“Embrace exuberant imperfection” (Chris Baty, No Plot, No Problem)
For years, I have been intrigued by the Zen concept of beginner’s mind. In its simplest explanation, it is the ability to allow yourself to be a beginner at something you have done a million times. This is a skill that I think most of us have lost by the time we enter high school. As young teens, we are so worried about what other people think of us, and so quick to act as though we know it all, that we miss out on the joy of being a beginner. Sadly, this way of thinking, acting, and living follows most of us throughout our adulthood.
I have tried to cultivate this again in my life by taking classes in new subjects like quilting and yoga, and starting violin lessons in my late 30s (adult beginner violin teachers have a special place in heaven!), but I have really learned to use this in my writing.
For most of my life, I have had a secret desire to write. In my teens, I would carry a spiral notebook around and let my angst spill all over the page in poems and letters that I would never send. But somewhere along the way, I stopped carrying my notebook. I stopped writing down my inner most thoughts and feelings. I stopped writing completely.
During this time, I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. Now, I certainly haven’t done any scientific experiments in this area, but I firmly believe there is a direct correlation between this diagnosis and my inability to put words to paper. I have read many books on spirituality, depression, and writer’s block. I have come to believe that the reason I stopped writing is fear; fear that It would not be perfect, fear that someone would read what I wrote, and fear that I might write something that would hurt someone else’s feelings.
When I learned about beginner’s mind, I decided to apply it to my writing. I signed up for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and pledged to write 50,000 words in 30 days. For those who have not tried it, this is not an easy task, but with dedication and persistence it can be done. The trick is to approach each day’s writing with a sense of wonder, to let your mind go and release your expectations for the finished product. It will most likely suck, but the point isn’t to make it perfect; the point is to get it written. Somehow, I have done this and “won” four times and counting.
Unfortunately, as soon as I won, I promptly put those novels away and never looked at them again. My husband asked me why I never tried to get them published. I have given this some thought and realized that I hid them out of fear. Not fear that they wouldn’t be good, but fear that maybe they were good. If they were judged good, then people would expect me to be able to do it again. And what if I couldn’t?
There it is again. Fear of being a beginner. Fear of floundering around in imperfection until I manage to find my way. Fear of not knowing what I am doing, of looking like I am anything less than an expert. We all have areas in our lives where this fear keeps us from doing something we really long to do. I am slowly learning to embrace this fear, and do it anyway.
In Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg writes “…beginner’s mind is what we must come back to every time we sit down and write. There is no security, no assurance that because we wrote something good two months ago, we will do it again. Actually, every time we begin, we wonder how we ever did it before. Each time is a new journey with no maps.” I believe this is a good way, not only to writing, but to approach life.
With each passing year, I believe more and more that perfection is highly over-rated, and in seeking perfection, we miss so much joy. The beauty of living is in the imperfection. It is not the destination, but the ride. It is in letting our inner critic go and embracing the experience of being a beginner over and over again.