Beginner’s Mind (Part 2)

When SUNN O))) went on tour in 2008, they sent out this press release to music journalists all over the country. It is dutifully repeated verbatim on many music websites, which I don’t blame them for at all. Considering the pittance I used to get paid to hack out seven or ten posts a day, copypasting a PR missive is good money.

According to a press release, “SUNN O)) will be playing material from ‘GrimmRobe’ exclusively. It will be a return to their primal origins, and approach respecting a concept of shoshin, the beginner’s mind, the yet undyed pure wool, the clarity in initiation upon the untraveled. The attitude of embodying the basics precisely, point by point, line by line, with an immovable faith in the teaching, experience and of beyond the possibility. Of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when approaching, even with much experience, just as a beginner would upon the initial impetus and thirst to seek the path. And so, with this mindset, they will be approaching these live concerts.

SUNN 0))) has one clear goal with their music: to make loud, droning guitar tones that stretch on for a very, very long time. It’s great music for creating, or for zoning out. It does what it’s supposed to, and then gets out.

But let’s look at this “shoshin” concept. Shunryu Suzuki, the most famous purveyor of shoshin, said:

“If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything, it is open to everything. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few. ”

What does shoshin look like practically, from a writing standpoint?

It looks like a writer who approaches the page with endless possibilities. Every scene is an opportunity to explore, to see where the mood takes you. You forget everything you know about style and craft, and focus on telling a story, relating a specific mood or feeling to the reader as it comes to you.

You forget everything, but of course those craft lessons never go away. So when you need a clever turn of phrase, when you need to pace the scene in different ways, when you need to get to the specifics of a character, you can do that, in the moment.

I’m thinking of the analogy of a pro basketball player walking along the court with a friend. He’s talking about something that happened to him on the freeway, on the way to work. He’s relating the story, when a ball rolls in his path. Without breaking stride, without losing his place in the story, he scoops the ball up and, with perfect technique, swishes the ball into the hoop. Then he continues talking, as though he hasn’t just done something incredible.

But back to beginner’s mind: though you’re approaching every project with an ingrained sense of skill that you’ve honed over the years, you have to look at the project in the spirit of play. You have to remember your core beliefs, why you got into this thing in the first place.

More tomorrow.

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