Silence in a Zen monastery instead of the New Year's Eve party
Energy! Strength! Silence!
A week of meditation and silence in the Zen monastery Buchenberg to spend the turn of the year in vibrant silence.
I am convinced that whoever works with other people, provides guidance and wants to explore new paths and shape those ways together with others, needs a foundation in him*herself and in his or her own being. One of my sources of stability for a strong foundation that also holds in the storm is Zen. That’s why I’m using the time off from parties due to the pandemic to recharge my batteries in a one-week Zen retreat. This is not a wellness vacation, even though it does me good and I feel renewed, full of energy and completely recovered mentally, spiritually, and physically.
For the vain among us a little bonus tip: After a week, there are compliments to the noticeably recovered, possibly rejuvenated appearance, and a great radiance included.
Still, reactions range from “You’re nuts!” to “I could never do that!” or, more to the point, “Holy shit!”.
Since 2010 I am a convinced “Zenni” (sometimes more than others) and try to live the principles of Zen philosophy. More about this later. First of all, Zen as such is not necessarily religious. I am not a Buddhist. The Buddha is not a deity in Zen, but the symbol of one’s own pure, clear mind.
It’s primarily about being present in the moment. Zen meditation focuses on living in the here and now, freed from all thoughts, feelings, morals, concepts, and patterns of behavior. The practice focuses on the situation as it is, without judging it, and thus one reaches (with a lot of training) a state of mental calm, emptiness, and silence. This state is described as a release from oneself or even a positive feeling of emptiness. Suzuki even speaks of the “great freedom”. However, Zen is not only meditation, but determines a whole attitude towards life and being.
Hinnerk Polenski founded the Daishin Zen tradition, which has its (physical) home in the monastery of Buchenberg. Daishin means as much as heart spirit, which casually expressed, stands for the connection of heart and brain.
So, what exactly does that mean for me now?!
Anyone who knows me knows that getting up early is not really my thing.
Then why get up voluntarily at the crack of dawn and be silent in a large room lit only by dim lights and candles with other strangers?!
Because meditating is not doing nothing. It is focus and concentration, sometimes really tough. Especially with lack of sleep certainly not fun. And sometimes it’s exactly these situations that bring me to my limits and thus closer to myself and thus to others. And hand on heart, it’s also a good exercise, because in everyday life it sometimes happens that you want to give full performance and concentration with little sleep. A bit of training for these situations, which should remain exceptions, does not hurt.
Those who know me know that for the free spirit in me, rules and time statements often mean only a rough guidance.
Why then do I quite voluntarily subordinate myself to a meticulous timing and precise processes, where I am obediently on the spot on time, bow, stand up, sit down, walk across the room at a 90 degree angle, eat and drink, talk and keep silent when I am told (only the first time, the second time it ideally works without having to be told).
Admittedly, sometimes I actually wondered what I was doing there… After all, I could still be comfortably snuggled up in bed or sitting together with friends in the evening with red wine.
And then this childlike joy comes back, reminding me how good it sometimes does me to have this external order and structure, so that I myself don’t have to constantly think about and decide what and how to do, but can let myself fall into the clear order of monastic life.
It always surprises me myself how beneficial this structure can be. This structure leads not only to efficiency, but more importantly to unity. When everyone is doing the same thing at the same time, the harmony of the whole is sometimes poignant to me. It reminds me how important a certain structure, rules, and established rituals are also in companies and in the working world. In everyday life, one probably speaks of reliability.
The feeling of unity and belonging is the basis for being creative and growing individually on the other side. In order to be able to achieve great things together, it is also necessary to sense exactly when it is important to subordinate oneself to this community for the benefit of all and when there is time and space for individual power and self-development. This also is an important experience that is allowed to be renewed again and again when it comes to building and transforming companies. Unity and individuality in balance.
Anyone who knows me knows that I love to talk and usually have an anecdote at hand. So how can I just stay silent for a whole week?
I think that is exactly why. It is precisely because I allow myself the silent time in everyday life and or clenched as in a retreat or sesshin that my thoughts can order themselves and become a plausible context. Meditation is about experiencing an inner emptiness, renouncing all the thoughts, and mental concepts for the moment to experience reality as pure being. This emptiness creates space for the new, for the essence (whatever it means for oneself and the world).
Heart spirit (Daishin) also means to feel compassion–with oneself and with others. It means to feel with, to feel together (in contrast to pity). The heart offers a few more impulses, which cannot necessarily be grasped with our mind, but which are real. It unlocks abundance–an expanded space with unlimited possibilities.
Why also be silent between meditations–for a week?
I choose this silence quite consciously. In silence and contemplation I hear my own inner voice. Whereby it is not directly a voice, but rather an “comprehension”. Sometimes it is quite irritating what I hear and understand there, because not everything that my inner voice gives me to understand, suits me at the moment. To get through to “reality”, to “look deeper” can be beautiful, but it can also hurt. They are not always eureka moments; sometimes insight can also be very sobering.
Occasionally, though, that inner voice has a sly tip, that one small but important impulse. In any case, I see more clearly and clarity gives orientation. Orientation shows me the options and scope that I and others have; this is also called the power to act.
It’s about feeling your own strength. To be authentic, to remain true to one’s own essence, in all the experiments that life has in store for us. Not a power in the sense of dominance from and to the outside, but the strength and balance from one’s own central core. This is easier said than done, and anyone who has ever consciously experienced being outside their own center knows, how strong the centrifugal force of the spinning wheel of life is and how difficult it is to return to the center. So for me it is pure common sense not to strain the center excessively, even if it is sometimes very tempting to surrender to the waves outside.
If you really want to listen, you have to be able to remain silent. And not just “not talk,” but also calm one’s own thoughts so that what is heard finds room in the mind and heart to have an impact. Because only then is deeper understanding possible and only then can the right decisions be made. Only then can leadership succeed.
To stay with oneself for once, to bear it alone with oneself, can be healing and strengthens not only one’s own middle, but also the relationships and connections to others. Those who are at peace within themselves and can sometimes take a step back can give space to others. In this space, new possibilities can emerge.
Those who know me, know that I like to work, gladly and a lot. (Which is partly because I love my work and partly because work also gives me a lot of energy).
I’m often asked “how do you manage all that workload?”, “Where do you get this energy from?”, “Where do you find this clarity?”, “How do you stay so confident and not lose your sense of humor?”, “How do you keep your cool?”, or “How could you have known?”
Often the Zen practice is the answer. Zen empowers intuition, sharpens powers of observation, and as a result I can synthesize information more meaningfully. Above all, it is training for intuition. Daishin-Zen stands for “heart spirit”, the connection between mind and heart, and the body also plays an important role. Daishin-Zen movements are not cautious or timid, but powerful, focused and swift, without being hectic. Often I have to make an effort to keep up (for example, in kinhin, the walking meditation, jaggedly in time and lockstep up a hill on uneven forest paths. There I have to concentrate so much, there is hardly any room for other thoughts–or while working in the kitchen). I admire the grace and pace with which the monks and nuns do their work or simply walk across the grounds.
Sitting for long periods of time in meditation–at sesshins this can be 10 hours or more per day–is at some point more than demanding. My spine is definitely not used to it. But it reminds me how important an upright stance is. And yes – even in real life, being upright can be tedious at times. But it’s worth not giving in to resistance, to temptation, because good energy can only flow when an uprightness is the central focus of one’s posture.
Observing the chores here, one gets a sense of what it looks like when “it’s flowing.” Precise movements, hand in hand, creative, harmonious and creating results with joy – without a lot of hoopla, without endless meetings, without babbling, without waste, without noise.
Even monastery guests are allowed to cooperate, at least in the day-to-day work. Well, actually the contribution, called samu, is not optional, because it is part of the Zen practice. Some people sometimes wish they had watched the cleaner at home better. But don’t worry, every job is patiently explained until every move is perfect, even for those who haven’t done any housework themselves for a long time. Everyone comes down to earth. It is fascinating how satisfying it can be to do the dishes or even clean the monastic toilets.
It is an invitation to do normally annoying chores like dishwashing, vacuuming, trimming flowers in silence and with mindfulness, yet in a certain time and quality. To be part of a team and yet be with oneself. Unbelievable how well collaboration is organized, with total strangers with a minimum of gestures or spoken words. The harmony in the processes is like a choreography.
How quickly, effortlessly and almost flawlessly the work comes off when you are fully present. So it’s also about performance, definitely top performance for me. Just without stress. Like Swiss clockwork, only a bit more creative and humorous–in other words, more human.
The transformation of companies needs this triad, especially when “high performance” is the goal; usually we then call it reflection, implementation (operational excellence), celebrating successes. Alternatively also vision & goals, products & services and corporate culture. Many managers want dedication from their employees and may find the key here. For any leader, anyone and everyone who wants to give leadership and power, Hinnerk’s Zen Leadership seminars are especially worthwhile.
The silence serves me well.
Not to run away and escape from the noisy world full of flaws and injustices, but to refresh my connection with the world, to sharpen my eyes and my sense for the good. To recognize my latitude, where I can have an impact on a better world–and where I can trust that the world will organize itself without me, which can be incredibly relieving.
The awareness that everything is connected to everything else. With this awareness that I am not alone, but that there are always people who want to be involved and shape things. The knowing that there is a force that can and wants to move great things.
There is the story of the Buddha statues made of pure, brightly shining gold. To protect it from destruction, weathering and robbers, over the years and centuries more and more clay was poured over it, so that the gold was unrecognizable hidden under a shapeless layer of earth. Buddhist psychology uses this image to also explain human shortcomings while “right as it is”. The healing teachings focus on making this golden core accessible and perceptible again.
My own clarity helps me to recognize the golden in companies and people, so that my clients can turn the proverbial sand in the gears into pearls. Supporting the emergence of new corporate worlds requires courage, mindfulness and strength. A business transformation is always a bit of a journey to oneself, as people also recognize new perspectives and develop new skills in a transforming context. There are so many unique and valuable aspects in the people I work with. Unlocking these treasures together and making them usable is most rewarding to me.
It is the time to cultivate friendship with myself, to be at peace with myself, despite all the things that upset me or that I do not accomplish.
The inner retreat is a time just for me. No one wants anything from me, I don’t have to be available for anyone. It is a time to cultivate friendship with myself, to come to terms with myself, despite all the things that annoy me or that I do not succeed in doing.
For me, it’s also a cure for loneliness. The feeling of connectedness (even and especially in times of social distancing), when my heart opens up and I really notice the people around me and their relatedness, even when physical closeness is not possible. The inner tingle when that connection “clicks” into place, like a magnet finding its place instead of just wandering around loosely. That feeling that it’s just as right as it is at this moment.
Zen is tangible and down-to-earth. In the here and now. In presence and in real life. Tangible connectedness.
This is not about esoteric enlightenment in some other better world, but about anchoring consciousness and strength in everyday life.
While many other meditation concepts focus on energy from above and inspiration, Zen draws strength from grounding. Those with their feet firmly on the ground do not fall over easily. Those who are deeply rooted can also flexibly adapt to the wind without losing their own position.
From the energy of grounding and the awareness of being rooted and upheld comes the space for inspiration. Inspiration that does not only live from idealistic dreams, but can be implemented tangibly in real life. How many plans fail because they have lost touch with reality? Zen is the (un-)gentle way to get ground under your feet again and to create real and thus sustainable results step by step.
In Daishin Zen, one is either in immersion or in the dynamic. Immersion can mean zazen (deep silence in sitting meditation) or the complete presence in the work; some know this feeling as “flow”. Both have it in them. It’s like a boot camp for body, mind and soul.
The body work, early morning exercise so to speak, before breakfast gets the fitness heart pumping. Mine definitely, it costs me the utmost not to just give up in the middle of it. Sore muscles are inevitable (I know my fitness could be much better). When I see the relaxed smiles on the faces of the others, even during the toughest exercises, I make a firm resolution to do more endurance and power exercises again.
By the way, anyone can join in from their own living room. What looks so easy is pretty damn exhausting–at least for me. Or vice versa, even if it’s hard, it still looks effortless. If you want to experience it in everyday life, in the virtual monastery, you can join in every day from 6 a.m. and on three evenings during the week, then often with lectures or guided meditation (Virtual Monastery Daishin Zen).
Especially at the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, it did me good to have this community, to just sit together without discussion and opinions and create the path to alignment through awareness. In this way, I was able to be a source of strength for others even in times of uncertainty.
The good news is–after a week at the Zenkloster Buchenberg and with the anchoring in everyday life through the possibility to strengthen my practice daily in the virtual monastery , I know that I am so ready to be a good mentor to my clients on their journey into a new corporate world–with depth, strength, and humor.