I just spent the past few hours trying to activate my first smartphone. I’ll admit that I am completely behind the times with phone technology and so far it’s been a tedious, difficult and unnerving process. I’m at the point of wondering if what I’m doing is actually working and there’s a string of questions running through my head:
“Why is the darn thing STILL charging? What if it’s broken? Will I have to send it back? What if I don’t have a phone?!?”
This train of thought turns into a rant about my dislike of cell phones and I start researching the effects of radiation…
By now I’ve forgotten the excitement of having a new phone. That feeling of newness has been replaced with the reality check of being out of my element. It’s like when you’re in the middle of moving or are starting a new job and your initial confidence has been replaced with the realization of oh man this is hard…
This is the moment when things are starting to get interesting. I can try to talk myself through it or find some kind of distraction that makes the experience more manageable. Maybe I’ll avoid the situation to see if someone else can do it for me. I mean really, why am I doing this to myself?
These kinds of experiences are rich with learning potential.
It’s hard work being a novice. It can be awkward and humbling, and it isn’t the kind of thing that we want to post selfies about. There’s nothing glamorous about admitting our shortcomings [Check me out – I have no idea what I’m doing, I’ve never done this before and I’m not sure how to move forward!]
In a culture that measures success according to how high we move up the business or academic ladder, we won’t get much recognition for being in beginner’s limbo. We’re taught to “fake it till you make it,” which works to some degree but it also contributes to the current epidemic of false mastery and showboating.
Empty the cup.
There’s a concept in Zen Buddhism called Shoshin, or ‘Beginner’s Mind.’ It’s when we practice emptying the cup of our minds in order to make room for new teachings. It’s an exercise of sincere humility whenever we’re learning something new and we can practice this even if we’re experienced in a particular subject.
Beginner’s mind teaches us about honoring each step of the learning process, which isn’t necessarily supported in our goal-oriented society. One step of the journey involves admitting that we don’t know what we’re doing. Doing so frees up our minds and clears pathways for taking in new information. It may not be the most pleasant experience but it is a vital step nonetheless…
If you’ve started branching out in some arena of your life and have gotten hung up along the way, just chalk it up to being in Beginner’s Limbo. This too will pass so hang in there. You’ll be amazed at what your inner teacher has to show you.