“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” – Zen Master Shunryo Suzuki
Reggie and I are taking a late afternoon walk. It’s on the steamy side. The sun is at that particular angle where you cannot escape it. Shady spots are hard to come by until the sun lowers itself behind the brownstones.
There is a boy on the sidewalk ahead of us. He’s wearing knee and elbow pads and a bike helmet. He’s walking his bike, a throw-back banana seat number, which he’s outfitted with stickers of characters I’m too out of touch to recognize. His mother and younger sister— judging by the large round eyes that seem to run through their family— are sitting on a stoop playing I Spy and waiting for the boy.
He looks older than the typical kid learning to ride a bike. Maybe he’s just big for his age. Or maybe it’s a byproduct of living in a busy city with crowded sidewalks and streets. Or maybe his mother is overprotective. Whatever the reason for the apparent delay, today is his day. His mother has given him a starting point near the end of the block and he is to ride to meet her midway.
As he attempts to get going, the bike is jerking from side to side. If he is recalling a bad fall and it’s making him nervous, I’d understand. (Exhibit A. Exhibit B. ) He’s trying to control the bike through force, but he has to learn that it’s a gentle finesse that will keep him upright. He has to have the confidence that he can do it, before he can do it.
Unfortunately, he hasn’t learned this yet. I see him getting more frustrated by the moment. Finally, impatience (combined with 90 percent humidity) wins. He loses control and the bike tips over. He’s fine physically; emotionally is where it hurts most. He wants instant gratification. He wants to be a protege. He wants it to be easy. Like riding a bike.
He kicks the bike now lying on the ground and starts to cry. Not little a little sniffle, but giant tears and choking sobs. He takes off his helmet and throws it on the ground. By now his mother has come over. She’s saying the soothing things that all kind mothers say. “No need to be so upset. You’ll get it soon enough. It takes a lot of practice.” She’s speaking from experience of course. With age comes the knowledge that most accomplishments are hard won. Figuring out the ropes of a new job; learning a new language; driving a car without running anyone down. Mastery doesn’t happen overnight. He doesn’t know this, and it’s not something he can learn by hearing it.
And he doesn’t remember the difficult things he’s already learned. How often did he fall down and get back up when he was learning to walk? How many times did he try to chew on his mother’s hoodie before he understood it wasn’t edible?
As Reggie and I pass the boy and his mother, I feel a twinge for him. How many times in his life will he run into the wall? Will this moment give him the fortitude he needs to persevere when “life hands him lemons”? Will he give up on anything that he can’t master quickly?
I think about how I would answer those questions. It’s hard not knowing what comes next, always feeling like a “newbie.” Every time I sit down. to write, I feel this way. When will this ever come together, I wonder. Running into this boy is a life lesson, a reminder to relish the the beginner’s mind. I love this guest post on Leo Babauta’s Zen Habits in which Mary Jaksch writes that beginner’s mind “leaves room for intuition.” Being a beginner isn’t a bad thing. If we can allow ourselves to not worry about being perfect, being a beginner gives us the opportunity to be a state of wonder and learning,
The boy’s mother collects his helmet and bike and puts her arm around his shoulder. She’s trying to build up his confidence. I hope she’s also telling him to enjoy the beginner’s mind.
When was the last time you had “beginner’s mind”?
Have a wonderful weekend, everyone!