Last week in my classes I was talking a lot about the Zen concept of Shoshin or beginner’s mind. Beginner’s mind refers to the idea of bringing an attitude of openness and curiosity to a subject, and letting go of preconceptions. The problem is, when we have some familiarity with a topic we look for the information that is in sync with what we already know and block the information that is out of sync, so it’s almost impossible to learn anything new.
I am quite familiar with this aspect of the mind, but as they say in AA, the first step towards recovery is admitting you have a problem. I recently began a 300 hour meditation training at MNDFL studios in NYC. I’ve been exploring meditation for a while now but never had any formal training. I was drawn to this particular training because it included the broad spectrum of meditation traditions from Tibetan Buddhism to MBSR, but on day one, I realized that having some expertise in this world was not going to work to my advantage.
As Lodro Rinzler (the founder of MNDFL and our teacher that day) began to describe the history and foundations of each of the different meditation lineages, I had to fight the urge to raise my hand constantly and finish his sentences. My mind was busy trying to prove what I already knew, rather than absorbing the tons of information that I didn’t. Ugh!
It was at that moment that I paused, checked in with my breath, relaxed my physical body and reminded myself to let go of what I already knew. I imagined my mind and body as a sponge, empty, with space to absorb new information and, I’m so glad I did. Not only because I have so much to learn, but also because I immediately relaxed! The pressure was off and I didn’t need to know all the answers, whew.
It also became clear to me at that moment, the reason Lodro had us participate in a specific ice-breaking exercise on that first day. We were asked to wander around the room for a moment and when the bell rang, we sat down with the person nearest to us and took turns speaking on a given topic for about 3 minutes - absolutely no interrupting! Oh boy, was that challenging! I sat there nodding and gesturing away at my partner like a crazy person;) This exercise was meant to cultivate beginner’s mind…to teach us to listen and absorb what another human being has to offer. When we interrupt, we may think we are being kind, empathetic or helpful, but how can we listen fully when we’re really just waiting for our turn to talk?
If you take a moment to think about it, how many situations throughout the course of a day could we practice beginner’s mind? Wouldn’t life be so much more interesting if we approached even the most mundane tasks with a childlike curiosity? The next time you sit down to eat a meal, try imagining you’ve never tasted that particular food before. Or, the next time you take a yoga class, pretend it’s the first time you’ve ever stepped on the mat.
So play with this idea and see what happens. You might discover a whole new world of possibilities:).