“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.”
– Shunryu Suzuki
In the wonderful collection of talks given by Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki-roshi that was produced after his death, he identified how we unconsciously change or adapt our attitudes as we accumulate experience. Bearing in mind that I have only a very limited understanding of the process he was describing, I understand his message to have been that the beginner brings a freshness and an important lack of judgement to an activity that is sometimes unavailable to the expert. In roshi’s case, he was concerning himself with the teaching of Zen, but I believe the same wisdom can be applied to our experience of running.
Although meeting great runners can undoubtedly be exciting and entertaining, my most satisfying days on the road have been spent with newcomers to the sport. For many years I was in the company of beginners every time I trained or raced simply because these were the only type of runners I knew. I ran with people like myself. My running life was simple and we made up our own ‘rules’ as we ran. Our sole objective for leaving the house was to enjoy ourselves and to help others do the same. Not all paths were smooth, even at that time, and many mistakes were made, but the intention to just have funand to help others was there all the time. It was fortunate for me that I had the company of others who felt the same way and had the same intentions.
As I gather experience in running I can sometimes glimpse the wisdom in roshi’s words. Experience brings personal ambition, complication and attachment to the process. These feelings can threaten to overwhelm my experience of running and prevent me from running like a beginner. I want all possibilities to remain open – including of the course the possibility of not running.
Today, I start again. I will run like a beginner again.