No-Fail Friday: Beginner’s mind

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You made it! The end of the work and school week is here. Of course, every end is a beginning, which in this case is even better news because it’s quite nearly, almost, officially…the weekend! Beginnings were really our topic of choice this week, anyway, and so of course, they’re also the subject of this weekend’s “no-fail” mindfulness challenge. Ready to get started? 

There’s a concept in mindfulness and meditation called “beginner’s mind” (shoshin in Zen Buddhism). When describing the concept, people often refer to the way that children encounter the world. They don’t have as much experience as we adults do, so they see things with fresh eyes. They are less likely to look at objects, scenarios and circumstances with a pre-set list of descriptions or expectations about them. You’ve probably noticed this if you’ve ever tried to get a child to walk somewhere in a timely fashion. “Look, a bird! A flower! Something purple!” Younger children notice everything, and not only that, they often want to stop and spend time checking things out. They see the flower, so they have to go over and touch it, smell it, see the color up close. They are explorers, and they take very little about their surroundings for granted — something we all eventually learn to do with time.

We grown-ups are busy people with a lot to manage on any given day. If we stopped and smelled every rose, so to speak, we’d probably find ourselves with a lot of explaining to do to a lot of people. Mindfulness can help us become more aware of not only our physical routines as we tackle each day, but also the mental habits and patterns we fall into as we do so. “I’ll wake up, do this, go here, this person will be this certain way and I already know why, so I’ll respond as I always do, then I’ll keep going, and then this, and that…” and so on. We think we know the story already, even as it’s being written. We pride ourselves on our “efficiency” in managing all of it.

So what do we do about this? You can’t forget what you know about the world and the people in it. In many cases, it’s helpful info. For example, kids eventually learn that a stove might be hot, so you want to approach it with caution. I’d say that’s a useful expectation. We can, however, do the work to cultivate “beginner’s mind” upon occasion as we go through our daily lives. As a mindfulness practitioner, you are already learning to notice your internal responses to things before you respond. That momentary stopover is the perfect time for seeing something with fresh eyes. You need to practice to get there, though. So here’s an idea.

For your “no-fail” challenge this weekend, you’ll need about five minutes. Think you can find that this weekend? Sure you can. Choose an object or a scene to look at. Spend one or two minutes describing the scene to yourself. Use all the big grown-up words and analysis techniques you can muster, so that a person who isn’t there could easily understand what you’re looking at. Then, close your eyes. Find your breath.  Let the image go, if you can, and focus on your inhales and exhales. You may choose to count to four or five with each one, or simply focus on the sensation of the air passing through your body. Allow yourself to be still, and present. You can do this for as long as you like, but even two or three minutes should do it. Feel your body relax and your attention center.

Then, open your eyes. Look at the object you previously analyzed. Does it look different? Do you notice anything new about it? Maybe it seems more simple, or more complex. Or not. This is a “no-fail” challenge, so there are no wrong outcomes. But, I’m guessing that giving yourself the chance to reset your senses and look at something without expectations may have helped you see it in a new light.

A “beginner’s light,” if you will.

Hope this weekend gives you an excuse to, at least for a few moments, feel like a kid again.

Photo credit: Travel Coffee Book

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