“See the day as obstacle free with only possibilities.”
~ the Zen Mama
A few months ago I was out on the end of our friend’s dock on Shadow Mountain Lake in the mountains of Colorado. Our friend was telling us how she’d started paddle boarding and wanted to teach me how. I knew while she told me that I wouldn’t try it. I was worried I would fall in the water. Shadow Mountain Lake is very cold! And another excuse was, I hadn’t brought a change of clothing. But I followed her outside with the Zen Papa and listened to her instructions, fully ready to say, “Thanks but no thanks.” I’m not really much of a risk taker. I’ve been like that since I was a child. Better to be safe. I didn’t ride the roller coasters or ferris wheels. And I was totally OK with that.
Then I thought of so many things:
• Recently a neighbor died of cancer. That has gotten me doing things that I might put off until it’s a better time.
• I thought of my students at our preschool. Each day at my job as a preschool teacher I observe my 4 and 5 year olds. How perfectly they see the world.
It doesn’t matter if their clothes match. Family and friends are everything to 5 year olds. They are the Super Heroes of their own lives. They have no preconceived ideas and wonder at everything we teach. They are curious, forgiving, open and take risks.
As they get older they realize that the world isn’t like that. They feel criticism. They keenly feel the sting of peer pressure. They know what can go wrong. In turn, they are less creative because they realize that can make mistakes and actually fail at something.
So how does one keep that freshness and enthusiasm of the 5 year old?
• Lately I keep running into the phrase “The Beginner’s Mind” from a book written by Zen Master Shunryo Suzuki. In the book, Suzuki describes the mindset of the “Beginner’s Mind” and the “Expert’s Mind”. Suzuki was the one of the first Zen masters to come to the United States and begin a Zen practice. The book, Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind, is a compilation of his talks. I was stuck by the quote at the start of the book:
“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”
The Beginner’s Mind is innocence, emptiness, optimism, and simplicity (Like my 5 year olds). The opposite of Beginner’s Mind is the “Expert’s Mind”. The Expert’s Mind knows too much, is set in his ways, is fearful, unexcited and wants to play it safe. (Like me!) It’s a concept in Buddhism called “Shoshin”.
I thought of the many times I’ve been in both places. When we bought our first house and then sold it several years later, we had no idea what we’ve doing. The idea of changing houses and moving now would be very stressful. When I wrote the first two books, I didn’t worry about the process, the writing, the marketing or the details, I just did it because it felt like the timing was right. I like the idea of getting back to the Beginner’s Mind and letting go of being an expert!!
Cultivating the Beginner’s Mind
So how do we cultivate the Beginner’s Mind in ourselves and in others?
• Cultivate the Beginner’s Mind in your children and the people around you by actively listening and being open to their ideas. Don’t automatically say, “No, I don’t like that” or “Not right now, I’m busy.” Encourage the people in your life to take a risk!
• Cultivate the Beginner’s Mind in yourself. This is a little harder to do.
1. Ask yourself this question: What would I do if I knew I couldn’t fail? And who cares if I did fail or not? If I fail with paddle boarding, I get a little wet and borrow some clothes. Is that the worst thing? Like Thomas Edison wrote, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
2. Let go of your mindset. Don’t listen to the little voices of criticism in your head, whether it’s society’s voices, your mother’s or your own negative critic. Many times I’ve stopped myself from trying an activity like paddle boarding because, “I’ve never been very good at sports.”
3. Let go of the “But, if I do that, then…” What, then I’ll get cold and wet in the water? What’s so bad about that? Or maybe you think to yourself, “I’ve never done it that way.” Well, why not?
4. Don’t worry about what other’s think. As Wayne Dyer says be “independent of the good opinion of others.”
5. While doing your activity, don’t think about anything else. Be in flow. People in flow are known to be happier people. (But that will be another post on another day.)
Thinking about the Expert’s Mind vs the Beginner’s Mind also got me out of my writer’s block with one of the books I’m working on. I’ve become so motivated that I’m hoping to have it done by the end of the week. And if not, then maybe the next but why wait? I’m starting now!
I’m sure you can guess where this story is going. I shocked the Zen Papa who was sure I wouldn’t try paddle boarding. I got on that paddle board. I followed our friend’s directions and voila! It wasn’t really that hard. In fact, it would have been hard to fall off because balancing was easy. And best of all, I was proud of myself for trying something I wouldn’t normally do.
What is something that you wouldn’t normally do?
What is holding you back?
Is it a trip you’d like to go on? A book you want to write?
Try to get back to that place, the Beginner’s Mind. Maybe you haven’t been there since you were 5 years old.
You are the author of your own life. So, like my 5 year olds, be a Super Hero!
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