Photo by Johnny McClung

Beginner’s mind is one of the seven interconnected fundamental attitudes of mindfulness that are consciously cultivated during practice, according to Jon Kabat-Zinn. In his book Full Catastrophe Living, he calls these attitudes “the soil in which you will be cultivating your ability to calm your mind and relax your body, to concentrate and to see more clearly.”

Every moment truly is a chance to begin anew. Even the very cells of our body are constantly changing. Although we have sophisticated brains that can make calculations and predictions, human beings aren’t omniscient. So, if we are being honest with ourselves, we will see that we have no choice but to surrender to our perpetual “beginnership”. Many of us are uncomfortable with ambiguity, but this state of not knowing has its benefits.

In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few. – Shunryu Suzuki from Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

When we look at things as if for the first time, free from the influence of the past or speculation about the future, we open ourselves to wonder, awe and possibility. We more clearly see what is here now, rather than constructing stories about what we think is here. We’re also less likely to “pigeonhole” others, seeing the complexity and potential for good in all human beings. Much like a scientist who observes without bias, beginner’s mind allows us to collect raw data. This opens us up to new opportunities, rather than being chained to habits and conditioning. We begin to rely more on curiosity and asking questions, rather than on speculation and assumptions.

Seeing no stranger begins in wonder. It is to look upon the face of anyone and choose to say: You are a part of me I do not yet know… To wonder is to cultivate a sense of awe and openness to others’ thoughts and experiences, their pain, their wants and needs… Wonder is an orientation to humility: recognizing that others are as complex and infinite to themselves as we are to ourselves.Valerie Kaur

Over-reliance on beliefs and expectations confines us in a tiny box. It causes us to see each moment through the lens of the past, which can distort our experience, constrict potential, and limit new learning. Letting go of this sense of expertise makes us feel vulnerable, so connecting with the mind of a beginner takes enormous courage. It requires us to trust that there is always potential for learning, even in experiences that are unpleasant or unwanted. In order to do this, we have to resist the temptation to immediately think ahead or worry excessively about outcomes. Instead we merely allow ourselves to take in each moment as it unfolds non-judgmentally. This makes room for us to respond with wisdom to what is, rather than to the way we think things should be.

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