Week 5 – Beginner’s Mind

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“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.”  – Shunryu Suzuki

The human mind is amazing. It is set up for speed and efficiency. This is so we can recognize and respond to danger quickly. However, one of the problems with our biological derivative for fast processing, is that in efforts to create speed, our mind will often seek out patterns and create generalizations. In the process of doing this, the mind often leaps to conclusions about the nature of something. Now, this has many advantages. It makes it much easier and faster to process the 2 million bits of information per second that our five senses  receive. However, it causes an equally large challenge. Once the mind has locked into a pattern, (for example: it swims, it has feathers, it quacks, it lays eggs, therefore it must be a duck), the mind “dismisses” the pattern as known. At that point, we actually stop looking, exploring, and seeking understanding.  Once we “KNOW” something, once the dismissal happens, there is little room for learning. (for example: It might be a goose, swan, or even a heron).

beginners mind

Most of us have had the experience of having a family member or friend who “nags” us regularly about a particular thing. Almost as soon as that person starts speaking we “tune out” because we have heard it all before. At that point, we have stopped learning and experiencing what is present because we “know” what is coming.

The “Beginner’s Mind” is a Zen Buddhist concept.  It asks us to approach all things, even things we know well, from the place of experiencing them for the first time.  We are never more open to exploration as we are when we are new to something.

Have you ever moved to a new area or city? When we first move we are aware of everything. We SEE things differently. We experience the wonder and the awe of the new place. We notice the sights, the sounds, the smells, the tastes of the place. However, once we have lived there for awhile, we start to dismiss our surroundings as “known”.  Many people even say they have even walked or driven past the same place everyday and failed to noticed a store or business had changed.

Once we “know” where we are, we begin to focus on the pattern and dismiss the details. It is only in our experience of newness that we have a heightened sense of creativity, awe, and openness. When we are engaging a beginner’s mind, we suspend our judgement, perceptions, and rigidity and we approach the new situation from a place of learning and discovery. The beginner’s mind asks us to set aside expectations and beliefs for a short time so we can truly experience the essence of what is present.

We can experience the familiar with the wonder and innocence of a child. When we do that, even the most ordinary object (or person) becomes fascinating again. (I remember when I learned how to use a particular app on my smart phone.  I was so excited I immediately wanted to know what else  it could do—it opened up a whole new excitement about a tool I used absentmindedly most of the time.)

When we use an “expert’s mind” we lock-in our opinion and there is little room for change or expansion. When we stay in a beginner’s mind, we can open to include new information. (I always work with my clients in a state of beginner’s mind. I stay open to each new comment, inflection, mannerism to see what I can learn. It is amazing how that leads to discovery and  healing.) Even the well meaning, nagging friend mentioned earlier can appear different if you listen with a beginner’s mind. You might even hear the person’s fear for your safety, or love for you, underneath their opinion.

This week’s success tip is: Cultivate a Beginner’s Mind!

Tip:

Think about upcoming meetings, events, people or activities that you have/will be seeing over your week.

  1. Pick one thing each day that you would like to improve or learn something about. Maybe you want to improve your workouts, maybe you are negotiating a business deal, maybe you are working through a conflict with your spouse or child.
  2. Suspend everything you thought you knew or believed about that situation or person.  Pretend you are experiencing everything for the first time. Approach the person or situation with a sense of awe, wonder or discovery. Seek to reveal or discover something new about the situation or person—something you didn’t see or understand before.
  3. Stay open. Anytime you catch yourself going into the expert’s mind and saying, “I know this”, or “I’ve heard this before” or “same old, same old”, refocus yourself back to your beginner’s mind, and see what is here to be discovered.
  4. At the end of the day, take out your success log and jot down some of the things you discovered.
  5. At the end of the week, use the weekly review process outlined in the About tab to review your progress.
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