"in the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's there are few." ~ shunryo suzuki-roshi
i recently embarked on two new journeys – beginning sewing and beginning hip hop class. as an avid yogini for numerous years, trying a new form of movement was both enticing and scary. returning to a sewing machine after a few years away brought up additional fears. we spent the first class sewing semi circles on paper, learning to thread the machine, and discussing terminology. i wondered whether i’d be able to keep up. all of this corresponded simultaneously with one of the studio’s tranquil tips of the week on approaching practice with beginner’s mind. synchronicity works in funny ways….
but what exactly is a beginner's mind? how do you cultivate it if you’ve been practicing something for years. it is described very well by the famous zen story known as empty your cup. a university professor went to visit a famous zen master. while the master quietly served tea, the professor talked about zen. the master poured the visitor's cup to the brim, and then kept pouring. the professor watched the overflowing cup until he could no longer restrain himself. "it's overfull! no more will go in!" the professor blurted. "you are like this cup," the master replied, "how can i show you zen unless you first empty your cup."
at the beginning of every teacher training at the studio, we encourage the students to approach the training with beginner’s mind - to let go of all preconceived notions about teaching, the perfect pose, and how so-and-so has taught them in the past. this is how we request that they empty their cup. when you empty your cup, you are able to open up to that exciting feeling of “the very first time.”
in her poem "when death comes," mary oliver wrote "when it's over, i want to say i have been a bride married to amazement, i've been a bridegroom taking the world into my arms." can you live your life with that kind of enthusiasm, with that kind of passion? i believe that this is the beginner's mind that suzuki-roshi is encouraging – to live life with a sense of wonder, to see where we are stuck with fixed views, and to be open to possibility. to be here, ready to meet whatever is next without expectation, prejudic,e or preconceptions. sound simple enough? ahh, if only it was so easy.
start today to cultivate your beginner's mind – bring curiosity, wonder, and delight to your everyday experiences. be willing not to know. try new things and don’t seek perfection. challenge yourself continually with new experiences. savor the scent of your favorite flower. observe the sensations of sun salutations. relish in the view of the city’s architecture. truly embrace the feelings associated with touching a loved one - all as if you’re doing something you’ve never done before. now this, my dear one, is an ongoing challenge, but one that will continue to reap rewards over and over again.