Zen Leader Blog

Reaching "Samadhi" At Work - Lessons From The Zen Leader

Posted by Diane Chencharick

Jan 7, 2013 1:40:00 PM

stone stack144x144We've all experienced it - that total absorption in our work (or play) where we experience total connectedness with the subject at hand, things become effortless and time seems like it's standing still. In Buddhism, this state is called "Samadhi." In sports, it's called being "in the zone." This is, in fact, where our best performance, our best ideas and our highest levels of satisfaction come from. So the real questions are:

Can we cultivate this state for easier access?
How much more could be possible if we operated from this state on a regular basis?

Setting the Stage
Our ego delivers constant brain chatter in our daily lives - all day, every day. While this voice can serve us well and keep us out of harm's way, in many respects, it limits our ability to explore other options, including the very option of turning it off:-) In order to encourage Samadhi arising in us, we need to temporarily quiet this voice so all of our senses can be engaged in the task at hand. In the work environment, this also means eliminating as many distractions as possible. The simple act of shutting your door and turning off email alerts sets the stage for fewer distractions. If you are in a more open work environment, develop a signal, even if it's just a sticky note stuck to your cubicle, that says "no interruptions for awhile."

Center Your Breathing
Why do we do this? Because Samadhi cannot be intentionally created. "Samadhi arises on its own. It cannot be willfully entered because that which would "will" it is non other than the stand-apart "I" (ego). That said, the body and breath can be developed in ways that become conducive to this condition arising," states Ginny Whitelaw in the book, The Zen Leader

Mindful breathing brings the body and mind in focus together. These 3 simple breathing exercises are a great way to quiet the mind and bring it in sync with the body. Remember, the thought, "I want to be in Samadhi," is not the same as being in Samadhi.  The thought, "Let me have a quiet mind," is not the same as a quiet mind. Becoming one with our breathing is a way past thought into a more deeply absorbed state.

God is in the Details
So, you've eliminated some obvious distractions, have entered through breathing, and can now bring the same condition of total absorption to your work. Whether your approach is slow or fast, perform every detail with the same quality standard you expect for the whole. You are now the creator, addressing all considerations… with all things considered. Take satisfaction in completing each step with mindful excellence, feeling into and one with the whole creation. 

Someone once said that "God is in the details." It's through these details that I can get completely lost in the moment. Think of it like a symphony tuning up before the concert begins. One by one, you hear each instrument come into harmony… each one dependent on the others while maintaining its own creative voice. If one were left untuned, the performance would suffer. The same holds true for your project.

From Contolling to Connecting
Moving from controlling to connecting is one of the important "flips" discussed in The Zen Leader. Although this chapter focuses on our relationships with people, I see how it also has a lot to do with how we tackle a problem or perform a task. Forcing an answer is not always in our best interest. Developing a solution from a connected state is always more sustainable in the long run. Why? Because through our own connectedness we are able to lead from a "big picture" perspective - it's at the very heart of being connected.

The more we can optimize our conditions for Samadhi arising in us, the easier and more likely it is to happen. Sitting meditation has long been a proven way to clear and concentrate the mind. Simple tasks can also work if done mindfully. And what is a major project, but a bunch of simple tasks all linked together?

Do you have some special way you engage yourself more fully in the project at hand? Please share.


Topics: samadhi, reaching samadhi, samadhi at work, the zen leader, Ginny Whitelaw

The easiest way to meditate - EVER!

Posted by Diane Chencharick

Nov 28, 2012 4:45:00 AM

meditating Not sure if my teachers will roll their eyes or applaud me, but I've finally hit on a time and place for meditation that seems to work well for me. Thought I'd share my experience in the hope of helping others of similar mind.

Establishing a meditation practice has been hard for me. Like most people, the demands on my time, not to mention the "importance" factor I like to put on other things, has been my biggest hurdle to overcome. I've dabbled in it for years, but after reading the book, The Zen Leader, I enrolled in a weekend program with its author, Ginny Whitelaw, at the Institute For Zen Leadership (IZL) hoping to kick start my practice. We were on the mats at 6:00 every morning. Wow - what a great experience! So I returned home, all energetic, and quickly watched my sitting, once again, dwindle over time. But persistence runs deep within my DNA, and I was determined to find a way to make this as routine as brushing my teeth. Here's how I finally made it stick:

Make it the first thing you do
I'm an early riser, with plenty of time in the AM for coffee and emails before I "officially" start my day. Deciding to sit, before I did anything else, was the time slot I needed - just like when we were at the dojo at IZL. The mind is a lot quieter in the morning, which helps to reduce all the chatter. But more importantly, there's nothing yet on my plate when I first wake up to distract me. And I am SO easily distracted!

Sit in bed
Speaking of distractions, just the simple act of walking to another room can get my mind starting to churn around the upcoming day's events. So I decided to sit right where I was - in bed (OK… maybe there was a comfort factor in play here as well:-) I take one of my many extra pillows and fold it under my bottom to give me the perfect cross-legged triangle. My mattress instantly becomes a gigantic sitting cushion. I can even toss some covers over my legs to keep my feet warm! "This is awesome!" I say to myself the first time I tried this. Why didn't I think of this before?

Do it for 20 minutes
Don't try and over do it - you'll discourage yourself. Twenty minutes is plenty of time each day to start reaping the benefits of meditation. If you count each breath up to 20, with a long, slow, exaggerated exhale for each one, you can do about 3-3.5 sets of these in 20 minutes. Since you ARE in bed, I suppose you could set your alarm. LOL But it won't take long for your body to automatically know when 20 minutes has passed.

Do yoga as a supplement to your sitting
Meditation is not just a few minutes of your day where you quiet the mind. It's a practice that helps you cut through the clutter, see a bigger picture and make decisions fearlessly. Doing yoga is great supplement to sitting, as it is another breath practice with similar benefits, plus an added one - it's good for your body. Yoga increases flexibility, strength and balance. It integrates the body into a mindful practice that sitting alone doesn't do for me. The incredible thing is that yoga changes me mentally, too. I eat better and take better care of myself when I am doing it on a regular basis. Yoga is a great example of how the body can change the mind.

There are many books that can teach you how to meditate, but where they often fail is in showing you how to establish a practice that is suitable for a chaotic life outside a monastery. This is how I did it. You may also download a free mediation guide to help you get started. I'll be thinking about how many others are joining me on their own pillow-top cushion tomorrow morning. Strike that - I'll think about it AFTER I sit:-)

Gassho and Namaste!

Topics: easiest way to meditate, meditation practice, meditation, the zen leader, Ginny Whitelaw, mindful practice, Institute for zen leadership

Leadership Advice: When Your Strengths Are Not Enough

Posted by Diane Chencharick

Nov 13, 2012 6:56:00 AM

flexingThere's nothing wrong with using your strengths to propel initiatives forward. After all, those strengths more than likely got you into the leadership role you have today. But the strengths we know can also become derailers when used in excess. You may also have hidden strengths you're not conscious of.

Let's take a few moments and see what you know and don't know about your strengths, as taken from the book, The Zen Leader.

1) List 5 things that you know you're good at. These could be specific skills (like tennis or negotiations) or traits that have supported you throughout your career (like being good with people).

2) Describe a time when you were completely "in your game"  - totally engaged and able to bring out your best. What skills / attributes did you bring to that situation?

3) List one thing you often wished you were better at.

These traits will generally center on one of 4 basic energy patterns, that connect not only to the way you think, but to your emotions and behaviors as well.
- The power, speed and competitive edge of DRIVER
- The discipline and attention to details of ORGANIZER
- The sociability and resilience of COLLABORATOR
- The imagination, curiosity and risk-taking of VISIONARY

We are able to measure what patterns you favor using an assessment called the FEBI (Focus Energy Balance Indicator). To further your own knowledge, you can take a free mini version of it here.

Why is this important?
Our strengths can take us only so far. The fact is, we have access to all four patterns and to reach our full effectiveness, we need all the players on our inner team to jump in when the situation warrants it. Here's an example.

I was in a new business pitch once, where we had great ideas that were perfect for the prospect. We were in DRIVER mode all the way. But the harder we drove, the more the group began to pull back. Suddenly, things they told us earlier they really wanted were not so important anymore. They were finding problems with everything. So, we pushed even harder. One smart person on our team saw what was happening, quickly took the reins and immediately shifted gears. He jumped into the COLLABORATOR pattern and changed up our approach on the fly. "Maybe we misunderstood your needs. Let's talk again about what's important to you now and if we can't help you, I'm sure we can help you find someone who can." Arms uncrossed, people leaned forward again. A totally different conversation ensued (and we salvaged a very good portion of our work, BTW).

Step 1:  Awareness
We need to be able to access all four energy patterns in ourselves - not just one or two of our favorites. The earlier exercise (along with the mini FEBI if you took it) is the first step in discovering WHAT exactly are your strengths and what patterns are your weakest.

Step 2: Build Your Bench
Once you see the patterns functioning in you, you might also see a weaker one you'd like to cultivate. You can strengthen these players by building a practice around your hobbies, work habits or a number of otherway. Here's a complete list of pracitce suggestions for each pattern if you'd like some help. The more we build our bench, the more comfortable we become moving into any pattern at a moment's notice. In this way we are always fielding the best player for the situation.

Step 3: Field The Best Player
"If all we have is a hammer - as the saying goes - everything looks like a nail." As Ginny Whitelaw says in her book, The Zen Leader, "If all we normally do is push, every situation looks as though it can be handled by pushing. But once we have a well-rounded inner team of pattern players, we are more ready and able to read life situations for the best way to approach them."

Our agility as leaders comes from our deep understanding of ourselves, our desire to be the very best we can be, and our continuous expansion of our knowledge and expertise. Understanding the energy patterns that work within us, is an excellent tool for doing all of the above.

Topics: leadership advice, building your strengths, the zen leader, Ginny Whitelaw

Do you "walk the talk"… or just take a few steps?

Posted by Diane Chencharick

Oct 29, 2012 7:24:00 PM

walking As leaders, we all make a conscious effort to walk the talk, especially when it comes to implementing change. Showing others that we follow through on our thinking with our own action sets the pace for others to follow.  But sometimes this turns into a very short walk. We can lose momentum, get sidetracked, run into obstacles, or even get frustrated and turn back. Walking the talk is not an easy stroll in the park.

I am in the middle of such a walk right now. Last month I attended a program at the Institute for Zen Leadership (IZL). This was a 4-day immersion in how to make difficult "flips" that can greatly enhance my leadership skills, along with an introduction to zen meditation. I've read enough about the benefits of meditation to know that this could help me immensely, so I went. For the 4 mornings that I was there, sitting on my cushion with the other small group of leaders who had come for the same purpose, I wasn't just doing it, I was enjoying it. I liked how clear my mind became, how refreshed and energized I felt, and I was determined to make this a real practice in my life.

Then I returned home.

I don't need to tell you how quickly this "practice" fell off. Time became my biggest excuse, aided by a dose of procrastination. What struck me is how difficult it is to walk the talk. As agents of change, we are expected to lead the march without faltering. How can I expect others to keep taking those steps if I don't keep moving forward at a sustained pace myself? So, I've put together a few suggestions that have helped me walk the talk, or continue the journey down a difficult path.

Push through the pain and just DO IT!
I know this seems like I'm stating the obvious, but take a lesson from our greatest athletes and push through whatever resistance gets in your way - including yourself. As Ginny Whitelaw (author of The Zen Leader and director of the IZL program I attended) would say, "Get out of your own way!" This might be a "flip" in consciousness, like getting out of coping mode… or a fierce desire to see it through. Find your resolve and determination that came with the original idea and keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Don't think about it and just DO IT!
This may seem equally obvious, but recognize that your thoughts can be the greatest procrastinators. Move beyond the question of whether you're going to do it or not do it - similar to brushing your teeth in the morning. Once you shut down the internal debate and simply do what you said you were going to do, you'll find it's much easier than thinking about it. 

Make small rewards along the way
If it's hard for you to keep the momentum going, imagine how hard it is for others who are now in pace behind you? Define some milestones that are quickly attainable and reward them (and yourself) once they get there. This is no different than breaking down an insurmountable task into bite-size pieces. Keep your eye on the end goal, but make it a series of walks, not just one long marathon… and celebrate the little victories along the way.

Keep smiling
A positive attitude works. Don't have it today? Fake it… and keep faking until it comes naturally again. People are looking to you for inspiration. When they see you smiling in the face of adversity, they find hope for themselves and will push through the hard times. Don't ever underestimate the power of a smile in changing the energy around a situation.

Today I am hitting the cushion again and will be doing it tomorrow, too. In writing this, I find a new confidence… one that will carry me through those rough patches of indifference. To walk the talk. To do what I said I was going to because I know this change WILL make a difference.

And I'm going to do it with a little buddha smile:-)


Topics: instituting change, walk the talk, walking the talk, leadership advice, leaders, the zen leader, Ginny Whitelaw, energy, Institute for zen leadership, zen leadership

The Best Leadership Advice - slow down and STOP!

Posted by Diane Chencharick

Oct 17, 2012 9:31:00 AM



Topics: leadership advice, stress, rythym of the day, the zen leader, Ginny Whitelaw, energy, managing energy, managing stress

A Little Help From My Zen

Posted by Anthony Attan

Oct 11, 2012 9:30:00 AM

IZL log med

Topics: zen leader, the zen leader book, zen, leadership, Ginny Whitelaw, whole leadership, whole self, zen leadership

Realizing the Zen Leader: Recounting the Journey

Posted by Anthony Attan

Sep 23, 2012 11:52:00 AM

We often hear from readers of The Zen Leader, talking about their reactions, experiences or insights as they read the book and work through the activities.  Since some are just too good to keep to ourselves, here is a note we received from James Murphy, who described his own reaction to several of the chapters.

What has landed for me are the following:

Chapter 5: From Playing Your Strengths to Strengthening Your Play

While I’ve done a lot of these personality tests in the past and pretty much know where I am, this was a fun chapter. It was also unique in the sense that this is the first book or course I’ve seen where it is proposed to develop personality attributes that are not your strengths. I think this makes a lot of sense and I will try to do this. Instinctively, for example, I know my collaboration skills are weak and I’ve been trying to get my wife to join a ballroom dancing class to help me to improve this skill. I also know my driver skills are weak and my main physical activities are running and weight lifting. So it is curious that these activities have not resulted in stronger driver attributes.

As a side note, I chose to read this book not for work but for personal reasons. I am building a sailboat racing team and quickly realized that I was not performing as a leader properly. At work, I am not a manager, I am an architect, but I know to turn concepts into reality I need to lead so the concepts here will help me in that role.

Chapter 7: From Driving Results to Attracting the Future.

While reading this chapter and doing the exercises I was able to see a future that I hadn’t seen before. In a sense, I knew what some of the components of the future might be but I didn’t put them together into a larger whole. With this exercise I was able to do that. The unfortunate part of the results of this exercise is that if indeed my vision is the future and I am to lead the world to it, then I’ve got a lot of work to do because the future is very big indeed and fundamentally different than what we currently see. The silver lining is that I can see a path that starts with limited scope and can be incrementally expanded. (Note, this vision applies to my work, not sailing)

Chapter 10: From Delusion to Awakening

This chapter is good since it sets down some practical steps to make the lessons from this book stick. Indeed practice is required to acquire a Zen mindset. This chapter makes that clear and provides some good guidance. Indeed much of the book, and this chapter in particular were incomprehensible to me mostly because I have not experienced the mind state described in the book. Specifically I am talking about the concepts from the Surangama Sutra and understanding self and host versus guest, etc. I believe that in order to become the whole I will need to consistently practice and probably re-read this book a couple of times. As an ex-competitive runner, I believe my approach will have to be similar to athletic training. A plan, a schedule, making time and being consistent and disciplined.



Topics: zen leader, the zen leader book, mindfulness, spirituality, well-being, zen, the zen leader, energy patterns, leadership, Ginny Whitelaw, managing energy, zen leadership

Leadership Development and the Rule of "Just Enough"

Posted by Diane Chencharick

Sep 12, 2012 8:11:00 PM

enoughThe Swedes have a great word for this: Lagom, which roughly translates as "enough, sufficient, or just right." Too often, in today's world of avid consumerism, we get caught in a "good, better, best" way of thinking and find ourselves applying that principle to all aspects of our lives, including leadership. Our tendency to overdo can lead to "leadership obesity" which manifests in many undesirable ways: the ultimate problem-solver who fails to empower their employees, or the achievement-driven leader who drives for success at all costs. "Just as we don't serve ourselves well from overeating, we do ourselves no favor by over-indulging these needs," states Ginny Whitelaw, in The Zen Leader. If you'd like a memorable visual of "leadership gorging," I invite you to watch The Zen Leader Animated.

To develop leaders using the concept of "just enough," The Zen Leader prompts us to pause and ask those questions that bring self-awareness to the situation. "When we jump in and do a task that we're comfortable with, but someone else could be doing, we might ask, Am I really the right person to do this, or am I doing this only to satisfy my own need for accomplishment? When we push ourselves too hard and edge toward burnout, we might ask, Does this situation call for this extreme response, or am I doing this because I'm only happy when I'm achieving?" The answers won't always be the same, but they will bring clarity to the source. "Pausing to face our needs at any level, and ensuring we're meeting them just enough and not to the point of greed, we make the flip from compulsively using life to serve our needs into using our needs to effectively serve life."

Changing awareness from "It's all about me" to "I'm all about it" is one of the "flips" in consciousness that The Zen Leader walks you through and is an integral part of leading by the "just enough" rule. Do you recognize the faces of "It's all about me?" Look at these statements below and see how they can be flipped around to change your perspective and how you serve the situation:

  • Only I can do this.  >  I'd enjoy doing this, but who else can learn from this?
  • I need to market myself better.  >  How can I add real and visible value?
  • I'm worried about money.  >  I can be prudent about money and resourceful about living with just enough if I have to.
  • If our groups get merge, I may be out of a job.  >  Our groups merging may signal it's time for a new chapter for me.
If we meet our needs at every level using "just enough," what we become are Servant Leaders, who don't get "stuck" in the vicious cycle of self-fulfillment. We have fuel and freedom to serve the whole situation, letting our strengths and true nature shine.

The Zen Leader is available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble in paperback and e-reader editions. "Like" The Zen Leader on Facebook to receive regular updates.


Topics: servant leadership, just enough, lagom, the zen leader, leadership development, Ginny Whitelaw

An Idiot's Guide To Awakening

Posted by Diane Chencharick

Aug 28, 2012 8:16:00 AM

awakening I had the fortunate opportunity last month to view an incredible film at the Smithsonian Air & Space museum called "Hubble 3D." Part of it was documentary - the fixing of the Hubble telescope in outer space. But the most profound parts, by far, were the images from outer space that Hubble was able to capture and send back once its lenses were functioning properly.

It's hard to even comprehend a light year, not to mention the images on screen that were MILLIONS of light years away. Trillions of galaxies like ours with planets and moons all revolving around their own "suns." Galaxies… black holes… stars being born… incredible photos that were merely a teeny tiny fragment of all that's out there. All the beauty and energy of the universe was right before my eyes. I was totally humbled.

This experience started me thinking about the last chapter in The Zen Leader - From Delusion To Awakening. I've always struggled understanding that chapter. The idea of nothingness and "no place to go" was so far from my daily life that awakening seemed really out of my realm of possibilities. But what I felt in that movie was a sense of being that went beyond all my self-defined notions of life. It made me think, at least for a moment, of myself at the molecular level - a mass of energy, part of a bigger universal source that was infinite. Was that the sense of "awakening" that Ginny was talking about? If it was, it felt awesome - powerful and humbling at the same time and I actually now have hope that I might be able to get there again sometime.

My biggest misconception of the term "awakening" stems from what I define as being awake. Unless you've got some form of narcolepsy, people wake up and stay that way for some time. This is not generally the case with spiritual awakening. One does not have an "aha" experience and stay that way; in fact, Ginny Whitelaw, who has become a Zen Master, laments in her learning how impossible it was to "maintain that condition," as her teacher instructed her to do. He also knew it was impossible, "but you have to try," he told her. All most of us might hope for is a taste, but once we have that taste, like a favorite savory meal, we want more.

"I'd read for years that ignorance is the root of delusion and suffering, and mistakenly equated "ignorance" with "stupidity," states Ginny in The Zen Leader. "Not so; we're plenty smart," she adds. "The evidence of our boundless, immortal nature is available to us all the time… but we ignore it; we are ignor-ant. Our boundless nature doesn't interest us because it doesn't move…It's not a story with a beginning, middle and dramatic end. We ignore it and choose a story instead: our story. Me."

I think I now understand why meditation is key to awakening. We need to slow down the mind chatter - the "Me" story - in order to sense our universal nature. I've dabbled in this a bit, but am now ready to dive in. I've enrolled in a program this September at the Institute For Zen Leadership - a brand new institute Dr. Whitelaw has founded that marries Zen to leadership, where it can do the most good. I hope to learn more about the practice of meditation and the value it brings to leadership, and life in general (contact Focus Leadership if you'd like more information on this - the Institute web site goes live September, 2012).

Who knows… maybe I'll even get a chance to experience another awakened moment - this time without the 3D glasses :-)

Topics: awakening, the institute for zen leadership, Hubble 3D, the zen leader, Ginny Whitelaw

Do We Really Create Our Own Reality?

Posted by Diane Chencharick

Aug 15, 2012 12:17:00 PM

describe the imageThe idea that we create our own reality is not a new concept, but as you'll read, a lesson I'm still learning. Werner Erhard, the controversial founder of the "est" movement in the 70's was the first one I can remember in my own lifetime to talk about this idea. But if we look back through the ages, we see this same concept in the Buddhist notion of "interdependent arising," or what Thich Nhat Hanh calls  "interbeing." Everyone, everything, everywhere interdependently co-creating the reality we call our world. Do we really create our own reality? If so, why aren't we doing a better job of it? 


Topics: creating our own reality, the zen leader, Ginny Whitelaw

Welcome to the Zen Leader Blog

A blog that transforms:

This blog is dedicated to the concepts described in the book The Zen Leader by Ginny Whitelaw.  In this blog we discuss how these concepts are applied to a variety of current situations and applications, helping us all unleash the Zen Leader within us!

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