To me, in its simplest form, the beginner's mind is a state of eager anticipation of learning something new, but without preconceptions about what is to be learned. For me, the great challenge -- and the great rewards -- of cultivating the beginner's mind lie in maintaining it in the face of actual learning. Learning means building a knowledge base and conceptual framework. Maintaining a beginner's mind means actively welcoming information and ideas that may require me to abandon what I've already built and to start building anew -- and to find joy in the task.
I've been wondering lately whether I've gone too far in cultivating what I understand as a "beginner's mind" in myself. One of the roles I've always wanted to grow into is that of an expert and a teacher, and part of that has been wanting to write more tutorial-style pieces for this place. Having just gotten the opportunity to write a book certainly makes me feel like I'm making big progress toward this. However, due to habits of thought I've developed in adopting this "beginner's mind", I've been having trouble figuring out what's worth writing about and about what I'm worthy of writing.
In learning, I've tried to keep an open and unassuming mind about things. And even after I have learned quite a bit about something, and I can demonstrate obvious expertise with something to anyone who's watching, I still consider myself a beginner. There's always someone who knows more about that thing than I do--from whom I want to learn even more--so I don't ever want to let myself feel like I've arrived and allow my learning to be clouded.
So herein lies the rub: If I'm always a beginner, how can I ever be a teacher? It's not so much a rational issue--it's more an issue of emotion and habits of thought. Rationally, I think it's safe to say that as I learn about something, I climb up a ladder of experts' shoulders. And below me, still down the ladder, are other beginners doing the climb. But where I run into trouble is in trying to figure out where I am on the ladder, and where and how I should make myself available as a rung. Because, there are so many others at and above my level already providing their shoulders, and the climb still has so much farther yet to go above me.
Now this metaphor has its problems, since it's neither charitable nor useful to me to think of others as above or below me in any competitive or evaluative sense. Although amassing a lot of skill and expertise can take me places and get me better compensation, this isn't a zero-sum game in my mind.
But anyway, my hangup remains the same: About what should I be writing, and who am I to be writing about it?
I don't have any good answers yet. There are a lot of things I know for which I don't have much regard--because back in my head I tell myself that they can't be worth too much since, well, I know them, and I'm just a beginner. But then I catch some new trick or buzz making the rounds, and I realize that maybe I knew about it a few years ago and could've been writing reams about it.
I've thought that maybe I should start taking an inventory of all the things I think I can do and all the things I think I've learned. Maybe I could put this list online, and ask anyone who cares to drop me a note or maybe cast a vote for whatever they think I should write about.
But, bah: This sounds like a cute (as in My Little Pony) yet brain-dead (as in eating paint chips) idea to me, really. It's a bit cloying like Stuart Smalley and the self-help book of the month. Maybe it'd be more productive if I just started picking topics and started writing to see what sticks--be perverse about it, even, and pick what I think is the most worthless thing to write about and have at it.
Coming up next on 0xDECAFBAD: Podcasting for cats.