The Beginner’s Mind – Listen

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These natural sand sculptures on the Oregon Coast listened carefully to the wind.

There are three modes for using our brain:

1. Learning – The ability to assimilate knowledge and obtain skills.
2. Thinking – The ability to use learned knowledge to design strategies or optimize a skill.
3. Doing – Executing a strategy or skill.

All of us excel at those three brain modes to different degrees. I tend to think I’m best at (or at least favor) thinking, then doing, and least at learning. I don’t think I’m bad at any of those three modes, but perhaps unbalanced, tending to favor thinking. And balance of the three is the key. Imagine someone good at only one:

1. Only Learning – The perpetual academic who never comes up with profound original work. Knows a lot of facts, but can’t put it to good use.
2. Only thinking – The over analyzer with original thought but doesn’t leverage the knowledge of others through learning, and therefore always misses the wave. Very often too much thinking makes you talk yourself out of doing something.
3. Only doing – The video game player or factory worker who is eventually replaced by a robot. Or the software developer who leans to doing and doesn’t think through better, newer ways, doing things the way it’s always been done, the familiar, comfortable way. Eventually, the doer spends more time protecting the familiar, comfortable way as the world relentlessly changes.

For knowledge workers, that is, anyone who heavily relies on information during the normal course of the day (analysts, executives, detectives, plumbers, doctors, wait staff, etc – that is, just about every hard working person) execute all three modes in many iterations. For example, a doctor learns of the symptoms, thinks of a diagnosis and treatment plan, then executes and monitors the treatment plan.

It’s also important to note that these modes are not mutually exclusive to a given activity. For example, as I study a book on say R, I’m not just learning. I’m also thinking in the background ensuring I do comprehend the gist of what I’m reading, and I may even have an instance of R Studio open to try out what I just learned.

Just my opinion, I think that I’m typical of many adult Westerners, not as good at listening as thinking and doing. Listening is less like thinking and doing in that listening is passive as opposed to thinking and doing which is about imposing our will, our opinions. Thinking is really Doing, but in the safety of the virtual world in your brain, not the irreversible real world.

Improving listening, balancing it with thinking and doing, requires emptying your cup and listening to your customer, boss, neighbor, or spouse, with no judgement, no dogma to protect, no resentments, no fear. Otherwise, encounters are a Dukkha breeding ground. Instead you will be a Dukkha parachute bringing the situation safely to the ground. Until you empty your cup, you cannot fill it with anything new. This is the first step towards enlightenment.

Remember that “no Dukkha” does not equate to passivity. This Universe is not passive and exists because of that “ono kine” stuff that happens where opposing forces meet – Yin and Yang. But like a beautiful dance versus a barroom brawl, conflict doesn’t need to be ugly and full of angst, Dukkha.

Reverend Dukkha Hanamoku
Ordained Zen Priest of the Order of the Common Area Ponds

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