“Be willing to be a beginner every single morning” Ekhart Tolle
One of the foundational attitudes of mindfulness is ‘beginners mind’. It’s a description used originally by Shrunyu Suzuki author of ‘Zen Mind Beginners Mind’, and it captures something essential about mindful being. It means sensing your world without making assumptions and being clouded by expectations. It means looking with fresh eyes, as if for the first time. Certain experiences wake us up to fresh seeing – and the arrival of spring is a wonderful prompt for approaching life with this attitude. I find myself saying ‘wow’ when I cycle past the trees suddenly full of blossom – they’ve been preparing all winter, but I’m nevertheless amazed that flowers have returned.
With beginners mind we notice with all our senses as we would when something is new and unfamiliar – we really check it out. When we discover in this way so much more of what we are attending to is revealed. This is part of beginners mind too, that when we meet our experience in this way we allow it to reveal itself. How would it be to discover your life revealing itself to you, rather than the habitual ‘I know this already, I know this person, they don’t change…’ Are you really seeing, feeling, hearing the person, place, experience in front of you? In this way beginners mind also supports letting go (last months blog) as we meet our life unfolding rather than constantly controlling and directing it. Being mindful has the quality of direct contact, looking deeply, with interest and curiosity, asking afresh ‘What is this? What is this? This is the practice of being truly present, whether we are listening to someone speak, walking along the street, sitting or lying still in meditation.
When we start to investigate how we are meeting our moments we discover that mostly we perceive through a lens – the lens of our own desires, our history and our misunderstandings about the nature of existence. We identify with quite a limited view of ourselves and the world around us. Mindfulness helps us recognise that we’re looking through lenses.
“We get caught up in thinking we know what we are seeing and feeling, and in projecting our judgments out onto everything we see off a hairline trigger. Just being familiar with this deeply entrenched pattern and watching it as it happens can lead to greater non-judgmental receptivity and acceptance” Jon Kabat Zinn
This awareness changes our whole relationship to the world around us. It can happen in an instant, whenever we release ourselves from our habits. The ‘habit releasers’ that Mark Williams and Danny Penman introduce in Finding Peace in a Frantic World are powerful for this reason – when we sit in a different chair, or take a different route to work, we see from a different angle. Moment by moment we start living our lives more as a discovery, a life revealing itself to us. We recognise impermanence, how everything is changing all the time, and so we realise that everything is therefore new in a sense, that it is the first time each time. This moment has never been before and never will be again. That can be a comfort when we don’t like the moment, but more profoundly it also invites us to meet life with wonder, inquiry and awe. I’m reminded of the adage that ‘familiarity breeds contempt’. Whilst of course familiarity is important for our sense of comfort and safety, might we also be missing the delights and possibilities in our lives? Is there something you could smell or taste as if for the first time, or a person in your life that you could experiment seeing and hearing for the first time: what do you discover? Let this spring inspire and reveal itself to your fresh eyes.
“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the experts there are few” Shunruyu Suzuki
“For things to reveal themselves to us we need to be ready to abandon our views about them” Thich Nhat Hanh