Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Beginner's Mind

I haven't read Suzuki's Zen Mind; Beginner's Mind since college. But I was clearing off a bookshelf (in the apparently endless process of freeing my life from furniture) and saw the book again. It rocked my world the first time I encountered it, and it has been on my mind again for the last few days.

The general idea is that beginner's mind is all about possibilities; the expert's mind isn't really closed but is decided. Think about a toddler playing in the Tupperware drawer. I can tell her "that's Tupperware. We use it for storing leftover food so that we don't waste it." She gives me a pitying look (in my imagination) and goes on to play with the Tupperware as though it were a drum, a ball, a storage device for Mommy's keys, an artistic medium for creating stacks and sculptures.... And it is all of those things, too.

I have made the mistake of being certain that my life was one thing -was going along a particular path- when, in fact, I could not have been more wrong. I cried, and argued, and suffered when that life was taken away from me -and I'm not so far from that possibility still, at least from time to time. But in a way, I had made the expert-mind mistake. I had chosen the path I wanted and closed my mind to other possibilities.

A beginner -and a child is the easiest embodiment of that mindset to examine- looks at the world as possibility and as an apparently endless series of amazements. People find two-year-olds trying, but I never did. I recall saying that it was exhausting, certainly, but amazing to have them around, because you never again engage the world with such a relentless need to examine and know and understand.

Well, why the heck not?? Why did I decide that, developmentally, that curiosity had to subside? I can get in the Walter Mitty-like thing of getting up, going to work, coming home and half-heartedly poking around with house projects, studying, reading, exercising, going to bed and getting up tomorrow to do it again. But that life is grey and small.

The same life can be described entirely differently. I am at the beginning of a new job. I am making this house a home newly and uniquely mine. I am learning new things and engaging with ideas, and little else on the planet gives me that much pleasure. I am finding healing and comfort in exercise. Things -all things- can be different now, and I don't have to understand at the outset how that's going to look. To borrow Mary Oliver's spectacular line, "I want to be a bride married to amazement." It's the same life -just looked at differently.

1 comment:

Patrice said...

Job idea for you.