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The Zen Of Leadership – And How It Can Save You In These Wild Times

Jill got the big promotion a few months ago: a coveted VP role in a Forbes1000 company. She’s now in charge of a huge transformation project to create Covid-compatible ways of working, trying to ignite a team she’s never met in person and, as a single parent, home school her two preteen sons – a full 48-hour […]

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Jill got the big promotion a few months ago: a coveted VP role in a Forbes1000 company. She’s now in charge of a huge transformation project to create Covid-compatible ways of working, trying to ignite a team she’s never met in person and, as a single parent, home school her two preteen sons – a full 48-hour day. In contrast, Carl has too little to do. At 28 years old, he was hoping to get back to school this fall, but those plans were dashed when he was laid off from the low-paying job he thought further schooling would help him break out of. What Jill and Carl have in common and, indeed, in common with a third of Americans in this wild year are symptoms of anxiety and depression.

From a global pandemic, to rising racism, division, tempers and temperatures, it’s easy to get triggered in this time by a sense of urgency or helplessness, anxiety or depression. Yet there is a way to lead into this time, making the difference that is ours to make. That way, grounded in the 1500-year tradition of physical Zen training moves us beyond a struggling self, where we can be in a mess without being a mess.

How is such resilience possible? In my 40 years of Zen experience, it comes in waves. The first wave of resilience arrives as we learn to center ourselves. Physically, this center is in the lower abdomen, the power center known as hara in the Japanese martial arts. Even as you read this, I invite you to let out a deep sigh of relief. Phewwwww! Almost certainly you’ll feel a dropping down toward this center, as some upper body tension falls away. If you continue to follow this downward direction with your next few exhales – long, slow exhales, as if your breath were like a rain gutter guiding water from the eaves to the ground – you may notice a further quieting down.

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