Notes From the Field: Apex Perspectives: Leadership Applications of Big Mind

Gayle Young

The process of becoming a leader is much the same as the process of becoming an integrated human being. For the leader, as for any integrated person, life itself is the career. Discussing the process in terms of ‘leaders’ is merely a way of making it concrete. ~Warren Bennis

Gayle YoungUnderstanding this quote means having a conceptualization of what an integrated human being means, and the Big Mind process with Zen Master Dennis Genpo Merzel gave me the clearest insight on what “integrated” as a state means, because Big Mind gives one the experience of what it means to both “disintegrate” and also “reintegrate”, of the parts and wholes so integral to integral theory.

I was fortunate to have the experience of participating in the filming of a home practice kit for the Big Mind work with Genpo Roshi for five days in Salt Lake City in September, which meant some six hours of the process of Big Mind/Big Heart a day in a small group setting.

The Big Mind experience is the process of journeying through different states, through the doorway of voice dialogue to access different aspects of the Self. For those unfamiliar with Big Mind, it is a form of voice dialogue where the questions themselves have the lineage of both psychology and questions from the Zen tradition. Benefits I’ve noticed are greater self awareness and understanding, ability to cope with issues, to gain perspectives. One of the greatest Big Mind benefits is the reconciliation of the personal experience of fragmentation, particularly in creating awareness of and capacity for holding paradox, which according to Susanne Cook-Greuter’s work is a key aspect of post-conventional developmental stages. Perspective taking is inherently related to identification, and the delusions of identification with the self.

The world needs more conscious leaders. That’s just such a no-brainer to me, so every possible practice I encounter to help develop that becomes seed for thought about how it can be used. The question then arises about how you develop the ability to hold paradox. On the one hand, there’s the lived experience, where the lived experience of the world is so undeniably, fundamentally one in which one moves constantly through the paradoxes we face that one is forced to hold it, or else go insane or into denial.

From a leadership development perspective, this isn’t exactly a credible or viable thing to relate to executives grappling with the realities they’re facing in this increasingly complex, turbulent, ambiguous, fearful marketplace. What are the practices that offer perspective taking? Big Mind, amongst others, certainly does—and it does so in a very unique way.

By separating out different aspects of the Self, such as Controller, Protector, Wounded Self, Undamaged Self, Infinite Compassion, Inner Child, Critic, etc., a process of separating identification from Self begins, as does the necessary and more conscious, long-term process of reintegration to become an integrated human being begins.

As an example, I’m choosing the voice of the Skeptic to play out a slice of this particular dialectical play.

“May I speak to the voice of the Skeptic?” Once Genpo Roshi asks this as the facilitator of Big Mind, the process is to shift in some physical way that can be as simple as a head tilt or a total rearrangement of body, and then respond in the voice of my own skeptic and the sole job of that aspect of Gayle is to be skeptical. (Within voices, the Self is referred to in third person, thus it becomes Object rather than Subject and the subtle process of unraveling the delusion of identification begins.)

The Skeptic: In this voice, I (not to be confused with Gayle as the Self) am skeptical. It is that simple, on some level, that I am skeptical of absolutely everything. I’m skeptical of Genpo Roshi, of the Big Mind process, of the applications of integral theory, of my own name, of the validity of what I’m reading, global warming, the electoral college—the list goes on infinitely. Gayle doesn’t like me sometimes because my presence makes her doubt some of the subtler experiences she has that aren’t conventional, though she finds me useful because there are times when she can be gullible and she needs me around to keep her safe.

Aspects of self are sneaky. They will come out and bite you in the ass if you disown them or not let them mature. Disowned fear comes out as false bravado, disowned sexuality comes out as moral prudishness, disowned leadership comes out as false subservience beneath a veneer of superiority or can wear a thousand other masks. We have as many masks as we have voices. Immature fear is reactive—but if the voice of fear with all its complexity, biological roots and its survival offerings is allowed to mature, it can actually help the development of the Self, rather than hinder.

One of the offerings of Big Mind is the process of moving through polar opposites to eventually transcend them. Taking on a near opposite to Skeptic, the voice of Trust has much to offer.

“May I speak to the voice of Trust?”

Trust: I am Trust, and my job is to trust everything. Everything that the Skeptic doubts, I trust in. I trust in the beauty of humanity as much as the horror of it. I trust the news, the unfolding processes of the universe, the lessons Gayle is learning and the circumstances they arise out of, even the times Gayle has been in pain. When I’m disowned, the world is a dark and more fearful place. When I’m disowned, I’ll come out as a desperate skepticism or a grasping to trust things that aren’t really trustable.

An immense part of the value of the Big Mind process to expand capacity and to hold complexity comes from then holding Trust and Skeptic, or Distrust, in the same space—to move into the realm of being able to hold paradox. It is a space of not having preference one over the other, but to rather transcend and include both.

“May I speak to Apex of Trust and Skeptic, the Voice that transcends and includes both?” Thinking about this particular voice (or really any of the voices) doesn’t work. One cannot cognitively go there with the mind, which makes this a beautiful koan in some ways. The only way for me to find this voice, as with all of them, is to just be the voice and discover what comes out. So who is this voice?

class=”blockquote”>Apex of Trust and Skeptic: I am the voice of the Apex of Trust and Skeptic (what a mouthful), I include them both, transcend them, and have no preference. From this perspective, I can see the value that both voices offer. From this place, I’m not so attached to something needing to be true to be trusted, I can trust in the moment. I can wield skepticism appropriately to find the wisdom of what can be trusted and ask the questions that need to be asked. From this space I have the ability to discern and also accept and what I accept I can accept wholeheartedly and can see through bullshit.

Moving through both the Voice of “I Don’t Give a Shit” and the voice of “Cares Deeply About Everything” to their Apex, I had a new lens and perspective on the ability to love and work wholeheartedly for something without attachment to outcome, which from a leadership perspective is incredibly useful. At the end of a relationship, I could embrace still giving unconditional love without attachment to it being returned in some preconceived form. (The voice of “Doesn’t Give a Shit” by itself is useful when stuck in traffic too.)

Each of the Apex voices, widened in perspective by having to hold two polar opposites, touches the space of the transcendent and it is from the spaces of the Apex that wisdom arises. The mythologist Michael Meade speaks beautifully about how solutions lie in holding the tensions of poles apart long enough, playing it out, so something has space to be born, to arise in the middle. Genpo Roshi’s Big Mind offers the “how” of the holding of poles.

When Einstein says that the problems of this world can’t be solved at the same level of consciousness that created them, I believe that an implication of his words means that issues can’t be solved from the place of polarity and paradox but from the place of increasing the tension, making cleaner the distinctions, in order to then include and transcend them.

What Genpo Roshi personally demonstrates as a leader to facilitate the Big Mind process is beautiful to watch. I found it profoundly artful. Everyone, when they speak from voice, taps a deep wisdom that he honors and recognizes. He guided us to the space where our own insights flowered. He holds the space of the voices themselves, creating a subtle resonance that we key into on an intuitive level, while also holding the space of all voices at once from the space of the truly Big Mind with grace and compassion. He mindfully moves with flow and adapts precisely to where everyone is in a roomful of people. I guess they don’t call someone a Zen Master for just any old reason.

Working with Big Mind personally has expanded my capacity to take perspective. It has also made me deeply curious about how we can use Big Mind to explore the many polarities and paradoxes leaders have to grapple with and ultimately transcend and include. Leaders need to transcend opposites to be effective and agile—in particular, a few immediately come to mind that I’m curious about such as the archetypes of servant and ruler or king, being all-knowing and also Beginner’s Mind, the good of the many and the good of the one (I’m reminded of Star Trek and the Wrath of Khan), of structure versus empowerment. We so often get stuck in the track of trying to use one aspect to justify another, like the apparent opposites of the marketplace economy and personal nurturing. You don’t have to use some equation like happy employees equal a more productive workforce (even though I hold that as a value) for both to be in play, and Big Mind as a process can offer perspectives on that.

Deep gratitude to Genpo Roshi, Diane Musho Hamilton, Bruce Lambson, the film crew, my fellow seekers, and all the others from the Kanzeon Zen Center in Salt Lake for the opportunity to practice Big Mind.

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Gayle Young is passionate about helping people expand their awareness of their own choices and behaviors as related to their life situations, both past and present, in order to facilitate sustained change. Gayle is an organizational psychologist with the consulting firm Maxcomm. She is passionate about the work of leader development, working within the corporate structures that are so influential in our social systems. As Warren Bennis said, “The process of becoming a leader is much the same as the process of becoming an integrated human being. For the leader, as for any integrated person, life itself is the career. Discussing the process in terms of ‘leaders’ is merely a way of making it concrete.” Her work consists of leadership development, change management, strategic communications, building high performance teams, and personal and organizational transformation. Within those contexts, she focuses on coaching, group dynamics, group facilitation and research, and helping leaders evolve and adapt to increasingly complex external environments.

She is particularly interested in global women’s issues and helping women be more effective in their leadership roles. Gayle has worked with and served on non-profit boards, including the Board of Trustees for Alliant International University and the Board of Directors for the Bay Area Organization Development Network. She has spoken to groups such as the National Association of Asian American Professionals about effective influence in the workplace and has been a facilitator for the Stanford Graduate School of Business and their Women in Management Program. Gayle earned her BA Degree in Psychology from the University of San Francisco, where she graduated magna cum laude with Honors, and has her masters in Organizational Psychology.