Friday, July 20, 2012

For the Lack of Beginner's Mind

In the San Juan Islands, located in the upper left hand corner of the lower 48 states, you'll find a scuplture park in what used to be a farmer's field. You wander through tall grass and a few trees, stumbling (not literally) upon modern metal sculpture, carved stone, traditional Japanese wooden forms, kinetic installations of glass and polished steel. You can see a whale, carved from polished black basalt surfacing from the grass or a moon gate, standing in the middle of the big leaf maple and cottonwoods. Near the park entrance, some foresightful artist put in a huge sandbox and left boxes of stones, seashells, driftwood and polished beach glass for visitors to play with. Several had built their own sculptures.

What does this have to do with mistakes in writing?

Have you heard of the concept of "Beginner's Mind"? It's the state of we all bring to a new situation - we lower defenses in order to perceive more. In Beginner's Mind, we're wide open to experience. Colors are more vivid because our senses are more attuned. Our brains imprint brighter, bolder, more complete and rounded memories. Think back to the first Christmas you recall as a child. See if it isn't in super-bright technicolor in your brain. Does it include sound? Smell? Can you still feel the clothes you were wearing? Do you see the memory from outside (you looking at your younger self) or from the inside (you're suddenly inhabiting that younger self looking out at the sparkly lights and vividly wrapped gifts)?

When you're in Beginner's Mind, you bring a sense wonder to a situation and it's that wonder that turns on your senses and brings you, fully invested, into whatever new endeavor you've undertaken. The problem with Beginner's Mind is that the human brain isn't wired to maintain it. You know. Familiarity breeds contempt? In a way, it's true. If the human animal is constantly in a state of hyperawareness over the sculpture in the field, that human may well fail to see the lion stalking up from behind. That's a kind way of saying we're designed to be scatterbrains.

The mistake in writing? Forgetting to look for ways back into Beginner's Mind - looking for ways to keep the wonder going. While it's impossible to keep Beginner's Mind going all the time, it does seem to be possible to invite it back out to play once in awhile. Not doing that, not opening up to new experiences, makes writing stale and stilted. When you're starting projects, but not finishing them, it's likely Beginner's Mind and wonder that are missing.

How do you bring it all back if only briefly? Play. Go build sculptures in a sand box. Have you ever been in a kayak? Hit a local body of water and find a half day kayak tour group that'll take you out, show you how not to drown, and then who'll take you around showing you the wildlife. Or take a road trip to a museum you've never seen. Or to a symphony you've never heard. Take a walk with the intent of noticing architecture, or which flowers are in bloom, or how many different kinds of birds you can spot. The point is to put yourself in a heightened state of awareness. Buy yourself a box of Crayons - the big box with all the funky colors. Draw stick figures if you have to, but play. If you can draw stuff about your story project, so much the better.

It's a mistake I make. Witness the long string of unfinished projects in my wake. What about you? How do you recapture your sense of wonder?

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