Think about an activity you’ve done a lot in your life. It could be something over which you believe you have mastery.
Now, think back to the first time you did it. Do you remember how fresh and novel it was? How uncertain you were? How unflinchingly open you were to learning this new activity?
This is the beauty of beginner’s mind. And it’s something that can benefit you in your everyday life.
What Is Beginner’s Mind?
In a nutshell, beginner’s mind is the dropping of preconceived notions, expectations, and attachments in order to see something with a completely fresh and open mind. Just as a beginner would.
It comes from the Zen Buddhist and Japanese martial arts practices, where it’s called shoshin. Beginner’s mind involves approaching every aspect of one’s life with curiosity and wonder – even (and especially) activities where you might consider yourself an expert.
The quintessential book on beginner’s mind is Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, by Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki. In his wonderful tome, Suzuki showcases the framework behind shoshin, stating that “in the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.”
Coming to the Mat With a Fresh Perspective
As we’ve noted, beginner’s mind is especially helpful in situations we’ve navigated many times – whether it’s doing a job, being in a relationship, or engaging in a spiritual practice.
For example, if you’ve practiced yoga for any amount of time, you’re probably familiar with several of the more common poses. Perhaps you think you’ve got a mastery of Warrior 1 by now – since you’ve done it dozens of times. But beginner’s mind asks us to take a different approach.
There is something sacred about asking, “What can I learn?” from a situation. In the case of that Warrior 1 pose that you’re certain you’ve mastered, beginner’s mind asks you to find subtle nuances or seek spaciousness that you may have missed in the past. To do this, you have to let go of the idea that you know everything there is to know about it.
Yes, It Is Tougher Than It Sounds
It’s challenging, to be sure, to embrace this on the mat. Yet, you’ll often hear yoga teachers talk about this approach – as everything you do on the mat is merely a metaphor to help you move through life more effectively off the mat. That’s where it gets really tough.
Maintaining an open state of wonder and inquiry in the face of demands and expectations is no cakewalk. This is further compounded by the behaviors we’ve learned. Most of us have, out of some false sense of necessity, become skilled at identifying, labeling, and moving on to the next thing.
We close the door on experiences or people before we’ve even allowed them a chance. We’ve got it “all figured out.” And this behavior perpetuates itself until, “the container in which we allow ourselves to experience life often gets smaller and smaller, until we can’t move without bumping up against a wall,” says Steven Leonard, a faculty member of Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health.
But the truth is, everything is in flux. All the time. Nothing is permanent. And embracing beginner’s mind allows us to recognize and welcome this notion.
Practicing Beginner’s Mind
You don’t need to sign up for a Zen Buddhist course or meditate for hours on end to begin this practice. Among the greatest teachers of beginner’s mind are children. Take some cues from them.
As Rachel Carson said:
“A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood. If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over all children, I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life.”
So the next time you sit down for a meal, think about how a very young child approaches the act of eating.
Rather than seeing this is an activity in which you’ve engaged thousands of times before, look at it through the eyes of a small child for whom it’s still new. Feel the bowl, the fork, and the spoon in your hands. Be curious about them.
Taste your food slowly and with wonder, as if you’ve never eaten it before. Fully experience all of the textures, smells, and sights of your food. Appreciate every bite as something temporary, fleeting, and a gift. This is beginner’s mind. And just imagine what life would be like if you could apply this to more activities and how it would transform them.
The cool thing is, you can.
Benefits of Practicing Beginner’s Mind
Once you’re more familiar with the practice of beginner’s mind and it becomes more habitual, you’ll likely notice how it has multiple practical applications as well.
1. Improved Relationships
It’s easy to shut out people who don’t meet your ideal. But again, think about how a child approaches new people with curiosity and an open heart. When you view them through fresh eyes, you’ll recognize they’re just trying to be happy too. Chances are, they have good intentions. Even if they’re not the same as yours.
2. Lower Anxiety
When you spend a lot of time worrying about or dooming an upcoming event, it zaps your energy, makes you anxious, and pulls you from the joy of the present moment.
With beginner’s mind in play, you can approach the event with curiosity and let go of attachment to the outcome. You allow yourself to embrace not knowing and even feel excitement around what you’re doing and who you’ll be meeting.
3. Less Procrastination
Do you find yourself putting off a task? Procrastination is frequently rooted in fear of failing. By incorporating beginner’s mind, you can let go of how difficult the task might be and approach it with wonder and a willingness to learn something new. This will allow you to focus on the details of doing the task rather than the possibility that you’ll fail at it.
At the end of the day, every experience is better when you approach it with a beginner’s mind. Going into it without prejudgment, expectations, assumptions, and fantasies allows for a clearer experience. And without preconceptions, there’s simply no room for disappointment.
Ready to Embrace Beginner’s Mind?
Clearly, the practice of beginner’s mind can transform any activity. No matter the situation, it allows you to be more curious, present, and open.
If you’d like to see how this mindset could benefit you in your everyday life, contact us today. We will bring yoga, meditation, and other mindfulness practices right to your business, school, or organization.
Sessions are available on-location or virtually. So let’s “begin.”