Sunday, October 9, 2011

Beginner's Mind

"For Zen students the most important thing is not to be dualistic. Our 'original mind' includes everything within itself. It is always rich and sufficient within itself. You should not lose your self-sufficient state of mind. This does not mean a closed mind, but actually an empty mind and a ready mind. If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything; it is open to everything. In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities; in the expert's mind there are few."

Shunryu Suzuki

I’ve heard of the concept of “beginner’s mind” in many different contexts. In the shamanic tradition, one of the archetypes we work with is the Serpent, who shows us how to shed the past the way she sheds her skin. When Serpent sheds her skin, it includes the eyes. She truly sees with new and innocent eyes. And we ask her to show us her way, to help us to see things as if never seen before.

From “beginner’s mind” it is easier to have a “beginner’s heart” as well. There is an openness that is revealed. Judgments and criticisms may arise in the mind but they are recognized and easier to release. I’ve noticed that my mind likes to categorize experiences and people. I guess that makes sense: the world seems much more manageable and more easily controlled (or so it seems) when everything can be conveniently filed away. The clear disadvantage of my practice of mental filing is that I miss so much!

When I listen from a beginner’s mind, I don’t assume that I know how the sentence is going to end and I stay present to the speaker’s expression and experience. There are many things I don’t know and haven’t experienced. Although that is an obvious statement, I realize how often I listen from a ‘knowing’ place.

The same concept applies to “seeing” the world. When exploring a place we’ve never seen before it is usually easy. We’re more likely to notice the beautiful subtleties of a new place. But in our day- to- day life?

Can we maintain this position of innocence when dealing with what is familiar and “known”?  Can we greet the people we see each and every day and see them with new eyes without making assumptions about who they are and how they’re going to react and behave? Can I look at myself in the same way? Am I willing to give up that comfortable illusion of control?

Yes. I am willing. I choose to open my eyes with curiosity. What will today hold?

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