As synchronicity would have it, there in the mail box was a new book for review, The Zen Leader: 10 Ways to go From Barely Managing to Leading Fearlessly, by Ginny Whitelaw. Fortunately, I was going for a week-long vacation to the Northeast the next day – sweet!
Now I’m back and feeling really refreshed, thanks to a lovely time with my sweetie and some friends, old and new. And thanks too to Ginny’s book.
Whitelaw is a successor to the Chozen-ji line of Rinzai Zen, a line I don’t know much about. Tanouye Roshi got it going in Hawaii and there is a branch in Chicago with a monastery that’s developing in Wisconsin. They don’t seem to have much of a web presence and they’re barely mentioned in Zen Master Who?
Like I said in the title, this is a really important book and speaks very well for the Chozen-ji training, which appears to be a combination of zazen (koan?), martial arts, and brush work.
Whitelaw was an astronaut candidate and NASA administrator and has been leading leadership training for about fifteen years. With The Zen Leader, she has made a major contribution in unpacking the most important insights in Zen and providing a way to practice them in the world. No kidding.
Whitelaw’s dedication page has this nice verse: “to the old man in the woods/who has nowhere to go/and to you/who are going somewhere.”
That says a lot. If you’re a hermit or attached to nonattachment, this book might not ring true. If you’re involved in leadership in the corporate world especially, but also in nonprofits or even Zen Centers, I wholeheartedly recommend this book and this way of work. I’ve read through once and am now going to go back and work through it all slowly.
Beware, this isn’t a “just be mindful, keep a calm mind and follow the precepts” approach. Well, that’s hard enough … and one reason that the mindful approach is hard is that it’s like pushing down a gourd in the water rather than seeing who it is that’s doing the pushing.
Each chapter contains a Zen flip that points to how to really practice awakening while in leadership. Here’s a list of the chapter titles:
1. From Coping to Transforming
2. From Tension to Extension
3. From Or to And
4. From “Out There” to “In Here”
5. From Playing to Your Strengths to Strengthening Your Play
6. From Controlling to Connecting
7. From Driving Results to Attracting the Future
8. From “It’s All About Me” to “I’m All About It”
9. From Local Self to Whole Self
10. From Delusion to Awakening
It stuck me while reading the book that this approach is like Samurai Zen – the effort of the Zen community beginning in the 12th Century to apply Zen, especially Rinzai Zen, to the world at the time – filled with war and warriors. The effort seems to have been that Zen can help you be the best samurai you can be. And the wisest and most compassionate.
Dogen and others had a little issue with the ethics of that and it certainly seems to have reached rather bizarre ends with WWII.
And I suppose the same danger here – the nondual insight and practice can make you the most effective corporate leader you can be for the good of all … or not.
Another niggling issue is whether those who haven’t done lots of sitting and/or koan training have the foundation to do this practice or if it becomes just another dogma.
With those concerns in mind, I’m intent on working with this in my work life and making the book the center piece of our fall practice period here at Transforming Through Play – with Dogen pieces to complement the chapters and maybe a koan or two that seem to be the underlying source points for the chapters.
So if you’re interested in this, stay tuned. There’s likely to be much more about this here in the coming months.