The Fear and Magic of Beginner’s Mind

The Fear and Magic of Beginner's Mind

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I have a bad habit of over researching. I tend to gently slip my way into learning something without committing to it. I watch, I read, I learn. And when it finally gets to be too much and I have to face the fact that it's time to actually DO... there's a clash. My mind and my body don't match up. I get frustrated with not being able to do it, because I "know" so much. I am thrown into the beginners seat, and into the realization that learning something with my mind doesn't make me an expert. Only doing it does.

If you've been with me for any length of time, you probably heard my story on how I researched mixed media and art journaling for TWO YEARS before putting a brush to paper. I thought I learned my lesson... but, you'll probably chuckle when I tell you this, I did it again. With karate. (Old habits die hard, right?)

To be fair, I had no interest or intention of doing it for myself when I signed my kids up and started intently watching the classes. But still, almost two years later when I realized I wanted to do it too, I had to wait until I was "ready".

Why do we wait so long
to begin something new that we're interested in?

Why do we "prepare ourselves" so much if it rarely changes the experience of beginning? Why do we try to cheat ourselves out of being a beginner, rejecting the beautiful, exciting state of beginner's mind?

Perhaps because of our intent focus on the outcome? Or maybe it's a fear of failure, or of looking uneducated or "stupid".

We know intellectually that we can't possibly be good at something if we've never done it before. That it takes time and practice to become good at anything. And the hard truth is, we are more often in a state of not knowing, than we are in truly knowing.

It's funny really, how we humans are pretty confident beings despite how little we actually know. I mean, I suppose we have to be in order to make any sort of decision; and we're faced with literally thousands of decisions each day. Our brains are magnificent, constantly making judgement calls to guide us through life, filling in our gaps of knowledge with the most likely information, and making calculations to predict the future. The problem is, we can only make those calculations based on what we already know or what we think we know, which leaves open the possibility that we're incorrect, especially if our information is faulty or out of date.

There is so much you know, and yet so much more that you don't know; and even more still... so much that you don't know that you don't know. This is true for us all, and yet we all work so hard at denying that we don't know something, we work so hard at avoiding or rushing through ever truly being an open-minded beginner.

The ironic thing is:

We can only learn and grow, and we are only ever really happy, when we dare to be naive, when we get present to enjoy the journey with fresh new eyes of a "beginner".

I've seen it for myself - The other week I was thrown into something new without a moments notice to prepare. I had joined my daughters in a new group karate class, and it just so happened to be the day they were practicing kata. (For simplicity sake, let's just say that's when you stand up in front of an audience on your own to demonstrate a series of karate techniques.) Now, I've been in the spotlight before - I've given a speech or two (in which I spent months preparing for), and I have shown myself on video (with approximately 20+ takes with each one) - but this was different.

If I had known ahead of time, I may have not gone. I may have told myself I wasn't ready. That I needed to practice more. Or maybe that demonstrating wasn't something I needed to work on right now. Or perhaps I would have sat in anxiety about it for days before it actually happened.

But alas, there I was in class, and my turn was approaching. I couldn't refuse. My heart was racing, I tried to calm myself. I knew the moves. It was just a matter of getting up there and doing it. So I took a deep breath, stepped up, announced myself with what felt like a bit of confidence. I could do this! I move into the kata, giving it my all. Then, half-way through, out of nowhere, my body starts shaking. My legs turn to jelly. I try to hit harder with every move, willing my body to turn solid again. But it was no use, my body trembled uncontrollably until I somehow made it through to the end.

Later I had a good laugh about it with my kids, then again with my Sensei. "Could you see me shaking!? I was literally trembling like a leaf!" But I survived. And what's more, in being open and honest about my experience, I received the support I needed to move forward and actually be excited to try again. They all knew just how hard it is to do something for the first time, to do something in front of an audience, to face your fears. They've all been there themselves, many times, as I'm sure you have as well.

One of the things we try to practice in martial arts, is something called shoshin, or "beginner's mind". So, doing my best to embrace this (and knowing that if I waited too long to do it again I'd probably loose my nerve!), I asked one of the other adults from my usual class to join me next time. I was curious to see how long it would take for me to be able to get up there and not be shaking in my boots! So every Saturday we faced our fears, stepped up in front of the group, and did our best. Over and over and over again. It got easier each time and it was exciting to see ourselves grow.

Reflecting back, I see how jumping into it in this way was way easier (and more rewarding!) than spending weeks, months, or even years preparing myself. I progressed much faster than if I had spent time "getting ready" to start, and I avoided all the anxiety that would have created. After diving in head first as a total unprepared beginner, I had the courage to keep going. And wouldn't you know - my partner and I got promoted soon after!

More and more I'm beginning to fully understand shoshin, and that it is the only way to journey on the path to black belt (and the path of life) - with a beginner's mind; not just when we start something new, but in every moment.

As we develop knowledge, our minds naturally become more closed and we tend to dismiss much of what we hear. Our minds are wired to search for confirmation of our current philosophy or previous experience, rather than being open to new information.

The Art of BeginningBut with a beginner's mind, open and free from preconceptions, we are willing to move forward and make mistakes, we listen more deeply and see more clearly, we are eager to hear new perspectives, we are open to question old beliefs, we are able to be present with what actually is, we see the world anew with wonderment and awe...

To allow yourself to remain as a beginner, opens you up to expand exponentially.

As Zen teacher Suzuki Roshi famously said, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”

If you look to this moment as a new beginning, suddenly this moment isn't the same as all other moments. Suddenly you aren't confined by your brain's map of the world, suddenly possibility opens up. Things can be different than before. You can make a different choice.

And the beauty of life is, each moment we are offered the opportunity to begin again. And if we embrace it, life becomes an endless adventure of possibility.


Here's to new beginnings!

Much love to you,

 

Thoughts on Developing a Creative Practice

Over the last decade of diving into how we humans can return to creativity later in life, one thing has always eluded me (or is it perhaps one thing I've been resisting?).

It is the question of whether we need to have a dedicated daily or weekly practice in order to truly deepen into our creativity.

I've always leaned toward 'no', seeing as though I consider myself a lifelong creative and I have never had a consistent practice. I would always ride the ebb and flow of my inspiration and curiosity while releasing any tensions, or built up energy, through writing and scribbling. But this past year has got me thinking that I may be wrong.

Being my naturally curious self, my mind begins to wonder about the differences between my new martial arts dedicated practice, and my lifelong 'do-when-I-feel-like-it' creative practice.

At the beginning of every karate class the students say a creed that ends with: "We are dedicated! We are motivated! We're on a quest to be our best!" For almost two years I've been hearing my kids and the others shout this at the top of their lungs three times a week. It makes it easy for me to tell my girls that we're dedicated and going anyway when they whine about not being in the mood to go to the dojo. Hence, when I decided to step into the practice myself this past March, it felt only natural to promise that I'd show up to every class unless I had a really good reason to miss it.

There were many times at the beginning of my martial arts journey that I wanted to skip class. I was too tired, or too sore, or just not in the mood... but I forced myself to go anyway - because of the promise I made myself, but also because I didn't want my kids seeing it was okay to skip it whenever they felt like it.

So I continued to show up week after week, and eventually the showing up got easier. It became more habitual, more 'normal'. (Well, maybe not normal based on how obsessive I've become!) Now, it's just something we DO. It's part of our life that's inseparable from us.

And yet...

When we took off for a two week vacation to my Aunt's beautiful home, with karate gear in tow and full intentions of practicing often... we ended up only doing it once. Even though we had plenty of time and space to do what we will.

It just goes to show: inspiration and willingness aren't always enough to get you into action.

I used to think I just wasn't inspired enough to create when I wasn't feelin it, so I'd wait it out. Many times creative bursts would return, but this last dry spell has been stretching far and wide. I actually did find inspiration here and there over the last few months. And I do have the desire to explore the path of drawing... but it has yet to happen. Perhaps all that's missing is my will to make it happen with a dedicated practice.



Always in curiosity and love,



>> I'D LOVE TO KNOW - DO YOU HAVE A DEDICATED PRACTICE IN YOUR LIFE? TELL ME ABOUT IT BELOW!



The Truth in Embodiment

It never ceases to amaze me the connections I make between my art journaling journey and my life; and how it can be used as a tool to express all of the lessons I learn along the way and to practice new ways of being.

Most recently, my path has led me to karate of all things. After almost two years of watching my kids train, I decided to jump in myself... and it has been so fascinating to sink into the unexpected self-growth lessons and to notice how it connects to art journaling!

The Truth in Embodiment

One of the biggest benefits and most awakening Aha's (so far!) I've received from training in martial arts is total embodiment and the true meaning behind it.

For many years I've used the practice of movement to get present before diving into my art journal (in fact, moving your body and activating your senses is one of the suggested rituals in my Roots Class). I've also talked about how getting back in touch with my senses was the beginning of my journey back home to myself.

But I'm starting to see that those short practices were only just the tip of the iceberg. As I explore and stretch the boundaries of what my body is capable of, feel the soreness in new muscles I never even knew existed, and marvel at the magic of muscle memory... I find myself on a journey towards true embodiment and of learning how to be in relation with my body.

Before, my body felt more like a tool - something that just helps me do things. Now, I feel it becoming more a part of me as my mind and body begin to merge on the mat, on the page, and in life.

Embodiment is not just about being aware of the body as a thing, but of being aware AS a body.

...just as we were all born to be. As infants, we have no ability to make sense of the world through thought. Rather, we are aware of everything around us through our senses, and are highly in tune to what our bodies need. But as we grow, we move away from our sensory knowledge and begin to rely solely on our minds.

I'm beginning to think we have it all backwards.

As we all know, the mind can get easily cloudy or confused. It makes up stories that are far from the truth. It can misperceive events and even how we look and feel. It's not always a reliable source of input. The body on the other hand, never lies. It offers the unfiltered truth of what you need and of what you're experiencing.

What if instead, we switched their roles - living from the body and using the mind as the incredible tool it was intended to be only when we needed it?

How much simpler would your life be then? And how much easier would your creative process flow?



Always in curiosity and love,