I will always consider myself a beginner because as Albert Einstein says,” an expert is a person who has few new ideas; a beginner is a person with many.” When you watch children and how they absorb the world around them so fresh and new, nothing is boring. Everything is full of potential and exploration. From a blade of grass to the movement of shadows on the floor, everything is a marvel that warrants investigation. An inquisitive mind seeks to understand beyond the surface appearance.
Shoshin (初心) is a word from Zen Buddhism meaning “beginner’s mind.” It refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner would. How often do we truly approach something without preconceptions and expectations? We form an attachment to what we already know and we tend to look for validating information that reinforces what we hold to be true. This is dangerous because we end up discarding so many useful truths in the process and limit ourselves further without it being of benefit to us. There is a difference between wisdom and selective thinking. Having a heart of acceptance means being more open to the possibility of disappointment. If you seek only a certain result you will never be disappointed but your joy slowly dies.
This brand of paint is better than that one because I have been using it for a while now. I cannot use that type of wax because it didn’t work for me a year ago. This style of furniture won’t sell so I can’t paint it like that. I have to do it this way because it is the only way I know how. I will paint it this color because this is what is popular in the market right now. Everyone of my friends uses this so I will too. There was that one negative review about this item so I don’t want to waste my money on it.
We seek what is comfortable. Discomfort is something we try to avoid because it is human nature. Making mistakes is part of the process of a beginner. Each success because it’s not expected is all the more sweeter. We want everything we know to be valuable immediately but sometimes the value of something doesn’t appear until later. Don’t judge something based upon another’s values. Have teachers but keep in mind that they makes mistakes as well and are not infallible. An approach to a style is just a point of view and not a definition of your skills. See it as a form of expression which you can change to suit your own perspective. There is no such thing as perfection. Perfection is always changing and malleable. Failure is not the end all of a situation. Success is impermanent and based off of approval and not actual value. Not knowing can be the most precious state of mind. What can seem like confidence is often a mask for fear. Being comfortable doesn’t make it right.
I often hear from novices in furniture painting that when they see the work being produced by others, it intimidates them and makes them feel hopeless so that they are reluctant to begin for fear of failure. When you see the finished result it’s easy to forget how it began. Let what inspires you to give you hope and not despair. Often the artist began not knowing what the result would be. It may take you twice as long to achieve what takes another far less time but nobody is judging you for being slower or thinking you are less efficient. The mistakes you see are not apparent to others because they do not have the same expectations. Comparison to anyone but yourself is a setup for failure. There are always higher levels to reach and new skills to learn. It’s easier to change your own expectations than it is to expect others to change there’s. Give yourself the compassion you would to any beginner no matter how long you have been doing something or what you may think you have achieved in the past.
Mushin (無心) means “Without Mind” and it is like the Chinese Taoist principle of wei wuwei (爲無爲). It’s what you would call being in the zone. Your mind is empty of everything and exists only in the moment so that you are only acting and not analyzing. It’s liking being caught up in the moment so that everything you do feels natural and unforced. You are acting based upon your knowledge but not allowing it to hinder your flow of thought. For me, this is the best state of mind to have when I am painting or creating. It’s the one that’s the most enjoyable for me because I am not expecting anything and just doing. In this state of mind, I am truly free.
Nobody ever leaves the state of being a beginner. Even a master is a beginner throughout their life and always revisiting old truths and acquiring new truths. It’s not a linear measurement which you only advance from like a board game from which you only ever start and end. Rejoice in being a beginner. If you never want to leave the wonderment of beginning than nothing will ever be at an end and you will always be in perpetual motion. Beginning is not a lowly status from which you have to prove yourself. It is only the advance to possibilities, a new journey you are free to choose the route you want to go.