A key to any discipline and to the subject itself is study without being an expert. In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron talks about the importance of being a beginner. Discispline can be a study of absolutely anything. And it always starts with a beginning.
The change in my boys as they’ve grown has been palpable. From eager, curious learners to cynical, know-it-alls. Not always, thank goodness. Often enough, they approach a problem as if they’ve already seen everything and cannot be surprised or moved to wonder. Stepping back, I ask myself how much of that is the natural progression of tweenism, how much the vast flow of information and Siri to answer every question, and how much is my mirror.
I raced through high school and college, seeing no point in slowing down. When I graduated law school, I was relatively young (23), and it was no selling point. At a time I needed most to embrace being a beginner, I thought I needed to know all and be all, all on my own.
Whether weight loss, heart disease, diabetes or finances, debt recovery, and investment – or any topic on earth – I can choose to enter again as a beginner or as a cynic who already knows what should be done. In lots of situations, lots of us do know what needs to be done. Cognitively, we know how weight is lost, what stymies heart disease, what needs to happen to course correct. So when we receive an opportunity to learn, we may say, “No thanks. I have an MBA in finance. There’s nothing you can teach me in a personal finance class.” We leave a Sunday morning sermon and gripe, “Well, that wasted my time! I already know how to avoid fill-in-the-blank.” Our kids’ schools offer classes on literacy, and we give thanks we aren’t required to attend. Our companies require attendance to re-learn the badness of sexual harassment and we all sigh because everybody knows what it is, that it still happens, that classes alone are insufficient. Our doctors tell us to reduce stress, and we think, “Mmhmm. You first.”
In part, growing older often means developing this hard outer shell that resists the very idea of being taught, let alone enjoying it or finding worth therein.
You know, I actually made a rule recently that my kids weren’t allowed to ask Siri anything for a day. What became clear is that there is still plenty they want to learn. Why work for something when a nice lady or British gentlemen can answer in a serious or pithy way?
I cannot control the cynicism of age or the ubiquity of Siri-esque searches for knowledge, but I can control the kind of mirror I am. I can read a recipe, and slow down long enough to follow the steps. I can sign up for that class I already cognitively understand but have yet to put into practice. I can return to my breath, to mindfulness, to being instead of doing. I can log onto Khan Academy next to my kid and study history, music, Pixar storytelling. I can be found reading nonfiction on topics of parenting, writing, art, living, or reading fiction to learn about the human condition and spirit.
I can mirror to my boys (and myself) that curiosity has no age threshold. That being a beginner can be synonymous with excitement and courage and remembering who we were before we knew it all.
Someday, Lord willing, my boys will grow all the way up and move out into the world. I will still be here. And I will need to learn. How to embrace them living separate lives. How to not first be introduced as mom. How to. Forever. In all directions.
When you live with chronic depression and anxiety, you can be robbed of many things. Among them, curiosity and entertaining the beginning. In depression, beginning again can signal that I stopped again. Failed again. Fell down the rabbit hole again. Beginning is not exciting. It’s nerve-wracking. I desperately want to not need to begin again. I want this beginning to be my last beginning in that it lasts.
With anxiety, beginning can be triggering. Beginning anything with anxiety means new people, new places, new situations and tools and plans and schedules and routines and on and on and on. It means a lot of coping and not a lot of thrilling.
Here’s what I can say to both depression and anxiety: the beginning is real, meaningful, exciting, and sometimes only calculable in recovery. I celebrate your beginning, even if you can’t yet. Because it means you are here. It means you are here. Embracing the beginning the tiniest bit mirrors to yourself that beginnings can be positive, good, worthwhile, and eventually exciting. Hang in there. Keep beginning.
I challenge you, as I’ve challenged myself this year, to be a curious beginner. Start something with a wide-eyed, uncynical clarity and amusement. It can be dinner. Or literally anything else. Take a deep breath, drop your age-old sneer at not knowing, and get started!