The Beginner’s Mind is a state of mind where you experience everything like it’s the first time. It’s a wonderful way to start afresh.
Living from a Beginner’s Mind is the #1 sign of wisdom. This notion from Zen Buddhism might sound contradictory, but it isn’t. Forget what you think you know, and you’ll remember the most important things.
Living life uninhibitedly
Hypnotized I watch my fourteen-month-old niece. She has been playing with a packet of handkerchiefs for twenty minutes. I envy her undivided attention. Fidgeting with handkerchiefs is not something I would regard as the highlight of the day. The things that are new and surprising to kids, are often boring or unimportant to me.
I don’t know when I lost that open mind. The zillionth day, the zillionth care, the zillionth person or the zillionth packet of handkerchiefs probably replaced it, somewhere on the way to adulthood. That’s not just a bad thing. I think a combination of both would be ideal: my niece’s uninhibited, open mind, combined with some experience of life. I always imagined something like that when I read about the notion of the Beginner’s Mind, from Zen Buddhism. It’s a state of being where everything is possible, where you experience everything like it’s the first time and you don’t get caught up in the illusion that you know it all.
The way out of a stale attitude to life, is becoming a beginner allover again. You can do so by replacing ‘it’s like that’ (period) by ‘what is it like’ (question mark). By saying ‘I don’t know’ if you don’t know. By asking for help. By allowing yourself to be surprised and being curious. But being a beginner isn’t something you learn overnight, you have to practice it.
With these exercises, you practice letting go and starting again, and train your astonishment and gratitude.
1. Fresh eyes
Today, look at your spouse, child, pet or colleague as if you’re seeing them for the first time. Forget the idea that you know who they are. Study their faces, the color of their eyes, the lines in their faces, as if it’s a unique rendez-vous. Which it is! There is no moment in your life that you experienced before, nor will any moment ever return.
2. Hello Air. Hello Tree. Hello Dirty Laundry.
Terminally ill people often experience their lives much more intensely. They tend to get surprised about how much they took for granted in life. The color of sunrise, the feeling of someone touching you, the scent of a cup of tea. Don’t wait for your last moments, try to look around you this intense now. Start today.
3. Forget about you
Forget the story you have about yourself, the ‘this is me’ and ‘it’s like this’ we keep wriggling ourselves into. Turn loose the screws of the things you need – the bath before bed time, that cigarette or even the yoga session in the morning. See what happens.
4. See the abundance
The Beginner’s Mind is, just like loving someone, not something you do but something you allow to happen. Turn your urge to perform down a little today. Lean back and let the abundance of it all impress you. In other words: relax.
5. Do something else
Lie in bed upside down, see the first movie that’s playing in the cinema, wear your most festive underwear on a rainy Monday or hit the swing on the playground you pass by: success guaranteed. Do at least one of these things today.
6. Ask for help
A beginner needs help, but for most of us, asking for it is difficult. However, asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of self-assessment. Besides, you’ll be doing others a favor if you let them help you. Today, explicitly ask someone for help at least once.
7. Have no idea
One of the biggest illusions of the boarded up expert mind is knowing it all. Meeting a know-it-all is like walking into a cement wall. Most wise people know that the wiser you become, the less you know. So today, be sure to have no idea at all about something.
8. No plan
From early morning ‘til late at night, most of us are busy ticking the boxes of what a Buddhist teacher calls the ‘I-plan’. A plan like that can make you walk through life with blinders. Letting go of your I-plan, your strategy, your life mission every once in a while, means inviting the world as an unexpected visitor. Let go of your plan at least once today, and set the table for your guest. Wander. Stare. Listen.
Text: Geertje Couwenbergh - Photo: Kevin Bluer