Posted on Sep 29, 2021

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few.” ~ Shunryu Suzuki, Japanese Zen Priest

When was the last time you allowed yourself to be a geeky, enthusiastic, excited “newbie” at something?  When was the last time you really allowed yourself to have an experience as if for the first time?

For example, what would it be like to look at and explore a tree in this way?

  • As if seeing a tree for the first time in your life
  • Without the knowledge and understanding of what the word tree means
  • Without the ideas from previous experiences you've had with trees
  • As if you could empty your mind of all knowledge of trees
  • With curiosity and wonder
  • With the intention to learn something new about a tree
  • As if you are a beginner on the topic of trees, rather than an expert

What might you discover that you haven't known before?  What might you learn as a beginner, rather than as an expert?  The possibilities are great.

The Beginner's Mind

The concept of a beginner's mind is explained well in this article from, "Experts are full of what they believe is knowledge. Their minds being full, they cannot learn more. Beginners know how much they do not know and their minds being empty (having room to take in new information), they can learn. Beginners see many possibilities. Experts see few."

Whether it’s ballroom dance, playing the guitar, meditation, exercise, coding, robotics, or underwater basket weaving, new activities and hobbies present us with a massive gift: The Beginner’s Mind.

“I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.” ~ Pablo Picasso

We can also tap into this opportunity when practicing activities or hobbies that aren't exactly new to us.  We simply need to implement the same gift of a beginners mind.  The Beginner’s Mind at its best is:

  • Curious
  • Fascinated
  • Excited
  • Passionate
  • A ready sponge (waiting to soak up all the knowledge it can)
  • Patient 
  • Forgiving
  • Gently persistent (with a “try, try again” attitude)
  • Willing and open

And of course, there’s also a flip side. The Beginner’s Mind can also experience:

  • Frustration
  • Apprehension
  • Self-Doubt
  • The occasional “I Quit!” moment

Both sides of the Beginner’s Mind are real, valid, and completely human. When you’re trying something new, knowing about and embracing the Beginner’s Mind as a matter of course can ease your transition and the ‘stickiness” of your new habit or hobby.

When looking at something familiar in a new way, you broaden your opportunities for new knowledge.  Take the positive qualities of a beginner's mind and apply them to something you are not actually a beginner at and see how your experience expands, similar to what I did with the example of the tree above.

Applications of a Beginner's Mind in Meditation and Movement

In meditation, we don’t create impossible goals as a beginner, like attaining an illusive thought-free 10 minutes of utter focus on a singular point of light, or attempting to commit to two hour long stretches of meditation.  As for all level of experienced meditators, practicing a beginner's mind allows you to accept any and all experiences that come up, whether you may lean towards labeling them positive or negative.  It's all good!

In movement, we don’t ask the beginner to lift their body weight on a single push-up as the first exercise (it’d be an automatic failure for many people!)  For the experienced mover (aren't we all since we started crawling?), a beginner's mind approach allows us to be curious and learn new things about ourselves, even after moving in our body for as many years as we have.

As adults, we tend to forget that the Beginner’s Mind exists, and we can pile on unrealistic expectations to our fledgling experiences. We think if we’re not proficient experts after the first lesson, maybe there’s no point in continuing because we won’t ever “get it” anyway.  

(The truth is that even after only 3 tries at a new movement or activity, our proficiency increases significantly---but we have to get to that 3rd try to experience a feeling of some success.)

Additionally, we can't add to what we feel is already full.  For example, if we believe we know everything there is to know about trees, there is no space to learn anything new, even if there IS something new to learn.

Approach a New Skill with a Beginner's Mind

A gentler way, when you begin a new activity, is to approach it like a 5-year-old. What would you tell her as she’s starting her piano lessons? (Or first chemistry experiment, or rock-climbing?) How would you help her keep going after the inevitable few setbacks she experiences along the way?

You’d probably give her some encouraging words, help her discover a solution, let her feel her emotions, hug her, and send her back into the arena.  You might even guide her to the possibility of seeing something in a new and expanded way.

It’s the same process with The Beginner’s Mind as an adult. We just have to remember to “coach” ourselves through those frustrating, learning moments similarly.

The Beginner’s Mind is something we teach at The Mindful Movement when you jump into our community. This week, we hope you can extend a little more grace, encouragement, and find your curiosity and fascination returning to you quickly, so you can stay in the game.  And if you have been at it for a while, we would encourage to implement this approach to your long standing practice, as if meditating for the first time with curiosity.

We’d also like to invite you to learn more about supporting a Meditation practice with our newest workshop, Foundations of Meditation.  For the true beginners and those experienced practitioners open to a beginner's mind.

This workshop is all about Meditation and Mindfulness practices for the busy, modern life where you will learn to reduce suffering and manage stress so that you can enjoy ease within yourself, at work, and in relationships.

Join me (Sara) live on Thursday, October 21, 2021, from 6:00-8:00 pm EST.  And, you will receive lifetime access to the replay.  As a bonus, we will throw in a FREE mindfulness meditation recording download from our library.

Practice the tools and strategies to feel the benefits of and build consistency in meditation that supports you when you join the workshop today.

"Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is to not stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing." - Albert Einstein

Take care, friends. 

Sara and Les

The Mindful Movement


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