Beginner's Mind, Beginner's Voice
In the long while since you’ve heard from me I’ve been on a quest to re-find my voice as a blogger on issues of sacred activism. It’s like this: After more than 20 years of work in social change communications and activism, I’m considering a return to academia for a higher degree. The work involves research, reading and critiquing academic papers, and writing. For those of you who have returned to anything after a long hiatus, be it school, meditation, or an exercise schedule, you know how it feels to start over anew. Having barely written anything longer than a blog post in two decades, I had to redirect my brain to an academic style of reading and writing. And in the process of being immersed in many a ‘dry’ read, I’ve misplaced some of the juice for this blog! Have you ever temporarily lost your mojo for something you really love? What did you do to regain that flow? I hope you’ll share in the comments, and offer some advice!
In Zen in the Art of Writing, Ray Bradbury advises: “You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.” Until recently, I’ve felt blissfully lubricated by writing this blog but it’s as if that flow of ideas, themes, and perspectives I’ve been sharing dried up, like the waters temporarily stopped flowing. Sometimes it takes a metaphor to make it clear: Mine appeared in the flows (and ebbs) of Mill Creek, which runs through my town. The creek is part of the reason I chose Moab, Utah. After living in Southern California, where the waterways struggle towards the seas encased in concrete, a living river was at the top of my list when I escaped from L.A. I walk along the creek almost daily, marveling at the crawdads, birdlife, and dragonflies. And I’ve watched the tadpoles grow their legs and lose their tails on their way to becoming frogs, that precious “indicator species” that holds a special place in my heart.
While my community, like so many in the arid West, navigates drought and the early stages of adaptation to a changing climate, the waters of Mill Creek are being diverted to provide irrigation elsewhere in the valley. I wonder how much water is enough for the tadpoles to survive, even as I send blessings to my local farmers, who need the diverted water to grow their produce. Water scarcity is a serious problem worldwide, and thinking about it can lead me towards panic. This day, though, the challenges of Mill Creek reminded me that I, too, was creating a diversion, reallocating the life-giving flow of my brainpower, my time, and my writer’s voice. I wondered if there was a finite amount of that resource as well, and whether a commitment to academia would mean an end to this blog.
I began to panic, lacking the skills to manage the supplies of either of these precious flows. Then, while walking into my office I tripped over a pile of books, and out popped Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki. I read it more than 20 years ago and it was a perfect blessing, a calming force in seemingly complex times.
Zen Mind reminded me to address both our water challenges and my personal drought with ‘Shoshin’ or “beginner’s mind”—an amazing concept from Zen Buddhism that invites us to bring a particular attitude to our work, specifically the patience, wonder, openness, enthusiasm, and gentleness with which we humbly approach something that is new to us. I’m looking for tips to maintain and remember to cultivate “beginner’s mind” in those moments of drought and confusion. How do you stay mindful of such opportunities? I’ve taken to writing it on my hand, but am interested in your methods.
Perhaps if I can marinate myself in this concept I will navigate a way towards experiencing an abundance of flow. So I wade into the blog again now, remembering Suzuki’s words: “In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, in the expert's mind there are few.” I hope you’ll join me in this exploration.