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12# Beginner's mind

Updated: Jan 2, 2021

Do you remember the joys of a new activity? The first goal you scored a goal or the excitement of your first wave? You didn't care about how you looked, or how fast you were progressing. You were in the zone, blessed by the moment… and it felt so damn good!

I turned 30… shit! In my twenties, 30 looked so far away that I never stopped to consider it. Ten years ago, I established a few goals for when I reached 30. To get a prestigious degree, to work for global company, to have a stable relationship, a nice car, maybe even children. In short, I would have my life figured out… the irony.

I celebrated with my friends who dragged me out of the mental prison I'd isolated myself in. Being surrounded by loved ones made me realize I had the wrong attitude. Having expectations and stressing over every challenge made me miserable. It was time for a change. I had to face the same challenges but with a different attitude, a wiser approach, a 30 year-old's one.

I was ready to apply a key concept of Zen Buddhism: Sho shin, or beginner's mind. It refers to having an attitude of openness and a lack of assumptions or preconceptions when learning something. Sho shin applied even at an advanced level, as a beginner would approach the art.

I got back to work with rejuvenated energy and optimism. I accepted that I was neither a plumber, nor an electrician, nor a carpenter, nor a mechanic…only a beginner. With that state of mind, I traded results with efforts and looked at the task in a fresh way. No matter the outcome, I would be happy if I learnt something new. Like a toddler learning to walk, I started my days with a beginner's mind.

Patience had never been my forte. Things often did not work out on the first attempt. On top of that, every mistake cost money and I was still in debt. To keep my cool and avoiding falling back to the anxiety cell, I needed to be around people.

Every morning, I brefriended a Home Depot employee before the store got too crowded. Curisoty helped me understand where they came from, why they worked there, what they enjoyed doing. These were people with aspirations, side projects and a whole life outside of Home Depot. The retired electrician, the anarchist, the reggae singer, the gypsy, the lost student. Every person had a story.

An eccentric gathering of folks conforming behind a flashy orange uniform.

That bit of genuine curiosity had a massive impact. Some employees turned into mentors. The old punk became my carpenter. The young samurai became my material specialist. The plumbing representative became my kitchen designer. After a while, we were sharing travel shenanigans over lunch and making promises to meet again on the road. We all knew it would not happen, but we liked to pretend.

The change of attitude had a profound ripple effect. Having people's support made me more confident and eager to show I was worthy of their time. Abandoning my impossible expectations was also a relief. I tried my best every time, and found joy in learning new skills. When I was stuck or tired, I would walk into Home Depot and share a laugh with the folks. They followed my adventures like a drama sitcom.

That short human interaction brought a new perspective. It helped overcome the challenge of the day. I focused on one thing at a time and forgot about the rest. The debt, Shitty Sugar and most of my worries. Life was fun again.

One morning on the Home Depot parking lot, I pulled out a camping chair and started sketching. I wanted to build a bench/couch/second bed/food compartment. I was sipping my coffee when a squirrel came running and stopped in front of the door. I gave him a few nuts. It ate them right there, and stuck around for more.

The squirrel was following me everywhere, around and inside the van. A guy parked next to me asked if it was mine. When it was done eating, it found my backpack, curled up inside and slept. I finished the bench by the end of the day and started packing when I noticed it the squirrel still inside, warm and cozy. It didn't want to leave.

A scared and wary animal chose to hang out with me. I liked to believe it wasn't just for the nuts and saw it like a good omen. I was doing something right for a change. 

I left Home Depot full of hope that day. I had learned to be a beginner again. If I starteed with the right attitude, everything else would be fine.


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