Beginner’s Mind is an important quality of Mindfulness and probably one of the more advanced concepts to maintain and master. The reason is that the mind needs to first become still and aware in order for it to then, consciously, move into Beginner’s Mind. But before we get into this topic, let’s first define Beginner’s Mind.
Beginner’s Mind can be understood as approaching each experience, interaction, event, person or place as if you have never done so before. This simple concept allows you to look at everything with fresh eyes and to not bring the past into the present.
When you do this, you simply release all judgements about what is happening in front of you. For instance, if you are having a discussion with someone and it’s something you’ve talked about before, you approach it as if for the first time without bringing notions, judgements and perceptions about prior conversations to this conversation which is occurring in the present moment – a new moment.
Though the concept seems simple, it usually isn’t achieved until some mastery over thoughts (either through Meditation or other techniques) can be achieved. This is because we must clear our mind completely to attain beginner’s mind and, for most, this takes some practice and is done through repetitious intent to do so.
You may be wondering how this topic relates to your relationships, which is just one area where Beginner’s Mind can be especially useful. For this, we’ll work with an example that many can relate to in order to demonstrate how Beginner’s Mind can help any relationship. Suppose you are going to need to have an uncomfortable talk with someone (spouse, relative or coworker). First, you must understand that the only reason you would define it as uncomfortable is because you have a judgement about how the person would likely react to your words. Why do you have this judgement? It’s likely to have either occurred in previous conversations or been demonstrated by how the person has interacted with others in previous conversations. To begin, you can recognize you do have a judgement about this person and how they will act or react and this alone makes you feel uncomfortable. Notice how just your thought can make you uncomfortable in this scenario and cause unnecessary tension. You have not had this conversation with them therefore an event has not even occurred. Yet your discomfort has solely come from your thought about it. This causes a lot of unwanted stress on our bodies as we’re likely to even put off these discussion solely due to the discomfort they bring us. After all, we always tend to move away from anything we believe would be painful to our experience. Therefore, you can see that even before the conversation there are some real emotions arising out of our judgements and thoughts that need to be dealt with.
The reason beginner’s mind is especially helpful here is because your past judgements about this person will likely yield the same response you are judging and they will likely even pick this up in your tone, gesture or nervous energy before you even speak. To have beginner’s mind is to look at things as if for the first time. In this case, looking at the person as if for the first time and eliminating any past responses you have received from them allows you to take in their response without any immediate threat, offense or criticism. When you can do so, you can actually allow the other person to react in a different way instead of the way you assume they will, because your assumption about the person is simply a judgement – a mere thought. And when we repeatedly hold the same thoughts about people, we hold them in that place and will not be able to see any changes in them, even when change is actually present. This is because we are not conscious but rather reacting on auto-pilot and from this place, we cannot see anything anew. How can we when we expect to be seeing the same old things?
Beginner’s mind can help us see things in a new light, rather than automatically respond to them with the same old patterns of behavior and beliefs. And from this place, we release judgements and allow ourselves to see people in our lives in new light. When we release judgement, we also automatically allow the other person to feel more at ease. Remember, you are actually feeling your way in relationships far more than you think. That’s why when someone you love says they are “fine” you know it’s a lie. It’s because words can be false, but our energy can never lie.
The next time you’re going to converse with someone, whether it will be for a pleasurable or difficult discussion, remind yourself that no matter what was said, you will hear the person’s words as if for the first time. When you can truly do so with intent, you can let go of any notions you have about their underlying reason for saying anything. This, after all, is just your opinion or judgement and can be inaccurate.
And, of course, there is always a chance that they will react in the same way they have. However, your intention to not judge them will allow you to respond to the discussion at hand without bringing in the past and clouding the present. In this way, you can even give them space and an opportunity to match your non-judgement.
“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.”
— Shinichi Suzuki, Japanese musician, philosopher, and educator