The joys of being a beginner

For many of us, the older we get, the less we do new things. We might learn a new hobby in college, but after that, it kind of levels off. If we’ve always been into running, we might still run. If we’re into sci fi, we read more sci fi. We already know what we like, goes the thinking, so we’re good. Why spend the effort to learn an entirely new thing? Isn’t being a raw beginner frustrating and difficult and just kind of not worth it? I find the opposite is true— being a beginner is freeing, and, dare I say, fun?

In zen Buddhism, there’s a concept called shoshin, or “Beginner’s Mind.” At its core, this idea means letting go of preconceptions and expectations. In the void where these obstructing ideas may have been, you can discover openness, eagerness, and clarity. It’s a practice for meditation and for life— and it takes time and work to cultivate.

When you are truly new to a practice or a skill, the Beginner’s Mind is more accessible. The thoughts of “I should know this”, or “I’m supposed to be good at this” or “I’m being judged on this” may still arise, but I find that they’re less sticky than they might be when I approach something I’m more experienced in.

I enjoy lots of different kinds of physical practice— and I really enjoy starting a new one form scratch. I don’t have bad habits and I don’t feel like I have to prove myself. I can just soak it up and practice and learn.

challenge accepted.

I recently started a new strength training program at a new gym (Tucson Strength, where you at?). We do kettlebells, bodyweight, and some other functional movements like crawling and rolling. The first time I hiked a heavy kettlebell back to swing it, I nearly fell on my ass. I laughed— my thoughts were more “well THAT’s different!” than “oh God, did anyone see that?” I was actually sort of delighted to find that something I’d never done before was difficult in an unfamiliar way. And there are so many things to learn and so much to think about— the timing, the torque, the tension, the grip.

And I love— love!— that as soon as you’ve got the basics, there’s a new level of refinement. That no matter how good you get, what you don’t know will dwarf what you do know. One of the trainers, who is experienced, certified, and genrally badass, talked about going to master classes and always learning ways to tweak and improve his own movement— which looks pretty darn good to me. Sure, maybe you can asymptotically approach perfection, but there’s always something. And when you’re new, that something is right there for the taking. Improvement is rapid— and almost guaranteed.

What can you learn as an adult that will challenge and delight your brain and your body? Drawing? Karate? Mandarin? Baking? Yoga? Swimming? You tell me! Find a class. Find a coach. Barter with an expert friend. See what happens!

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