Monday, February 2, 2015

Beginners mind... or daring to try something new

In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's there are few.
--Shunryu Suzuki
Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind: Informal Talks on Zen Meditation and Practice

There is something important about doing things we've never tried before. That beginner's mind state is a place where new possibilities suddenly appear. Have you ever watched a child learn a new skill? If they are young enough, they are able to whole-heartedly give everything to something they may well "fail" at. But mostly they don't. Through trial and error, they learn how to do something they didn't know before. And often there is a lot of laughter and joy involved. As adults we are seldom willing to take these kinds of risks. We don't want to be wrong. We don't want to fail. We don't want to act like a child.

I maintain we all need more of this in our lives. I started taking a spinning class a few weeks ago (the kind where you make yarn, not ride a bike). While it is true that I do have some experience with yarn, I had never touched a fleece straight from the sheep and I had little idea how to turn that fiber into yarn I could use. Three weeks in, I'm a little farther than I was and I'm having such a great time, mostly because I allowed myself to fail. 

One of the other students in the class voiced what we were all feeling when Maggie Casey started talking about the beautiful corriedale fleece she was giving us to spin. We were all afraid of messing up this lovely fiber. Maggie simply said that the sheep was growing another one right this minute and we had to start somewhere.

There are always new chances until the day we die. We could die tomorrow (or even today). So why not make the most of this moment?

I happened to own a spinning wheel which I bought several years ago to ply my tapestry singles on when I want a very smooth gradation. So though my feet knew how to treadle the thing, my knowledge of the wheel and how to make yarn from fiber ended there.

I have had so much fun. I've already bought my own hand cards and found the extra bobbins (we are learning to ply this week). I also brought home these books which I have been reading in between searching for a local shepherdess to supply me with some fleece and spinning what I have left of the corriedale.
Those are Maggie Casey's book Start Spinning and The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook also by local authors, Deborah Robson and Carol Ekarius.

As I teach students tapestry weaving, I often find that they are every bit as perfectionistic as I can be. But perfectionism doesn't serve us well when we're learning something new. I think it is important to screw it all up here and there. I'm certainly doing my best to make as many mistakes as possible with my spinning. When you start something like tapestry weaving, an art/craft which involves not only intellectual understanding, but a learned motor skill component, you can't be perfect right away. It takes many hours of practice both for your brain to understand how it works and for your body to learn the motor skills.
Cut yourself a break.
Allow yourself to screw up royally! (It is much more fun that way.)

I have a large plastic bin full of bits of tapestry weaving that I have produced over the last decade. Pieces that I cut off partway through. Pieces I never want to show anyone, ever. Pieces that were test samples for a bigger tapestry. Things I made in workshops.
And you know what? The really bad ones are the most informative. I learned from them because they were so bad. I even labeled some of them with what the mistake was once I figured it out when it was pointed out to me. 

Relish the mistakes. Try something new. It takes some courage, but what is life for if not to learn new things? Beginner's mind.

Just remember....
(And it is just a sampler!)


  1. I was just thinking this morning that weaving is not as fun as it used to (all of 9 months ago when I started!) because I am trying too hard to get it "right" instead of enjoying the learning process. A good reminder to stay focused in the present moment and enjoy it for all that is now, in this very moment.

  2. Thanks for sharing this with us Rebecca. I just recently took a small tapestry off my loom that will never see the light of day again. It's by far the worst thing I've ever woven. However, I was proud of myself for trying something I'd never done before. The fact that it was awful was disappointing, but, like you said, I learned so much from it. I now know what I should have done so when the day comes that I want to try that particular design again, I'll be way ahead. Tapestry has actually helped me become a braver person in that way.

  3. Rebecca, thanks for this post.
    I just cut my second sampler off the loom and when I turned it around to the front I was pleased and not so pleased. Why I think it should be perfect when I've just begun learning tapestry weaving is beyond me.
    I'll get there, and I do enjoy it very much, but I wish I could let go of the self judgement piece and just let the colors sing to me.


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