The Growing Edge of the Beginner's Mind

Wednesday, April 9, 2014 - 5:02am

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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Parker J. Palmer

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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Will be reading Thurman's beautiful piece at the Passover Seder next week. Thank you for sharing.

You guys. Always there with the good stuff for my journey. Thank you.

Over at Grantland, Bill Simmons has an interesting story about David Letterman's decision to retire next year. The section that is relevant to Parker's reflection, is his rendering of the way Letterman described arriving at his decision. Very simply, he was struck by a moment of wonder he experienced with his ten year old son. It's took him beyond the reticent place through which he looks at the world on his show, and to a place where he could have "beginners mind" and see with the eyes of a child.

That's the point, eh? To have a beginner's mind, and see with the eyes of a child, but not to be a child, nor a beginner. That's how we get to the Thurman, able to see a world being born all around us. Especially during the season of Spring, where the earth bursts forth with so much new life. Life breaking through all sense that we've seen this all before. The only response that makes sense is our, "wow!"

Parker Palmer's gentle approach to life allows me the space to question, to struggle, to be sad; and then to find hope.

I have to consciously try to access my beginner's mind whenever I come to a bonsai exhibition. Being somewhat "expert" in the field, it's easy to go straight to technical aesthetic considerations. This makes it hard to go back and experience the emotional impact of the tree. Much easier to approach it with beginner's mind first. The analytical mind will always be able to nitpick later...

A field trip to a native prairie on a cold spring day steeped our group in the wonder of nature bursting forth on this little piece of virgin land in South Central Texas.

Thanks Mr.Palmer, as again you provide me inspiration for poetic expression.

One Spring eve a cloudless sky.
Awareness of joy so peaceful am I.
Does emptiness of mind allow absorption of purity?
Pure intelligence, a cosmic power,
bestows such love for me surely.

Wonderful picture of him with his granddaughter. Full of communication.

Best wishes, George

Having just spent a week with two grandchildren, and having just written about that week, I loved finding Friend Parker here. The photo is priceless. Such deep listening. Such animated expression on Naiya's face.

Every morning I get up around 6 a.m. to feed our cat Sammy. Usually she jumps on our bed, walks over both of us and sits on my stomach. Once I get up, I go over to the window, and open the blinds for her. One morning the timing was perfect. The Sun was just coming up. What a beautiful, beautiful sight with the light streaming through the blinds. I just felt such a sense of wonder. After her breakfast, Sammy often comes back to the bedroom to sleep on the floor,and enjoy the "sun spots" on the rug.

A beginner's mind is open, humble, courageous, and vulnerable all at the same time. May we all be able to find the place inside our hearts from which we can look at the world with such eager openness. It is only within that moment of balance can we truly begin to expand into the "growing edge."