How to be a Beginner:

Last week I went skiing for the first time in ten years. I had been craving it like rich dark chocolate- the beauty of the scenery, the chilly fresh air, and the rush of “hot-dogging” straight down the hill. I grew up skiing every winter as a kid and I believed that the technique was permanently imprinted in my muscle memory. I imagined that it would come back as easily as riding a bike. Boy was I mistaken… I was signing up for a whole new adventure.

I woke up the morning of our trip at the crack of dawn excited like an antsy little kid. I was so excited to go to Tahoe, to see the snow, the trees, and to soak up the beauty of that breath-taking lake. There is something about Tahoe that feeds me. It’s like no other place. The land feels sacred and healing.

When we arrived in Tahoe I made sure I had all my gear ready to go for my big day. Is it going to be hot or cold? Should I wear layers? I checked all the ski resorts online for the best deals and convenience until I had my plan mapped out. Sleep came easily after the excitement and the long drive up.

The next morning I headed to the mountain geared up and ready to go. Yet as I walked up to the ticket counter I noticed butterflies in my stomach. I looked up at the lifts and slopes and felt actual fear! Weird. This was totally new. Suddenly I felt like I was never going to remember how to do this. What if I fall? The chairs looked so incredibly high! The slopes looked so steep! After bumbling around with my gear I had to swallow my pride and admit that I was now a beginner- all over again.

Now admitting this became a bit of an internal battle. All the voices came roaring in different tones, “How could you have lost it?” “Why are you such a scaredy cat?” “You’ve never been scared of this before!” I took a deep breath and headed straight to the little red cabin at the foot of the mountain labeled “Ski School.” I told the man in the window, “I would like to sign up for a lesson.”

“Ok, great,” he said, “how old are your children?”

I took another deep breath and said “It’s actually for me.”

“Oh, well ok. First time?”

I swallowed and whispered “beginner would be just fine.”

After I paid my tuition I headed directly towards the white sign labeled “BEGINNER.” Then I thought to myself, “If I am going to be a beginner then I am going to be a damn good one! I’ll show ‘em!” There was one other woman in my class and as I introduced myself to her I recognized in her eyes that she was going through a similar internal battle as me.

We began our lesson with some balancing exercises that I found quite challenging. We learned to stand on one foot and slide on the other ski going back and forth in order to learn where our edges were. I felt goofy and awkward scooting by the little peewees in the ski school. Yet these children had an entirely different look in their eyes.

They would climb on the magic carpet ride up the bunny hill (yes rope tows are a thing of the past) and giggle as they waddled off at the top. Their ski coaches would yell “Pizza! Now, French Fries” (meaning snow plow and parallel). And as soon as these children got tired of the exercise they would just fall, roll, and giggle. One little girl decided to stop completely at the bottom to take a break and build a mini snowman. These peewees had no qualms about being beginners. In fact, the newness of the experience made it even more exciting and fun!

These are the lessons I learned last week about being a Beginner:

1. Humility: Being a Beginner as an adult (especially the second time around) can be a very humbling experience. If you remember a time when something felt effortless- your mind wants desperately to get right back there. But the truth is that each step along the way is critical to your success. It takes that moment of breathing in… accepting where you are at this moment… to engage in the flow of the learning process. Humility requires knowing that there is nothing wrong with you. It is truly accepting “this is where I am at right now and that’s just fine.” Accepting our humility is like hitting a reset button that connects us back to our life.

2. Trust the Process: All learning requires trust, not only in yourself but also in the bigger picture of life. Trust that the desire that you have within you to learn something is there for a reason. Always stay in touch with that desire, invoke that passion, and lean into it. This trust will renew your connection to yourself, to your body, and to the world around you. Allow trust to be your anchor that connects you to your curious, childlike self.

3. Let Go: Learning is all about making mistakes. If we did everything perfectly each time then we would never really understand the process. I wish that when we made mistakes that people would cheer, “congratulations!” It would be so nice to have the oopsies in the learning process be honored- because it is key. Each new adjustment gets us one step closer to acquiring our newly desired skill!

4. Have Fun: Have you ever paid attention to your body when your inner critic is having a field day? Your body will tend to feel tight and constricted. Your vision narrows. It is nearly impossible in that space to take in anything you are trying to learn. When we are having fun, laughing at ourselves- or at the ridiculousness of the situation- there is a sense of openness that happens inside. Laughter awakens desire, connects us to our passion, and opens us up to new possibilities. When we are having fun, our bodies and minds open up and the sky’s the limit.

Being a Beginner in learning a new sport or a skill is merely a small example. What would it take to be an Honorable Beginner all the time in life? We all have to experience it at one time or another. We end a job and start a new one. We end a relationship and begin a new life. We get transferred to a new town. We start a brand new business. Life gives us the opportunity to practice being Beginners all the time.

What if instead of engaging tension, closing down, or fighting the process we merely greeted our new experience with a sense of Humility. Let’s give “trying” and “efforting” the boot! What if we started each day with a deep exhale of surrender into the great unknown? It is the total acceptance that we really don’t know anything for sure. It’s actually quite hilarious to think we really know it all anyway. There is always more to learn.

Learning how to be a true beginner is really a Buddhist Theory about “Cultivating the Beginner’s Mind.” It is not easy because it forces us to really show up and engage in our lives. The Humble Beginner takes off all masks and says “here I am!” You can choose to meet me here or not but I am a living breathing part of this world. The Humble Beginner exudes a confidence that says, “I want to learn this… I may not know how yet… but I trust I’ll get there.”

Humble Beginners are immediately disarming when you meet them. With total acceptance of their buffoon qualities in learning something new- they can laugh at themselves like no body else! They can be intoxicating. You want to be around them because they are so loving to themselves that they exude it out to the world around them. We need more of these people in the world- acting as role models- knocking on our inner doors to invite out the carefree child inside to play. I believe becoming a Humble Beginner is not only the key to growth and learning but also evokes a deeper, richer form of intimacy.

I’m diving in… well flailing actually…but laughing all the way…

I’ll keep you posted.