Updated: Feb 17, 2021
Beginner's mind is not a way nor are there steps to it. It's not a behavior, habit or character trait. It is an attitude, perspective; where we let go of what we think we know and open to seeing people, situations and circumstances for the first time. We're not trying to figure anything out. A metaphor would be to become a blank slate. For years, I practiced my interpretation while sensing there was more to it. I was curious. In my End of Life Doula training, we spent time reading, listening, discussing and sharing our personal experiences of beginner's mind. This curiosity continues as my practice and experience evolves. My intent is that in reading this blog, your curiosity will draw you in and perhaps be a catalyst for you to begin your own practice. Beginner's mind is a term that originated in Zen Buddhism. it's having an attitude of being open and eager with lack of preconceptions even when studying a subject at an advanced level . . . being curious just as a beginner would. (wikipedia.com)
Beginner's mind is an Attitude
In his book, "Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind", author Shunryu Suzuki uses the following definition. "If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything. It is open to everything. In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, in the expert's mind there are few." You could compare it to a child-like wonder, fresh and free from expectations, preconceived notions where anything is possible. Beginner's mind experiences everything for the first time. In this space, we let go of anything we think we know realizing that what we "know" comes from our personal interpretation of the past. It's our story that is not related to the person, situation or experience that is occurring in the present moment. To paraphrase, we leave our baggage outside the door in order to be present to what's occurring in the here and now. In the role of an EOL Doula, we serve first by practicing beginner's mind.
Beginner's mind is simple, yet not easy.
It's an attitude that comes with practice. If it was a way and there were steps, consider these:
Make a conscious choice
Empty the mind
Be open and eager
Talk less and listen more
Practice - practice - practice
As an EOL Doula, I serve as a companion and guide to support my clients and their families in navigating the unknown territory of death and dying. Beginner's mind offers the opportunity to be open to all possibilities. In future posts, we'll explore how having this attitude translates into my work.