So, last week I talked about The Uncarved Block and Beginner’s Mind
A couple people have asked about this, mostly a form of, “But if you’re always starting as a beginner, how do you improve? Don’t you want to make better stuff?”
I am not a philosopher. I can’t tell you that this is the “right” way to interpret these concepts, but this is how I see them and use them.
The Uncarved Block and Beginner’s Mind aren’t about not moving, in fact, quite the opposite. They’re about being where you are, now, SO THAT you can move. It is very easy to get bogged down with where we “should” be, how skilled we “should” be, what we “should” be able to make. In fact, it’s easy to get so bogged down, so frustrated at the “should” that you can’t make anything at all.
Those are thoughts antithetical to the both the Uncarved Block and the Beginner’s Mind. The block doesn’t think about what it should be, it is pure potential. The true beginner doesn’t think about what they SHOULD be able to make, they are a beginner, so they start at the beginning.
I have been spinning for years now. My hands mostly know the motions. I can walk while spindle spinning. When I sit down at the wheel, I don’t forget all that! What I DO do, though, is sit down and say, “This IS where I am, THIS is my starting point, TODAY’S beginning.”
I mentioned in the last post that I often take on hard projects to help me with this mindset. Basically, I’m deliberately pushing the “should” toward where I am. If I can tell myself “this SHOULD be hard, it’s a hard project” then it’s a lot easier for me to let go of that voice in the back of my head that says, “You SHOULD be perfect at this, you SHOULD be better at this, WHY aren’t you?” I think of it as artificial Beginner’s Mind.
It’s also why I keep my first yarn. I can hold up that yarn in front of that mean little voice in the back of my head and say, “This is where I started. Look where I am today! So screw off with your should’s!”
Which brings us to improvement. These ideas aren’t about not improving, they’re about giving yourself the space to improve at the pace you improve. If you can start a project with a beginner’s mind, an uncarved block, aware of where you actually are, not where you “should” be, then you can also accurately evaluate your progress from that point. You can say, “Ok, my hands know how to make a thin yarn now, but my consistency is still struggling a little, maybe next time I’ll try a reference card.” Without that mindset, it’s far too easy to look and see all the faults at once, think you’re not improving, and thus not know where to focus your efforts. It’s also easy to get frustrated that your yarn isn’t perfect and just stop.
And I’ll tell you a secret. Shh, don’t tell anyone but… your yarn will never be perfect.
Never. Mine isn’t. No one’s is! The more you learn, the more you can see every flaw, and the more you know what’s possible. I know people who’ve been spinning for 40 years and make AMAZING yarn… they still can see improvements to be made. Each day they start where they are, and move forward from there.
The Uncarved Block and Beginner’s Mind are not about perfection, they are about improvement. Start where you are, and move forward. If you believe you “should” be “perfect” then you’ve already lost the battle, because no yarn is perfect, even the yarns spun by the Moerae* have snags.
So get spinning. Wherever you are in the journey, start there, every time.
That’s all for now!
*Moerae: Greek Fates – Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos who spun the lives/destinies of humanity