The Joys and Benefits of Being a Beginner

Oh, what have I done, what have I done, what have I done, what have I done.

I knew sewing month would be challenging, but in my head, it was supposed to be fairly straightforward.

Silly me for not realizing just how technical, precise, expensive and time consuming it is. Apparently you need four different kinds of cutting tools just to get started!

I did not know that.

sewing cutting tools

Of course I learn this after diving in with a pair scissors from Walgreens, a borrowed sewing machine, a few yards of cheap fabric, and a 30 minute crash course from Helen, a lovely friend who makes the most adorable baby sleeping sacks. My naiveté  was probably a good thing because I somehow managed to sew a shirt and a dress. So what if they were both pink, polyester, and so sloppily crafted that neither of my daughters wanted to even try them on?

I made them!

sewing project

Even then, I’ll be the first to admit that I have no clue what I’m doing, and to see this project through, finished and well, I need something that I regretfully failed to take advantage of during guitar month – a proper teacher.

The Beginner’s Mindset

My first sewing lesson with Diane left me completely overwhelmed by all of the tools, terminology, settings, stitches, techniques and patterns involved. I spent most of my two hour session with puzzled looks on my face saying “okay” and “I understand”, sewing crooked lines only to have to undo the seams, and then sewing without having threaded the needle. Oops.

But I expected all of that. So did Diane.

Us beginners – we’re supposed to be bad. The mistakes, the errors, the frustration – it’s all part of learning something new. It’s why we experiment. It’s why we ask for help.

beginners vs experts

The Zen Buddhists have a word for the beginner’s mindset. They call it Shoshin and it’s the practice of taking everything you think and know and believe and setting it aside, instead adopting an attitude of openness and eagerness when learning something new.

We see this kind of wonder in kids all the time. They embrace discovery and imaginative play, ask questions, paint colorful pictures, and build elaborate things with their legos and toys and anything they can get their hands on.

Somewhere along the way, however, we stop reinforcing this creativity. We settle into our comfortable habits, routines, and ways of thinking about life, work and problems, seldom pushing ourselves to step out of our comfort zones. Not surprisingly, our capacity for creative and imaginative thinking diminishes.

That’s why sewing, as frustrating and hard as it is, has been such a refreshing experience. I know nothing, I assume nothing, question everything, and am open to different approaches and possibilities.

Is Diane’s way the right way? Or is Helen’s? And what about my own improvised methods? I don’t know, but I get to figure it out.

I think there’s a freedom and a wisdom in not having the answers. It leaves room for intuition and openness.

In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few. – Zen Master Shunryo Suzuki

Perhaps this kind of fresh thinking will spill over into how I look at my writing or my blog or some other aspect of my life. I like the idea of turning things on their heads, just to see what crazy things might emerge.

And, if nothing else, well then I’ll just have sewn the most expensive pair of nightgowns known to man.

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