A Beginner's Mind

Aug 01, 2021

Do you enjoy trying something new?  New foods?  New habits?  New friendships?  New hobbies?  New board games?  Do you start out with a fresh sense of wonder an openness about the experience... or do you feel a little cynical and figure that you probably won't be very good at it?  

We tend to only try things we know we have a proficiency for.  It takes a very brave constitution to start something new and KNOW for sure that we're gonna suck at it for awhile.  "I'll try" might be the bravest thing you ever say.  It's the bridge between not doing and doing.  

The culture here, in America, is pretty goal oriented.  We like success.  We like achievement.  We want to be REALLY GOOD at everything.  We have a tough time being 'bad' at something.  But really, when you're new... you're just NEW.  You're a beginner.  You're like a baby deer on wobbly legs.  It's NORMAL that it doesn't come easily to you just yet.  

Shoshin is the Zen Buddhist word for 'beginner's mind.'

What is beginner’s mind? It’s dropping our ideas about how we 'should' perform, and seeing things with an open mind, fresh eyes, just like a beginner... just like a young child. Looking at everything as if its brand new, perhaps with curiosity and wonder is having a beginner's mind.  The practice of shoshin goes much deeper, inviting us to bring a beginner's mind into each moment of our lives.  However, for our purposes in this conversation, we're talking about allowing ourselves to be a beginner when trying out something new. 

This concept is so helpful when learning a new subject, a new career path, a new exercise routine, a new meditation practice, a new diet, a new hobby - literally, anything -  because it allows us to really cheer for ourselves when it seems to be taking a long time to 'get it.' 

I have become really fascinated lately by this notion of how long it takes to 'get it.'  It was a big leap for me to go from my photography career into life coaching.  A lot of people ask me regularly, how could I leave photography when I seemed to enjoy it so much? The answer is, because I HAD to... I really really wanted to.  It was a knowing in me that felt so strong, I couldn't ignore it.  As I started out in my training a couple of years ago, I thought to myself, "I am going to be the BEST student in this class.  The teacher is going to LOVE me!"  I worked and studied so hard.  I watched the weekly training videos every day so I'd viewed them at least 7 times before our next meeting.  I took extensive notes.  I practiced the workbook exercises on myself and others.  I was a very eager and interested student.  I could feel my brain working hard - kind of like when you overload your plate at a buffet.  I was definitely feeding it too much too fast.  So sometimes, I wasn't 'getting it.'  I would rewind the lessons and listen to the same section over and over trying to memorize concepts my brain couldn't quite grasp. 

My teacher didn't notice me as any different than anyone else in the class.  It quickly became evident that there wasn't going to be a 'best' or a 'favorite' student.  This was more like an 'all for all' environment.  The instructor asked us to 'just be a beginner.'  My brain shouted 'OH HELL NO! We are going to be amazing at this from day one!'  Naturally, I learned pretty quickly that I had to accept that being a beginner is required for a good stretch of time... because it's a LOT of new information and my brain will need time to form some new grooves so that the concepts become knowings for me.  In my training, I learned SO MUCH about the brain!  It's fascinating!  Our brains are much more like play dough than we realize.  We can learn ANYTHING... and we don't have to be good at it at first!  It can be really hard.  It can be really frustrating.  We might feel like this was a bad idea or that 'this isn't where my talents lie.' 

Or, we can keep at it and tell ourselves: 'This is how long it takes.'  That's my mantra for all kinds of things now.  'This is how long it takes to become flexible in my hamstrings.' 'This is how long it takes to learn to build a website.' 'This is how long it takes for me to feel like hanging pictures in my bedroom.' 'This is how long it takes to be a really patient mom of a teenager.' 'This is how long it takes to forgive.'  

'This is how long it takes me' and that's OK.  I am open.  I am proud of myself.  I am doing great.  I am learning.  I am growing.  I am getting through it.  I am expanding.  I am practicing.  I am trying my best.  I am doing it!  

Tell me about something that you're trying.  Tell me how it's going.  Are you able to just be a beginner for as long as it takes?  Are you able to be kind to yourself until you can say, "I'm good at this!"


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