Tag Archives: Spring

Beginner’s Mind (Shoshin) and the End of Spring Break

One of my biggest delights this semester has been reading my happiness students’ homework assignments. They’ve embraced each assignment with what Zen masters might call “Shoshin.”

Shoshin is a Japanese word referring to beginner’s mind. Beginner’s mind involves approaching experiences with an attitude of “not knowing” and maximum openness to learning. If you already know about something (say meditation), your natural inclination will be to close your mind, because you already have knowledge and lived experience about meditation and so there’s less openness to learning. Shifting from an expert (closed) mind to a beginner’s (open) mind requires intent and effort.

For many of my happiness students, some of the assignments have been old hat. Like when I ask someone with a degree in divinity and an active meditation practice to meditate for six minutes a day . . . or when I ask someone who is a faculty in counseling or a psychiatrist to try a little cognitive therapy on themselves . . . or when I ask university athletes to exercise, breathe, and consider the concept of flow . . . or when I ask a bartender to focus in on listening to others.

Despite me offering up some “old hat” assignments, my students have responded as if they were encountering everything for the first time. So. Very. Cool.

Those of you who aren’t enrolled at the University of Montana may not realize that today is the very end of spring break. Although spring is often about new beginnings, the end of a university semester is often about time management and emotional survival. Tomorrow, after a week or so of a “break” my students and I return to our studies to finish the semester. My hope is that we all return refreshed and with a renewed passion for learning, so we can Shoshin through our next six weeks.

This hope isn’t just for my happiness class students. Far too many painful events and situations are out there happening in the world. On top of that, everyone on the planet is facing unique and personal challenges that I don’t and probably can’t fully comprehend. We have these global and personal challenges AND in the Northern hemisphere, we’re experiencing spring. Even though there will be distractions and we will be imperfect, let’s do our best Shoshin and approach all of spring like a sponge, soaking up all the learning we can.

In 1970, Shunryu Suzuki wrote: “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s, there are few” (from, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind).

Let’s stay watchful and open with a beginner’s mind. This is a new spring, a never before spring, with new opportunities. As James Garbarino once wrote: “Stress accumulates; opportunity ameliorates.” Amelioration. What a great word for today . . . and tomorrow.

Cancer Part III: What Happy Feet Can Do For You

I wrote this a few weeks ago, but am just getting around to posting it now. It’s just a personal essay; sort of a cancer update along with a few thoughts on politics. There’s only a little psychology or counseling here. Feel free to read or pass.

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What Happy Feet Can Do For You

Anger can easily give way to angst. All it needs is a little room to grow.

Rita’s cancer treatment is over. Her hair obediently fell out during week three of chemotherapy. But yesterday, we ran together in an it’s-hard-not-to-think-about-global-warming 68-degree March day in Montana. Winter is retreating. Everything is growing, including two full inches of new curly hair on Rita’s recently bald scalp. I can hardly wait for the blossoms this year.

A puzzling fact on this puzzling planet is that spring is the season with far more suicide deaths than any other. But this is also a planet where Donald Trump can say disparaging things about Mexicans, women, Muslims, and other vulnerable groups and yet still increase support for his presidential campaign. There are theories for both these phenomena. Perhaps the sad and suffering find spring intolerable, with all its promises of love and regrowth? Or maybe the energy of individuals with depression, having hibernated over the winter, has returned to fuel self-destructive actions to accompany the previously lonely self-destructive thoughts. Energy can be like that.

People say Trump openly articulates what they’re thinking. If so, we’ve got lots of people who are angry and looking for someone to blame. Mexicans, women, and Muslims are convenient targets. Rarely do angry bullies target the rich and powerful because bullying is all about power: It’s big on little; rich on poor; many on few; smart on less smart; strong on weak. Anger is way more fun when you can vent it on a safe target. I get that. I was there . . . just looking for someone to piss me off or articulate a little hate on my behalf. But now my anger has abandoned me like rats off a sinking ship. It’s nowhere to be found. Hair growth on my wife’s head can do things like that.

One thing for sure, this spring will bring more suicides. Another thing is likely too; it will bring more hate. Hate is on sale at a premium right now. You can get it at yard sales and flea markets. Everyone seems to have a little extra hate and most people who have it feel compelled to pass it on. Hate is like that. It’s not enough to have it and be alone with it. You just gotta get out there and sell that shit.

Over the past nine months I’ve given my wife well over 200 foot rubs. Not that I’m counting and bragging; I’m estimating and sharing. Our evening ritual involves streaming a video and, as it turns out, trying to rub the chemo leftovers of neuropathy out of her feet feels good to both of us. It’s simple. Her feet are right there next to me on the couch. I can’t believe I never thought about rubbing her feet every night for the first 29 years of our marriage. What was I thinking? And now that she’s feeling better, she’s rubbing my feet too. Not that it matters. That’s one thing cancer taught me. If you love someone, counting and tracking to make sure everything is in balance is stupid and irrelevant.

I don’t have much hate to sell right now. My feet are happy. I can run my fingers through Rita’s hair. But the cancer she had was a bad cancer. In the medical literature they refer to it as aggressive and chemo-resistant. It could return any time. Every day of health is a gift. But every day of her illness was a gift too; it was just an angrier gift.

This is why I’m not voting for hate or suicide or guns this spring. I have the gift of a new day and season. Instead, I’m voting for joy and blossoms and a perfect March madness bracket. I’d like to hug all the Mexicans and women and Muslims and invite them for a stroll along the Stillwater River in Montana. Right about now I’d even be happy to give the Donald a foot rub. God knows, he needs someone to help him unwind and stop selling all that hate.

Dancing Bear