Aug 4, 2007

Sho Shin, the beginner’s heart

When I first began to study Chado part of the creed that we would recite is:

As we diligently learn The Way, at the same time,
we will not forget the humble but eager heart of the beginner.

How many times have I started some new thing with great enthusisam, but flagged after finding out how much work it was? I am a great starter, but find it more than difficult to finish something. Art projects, exercise programs, new business ventures, written poems, stories, film ideas, volunteer works, website postings, etc., have all ended up in the closet not done. For me, there is no problem generating energy, focus and excitement at the beginning of a new project. The problem is to sustain it until it is completed.

I took a woodworking class (another interest started but never mastered) one time from a Japanese carpenter. We spent a week sharpening tools before we even looked at a piece of wood. One day he held up two chisels. One was well worn and sharpened down to an inch long blade. He’d had it for 20 years he said. The other was a brand new chisel, just out of the craftsman’s forge and had been only used once. “This one,” he said holding up the old chisel, “knows what his job is and gets it done without any fuss. I could use it with out thinking because it knows my hand so well, in fact, it practically does the job without me.” Then he held up the new one. “This one, however,” he said, “I have to pay very, very close attention to. It will cut when I don’t want it to in ways I don’t want it to. But sometimes the mistakes made with this one are surprising and artistic. The spirit and engery of this one is exciting to work with.”

For me this lesson was very profound. One way for me to sustain my interest in something is retain the eager heart of the beginner, to approach each task with the attitude that I had when I begin something. Even with Chado procedures, something I have done hundreds, if not thousands of times and know by heart each step and could do it with my eyes closed and head elsewhere, to come to the task with the humble, but eager heart of the beginner. The challenge is to make it fresh and new as if for the first time, to be open to whatever discoveries I will enounter along the way and learn as if for the first time with enthusism and excitement. Ah, that is the challenge and that is the light of life, isn’t it?

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