Published in OM Yoga Magazine – March 2018
My journey into yoga and Zen Buddhism began over seven years ago at a time in my life when I was rapidly self-destructing, fears of failure and pressures of business and life, snowballing over a decade until life itself reached a breaking point and snapped. In desperation I began to look for something, reading self-help books I stumbled across meditation and started a self-taught practice, not sure if what I was doing was right or wrong, but it had to be worth a go! I was living in Exeter, Devon at the time, and began looking around the community for help, to my surprise they were eleven practising Buddhist lineages in the city. Somewhere I had read that the Buddha had said that you seek out your teacher, questioning what you hear and ensuring the teacher’s integrity. I did this, and the practices I visited and sat with just didn’t feel right for me. And then an amazing thing happened, my career is in leadership development and being an avid reader a book presented itself on my Amazon account bringing together the topics of Leadership and Buddhism. The book was The Zen Leader by Ginny Whitelaw, who as well as being a Zen master has held a significant leadership position at NASA, and teaches leadership to CEOs globally. I instantly bought the book, and before I knew it, I was attending the Institute for Zen Leadership Foundational Program at Spring Green dojo, Wisconsin, USA. There is no doubt that those three days of Ginny’s programme have had a profound effect on my life and my leadership. It would be fair to say that those tough years had taken its toll, I arrived battered, a body full of tension, translating into an inflexibility, lousy back and headaches, making the seated meditation (zazen) part of the programme extremely uncomfortable. Strangely even with an aching back and burning knees, the zazen brought about an unexpected sense of coming home. I wasn’t sure what had sparked it, but it was surreal, sitting on a mat 5,500 miles from England and feeling as though I belonged. I returned determined to take forward two aspects of what I had learnt: first on the list was to sit zazen daily for 20 minutes and the second was to spend 20 minutes daily completing the yin yoga practice as taught by Ginny and now recorded by a stickman drawing, pinned to my fridge door.
I have stuck with these daily practices ever since and they have expanded into a more extended sit and yoga practice and, five years on, my body has transformed, back pain and headaches long gone. So other than the sitting and yoga what has changed in my life. The most prominent change, without a doubt, must be the sense of joy that each day brings. The challenges haven’t gotten any less, but everything seems so much brighter. In my leadership role, it would look that this one quality has been infectious, and which I experienced when leaving my job to take up a new position with the Institute for Zen Leadership. The leaving experience was something that I have never witnessed before and one I would like to share. I was given a leaving card that brought a tear to my eye, as it was full of very generous words that genuinely shocked me. There is one small paragraph that sums up many of the others that read, “Aahh, Andy there are no words to accurately reflect the effect you’ve had on us all. The organisation is far better and more relaxed having known you. We’ll definitely miss you a lot.” Reading those words brought a wry smile to my face, as I am well aware that those words have little to do with me, and so much more to do with my newfound ability to move beyond those deep-rooted fears, by keeping well out of my own way.
Andy Robins is a 200 certified yoga teacher and teaches zen leadership in U.K, Europe and USA http://www.institutezenleadership.org