The Tipping List
The Zen of Getting Out of a Rut
Sometimes it takes a novice to help us open our minds and see the world in a new light
Remember when all you could think about was getting your driver’s license? Putting your hands on that steering wheel and going for a drive, and looking so cool, even if you were driving your mom’s 1971 Grand Safari station wagon with a sucky AM radio. Man, wheels meant freedom. Driving meant adulthood. Nothing could stop you – you could drive.
I have a learning driver in my household these days – my 16-year-old son – and the nutty thing is that I’m learning a great deal about driving just through teaching him the basics.
Of course, teaching means I have to revisit the basics myself, after having driven a car for, oh, long enough for me to have driven a car known to explode in rear collisions … a Ford Pinto.
Yep, teaching my son to drive has put me smack-dab in what our Buddhist friends call “Beginner’s Mind.” Beginners know nothing because they’ve never had the experience before; therefore, they have no expectations and can see so many more possibilities – possibilities that may elude people who let their experience guide them. Beginners have wonderfully open minds.
So, where are you coasting on your experience in your life, far away from Beginner’s Mind? Are you seeing all the possibilities available, or are you so limited by familiar experience that the chance of something new, something exciting, something joyful seems impossible?
We often call this being in a rut. Sometimes we call it burnout. Often, we call it Monday morning.
To hop out of that rut, get yourself back to Beginner’s Mind. How to do it?
1. Read the instructions. Especially if you are putting together your umpteenth business plan, resume or tuna-noodle casserole. You know, those things you do on autopilot. You may discover that you have omitted an important part of your plan, or that you’re neglecting to emphasize something important in your resume. Or that tuna-noodle casserole has gone the way of the 1971 Grand Safari.
2. Pretend you’re teaching someone. How would you teach this task to someone else? Lay out the steps. Think it through. Ask yourself, “Is there another way?” or “What would someone need to know here?” When you open your mind this way, you may see something new (and exciting) in the same old, same old.
3. Brainstorm possibilities with someone 20 years younger than you. When we have expertise in an area, we often adopt the pose of wise elder and merely impart our wisdom to younger people, godlike, from our cubicle-sized Mount Olympus. True Beginner’s Mind requires that we seek wisdom from those we might otherwise teach. So ask those junior people what they think or how they’d solve the problem. You might just have a big old honking a-ha moment and find a really fun new way to do something routine.
At its core, Beginner’s Mind is really fun. I love seeing the world (and the road) through my son’s eyes. As he assesses what the dotted and solid lines on the pavement mean, I reassess what they mean too. As he discusses merging, I am focusing on merging. Perhaps white-knuckled and overfocused on merging as he’s oh-so-close to that car on the right.
But it’s OK. Because I see the possibilities. And that brings me incredible joy.