Writing from Beginner’s Mind

Today, in the bathtub at 4:45 am, I thought: I don’t want to write that way anymore. I don’t want to write in the preachy, teachy style that I adopt when I think I am supposed to be helping people.

It’s not me.

So I’ve taken back my voice.

I don’t need to try so hard – to be wise, to be spiritual, to be useful. I don’t need to sound like an expert – which, I see now, I have been doing, out of the misguided notion that doing so is the only way to sell spiritual books, the only way to be a real writer.

The truth is, it’s one of the many ways to NOT be a real writer.

It’s also one of the many ways to NOT sound like an expert. Odd, isn’t it?

I AM a real writer – and as for my expertise, i know what I know. What I don’t know, well, more to learn.

When I take my voice back, I find these bedrock truths that have served me well:The only story that matters is the story that lives in the details and experiences of the real world in which I live. The story that begins when the writer opens her eyes and looks around.

Beginner’s Mind

Enough has been written about Beginner’s Mind – whole books, articles, many blog posts – so I won’t go there. Instead, I will demonstrate it.

This moment:

  • The early hour, when all I can see in the window of my office is the reflected glow of the lamp in the next room – and the screen of my  computer.
  • The room, a dark cave that opens around me – at the lit center – into layers of increasing darkness. At the far end of the living room, I can see only outlines of things – the sofa with its flowered pillow and heap of blanket. The closet door, gaping open onto black emptiness. The shape of my sister’s painting, A mirror – reflecting my shoulder, bathed in blue light. I am exhaling now – leaning into this moment, here, now.
  • The empty wine glass on my desk, a reminder of last night’s family dinner when, I stood, leaving my husband and kids at the table and came here, to check my Twitter feed ‘for a moment’ and stayed for an hour.
  • The postcard that my other sister gave to me when I visited San Francisco is held to the wall beside me with a clear thumbtack. On it, the image of another cave – with moist red walls, rounded and close – that has always reminded me of the room that sits at the inside of my heart.
  • How is it that I am just noticing these hot flashes that must have awakened me, and drawn me from my bed, as they do – to this desk. Have they become, after two years, so commonplace that I no longer consciously register the surge and flow of their heat? How does this happen? How do things once so huge and important drift to the bottom of the pile of life, heaped in a shadowy corner like that quilt?
  • Beside the glass, my tarot cards stacked, each blue card decorated with stars. It sits atop another card deck – and on that one, balloons sail into sky.
  • Here is the thick white oval platter that I filled with smooth stones and a hammered brass ball and two spheres of blue metal that chime when you hold them in the palm of a hand.
  • And here is the Mother Earth doll that has stood on my desk for more than ten years with her brown felt skirt stuffed with wool and her wreath of woven grass and ribbon and her embroidered eyes.

Yesterday, my daughter asked me to take her for a drive. We were both stir-crazy with being confined to the house for four days – she’d had her wisdom teeth pulled; I was hovering about, bringing ice packs and ibuprofen.
We got into the car and drove around – past the farm and the swimming hole and the health food co-op. So much of our lives is invested here… I thought.

And then, as we passed the Waldorf School – where Katie and her brother virtually lived for 12 years – and where, one Christmas, I purchased this Mother Earth doll that now sits on my desk – a wave of grief blew through me.

“Do you ever feel…. ?” I said. I confessed that sometimes when I drive past this place, I feel such a loss. “I mean, how can a place that you’ve loved so much – a place to which you’ve devoted years of love and care  – so much investment – in the children, the teachers, the staff, the grounds, the festivals, the fund-raising…  ” I spent four years as PTO president, nine years managing the food tent at the music festival, every moment driving and cooking and calling and volunteering. Twelve years of devotion.  “… and then, it just ends.”

“Do you ever feel that way, driving by here?” I asked.

“All the time,” she said.

Writing this, oh, hell, now I am crying.

Beginner’s mind does this – brings me back to myself, to my true voice, to the story-telling I have missed. Back to this desk, this not quite morning moment, these fingers hitting thee keys, this room.

Back to my heart, which, I can see now, I’ve been neglecting – and which has, for the moment, been witnessed.

Sitting in Beginner’s Mind, at the beginning, this moment, this wine glass, this platter of stones and spheres, this soft handmade doll, this heart overflowing.

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Showing 16 comments
  • Linda Humphrey
    Reply

    Thank you Amy for your insight and for listening to your heart and writing with such purpose and passion. I am so glad you drifted into my life through a column I write for the Angel page in Women’s World more than a year ago. You are one of those special people who bless so many in the world. Thank you for blessing me.

  • Kirsten
    Reply

    Amy, this is so wonderful to read. We can sometimes lose track of ourselves in any medium, looking for just the right voice. I found this post fitting as I just started a blog focusing on gratitude. I needed to do this not in the hopes that someone will read it, but just so I can hold on to what of my life feels real and positive amidst all the money, health, relationship and other challenges that can feel so burdensome at times. Here’s to a fantastic 365 challenge for you!

    • Amy
      Reply

      Thanks, Kirsten. Your blog sounds lovely. How can we read it?

  • Diana Antholis
    Reply

    Hi Amy,
    I loved this. It made me look up from the computer, stare outside where gentle snowflakes are falling, and think about my writing.

    When I first started blogging, I was writing, but not as ME. I read someone else’s post one day and I had this huge revelation – this girl was writing how she talks – I could feel it – and I wasn’t. That is something I have always done but for some reason I was playing it safe on my blog.

    No more. I immediately changed to be ME. I felt alive again.

    Thank you for your post. 🙂
    Diana

    • Amy
      Reply

      Thanks, Diana. I love the way we all learn from each other. Blogging is so powerful.

  • Bridget
    Reply

    I get stuck in that preachy-teachy voice too, and I realize when I do it, it’s because I want to be heard, and I’m not very inspired to actually share something in a way that it’s worth sharing. Teachy-preachy (for my writing) is short-hand for “Bridget is tired and uninspired, but a little needy”.
    But it’s hard sometimes, too, Amy, because sometimes I think, who wants to hear my stories? Most of them are you know, not life-changing. They are vapid. Like today, I wrote about my fantasy life as a 6th grader. I guess that’s what kids did when they didn’t have the Twilight series.
    I don’t want to clutter my reading with narcissistic stories (which I feel mine sometimes are).
    But I like reading your details, and I love beginner’s mind, so I will try starting from there again too.

    • Amy
      Reply

      Bridget, I worry about sounding all me, me, ME also. That’s one of the reasons I’ve taken up the 365 challenge. I noticed that when I had to work against a deadline (when I was writing my soul cards) I worked more fluidly – and less self-consciously. I just didn’t have time for that nonsense. But, for what it’s worth, I want to hear your stories – and I suspect your readers do, too.

  • Pam Zeedyk
    Reply

    The clanging cymbal of our own wisdom sometimes drowns out the gentle whispers of inspiration. Let go of being right, and just be! Your life is a beautiful testament of a greater Wisdom.

    • Amy
      Reply

      Thanks, Pam. I’m working on it. 😉

  • Kat Jaibur
    Reply

    Beautiful. What more can I say?

  • Sally G.
    Reply

    Good morning Amy! I actually love all your voices ~ but I also know what you mean about teachy/preachy. I dabble there too, from time to time – and often feel almost like an impostor while doing so.

    It’s kind of all Shadows and Light, isn’t it? You experience a place where you existed, dwelled, inhabited in the life that is your Past ~ and you see Shadows there of the love, the laughter, the wine glass, the fund raisers ~ and you do this from the vantage point of your bathtub, your car, your memory.

    And then, you step into the Light ~ and you share all you’re seeing, feeling, recollecting from the place in which you dwell now ~ inviting others to see themselves there, or not; either way it doesn’t matter, because you’ve created a safe space for sharing and intimacy – a space where Shadows and Light can coexist in beautiful harmony, and then waft off on their meandering ways.

    I think telling people what to think and how to see things is the poorest conduit to learning. Sharing information in which others can discern their own meaning ~ that’s pure magic. Like you. Pure magic …

    • Amy
      Reply

      Sally, even in this comment, you demonstrate what you describe – the magic in seeing the best in others and gently but fiercely supporting it. Thank you.

  • Dawn Waldron
    Reply

    Truly wonderful. I needed this today. Thank you.

    • Amy
      Reply

      Thank you, Dawn – for stopping by and leaving a comment. 🙂

  • Andrea
    Reply

    I probably don’t have to tell you how good this is. I’m sure that knowledge embedded itself in your very being as soon as you began typing the very first sentence. But just in case you might still want to hear it from someone other than yourself, it’s fabulous. You are absolutely correct. When you write like this, there’s nothing better, nothing more inspirational, nothing more helpful.

    So much of what you share from your heart resonates with my own. Like how everyday my almost-thirteen year old gets a little bigger, a little older, a little more independent… And everyday my heart aches a little more for what I know is coming sooner than I fear I might be able to bear. You’ve gone before me. I’ve got a guide. That means something. It means a lot.

    Anyway, I just wanted to say that you’re right. Your “true voice” is all the expertise you need. Thank you for finding it today.

    • Amy
      Reply

      Thanks, Andrea. I feel the same way about your writing. Resonates.

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