No resolutions for me this year. No dry January or cleansing regimens or familiar “eat less carbs” mantra. There was not an ounce of “new me” inhabiting this been-there-done-that girl as the clock struck 2023.
I was good enough, as is. It was time to listen to the algorithm of middle age. Engage my comfy clothes and find the new intellectually curious binge watch.
First Sunday of the new year, firm in my lack of conviction, I headed off to church with my people. As we sat waiting for the service to start, I pushed away the to-do list of tasks that had been punted during the “most wonderful time of the year” and let the music overwhelm me. I thought of bacon and mugs of coffee…and…
“Choose a word from the basket,” the pastor said to the congregation. “The hope is that it provides you with inspiration for the year ahead.” Then she proceeded to illustrate through thoughtful example, the many ways in which this practice had guided her in the past year. Nodding parishioners surrounded me. They too had been moved by a word extracted from a basket last year around this time.
Nope. I would not be pulled back into the vortex of be better, do better.
I sank further into the breakfasty thoughts and prayed I would draw a universal word that meant nothing or everything. Or better yet one that gave me permission to let it all go, like: acceptance.
When it was my turn, I drew a card, then passed the basket along to my son.
“What did you get?” he asked.
How was I to explain to my almost twenty-year old that no matter what this silly word was—I was done with the wanderlust associated with the turning of the calendar page. That I’d said good riddance to the exhausting pile of never-ending expectations that kept us all tethered to the idea that one should forever be and do more.
He was still staring at me. Fine.
I looked down at the blue card.
Shoshin. It was oh-so-appropriate that I’d have to look mine up. Later.
“Shoshin,” I said. “What’s yours?”
“Joy,” he whispered.
I smiled. Joy is exactly what I wished for him in the days, weeks, and years ahead. And a word I gladly would have embraced for myself.
He handed me his phone; he’d already looked up what Shoshin meant. As I read the words, a kaleidoscope of thoughts and emotions flooded my bacony brain.
Shoshin, a Japanese phrase meaning beginner’s mind. An attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions.
My first thought was: Is this some kind of spiritual joke? My second thought was: Is that even possible?
I generally pull off a can-do attitude. But openness? Lack of preconceptions? I am a person built on intuition. I’m likely to give people and situations the benefit of the doubt, but right underneath is a tiger, ready to pounce. To clean up the inevitable mess that I see everywhere as I plot through my day.
Not to mention, I just had a birthday—a milestone one—that comes with a lot of life baggage better known as experience. What was the point of experience without the accompanying shorthand of quick judgments?
I dropped the little blue card in my purse, and the service continued. But I couldn’t shake the word and the feeling that Shoshin, along with breakfast, was exactly what I was craving.
Being at the beginning again was almost unimaginable. Was it even possible this late in the game to recognize the familiar patterns of wasted time or impending defeat—and believe that a new outcome could rise? One that I never could have imagined or feared?
Fear lived right alongside my new “no self-improvement” philosophy if I was being honest.
Could beginner’s mind be the pursuit of living without the panic that came with all the experience? Could I face the day with a maybe or even yes attitude, no longer burdened by the obvious patterns of predictable disappointment?
Like the latest software upgrade at work that we were expected to embrace even though the upsides were “in the cloud” and all the very visible downsides lived with us as we scrambled to find our files and the smallest modicum of productivity.
Or the many, many exciting strides I’d made in my first passion—writing—that yet again, recently had resulted in a publishing cul-de-sac, and not the scenic kind.
How would someone with beginner’s mind approach those scenarios?
To the software update, Shoshin might say:
“A software upgrade means future capacity for productivity! So what if right now you can’t send e-mails or find any documents? Pause = rest. And when I am finally back up and running, and way behind on every project, with an unrecognizable desktop…that’s when I’ll dig deep and search for questions—ones I don’t even know I should be asking—then listen with an open mind, never once thinking: Was any of this really necessary?!”
To the publishing disappointment, Shoshin might say:
“Trust! You’re getting closer, Holly! Rejection isn’t a no…it’s the universe passing the ‘you’re almost there’ baton. Of course, your stories will find their way into the world.”
The fact that I was contemplating the concept—even if I wasn’t crystal clear on what beginner’s mind truly meant yet—surprised me. I’d arrived a mere hour ago, resolute in my lack of resoluteness.
Now I was leaving church wondering what would happen if I gave myself permission to view daily annoyances and hard-fought pursuits with more awe and less prediction? What if I trusted that I’d get there—without necessarily knowing where there even was?
The premise excited me—still does.
“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind (1970)