Lead 300: leading as a way of serving

Zen Mountain Center entrance

Photo courtesy of Alex Timberlake
Zen Mountain Center entrance

“What am I doing with my life?”

If you’re anywhere close to graduating, then you’ve probably thought, muttered or screamed this question to yourself many times before. Senior Niko Turko is no exception.

“All the anxieties about being a senior have really gotten to me this year,” Turko said. “Thankfully, I found a class that was able to explain why I was feeling the way I was, relieve my stress about the future, and open up my eyes to all the possibilities that were available to me.”

That class is Lead 300: Leading as a way of serving. With so much going on in college, this course is a chance to let students slow down and appreciate everything going on around them. That includes relationships with their families, friends, and even themselves. It also provides students with activities, lectures, videos, projects, and discussions on how to act in a way that will provide them the most success and happiness in their present and future life.

“I had heard about this class from a bunch of friends all saying that I absolutely had to take it,” said Turko. “I’m a public relations and advertising major, so I just went into the class expecting it to be another World Culture credit for me since I’m not a leadership major. It ended up being my favorite class.”

Lead 300 is taught by Mark Maier, associate professor of sociology, founding chair of the Organizational Leadership Program, and director of the Chapman Leadership Program. Maier’s goal for students: Find out who you are, what you want to do, and where you are going in life. He also takes students beyond the classroom to a weekend Zen Retreat at the Yokoji Zen Mountain Center in the San Jacinto Mountains. Here, students are able to meditate, take class activities, discuss the importance of life and death, and participate in yoga, hiking and trust exercises.

Junior Marian Quiroz, a leadership minor, compared this class to other Leadership courses that Chapman offers:

“This class — and the retreat specifically — has been my favorite experience thus far at Chapman. It’s very rare in college to bond with classmates. This retreat provided us with an atmosphere in which every student really got to know and respect one another.”

During the retreat, each day begins and ends with a process of meditation that is called zazen. During zazen, everyone remains in a sitting or kneeling position and attempts to cast aside all thoughts and movements from their conscious mind. One must not think about good or bad, but rather attempt to just “be” without having to think.

“I still actually use the zazen meditations we learned at the retreat to ease my stress and clear my mind.” said Turko.

One retreat activity: Students construct a labyrinth (maze) out of branches. Then, they walk through the maze which symbolizes the twists and turns within their own lives that will bring them to their personal goals. The students also participates in a “silent lunch” where they are unable to speak, but must rather appreciate all of the things around them that their five senses are able to pick-up without all the usual noise and chaos.

Senior Andrew Chapel was also quick to add the retreat as one of his favorite experiences at Chapman:

“The labyrinth and silent lunch activities really created an intimate setting among our class, where we were really able to step outside of ourselves and engage with other classmates,” said Chapel.

Students are also encouraged to participate in a Dharma talk that is conducted by a resident of the Zen Mountain Center. Here, vital economic, political, spiritual, and social questions are addressed by the group in a shared discussion. This semester, Chapman students were asked how they would go about “causing no harm toward others” if they were given major leadership positions such as the U.S. presidency, control over all national banks, ownership of Apple Inc.

Senior Jen Bracken was greatly influenced by the results:

“It made me proud to hear the responses of my fellow classmates. I think we made the people at

the Mountain Center relieved about the future of our country hearing all of the important and influential things that “America’s youth” had to say.”

Maier has taught about leadership for the last 20 years and has been taking students to the Zen Mountain Center for the last 10 years. Even on campus, he creates multiple opportunities for life-lessons by singing songs and reading quotes and poetry that speak of the importance of not wasting a moment of your life on something that is not important to you. Maier also conducts class breathing and meditation exercises, outdoor group games, and multiple exercises that encourage students to relax and begin appreciating each moment.

“You can’t lead what you don’t understand … and that understanding starts with knowing yourself,” Maier said. “I provide students an opportunity to connect with one another on a real level, and this typically has profound effects on the classroom dynamics for the remainder of the course.”

One goal of the class is to view dying as something that everyone is experiencing. Maier encourages students to remember that death does not always give a warning, and therefore students should not wait to do the things that are most important to them.

Towards the end of the semester, the students conduct hypothetical experiments in which they pretend to have only one week left to live. Senior Jonathan Brostoff found that the death exercises provided him with the encouragement he needed to achieve what was most important to him:

“Understanding the certainty of death has definitely developed my perspective for deciding my future and what’s really important in life.”

During its “last week to live,” the class was encouraged to do at least three random acts of kindness to others each day of this week, then go back and reflect on anything they noticed they were grateful for as a result.

“I have remembered how great it is to be connected with every person in a classroom through this assignment, especially with myself in regards to developing an education for how I want to live my life and how I want to be remembered” said senior Ashley Hanson.

The class also helps members of Chapman’s Career Development Center, who sometimes frequent the class, in counseling on future career help. Maier also provides various outlets for finding jobs that will provide the most happiness in each student’s life.

“We completed multiple career analysis surveys that matched us up with job fields relating to our interests, hobbies, personalities, and skills ” said Bracken.

Students who take it always seem to love it.

“It goes beyond the classroom and is always on your mind, said Hanson. This is real-life work, not just another class.”