A beginner’s mind

From our circadian rhythm to our “cicadian rhythm,” many life events follow naturally recurring cycles. In particular, I’ve always associated the four seasons with my memories of school. Autumn: sweater weather, friends and new class schedules! Winter: the persistent longing for a snow day. Spring: the bane of standardized tests. Summer: the lull of slow, hot days awaiting the upcoming promise of knowledge. And now, as the sun sets earlier each day and students bustle into Princeton, I’m reminded that the cycle is actively beginning anew, even if I’m standing outside of it.

Sixteen years of school has baked the academic calendar into my psyche. Navigating through life is continually a learning experience, but formal educational opportunities occur far less frequently in adulthood. Losing that structure can be as daunting as it is liberating. The autumn after I graduated college, I found myself laying in bed, with no new class schedule, wondering, “Is this really it?” No longer propelled forward by a larger framework and the sense of responsibility to a classroom, I had to eventually ask, “What do I want to learn?” 

During my college commencement, one speaker spoke to us of the importance of retaining “a beginner’s mind”–a concept carried over by Zen Buddhism. Shunryu Suzuki, a Zen Buddhist monk, popularized the idea in America through his book “Zen’s Mind, Beginner’s Mind.“ Suzuki writes that, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” Keeping an open, non-judgmental mind encourages one to look at the world anew and to see the various avenues that exist. Even as we get older and technically more knowledgeable, in the grand scheme of life, we are still beginners. With youthful enthusiasm and fresh eyes, we offer ourselves the chance to learn.

The library is a fantastic place to structure your own learning. One of the first big ventures I embarked on after school was to learn the guitar. Shortly after purchasing a guitar, I found myself in the library to bulk up on beginner’s manuals. There was something humbling and thrilling about walking out with a book entitled “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Guitar.” More recently, I’ve been trying my hand at origami–and testing my own limits of being patient and precise. I found illustrated manuals in the Arts neighborhood, from which I’ve made numerous lopsided folded figures so far. Also, I’m currently learning Spanish conversational basics on Mango Languages. Mango has a long, long list of available languages, including endangered and indigenous languages. It’s useful to pair the app with reading practice from our World Language collection. Suffice to say, I have a busy semester ahead!

It would be difficult to find a subject matter than isn’t covered in our physical collection of almost 150,000 items, our eLibrary or our databases. If you’re interested in a topic, try creating your own syllabus of readings. And if you still don’t see what you’re looking for, you can suggest an item for purchase or request an Interlibrary Loan. Maybe you’d prefer a traditional classroom setup and its social environment. Then, slip back into college through Community Auditing at Princeton University; registration for the upcoming semester is from August 23 to August 25. Additionally, Princeton Adult School offers a plethora of classes in-person and virtually.

Autumn and its colorful leaves are coming soon. With the library’s resources at hand, you can build your own self-starter’s curriculum. However big or small the topic may be, it’s never too late to be a beginner.

Photo by J. Balla Photography on Unsplash

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