“In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities. In the expert’s, there are few.” (Shunryu Suzuki)
Has there ever been a more urgent time to embrace many possibilities? This age of pervasive uncertainty and division is fertile ground for questioning our assumptions and beliefs. In fact, we just might be living in the ideal time to accept that there are limitless ways to perceive even the most contentious issues.
Expert vs. Beginner
The Expert’s Mind is over-secure. Such a mentality may promote shortsighted habits like confirmation bias. Many “authorities” will only seek out (read: cherry-pick) information that validates and justifies their behavior because expertise — real or imagined — makes us less curious. If we already feel well-versed in a topic, we tend to pay less attention to it. We ask fewer questions. This is a stifling choice even if we know 95 percent of what there is to know about a particular subject. Ideally, this is when we should be paying more attention to it in order to discern the nuances that remain to be learned.
Conversely, the Beginner’s Mind is ever-hungry for input — regardless of its source or its tendency to reinforce existing beliefs. In the Beginner’s Mind, there are fewer limits and fewer expectations. There is much more room for revelation and awe. Nothing is taken for granted and even the tiniest detail has the potential to inspire reverence.
The Beginner’s Mind is basically the polar opposite of today’s social media algorithms, mainstream news headlines, and popular political discourse.
3 Benefits of a Beginner’s Mind
Habits and structure can be incredibly useful. They can also become an obstacle to innovation. A Beginner’s Mind encourages us to approach familiar problems with a fresh perspective. This mindset often results in the exploration of avenues that an expert would casually dismiss as “been there, done that.”
A Beginner’s Mind awakens each morning, ready to wipe the slate clean and start anew. From this fresh perspective, it feels more natural to identify and appreciate your blessings.
Seeing the world like a beginner prevents you from “going through the motions.” There is a clearer understanding that the present is all you have. The past is where guilt and regret dwell. In the future may lie apprehension and anxiety. Right here, right now, the moment is enough.
How to Rediscover a Beginner’s Mind
By its very definition, there is an infinite number of ways to occupy a beginner’s mind. To follow are some basic guidelines but think of them like Bruce Lee’s finger pointing to the moon. As Lee urged, “Don’t concentrate on the finger or you’ll miss all that heavenly glory.”
-Reject your ego’s need to be an expert
Eavesdrop on a conversation at the local supermarket. Even better, scroll (without reacting) through most threads on social media. You’ll see and hear so many people pretending they know “what’s really happening” and “what’s gonna happen.” Your ego craves the status of being “right.” The beginner in you would rather open-mindedly look for reality than be deemed an expert at anything.
As touched on above, we must avoid going through the motions. Whenever possible, slow down to question and explore. Take your time to learn — even from the most unlikely of sources.
-Channel your Inner Child
Re-introduce yourself to some of your closest childhood friends: wonder, mischief, and playfulness. Reject the cynical adult premise of “same shit, different day.”
-See with new eyes
In the words of Marcel Proust: “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” Practically speaking, your quest for new eyes can begin with simple exercises like treating your hometown as if you were a tourist and seeing what you can discover.
As Gary Zukav, author of Dancing Wu Li Masters: An Overview of the New Physics, posits: “Nonsense is nonsense only when we have not yet found that point of view from which it makes sense.”
Perhaps the most time-worn path to a Beginner’s Mind is the practice of mindful meditation. Whether you choose a spiritual or secular approach, even ten minutes a day of meditation will expand your consciousness more than any #woke website or meme.
“The child is in me still and sometimes not so still.” (Fred Rogers)
There is no one right way to inhabit a Beginner’s Mind. After all, it is not a destination. It’s all about the process, the learning, and those moments of epiphany made possible by not closing off your options… so re-activate your Inner Child.
Keep re-evaluating what you believe before your perceptions can grow ossified. Don’t limit your explorations by choosing in advance what it is you wish to find. Turn your truth over and over, again and again. Avoid accumulating old answers. Instead, dedicate far more of your time to conjuring up new questions. Through it all, let compassion serve as your compass.
Photo: Zen garden in Kyoto, via Wikimedia Commons