013 | Beginner's Mind, An Introduction
Abandoning notions of mastery and occupying the world as a beginner.
It’s been some time since the last issue of Beginner’s Mind. Since then, I’ve been preoccupied with several other things. I’ve been working through integrating my various practices of writing, design, and photography, and exploring ways to have them co-exist in a harmonious fashion. Since this newsletter’s inception in 2019, there’s been quite a handful of new subscribers and I want to spend this issue exploring an approach to Beginner’s Mind and the way I’ve been thinking through it lately. I share this information with you because I find it helps me. I hope it helps you too. With my group, The Chicago Graphic Design Club, I’m thinking about the intersection of play and work. How can we have these two modalities be catalysts for new ideas and exist as the pillars through which we develop programming and provide a platform for our communities? Okay, enough of that. Let’s get on with this newsletter.
Beginner’s Mind, also known as Shoshin ((初心) refers to 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 in that subject would. It’s a mode of perception emphasized in Zen Buddhism. It’s written about extensively in the book Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind: Informal Talks on Zen Meditation and Practice, by Shunryū Suzuki. I highly recommend it.
The beginner operates child-like; embraced by wonder and curiosity to exist in the world through imagination, curiosity, and intuition. The beginner is innocent, unjaded, and committed to understanding but not disturbed by the lack thereof. The expert overlooks their own experience because their way of observation has calcified to function in a fixed way. Paradoxically, a true expert is a beginner that holds their nose to the fragrance of life in unison with a heightened awareness not preoccupied with an agenda or motive. Beginner’s Mind is not so much about learning but rather about opening to what we already know.
Contrary to methodologies that seek to obtain a new perspective, the Beginner’s Mind is non-transactional. It does not seek to add or reduce value instead it takes shelter in the moving reality that is sufficient just as. Intrinsically, the mind of a beginner is empty. It doesn’t operate with the attitude to understand but rather to witness. This emptiness is what provokes possibilities and creativity.
In the field of graphic design, which is my profession, we have a method of problem-solving that is called design thinking. It follows a linear formula that seeks to empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test. I appreciate the intention in holding ourselves accountable to guidelines and a universal sense of understanding but I do want to encourage you, the reader, to recognize when to abandon these cages placed upon our receptors that stun our peripheries. I cringe anytime I see any sort of graph indicating and telling us how we should think and problem-solve. The beginner abandons these notions and exerts the confidence that experts wish they had.
Hang on to your youthful enthusiasms — you’ll be able to use them better when you’re older.
Cultivating this frame of mind can be simple or it can be difficult. It depends on your willingness to surrender and be okay with the concept of not-knowing. In our data-centric society that is obsessed with understanding and overanalyzing everything, the Beginner’s Mind invites us to step away from this perspective. It provides the space to dwell in uncertainty.
Our culture tends to construct boundaries that segment things. Collectively, we’re fixated with this idea of otherness, which means perceiving things as separate from us which in return fosters a poverty mindset that breeds the illusion of deficiency. We find ourselves chasing understanding out there in the world hoping to find an answer that will provide a sense of freedom. The human condition begs us to seek happiness, liberation, and tranquility. As a result, there’s a scope aimed at our head that shoots solutions and products that promise to provide these things — numbing agents that either fools us into thinking we’ve mastered an arena or numbing agents that fog our vision into forgetting that this liberation and freedom is accessible here and now. These faux solutions are repackaged and framed in the vernacular of the time, appearing to make a novel entrance to a primitive dilemma.
As a result of this information stream, the beginner is suppressed, silenced, and shamed. Constructing identities only creates blinders, alienates us from our experience, and makes us foreign to ourselves.
Beginner’s Mind enables us to find joy in our suffering and suffering in our joy. There are no few steps ahead. No before and after. It ricochets us through the spectrum of life through spontaneous embodiment. Beginner’s Mind completes us and shines light upon the harmony of the people in our lives and environments. It induces a healthy form of skepticism that holds us accountable to be here and now.
Ruled by convention in the form of laws, rules, trends, lists, and so forth, attending the same conferences, reading the same books, and listening to the same people — the possibility of getting lost in the experiences of others is the risk we run. In conversations about diversity and inclusion, rarely do I see the conversation being had about being inclusive with ourselves. Are we really perpetuating a culture of inclusive exclusion?
Occupy the world like the stray dogs that we are. Flawed, complicated, and imperfectly perfect. Don’t let the information stream disempower and strip you of your voice. Suspend notions of mastery and recognize that mastery is already present. It’s how we navigate our way into it. Step away from curated facades.
Provide yourself the space to explore and experiment. If you lead teams or manage people, provide the space for others to also explore and bring forth their own Beginner’s Mind. Innovation, inclusion, creativity, and joy, come through approaching problems with new perspectives. The beginner is always new.
Thank you for your time. You can follow me on Instagram where I share more work, ideas, and artistic explorations. Talk soon