INNOCENCE AND WONDER
In the Buddhist philosophy, the term “Beginner’s Mind” means
approaching a situation innocently, like it’s happening for the first time. No preconceived notions. No previous experiences to influence you in any direction, positive or negative. You haven’t formed any opinions. You’re just curious to investigate and see what’s there.
When babies see something they’ve never seen before, they are filled with wonder. What is this new thing and how do I play with it? They don’t feel danger. They’re not programmed one way or the other. But it’s not so easy for us adults. We have a long history and we tend to base our opinions on past events that didn’t work out so well. We’re quick to make up stories about why we should be afraid of what’s in front of us and we can become so agitated, we don’t see what we’re looking at and we can’t hear the music.
I was working out with my trainer on my iPad, my living room
windows were open and she asked me if she was hearing live birds or if it was a recording. “They’re real birds,” I said. I live at the top of a canyon where birds trill constantly. They were singing all the time but my overactive mind was so filled with random thoughts and judgments, I stopped hearing them. I was blocking out the things that made me feel happy and grateful.
Some years ago, an aunt was visiting me from another state. She had been here the year before and I noticed that she looked restless. There is a magnificent view from my living room windows so I opened them and suggested she sit on the couch, listen to the birds that were very chatty at the time and take in the loveliness that was all around her. A light breeze was bothering the tree branches, brown hawks were swooping and calling out to each other and
wispy clouds were drifting and dissolving from one shape to another. How could she not be moved by it all?
“Listen to the birds and look at the view,” I suggested.
“I saw it last year,” she said. She gave it the wrist and
turned her back.
The same state of mind can arise when we tackle a new project. We don’t appreciate it and we create a worst case scenario that we can’t possibly make it work. Even if we conquered something similar before, we tell ourselves that we are not up to the task and we spiral into despair. Instead of anticipating something interesting and exciting, we drop into a state of fear and dread, our anxiety soars and we believe there is no way we can do whatever is being asked of us.
Over the last few years, I’ve been writing daily but I didn’t have a destination for my work. I didn’t care about getting a book deal like I used to, but I wanted to share my work with like-minded people. It felt like I was writing into the wind until a friend suggested a website where writers shared their work. I was enthusiastic about it. It would be fulfilling to post my writings and exchange comments with other people, but when I realized that I had to learn some new technology, my delight turned into dread.
I scheduled a Zoom meeting with the website tech person and I was anxious as hell. I imagined being overwhelmed with information and taking in nothing. My sister Jill who is more savvy than I am with technology, gave me some great advice. “You know why I do so well with computer problems? I stay with it. I try a load of different things, I fail and then finally I get it. I just keep trying. It’s as simple as that.”
When the Zoom meeting started, I listened. The techie talked non-stop for an hour, I took in as much as I could, and when it was over, I began setting up my account by doing the things I understood. I got through a lot of it, I hit the wall here and there, and I was feeling better, but when my second Zoom meeting was coming around, the anxiety started all over again. I told my friend Michael how inadequate I felt. “You started several businesses from scratch and they were successful,” he said. “Have you ever not figured things
“No. I always do. But this is different.”
“No it isn’t,” he said. “Do what your sister told you. Just keep going and you’ll sort it out.”
I felt like the worst student in the world when I got on the
second Zoom call. I was afraid that the expert would tell me I was hopeless but the opposite happened. “You’re doing great,” she said. “You’re practically all the way there. You’re a really fast learner.”
I had surpassed my teacher’s expectations, I was at the head of the class, not at the bottom like I’d imagined, and I was relieved, but I had wasted so much energy worrying. So much self-loathing and negative messages about who I am and how badly I do things. So much labeling myself stupid or inadequate. I don’t why those two words “I can’t” are always there because most of the time, I can. I guess it’s just a bad habit, one that really needs to be broken.
If you can see yourself as both innocent and intelligent, unknowing but willing to learn, capable and interested, you can save a lot of
self-shaming and judging. “Stay with it,” is the way to overcome obstacles. You can do it. You can figure it out and if you can’t, you can ask for help. When we stay calm and stop the self-abasing judging, we have a great capacity to solve puzzles and sort out information. We all have fertile minds and we all have different talents and abilities to share with each other. If we didn’t, there would only be one of us and we would have no ability to enjoy the
wonderful way it feels to be innocent and trusting.