Attitudes of Mindfulness: Beginner’s Mind

SausalitaSunset2015Think about how many sunrises and sunsets we have experienced in our lifetimes. There have been so many, yet most of us still feel delight when we see an especially beautiful one. We understand that it is the first and only time we will experience this particular performance of the sun and so we view it afresh with openness and wonder. It is quite natural to approach each sunrise and sunset with a beginner’s mind.

Beginner’s mind is one of the seven interdependent fundamental attitudes of mindfulness that are consciously cultivated during practice, according to Jon Kabat-Zinn. In his book Full Catastrophe Living, he calls these attitudes “the soil in which you will be cultivating your ability to calm your mind and relax your body, to concentrate and to see more clearly.”

When we adopt the mind of a beginner, we endeavor to look at things as if for the first time, free from the influence of the past or speculation about the future. We open ourselves to what is here now, rather than constructing stories about what we think is here. Much like a scientist who observes without bias, beginner’s mind allows us to collect raw data. This opens us up to new possibilities, rather than being confined by habits and conditioning.

In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few. – Shunryu Suzuki from Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

What would it be like if we approached experiences more wholeheartedly and with less preconception, trusting that there is always potential for learning? This would require us to entertain the possibility that we don’t know as much as we think we do and acknowledge that we can’t predict the future, no matter how routine things may seem. We would rely more on curiosity asking questions about our experiences. Letting go of our expectations and expertise takes courage as it requires us to be vulnerable and live with ambiguity.

We would also have to resist the temptation to immediately think ahead or worry excessively about outcomes, instead just allowing ourselves to take in each moment as it unfolds non-judgmentally. This would make room for us to respond to what is, rather than to the way we think things should be.

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