Wednesday, January 22, 2014

3 Ways to Regain Your Beginner's Mind

Last weekend I rode in The Dalles on 8-mile Road without incident. So, what is there to write about you might ask? Plenty.

Learning. Trying things you know you suck at. Remembering how to suspend your terrible self-critic.

Here are three ways I've tried lately, three ways that have worked:

1) Drawing with pencil every night before I go to bed, for at least, 100 drawings

Last summer a friend, Hannah, admitted her obsession with Lynda Barry (and what's not to be obsessed about when it comes to Lynda Barry?). Hannah had taught herself the art of Japanese ink drawing and showed me the gorgeous ritual of preparing the ink, using the stone and brushes and paper and patience to paint every night, to paint 100 demons. Besides the drawings that were fascinating, that Hannah let emerge, saying things like, "I thought I was going to draw X, but this looks more like Y," and letting Y happen, she would add an active verb. I watched her puzzle the verb out, add the action to the still life. Before me, I saw someone invent, expunge, articulate her demons, or ones that she imagined. Powerful stuff. And so, I took on drawing 100 touches, perhaps because I am not as brave as Hannah, or perhaps because I wanted to sleep without evoking demons.

Last weekend I completed 100 touches, and I can safely say that I still suck at drawing. But what that experience did was to make me return to the pad every night despite the disdain I had for what I had drawn the night before. It made me see color and light and shadow in my life a completely different way. And every night when I drew something, I spent time breathing deeply, and my sleep was deeper, my dreams more colorful (not scary). I'm scared now, but I'm going to include my last drawing here, anyway.

2) Riding a bike that is better than I am.

On that bike ride last weekend, I rode my new Optima High Baron, which is a sleek, light, aerodynamic machine. The bike is way more advanced than I am. What I mean is that it responds to my balance, the road conditions, the wind much more quickly than I'm used to. The gears and brakes are different, my body is more reclined, and I have a neck rest because of my body position. If I don't learn how to relax my shoulders and neck while I ride, I will seriously strain my deltoids and shoulders. The lesson is something I learned in rowing with super elite rowers: when working the hardest, you have to relax on the recovery of the stroke, place your blade in the water exactly when all the others in the eight do, and boom! explode. The boat feels light, and you feel outside of your body, ecstatic. This bike can teach me many things.

3) Responding to a master

And then there's William Stafford. We celebrate his birthday every year, but this year, his centennial, the whole state of Oregon is celebrating him. In listening to the celebration by poets at Clackamas, I heard the ways that his poems saved a boy who had wanted to run away from a foster home, how his poems had comforted many in their loneliness, how they had returned alienated people to nature. What I started doing in the mornings, for just 10-15 minutes each morning, is finding one of his poems, retyping it, and responding to it. So far the poems are awful, but that's okay. I'm writing. I can revise later. I'm starting the day with a poem. The day begins with the blessing of Stafford, and that's a good day.

And the world seems new. Try something you're not good at. Use a tool that is better than ones you have used before. Take risks.