Beginner’s Mind

We are well into November, and Thanksgiving is around the corner. I have been moving along, following the established rhythm of life and work, but a few days ago, it hit me. We are approaching the end of this year.

This is usually the time when my creative thinking kicks in. It is also the time I feel the urge to step on the brakes, look back, and take it all in. Traveling through the dark time of the year affords us this opportunity for self-reflection. Looking back and evaluating becomes the foundation to setting clear and focused intentions for moving forward.

It is easy to settle into habits, behaviors, and our familiar ways of thinking. As Mary Oliver writes,

… And now I understand
something so frightening, and wonderful –
how the mind clings to the road it knows, rushing
through crossroads, sticking
like lint to the familiar.

As it often happens, I get the urge to change gears way before my mind kicks in. Have you had this experience? Something may feel off-key, but you cannot fully explain it. Your body knows it, your mood is changing, and your thoughts begin to go in all kinds of directions. Something new is forming way ahead, but you can’t put it into words. You know you need to pause and look at what you are doing with a discerning eye.

At our Monthly Gatherings, we have been meditating and reflecting on this season of letting go, going within, and paying attention to what is asking to be seen. This inquiry has led us to many surprising places. It truly is amazing what comes out of allowing time and space to look at our lives with a beginner’s mind.

Beginner’s mind, a term in Buddhism, describes a mind that remains curious, open to possibilities, and free from expectations.

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities. In the expert’s mind, there are few.”

Shunryu Suzuki Roshi

How often do we have this experience of our minds in a state of openness and curiosity? Not that often! Our minds are conditioned to function “like lint, sticking to the familiar,” even when the familiar way of thinking limits our growth and becomes an obstacle.

Living life, navigating change, being in relationships, creating a business, and maintaining our sense of purpose, are best served by an open mind that refuses to bend to the familiar. Every time we think we got it and begin to get complacent, something invariably happens to remind us that we never really stop learning and growing.

Think of an area in your life that you find challenging or difficult to deal with.

  • It can be an aspect of work or family life, a relationship, a gnawing question, or a dilemma you are grappling with.
  • Take 15-20 minutes and go for a walk outside or choose a place you feel comfortable in and sit quietly with yourself. Take a few deep cleansing breaths and ask yourself, “What is going on with me, right now?” As you continue to focus on your breath, observe what comes up.
  • How does your body feel? Is there tension anywhere? Witness the feelings that are bubbling up. Again, don’t grasp at anything that happens. Just watch it happening. What words, thoughts, and images come to mind?
  • Take another deep, cleansing breath and look around you. Let your eyes rest and take in the view.
  • Then, ask yourself
    • What do I need to know in this situation?
    • Is there anything I haven’t considered?
    • What am I willing to do, and
    • How can I best take care of myself?

The goal of this practice is to help you look at a challenging or stale situation through the lens of open curiosity and entertain new possibilities. I don’t know what will come up for you but allow yourself to be surprised. What do you have to lose anyway?

Creating space for you to pause and open up to new ways of thinking and being will allow you to discover aspects of yourself that have gone unnoticed. The more you engage in conversation with yourself, the better you will get to know yourself.

Another way to help you explore new ways and possibilities is this.

Think of something you love doing.

For example:

  • Do you love cooking, gardening, knitting, weaving, sewing, dancing, music, jigsaw puzzles, photography? Could be anything.
  • Do you see yourself as an artist, creator, or maker of things?
  • What do you think makes someone an artist? Is it inspiration, skill, the unique way they express their vision? What about having a strong sense of purpose, the willingness to take risks and stay true to oneself, and persevering?

When I think about it this way, I begin to look at us all as artists.

Our lives are an artistic endeavor. We are painters in front of a life-size canvas, co-creating our reality, brushstroke by brushstroke. Often, we need to step back and look at our canvas from all angles and get an idea of what needs to be touched next. At times, we have to let go of our original ideas and begin anew.

We often feel inspired, and there are also times when we feel unmotivated. We have skills that we take for granted. We are unique, but we choose to compare ourselves to others and let our inner critic have a field day with us. We are purpose-driven. We often fall prey to false gods and other people’s opinions but pick ourselves up and keep going. We have our times of weakness and doubt, but we are also strong and resilient. We wear many hats and travel many paths. Through it all, we change and grow.

In getting back to your favorite hobby and activities:

  • Why do you like doing this?
  • Who do you become when you give yourself to this activity?
  • Are you more relaxed than usual? Do you feel good about yourself?
  • When you engage in this activity, do you tend to play and experiment?
  • Do you feel inspired, carefree, creative?
  • Do you tend to try different things, or do you stick to what you know?
  • Do you have fun?
  • What if you brought this side of you to the rest of your life?
  • How would you do that?
  • Where do you begin?

You are the only person who can explore these questions. Your answers can lead to valuable insights and open up a world of possibilities. Give it a try, and let me know how it went. Scroll down and post your comment. I love hearing from you.

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