Beginner’s Mind

Old Coyote Trick (standing out)
Old Coyote Trick (standing out)


Start at the very beginning, a very good place to start.

I wake early this morning, with these words running through my mind.  They are the opening lines to the song Do Re Mi (Doe A Deer) from the movie ‘The Sound of Music’.  Yes, Julie Andrews singing me awake.

Then I think about knowing things, and not knowing things, and beginner’s mind, and how much I prefer to Know (yes, capital K).  So much for going back to sleep at this point.  My mind is awake and already playing.  I decide to let my mind play, and see what shows up.

The Zen Buddhist Master Shunryu Suzuki taught beginner’s mind.  The book ‘Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind’ is a collection of his talks.  I have read it a few times.  Some of it I understand.  Some of it baffles me.  Every time I read it, the parts that I understand and the parts that baffle me change.  I am a different person each time I read this book, years passing between one reading and the next.  The part that always sticks with me, and that I always understand, is beginner’s mind.

Beginner’s mind is essential for me.  It is where I am when I create my drawings and when I write these words you are reading.  I cannot be a creator without it.

When I am in beginner’s mind, I am present, aware of my body, my thoughts, my feelings, my environment.  I am HERE.  My mind is open, receptive, allowing of whatever comes.  I find it interesting that I can be like this when I am creating, because this is not my usual way of being.

Usually, I keep myself very protected.  I am cautious, careful, controlling of my life.  I think things through before acting.  I prefer pattern and familiarity.  They are safe.  I know them.  They don’t scare me.

So why is it that when I am Cat the Creator, I abandon both the familiar and the patterns I rely on?

Why do I trust beginner’s mind?

Love.  I love creating, drawing, writing, playing.  Creating is big playing.  No need to be serious, limiting, controlled, small.  Love.  It is that simple.

Love lets me be open and receptive and allowing — beginner’s mind.  Love lets me trust.  Love lets me walk forward into my creating without the fear that likes to show up in the rest of my life.

On page 14 of my copy of ‘Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind’, there is a passage I have marked in pencil.  The words say:  ‘The Zen way of calligraphy is to write in the most straightforward, simple way as if you were a beginner, not trying to make something skillful or beautiful, but simply writing with full attention as if you were discovering what you were writing for the first time; then your full nature will be in your writing.  This is the way of practice moment after moment.’

Then later on page 22, another line marked in pencil:  ‘This is also the real secret of the arts: always be a beginner.’

Always be a beginner.  Allow myself to be a beginner.  Give myself permission to play.  Risk the possibility of ugly art and bad writing.  Risk the possibility of beauty that shines through the drawing and sings in every word.  Be open and receptive, and see what comes.

Start at the very beginning.  It’s a very good place to start.

And do it with love.


Mentioned in this post:

‘Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind’ by Shunryu Suzuki, originally published in 1970, currently published by Shambhala


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