There are many possibilities in beginners’ mind, few in experts’

Keith Brumley

Keith Brumley

Listen. There was this Japanese guy. He died from cancer. He also wrote this book and titled it Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. It’s about how you shouldn’t always pay attention to those in authority.

“In the beginner’s mind,” he wrote, “there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few possibilities.”

There was also this other guy. He was part Cherokee. His name was Will Rogers.

Will was a roper from Oklahoma. He was involved in some of the last of the Wild West Shows. In the 1920s he became a vaudeville performer, doing rope tricks and joking about politics. He poked as much fun at himself as he did others. He then started writing and did a radio show during the 1930s Depression.

“Don’t let yesterday use up too much of today,” Will once said. He never claimed to be an expert, but his work helped a lot of struggling folks feel better about who they were.

Then he died-in an airplane crash along with pilot Wiley Post and that was that. Some experts say he was funny.

Will Rogers also said, “Chaotic action is better than no action.”

This is fitting. These are chaotic times and this is a chaotic column.

Consequently, I’m going to write some more about the Japanese fellow. His name was Shunryu Suzuki and he was a Zen Master. Even in his last days, people said his walking staff hit the floor like the hammer of authority-which makes it sound like he was an expert. Maybe he was an expert at being a beginner. Who knows?

Will Rogers and Shunryu Suzuki both believed this world of ours is literally filled with possibility-even though many experts disagree. Those experts, I suppose, have been dulled and desensitized by the self-imposed limits of their environment and specialization. What was once a child-like wonder filling each moment with hope-and the prospect of joy-disintegrated over the years with a mind-numbing fatalism encouraging loss of imagination.

They put away their childhood dreams to become the experts of their own failures. Whatever it was they wanted to be as a child, somebody probably said they were too good, or being too unrealistic. Sadly, they agreed. Deluding themselves into thinking that the boundaries they let others impose around their lives should be the same for everyone, they became administrators and other people of authority.

In point, I knew this guy named John Garvey. John was “Boston, Massachusetts Irish.” He was a writer, an English grad student and as far as I’m concerned, drank too much.

A gifted storyteller, Garvey improvised in teaching his freshman composition students. Instead of following protocol, John sometimes brought his recorder (a traditional Irish flute), played tunes and enthralled his students with folk stories as well as tales of his own adventures. As for his acquaintances, he inspired those around him to see the value in their own ideas and to follow their own lights. I was one of them.

No good deed goes unpunished and John suffered for it. He drove his supervisor (who, I’m told, took herself way too seriously) to rage, thus encouraging his teaching associates to ridicule him for being “different.” Having influence isn’t always good.

I personally like the positive stuff; however, and as an addendum to this week, I remember a time when my now grown daughter used to pack around a volume of Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends. In a moment of serendipity, I opened the book, read a poem, and thought of Shunryu Suzuki, John Garvey and all that they stood for. Oh, yeah. Don’t forget Will Rogers.

They’re all related, you know. And so it is that the poem goes like this:

Listen to the Musn’t, child/Listen to the Don’ts./Listen to the Shouldn’ts/The Impossible’s, the Wont’s./Listen to the Neverhaves/Then listen close to me./Anything can happen child,/ANYTHING can be.

Maybe I’m a little crazy, but I’m now wondering if John Garvey might have been a leprechaun.

I’ll leave that one, however, for the experts.

Keith Brumley is an SDSU alumnus and current journalism graduate student at SDSU.