“If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything, it is open to everything. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few.”
― Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind
Three beer cans; Miller, Budweiser, and one so rusted it remains a mystery. A lost, printed movie ticket. Black tissue paper. An old cracked plastic cup filled with dirt. A yellow feather from a craft shop. A freshly dropped thin pinecone. And a strong, thick shoebox, once home to shiny new business-man shoes, but now home to things much less shiny, but no less interesting.
Yesterday my 9 year old son came bursting through the front door, all in a huff of excitement. He called for me with several gasping breaths, and I rushed from the kitchen, still with soapy gloves on my hands, hoping I heard excitement and not panic in his voice. (One never knows, it could go either way.)
Luckily it was excitement. With a flourish of pride and flushed cheeks he proceeded to show me the contents of the shoebox. All these things, he announced, had been discovered in the woods behind our house. And not to worry, he assured me, about germs or rust or other motherly vexations, for he was wearing his football gloves and was thus immune to any such nonsense.
As he catalogued his treasures to me, I thought, what a funny thing. He has collected what most wise grown ups would term ‘trash’ in the woods, and yet he is ultimately pleased and delighted with himself.
But yes, if one looks closer and rubs her eyes to remove the sleep of adulthood, she can see it too!
These things are ancient relics, hints of other times and places, alive with stories! What mysteries and secrets they hold! Someone drank this beer, perhaps out in the woods. Who was it? Were they alone? Was it sneaky? Someone used this cup. What was it filled with? Apple juice? Perhaps it was a child? Would that child be fun to play with? And someone lost this printed ticket. I found it! I saved the day! If that someone needs it, I will keep it safe for him. Oh, and some gigantic tree dropped this pinecone. How long had this tree been preparing, making, molding this pinecone? Will it open soon? Will the shape change?
After some pondering, the shoebox and its cache of treasures was positioned carefully on the front step, and I returned to my duties in the kitchen and forgot about it.
This morning my husband had to leave early for work. I am not an early riser, and I grumbled my way out of bed at the horrific hour of 5:30 a.m. to make and pack his lunch. However, after a little coffee and fumbling around the kitchen, I realized I was up in time to see the sun rise. At 6:12 a.m. I was outside with my steaming mug, sitting on the front steps and watching the light filter through the trees. For one who enjoys staying in bed till the latest acceptable hour, seeing the sunrise is a rare treat. For this, I have beginner’s eyes. This is the precise moment when my gaze fell upon the treasure chest of the day before.
It was as if I had never seen it yesterday. It was pure magic. Transfiguration. Alchemy in a shoebox. I watched both for a long time; the magical sunrise and magical shoebox.
When I reentered the house, there was this new presence with me, like special sight had been bestowed upon my eyes. Everything around me had an essence, a story, offering up some energy to exchange with my own. There is a shape and a contour, a history and a secret, a craftsmanship and twinkle of merrymaking in all of it. The sneakers, the candles, the baby toys (including a singing dog complete with chocolate smeared paw), the old telephone and the books. The tiny green glass bottle holding a pine branch (my daughter’s creation), the spiral notebooks, the pencils and the empty mug of coffee.
Such beauty surrounds me, and yet I am most often blind to it, never allowing my eyes to penetrate the world around me. What foolishness in labeling the inanimate as such! What poverty to disregard the whispering mystical accoutrements of life in search of some grander distraction! No no no. From now on, I go deeper. I make it a priority to See.
There are signs of the animate awakening. Little footsteps above me as I type, the creak of doors opening and the flushing of toilets.
The Beginners are awake. What lessons shall they teach the expert today?