Wednesday, August 17, 2011

I met R.L., or how to keep Beginner's Mind even when you're no longer a beginner

Never Done: I met R.L., or how to keep Beginner's Mind even when you're no longer a beginner

I am so new at my job that I could blog about something new I've done every day. For example, yesterday I started filing for a P-3 artist visa to bring someone in for an October performance, but I'm not going to write about it. Instead, I am going to write about the meeting I had with a woman who is the arts and culture consultant to all the JCC's across the country.

The thing I loved most about the meeting is that she made me feel comfortable asking her opinion about things that are intrinsic to my own job -- things that in another context I might not have felt comfortable asking, feeling like I need to prove myself. We had a wonderful conversation about what makes Jewish performance Jewish, and if it's not Jewish, what makes it belong in a Jewish performing arts space. This is a topic I have thought about extensively of course, but now that I actually program a Jewish space, I'm applying my thoughts for the first time, and I'm very interested in what other people have to say about it. So instead of erecting a wall with my own opinions, I asked her what she thinks, and this opened the door to one of the most interesting conversations I've had on the topic to date.

This got me thinking about what can get hard about practicing Humility: Seek wisdom from others; there is so much pressure for us to prove ourselves -- and so much pressure to not show our vulnerabilities. There is so much pressure for us to prove that we are experts, and to pretend that we not actually beginners.

There is a central concept in Zen Buddhism called Shoshin, or Beginner's Mind, that encourages us to approach learning with the open attitude of a beginner -- without preconceptions about our own performance -- even when we are learning at an advanced level. Right now I actually am a beginner at my job, so it's easier than it will become for me to practice Shoshin. But what about in a month, when people get tired of reminding me where certain forms are, or in a year, when I am supposed to be expert? My hope is that I will still be able to meet people and listen openly to their knowledge and experience, while approaching my own areas of expertise with all the openness and lack of self-judgement I would if I were a beginner.

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