"People grow through experience if they meet life honestly and courageously.” - Eleanor Roosevelt
The crisp mornings that greet us in September also usher in the apple-picking season. Our annual pilgrimage to the orchard is a rite of passage into autumn each year.After having a half dozen apples fall to the ground, the youngest child, a beginner picker, learns from his older brother to twist the apples gently from the branch, so they land in his hand instead. He inherently trusts others to guide him. The middle child is committed to filling his bag with as many beautiful red globes as his slight frame can carry. He shows joy and commitment. While the eldest of the trio picks, he is as attuned to the group’s experience as he is to his own. He sees potential for fun in the moments the apples create, not in the number or size of the apples he collects.
The three boys in their different places highlight three distinct states of being: beginning, doing, and guiding. Our weekend Valo retreats offer youth and adults opportunities to travel to all three of these areas as we engage in different activities. And it is in, and moving through, these three states that people experience true growth. The challenge is to vary the states we exist in during daily life, so that no matter our age, we choose diverse experiences where we can be beginners, doers and guides.
Beginners delve into new experiences with openness and trust. This concept is one embraced by Buddhists. As Shunryu Suzuki, a well known Zen teacher writes, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” The energy of a child learning to read or swing or even speak is palpable. They are not afraid to mess up—in fact, they find peace there. They exist in a space of openness. And it is from this place of vulnerability that children actually feel safe. Then the growth happens. Adolescents and adults look to this beginner energy with a sort of yearning, but we can be quick to shy away from new experiences. What would it be like to shift this paradigm? What if we chose opportunities that allowed us to immerse ourselves in new learning, where we could experience the joy of the messy, the allure of vulnerability, the high of fresh learning? Then we could experience the authentic joy of being a beginner. The doers are genuinely immersed in their work. At one of our retreats, it’s the youth who has learned to silkscreen and now has a vision and motivation to mass-produce t-shirts. Doers are energized by, and committed to, the doing. Productivity generates delight. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a well-known psychologist, refers to this place of mobilized energy as a state of flow. He describes flow as “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you're using your skills to the utmost.” In which areas of our lives can we find passion from our focused energy?
A guide is attuned to himself and others, and sees the possibilities in each moment. With gentle encouragement, he sits beside the boy as he knits his first hat, he helps the tentative adult as she strums a guitar for the first time. Modeling for those around them, guides create safe spaces in which beginners and doers can thrive. With peripheral vision, they lead quietly, yet with intention, open to what can happen when others feel at ease. And the guides experience their own growth as they witness the surprises that emerge through the doors they’ve opened.
We all have comfort zones—in beginning, doing, or guiding. One youth reflects, “Even when I’m guiding, I still always find myself being guided as well; I’m never just in one place. I can’t afford to be starkly one or the other, because I don’t want to miss the opportunity to grow.” By knowing where we tend to gravitate, we can look for ways to immerse ourselves in the other states of being whenever possible. Then, we will more fully feed our minds and hearts. More fully experience life. More fully grow.