Saturday, February 4, 2012

A Beginner's Mind

Shoshin, or “beginner’s mind” is a Zen Buddhist thing. I love the IDEA of it. Erase your mind of all preconceptions and just start with a blank slate in your new place, whether physical, mental or in my case, both. Embracing the Beginner’s Mind in practice is tough for me.  I have tumors of pride lodged in my throat and stomach that make shoshin hard to swallow and digest.

I have been in Cape Town, South Africa for 11 days and my shoshin is all over the place. Here are some snippets:

  • Home Security: coming and going from any house is a production involving gates, locks, alarm codes, curtains and then double checking it all to make sure you didn’t forget anything.

  • Mobility: I am learning how to drive a manual 4 x 4, driver’s side on the right and driving on the left. Doors locked at stoplights (for human opportunists) and in national parks (for baboon opportunists). I joined a gym since running (as a lone female) is a little complicated. I went for the first time yesterday and it’s been a while since I’ve been exposed to gym (moreover Ladies lockeroom) culture. I saw a woman sitting on a bench texting madly and completely naked. Shoshin, shoshin, shoshin.

  • Food: Woolworth’s or “Woolies” is foodmarket oasis for me. I feel happiest in the bakery, cheese, and wine sections. Lots of organic options. Many of the Woolies are also department stores, so you can potentially put your sheets and meats and shoes and booze in the same cart. I got a bread maker and some other kitchen goodies, so I am cooking and baking a lot. Sol Café is my imaginary restaurant and bakery. I am the head chef, sous chef and busgirl. Today, I went to a market in Woodstock that had everything from springbok burgers to handmade dinosaur plushies. I watched a young man at the “New York Bagels” vendor mindfully paint the cream cheese onto each crusty bagel canvas. The line was long, but I enjoyed watching him.

  • People: 4 million of South Africa’s 50 million of Africa’s 1 billion live in Cape Town. Black (mostly Xhosa), White (Afrikaner, German, French), Colored (Cape Malay), Asian (Chinese, Indian). If you think you know what a South African looks like, you don’t. Coined by Nelson Mandela as the Rainbow Nation, South Africans defy stereotypes and homogeneity. 

  • Entertainment: I went to go see a movie last night and when you purchase your tickets, you actually pick out your seat on the computer screen (like a concert) before you go in.  The Waterfront is a bustling and safe place day and night. Shops, restaurants, stages, and a giant ferris wheel line the harbor. It’s Cape Town’s own Faneuil Hall/Quincy Market.

  • Animals: Hadeda Ibis calls I can hear throughout the day. At Cape Point, the Chacma baboons are beautiful, yet opportunistic, but there is one troop that is not habituated to humans, so I didn’t have to worry so much about them approaching me and taking whatever I had. Ostriches and bontebok (antelope) sunbathing and foraging on the beaches, cormorants flooding the rocks at Cape of Good Hope and angulate tortoises trekking conservatively along the side of the road.

  • Landscape: I see Table Mountain, Lion’s Head and Devil’s Peak every day. They are all good reference points for orienteering around the city. Clouds seem to drape over Table Mountain in what is knows as the “tablecloth”.  Wind—there is plenty of it. I have to make sure that if I am wearing a cute skirt or dress, I am also wearing cute underwear because you just never know when the wind might put all of you apparel on public display.

And with that, I leave you all to embrace a Beginner’s Mind with something. Is there anything that your pride or need for expertise keeps you from learning or trying? I could probably make a list of 10 new things every day. May the Shoshin be with you.


  1. what a beautiful post. i think it stops me from trying lots of things. i'm with you--there is a list every day. i think i keep from thinking about it by staying busy--mostly out of survival, but then even when i'm not in survival mode i manage to keep myself too busy to explore these things.

    i am crazy jealous of your journey. jealous of your experiences. jealous of that up-close-and-personal baboon pic you took. wow. that jealousy translates though to overwhelming happiness for you.

    i really miss you.

    1. I can relate--completely. I find that cleaning and tidying INCESSANTLY has actually stunted my growth as a human being. So, now we have to figure out have to make it so that you are jealous of YOURSELF and not me! HA!

  2. Sounds like a good place to begin again... and again... and again....

    1. Every day. And sometimes, every hour--depending on my state of mind.

  3. I love it, and love your insight...keep it up :) It's encouragement for all of us to keep growing and learning. Take care!

    1. Thanks Sam--you are an encouragement to me too!