The Zen of Ineptitude

...otherwise known as 'beginner's mind'.

Sure, this comes a s a spin-off from the last post, in which I was awaiting my Shiva Nata dvd. (Now, three or so days into the practice. Here's what I feel like:

Boston Jig - Wacky waving inflatable arm flailing tube man from Erik Dasque on Vimeo..

Anyway, I got to thinking about ineptitude vs. mastery. Not that they're at odds; in fact, the goal would be to cultivate a harmonious balance between them.

Mastery is an standard many of us seek when tackling a new skill. Steve Pavlina, god love him, is all about mastery. First, screwing up the courage to take on something new and potentially scary, and then creating habits which give an underlying foundation and structure upon which to build.

Mastery is necessary not just for self-confidence, but also so a certain skill set can become motor-memorized and automatic, leaving our bodies free to relax and our minds free to focus on other things. Great volumes have been taught on the necessity of good habits.

Areas where mastery is good:

  • Driving a car
  • Ballroom dancing
  • Martial arts
  • Ice skating
  • Fire juggling
  • Long division
  • Bike riding

Beginner's mind, which I have lovingly dubbed 'ineptitude', is humbling.

It can be uncomfortable, frustrating, and confidence-shattering, especially if one is accustomed to mastery. Beginner's mind is where you really get a sense of the dominance of the ego. But, oh, to surrender into beginner's mind is to regain the wondrous world as it was when we were small. A world of infinite possibilities and limitless creativity. No pre-paved roads, preconceived notions, or unconsciousness.

For practical reasons, we wouldn't function well in the world living fully in perpetual toddler-wonder. Many skills have to lay down tracks in the brain, or we'd be learning the same basic functions over and over again and would soon starve.

But mastery can become auto-pilot. Because we've learned one skill, or had an experience in a certain area enough times, or become even remotely familiar with a person, we shut off to any new input. This can be dulling and even dangerous. And a huge creativity killer.

Areas where mastery may be a hindrance:

  • Driving a car
  • Meditation
  • Shiva Nata
  • Creating art
  • Relationships

The right balance needs to be struck between mastery of the basics and an ability to stay open. Practicing shiatsu, for example. When first learning the meridians, body positions and techniques, we were very much in our heads, and concerned about doing it correctly, giving appropriate pressure, etc. After the basics became second nature, we could then turn our attention to the subtler details of the receiver's breathing and energy, and shifts therein. Going unconscious just because we mastered the forms and skills can be harmful to our clients if we're not open and seeing them for the first time in every session.

Same with learning to drive a car. There's a great deal of input to balance and integrate: the controls, the speed regulation, the other drivers. It's a vulnerable and dangerous time that can only be overcome through actual experience on the roads. Certain skills need to become automatic. Problem is when the awareness to ever-changing conditions dulls as a result of becoming too comfortable with our skills. We take for granted what we think we know is happening around us. Then driving becomes dangerous again.

As I write this I'm thinking that maybe it's the difference between knowing something, and just thinking you know something that allows for that openness to the unpredictable. Thinking that we know carries with it an arrogance that closes us off to new and possibly vital information. Being confident in what we do know, while accepting that our tiny body of knowledge is limited, allows for us to still see with fresh eyes, and respond with full awareness.

And there's certainly nothing wrong with throwing the brain and ego into a tizzy every now and then.

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