The Zen Buddhists have a concept called shoshin, better known as beginner’s mind. It’s all about losing preconceptions and just immersing yourself in the experience. Picture a toddler’s debut crawl up or down a staircase or your first encounter with chopsticks. Where do you begin? What do you do?
I had a little bout with beginner’s mind last week – and I have the bruises to show for it. I was in Sun Valley visiting my daughter Lili and she took me out skate skiing. Let’s be clear: I am a water person, not a frozen water person.
I wobbled, fell, cursed, laughed, and got up again – many times. Did I get it? No, not at all. It was humbling, hilarious (at least to Lili), somewhat painful, and despite all that, enlightening.
Malcom Gladwell says that it takes 10,000 hours to be an expert in your field. Sounds pretty reasonable to me and I’m sure that somewhere around hour 9,990 whatever you’re doing becomes second nature.
Balance on one leg and lower one’s self into a razor-thin rowing shell? Piece of cake. Wrangle two 10-foot oars, squaring and feathering the blades every stroke, and surf said needle shell over a moving body of water – while going backwards? Please, it’s like breathing.
What I’m saying is that proficiency can breed complacency. It’s only when you move out of your comfort zone that you fire up seldom-used brain synapses and tax new muscles. And yes, if looking ridiculous is a by-product, just relax and learn to laugh.
That said, it was heaven to get back into the boat this week
and do my Golden Gate loop. I’ll give skate skiing a try again some day. In the
meantime, I’ll stick to the bay, wait for my bruises to heal, and work on
attaining beginner’s mind. (And speaking of laughing, check out Mac's post on what it's like to visit his sister Lili in Sun Valley, the land of the former and would-be Olympians.)