March 16, 2018

Beginner's mind and #55strong

A while back, the karate club I’ve been with forever changed its name to Shoshin-Kai. Kai is Japanese for school, while Shoshin means something like “beginner’s mind.”

It’s a Zen Buddhist term defined by the nameless sages of Wikipedia as “having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner would.”

The term was popularized by teacher Shunryu Suzuki, in his book Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, who noted that "In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's there are few."

The problem with thinking like an expert is the limited vision that comes from getting stuck in familiar patters and habits. Thoreau described it thus in Walden:

“The surface of the earth is soft and impressible by the feet of men; and so with the paths which the mind travels. How worn and dusty, then, must be the highways of the world, how deep the ruts of tradition and conformity!”

One of the great things about having a beginner’s mind is not knowing that some things are impossible. That can lead people to try things others wouldn’t dream of—and sometimes achieve them.

A case in point is the recent victory won by West Virginia teachers. If someone would have told me two months ago that WV would be the site of a statewide nonviolent uprising of education workers who would win huge victories in a political climate hostile to working people, I would have thought they were crazy.

But somehow it happened. People stuck together, stayed united, learned fast and improvised as they went along. And won.

Many if not most of the teachers, support workers and community members (including students) had never been involved in anything like this before, mostly because things like this don’t happen anymore. They had beginner’s mind.

Not knowing the impossible, they achieved it.

Talk about a teachable moment. That’s a lesson to remember