From the Beginning.
This essay launches a new series I’m honored to be sharing with Conscious Life News entitled From the Beginner’s Mind. Though my writing is usually centered around land and life intimately intertwined, this series shares the story of a mid-life awakening. Mind you, this is no mid-life crisis. Things are going great. I’m not turning toward a spiritual enlightenment to escape or out of desperation, but because something is still missing. This is about the exploration of that ‘something.’
This is not a how-to manual for I don’t have the answers. I am learning just like you. And though I might like to be, I’m the first to admit I’m no expert. I cannot tell you how-to for I too am figuring it out. All I can do is share with you my journey, and hope you might be interested, inspired, encouraged, or even amused along the way.
With an open heart and mind, we can learn from every person we meet, every encounter we have, every article or book we read. With an open heart and mind we can find the answers we are looking for. That is the beginner’s mind. Where I find myself. Where perhaps you are too.
This is a journey. Let’s enjoy it together.
From the Beginner’s Mind.
Some say they have found enlightenment, and guard their discovery as an exclusive, elusive secret.
Others make no claims, but somehow you feel they are the wiser ones. These are the few who exude the pure essence of the beginner’s mind; that of clarity, equanimity, detachment, and compassion. There is something in the softness of their gaze when speaking with (not to) you; and a grace and ease in their movements. They observe their world with curiosity, remain humble to share what they have learned, and generously offer encouragement. They give you hope for what you can learn, what you can be, and the point and purpose of enlightenment as well as living – if you need those things (I do).
And then there are those who are happy where they’re at, found what they need, or aren’t interested in seeing beyond.
I’m none of those. You too?
Then this too might be you: One of those still looking, seeking, questioning. We don’t accept a truth unless we can prove it, and yes, sometimes that just means “feeling” the right answer. But, we haven’t always had the time. Basic survival (raising a family, holding down a job and getting food on the table) came first. We wanted more (energy and time included), knew there was more, and felt an emptiness for that something more. But finding time for teachers, lessons, practice and quiet meditation … well, those things seem out of reach, for the elite without the struggles and responsibilities we claimed, and thus not easily available for us everyday folks with basic needs.
That sure is me. We all have our thing, our distractions, temptations, obstacles to overcome. Or not. It’s all a matter of choice. I am choosing to take the time now.
So now I’m finding myself here. At the beginning. A true beginner’s mind.
It’s not out of wisdom, comprehension and compassion that I call mine a beginner’s mind. It’s simply the cold, hard, fact. No pretentions. No claims of clarity and openness, self knowledge, deep understanding, expertise and valuable insights. Just a beginner’s mind. The real deal.
This is a simple story of a midlife awakening. Maybe you’ll relate, maybe you’ll learn from or along with me, maybe you’ll laugh at my discoveries, maybe you’ll roll your eyes and chuckle, “What took you so long?”
Well, things like raising a family, making a marriage, paying the bills, establishing a business, keeping a house and hopefully my sanity in the process, though there was little time for more and some days not enough for all. I called it “basic survival.” Now my child is raised, my marriage is strong, my calling is fulfilling, my health is awesome, my home is beautiful, and I’m out of debt. I’m not turning towards spirituality as an escape, but rather for an enhancement. I still want more. Something is missing. I’m looking for a life of soul, as well as health, happiness and love. What does that entail? Well, this is what I’m trying to figure out!
In retrospect I see I’ve always been somewhere on this winding, twisted route – from practicing yoga on the beaches of Greece, to searching for the elusive magic mushroom on the hills over Santa Fe, to driving cross country time and again in my ’66 split windshield VW microbus with paisley walls and burning incense. All of it matters, or doesn’t, but is somehow a part of the whole. Then, twenty years of being a mom centered me, kept me in line, turned my focus from me to we. I can look at that time as a good excuse for not being somewhere else, or accept it as the opportunity to open me to just the right lessons I needed to learn and bring me to where I am today, ideally with experience, understanding, insight and compassion. At least in theory. Because we all know wisdom doesn’t automatically come with age or experience. It takes reflection, compassion, detachment and true understanding. It also takes time, commitment and energy. Some of you may get these things worked out early on. It took me a while. I think I’ve got it together now. (Is the act of knocking on wood considered too “beginner?”)
In any case, now I allow myself to dive deep. At times I feel selfish and spoiled – guilty in a way – am I wrong to take time for this stuff? Aren’t there “better” things I could be working on? More important? More productive? Couldn’t I keep busier? Make more money? Take on more responsibility? Be more impressive, aggressive, and accomplished?
I don’t know.
I know I’m supposed to practice non judgment. Starting with myself. After a half a lifetime seemly tainted by assumptions, stereotypes, prejudices, jumping to conclusions, taking it too personally, caring what others think, trying to please, trying to impress, do the right thing, belong, be accepted, be responsible, be loved… learning how to just be is a lot more work than I thought it would be.
So that’s where I’m at now. At the beginning.
You probably know this one. Suzuki wrote: “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.” Of course he’s referring to the beginner’s mind, not just the beginner, but he encourages us to consider this: the two are not so dissimilar. At least, it gives me hope to think so.
As you too may have found, for those really beginning, there are a zillion choices. Too many. It’s overwhelming. How do you know which is right for you? There are so many paths and practices, each acclaimed to be the best. So many choices; all leading to the same place, more or less. It’s like going into a cereal isle and trying to pick one. Or two. Or three. So you take one box, taste, and maybe next time you’ll try something else. Keep trying until you find your favorite. What works best for you? What feels right? What’s your path? What’s right for you may not be right for me.
Sometimes, too, you just have to trust. The right opportunities present themselves at the right time. Or not, and then you get the lessons of patience and perseverance. Are you going to stick with it or not? So you learn to balance commitment with choice. Without commitment, I think I’d just keep trying it all, be one more spiritual junkie on the path to the next latest greatest promise to quick and easy enlightenment, never getting good at anything, and probably never getting to where I want to go, which may be the case no matter how focused I try to remain, for maybe where I want to go isn’t where I need to be.
I am grateful it’s never too late to learn.
And I am grateful for those willing to teach. Don’t you know what your wisdom and experience mean to those seeking? The sharing of gems. Wealth and shining beauty in the form of a few words or lessons. This is amazing stuff. Stuff we have to remember to pass on some day, some how. The time will come. Sure, some will tell you “I’m enlightened; you are not,” and won’t have time (or the mind/heart set) to share how they got to where you are not. There’s plenty of that around. There’s also plenty of humility and compassion. Big, wide, generous hearts. Learn from them in whatever way you can. It never hurts to ask, reach out, try. Perhaps with simple observation, perhaps with direct lessons. Learn from those that practice what they preach, and exude the essence you are working toward. No, you’ll never be someone else. We’re all beautiful and unique in our own way, with our own style and gifts, calling and path. But choose your teachers wisely, I tell myself. On the other hand, with an open mind and heart, I can learn from anyone.
I am humbled by knowing how little I know, how much I can learn.
What have I learned so far? Well, I confess often I haven’t learned by proficiency, but out of frustration.
These are the hard ones for me, the ones I have to work on every day, and still don’t have mastered. And because they are so hard, and require so much attention and effort, I’m pretty sure these are the biggies:
Patience. I still want it all now. The answers, enlightenment, that feeling of bliss or “getting it” I get for fleeting moments during meditation. I also know it’s not supposed to work that way. If it were easy… we’d all be there already and miss the journey. It requires practice. Meditation. Sitting. Focus. No focus. Learning to be still. Wait. Receive. All in due time. “Don’t work too hard, just let it come,” one teacher tells me. Easier said than done. How to erase 40-something years of thinking I need to work my butt off to get what I want. Funny because even when I did work my butt off, I didn’t always get what I wanted. Or maybe it was that what I thought I wanted wasn’t that which I needed, so obtaining it was unfulfilling… grab it and go, onto the next.
Gratitude. For those who have shared, are willing to share, with such humility and grace. Gratitude… for those who treat me gently (or harsh when I need that, and I do sometimes) and try to teach me what they have learned without making me feel like a fool (or at least, not trying to… because sometimes I do anyway). Have you noticed that those who know the most say they know the least? Give them time (back to that patience thing…) and they’ll reveal what you need to know, when you need to know it… if you stick with it, and ask. I treasure the time, care, insight, wisdom, and the gems they have shared with me. Gratitude… for all those opening the doors, calling me over, laughing at my enthusiasm as I come eagerly running like a happy puppy.
Forgiveness. This may sound selfish, but I’m trying to start with myself on this one. I’m not talking therapy here, just understanding, acceptance, and love. At least that’s what I’ve read. The theory being it’s hard to move forward without a good grasp of the past. And once you start taking a quick look, you start seeing how much you hold against yourself. Geez. Let it go! Right. Easier said than done, but I’m trying. And at the same time, working on forgiving others, because really, what’s the point? Anger and resentment eat away at me only; the other person has no idea I’ve got a vex on them. So the point is…? Get over it. Move onto better things. At least, that’s what this beginner is trying to do.
Understanding. Clarity or seeing clearly. When I was little with my big strong mind (or so I swore it to be back then) my mother would say to me, “We agree to disagree.” I didn’t agree at all. I knew that was a way of saying, “I won’t even bother trying to understand.” I wanted to be understood. Now I want to understand. “Everything on the planet,” another teacher tells me. No, you don’t have to agree. But try to truly understand. It feels amazing, expansive, inclusive just to give it a try…
Non judgment. Why did it take me so long to figure this out? (Though is “Why?” a question laced with judgment or simply curiosity?) So yeah, I got a long ways to go on this one. And once again, who do we judge most but ourselves? How do we learn to let go of self expectations and demands and fears ? I wish I knew. I’m starting by (trying…) switching my focus to calm, clear, centered… and sometimes nothing at all, just breathing in and breathing out. It’s a start. Tell you what: seems like it’s easier to find fault than accept praise. Who said it was meant to be easy?
Service. I keep finding myself going back to the old Jackie Robinson quote: “A life is not important except for the impact it has on other lives.” I don’t think we’re ever fully fulfilled unless we see that what we’re doing is not just for ourselves. The bigger picture matters. Sure, we all want to be included and accepted, but it’s more than that. We need a point and purpose, and I think that point and purpose has to involve the well being of others to be sincerely satisfying. So, is service a selfish act? I don’t know – maybe we can twist it around to be – but I think the big thing is this: we need to do stuff for others. If it doesn’t feel like enough, maybe it’s not. Do more. If I’m lucky, I’m only half way through life. I spent what felt like the first half taking care of me and my family. Now it is my time to start reaching beyond.
Love. Surely this is the most important. It is so simple, really, and yet so crazy complex. In all its wild ways. Sexual, spiritual, motherly, earthy, passionate, compassionate love. Love… for the understanding I am slowing seeing, feeling, breathing in, becoming. Very slowly. Love… for my husband, who not only lets me, but actually joins me. Love… for the earth I tread softly on and spring winds and bird songs and the howling coyote at first light. Love… for the words I weave into poetry, if no where else then in my mind, for it makes me smile and love the world around me I write about that much more. And here’s something cool I’m finding. Why not love? Everyone. Everything. I’m sick of anger. I’m trying to catch myself. When I feel like smacking someone in the face (no, I’ve actually never did this, but between you and me, I confess I have fantasized…), turn my feelings to love. Plain and simple. It’s easier than I thought. Try it if you don’t believe me. Just change your thoughts. Stop one. Replace with another. No excuses. Just do it. Really. Sincerely. Tell you what – it feels amazing. Love. Because the more you send out, the more is out there, and the more you feel, and that’s just good stuff, no matter how you look at it.
Compassion. My take on this, coming from my true beginner’s mind, is that compassion sums up all these lessons. Patience, understanding, non judgment, service, love. And then you have to practice what you preach. This is the hard part. Put your lessons to the test, and into action. Not just words, readings, teaching, but actual doings. How I treat myself. How I treat others. How I treat the Earth. And that’s where the hard part comes in. Being the person you want to be. Now. But that’s where you really start feeling like you’re getting somewhere. Start by trying. That’s all it takes to begin.
So, here I am. On the path to awakening. At least, that’s where I hope this road is going.
Where ever I am, it’s beautiful. It feels good. It feels right. Some days I’m elated and high and it feels so awesome and for fleeting moments I shiver with bliss and feel enwrapped with light and I’m sure I’m doing it right, and even get a glimpse of what “right” might be. And then the next day I slip back into my selfish, short sighted, wounded child whining. It doesn’t last long any more. At least, I try not to let it. I’m slowly learning to see right through that game. Finally. And see into something so much better.
“Try” is my mantra. Try to get over it. Try to forgive myself when I don’t. Try to change the bad thoughts to good. Try to feel love when I’m burning with rage. Try to feel at ease when I’m convinced I was just slighted, dissed, or rejected (this one happens plenty as a writer).Try to find calm when my mind is moving like a racehorse, busted free from the track , and is heading off, fast, in a direction to god knows where… Come back to center, breath, smile, and try again…
I’ve got a long ways to go. I’m starting to understand if done correctly, I’ll be doing this forever. Learning, growing, expanding, adjusting, refining. I’m also starting to understand this: once you get on the path, sure you’ll get lost and lose the way from time to time, but I don’t think the journey ends. Something inside keeps us going, brings us back to center, and leads us onward. A deep yearning for the truth, peace, presence and understanding. Have you found this to be so?
Have you noticed this one too? Once you begin to open your eyes, suddenly you start seeing so much. It’s beautiful. It’s almost blinding, almost overwhelming, but you can’t turn your head away…
Word of warning – when you begin to open, with gratitude, humility and clarity, the Universe rejoices. It celebrates joyously by throwing doors open for you. You might have to run to keep up and get through them all. You can do it!
I’m opening them all for now, jumping in and finding my way around. I’m trusting, and believing and following, rather than controlling, and this is new for me. I’m rejoicing too – I know I’ll get exhausted, and settle in soon enough and find my new expanding space. But for now, I’m having fun learning. Everything is new today.
No doubt, many of you are further along on the path than me. Please be patient with us late bloomers or slow movers. No need to wait on us, but be gentle when you see us swerving along the rocky road. Be gracious, knowing one more human being is beginning the unfurling.
I’m just happy I’m here now.
And though I don’t get all the right answers or clearly see the way yet, I’m sure enjoying the journey.