Recently, I watched the film Kung Fu Panda 2 with my family. At the beginning of the movie there is a scene where the Panda’s sensei catches a rain drop on his hand while doing Tai Chi. He wields it, moves with it, flows with it, and brings the rain drop gently, with fluidity, down to a blade of grass, letting it roll off the tip of his finger. Finally, the blade of grass ever-so-lightly bends, and the rain drop rolls off and is absorbed into the water of a pond.
Watch the "Inner Peace" Clip (watch until 1:22 if you have limited time)
Fast forward to the end of the movie. The Panda, who is constantly in the learning mode, catches a cannon ball, wields it, moves with it (mind you, it is a cannon ball fired at him), absorbs its energy, redirects its energy, and then throws it back at the firing cannon. What a great visual for thinking, being, and doing. I know you, too, will want to watch Kung Fu Panda 2.
Great clip for "thinking, being, and doing" (first 50 seconds)
The movie is a great illustration of an important fundamental: when the student is ready, the teacher appears.
I first heard this phrase from my mentor Quint Studer and have used it many times, thinking I grasped and understood it. There is a very good chance I’ll be apologizing a few years from now for this piece, realizing that I’ve grasped even more of its meaning, but I do feel I understand the phrase at a deeper level today than ever before. I believe there is a wealth of wisdom for each of us to take from it in growing as a leader, and I’d like to stimulate our thinking around it by exploring it in the context of leadership.
Adjust Your Sails
I often talk about the importance of remaining in the “learning mode”. I believe that, regardless of our status, title, age, wisdom, training, etc., staying in the learning mode means that we are consistently curious, teachable, and open to learning even more. It positions us to remain in a state of humility and teachability so that we truly never stop growing and learning. It disarms others and creates environments in which everyone can thrive and continue growing. I also often talk about the importance of knowing your “cause and purpose”. As individuals, and especially as leaders, we must have a firm grasp on our cause and purpose in order to direct our intentions, our actions, our habits.
I believe it’s fully possible to successfully combine these two ideals, and to remain true to our cause and purpose while also remaining curious about new learning that is available to us. Our cause and purpose will literally serve us as a propeller to our destinies, while staying in the learning mode will serve as the sail, which must be open when the wind is right.
A “student” must consistently be in the learning mode: curious about the drop of water, moving with it, yet directing it along the way. The “teacher” appears because it knows the student will be receptive. Put more simply, we can only learn lessons that we are open, ready, and willing to learn. By the same token, if the student does not know their cause in life, then any number of teachers may appear. Our intentionality in cause and purpose ensure that we are creating circumstances for the right teachers to appear before us.
As We Think, So We Are
And then comes thinking.
Thinking is a double-edged sword. Recently at church, a video was shown of a man going through life while the audio verbalized what was playing through his head: a cacophony of thoughts continuously playing while the man monotonously woke up, got ready for work, drove to work in his BMW, worked in a cubicle at his job, drove back home, sat on his couch, and watched TV, and then woke up and did it all over again.
The paradox was, the man in the video was a person supposedly living the American dream, quite like many of us. But stepping back from the thoughts playing in his head, he was a rat in a maze that was dictated purely by his habits. He was simply dancing to someone else’s tune. While he was living the American dream with the BMW, the nice job, and the nice house, he was indeed thinking, but was he thinking upon the right things? His thoughts informed his habits, his habits formed his routine, and his routine was his life.
This illustration is so indicative of the vast majority of people today. We are running at a very fast pace to catch the American dream, but in reality, we are running nowhere, and our thoughts play a major role in that destination. Most people don’t have a cause or a real purpose for being. Many know their cause and purpose but don’t intentionally form their thoughts around it, not realizing the power that those thoughts hold over their ultimate destination.
2 Corinthians 10:5 instructs us to “take every thought captive”, a statement which, by its very nature, indicates that we have the power to control and direct our thoughts with intentionality.
Living in this high-tech, breakneck-pace time necessitates the need to know our cause and purpose more than ever before, and to then be disciplined in our thinking and in centering our thinking upon that cause.
High intention to your cause will help you weld, mold, and shape your habits. High intention in thought, high intention in asking questions of the world, and high intention in action - that is what is required of us.
When we’ve determined our destination, adjusted our sails, and righted our ship, its time to look for the teacher. It’s time to catch the wind of learning, to steer in the direction of our destiny while allowing the vibrant newness of the lessons we’re ready for push us further than the still water, well past the shore and into the depths of who we are meant to become, leading others to do the same. And then you too will find more often that indeed the student is ready, and the teacher appears.
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