“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” – Shunryu Suzuki
As children, we all start off with beginner’s mind living with spontaneity, not knowing or not being sure of, yet fearless and totally available to the moment. But as we grow and become familiar of things, mind tries to take over calling up memories, creating expectations and fears which stops us from connecting to the present moment. As adults, we tend to live with stress and anxiety, spending all our time trying to anticipate and plan for the future and lamenting the past. We get so concerned about future that we forget to embrace the present moment. Most of our thoughts and emotions are either from our past or future. These past perceptions determine our response to the outside world making us closed to new experiences. As a result, we lose our enthusiasm and free thinking as adults and the only way to regain them is by developing ‘beginner’s mind’ or Shoshin.
The Zen Buddhist term, Shoshin, which means ‘beginner’s mind’ emphasises that only when you are a true beginner, can you really learn anything, like how we learned as children for the first time. Shoshin refers to the idea of letting go of your preconceptions and having an attitude of openness. It teaches you to be mindful, humble and modest to the information around you so as to help you to learn best and impart knowledge. Relying on assumptions and habitual modes creates limiting mental patterns. Approaching your life circumstances without assumptions and preconceptions leads to different experiences. ‘Beginner’s mind’ or Shoshin equips you with the tools to tackle the problems without becoming overwhelmed and with a fresh perspective. It helps you to think and act freely, to discover and invent your world from moment to moment with interest and curiosity.
To cultivate beginner’s mind, you need to be aware of your present moment and more than anything else, you should put an effort to reclaim and expand the present moment to open yourself to new possibilities and deeper understanding. The idea of ‘not, nothing’ or ‘no mind’ is closer to openness and awareness and is important to be attentive, mindful and observant of the present moment. This way you can learn to live deeply connected to the present moment so that your sense of self drops away.
A beginner’s mind is empty and ready for new things and to experience life in a way that is unburdened by past and previous knowledge. It is only by paying full attention to what is happening in now that you can respond mindfully and effectively to your past emotions be it positive or negative. Moreover, gaining knowledge with a beginner’s mind leads to positive psychological qualities that make your life more happy and meaningful.
To embrace the concept of shoshin or beginner’s mind,
• Learn to focus only on the present. The past is unchangeable so it is futile to reflect on it unless you are making sure you do not repeat past mistakes. The future is but a result of your actions today. So break the old pattern of present-moment denial and present moment resistance. Make it your practice to withdraw attention from past and future whenever they are not needed.
• Develop an endless curiosity about everything. Become an explorer and keep your mind devoid of self-centric thoughts and emotions. This way you can more easily connect with your surroundings and can be more aligned with nature. Stop and observe all of the little things as completely unique events. Try new things. Get out of your comfort zone and try to experience as many different environments as possible.
• Make use of your experience. Don’t negate with it, but keep an open mind on how to apply it to each situation. When considering anything, try taking on the view point of ‘yes, no, maybe’ rather than choosing one perspective. Embrace more openness with regard to your judgments.
• Practice don’t know mind. Let go of know it all attitude and need to win every argument in a discussion. Focus more on listening rather than wanting to add value. Being at peace with state of not knowing keeps you at ease with the moments when faced with something about which you have no idea about and you can face challenging moments with openness.
It is never too late to enjoy the freedom and spontaneity of childhood. When you cultivate beginner’s mind, you can free yourself from expectations, can relieve yourself from stress, preconception, and prejudice. With beginner’s mind, you experience the present moment fully and be open to new possibilities.
Start by becoming aware of distracting thoughts and feelings throughout the day, while eating, walking, or doing other activities. See if you can give much more attention to the doing than to the result that you want to achieve through it. Be spontaneous and disregard the fear of failure or worry about the future moment. Set your intention to let go of distracting thoughts and emotions, so that you can create inner space and connect fully to your present moment. Regain your beginner’s mind by being mindful in your activities and tasks.