Thursday, December 30, 2010

Shosin: Otherwise Known as Beginner's Mind

Shoshin is a Japanese word, roughly translated as "beginner's mind", a Zen concept I admire. At times in my artwork, this state of mind is most useful. And I was reminded of it a few days ago, making art with my five year-old niece. She puts her favorite colors everywhere, so the people she drew had bright blue hair and rainbow dresses. To quote Pablo Picasso, "Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up."

Not growing up comes in handy when facing the blank page or canvas. There are many ways to head into the direction of beginner's mind. Writing or drawing with the non-dominant hand can jumpstart a certain playfulness. In writing, sometimes it's provocative to start at the end, not the beginning, and then decide how things got there.... In all creative endeavors, the trick is allowing yourself to to play with the ingredients and make new combinations. The biggest challenge is emptying the mind of preconceptions. Just as in meditation, the mind is over-busy, full of shoulds and should-nots.

In various creative writing circles I've belonged to, we often played the game where we came up with a short list of words and everyone wrote a poem or short story using those words. What fun it was to see the unpredictable variations that were born. I also recall hitting beginner's mind under the tutelage of Natalie Goldberg at a writer's workshop, where she would give us a prompt such as "Tell me about the street you grew up on." Then we would freewrite for ten minutes, a method she fully develops in her seminal book, Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within (Shambhala, 1986).

Depending what stage of art-making I am in, I sometimes need to tidy up my workspace and put away unfinished projects, messy scraps and files, etc. When I am deep in a collage series, the mess doesn't matter. But if I've been away from making art, as now during the holidays, I can't seem to get started again unless I clear the deck and start anew. At some point where once there was only chaos, the arrow turns instead towards potential. Maybe that doesn't qualify as true beginner's mind, but it brings me calm and makes me receptive to whatever might come next.

May your new year start fresh, and bring much creativity and unpredictable delight!

photo by KAO: Dawn Shadows

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