Those of you familiar with Tarot cards know about the fool’s card. Usually portrayed as a happy-go-lucky young person with a knapsack and a hiking stick, heading off into the unknown with full acceptance of whatever they are going to wander into. The “fool” is not stupid or gullible, so our current idea about how we must be worldly wise (and even cynical) does not come into it. The fool is simply a person who is seeing the world with new eyes and willing to head out into the unknown to have their adventures. From the traditional deck, it looks like the fool may be heading over a cliff – or maybe not. The fool is showing full trust and embracing the coming adventure, which they are already embarking upon. Like many fairy stories and myths (and not coincidentally, our human life cycles) the fool’s task is to go through a set of adventures and then gain the world – becoming wise about the world while still retaining that sense of wonder and innocence that has us waking up to a new world each morning.
Burnt out interpreters and many others can end up facing “yet another” drunk driver or self-destructive patient or whatever we have grown tired of, and feel like we know all about them. All our past experiences only add to our impatience, frustration, and judgment. We just wish we could make them behave, or that somebody could “knock some sense into them” and get them to take responsibility for themselves. Not this again! For heaven’s sake! Same old, same old. People can be so frustrating! They just do all kinds of stupid crap and we have heard it all before.
But what if we can find a way to come into each encounter, fully equipped with our vocabulary, and our ability to predict content and prepare ourselves with vocabulary and phrasing, and yet still come with what buddhists call Beginner’s Mind? And it is not only Buddha, of course. The christian tradition talks about how only those who can be childlike (fools) can get into heaven – let those who are childlike come to me, Christ says. And in a historic docudrama about the Ottoman Empire, a wealthy and educated judge starts to train under a Muslim monk, and demands important work, in accordance with his rank. But the wise old monk tells him, your task is to answer “I do not know” to every question that is asked of you. It was an adventure in itself to see how much this brilliant scholar learns by declaring aloud that he doesn’t know – by opening into childlike innocence and listening to others – letting go of what he thinks he knows. His world is made new.
Whatever traditions we blend, their common thread encourages us to open ourselves to beginner’s mind as the first step into awareness, peace of mind, and calm spirit. These traditions of renewal, starting with beginner’s mind, refresh us in our work as well. Staying in non-judgment, even when we think we have someone pegged. Having patience in our daily grind. Accepting the sometimes precarious and less-than-perfect conditions of our work. Avoiding the daily temptation to thrust ourselves into these encounters and make them come out “right”. Going into things with a calm sense of trust – presuming that nothing is wrong unless and until it really is, and then taking action as needed, without dwelling and suffering needlessly from our unwarranted presumptions. Letting go of our desires to control the outcome, which is so inimical to our neutral work as transparent interpreters.
The more we can greet each new language recipient as a new person, and accept that we don’t know “all about them,” the more we can stay neutral and suspend our common judgments. The less we judge, the more we can focus on our job and let the encounter take it course. The less tied we are to a specific idealized outcome, the more accepting we can be with how each encounter plays out. We will intervene less, and hold our interventions to when they are truly needed to set the communication to rights, once we stop feeling so urgently like we are the only ones who know what is best. As I deepen my meditation practice, I hope to become a greater fool, more open to the journey, and taking each new day as it comes. Because the less I judge, the more I am able to accept. And the less I know, the more I am able to learn.