The One With the Bicycle

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” – Zen Master Shunryo Suzuki

 

Reggie and I are taking a late afternoon walk. It’s on the steamy side. The sun is at that particular angle where you cannot escape it. Shady spots are hard to come by until the sun lowers itself behind the brownstones.

There is a boy on the sidewalk ahead of us. He’s wearing knee and elbow pads and a bike helmet. He’s walking his bike, a throw-back banana seat number, which he’s outfitted with stickers of characters I’m too out of touch to recognize. His mother and younger sister— judging by the large round eyes that seem to run through their family— are sitting on a stoop playing I Spy and waiting for the boy.

He looks older than the typical kid learning to ride a bike. Maybe he’s just big for his age. Or maybe it’s a byproduct of living in a busy city with crowded sidewalks and streets. Or maybe his mother is overprotective. Whatever the reason for the apparent delay, today is his day. His mother has given him a starting point near the end of the block and he is to ride to meet her midway.

These beautiful people in Amsterdam had learn how to ride.

These beautiful people in Amsterdam had to learn how to ride.

 

As he attempts to get going, the bike is jerking from side to side. If he is recalling a bad fall and it’s making him nervous, I’d understand. (Exhibit A. Exhibit B. ) He’s trying to control the bike through force, but he has to learn that it’s a gentle finesse that will keep him upright. He has to have the confidence that he can do it, before he can do it.

Unfortunately, he hasn’t learned this yet. I see him getting more frustrated by the moment. Finally, impatience (combined with 90 percent humidity) wins. He loses control and the bike tips over. He’s fine physically; emotionally is where it hurts most. He wants instant gratification. He wants to be a protege. He wants it to be easy. Like riding a bike.

He kicks the bike now lying on the ground and starts to cry. Not little a little sniffle, but giant tears and choking sobs. He takes off his helmet and throws it on the ground. By now his mother has come over. She’s saying the soothing things that all kind mothers say. “No need to be so upset. You’ll get it soon enough. It takes a lot of practice.” She’s speaking from experience of course. With age comes the knowledge that most accomplishments are hard won. Figuring out the ropes of a new job; learning a new language; driving a car without running anyone down. Mastery doesn’t happen overnight. He doesn’t know this, and it’s not something he can learn by hearing it.

And he doesn’t remember the difficult things he’s already learned. How often did he fall down and get back up when he was learning to walk? How many times did he try to chew on his mother’s hoodie before he understood it wasn’t edible?
As Reggie and I pass the boy and his mother, I feel a twinge for him. How many times in his life will he run into the wall? Will this moment give him the fortitude he needs to persevere when “life hands him lemons”? Will he give up on anything that he can’t master quickly?

I think about how I would answer those questions. It’s hard not knowing what comes next, always feeling like a “newbie.” Every time I sit down. to write, I feel this way. When will this ever come together, I wonder. Running into this boy is a life lesson, a reminder to relish the the beginner’s mind. I love this guest post on Leo Babauta’s Zen Habits in which Mary Jaksch writes that beginner’s mind “leaves room for intuition.” Being a beginner isn’t a bad thing. If we can allow ourselves to not worry about being perfect, being a beginner gives us the opportunity to be a state of wonder and learning,

The boy’s mother collects his helmet and bike and puts her arm around his shoulder. She’s trying to build up his confidence. I hope she’s also telling him to enjoy the beginner’s mind.

 

When was the last time you had “beginner’s mind”? 

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone! 

 

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35 comments

  1. “I hope she’s also telling him to enjoy the beginner’s mind.” Such a good message for us mothers (who get caught up in protecting) but really for everyone….as we master and learn things. I totally agree that being a beginner is not a new thing. Seeing things through fresh eyes is exhilarating and exciting and it’s one of the reasons I love spending time with my kids and their friends. Writing is the same, so true Jackie–especially starting a new project. Awesome post! (p.s. here’s hoping for an update when you see that young man riding happily and effortlessly at some short future date!)

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    1. I’ve been trying to take the perspective of learning something new as “practice.” Instead of getting impatient or frustrated at myself because I haven’t mastered it, That’s especially true when it comes to writing, isn’t it? There’s no finish line. No point where you’re done learning. Every day when I sit at my computer, I’m practicing. :) Have a wonderful weekend!

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  2. Great metaphor, Jackie. I feel like a beginner when it comes to speaking Spanish. I shouldn’t be a beginner, but I am. It’s hard at my age–really hard. I feel sorry for kid!

    Hope you and Reggie have a wonderful weekend!

    Hugs from Ecuador,
    Kathy

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    1. I can definitely equate learning to ride a bike with learning a new language. I think with both tasks, there will come a day when a switch is flipped. That boy will be riding like the wind and you’ll just start haggling at the mercado in espanol! No problemo. :)

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  3. Love this post – great lesson! I have ‘beginner’s mind’ now – in German. I almost choked myself today trying to do the guttural ‘r’ and the immensely frustrating ‘ch’ sounds :) Feeling like my tongue just doesn’t ‘do’ German at the moment but I’m sure I’ll get there in the end – just like riding a bike, right? ;)

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  4. I have to agree that you can take the training wheels off, Jackie. You’re a wonderful writer!
    I feel like a beginner a lot of the time because I’m always trying something new, but I’ve gotten over that awful perfectionism. Pretty much. ;)

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    1. What is it they say, don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good? So true in writing, and I imagine it also applies to photography.
      Thank you so much. It makes me happy that you all enjoy my writing. :)

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  5. This might be my favorite post from you. There’s so much wisdom here, especially in this particular point: “And he doesn’t remember the difficult things he’s already learned. ” We are so hard on ourselves, so sure we will not improve, etc. And I agree so strongly about always feeling like a beginning writer. My husband quotes the 10,000 hours thing all the time. Sometimes it’s a comfort, as in, I will get better. Sometimes I want to strangle him.

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    1. Ha. One time, probably in a fit of procrastination, I tried to calculate how much time I’d already put in. I figured I’d clocked my 10,000 hours so it was time for the universe to pay up. One thing the 10,000 hour rule reminds me that there is no such thing as an overnight success. And “debut” novelist is an oxymoron.

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  6. If I had seen that kid fall, I probably would have thought (note: thought and not said; I’m not that cruel), “Sonny, quit your crying and try again! Even someone as uncoordinated as me can ride a bike! ” Then I would have walked on. I’m glad you’re not me. This is a very provocative post with an inspiring message.

    As for when I last experienced beginner’s mind, I suppose writing my international worst seller was an exercise in metaphorically crashing into a wall. I could have used some training wheels there.

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  7. Letting go, fortitude and perspective, all very difficult to submit to. I love your “voice” Jackie, so fluid and thought provoking. I often find myself wishing the post would go on.

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  8. Malcolm Gladwell is one of my heroes. I love that he has helped shift the focus to the amount of practice one needs to achieve mastery. But stereotypes persist of “instant success.” How many people have asked you how long it has taken to write your book(s)? People seem genuinely surprised when I say it has taken me 6 years!

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    1. Patti, I can absolutely identify with that! Sometimes I feel skittish to tell people I’d worked on my first novel (between writing and editing) for 7 years. Then I try to remind myself that it was part of my 10,000 hours. Instant success is a myth, as is “debut author.” Every debut author seems to have 2 or 3 trunk novels that have served as practice for the “debut.”

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  9. Another good thing about Beginner’s Mind is that it is a fully present mind that isn’t on automatic pilot.
    I really needed to read these (well written as always) words today. Thanks. =)

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  10. I’m learning this concept all over again, as I put myself and my resume out there, after years of staying at home to raise a family. Trouble is, no one wants to hire someone with no recent experience. How does one get experience, if no one will help them get it. Vicious cycle.

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  11. I am writing a series of posts on blogs I enjoy reading…yours is one of them. I would really appreciate if you would give me a one or two sentence quote about your blog, that I would include in my post. Thanks and Cheers!

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  12. This is such a beautifully written post from start to finish.

    I’m in the midst of reading Outliers now. This was the first interview I’ve seen of Gladwell. He seems like a fun guy and his hair is fantastic!

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    1. Thanks for your kind words.

      I really enjoyed Outliers. It gave me a new way to look at the idea of preparation. I’ve also read Bllnk and The Tipping Point, which were equally eye-opening.

      But to get more of his hair, check out his numerous TED talks. :)

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