Beginner’s mind revisited and scary things in the woods

Dear President Trump,

So I realized this morning that it’s rather a paradox or a conundrum or something (not even sure what it is) to say anything the least bit authoritative about the concept of beginner’s mind, like I did yesterday. I certainly don’t, and didn’t, pretend to be an expert on it (which would be really silly given what it’s about), but I have been operating on the assumption that I have some sense that I know what it is, how to describe it, how to suggest people seek it, etc., all of which is antithetical to it.

I suppose it’s really a dialectic – on the one hand I (or anyone, except probably you) can say something about the concept of beginner’s mind that could be useful to someone else (or just to me or whomever is saying it), and at the same time, to be true to the concept, I (or anyone) need to acknowledge that I’m a beginner about beginner’s mind and don’t really know anything about it. Both are true and both can’t be true.

There’s not really any political point in telling you I realized this mistake or in explaining it. I just wanted to set the record straight that I now know that it would be a good idea to approach beginner’s mind as a beginner and that I need to be careful not to sail into “teaching” moments without a great deal of care.

The thing I want to tell you about that does have some political implications is from the walk I took with a friend yesterday. Often on Friday evenings an old (retired) friend from work and I walk through Ravenna Park, which I think I’ve told you about before. In case I haven’t (or you missed that one) the park covers about 50 acres and is literally a ravine that goes roughly North/South for half a mile in Northeast Seattle. The biggest vertical drop is about 115 feet and there’s a small creek that runs through it most of the year. There are lots of trails that people run, walk, and bike, and kids play in the water and scale the sides of the ravine. The whole thing is heavily wooded with a mix of old growth redwoods and a variety of deciduous trees so it’s very dim and shady under the canopy.

Ok, so you have the basic lay of the land now and hopefully even someone whose outside experience is limited to heavily manicured (chemicalized) golf courses has a sense of the sort of place we were traversing through yesterday. The setting is super important to the story so please do try to imagine walking along a trail cut into the side of a steep, heavily wooded ravine. Got it? Now, imagine getting to the end of this spur trail and being about to join the main trail and seeing a man crouched down in amongst the trees holding a big gun. Got it? How’s your heart rate? Well, I’ll tell you, when I saw the man in the woods not 15 feet away from us holding a gun, my heart rate wasn’t calm at all. It turned out that the man wasn’t a man but was a life-sized cardboard cutout of the actor John Boyega from the most recent Star Wars movie (it took me until this morning to piece that part together since I’m completely lame when it comes to popular culture). He was depicted in his Star Wars outfit and was holding his Star Wars gun.

All this Star Wars business is really beside the point. The point is that someone thought it would be funny, or something, to put a life-sized cardboard cutout of a man holding a gun off to the side of a trail presumably to scare people coming down said trail. What sort of creep does that? Had it been later/darker and had I been alone, it really could have given me a very bad fright. I’m pretty sturdy, but what about the elderly person with a bad heart? Or the small child who freaks out (and their parent who likely wouldn’t have been able to tell right away that it wasn’t a real person with a real gun)?

Whoever did it had to go to some trouble and expense (it’s available on e-bay for $39.95) to pull it off so if they go back to check on JB they’ll likely be pissed to find him missing and they’ll be even more pissed if they look in the garbage can up the trail and find the torn pieces of the cutout there. It took me a while to get it sufficiently torn up to not be easily resurrected, and to fit in the garbage can, but I sure as shit wasn’t going to leave it intact or take it home.

So where are the politics in this? 1) The idea that it’s ok to plant a threatening image of a man with a gun in the woods of a public park with the pretty f*cking obvious intent of frightening people is political. 2) Installing a cutout of a black man holding a gun in the woods of a public park to frighten people plays into white people’s racist assumptions about black men being threatening thugs and thus is really political (note: I saw this cutout thing after I drafted yesterday’s letter about black men in hoodies). And 3) the use of gun imagery for (sick) entertainment is political. There’s probably more, but this is enough for now.

Yes, it was satisfying getting to tear the thing up and shove it in a garbage can, but honestly, I would so rather live in a world where such things didn’t exist and people never, ever thought it was funny or ok to do things to frighten other people in such cruel ways.

May we be safe.
May we be happy to just not do dumb stuff at other people’s expense (got it, DT?).
May we be healthy and strong enough to deal when people are people.
May we still wish everyone well and wish everyone peace.

Sincerely,
Tracy Simpson

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