Beginner’s Mind

This post is a reminder post. There is a thing in Zen Buddhism known as beginner’s mind. Beginner’s mind is the ultimate destination after all the meditation and struggles with koans, the aim is to return to the very beginning.

This is something all art forms should aspire to, I think. Remember the first episode you published? The terror of listening to your own voice, the doubts, the fears and combined with these, the indescribable joy of seeing that very first episode pop up in your podcatcher, almost instantaneously, like magic.

That joy more than made up for the fears, the clumsy use of editing software, the doubts about the RSS feed and even if anyone else would listen. And yes, some people listened. Not just family and friends but others too. Whilst that was great and still is, the magic of seeing an episode pop up on my podcatcher at the scheduled publishing time still gives me a thrill.

The other thing which has stuck with me from the very beginning is a sudden shortness of breath as I hit record and start reading my script. I don’t know if it’s fear or excitement, probably a little from column A and a little from column B.

Fear and excitement aren’t an altogether bad combination. They are the byproduct of inspiration and drive. And it is these which bring us to the medium.

I listen to, perhaps but probably not, too many podcasts and those who have lost the drive and the inspiration become obvious, very quickly.

Apple’s introduction of season specific publishing options will probably save more podcasts than they ever thought about. Having a break between seasons can refresh, re-enliven and invigorate. But if your show is not seasonal, that drive and inspiration must come from within, week after week, or even day after day. It is a special thing, as close as I have come to understanding the Muses of ancient Greek culture, and a thing to be treasured.

What is it that drove you as a podcast producer when you started? If it was a dream of rivers of money, I hope you can sustain your show. If it’s to share your passion, then there’s a fair chance you lasted past the dreaded episode 7 and didn’t podfade.

The episode 7 question came up in the last class I was instructing. All these bright eyed, bushy tailed soon to be podcasters were dumbfounded that anyone would go to all the effort of learning the basics, recording, editing, publishing and promoting only to discover that podcasting, or at least the show they launched, wasn’t worth the effort of keeping it alive.

Fear, excitement, inspiration and drive, I suggested are the things we all need, in varying combinations to keep any venture going, from relationships to employment via podcasting, all of life is sustained by these four elements.

I will point out that I do not recommend living in fear, I am suggesting that a little bit of fear, fear of failure, fear of being good enough, fear of mucking things up are all good motivations so long as they are not the only motivation. Remember I said above the fear arises when I hit the record button. It does not interfere with the scripting, editing, publishing processes. It’s there just enough to keep me honest.

The excitement is there through all those stages in the birth of an episode. Why? Because I am driven to inspire others about the world of organic food production, alternative energy and our places in and of Nature. This goes back to my teenage years so it is not surprising it’s still a powerful part of how I see myself within the world.

Are you still driven? Does the whole process still grab you tight? Has your show reached the end of its lifespan? These are questions we all need to ask ourselves. We need to ensure a sense of internal renewal as we continue to publish our passions.

The beginning mind is a difficult thing to re-find but it is worth the effort.

How do we achieve this? I my case I am spending time with new podcasters as their instructor. Their enthusiasm is infectious. Seeing the excitement as they realise the simplicity of audio editing, yes I said simplicity. Think about your practice. Editing is simply removing a piece from the file and joining up the parts. Admittedly this may have to be done many times but it is at its most basic, simply removing the unwanted to create the wanted. Yes, yes, sometimes pieces of audio are added but that’s not so different from the basic cut and move described above. It is the technique which releases the purity of our creative effort.

Whether we realise it or not we are in a creative process even if you producing science or business shows. We are telling a story. We are leading our listeners through a journey.

We take them from where they are to where we want to take them. They each have different starting points but the point is to take them to a place. A place of understanding, of new knowledge or even of laughter. Maybe all the above.

Do we hint at the destination at the very start or do we follow a linear approach? There are as many ways of telling a story as there are podcast producers. Does it matter? Probably not but the fact we are storytellers is worth keeping in mind as prepare for each episode.

We can wander off into the weeds along the way but so long as we bring our listeners back to where we want them to finish, we are doing what we set out to do.

Follow your yellow brick road, explore your niche to its Nth degree, and do it with the joy, the sense of wonder and the knowledge you are impacting others. For good or ill we are making differences in the lives of others. Hopefully we are all doing good but we can never be sure of the effect of our words, or audioscapes upon our listeners.

A strongly rooted beginner’s mind with storytelling as our focus and we are well on the way to being the podcasters we imagined ourselves to be way back when we prepared that episode zero, that trailer or when we jumped headlong into our first episode.

This is the place from which we need to start. Doing so will enliven and invigorate not only our shows but the whole medium too.