If you’ve ever driven home from work and realized you have no idea how you got there, you have experienced life on autopilot. As much as structure and routine can help keep you organized and on task, they can also get you stuck - in expectations, thought loops, and habit patterns.
The Sanskrit word for a deeply ingrained thought or behaviour pattern is ‘samskara’. It literally means a ‘rut’ or ‘groove’. Just like a tire that travels the same path over and over wears a deep groove into the ground, ‘grooves’ or ‘ruts’ get worn into your neurology through repeated thoughts and behaviour.
This is good in the sense that it makes you more efficient at doing everyday things. When your brain automates a task, like walking, it saves you a ton of time and mental energy. However, repetition and routine can also leave you in the doldrums and wondering how you can become more present and interested in your own life.
Worry not! You CAN restore your feelings of curiosity, amazement, wonder, and feel more connected in your relationships. You can jolt yourself out of a life on cruise control by cultivating a Beginners’ Mind that is present, open and without preconceptions.
I’ll walk you through 9 WAYS TO TUNE INTO 'BEGINNERS' MIND' RIGHT NOW.
1) SET AN INTENTION
For example: “I meet each moment with openness and curiosity.” Say it often and mean it.
2) BANISH YOUR SELF-LIMITING THOUGHTS
“I’m….too old, too fat, too stuck in my ways, too (insert negative thought here).” Whatever it may be, you have the power to stop these self-limiting and habit-forming thoughts. Whenever you catch yourself thinking this way return to 1) and recite your intention. “I meet each moment with openness and curiosity.”
Be open to the idea that if you give up your self-limiting thoughts, you might astonish yourself.
3) PRACTICE MINDFULNESS
You take 20,000 breaths a day. That’s crazy, right? I know you’ve been far too busy doing dishes, creating Power Point presentations and making Zoom calls to count breaths. Which is WHY you simply must stop and pay attention your breath NOW. Prepare to be stunned by how interesting your breath actually is and how much there is to notice: texture, smell, sound, location and depth, asymmetries, pauses, and so much more! And it’s been going on right under nose this whole time. Try this mindfulness practice and get a fresh perspective on your breath.
4) SHAKE UP YOUR YOGA PRACTICE
Has the novelty and wonder of your yoga practice worn off? Try:
- a pose you’ve never done before.
- a different yoga instructor
- a style of yoga you don’t normally practice (with an open mind)
- reversing the way you normally inhale/exhale in sun salutations.
The possibilities are limitless! Get curious and experiment in your practice.
5) SLOW DOWN
When you drive by a field at 100 km/hour, you will see a green blur. If you take a leisurelywalk through that same field, you will see individual blades of grass and a variety of vibrant and colourful wildflowers. Same field, different perspective. Life is like that too. Details are what make life interesting and you can’t see them if you’re rushing. Practice noticing the details by taking something you normally do quickly and slow it waaaaaay down.
-put down your fork between mouthfuls and savour each bite.
-slow down your yoga practice.
-explore that beautiful place you have driven past and always wanted to see up close. Get out of your car and walk through. Real slow.
Notice the details.
6) DO AN EVERYDAY ACTIVITY IN A NEW WAY
-take a different route to work.
-brush your teeth or eat your breakfast with your non-dominant hand.
-have dinner 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) RECLAIM YOUR CHILD-LIKE CURIOSITY
Every child goes through the “Why?” phase. Why? Because the world is new to them – and so full of mystery and wonder. When my son was very young he asked me whether eagles, seagulls and beagles were related. That question stopped my mind in its tracks. I could see why he thought they might be related -but I had never made that connection myself. Like a thunderclap, I was jolted out of my know-it-all mind and invited to appreciate a connection between things I had never noticed before.
A question is an invitation to look at the world through new eyes. What have you always wondered? Go find an answer. Learning expands your perspective.
Speaking of learning…
8) LEARN A NEW SKILL
Appalachian clog dancing, painting rocks, how to do an oil change…
Notice what it feels like to try something with no preconceived ideas. Just be present as a
complete beginner - and absorb.
9) DUST OFF YOUR JOURNAL AND START WRITING
You might be surprised by what flows out of your pen and onto the page when you sit down to
write. Try not to censor yourself. Just put your pen to paper and go. You can use journal
prompts or write free-form and see what comes up for you. If you like prompts, try these.
When you cultivate a Beginners’ Mind, you’re more open to possibilities, you become more creative and you can connect with the people in your life more intimately. Those people get the thrill of experiencing your renewed interest in them, and they become more engaged in sharing their thoughts and ideas. Call it a positive feedback loop.
Beginners’ Mind also frees us from expectations about the future based on our past experiences. What’s next? Nobody knows for sure! How’s that for a mystery?
So, get outta cruise control and get tuned into the present moment - like you do when you’re driving down a dark, unfamiliar road at night and can only see as far ahead as your high beams. Stay open and alert. That’s Beginners’ Mind.