The Growing Edge of the Beginner’s Mind

Wednesday, April 9, 2014 - 5:02 am

The Growing Edge of the Beginner’s Mind

Every moment of life invites us to open our eyes to what Howard Thurman calls “the growing edge” of life, and aspire to grow with it. As he says, nothing embodies the growing edge better than a newborn — or, I’d say, a very young child.

This photo below, taken a year ago, illustrates the point. That’s me, listening with rapt attention as my then six-year-old granddaughter, Naiya, takes me to the growing edge of her world by explaining one of its many mysteries. (The mystery in question involves turtles, and since Naiya is the only one who can explain it, I won’t even try here!) Her eyes are wide with wonder, her hands alive with nonverbal speech, and her expression says, “Grandpa, I’m going to keep talking until you get it!”

Parker Palmer and his granddaughter Naiya.

I’m heading into this spring and summer aspiring to look at life through the eyes of a child. I’m determined to “get it!” I want to practice what Buddhists call “beginner’s mind” — a vital corrective to the cynicism that comes when we let life’s hard realities darken our vision and diminish our imagination. It’s a way of looking at the world that makes fresh starts possible in everything: our personal lives, our work lives, even our political lives.

What’s “the growing edge” in your life? Whatever it is, may this be a year in which our adult powers collaborate with child-like imagination to help make all things new!

“Look well to the growing edge. All around us worlds are dying and new worlds are being born; all around us life is dying and life is being born. The fruit ripens on the tree, the roots are silently at work in the darkness of the earth against a time when there shall be new lives, fresh blossoms, green fruit. Such is the growing edge! It is the extra breath from the exhausted lung, the one more thing to try when all else has failed, the upward reach of life when weariness closes in upon all endeavor. This is the basis of hope in moments of despair, the incentive to carry on when times are out of joint and men have lost their reason, the source of confidence when worlds crash and dreams whiten into ash. The birth of a child — life’s most dramatic answer to death — this is the growing edge incarnate. Look well to the growing edge!”Howard Thurman

P.S. Howard Thurman was an African-American pastor whose ministry crossed many lines and influenced many key actors in the ongoing movement for the human possibility. Learn more about him.

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is a columnist for On Being. His column appears every Wednesday.

He is a Quaker elder, educator, activist, and founder of the Center for Courage & Renewal. His books include Healing the Heart of Democracy, A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life, and Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation.

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