Do you ever find yourself making assumptions about the way your next history exam will go, how a conversation with a parent will transpire, or how you will perform in your next soccer tournament? Often times we cultivate expectations of ourselves, others, or situations in general based on past experiences. While this is a natural and adaptive aspect of human nature, it can also inhibit us from being open to the potential of experiencing something new and different. Furthermore, assumptions based on our experiences sometimes take us away from the present moment and transport us backward into the past or forward into the future. Again, while not entirely unhelpful to reflect on past experiences or consider our futures, living in the past or the future can bring up unhelpful emotions. It can also inhibit our ability to experience the here and now and furthermore to be effective in the here and now. Today I offer you the concept of “Beginner’s Mind” as a means of cultivating the opportunity for new experiences and practicing mindfulness of the present moment.
What is a beginner’s mind? It is what it sounds like! Remember the first time you made a new friend, got an A on your exam, went on a rollercoaster? During any of these “firsts” you approach the experience with an unknowing and open mind because you have not yet had that experience. Beginner’s mind is a way of approaching an experience that, while it be familiar in many aspects, has the potential for a new and different outcome. Perhaps you have had several conversations with a parent on earning privileges back that have not gone in your favor. These experiences build on each other and cultivate an assumption that this type of conversation will always transpire in the same fashion and have the same end result. This assumptive mindset, while seemingly accurate, inhibits us from being creative and experimenting with a different approach and outcome. It can feel hopeless, defeating, and other unhelpful emotions when we get into our assumptive mindsets. If we are to shift our perspective to utilizing a “Beginner’s Mind”, we might consider approaching this conversation in a different manner with an open mind about the result looking different. In doing so, we allow for the possibility of change and new experiences. Cultivating the opportunity for a new experience may foster emotions such as hope and optimism.
Now what we know what Beginner’s Mind is, how do we achieve beginner’s mind? First, we must acknowledge that there is a part of our past experience that informs our current experience. For example, that last conversation with my mom did not go well. We might draw attention to the areas in which we felt this conversation was ineffective and tweak those areas to open the opportunity for a new outcome. We must then let go of that past experience with our tweaks in mind. Rehashing the past in unhelpful to our current situation. Similarly, we might envision what could happen in the future; however, we must acknowledge that we are not fortune tellers and therefor we cannot predict the exact outcome. In this scenario, make peace with the fact that we cannot with certainty predict the result of our conversation. Once we have made peace with our past experiences and our assumptions about the future we allow ourselves to come back to the present moment and furthermore be effective in this current experience.
Beginner’s mind can be challenging, especially if you notice your mind often wanders to a different time and place. I offer you the following tips in practicing Beginner’s Mind and cultivating more experiences in the here and now:
Practice self-kindness, do not judge yourself on your ability to stay in the present. Rather, gently remind yourself to come back to the here and now when you notice you have wandered
Make peace with what you cannot change about the past and what you do not know for certain in the future
Practice Self-Care and grounding strategies to help you move through difficult emotions
Remember that Beginner’s Mind is challenging and requires practice! Resist the temptation to give up on your efforts!