I didn’t expect 2020. Or 2021. Did you?
If there’s one lesson the last two years have taught me it’s this: I have no idea what’s around the next corner.
I’ve decided to head into the new year accepting and embracing just … not knowing. In Zen Buddhism this mindset is called ‘Beginner’s Mind’ – and it’s considered a positive attribute. A Beginner’s Mind is a mindset that’s willing to see everything as though it’s the first time. It’s a way of approaching each moment with openness; free from expectations about what should happen next. You’re like an empty cup waiting to be filled.
In many ways, the new year seems a fitting time to adopt a Beginner’s Mind-set. A new year is a clean slate and a new beginning and a Beginner’s Mind is open, receptive and curious about what the next moment will bring - without preconceived ideas. When you have a Beginner’s Mind, you can respond to life’s circumstances with more creativity, flexibility and resilience in the face of challenges.
If you’ve ever met a 4-year old, you understand Beginner’s Mind. Young children are open, flexible, curious and accepting. They’re bursting with questions and curiosity. Their imaginations run wild as they grapple with how things work in the large & mysterious world in which they find themselves. They make simple observations and ask basic questions that are also strange, silly and profound. Children’s questions can force you to notice that there are a lot of miraculous everyday phenomena you take for granted.
“How do clouds float?”
“Do telephone poles hold up the sky?”
“Does the letter ‘W’ start with a ‘D’”?
And the relentless “Why?”
Kids are naturally gifted at practicing Beginners’ Mind because they’re beginners at everything. 20, 40 or 60 years of life experience can rub the glossy ‘fresh from the womb’ sparkle off of everyday living. We establish habits and routines that help us become more efficient at getting things done. That’s great in terms of staying organized and on task. However, too much habit and routine (same breakfast, same drive to work, lunch, home time, evening routine. Bed.) can make you feel like you’re trapped on a hamster wheel. Routines can leave you feeling stuck in expectations, thought loops and habit patterns. They can be useful – but they can also suck the wonder out of life and leave you stuck in the doldrums. You can easily fail to notice that *the moment you’re in is actually a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Never to be repeated again by anyone. Ever.*
I THINK WE CAN ALL USE A LITTLE MORE AWE AND WONDER IN OUR LIVES, DON’T YOU?
Jolt yourself out of autopilot by cultivating a Beginner’s Mind.
1.Set an intention
Say this: “I am open to inspiration.”
Make it your mantra. Repeat it to yourself throughout the day. When you’re open to inspiration you’re open to doing and seeing things in new ways.
2.Say ‘So Long’ to Self-Limiting Thoughts
“I’m too old … too fat … too (insert negative thought here).” Whatever your particular bugaboo might be, you have the power to stop your own growth-stunting, self-limiting thoughts. Whenever you catch yourself thinking this way, return to Step 1.
Repeat your new mantra: “I am open to inspiration.”
When you give up self-limiting thoughts, you create a possibility to transcend your ordinary experiences and limitations and to see yourself in a new, more flattering light.
3.Get Outside - Take an ‘Awe Walk’
“The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.” – W.B. Yeats
Turn a walk outside into a voyage of inspiration of wonder. Awe usually occurs in places you’ve never been to before and in places that are physically vast (like the Grand Canyon or the Rocky Mountains or staring into the night sky). But you can find awe in just about any environment. No matter where you are, the key is having the right frame of mind. This practice will help you turn an ordinary walk into a series of awe-inspiring moments, filled sensory delight.
As you walk, open your senses to what you’re experiencing right now. Name:
4. Practice Mindfulness
In mindfulness meditation, you practice non-judgmentally observing the rising and passing of thoughts, breaths, emotions and sensations.
Did you know that you take more than 20,000 breaths each day?
That’s crazy, right? Most of those breaths, you’re not conscious of. Because you’re too busy – doing dishes, attending Zoom meetings and doom scrolling through social media. Stop and pay attention to your breath RIGHT NOW (click the video above for instruction). Prepare to be stunned by how interesting your breath actually is and how much there is to notice: texture, smell, sound, location, depth, asymmetries, pauses, and so much more! And it’s going on right inside your nose every moment of every day. All you have to do is stop and notice. Try this mindfulness practice and get a fresh perspective on your breath.
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
~ Marcel Proust
5. Shake Up Your Yoga Practice
Remember when you were new to yoga and the art of placing attention on your breath or your alignment was new and exhilerating? Remember the first time you felt post-Savasana bliss? If your enthusiasm for practice has fizzled over the years, shake things up. You can still approach practice with the open curious mind of a newbie. Try:
-a style of yoga you don’t usually do. Swap Vinyasa for Yoga Nidra!
-a different yoga instructor.
-reversing the way you normally inhale/exhale in a Sun Salutation.
-if your practice is mostly physical, integrate more pranayama, meditation or philosophy
-Bring more yoga into your everyday life. Mindfulness can be practiced in any context: in your garden, your relationships, and in your job.
The possibilities are limitless! Yoga is everywhere. Get curious and experiment.
6. Do An Everyday Activity in a New Way
Open your mind to the possibility that there are other ways to do things.
-take a different route to work
-brush your teeth or eat your breakfast with your non-dominant hand.
-have a stir-fry for breakfast
-next time you go grocery shopping, start at the opposite end of the store than you normally do.
Notice how small changes alter the quality of your experience and your attention.
7. .Try Something New
When you have a new experience, it’s impossible not to have the mindset of a beginner. Learn how to yodel, do an oil change or how to do an African gumboot dance. Youtube has a ‘How To’ video for everything! Notice what it feels like to try something without any preconceived ideas. Just be present as a complete beginner – and absorb.
“We begin with beginner’s mind, and then, if we’re lucky, we deepen it, or return to it.”
~ Joseph Goldstein
A Beginner’s Mind is an opportunity to see the world around you with fresh eyes. You experience life with more awe and wonder. You’re more open to possibilities, you connect with people more intimately, and it makes life so much more fun and interesting. Beginner’s Mind frees you from expectations about the future based on what you experienced in the past.
What does 2022 have in store for us? No idea.
Stay open, receptive and ready to roll with the changes. That’s Beginner’s Mind.