Cultivating Beginner’s Mind

You might not guess this about me, but I hate looking stupid.

I don’t mind looking silly, but I have real hang ups with looking like I don’t know what I’m doing when I feel like I “should” be on my game. This unfortunate sense of pride has, at times, kept me from: stopping for directions when I’m lost, asking friends for help when I’m sad, and putting myself out there in important ways when I could grow (I cannot tell you how many partially begun blog domains I’ve abandoned across the internet).

Then I started taking a pottery class.

I’ve always wanted to learn to throw a pot on a wheel, and 6 months ago, my schedule finally allowed me an opening to do so. About 15 minutes into the first class, the teacher just…turned us loose with our clay. I had no idea what I was doing…but I LOVED it.


I came to this pottery class during a period of Intense Burnout. I’d just quit a spiritually draining full time job, my health was wrecked, and I didn’t have the energy to do anything–anything, that is, except go to pottery class. I was counting the days until my next studio time. What the what?

Usually when people talk about Beginner’s Mind, they’re referring to having fresh eyes on something–seeing an activity more clearly than someone who’s been doing it for a while. Beginner’s Mind might even be associated with Beginner’s Luck.

But, to me, it’s becoming less important how Beginner’s Mind serves the activity and more important how it serves me–the beginner.

What if Beginner’s Mind isn’t special because you might show up and be magically good at something, what if it’s special because it’s a way to learn about and love how you show up? Sure I’m learning a lot about clay, form, slips, and glazes in this pottery class, but I’m drawn deep because of what I’m learning about how I learn and create.

How did this happen?

Conditions I believe to have made fertile ground for my Beginner’s Mind Renaissance:

  • My identity isn’t all wrapped up in needing to be good at this. What I make doesn’t become some kind of reflection of my self worth.
  • Expecting many attempts. Things are going to get messed up. Sometimes it will be your mistake, other times it’s the weather, or time, or who-knows-what. It’s okay, though, because there is also the expectation that you’re just going to make many, many attempts. Why worry over one or two or ten that didn’t go as planned?
  • Options. There are just so many ways you can deal with a pot that didn’t go as planned. You can smush it, toss it, make it into a different shape, put a handle on it, mask scratches with a new texture, or listen to the new shape and let it be.
  • Subjectivity. There’s no clear scorecard in the arts. I get to follow my own shifting assignments; this week it’s to find ways to make shapes that make me happy.

Transferable Nuggets of Beginner’s Wisdom

Early on, I overheard my teacher saying to another beginner:

At first, you’re going to be concerned with wanting to know what you’re going to make. But until you know how to do it, you’re not going to be able to control what you make. So then you’re going to want to know how to do it before you do it. But you can’t know how to do it without just doing it…so you’re just gonna have to do it.

What?! YES. Take that to the LIFE BANK and put it in your SAVINGS ACCOUNT.

The other lesson that’s been really useful to me inside and outside of the clay studio is listening to what I’m going to make before I’ve made it.

…WTF do I mean by that?

I mean trusting the thing that wants to be made to lead me to make it. I mean breathing and being present with something outside of myself instead of getting stuck in my head trying to figure out and make a certain thing happen. It takes the pressure off of me as a “creator” to feel like I’m just in conversation with this future creation–to look at each lump of clay and ask, What do you want to be? Then to look at a raw clay cylinder and ask, What do you need? A stamp?  A button? What color do you want to be?

Because, I mean, who am I to make that kind of decision? I’m just a beginner here.

So, little blog, here we are at a beginning. What do you want to be? Who do you want to reach? What should we bring to them?



One thought on “Cultivating Beginner’s Mind

  1. Pingback: Learning the Language | Narrative Pull

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s