Tag Shoshin

The Thing Is to Become a Master & In Your Old Age to Acquire the Courage to Do What Children Did When They Knew Nothing …*

The Thing Is to Become a Master & In Your Old Age to Acquire the Courage to Do What Children Did When They Knew nothing ...* | rethinked.org - Photo: Elsa Fridman

I have been reading Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life-a treasure-trove of meditations on the creative life culled from Tharp’s long career as one of the world’s most acclaimed choreographers. Each chapter relates to a different aspect of creativity–think: Skill, Ruts and Grooves, Rituals of Preparation– and is accompanied by a handful of exercises to practice flexing your own creative muscles. It’s a quick, lovely and insightful read, which I highly recommend.

I’d like to highlight Tharp’s insights on one of the fundamental paradoxes faced by artists and rethinkers everywhere–that of finding the fragile equilibrium between seeking expertise and cultivating a beginner’s mind.

Every artist faces this paradox. Experience–the faith in your ability and the memory that you have done this before–is what gets you through the door. But experience also closes the door. You tend to rely on that memory and stick with what has worked before. You don’t try anything new. Inexperience is innocence, naïveté, and humility. It is a powerful ignorance that is summed up for me in an obituary I read of the All-American football player Ellis Jones. Jones, who died at age eighty in 2002, lost his right arm in an accident when he was eleven years old. But that didn’t stop him from playing guard offense and linebacker on defense in the 1940s at the University of Tulsa and later in the fledgling National Football League. “I played football before I got hurt,” said Jones of the accident that cost him his right arm. “It never occurred to me that I couldn’t keep playing. I guess I was too dumb to think I could not do it.” Inexperience provides us with a childlike fearlessness that is the polar opposite of the alleged wisdom that age confers on us, the “wisdom” telling us some goals are foolish, a waste of time, invitations to disaster. In its purest form, inexperience erases fear. You do not know what is and is not possible and therefore everything is possible.

It is that perfect moment of equipoise between knowing it all and knowing nothing that Hemingway was straining for when he said, “The thing is to become a master and in your old age to acquire the courage to do what children did when they knew nothing.” You cannot manufacture inexperience, but you can maintain it and protect what you have.

This balancing act–between confidence and humility, knowing and not knowing, fear and courage–is intimately tied to the concept of mastery.

Mastery is an elusive concept. You never know when you achieve it absolutely–and it may not help you to feel you’ve attained it. (Alexander the Great wept when he had no more worlds to conquer.) We can recognize it more readily in others than we can in ourselves. We all have to discover our own definition of it. 

I particularly love Tharp’s definition of mastery–mastery as courage and optimism to face the unknown and faith in your own capacity to transform your discovery into something of value.

More than anything, I associate mastery with optimism. It’s the feeling at the start of a project when I believe that my whole career has been preparation for this moment and I am saying, “Okay, let’s begin. Now I am ready.” Of course, you’re never one hundred percent ready, but that’s a part of mastery, too. It masks the insecurities and the gaps in technique and lets you believe that you are capable of anything.

Mastery then, in the creative realm at least, is more mindset than benchmark, like that of the child at the edge of the forest, excited and a little nervous to get lost in the woods but confident to face and transform what she will find.

Source: Tharp, Twyla. The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006. Print.

Assertive Inquiry: An Excellent (and Free) Tool For Better Teamwork, Creative Listening & Decision-Making …*

Assertive Inquiry: An Excellent (and Free) Tool For Better Teamwork, Creative Listening & Decision-Making ...* | rethinked.org

Assertive Inquiry is a framework for engaging in productive dialogue that derives from the methods and theories of leading theorist of organizational learning Chris Argyris. It is an approach to communication, which, “blends the explicit expression of your own thinking (advocacy) with a sincere exploration of the thinking of others (inquiry).”

“In other words, it means clearly articulating your own ideas and sharing the data and reasoning behind them, while genuinely inquiring into the thoughts and reasoning of your peers.”

Playing To Win: How Strategy Really Works, pg. 136

I first learned about assertive inquiry while reading Roger Martin’s Opposable Mind: Winning Through Integrative Thinking (2009). Martin calls Assertive Inquiry one of the top three most important tools of an integrative thinker (along with generative reasoning and causal modeling) as it is a particularly helpful framework for communicating through clashing models and efficiently bringing together often contradictory models and various points of view into a whole greater than its parts.

I remember thinking it sounded like an incredible tool and skill to develop but failed to follow up on practicing. A few weeks ago, I read Martin’s latest book, Playing to Win where he once again mentions the power of Assertive Inquiry in helping teams harness their diversity and enhance and elevate collaboration, ideation and decision-making. Assertive Inquiry starts with a simple beginning stance:

“I have a view worth hearing, but I may be missing something.” It sounds simple, but this stance has a dramatic effect on group behavior if everyone in the room holds it. Individuals try to explain their own thinking–because they do have a view worth hearing. So, they advocate as clearly as possible for their own perspective. But because they remain open to the possibility that they may be missing something, two very important things happen. One, they advocate their view as a possibility, not as a single right answer. Two, they listen carefully and ask questions about alternative views. Why? Because, if they might be missing something, the best way to explore that possibility is to understand not what others see, but what they do not.”

Playing To Win: How Strategy Really Works pg.136-137

Once you are aware of the perspective from which you are approaching the conversation and have focused on cultivating the proper stance, there are three key tools that you must employ as the conversation unfolds: 

  1. Advocating your own position and then inviting responses (e.g., “This is how I see the situation, and why; to what extent do you see it differently?”)
  2. Paraphrasing what you believe to be the other person’s view and inquiring as to the validity of your understanding (e.g., “It sounds to me like your argument is this; to what extent does that capture your argument accurately?”)
  3. Explaining a gap in your understanding of the other person’s  views, and asking for more information (e.g., “It sounds like you think this acquisition is a bad idea. I’m not sure I understand how you got there. Could you tell me more?”)

These kinds of phrases, which blend advocacy and inquiry, can have a powerful effect on the group dynamic. While it may feel more forceful to advocate, advocacy is actually a weaker move than balancing advocacy and inquiry. Inquiry leads the other person to genuinely reflect and hear your advocacy rather than ignoring it and making their own advocacy in response. 

Playing To Win: How Strategy Really Works pg.136-137

Assertive Inquiry could have huge payoffs for teamwork. It creates an atmosphere of authentic openness, inquiry and creative listening. It also seems like an excellent framework for having better conversations all around–at work or at home, with one individual or many. Try it out …*

{ Serendipity Playdates } Sharing Moments With Strangers & Opening Ourselves Up for Discovery …*

{ Serendipity Playdates } Sharing Moments With Strangers & Opening Ourselves Up for Discovery …* | rethinked.org

A couple weeks ago, I went on vacation with my cousin. We spent a few days in New Orleans before renting a car and slowly making our way to Memphis. Other than the joy of being reunited with one of my all time favorite people, the food (those shrimp Po’ boys and bread pudding!!!) and the thrill of discovering new places, I was delighted by all the serendipitous encounters we made along the road. Travel is a wonderful platform through which to achieve something I aspire to in all aspects of my life: to make the ordinary unknown, to experience each moment with a beginner’s mind. There is a very peculiar type of freedom that comes from travelling; a sort of exchange between the physical bags one packs and the metaphorical baggage one leaves behind. Routines are disrupted, assumptions questioned, awareness and empathy are reinvigorated as experience is made fresh. As travelers, we are more open to other people, more interested in their stories, and they, in turn, are more open to ours.

I’ve been back in New York for two weeks now and have noticed that what I had left behind is quickly settling back in. I long for those in-between moments of connection and story sharing that kept occurring throughout our trip, but my assumptions about what it means to talk to strangers are quickly taking back their turf. And the truth is that it can actually be quite difficult, in the course of our daily lives, to find strangers who are willing to exchange moments for the sake of exchange, with no “ulterior motives.” There is the occasional chance encounter in coffee shops and parties but often, as an adult, I find that most opportunities of meeting strangers are weighed down by expectations of romantic interest or professional networking.

While I’m always happy to talk about creativity, design, learning, play, empathy and cognition till the sun comes up, what I would really like is to share stories and moments with you, the ones that stand out in Technicolor tones in our memories. I want to know about the softness of your grandmother’s hands, the dent left in the pillow by your sleeping cat, the time you got lost in the woods.

Admittedly, this may be cheating a bit because if you’re reading rethinked * we’re not complete strangers. But here is what I propose: let’s do an experiment in engineering serendipity, let’s share our stories and a moment on a gorgeous summer afternoon. Let’s meet up and go on an adventure, let’s get lost in an unknown part of town or go for a stroll in the park. If you’d like to set up a serendipity playdate with me, please email me at elsa@rethinked.org.

I’m also going to go park myself this coming Wednesday (July 2nd) from 12:30  to 4:00 pm at Café Lalo on 201 West 83rd St (btw. Amsterdam and Broadway). If you’re in New York and have some free time, stop by, say hello, stay awhile.

Let’s share tea & stories

Neil Gaiman: Make Glorious & Fantastic Mistakes, Break Rules, Leave the World More Interesting For Your Being Here …*

Now go and make interesting mistakes, make amazing mistakes, make glorious and fantastic mistakes, break rules, leave the world more interesting for your being here, make good art.” – Neil Gaiman

I’ve finally had the opportunity to watch Neil Gaiman’s splendid commencement address to the 2012 graduating class of The University of the Arts In Philadelphia. In his speech, Gaiman shares some of the things he wished he had known starting out and the best piece of advice he’s ever received and completely failed to follow. To the extent that [ being | becoming ] an artist is about developing one’s voice (and perhaps, most critically, the courage to share and own that voice) this is an essential talk for any individual invested in living up to their full potential. I’ve transcribed some of my favorite bits below in case you don’t have the time to watch the video just yet, but I highly recommend watching it in its entirety when you get the chance.

watch & rethink …*

Neil Gaiman Addresses the University of the Arts Class of 2012 from The University of the Arts (Phl) on Vimeo.

[ E M B R A C E   S H O S H I N ]

First of all, when you start out on a career in the Arts, you have no idea what you’re doing. This is great. People who know what they’re doing, know the rules and they know what is possible and what is impossible. You do not and you should not. The rules on what is possible and impossible in the Arts, were made by people who had not tested the bounds of the possible by going beyond them. And you can. If you don’t know it’s impossible, it’s easier to do. And because nobody’s done it before, they haven’t made up rules to stop anyone doing that particular thing again.

[  K E E P   W A L K I N G   T O W A R D S   Y O U R   M O U N T A I N ]

Sometimes the way to do what you hope to do will be clear cut and sometimes it will be almost impossible to decide whether or not you’re doing the correct thing because you’ll have to balance your goals and hopes with feeding yourself, paying debts, finding work, settling for what you can get. Something that worked for me, was imagining that where I wanted to be, which was an author, primarily fiction, making good books, making good comics, making good drama and supporting myself through my words—imagining that was a mountain, a distant mountain. My goal. And I knew that as long as I kept walking towards the mountain, I’d be alright. And when I truly was not sure what to do, I could stop and think about whether it was taking me towards or away from the mountain. I said no to editorial jobs on magazines, proper jobs that would have paid proper money, because I knew that attractive though they were, for me, they would have been walking away from the mountain. And if those job offers had come earlier, I might have taken them because they still would have been closer to the mountain than I was at that time. I learned to write by writing. I tended to do anything as long as it felt like an adventure and to stop when it felt like work, which meant that life did not feel like work.

[ M A K E   M I S T A K E S ]

Fourthly, I hope you’ll make mistakes. If you make mistakes it means you’re out there doing something. And the mistakes in themselves can be very useful. I once misspelled Caroline in a letter, transposing the A and the O, and I thought, “Coraline,” looks almost like a real name.

[ M A K E   G O O D   A R T ] 

When things get tough, this is what you should do: Make good art. I’m serious. Husband runs off with a politician–make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by a mutated boa constrictor—make good art. IRS on your trail—make good art. Cat exploded—make good art. Someone on the Internet thinks what you’re doing is stupid or evil or it’s all been done before— make good art. Probably things will work out somehow, eventually time will take the sting away, and that doesn’t even matter. Do what only you can do best: Make good art. Make it on the bad days, make it on the good days, too.

[ C R E A T E   &   L I V E   A S   O N L Y   Y O U   C A N ]

And fifthly, while you’re at it, make your art—do the stuff that only you can do. The urge, starting out, is to copy and that’s not a bad thing. Most of us only find our own voices after we’ve sounded like a lot of other people. But the one thing that you have, that nobody else has, is you—your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and build, and play and dance and live as only you can. The moment that you feel that just possibly, you’re walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself, that’s the moment you may be starting to get it right.

[ E M B R A C E   U N C E R T A I N T Y ]

 The things I’ve done that worked the best, were the things I was the least certain about. The stories where I was sure they’d either work or more likely be the kind of embarrassing failures that people would gather together and discuss until the end of time—they always had that in common. Looking back at them, people explained why they were inevitable successes and when I was doing them, I had no idea. I still don’t and where would be the fun in making something you knew was going to work? And sometimes the things I did really didn’t work. There are stories of mine that have never been reprinted, some of them never even left the house. But I learned as much from them as I did from the things that worked.

[ L E T   G O   &   E N J O Y   T H E   R I D E ]

So when I agreed to give this address, I thought, “what is the best piece of advice I was ever given?” And I realized that it was actually a piece of advice that I had failed to follow. And it came from Stephen King. It was twenty years ago, at the height of the initial success of Sandman, the comic I was writing. I was writing a comic people loved and they were taking it seriously. And Stephen King liked Sandman and my novel with Terry Pratchett, Good Omens, and he saw the madness that was going on, the long signing lines, all of that stuff and his advice to me was this: he said, “this is really great, you should enjoy it.” And I didn’t. Best advice I ever got that I ignored. Instead, I worried about it. I worried about the next deadline, the next idea, the next story. There wasn’t a moment for the next fourteen or fifteen years, that I wasn’t writing something in my head or wondering about it. And I didn’t stop and look around and go, “this is really fun.” I wish I’d enjoyed it more. It’s been an amazing ride but there were parts of the ride I missed because I was too worried about things going wrong, about what came next, to enjoy the bit that I was on. That was the hardest lesson for me, I think—to let go and enjoy the ride. Because the ride takes you to some remarkable and unexpected places.

[ F A K E   I T   T O   M A K E    I T,   I F   Y O U   N E E D   T O ]

Someone asked me recently how to do something she thought was going to be difficult–in this case, recording an audio book. And I suggested she pretend that she was someone who could do it. Not pretend to do it, but pretend she was someone who could. She put up a notice to this effect on the studio wall and she said it helped. So be wise because the world needs more wisdom. And if you cannot be wise, pretend to be someone who is wise and then just behave like they would.

*

“If You’re Just Naïve Enough To Believe You Can Do What Everybody Tells You That You Can’t, Amazing Things Can Happen”

"If You're Just Naïve Enough To Believe You Can Do What Everybody Tells You That You Can't, Amazing Things Can Happen" | rethinked.org

I’ve written about the Zen Buddhist concept of shoshin, which translates to “beginner’s mind,” several times before here on rethinked Beginner’s mind is a mental state devoid of assumptions and prejudices. Zen master Shunryu Suzuki highlighted the sense of omnipresent potential and openness that characterizes the beginner’s mind by saying: “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” Mick Ebeling, founder of the fantastic Not Impossible Labs has a great article over on CNN, explaining the immense power of shoshin, which Ebeling refers to as “beautiful naiveté” to yield big ideas with tremendous impact. Below are some excerpts from Ebeling’s inspirational article. You can read the rest of the article, and view the accompanying short video here.

In each case, the experts told us that what we were doing just couldn’t be done.

Fortunately, we didn’t listen, or didn’t hear them, or ignored them, or were oblivious, or all of the above. We went ahead and tried anyway. And what do you know. It worked.

This all started when I met a graffiti artist named Tempt, who was paralyzed with ALS. I was a film producer, with no experience whatsoever in the field of technological medical devices. But when I learned how he was communicating with his family — they’d run their fingers over a piece of paper with the alphabet printed on it, he’d blink when they’d get to the letter he wanted, and, painstakingly, he’d spell out a sentence — I was moved, and angry, and a whole lot of other things. And I blurted out to his father, “We will find a way to get Tempt to paint again.”

See, I was just clueless enough not to know that that was impossible.

At one point, a group of programmers and coders told us, “If you had any clue how hard it is to do what you did, you never would have tried it in the first place.”

I’m so glad we were clueless.

*

David possesses a quality — as do the other members of the team, Dan Goodwin and Sam Bergen — that, I think, is essential to success.

We call it beautiful naïvete.

Because if you’re just naïve enough to believe you can do what everybody tells you that you can’t, amazing things can happen.

It’s just possible, in fact, that you’ll discover what each of us has discovered:

That nothing, in fact, is impossible.

Source: Naïvete is key to innovation via CNN, published April 22, 2014.

{ S H O S H I N } “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”

{ S H O S H I N } “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” | rethinked.org

Shoshin is a Zen buddhist term, which translates to “beginner’s mind.” Beginner’s mind is the goal of Zen practice and can best be explained with this sentence from Zen master Shunryu Suzuki: “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” Essentially, beginner’s mind is the capacity to approach all new moments, whether the experience at hand be known and|or habitual or not, with a sense of openness and curiosity; to not limit ourselves to past experiences and knowledge in our appraisal of the present moment.

Unfortunately, “The older we get, the further we get from the truth and the more we search for answers. If only we could ask the real experts, life would go a whole lot smoother.” Which is where Little Kids. Big Questions. comes in.

Little Kids. Big Questions. is one of Soul Pancake‘s video series which takes the concept of shoshin quite literally by turning to beginner’s minds masters –little kids–to get their ‘expertise’ on life’s big question. The series, which debuted January 7th of last year, touches upon a wide range of complex topics, from religion, honesty, purpose to life and death.

MEET THE EXPERTS:

To celebrate Valentine’s day, here is the Little Kids. Big Questions. episode on love. Delight in the tiny experts’ brilliant answers to some big questions:

  • What is this strange and all encompassing word, love?
  • How do you know when you’re in love, what does it feel like inside?
  • What does it mean to be romantic?
  • Can boys and girls be best friends or do they always fall in love?
  • How do you know when you’re ready to get married?

Little Kids. Big Questions. – Love, published January 14, 2014.

HMI Create a Framework for Embodied Curiosity in my Everyday Life? {rethinked * annex | Integrative Thinking}

Those of you who kept up with my rethinked*annex project in the fall, in which I attempted to translate the tools, processes and frames of reference of design thinking to my everyday life, might have been wondering what happened to the next phase of the project: integrative thinking. I had originally intended to post each week of the challenge (December-March) about various thought experiments that I would do in an attempt to assimilate the cognitive discipline into my daily life. I soon found out however, that the nature of integrative thinking did not lend itself to quick reflection, so I rethought…* my original plan, and decided instead to steep in integrative thinking, think/work it out for myself and allow some time for ‘digestion’ before trying to organize my thoughts about the experience. This is the first article in a series of posts synthesizing my insights and observations from these past three months spent attempting to assimilate integrative thinking into my everyday life.

THE ONTOLOGICAL CONSTRAINTS OF BEING HUMAN
The problem when one attempts to think about one’s own thinking, let alone try to change that thinking, is that one runs into myriad cognitive hurdles designed and implemented to keep us from questioning the equilibrium and understanding that we create for ourselves in our daily lives. I’m not talking about politics or culture but about the core ontological constraints of being human: our inability to process the constant influx of reality and our perceptual and cognitive need to parcel it into salient bits, which we craft into overarching frameworks and models through which to experience our subjectivity and every day encounters. Because of the infinite malleability of our appraisal of reality, we have the ability and the need to fashion our own understanding of it. The issue with this is that, as Roger Martin put it in his terrific book, The Opposable Mind: Winning Through Integrative Thinking,

“this tendency makes it difficult to know what to do with opposing and seemingly incommensurable models. Our first impulse is to determine which one represents reality and which one is unreal and wrong, and then we campaign against the idea we reject. But in rejecting one model as unreal, we miss out on all the value that can be realized by holding in mind two opposing models at the same time.” (55)

INTEGRATIVE THINKING
Integrative thinking is an effective method for countering this human tendency to simplify and reduce our understanding of reality to opposing binaries. Martin offers the following working definition of integrative thinking: “The ability to face constructively the tension of opposing ideas and instead of choosing one at the expense of the other, generate a creative resolution of the tension in the form of a new idea that contains elements of the opposing ideas but is superior to each.” (15) Integrative thinking, according to Martin, stems from our inherent capacity to simultaneously hold two opposing ideas in mind, a concept he explores through the metaphor of the ‘opposable mind’, which:

“we can use to hold two conflicting ideas in constructive tension. We can use that tension to think our way through to a new and superior idea. Were we able to hold only one thought or idea in our heads at a time, we wouldn’t have access to the insights that the opposable mind can produce. And just as we can develop and refine the skills with which we employ our opposable thumbs to perform tasks that once seemed impossible, I’m convinced we can also, with patient practice, develop the ability to use our opposable minds to unlock solutions to problems that seem to resist every effort to solve them.” (7)

After rereading Martin’s book, which is filled with keen observations and insights on the mental patterns of effective integrative thinkers, I decided that the first step in my attempt to practice integrative thinking on a daily basis should be to take an honest and in-depth look at my personal knowledge.

PERSONAL KNOWLEDGE | STANCE, TOOLS & EXPERIENCES

Martin defines personal knowledge as a tripartite coalition of stance, which “is your most broad-based knowledge domain in which you define who you are in your world and what you are trying to accomplish in it.” (93); tools, which, “range from formal theories to established processes to rules of thumb.” (97) And experiences that “form your most practical and tangible knowledge. The experiences you accumulate are the product of your stance and tools, which guide you toward some experiences and away from others.” (99) A thoughtful balance of the three elements of this cognitive coalition is key to effective integrative thinking.

“Operating at their best, the three elements of the personal knowledge system will reinforce each other to produce an ever-increasing capacity for integrative thinking. By the same token, though, stance, tools, and experience can conspire to trap perfectly intelligent and capable people in a world where problems seem too hard to solve and mere survival is the only goal.” (104)

Before I could start thinking about integrating components of conflicting models or ideas with my own, I had to gain a solid understanding of what my model was. But how to break past the blind spots and recognize my own assumptions to take an honest look at my stance, tools and experiences?

CREATING DISRUPTIONS

The first few weeks of December, I created all sorts of disruptive thought experiments for myself, which I hoped would allow me to experience the ordinary, common sensical and taken for granted dimensions of my life as unknown. I decided to write down 100 assumptions I had. I walked up and down my street taking pictures of each building from various angles. I went on a scavenger hunt around my apartment looking for ‘unexpected typographies.’ I tried to photograph and catalog every color and shade I could find in my home. I attempted to count how many different logos were scattered in my immediate surroundings. I was looking for a way to disrupt my perceptual routine.

Many of these little exercises proved to be fun and engaging, and the results were at times astonishing. Noticing the discrepancy between what I think I see and what I actually notice (and the vast amounts of things I don’t) was, forgive the dreadful pun, eye-opening. But at the end of the day, I found that all of these exercises provided little more than isolated disruptions and I was left frustrated, unable to understand how to take this to the next level.

If I was to assimilate integrative thinking into my everyday, I needed to find a hypodermic way of creating ongoing disruptions in my noticing and thinking practices. Tools and exercises would not be enough, what I needed was a paradigm shift. To go beyond isolated disruptions to a sustainable, adaptive and iterative process of integrative thinking, I would have to approach this challenge as a design project and consider the wider landscape of interrelated terms and concepts within which integrative thinking is embedded.

NEED FOR A PARADIGM SHIFT

Any time we talk about a paradigm shift, what we are really talking about is a moment in time and thought, in which ideas and concepts open up, become tangibly more malleable, and beg for new connections and definitions. Before I could move forward, I had to formulate in my own terms a synthesis of the drives and assumptions underlying the discipline, to refine my understanding of what it was I was after when seeking to ‘do’ integrative thinking. I had identified the constraints, which could all be summed up as ‘being human’—need for order and meaning, inability to process reality as is, uncomfortable with ambiguity, etc. Now I needed to identify the frame through which I would explore integrative thinking and make it mine.

Integrative thinking is the ability to suspend your framework—the core model through which you make sense of the world and your place within it—and to willingly place yourself in a space of unknowing, ambiguity and uncertainty. It is the ability to separate yourself from your ideas and the organizing narrative of your life, the willingness to look at all the things you have explained to yourself and admit that perhaps none of them are true. Of course, this is not the goal of integrative thinking. In its ideal form, integrative thinking is not about subtraction or substitution, it’s about remix and enhancement. But being able to entertain the notion that your model of reality is ‘wrong’ (not in an absolute sense, but in terms of it not being optimized to your life and practice) is an essential prerequisite to integrative thinking. If your ideas are too precious to you, and if you are unwilling to “kill your darlings” you will never be able to practice integrative thinking effectively.

Integrative thinking stems from our capacity for cognitive empathy, the ability to place yourself in someone else’s mental framework and view the world from their perspective. In my understanding of it, empathy starts with curiosity. The goal of my integrative design challenge, therefore, was to move past creating isolated events to creating a process by which to induce, nurture and maintain a cognitive state of hyperawareness and receptivity or ‘beginner’s mind’ in myself.

SHOSHIN | BEGINNER’S MIND

Martin alludes to the powerful possibilities of beginner’s mind and the hyperawareness it creates:

“When we learn something new, we’re acutely aware of features that more experienced practitioners take for granted. Think of your self-consciousness when you learned a new sport or took your first driving lesson. This hyperawareness of yourself and the skills you’re learning does not last long. Over time, practice transforms conscious acts into automatic habits characteristic of mastery. Think of your anxiety at stoplights when you first learned to drive using a standard shift, and the unthinking ease with which you now put the car into first and drive off. The better we get, the faster we forget about what we are doing. Our awareness of what we are doing and how we are accomplishing it quickly becomes as intuitive and inaccessible as the knowledge we use to tie our shoes or ride a bike.” (100)

Famed Zen teacher, Shunryu Suzuki, summed this up beautifully with the remark, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s there are few.” Shoshin is a Zen Buddhist term, which translates to beginner’s mind and is characterized by a very open attitude, free of preconceptions and fueled by genuine curiosity and eagerness. Shoshin does not describe a temporal event (the first time one does something) but rather an emotional and cognitive state of openness, optimism, creativity, curiosity and zeal. Shoshin can (and should) be achieved at all levels of practice.

EMBODIED CURIOSITY

It seemed that no matter how I went about trying to break down integrative thinking for myself, I kept zeroing in and coming back to this concept of ‘embodied curiosity.’ A term that, at this stage, was little more than a vague contour overflowing with possibility. I had finally found my entry point into integrative thinking. And so, the formulation of the challenge went from the general and unhelpful “how might I practice integrative thinking” to the more focused: How Might I create a framework for embodied curiosity in my everyday life?

 

Look for part II next Thursday.

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