Friday, May 24, 2013

Question Everything: How do you keep a beginner's mind?

This was originally posted on Atemicast on April 8th

Question everything?
by Jaredd Wilson

“How do you keep a beginning mind?”

            My wife started driving.  After having a learner’s permit for 20 years, she just got her license.  I am personally grateful for this, and scared at the same time.  We got her a car, and now she’s driving to work, and driving our child all over the place. 
Now, let me explain South Florida’s roads.  First, like most of the US, half the people are on their cell phones playing Angry Birds as they drive.  Or, they are talking to someone, who I’m sure is in a life or death situation, otherwise they wouldn’t be that distracted, right?  Second, because of the extreme example of the melting pot that is South Florida, everyone drives by their home set of rules.  New Yorkers drive like New Yorkers, Jamaicans drive like Jamaicans, and all little old ladies drive like little old ladies.  By themselves, in their own set of accepted driving rules, their fine.  It’s when everyone is thrust into one place, where they have different sets of rules that all the “accidents” occur.  And this is where my newly licensed wife is driving.
Almost everyday, she comes home and tells me her stories of driving woes and the idiocy that she sees on the roads.  I’ve been driving for so long, I’m not impressed by it anymore, so I half-hearted listen to her, which invariably gets her angry at me, and I’m in trouble.  Then one day it hit me.  Because it was new her, driving was a living, visceral, mindful experience.  She had a beginner’s mind.
The beginner’s mind (Shoshin) is a Zen Buddhism expression.  It is that state of observation, where something that is new is exciting, and you want to pay attention to every detail, you want to excel, and you want to learn everything there is about the subject.  It represents the zeal of looking at something you haven’t experienced before.  After a while with any activity, people become jaded.  Because they’ve seen it before, they deem it not important.  They become board with it.  The penny seems less shiny.
Like many other Zen ideas, it has worked its way into Japanese martial arts.  The idea is presented as “keep a beginner’s mind.”  It is easy to start at a dojo and be really interested in all the cool strikes, the people throwing each other around, and all the new language and behaviors.  After doing martial arts for a couple of years or more, you start to see repeated action.  You’ve done the drills, you’ve performed the kata, and you’ve seen the self-defense.  Sometimes this is when you hit a plateau.  This is also when most people stop coming to the dojo. It is critical to your long-term perseverance and success as a martial artist that you continue to look at the same things you’ve seen before.  Look with new eyes, experienced eyes, but new eyes, none the less.  If it is something you’ve seen before, or done before, look for the subtle nuances.  See exactly how sensei is stepping, watch how their hips are shifting.  Notice the subtle changes in weight distribution.  Make it a point to ask questions, if that is acceptable in your dojo.  It will help you look at the same thing in a new way, and by looking at it new, you can keep a beginner’s mind.  And don’t you want to keep that zeal for martial arts that you started with?

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