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Shoshin: The Art of Keeping a Beginner's Mind

Jim Donelson (jcdonelson)

Keywords: shoshin, zen, learning, beginner, mind, photography, jcdonelson

Shoshin (初心) is a Japanese phrase in Zen Buddhism, from sho “beginning stages”and shin,“heart”. It refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness to learning, and lack of preconceptions when starting an endeavor, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner in that subject would.

Although the concept is surely more complex than it looks to us occidentals, the goal is not to lose the limitless meaning of “original mind”, an empty and ready mind. That includes treating every sunrise as if it was the first, for example.

After the Fire
Nikon D500, 18 300mm f/3.5 6.3G ED VR DX @ 80mm, f/8, 1/350s, ISO 200
Click for an enlargement


My purpose for writing this article is that I have noticed both in myself and others in photography, that we seem to lose the beginners state of mind too quickly, and become hardened and set in our ways to our own detriment.

It seems we need to at least project an image of “seasoned expert” or perhaps “advanced/intermediate”, which is no doubt brought on by the social and commercial aspects of this field. As we develop knowledge and skills, our minds become more closed to new ideas. We tend to hold on to things we have learned, only to proven solutions, and not truly open to new ideas.

Nikon D500, Tokina AT-X 100mm f/2.8 D Macro @ f/8, 1/180s, ISO 800
Click for an enlargement



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User on March 14, 2018

This fits right in with the Japanese concepts of wabi sabi and kintsugi. When I am in the field photographing, one of my goals is to be as present and as open as possible. The more that I am able to do this, the more I receive incredible gifts.

John Hernlund (Tokyo_John) on February 12, 2018

Nice piece about Shoshin and ver embracing an open mind to continue learning. This is true for me in every aspect of life, from being a father, a husband, a teacher, a scientist, a philosopher, an artist, etc.. The Western way is to distinguish oneself from the world around us, to become special in some way and obtain recognition. But the Eastern way is to lose one's sense of self and thereby seek enlightenment. Both have their strengths and weaknesses, but we can all learn from the teachings of great masters from every corner of the world.

John D. Roach (jdroach) on February 11, 2018

Fellow Ribbon awarded. John exhibits true Nikonian spirit by frequently posting images and requesting comments and critique, which he graciously accepts. He is an inspiration to all of us through constant improvement in his own work, keen observations and excellent commentary on images posted by others. Donor Ribbon. Awarded for his very generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2014 Donor Ribbon awarded for his most generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015 Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2017 Ribbon awarded for his generous contribution to the 2019 Fundraising campaign Awarded for winning in The Best of Nikonians 2019 Photo Contest

I like your article Jim and it has real food for thought. However, from my perspective, it is next to impossible to rekindle the awe of first beginnings of seeing that you suggest and may not even be desirable. Rather, I believe we must continue to stoke our willingness to see in new ways coupled with a strong desire to learn and be open to new possibilities but still influenced by what we have learned along the way. That seeing in new ways is always based by what we have learned from those first moments of seeing. Therefore, in my opinion, we must be open and receptive to reshaping how we have been influence. It is a question of fine tuning, adjusting and stepping back to rethink what it is we are doing. We can never start again, but we can revisit that which stirred us and has kept us moving forward. That is the mark of true growth and it is powerful for it is the very evolution of our being human and own to our art.

David Summers (dm1dave) on February 10, 2018

Awarded for high level knowledge and skills in various areas, most notably in Wildlife and Landscape Writer Ribbon awarded for his excellent article contributions to the Nikonians community Donor Ribbon awarded for his very generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015 Ribbon awarded as a member who has gone beyond technical knowledge to show mastery of the art a

Nice article, thank you Jim!

John A. Meiers (Dakotaboy) on February 8, 2018

Fellow Ribbon awarded for his efforts to make easier to reach landscape information at Nikonians

Nice article. Plan on checking out those books you mentioned Rick.

Rick P (s2sailorlis_nikon) on February 8, 2018

Two great books that focus on the "zen" of photography are: Freeman Patterson's Photography and the Art of Seeing, and Galen Rowell's book, The Inner Game of Outdoor Photography.