Sunday Snippet: Shunryu Suzuki on Possibilities

“In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities. In the expert’s mind, there are few.”

Knowledge and experience can both be viewed as double-edged swords. Of course, they afford us a great deal of intrinsic value. It’s good to know that if you pay for a $16 purchase with a $20 bill, you should expect to receive $4 back. It’s good to experience an authentic night market in Taiwan rather than simply reading about it in a blog post. But there is a darker side to all of this too.

Consider this. When we were kids, just about everything was possible. Why couldn’t a talking robot miraculously transform into a Volkswagen Beetle? Why couldn’t a fairy godmother turn a pumpkin into a horse-drawn carriage? Why couldn’t the back of a wardrobe be the gateway to a mythical land ruled by a lion? When we were kids, we imagined growing up and becoming just about anything we wanted. We could be professional wrestlers. We could be firefighters. We could be giraffes or space cowboys.

It’s a notion that was once expressed by the legendary Hayao Miyazaki and it’s a concept expressed by Shunryu Suzuki above. As we gain more knowledge and experience, our world of possibility gets smaller. Of course pumpkins can’t turn into fancy coaches. Of course Narnia isn’t real. Of course we can’t be space cowboys. The magic is gone.

In the young, naive and inexperienced mind of a child, anything is possible. In the older, wiser and more weathered mind of an adult, many things become impossible.

That’s a terribly sobering thought.

And while we can view this from the perspective of quiet resignation, we can also take solace in the silver lining. Yes, the less you know, the more that you think is possible. But the more you know, the better able you are to focus your efforts on the shorter list of possibilities. You become less inclined to “waste your time” on what is impossible anyhow. The path becomes clearer and this brings a greater sense of peace, purpose and serenity.

Still, sometimes we need to look outside the box to unearth the greatest discoveries. After all, you never know what’s possible until you bring yourself to the brink of impossibility.