A client of mine recently asked me about the concept of beginner’s mind. As much as I hate to admit this, beginners mind is not something I have given much thought to, let alone applied its principles and practices to my life. After consulting with my good friend Google and learning more about beginner’s mind, several things came to light. For starters, if I wanted to tackle beginners mind, I needed to invite my ego to step aside.
Beginners mind is a concept originating from Zen Buddist. The term comes from the phrase shoshin; sho meaning beginner and shin, the mind. Shoshin, refers to approaching a subject with a blank slate, even when you are at an advanced level. As we develop knowledge and mastery in life, we tend to become more closed minded. Our expert brain will seek ideas and concepts that validate what we already know and believe to be right. However, what we already know may be limiting us to excel even further. Who is to say that our way is the best path?
What if we approached each experience with child-like eyes, considering each piece of information we receive? Perhaps we would feel more joyful, allowing life to show us new experiences and insights with each action? Keeping an open mind and attitude promotes curiosity and opportunity for growth and presence. When we are experts, paying closer attention is even more important to facilitate learning. Think about this…if we already know 98% of something, then wouldn’t it make sense that discovering the 2% takes even more openness and intention?
Shunryu Suzuki, the author of Zen Mind, says: “If your mind is always 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.”
If you are interested in becoming an expert at being a beginner, here are some tips I have found helpful in achieving beginner’s mind.
Letting go of our assumptions helps us enter an experience with a clean slate and fresh mind. With a fresh mind we have nothing to compare the experience to, which reduces frustrations and expectations. In this practice, I have found it helpful to repeat a mantra before embarking on a new task. My mantra is “stay open”. If I find myself gravitating towards my old ideas and concepts, I stop what I am doing, close my eyes and breathe into my mantra. This has been extremely valuable when collaborating with others.
Spend more time listening and less time talking allows us to stay curious and become the observer. Observing others as well as observing ourselves can give us a great advantage. When we use observation with intention, we become more effective leaders. Enter each situation with the idea that there is something to be gained. Be patient, even when judgement creeps in.
Taking the ego out of the equation and being clear of your intentions allows for deeper learning. It is important to develop learning goals and questions. Notice what others do and say and how they respond to your inquiries. This means paying careful attention and observing with your ears, eyes and heart. True observation is a multi-sensory experience. Body language of other’s (and your own) is just as important as what and how something is said. Noticing will allow for substantial insights and understanding.
We all have the potential for a greater and heightened experience each day. Remember, being an expert is the easy part, being a beginner challenges us in a whole new way. It is the small steps we take that will add up. The slower we go, the faster we will get there.