Beginner’s Mind

In Qi Gong, or meditation, one aspires to regain a beginner’s mind. We do this from an appreciation of what an open willingness to engage, coupled with a sense of wonder filled with Grace and empty of expectation, can give us. It’s difficult to achieve. Habit intrudes atop whatever our narrow experience has shown us; leading us to expect short-cuts, eroding our sense of wonder, and making even the most modest achievement less likely.

In professions we actively seek out the opposite of a beginner’s mind. We strive after a detached knowing, a position from which we may place ourselves above and outside of the struggle. Professionals strive for this and their clients have come to expect it. They are reassured by airs of objectivity surrounding the professional aura. The amateur is looked down upon for lacking this quality of detachment. This attitude of professionalism makes up a large part of the foundation of Seriousness. It’s also wrong, and dangerous. It’s a horrible model for any human activity.

We recoil at accounts of quacks in the past. How could anyone be so brutal? How could anyone allow such practices to continue, or accept them as necessary? Yet people lined up for their procedures. Why? We tend to think this the antithesis of professionalism. In fact these are its direct results and grow out of its underlying ethos.

The professional mindset, developed from its ancestor, priestly authority, sets the stage. It establishes a climate in which our disinclination to narrow life down and compartmentalize is systematically beaten out of us. Blinkered judgment prefers a narrow expediency over any wider good. There is a triggering of herd mentality. All-in-all this is a classic predation scenario cloaked in deceit. Stockholm Syndrome develops as prey perversely identify with their tormentors. As far as I know, there isn’t a term for this entire wider process, but when I talk of Uncivilization it’s the replacement of this toxic dynamic with something else I’m advocating. It has something to do with what Dougald Hine calls Epimethean.

In every practice I’ve entered, from painting to design to writing, meditation and Qi Gong, I’ve seen the value of a beginner’s mind. My best results have come from my closest brushes with this elusive state, my greatest fiascoes when I’ve been seduced into a delusion of professionalism.

The “man-of-action” scoffs at the entire notion of a beginner’s mind. They willfully misunderstand conflating naiveté with the cultivation of a beginner’s mind. They would ignore the practice, development, learning, and building of an ability to embody a discipline required to reach the level of mastery needed to achieve a beginner’s mind. They see no value in a honed humility that leads us to understand mastery’s rewards are not found within the dramatics of Ego.

Maybe there is a simple way to state this difference? These toxic dynamics pit the will-to-control against life’s uncertainty. In the name of “eradicating” uncertainty they permit an escalating violence against all life. They act out a systematic program with an ever-widening scope of destruction “in our name.” They are locked within an Ego delusion of accelerating urgency to provide permission for their ill-considered but overly elaborated “plans.” What is missing, what is aggressively stripped from their equations, is any genuine compassion.

A beginner’s mind holding a blend of hope within humility, a shoal hope; brings us a way to avoid this runaway pathology. If this were all it did, it would be a wonder! The amazing thing is that it connects us with a degree of efficacy unavailable to us any other way. It does this without tying us into a Promethean bargain. It’s gifts are not prone to runaway with us. They abandon us as soon as we lose our humility and attempt to wrest control. This could be a key to a virtuous cycle that would allow our re-entry into life’s evolution. The Promethean model is tied to a vicious cycle and cannot self-regulate, and will not accept our place within forces that are forever beyond our understanding or control. This ties their productions to destruction and bends all our activities into its toxic mold.

There is something about the practice of attaining a beginner’s mind that breaks us out of this cycle. It does not constrain us by imposing controls. It does not force us to act against our own better judgment, it doesn’t ask us to callously or viciously do violence to ourselves or to others. It does both allow us and give us the tools to achieve our best and to live within the limits of existence. It opens us to an evolution towards something through a process twining transformation with return wound about uncertainty.

A Promethean ethos cannot work its way out of the trap it has set for itself. This applies to all of its forms.

The beginner’s mind is a sign of another direction, one that sidesteps the blindness inherent in the Promethean drama enacted within our professionally driven mold.

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