What “Beginner’s Mind” Offers the Writer

A university professor went to visit a famous Zen master. While the master quietly served tea, the professor talked about Zen. The master poured the visitor’s cup to the brim, and then kept pouring. The professor watched the overflowing cup until he could no longer restrain himself.

“It’s full! No more will go in!” the professor said.

“This is you,” the master replied, “How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”

It’s one thing to understand conceptually that the future is unwritten. It’s something else entirely to really embrace that with your whole being.

Writers can get blocked up when they don’t feel that they know enough about their subject matter. They can also experience a block when they feel overly familiar with things. It’s as if the ideas become opaque, compressed, and even hard to see. They’re too familiar to notice.

Bring a map, read the instructions, and don't impose limits on how good things can be. Click To Tweet

The perks of writing with “beginner’s mind” are no joke

From the standpoint of a total beginner, you don’t really know how to write. You discover everything fresh.

What happens when you write without knowing how to write?

Well, not knowing how to write is a good way of being open as to what can happen. You have no preconceived notions. No notions at all — just a sense of discovery. What is writing? You’re open. You feel it out first. Before we know what to say, we mime and make the sounds. We sing along and then we learn the words.

First we feel, then we understand.

There may be correct and incorrect understanding, but can feeling be right or wrong?

Writing with a beginner mind brings a person into a space where they actually feel what is happening.

Autopilot and Judgment

You know the experience of getting in your car and diving to work even though you don’t need to go to work? You get in the car because you need to head to the hardware store, only you end up driving halfway to work before you notice that you haven’t really been conscious of your driving at all. You got into the car, able to do a very complex task — nobody got hurt, thankfully, but you weren’t really present. You just mindlessly drove halfway to work because part of you enjoys autopilot.

We naturally find shortcuts and ways to put tasks on autopilot. Not a bad thing — this enables us to do more and more complex things, to accomplish the miracle of rubbing our belly and patting our head at the same time.

To walk, chew gum, talk on the phone, navigate busy pedestrian traffic in an unfamiliar city and look for a hotel, while in the back of your mind you wonder if you’ll come upon the man in the red jacket again.

Setting aside judgment while you freewrite is helpful because it can clear away old habits of criticism that stop you from being wild and free. It’s also the pathway towards greater presence. The attention spent on assessing your writing can instead be diverted towards the sense of discovery and revelry in the process. Judgment is often an attempt to keep us on the same familiar path, yet the creative impulse yearns for total freedom. The more you set aside judgment during the creative flow, the more you welcome your own presence to the writing process. The more you can feel.

Everything we do has the potential of being creative if we bring presence to it.

Creativity is spontaneous, wild, and free.

It’s something that we need to show up for. To enjoy for its own sake and to recognize something of our uniqueness and depth in the process of it.

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