Allow Yourself to Be a Beginner

Have you ever had a great idea for a project or personal goal, that seems super inspiring and exciting at first only to devolve into another disappointment as soon as you start taking real steps toward it? This happens to me ALL the time. Everything feels so much easier and more seamless when it’s just an idea. Unfortunately, our minds forget to factor in that embarking on new endeavors is challenging and often not immediately rewarding in the way we imagined it would be. This disparity between imagination and reality can cause us to give up on the idea too quickly.

For example, I just bought myself a spontaneous gift, a Wacom Intuos drawing tablet. For those who haven’t heard of this before, it’s a tablet that allows you to create digital art on your computer. It even came with access to a couple different softwares for making said art. I’ve been giddy about getting this tablet for days. I kept checking all day yesterday to see if it had arrived yet. I couldn’t wait to get home and start creating. I even told my coworkers about it and promised to show them all the cool things I would draw with it over the weekend.

Once I got home and got everything set up and ready to go, I was immediately filled with self doubt. I had hoped the software might be more simple and intuitive than Photoshop. However, the two seem nearly identical to me. There are just SO many options. I don’t even know where to begin. I figured I’d at least be able to do a simple drawing as well as I could with pen and paper, but I was dead wrong. So far I haven’t been able to make a single thing. Instead of drawing, I spent the better part of my evening doing research and watching tutorials.

Now this is normally the part in the process where I give up. I feel crushed not only that I can’t do what I thought I’d be able to do, but also that I “wasted” so much time and money believing I could. Thankfully, I am no longer the self-defeating person I once was. When I started to feel frustrated and like I wanted to quit yesterday, I just repeated my new mantra: It’s okay to be a beginner. The progress I’ve seen in my drawing over the last few years just from doodling every day has bolstered my self-confidence. I KNOW I can do this. I’ve done it before. I won’t let my ego stop me, just because it feels insulted we aren’t already the best at something we’ve literally never tried before. Sure, it feels good to be the best, but it feels even better to learn new skills and watch yourself get better and better.

My mindset is totally different this time around. I am more determined than I’ve felt in years. I’ve fucking GOT THIS. I know that determination is all that I need. That alone is a guarantee that I’ll master this new art form one day. It sure as hell won’t be tomorrow or even next week. Maybe not even next year. But I will be better than I am today by the time I reach each of those future dates. And eventually I’ll be better than I ever believed I could be. Instead of letting my total lack of ability right now discourage me, I’m using it to inspiring me. Won’t it be so freaking cool and impressive once I figure this out?! How proud I’ll feel. How fascinating it will be to watch my amazing sponge-like mind absorb this new knowledge and build a new talent. Right now, I don’t even know what this new software is capable of. The possibilities are endless.

Rather than running from our sense of inadequacy or feeling so embarrassed by being a beginner that we quit, we can choose to savor where we are right now. I want to remember what it feels like to be this know-nothing novice. I want to remember so that I can feel all the more joy in a few years when I look back on how far I have come. Every single expert was a beginner at some point. Would being an expert even hold any satisfaction if that weren’t the case?

Being a beginner is exciting! You are learning a new skill. What a wonderful way to exercise this incredible muscle we call the mind. That is part of the reason we are here on this earth, to learn new things, to explore, to experience. We won’t be able to do any of those things if we only allow ourselves to do what we’re already good at. Being a beginner is a beautiful thing to be. Choose to enjoy it.

Mantras to Practice:

  1. It’s okay to be a beginner.
  2. I am making progress toward my goals each day.
  3. It’s fun to learn new things.
  4. I enjoy challenging myself and building new skills.
  5. Practice makes progress.
Embracing a Beginner's Mind | Harlem Yoga Studio

Exploring the Mind

Still immersed in How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan, I have been unable to prevent the psychedelic perspective from penetrating my every thought. I am desperate to find some free time in which I can start experimenting with my own spiritually centered trips. One of the things I find most interesting about psychedelics is the revelations people often experience while taking them. It’s not as if these insights are new. They are usually a reflection of things that have become platitudes: We are all one, love conquers all, we have the ability to choose our own reality, make our own happiness, etc. This is one of the reasons I find it so difficult to express the psychedelic experience to those who haven’t taken these drugs for themselves. It’s almost too hard to put into words and make sense of in my own head, let alone translate it to others. It’s similar to the way we can pass along knowledge, but not wisdom. There is something ineffable about the experience that solidifies the truth of the realizations that come with it.

Pollan’s book talks a lot about the seemingly limitless potential of these drugs to treat mental illness, comfort the dying, and even improve the quality of life for average, healthy people. What it hasn’t seemed to touch on yet though is the implications these psychedelic experiences have in regard to our minds in general. Sure we are introducing a foreign substance to our brains, but the pathways it activates are already inside of us, just waiting to be utilized. People have already found ways to access these mental pathways through breathwork alone, without the use of any substances. What does all this mean when it comes to our limited perspectives and perception of ourselves, others, and the world around us?

As a child, unburdened by biases or expectations, the world seems like quite a fantastical place. We’re present, we’re in the moment, we’re open to new experiences and ways of thinking. Understandably, that changes as we age. The more time we spend looking at the world through a certain lens, the more it begins to feel like that’s the only lens there is. We forget that we haven’t always thought or felt the way we currently do, and that others don’t think, feel, or react in the same ways that we do. Wouldn’t it be amazing to take a peak into the mind of someone else for just a few moments? Or better yet, to truly know the full capabilities of our own brains?

It’s frustrating and fascinating to realize that no one will ever truly know what it feels like to be anyone else. We take for granted that as human beings we are pretty much the same, but how alike are we really? So much of our experience of life is private and uniquely personal. The way our minds work are too complex for us to fully grasp, despite how far science has come. One of the issues psychedelic researchers have is how to quantify and categorize such personal, subjective experiences into usable data. Science has been relegated to the very limited realm of objective facts and observable behaviors/phenomenon. It seems we haven’t quite figured out a way to explore and understand subjective experiences, despite what a huge impact these things have in the world.

I suppose subjective subjects are better left to philosophers than scientists. However, one thing that is mentioned in Pollan’s book is the suggestible nature of a psychedelic experience. Whatever you are primed to experience is most likely what you will experience during your trip. Just like in a lot of other ways, in this way psychedelics seem like a hyper-intense reflection of reality in general. Our perceptions of everyday life are also highly suggestible, especially in childhood when the rigid patterns in our minds that psychedelics break down, haven’t yet been formed. If you wake up each morning and tell yourself you’re going to have a bad day full of tedious, tiresome activities, you probably will. On the other hand, if you can make yourself believe you’re going to have an amazing day filled with smiles and laughter and new adventures, you probably will! The external circumstances can be exactly the same.

It is impossible to imagine just how many different ways of thinking exist in the world. I believe we are each capable of experiencing all of these perspectives. More than any physical barrier, what holds us back most in life are our own limiting beliefs. Changing them can seem impossible at times. We don’t usually choose to believe what we believe. It’s an amalgamation of so many different factors that manifest as a belief system. Challenging those deep-seated ideas is no small task, nor is there a clear place to start. Part of the issue comes from realizing how much these beliefs limit our ability to even imagine alternative ways of thinking.

Looking at it that way really underscores the importance of finding time for focused creativity as an adult. Creativity isn’t about what you produce. It’s about expanding the limits of our own minds so that we are better able to come up with creative solutions to our problems and allow ourselves access to more options in our inner lives. Creativity is a muscle that is not exercised nearly enough. It is completely undervalued in our schools, offices, and communities. Studies have shown that adults are drastically less creative than children. Longitudinal studies that follow the same participants over decades reveal that despite being very creative at one point, they lose the vast majority of that creativity as they grow older.

If you find yourself feeling stuck, like the world has lost it’s luster, you’re not alone. The panoramic view of existence we all enjoy in childhood becomes narrower each year. For me, it’s extremely comforting and reassuring to remind myself that there is so much I don’t know. There is so much I am incapable of even imagining. So when I begin to apathetically ask myself, “Is this all there is?” I know the answer is a resounding, “No.” There is so much more waiting to be discovered.

Some St. Louisans Find Therapy, Meaning In Psychedelics As Researchers  Study Benefits | St. Louis Public Radio

Excited for Change

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As with everything else in this life, our perception of change is something that we get to choose. I think for most people we have a tendency to fear change or view it as a threat. Humans are, for the most part, creatures of habit. We become comfortable in our routines. Even if the routines themselves aren’t always pleasurable or good for us. We like to know what to expect from one moment to the next. Even when we are expecting the worst.

Better the devil you know, than the devil you don’t

Try to remember back to when you were a child though, before you were set in your ways and developed all sorts of expectations for the world and the other people in it. Change was exciting! Curiosity was a more powerful force than fear. We were desperate to learn and experience it all.

I’m not sure what precisely the ancient yogis intended when they created the phrase “beginner’s mind,” but this is what I imagine it to mean. A child’s mind. A mind that is open to everything, curious about everything. If only we could have all held on to that. Even so, just thinking back to my child self is quite pleasant and nostalgic. I used to be so happy and excited about the littlest things.

For example, I used to love to clean and organize. I even loved washing dishes the first few times I helped my grandmother with them. I paid attention to each little detail. The warm water, the white soap suds, watching the dirty pile shrink as the ones that were clean and drying grew. The satisfaction of completing a simple task. Whereas now my mind is a million miles away as I frantically scrub away at the glass and ceramic, trying to be done and on to the next thing as fast as humanly possible.

We tend to lose that presence, that mindful, curious wonder at everything in life as we grow older. And I think this is why we begin to fear and hate change. We don’t want any changes to force us out of our daze. We worry what these changes will mean for the future. We fear we’ve lost something, leaving our old ways behind in the past. We avoid being present and curiously examining change as it comes.

We take for granted the way things are and forget that we need change. Lest we fall prey to stagnation and decay. Change is the inevitable, beautiful, unfolding of life itself. A constant current that we are a part of. Something we should remember to be grateful for when we get the chance to witness it.

One of the ways I plan on preparing for a new year full of change is to adjust the way I perceive it. I’ve been thinking, “I’ve got to make these changes starting next year” or “it is going to be so hard to stop doing x, or start doing y.” From now on, rather than that, I am going to be thinking “how exciting, I get to try something new” and “won’t it be fun to see how these changes play out, to challenge myself?”

Even now I am getting excited by these thoughts. I am imagining my inner child, eager to experiment, to play, to learn, to experience something new. What a beautiful thing to know I have the power to write my story any way I like. We all do. So if there have been a lot of changes for you this year, or you have a lot of changes to face in the next, get excited! What a dynamic and interesting existence we all share! Let’s be present for it. Let’s enjoy it.

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