The term “honeymoon period” is usually applied to the first stage of romantic relationships, but the concept of being smitten with a new development in one’s life can apply to anything, even spiritual practices. You may recall those early months or even years of personal discovery that accompany new teaching or practice. Perhaps you couldn’t wait to dive into a particularly enlightening style of meditation or a book that seemed to reveal exciting new truths with every turn of the page.
Over time, as we become familiar with the subject matter, its hold on us loosens and what was once thrilling can feel like another mundane element of our lives. As the practice loses its grip, we may even resent time spent in personal development, or experience a kind of postpartum lull overtaking this aspect of our life.
What is so ironic about this effect is how the expansive, mysterious nature of these practices is what likely sparked our immediate interest. We may have likely felt that this work could fill a lifetime, many lifetimes even, and the wonder at that scope and power filled us with childlike awe. It is with a return to this attitude that we can find our way back to the potent engagement we once felt. “Beginner’s Mind,” has the power to reengage and maintain the humility, enthusiasm, and openness needed to continue to grow and learn.
What is Beginner’s Mind?
While the concept is universal, the term “beginner’s mind,” has a Zen origin, and as we can expect from a Zen teaching, it is rooted in a compelling paradox. In this case, specifically, “the more you know about a topic, the less likely you are to understand it.” In application, this means, that even those practicing at an advanced level should continuously return to a place of openness, eagerness to learn, and an almost play-driven curiosity.
This concept is illustrated in the popular quote credited to Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki which states, “In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind, there are few.” “Expert mind,” occurs as the aggregate experiences of our lifetime combine to form patterns and habits that keep our mundane lives flowing. This process can be helpful in say, becoming skilled in a certain profession, however; when applied to personal and spiritual development, this limiting approach creates the effect of placing our minds and hearts in a small and infinitely closed loop of our own making.
The beginner’s mind, on the other hand, views life beyond the limited and preconceived beliefs of a single, personal identity and instead, greets the world around with a fresh view. This approach to life and practice requires a dose of humility and gentle self-discipline but has the potential to reframe your world with a fresh, poetic kind of joy that is not unlike the feeling of being a little kid.
How Do I Apply Beginner’s Mind to Practice?
If the process of working to move beyond habit energy and into a more open way of living feels familiar, then you are very likely a meditator. That’s right, the beginner’s mind is one of the foundations of mindfulness training. If you have a regular meditation practice, you are in some ways already teaching yourself to practice beginner’s mind. But what do we do when meditation itself has become a task that we just get through in order to say we have done it?
If you are finding yourself in a serious rut, we suggest a few ways to get back in the groove here. But from the vantage point of the beginner’s mind, there’s one key approach to the practice: curiosity. Meditation is nothing if not an exploration of your own thoughts and feelings so what could be more essential than simple, unbiased interest? By placing our attention on the breath, we have a front-row seat to the content that is interrupting what should be, in theory, a very simple task.
When you sit, take an inquisitive, childlike approach to the thoughts and feelings that pass. Take the stance that whatever is arising, no matter how gratifyingly familiar it may feel, is actually completely new. The adage, you can’t throw a stone into the same river twice, applies here. The mind is ever-changing. What was true to you yesterday may very well have evolved since you last checked in. Observe with an objective, non-judgmental lens, touching everything without an agenda, then letting it go.
Beginner’s Mind in the World
Beginner’s mind is cultivated in practice in order to be applied to our daily life. Here are some tips for embodying this artful way of living:
Clear the Mind
Ordinarily, the act of “clearing” isn’t a helpful approach to mindfulness because it is the mind’s role to think thoughts so to ask it to stop is like asking the body to quit breathing. What is meant in this instance is more attuned to “clear preconceptions.” See if you can step into an interaction without a set agenda. Consider what would happen in a given scenario if you started completely fresh. Try wiping away any attitude of cynicism or critique that you might normally bring to a problem at hand. All and all – come in clean and clear!
Drop the Ego
Beginner’s mind requires no small amount of humility. In many ways, the crux of this practice is to check your own systems of survival in favor of a kind of vulnerable, simplistic take. Many of us are used to remaining armed with ideas, past experiences, and loads of context to get through the world. But in many ways, isn’t the person in the room who is willing to ask the bigger questions or see things in a new way, the more effective communicator? When it comes to this one, try for understanding over being understood.
Check Your Pace
When we’re ultra familiar with our surroundings, we’re able to move quickly and here’s what’s key, mindlessly through our lives. While it can be counter-intuitive to reexamine familiar tasks and spaces, going slow will help wake you up to changes, energies, and influences in a given aspect of your world. No need to slow to a halt – simply check in on your pace and be sure you aren’t racing through your life at one needlessly quickened speed.
Be Open to Possibilities
When you have a mindset of openness you may notice that
Beginner’s Mind as a Pathway to the Higher Self
It is through dialogue with our Higher Self that we are able to embody our highest potential. While on this journey we will encounter countless obstacles that inhibit this process. One such obstacle is the need to overcome limiting beliefs. The “expert mind,” we discussed above is a pro at keeping us locked within the confines of our own, specific experience.
The closed-off nature of the expert mind keeps us disconnected from everything. That includes new revelations in our spiritual practices, an illuminating idea during a tedious meeting, and even the Higher Self. When our mind is open, we touch both large and small aspects of our world with great understanding and a deeper desire to connect.
Receptivity is a key to having a healthy relationship with your Higher Self. Through the practice of beginner’s mind, we can embrace what we do not know and allow ourselves to be directed, not by a collection of limited personal experiences haphazardly dictating all our choices, but by the strength and clarity the wise being within, the Higher Self.
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