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The Beginner's Mind Operationalized: Cut-Throat!

(In a big departure this week I'm going to risk sharing an experience I had a few months ago. I was playing "cut-throat" racquetball [1] for the first time with two friends, and had a Think, Try, Learn breakthrough. I humbly submit my unedited journal entry from this experience. Have you had any similar experiences? Share! -- matt)

A HUGE, formative experience today seeing the methods in action playing the three-man version of racquetball called "cut throat". I had the absolutely best time of my life. I was able to enter the experience with an experimental attitude: "This is an experiment! I'm new to it, I don't know what the game is, how it's played, or any strategy. I am happily ignorant."

We started with my two partners who are experienced with the game explaining the rules and game play. It took me a little while to understand, but my attitude was to not get too wrapped up in remembering everything at the outset. I trusted that I'd learn as we went along. This was major shift in attitude for me. Previously I would have been pretty uptight about not knowing the rules, but this was much lighter.


Then we started to play, and I was very successful in observing myself with affection as I learned the game. I savored my little successes, such as returning a tough shot or succeeding in the (counter-intuitive) technique of hitting the ball off the *back* glass all the way to the front. It was a blast! At one point I had some concern that I was being *too* playful with it and not being serious enough for my partners, but they were patient and understanding, which I was grateful for. Later they told me they enjoyed sharing my delight during the games.

Compare this to how this would have been for me in the past. First, I would have had an expectation of performance, which would have set me up for judging the endeavor's success based on a completely inappropriate measure. I was a beginner, after all. I would have been happy only with successes that I wasn't able to achieve except by luck! Most of the game would have been a series of frustrations.

Additionally, I would have been fixated on winning. Again, this measure is but one of many I could have chosen - perhaps the worst one if my goal was to enjoy the process, rather than counting points. Again, the judgment is disconnected - is *channeled* - into something highly positive: reveling it what *is*. Instead, I was able to appreciate my performance based on my improvement DURING THE GAME. My learning was that fast, that intense. Yes, my partners ended up with far more points than me, but I still had a fantastic time. And hey, I got some points myself, and made them earn theirs a few times.

Regarding my partners, my view would probably have been *oppositional*. They would have been obstacles to my success, based on my measurement of it. Instead, I looked at them as guides. They gave a little helpful advice, complimented me on good plays, and got to enjoy their relatively high level of skill and performance. My perspective enabled my sincerely appreciating their ability to play the game so well. This is far more positive than feeling envy or jealousy.

I respected my own bit of courage in trying something new. When we think of children trying new things - my daughter trying basketball - we sometimes take it for granted. After all, they're *always* trying something new. But it's easy to be tough on ourselves as adults in the same situation. Partly this is due to our having mastered so much, we're not comfortable being beginners. But why?... This is more "Let's see what I can do!" than "How good am I?"

Overall this is the beginner's mind operationalized - a mindset and methods to switch into this mode for something new, and it was amazing. This is very different from hearing the ideas - "beginner's mind", "mindful", "present", etc. Here I was experiencing it with child-like joy, and all because I treated it like an experiment. Maybe one way to put it is that I structured my thinking to avoid the >>constraints of expectation<<. I was able to relish my being brand new to it - something that can only happen once for each endeavor. it's like your first kiss; you want to be fully in it because it'll never be as fresh


Reader Comments (2)

Your journal entry smacks of self-esteem. You seem like a man who can laugh at himself when needed and wonder without fear of what others might say or do. Thank you for sharing your happily ignorant moment in racquetball.

June 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSpencer McDonald

Much appreciated, Spencer. I'm exploring ways to take things less seriously, and to enjoy life more fully. Traditional methods (e.g., meditation, yoga, or affirmations) haven't worked for me. This Think, Try, Learn angle does, though. I guess it's my own version of the [ Drunken Monkey | http://mondaymorninggold.com/?p=310 ].

June 19, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermatthewcornell

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