Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Shoshin & The Mandolin

Sitting outside by the firepit, I wondered if I would write here again. After saying what I had to say about my daily experiences through the languages of Aikido and Zen--even occasionally through mathematics or a picture--I put the blog down for a while...

... and I picked up this.

It was a spontaneous moment long in the making. We took my daughter to sign up for voice lessons. While there, I said I'd like to learn the mandolin. There was exactly one in the store hanging on the wall, and there was exactly one instructor on staff who played who just happened to have time to add a student?

Done! So, while I've not been writing here, I've been practicing.

My musical experience is very limited: the basics in grade school, a handful of piano lessons in my late-20's, and an introductory class to the Great Highland Bagpipes (limited to practice on the chanter) in my early 30's. It's safe to say that now, in my 40's, I really am a beginner...

The difference now is that I'm no longer a beginner at being a beginner.

I know what it's like, that precise moment when everything changes. I know what it is to take that first step into uncertainty. I know the sensation of the obsession taking hold. I know the passion and the craving in the pursuit. I know the feeling of my every sense and my every thought bending and twisting to my need... seeking and accumulating knowledge and skills, making connections and generating insight.

I know what it's like to know how things should be--and maybe will be with persistence and practice--but to see where I am now and to know how far away I am from that envisioned state of mastery. I know what it is to feel completely lost, to feel completely frustrated, to not understand, to be off-balanced, to be overwhelmed with all of the details that have to be just so, and to feel so awkwardly uncoordinated...

I know what it is like to feel some skills ultimately become part of me, available like breathing. I also know what it is to find those that simply never will.

I know what it's like to misstep, to err, and to fuck-up royally... and I know what it's like to try again... and again... and again. I know what it is to throw up my arms and give up.  Fortunately, I have also known what it is to finally be considered a master...

... and I know what it is to put it all aside, to pick up a mandolin, and to feel the indescribable joy of hearing that first plucking, even if it does throw a flat buzz!

So I laugh: Look at how much I know! I know it's not shoshin--"beginner's mind"--to enter with all of this knowing. It's also not shoshin to enter believing that this knowing is wrong. What I can say is that when I hear that perfect A-note reference ringing at 440 Hz and try to find the same in that third pair of strings as I start to tune up, there's no knowing... there's hardly even the peg, the pick, and the strings.

Now, what of all of this analysis? Of my finding this pattern repeating in my life again and again? Of finding evidence that I was right and feeling the resulting confidence that this new endeavor will work out just fine one way or another?

You know, I just don't have a problem with that. I'm too busy finding examples like this:


That's a long road... along the way, I'm looking forward to simple fiddle tune hootenannies and laughs around the fire pit with good friends :-)
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