“The only way that we can live, is if we grow. The only way that we can grow is if we change. The only way that we can change is if we learn. The only way we can learn is if we are exposed. And the only way that we can become exposed is if we throw ourselves out into the open. Do it. Throw yourself.” ― C. JoyBell C.
This is the third of the seven attitudes that Jon-Kabat-Zinn believes are the basis for Mindfulness. This one is probably the most difficult to understand. When I first heard this phrase, I thought to myself “Beginner’s mind? Shouldn’t we strive to be an expert?”.
So what is a Beginner’s Mind?
Definition: Seeing things with fresh eyes, with a clear and uncluttered mind.
The idea of “Beginner’s Mind” comes from a Japanese concept called Shoshin (初心). It is a concept in Zen Buddhism meaning “beginner’s mind”. It refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner in that subject would. Now, this sounds counter-intuitive but, in fact it is not. The issue is that too often we let our thinking and our beliefs about what we ‘know’ stop us from seeing things as they really are. That is the core tenet behind “Beginner’s Mind”.
So what are some of the key tips that will help you to have a “Beginner’s Mind”?
- Cultivate a mind that is willing to see everything as if for the first time.
- Be receptive to new possibilities, not getting stuck in a rut of our own experience or expertise.
- Be open and engaging with each situation.
- Treat each situation as if it is the first time you have encountered it. How many times do you go into a situation with a preconceived idea of the outcome? Don’t. Even if you have experienced it many times.
- Each moment is unique and contains unique possibilities.
- Try it with someone you know – next time, ask yourself if you are seeing this person with fresh eyes, are they really that person?
- Try it with problems… with a work situation… with your partner at home… with the person you see every day.
Is it possible to approach life with a fresh view? Is there something new to be noticed in the world around us? Sometimes our beliefs and assumptions about the way something is, cloud our judgements and prevent us from experiencing the richness of the present moment right in front of us. That is why the “Beginner’s Mind” is so important. Taking that view, helps us reframe our view of the world in a fresh, new, way.
So what is “Beginner’s Mind”?
It’s dropping your expectations and preconceived ideas about something and seeing things with an open mind, fresh eyes, just like a beginner. If you’ve ever learned something new, you can remember what that’s like: you’re probably confused or unsure of what to do, because you don’t know how to do whatever you’re learning, but you’re also looking at everything as if it’s brand new, perhaps with curiosity and wonder. That is what “Beginner’s Mind” means.
But imagine if you could apply this to every activity. One of the simplest is to imagine eating food. After all, for most of us, eating is almost automatic. We rarely think about the food; take the time to appreciate the flavours, and textures and appreciate the experience. So why not try the following exercise:
- You start by seeing the act of eating with fresh eyes as if you don’t know what to expect as if you hadn’t done it thousands of times already. After all, we were taught as little children how to eat and it has become automatic for most of our life.
- When was the last time you really looked at the food on the plate in front of you and really notice the layout, structure, textures and form of the food laid out before you.
- Now you take the first bite of the food. Having placed various parts of the dinner onto the fork and brought it to your mouth, notice the smell as you open your mouth and start to eat. Notice the texture, the taste. Perhaps the sweetness or bitterness or saltiness. Everything seems new, perhaps even full of wonder.
- Don’t take anything for granted. Appreciate every bite as a gift. It’s temporary, fleeting, and precious.
- As you can see just from this description, the practice of beginner’s mind transforms the activity.
Why does it matter?
When you practice beginner’s mind with an activity you get better experiences of the activity. It feels fresh, new and alive. You are less likely to feel negative and more likely to enjoy the activity.
How do you practice it?
Beginner’s mind is what we practice in meditation. Instead of sitting in meditation and thinking you know what your breath will be like, or the present moment in front of you will be like … you pay attention. See it with fresh eyes. Drop your preconceived ideas and just look clearly at what’s in front of you. A daily meditation practice is useful in developing this beginner’s mind. However, it is not the only way to develop it.
Here are a few practices courtesy of Mary Jaksch of Goodlife Zen that I came across that also might help:
- Take one step at a time. Don’t try to strive out. Just take one step at a time.
- Fall down seven times, get up eight times.
- Don’t pre-judge.
- Live without shoulds.
- Make use of experience. Don’t negate experience, but keep an open mind on how to apply it to each new circumstance.
- Let go of being an expert.
- Experience the moment fully.
- Disregard common sense.
- Discard fear of failure.
- Use the spirit of enquiry.
- Focus on questions, not answers.
With a Beginner’s Mind, you will be more open to possibilities and more creative. You may also form closer bonds with others in your life as well.
The video where Jon describes the Beginner’s Mind attitude can be viewed here:
I leave you with the following quote.
“If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything, it is open to everything. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few. ” ― Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind: Informal Talks on Zen Meditation and Practice