Shunryu suzuki, the author of zen mind, says: “if your mind is always empty, it is always ready for anything, it is open to everything. In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind, there are few.”
Beginner’s mind definition
Beginner’s mind is a concept originating from zen buddhism. The term comes from the phrase shoshin; sho meaning beginner and shin meaning the mind. Shoshin refers to approaching a subject with a blank slate, even when you are at an advanced level. As we develop knowledge and mastery in life, we tend to become more closed-minded. Our expert brain will seek ideas and concepts that validate what we already know and believe to be right. However, what we already know may be limiting us to excel even further. Who is to say that our way is the best path?
What if we approached each experience with child-like eyes, considering each piece of information we receive? Perhaps we would feel more joyful, allowing life to show us new experiences and insights with each action? Keeping an open mind and attitude promotes curiosity and opportunity for growth and presence. When we are experts, paying closer attention is even more important to facilitate learning.
Think about this.. If we already know 98% of something, then wouldn’t it make sense that discovering the 2% takes even more openness and intention?
How to achieve a zen beginner mind
Let go of assumptions. This helps us enter an experience with a clean slate and fresh mind. With a fresh mind, we have nothing to compare the experience to, allowing for a reduction in frustrations and expectations. In this practice, I have found it helpful to use a mantra before embarking on a new task. My mantra is “stay open”. If I find myself gravitating towards my old ideas and concepts, I stop what I am doing, close my eyes, and breathe into my mantra. This has been extremely valuable when collaborating with others.
Spend more time listening and less time talking. This allows us to stay curious and become the observer. Observing others as well as observing ourselves can give us a great advantage. When we use the power of observation with intention, we can learn to lead more effectively. Enter each situation with the idea that there is something to be gained. Be patient even when judgment creeps in.
Take the ego out of the equation and be clear of your intentions. This allows for deeper learning. It is important to develop learning goals and questions. Notice what others do and say and how they respond to your inquiries. This means paying careful attention and observing with your ears, eyes, and heart. True observation is a multi-sensory experience. Body language of other’s (and your own) is just as important as what and how something is said. Noticing will allow for substantial insights and understanding.
Zen mind beginner mind
We all have the potential for a greater and heightened experience each day. Being an expert is the easy part, being a beginner with a subject we are familiar with, challenges us in a whole new way. Taking small steps towards this practice will add up to something greater. Allowing for an organic process and shift happens when we move through our experiences with awareness and intention. Remember, the slower we go, the faster we will get there.