Why Writers Need Beginner’s Mind


This is not the VIC Lady.

The other evening I went to the supermarket with a friend. She just had a few things to pick up, so we went to the self-scan checkout. She clicked on the screen to begin, then clicked something else quickly, and then I noticed the VIC Lady (not her real name) was no longer shouting “WELCOME VEE EYE SEE CUSTOMER” like she usually does.

“What did you do?”

“Oh, I just clicked this button and it turns off the sound.”

Well, this rocked my world. I don’t know how long we’ve had the self-scan at our store– probably a couple of years minimum– and the whole time I’ve been annoyed by the audio directions that are way too loud and unnecessary once you’ve used the system a couple of times. It never occurred to me that there was a way to change it.

So many things are like this. I accept that some thing or other can’t be different. I think that my interaction with a particular task or system or thing will be the same as it always is, and I go through it on autopilot.

The opposite of autopilot is beginner’s mind. It means approaching the moment you’re in without getting caught up in your idea of how the moment is going to go. You slow way down and pay attention to the moment you’re in. Why do this? Because when you’re living your life on autopilot, you’re going to miss a lot. If you’re a writer or artist, that means your work may be on autopilot. You have to experience what is actually there if you want to write about it. Otherwise you’re offering your readers stale re-wordings of old experiences and they’re going to wander off and find something more interesting to do.

Photo Credit

Shopping – Despair by David Blackwell via flickr and licensed under CC 2.0