Looking for Beginner’s Mind (Again)

Rev. Megan Foley
Sermon Date: 
Sun, 03/09/2014

Who here has seen The L*go Movie?
And who is planning to see it but hasn’t yet? That might be a little bit of a problem because right now I want to tell you what happens in it. You should still see it – it’s very cute, and funny, and the overall plot points, well, knowing them in advance won’t ruin it for you, I swear.

So this is what happens in The L*go Movie, for the purposes of this sermon anyway. As you can guess from the title, the movie takes place in the world of L*gos. E. B., the hero of the story, is a construction worker in his L*go world, busy building and building. The world in which he lives is under the direction of a big boss man named Lord B., who tells everyone that making buildings – out of L*gos – is the right thing to do and essentially the secret to a perfect life. Using the instructions that come with L*gos, the L*go people build each building exactly to specifications, and as they do, they sing their theme song.

This is the world in which E.B. lives, working on the construction crew, trying to follow instructions. E.B’s life isn’t perfectly awesome – he’s actually sort of lonely, and not very good at his job of building the buildings just the right way – but he wants to fit in, and go along with life as he has been instructed by Lord B.

But it turns out, as these things often do, that Lord B. has a secret agenda. See, Lord B. has found himself a superweapon. Everyone in the know in L*go land calls this weapon the K., and when you see it, you can see that it’s a tube of old Krazy Glue with some of the letters worn off so only kra and gl are left. Lord B. has discovered that if you apply the K. to the buildings after they’ve been built, then they can’t be taken apart again. They become stuck, in exactly the formation that Lord B. thought best when he had them built, and they stay that way forever.

Now, there are those of us who are the kind of L*go users that build things “the right way” according to the box or the set or whatever it is. You know how there are Star Wars L*gos and Pirate L*gos and Princess L*gos and all the rest. Oftentimes those sorts of L*gos, the sets – this is in the real world that I’m talking about, not the movie – those L*gos come with a picture on the front of what the ship or castle or whatever it is is supposed to look like. There are those of us, when we play with that set, who are most likely to try to get our L*gos to look like the front of the box, if you know what I mean. That’s one kind of L*go constructor: matching the box. Following instructions.

And then there are those of us – more old school L*go users – who think the best sort of L*gos are the kind in a big pile, the kind you can make whatever you want out of, the kind that you use your imagination with and they become anything at all that you want them to be.

In the L*go Movie, those creative types, the second group, are called M.B.s. They can take L*gos and make whatever they want or need out of them, really fast and without instructions. Lord B. hates the M.B.s, and has been capturing them and putting them away. He hates the chaos and anarchy of instructionless L*go building. That’s why its been so wonderful for him to find the K.. Before, he had to convince the L*go world to build according to instructions, and then hope that they wouldn’t take anything apart, or let the M.B.s come and reconfigure things. But now, with the K., Lord B. can lock it all down. The L*go buildings will stay forever. That’s why the K. is a superweapon, and that’s why he wants it so badly.

Wasn’t this sermon going to be about my sabbatical?

It is, it is.

What we’re talking about today is, what is the purpose of sabbatical, what it it for? I’m taking my sabbatical from April through August this year. We’ve been publishing the details of the sabbatical in the digest from week to week, so I hope by now you know a little about when I’ll be gone, and what I’ll be doing. Sugarloaf’s Sabbatical Task Force, Adam S. and Sarah P. and Kathleen W. and Suzanne B., are available now and will be throughout my time away to answer any questions or handle any problems. We’ve got Rev. Heather to preach for you for three of the months I’m gone. But those are all details, and not what the service today is really about, although if you have more questions about the details, please do feel free to ask.

What I’m hoping to talk about in this service is, why sabbatical at all? Why is sabbatical in most Unitarian Universalist minister’s contracts with their congregations? What does it do for the minister? What does it do for the congregation? And what could it do – in a little way or a big way – for you, if you were to consider doing something similar in your own life?

I have to say, when I was watching the L*go movie, I wanted to think of myself as one of the cool M.B.s who was always ready to make something new and creative and useful out of L*gos without any instructions. I think I used to be that way. But now, I have to admit, I am just a hair shy of being Lord B. myself. I have taken the L*gos of my life and been building and building, often according to the instructions of others, and sometimes according to what I thought best at the time, which is really my own set of instructions just as firmly printed on the paper of my own opinions.

I’ve done a lot of work constructing my life. I like what I’ve built. And I’m dangerously close to wanting some K. so I can glue it all down permanently. Gluing down my life sounds like it would give me some things that I secretly crave, like safety, and predictability. It would give me the illusion of safety and predictability, anyway, which is not quite the same thing but might be good enough for me when I’m feeling like Lord B., which I have been lately.

But if I were to do that, if I were to permanently attach all the bits of my life together exactly the way they are now, what would I lose?

The easiest way to say it would be to say that I would lose my beginner’s mind.

What’s beginner’s mind, you ask?

The concept of beginner’s mind is an important one in Zen Buddhist teachings. Have you ever begun something new lately? It’s amazing how easy it is as an adult to stop learning new things, but some of us still do it quite regularly. If you’re one of those who have given something brand new a try recently, maybe you remember how you weren’t sure how to go about doing it, and you were open to learning, and you were excited, even though you weren’t sure how to proceed.

The entirety of what you were about to start to do was open to you, laid out in front of you, in a way that isn’t so when you already know how to do something in just the way you already do it. When you are new, you don’t know what sort of way you’re going to be approaching the new subject. There are any number of choices, any number of options for ways forward. There was a book published many years ago by the Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki called Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind. Maybe you remember it. In it, we learn this: "In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, in the expert's mind there are few."

When you live in the world of Lord B., with instructions and goals and a picture on the box, then being an expert at something is prized. If you can get the pirate ship built exactly the way it looks on the box, that’s a kind of accomplishment, a big accomplishment, really.

But another way of looking at that same situation is to see how limited the expert’s view of the world is. There is only one way, for the expert – the “right” way. There are one set of instructions, and there is one desired outcome. There’s only one ship to be made and it can only look one way. If it doesn’t look that way, it isn’t “right”.

There can be no creative M.B.s in the expert’s world – in fact, those folks with the new ideas or the creative experiments need to be rounded up and put away, because they do it all wrong. And there is no way to change course or create the new thing that might be even better than what the experts want to be made. What if the best ship isn’t the one pictured on the box? What if the best thing isn’t a ship at all?

"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, in the expert's mind there are few." When you shut the door to possibility, then you may be able to build something, even something big and good. But you’ve also shut the door to creativity, to inspiration, to divine guidance, to change. And sometimes, you’ve just got to tear down all the L*go buildings you’ve built and start over and see what happens now. And most of all, you’ve got to avoid the K., no matter how tempting.

And isn’t it tempting! For those of us whose worlds, whose carefully built buildings have been painfully, devastatingly shaken apart by the events of life itself and left in colorful chunks all around our feet, it’s hard to imagine doing anything like that on purpose. It’s hard to begin again, even just in the small way that sabbatical brings.

But despite how threatening such an idea may seem, it’s good for us to shake things up, to deconstruct a little bit, so that we can see what is needed in our worlds now. There’s a flag hanging in my office here that says: There is a crack in everything. That’s where the light comes in. So gluing up all the cracks of our lives, no matter how reassuring that might be, really serves in the end to make things darker.

So I’ve just described to you in a highly metaphorical way what I’ll be doing on my sabbatical from this church. The long and the short of it is, I’ll be doing things differently. I won’t be leading a congregation anywhere, or helping a church ask or answer important questions. I won’t be writing sermons, and hopefully won’t be visiting anyone in the hospital, fingers crossed.

I will have something I haven’t had for about fifteen years – a lot of free time to do as I please. I will spend as much time outside as I possibly can. I will read books with no eye to how I can use them at work – although that will be a hard habit to break. I may go to the movies in the day time, if I feel like it. I will let the carefully constructed building that I’ve created of my own life withstand a gentle earthquake, and I will let the parts of it that I no longer need or want or love fall down. And when I come back in September, I will know what new things I would like to build, both in my own life, and with you here at Sugarloaf.

This is not only a time for me to do this work, but a time for Sugarloaf to do it, too.

We’ve done quite a bit of work together, you and I, in these past five years. Things here have changed quite a lot in many ways. We’ve built up some fine buildings, metaphorical buildings of good communication and better finances and space to dream of the future of the church. Someone like me would be tempted to lock all that down, glue it in place with the K..

But Sugarloaf, it never wants the K., not that I’ve seen. Sugarloaf is a place for M.B.s. This place always teaches me valuable lessons about flexibility, and recommitment, and making something marvelous with the L*gos at hand, and the power of the free flow of creative energy, which are words a congregant casually wrote in an email last week. When we are here, we are M.B.s of church, for sure, always willing to build something new. Just like you are all M.B.s of your pipe cleaners. Take a look around; are there any two creations just the same? Hold them up.

So what will you learn about how you want to be, while I’m on sabbatical? How will a change of pace, a beginner’s mind, help you to see all the possibilities before you, and not just the few that you’ve gotten good at?

I cannot wait to find out what we’ve all learned from being apart. I cannot wait for all the new options and exciting changes that we’ll want to act upon, come fall. I cannot wait to see the big pile of colorful L*gos scattered all around the place, your L*gos and my L*gos, and we’ll talk about what we want and about what we need, and we’ll put aside the picture on the box, and we’ll build just the church that’s needed next. We are the M.B.s of Sugarloaf, and we are going to want to see all the options, just like we’re at the beginning, so that we can make, we can build, the best possible thing.

For the ways in which we’ll grow and change and see and build as a result of our time apart, may we be inspired, may we be blessed, and may we be grateful. Amen.