Embracing Shoshin: The Beginner's Mind

Before my mother died in 2010, she embraced a Zen path and studied Zen Buddhism until she became a sensei a month before her passing. One the lessons we discussed revolved around the concept of the beginner's mind: the mind that is open to possibility.

Similar to the Western ideal of a growth mindset, the beginner's mind embraces each experience from a place of innocent wonder. Each moment holds unlimited potential. From this perspective, innovation and creativity flourish.

Most of us have experienced this state of being when we try something new. For me, writing my first novel was like this - my imaginary characters wove a story in my thoughts that I was compelled to write. No matter how tired I was, how much stress the day job had created, I was eager to rush home, finish chores and work on my novel.

Every part of the experience was new - from the initial drafting to having my work critiqued, to learning the publication process. I soaked it all in, excited with each step, even if it included rejection (as it often did).

The stories progress and the years passed. I became a better storyteller. I learned the publishing world. I felt like I was developing mastery.

And this is when my problems began.

As mastery increased, so did my internal expectation that I should be "an expert" at what I was doing. The more I bought into the "expert" perspective, the less "awe" and wonder I experienced. The less excitement, the more stress. The more stress at the burden of feeling like an expert (or more specifically "I know what I'm doing, so why do I suck at it so much?"), the more fixed my mindset.

I had lost shoshin, my beginner's mind.

The joy in writing began to evaporate, and while I could not bring myself to quit, I came very close. I stepped back, considered my options, grew frustrated.

Around this same time, I reignited my meditation practice. Through those moments of mindful awareness, my focus and attention honed in on the present; I began to understand my problem.

I had forgotten all about the wide-eyed wonder that happens when I try something new, get out of my comfort zone, and challenge my mindset. At that moment, I knew what I needed to do:

Embrace shoshin once more.

I took a writing class focused on craft. I practiced what I now call "expansive writing," something I will share with you in another post. I wrote for the joy of writing.

I can't say that my mojo is fully back, but I can say my beginner's mind has returned. And I know what to do to prevent losing it again.

Falling into the "expert" trap was an important journey for me as a writer - a lesson I won't soon forget. Now I have a list of "reminders" on my desk: things that help me stay in my beginner's brain, no matter how much I hone my skills.

Here are a few of the ways I embrace and cultivate shoshin:

  • Ask "what if/what else" often
  • Experience the present moment fully
  • Don't "should" on myself
  • Ask more questions
  • Release fear
  • Use experience and knowledge in new ways
  • Embrace creative inquiry
  • Expect the miraculous

If you are feeling stuck, frustrated or like your creative muse left the building, check your mindset. Maybe the real problem is you've forgotten how to be the beginner, the apprentice. Maybe you forgot that the impossible is completely possible. Maybe you forgot your childlike wonder. Maybe you forgot about the gift of miracles!

Since I am first a total geek as well as a storyteller, I end with a great clip that references the beginner's mind:


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