I first posted a version of this in 2010, on mick’s leadership blog.
It still seems highly appropriate, though this time in a “photographic” context, as I move to the next stage in my MA at Falmouth.
I got a little acquainted with Zen in the 1960’s, part of my own quest for “truth”. And whilst many other philosophies and concepts have entered my mind and been very helpful since, I have never forgotten the Zen Parable of “Beginner’s Mind“.
Here is one version:
“One day an important Samurai, a man used to being in control at all times came to visit a famous Zen master.
“I would like you to teach me more about Zen, to help me gain enlightenment and so become a better sword fighter.”
Zen, a philosophy of action, is inextricably linked with the Samurai Way, so the request was not that unusual.
The Zen master smiled and said nothing. Instead he motioned to discuss the matter over a cup of tea. When the ceremony was complete, the tea was served. The master poured the tea. He poured and he poured. The tea flowed over the rim and began to spill over the hand of the samurai – who jumped and dropped the cup.
The samurai was angry. “I came to be taught, and all you do is spill the tea over my hands. Can’t you see the cup is full?”
The master stopped pouring and smiled at his guest. “You are like this tea cup. You are so full of what you know that there is no room to add anything new. Come back to me when the cup is empty. Come back to me with an empty mind, a Beginner’s Mind.”
This rings so true, and is, in many ways, the key to all learning.
It has become clearer to me over the years that the more experience we have, in whatever field of endeavour, the more it’s actually harder to exercise “Beginner’s Mind”.
We spend a long time learning how to use our cameras, studying how others succeed (or fail), wondering how “The Masters” did it, and seeking advice from others.
We might even develop our own signature style, and try to stick with it.
However, to be truly inventive, just like the samurai, you need to decide what to discard to make room for new things. Sometimes this just happens, when we “see” something new, and want to capture it a different way.
But, Louis Pasteur was right when he said that “chance favours the prepared mind”. We need to make space for the inventive, and the conscious act of thinking through what it means to us, is a great place to start.
We need to “see” each picture both as a moment reflecting our own knowledge and style, and a new moment, never before seen by anyone, including ourselves.