Finally, I’ve revamped my website’s “Bio,” even the “Q&A,” to reflect some big ol’ life changes. Shoshin, the Japanese Zen call it. “Beginner’s mind” — to be sought and cultivated. It’s all of everything a person ought seek, according to wise men from the east. And everything is in it. Yet, these days, I’m right back there and not so sure it’s all that.
The self-defining “mid”s — middle class, mid-life — are no longer so clear as they were when my parents were my age. Whether what I’m in and doing is mid-life or not (as for middle-class, who knows?!), I find that I’m redefining my self… again. There’s nothing mid about it. I’m back at pre-. At least there’s comfort in knowing it’s the norm among my peers. Shoot, even the Pope is starting over.
Sometimes I think about the lifespans of people not so long ago — most died around my age. And women, child-birthing and all, would be lucky to have made it this far. Yet by today’s medical reckoning, I’ve got decades yet to go. So when depression hits at news of yet another individual with spectacular achievements by her mid-forties, I remember that I’ve got basically another lifetime to go. It perks me right up.
Still. Starting over ain’t easy. I worked my tail off for the Ph.D. that finally landed a tenure-track job in which after amounts of work inverse to pay, I seized the plum of tenure only to toss its sweet satisfaction away. And so I am starting again. I’m lucky, though. I wanted this, and I’m doing things I love.
The trick, the Zen masters say, is hanging on to beginner’s mind, no matter one’s circumstances, experience, or expertise. For in that state everything is possible. One is radically open, eager and alive. Sounds delicious and oh, so easy. The difficulty is in its maintenance. Like that writing project right around the corner or gardening when it’s still mid-winter. Everything is possible until you put a word on the page or a seed in the ground. Then and in what follows, the expert novices say, is when beginner’s mind really counts.
See, the sky’s the limit… until you actually start. Writing descends to drivel, aphids hit the eggplant, and your lover leaves the cap off the proverbial toothpaste… again. That’s when beginner’s mind, if I understand correctly, is especially important — to recognize the present and see even within it, bloom-less rose and all, the boundless and wonderful possibilities it contains.
I AM, God said to Moses, when pressed for a name. Or is it “I will be what I will be”? The Hebrew allows both.
Starting again. Starting over. Paradox and surprise. Starting presumes it’s a first. Yet “again”? Or perhaps it is to begin from the “over,” the opposite, the flip-side. Paradox and surprise. So it is that beginner’s mind is an expert’s business. And according to Suzuki, “the real secret to the arts.” Always to be a beginner. From that mind of empty openness comes deepest, boundless compassion.
Not so bad then, maybe, to begin again. Now if only I can find the mind to go with it.