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What is Beginner’s Mind?

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What is Beginner’s Mind?

beginner’s mind

I’m a recovering perfectionist. It’s not entirely clear to me where my perfection addiction came from, though there’s no doubt that key members of my family gave me my first dose. My particular brand of perfectionism never really stopped me from doing anything or trying new things, but it definitely took the fun and enjoyment out of the things I wasn’t good at.

We live in a culture of perfectionism. What we see out in the world has already been glossed over, focus-grouped, and edited until it is a perfect package designed to elicit desire and envy. It’s so rare that we’re allowed to see our leaders, experts, and heroes fumble, face rejection, or fail. But you don’t become a leader, expert, or hero without experiencing these things.

What we’re in dire need of is a look at our experts in the process of becoming experts. We need permission to try. To start, to get it wrong and to enjoy learning: to experience the power and wonder of the beginner’s mind.

Beginner’s mind is a powerful concept in mindfulness practice. If you’re looking for a role model, look to infants and toddlers. They live in a world of present moment joy (unless they are experiencing present moment grouchiness!). Our minds are so flexible when we are young, and our days are filled with one brand new experience after another. Beginner’s mind is exactly why young children love to help with chores, need to stop every two steps and deeply ponder the rocks in the path, and continually ask, ‘Why?’

As we get older, familiarity naturally sets in. And along with it comes habit and routine. Our thinking solidifies as we learn concepts and form opinions. This is often the primary reason that we don’t try new things or stick with new experiences. We aren’t instantly experts and so give up in disappointment or fear of rejection.

The practice of beginner’s mind is a challenge to let go of our certainties and routines and see our everyday experiences with freshness and curiosity. It’s an invitation to taste our favourite food for the first time, to see snow as a miracle, or to let in the magic of a movie. It’s allowing yourself to live in the ‘I don’t know’ with comfort and even excitement.

Take a minute to think of something you are just beginning. Maybe you’ve got new responsibilities at work, or a new job altogether – or you’re on the long learning curve of starting your own business. Maybe you tried to cook a new dish, or changed your fitness routine. Beginner’s mind asks you to let go of your perceptions about ‘should’ and see your life as a process, as an experience. With new eyes.

This isn’t easy to do – especially for those of us with perfectionist tendencies, who are hard on ourselves and feel vulnerable if we don’t get it right all the time. But like everything else with mindfulness, it’s a practice. One to cultivate and explore. Start by simply being curious about your ‘shoulds’ and ‘shouldn’ts.’ Examine your belief in a limitation when you find one. Try to allow that present moment joy every once in a while.

Allow yourself to feel excited about both starting and being on the journey – wherever you are.

by Nadia Alamo