Sailing Your Ship


(photo credit here)

Some of you know I've been getting into meditation like nobody's business. One big thing in Zen is this idea of the Beginner's Mind. Shunryu Suzuki, the Yoda of Zen Buddhism, said, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” When you’re a beginner, you are humble and open to learning as much as you can. You’re a sponge, soaking it all up. You don’t mind getting constructive criticism or making mistakes because you’re a “beginner.” Beginners get a lot of slack. You have more freedom, less at stake, and you can always save face because nobody has an expectations of you. This is all fertile ground for creating great art. Making mistakes is how we do this thing. The minute we start thinking we’re masters, we start closing the door to possibility. We start thinking about how others perceive us, which allows fear to take root. Fear loves when we worry about our reputations. It loves when we find our self-worth in others’ perceptions of us. We want to look like we know our shit. But even Steve Jobs said, “It’s wonderful to have a beginner’s mind.” The imagination is only free if it’s allowed to roam where it pleases.

I got some discouraging news yesterday about one of my works-in-progress: my editor and I have very different ideas about what this book could be. It got me down. It’s been a rough year, writing wise. There have been one too many abandoned manuscripts, rejected manuscripts, and flow struggles. I’m back in flow now in a big way, thanks to meditation, but I can still feel the reverberations of this year’s trials. I wish I could say that when I got the news I didn’t sweat it, but the thought of having to reimagine this book again was—is—a little exhausting. I was so thrilled with the huge revision I was about to make (it’s no small thing starting an entire book over from scratch).

But then I saw this Alcott quote, which is one of my favorites. And it reminded me that with each new book I work on, I am learning how to sail my ship. Every book is different and requires different things of you. Some books I’ve written by the seat of my pants, my fingers desperate to keep up with all the thoughts churning inside me. Other books I’ve had to tear each word from my soul, letter by letter. One of the most profound conversations I’ve ever had about writing was with the great Katherine Patterson, who wrote what is to this day one of my most beloved novels, Jacob Have I Loved. It’s just as powerful reading it now as it was when I was a kid. I’m a broken record about our talk because what she said to me that day has become part of the foundation I stand on as a writer and it’s also something I have to keep reminding myself when I embark on new adventures with my words.

She told me that with each book she writes she feels like a beginner because no one has written this book before. There’s no manual and there never will be. It’s all you. This from a seasoned author with multiple awards, a writer in her twilight years. I’m seeing that Katherine was talking about Beginner’s Mind, which is grounded in humility, not fear. It is recognizing that there will always be a learning curve and that that’s not only okay, but necessary. It’s part of the process. It’s what we signed up for. There will be storms. Some will be monsoons that sweep in and out in a matter of hours. Others will go on for days, whole seasons. But we don’t need to fear the storms, for we are learning how to sail our ships. I love this vision of a fierce woman on a tiny, beautiful craft with blooming sails, navigating a choppy turquoise sea, grinning as the clouds roll in. Bring it on, she thinks. Smooth sailing is boring.

This girl likes a challenge.


Tags: lessons