017 | Back to the basics
What does it mean to be a human and a beginner in a world of chaos?
Let’s go back to the basics
It’s early in the morning. The first alarm rings. Followed by the second alarm. Then followed by the third alarm. I drink water, look at the time, plug in my computer, hit the Commit to Sit bookmark, and get ready for morning meditation with my Sangha (Zen community). The first couple of minutes my eyes flutter saying sleep.
There is solace in being awake to completely nothing — facing the morning and confronting nothing but the holy shadow that dances on the wall.
A one-hour gap between meditation and work.
Lately, I spend this time reminding myself what it means to be human.
I ask myself:
What does Christian like to do?
And then the day begins. The computer roars with the first message of the day. It’s time for work.
What I asked myself slowly fades away.
How to feed two birds with one scone?
Throughout the day, my phone rings.
Ring ring ring
It’s a childhood friend calling in from prison. We share a few laughs and reminisce on times gone by.
Ring ring ring
It is a loved one sobbing.
Texts come my way
Friends plagued with anxiety.
Before I know it, I’m swimming in a sea of emotions trying to find a balance between two realities: the reality of suffering and the reality of corporate impact. However, it’s in this space between this and that, that we realize that there’s no this and that. Just this. Only this.
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To be a beginner is to be reminded of the basics — the fundamental truths to being human. The geometry of humanity and the color theory to the web of our existence. To be a beginner is to be open to life, both the turbulence and the stillness. To be a beginner is to make sense of what’s happening in the eye of the storm but it also means to be aware of simply what is. To be a beginner is to be present to both ecstasy and pain. To be a beginner is to know not-knowing.
I saw a Linkedin post the other day — the best one I’ve seen in a while.
A big shout out to all the students who don’t win awards, make honor roll, play sports, and barely make it through the school year.
Shout out to the kids who don’t get invited to the prom, didn’t get a scholarship to college, and have to go straight to work out of high school....You are also worthy of a pat on the back and a Facebook post with people talking about how amazing you are.
Everyone isn't an Honors student or an Academic Scholar. Some students have to work twice as hard, just to be Average. There's many who battle through behavior and learning challenges. Their achievements deserve recognition too.
As I move up the career ladder, I find myself at the crossroads of a new world — a world of privilege and status. An elite career that views the disenfranchised and marginalized as other. And at least from my point of view, the higher you climb, the more you become disembodied from reality.
The LinkedIn post reminds us to recognize the full picture rather than a slice of what is convenient and easy to look at. One of the reasons why the LinkedIn post resonated with me is because I was that student who didn’t win any awards, failed classes, and dropped out of high school. My childhood friends were raised by single mothers, we were troublemakers, some are incarcerated, and some have since passed away. Out of all my friends, only I went to college.
I can only imagine what a difference it would have made to have an adult at that young age, recognize us and give us a pat on the back, simply for getting by. Instead we were disregarded by school and the community because we wore black and didn’t fit in.
Our culture appears to have an obsession with status. As children, we are encouraged to follow a particular model that is said to guarantee satisfaction and wellness and for the most part, there’s nothing particularly wrong with this but simultaneously this agenda can also suppress and alienate those with difficulty catching up.
Lately, there have been instances where I’ve grown to view productivity and our obsession with it as alarming. Priorities have shifted to shine the spotlight on what will help us get the most work done, maximize growth, and stay competitive. And for what?
Our obsession with progress has in a way also reshaped how we operate in the world — always looking to get an advantage in the situation.
To be a beginner is to constantly be reminded of the sorrows of the world and of the beauty and potential that everybody holds. Let’s not shift our focus on the ones that shine bright but the ones caught underneath the rubble. We’re all underneath the rubble.
To be a beginner is to be reminded that we will die, get sick, lose loved ones, get old, and are accountable for our actions. What Buddhism calls the Five Remembrances are a catalyst to joy. As morbid as it may sounds — these reminders are essential and can assist in shifting our focus to be purposeful and orientated towards meaning.
To be human today means to be present and to be compassionate and to be slow. We move fast to avoid the big questions that will freeze us. To be human means to be kind to others and to have humor. To be human means to lend out a hand and to listen and pick up on life’s clues.
What if we incentivized each other not due to productivity and transaction but on how well people care for one another. Sometimes I speak with leaders and they tell me they are so busy that they forget to eat lunch. Are these the people we want to call leaders?
To be human is to stop our chronic compulsion of layering things on top of things. To strip things down and be with the essence of what is. We recognize that the pain of others is our own and we care for each other as if our life depended on it because it does. It is our world. You, me, them, it’s all the same.
Speak slower. Ask better questions. Be the nut in the gear that breaks the entire thing so that we can build it from the ground up.
In the liminal space within the tension, when we confront agony — this is where the sparks are made. Ideas and innovation. Yet we are stuck in this speed train and we want everybody to jump on board. But it’s going nowhere.
There’s a sense of embodiment with the world which is where creativity springs from. As I navigate the world, I find myself that to be creative is to be in the world not looking elsewhere but here with what’s happening. Embodied to be in the pits of hell or the pits of heaven. Our greatest contribution are the stories and experiences that we share with others.
What will you create? What fires are worth running into?
Let’s be a threat to chaos and suffering and befriend peace and harmony. Rattle the cages with skillful anger. What I’m proposing isn’t in some distant future or a million miles away. It’s nowhere far. It’s here and we can begin now.
Let’s roll up our sleeves. We don’t need permission to start.
Beginner’s Mind | A Playlist
To go with this issue, I’ve created a playlist that feels appropriate for this issue.
If you follow the Beginner’s Mind playlist below on Spotify, every month or so, it’ll be refreshed with new music.
Mélissa Francis Lai
Blue Bus Daniel Lanois
Indoor Swimming At The Space Station Eluvium
Lucky Stars Michael Rother
Autochromes Robin Guthrie
Says Nils Frahm
Silk Road Kitaro
We Move Sophie Hutchings
These Are My Friends David Lynch