consciousness faster than at any point in human history. That’s one reason why we’re jolted by the cruelty and illogic of racism left over from centuries-old consciousness. I love how the great scholar, Joseph Campbell summed it up, “All of the world’s great wisdom traditions agree on one thing: everything’s a mess and all is well.” It’s important to see both sides of that. Do what you can about the mess and know that you are, from the start, the entire universe.

As part of our series about 5 Steps That Each Of Us Can Take To Proactively Help Heal Our Country, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ginny Whitelaw.

Dr. Ginny Whitelaw is a Rinzai Zen master and founder of the Institute for Zen Leadership. She is the author of Resonate — Zen and the Way of Making a Difference. With a background in physics and biophysics, she has brought mind, body and energy together in developing leaders for more than 25 years. She is also the co-developer of FEBI, a validated personality test based on energy patterns in the nervous system and trains people worldwide in its use. Formerly the Deputy Manager for integrating NASA’s Space Station Program, she has a Ph.D. in biophysics, and a 5th degree black belt in Aikido.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?

I grew up in the Space Age 60’s, which filled me with the dream of being an astronaut. Far from discouraging me, my parents put a capital “D” on that dream one day when, shortly after having our eyes glued to a televised rocket launch, they told my sister and me that we could go into space — right now! “Really!?” I said excitedly, still young enough to not be sure what my parents could pull off. They took us into the kitchen where there was a tall, skinny closet that looked vaguely like a rocket ship. It was a broom closet that normally housed, well, the broom, vacuum cleaner, mops and rags, but they had taken all of that stuff out. They put my sister and me into the closet and closed the door. Pitch black, we suddenly heard in my dad’s deep voice, the start of the NASA countdown: “10, 9, 8…” What was going to happen? “3, 2, 1” and suddenly a roar went up and the door started vibrating. “I think we’re going somewhere!” I said to my much older and wiser sister. They had pushed the vacuum cleaner up against the door and turned it on. But that was my Dream from that day forward, and by the time I was 13 years old, I was writing NASA asking what classes I should take in junior high school to best prepare me for my life as an astronaut. They wrote back saying take science classes and gave me a list of subjects I should choose from as a major in college, including physics. I followed that letter to the T.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

When I was around 14, I picked up a book my mother had been reading called Psychocybernetics. It was part of pop psychology of the day, the power of mind over matter, that sort of thing. But it got me interested in the mind-body connection. Even my astronaut dream was in some ways about the mind-body connection, as it called for great skill and stamina in both. By the time I made it college and studied physics and philosophy, I was always drawn to matters of energy and mind.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

I have many favorite quotes, but one that I return to again and again came from one of my Zen teachers, Tanouye Roshi, who was also a skilled mediator among leaders in Hawaii. Since I was also becoming interested in leadership development, I asked him once about his “formula” for coaching or influencing leaders. No elaborate model from him, his response was simple: “Become the other, go from there.” Now this is particularly good advice for Zen leadership, because Zen dissolves dualistic illusions, opening the way to leadership-without-othering. So becoming one-with is a deeply empathetic way of being with any person or addressing any problem. From a resonance point of view, it’s also the most effective. It’s how we merge our “signal”, our energy, with whoever or whatever we face.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

I like Kevin Cashman’s definition of leadership: authentic self expression that creates value. What Zen adds to that is a radical opening of the authentic self, and the value that can then be created is wondrous. One of the stories I share in Resonate that is an example of this kind of leadership comes from Dr. Kristi Crymes. She was ready to enter the room of a patient, I’ll call him Brad, whom she knew was going to be angry. Brad was a contractor who could no longer practice his craft due to back pain, and he didn’t have money for treatment because he couldn’t work. A perfunctory prescription might have been another doctor’s approach, but Kristi embodied the lesson of Zen leadership as she opened the door: center, enter, add value. Centering herself, slowing her breath, she fully met Brad where he was. “We joined. We talked, He shifted.” She recounted later. He came away with a self-created plan to revamp his business around teaching his trade to others and went on to be quite successful at it. She didn’t lead him there by telling him that’s what he ought to do. She led him out of fear through genuine human connection and he found his own way forward.

In life we come across people, some who inspire us, some who change us and some who make us better people. Is there a person or people who have helped you get to where you are today? Can you share a story?

Oh my gosh, I have been so blessed with mentors and teachers, starting with my grandmother who shared with me the love of words and insisted I spell them correctly. In graduate school I met a world-class Aikido teacher — Fumio Toyoda — who pushed me beyond any limits I thought I had and told me if I wanted to reach the peak of my game, I had to also start training in Zen. That led to the remarkable Tanouye Roshi who, though he died many years ago, continues to influence me daily.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The United States is currently facing a series of unprecedented crises. So many of us see the news and ask how we can help. We’d love to talk about the steps that each of us can take to help heal our county, in our own way. Which particular crisis would you like to discuss with us today? Why does that resonate with you so much?

The crises are all intertwined, so if you pull the thread on Covid-19, you find the health inequities of poverty and racism, and systemic ways the two are linked. You pull on racism and you see the same exploitative attitude that white people have turned toward black people turned toward the earth and heating it beyond stability. Underlying all of these crises is the same delusion of separateness in which selfishness, greed and fear are rooted.

This is likely a huge topic. But briefly, can you share your view on how this crisis evolved to the boiling point that it’s at now?

Having been living and breathing the book, Resonate, for more than a year, I see this boiling point in terms of resonance as a necessary build-up of energy — a tipping point to use Gladwell’s term — before enough falls apart that a new order can emerge. And our old ways have to fall apart because they’re not sustainable. The vast polarization of wealth, the disappearance of jobs to technology, and the heating up planet means we simply cannot continue the way we’ve been going.

So I take hope in the boiling points being reached now that they will force a radical rethink, much as Covid forced a rethink of travel policies almost overnight, and is continuing to lead to rapid advances in telemedicine, vaccine development, and attitudes toward universal health care. I take hope that the horror of George Floyd’s lynching has jolted a critical mass of white people to see racism and policing in new ways and how a culture of white supremacy spiritually diminishes us as we diminish others.

Can you tell our readers a bit about your experience either working on this cause or your experience being impacted by it? Can you share a story with us?

I don’t claim expertise in coronavirus, racism, climate change or any of the wicked issues facing us today, but I am a Zen teacher and head of the Institute for Zen Leadership, where these issues have become front and center because they cry out for the more connected form of leadership we teach. Once you feel one-with black people, who have been chronically oppressed, you have to figure out how to shift so that your actions become a healing force, not complicit with an oppressive system. Once you feel one-with the earth, you have to figure out how to live as a guest at her table, not as one who exploits the earth at will.

Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. Can you please share your “5 Steps That Each Of Us Can Take To Proactively Help Heal Our Country”. Kindly share a story or example for each.

I love this question because it’s at the heart of one of the four principles of resonance behind big social change, namely that each of us must find our personal agency to act — we need something to do. You’ll see my 5 steps point toward a second principle, which is we also need a way for our individual efforts to add up to tipping points.

  1. Center yourself. All healing starts inside out, and you cannot be a force for healing if you’re chronically triggered yourself. How do you do this? Slow down your exhale and drop into your hara center in the lower abdomen. This is the center of power in the marital arts, but also the center of your most powerful, resonant actions. If this advice is new to you, a 3-minute video on a way to sense, set and breathe into hara is here.
  2. Become the issue, go from there. So here you see me using some of my favorite life advice! You want to take the matter inside yourself — no separation. So last year when we started looking at climate change and how Zen leadership could help, I started from “I am the heating-up planet,” and started educating myself on how my actions were contributing to the problem and where I had room to improve. This year, I became racism, and educated myself through conversations, books and videos on how this issue is manifest in me and how I can shift to not be complicit in a white supremacy culture. Becoming the issue may start as an act of imagination, but the deeper truth is by being one-with the issue, we move closer to our whole self. That truth is repeatedly revealed through Zen training and other forms of meditation. In the awakening words of Gautama Buddha, “I am that.”
  3. Become the other, go from there. Likewise, you become a force for healing when you take away the fear that grows in the gap between separate selves. Become the other as Kristi did when she joined with Brad — “We joined. He shifted” — and you create the condition where whatever can heal does heal because your actions come from love. That doesn’t mean you can control outcomes, or that all encounters will be as therapeutic as Kristi’s with Brad, but encountering each person as a part of yourself gives you insider empathy with what’s ready to open (or not) for them, how they think or feel. From an energy perspective, it gives you the strongest, clearest signal with which to build resonance. It also moves you one person closer to realizing your true bigness, your whole self.
  4. Work your triggers. You will get triggered. People will push your buttons. The nightly news will upset you. Friends will cease to be friends once they know where you stand on this or that issue or political candidate. But rather than push this pain under the proverbial carpet where it gets stuffed as unconscious tension, whirls up anxiety or sinks into weighty depression, feel in your body where these triggers land. Once you find them, you can bring healing energy to them using your breath awareness and centeredness (go back to Step 1 if you need to!). Just as a rain gutter guides water from a roof to the ground, your breath can drain down the tension, whirl or heaviness from wherever it is in your body, down through the hara, down through your feet, down to the earth.
  5. Get your voice to add up. As you become a healing force being one-with others, one-with issues of the day, listen for how to get your voice and actions to add up with others. Voting, helping others vote, writing articles, writing political leaders, joining forces in protest, petitions, partnering with colleagues in making changes where you work, supporting organizations you believe in with your time and money: these are all examples of ways to get your voice and actions to add up. And if you are doing steps 1–4 well, you will be bringing people along with you because you’ll be acting as love.

It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but what can we do to make these ideas a reality? What specific steps can you suggest to make these ideas actually happen? Are there things that the community can do to help you promote these ideas?

The beauty of these steps is they start inside out, and no one can stop you. Moreover, the more you become one-with those around you, one-with the wicked issues we face, the more you will sense the energies that are yours to work with and what is your work to do. This is how we make our greatest difference: taking in energy and naturally resonating with what is ours to do.

We are going through a rough period now. Are you optimistic that this issue can eventually be resolved? Can you explain?

The issues we face will not be tied up neatly with a bow, but I am optimistic that much that needs to fall apart is falling apart and we can build back better on the other side. I am also optimistic that we humans don’t need life to be easy. Indeed, we learn more from our suffering than we learn from our successes, and we are evolving to higher states of consciousness faster than at any point in human history. That’s one reason why we’re jolted by the cruelty and illogic of racism left over from centuries-old consciousness. I love how the great scholar, Joseph Campbell summed it up, “All of the world’s great wisdom traditions agree on one thing: everything’s a mess and all is well.” It’s important to see both sides of that. Do what you can about the mess and know that you are, from the start, the entire universe.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

Use the energy of life primarily in service of yourself and you’ll never be comfortable. Use your energy primarily in service of life and you’ll realize joy, resilience, and purpose.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I just finished reading Radical Dharma and I’m moved by the work of Rev. angel Kyodo williams. I would love to have lunch with her to explore how the work of her Center for Transformative Change and our Institute for Zen Leadership could add up to something greater.

How can our readers follow you online?

https://zenleader.global/category/zen-leader-blog/for articles.

https://resonatethebook.comfor resources related to Resonate.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

You might also like...

Community//

“Why you should be optimistic.” With Beau Henderson & Dr. Scott Guerin

by Beau Henderson
Community//

I Am Living Proof Of The American Dream: With Dr. Janelle Luk, Founder of Generation Next Fertility Center

by Yitzi Weiner
Community//

Away with the faeries…

by Fay Semple

Sign up for the Thrive Global newsletter

Will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

Thrive Global
People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.