I am a beginner’s mind junkie. I’d rather not know than know.
I’d rather be trying so hard, figuring it out, falling down and being shaky than doing it absolutely perfectly. I am after the liberation of not knowing.
Beginner’s mind, or Shoshin, is a Zen Buddhist concept referring to “having an attitude of openness, eagerness and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner in that subject would.” As noted Zen teacher, Shunryu Suzuki, explains, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.”
When the pressure of performing is off, we laugh at ourselves and we act silly.
We are free.
We get out of our mind.
And exactly because of that, we surrender to the moment.
We don’t compare, compete, or perfect.
We don’t need to be good, because we are good.
We, grown-ups, are all expected to know. We, as children, go to school to learn. We study; we grow up; we go to work. We are supposed to know how to do something—one thing—pretty well. And then, maybe we find our partner; we make a house; maybe we raise children or pets or tend to a garden.
By now we are supposed to know how to do those things pretty well. Life gets busy and then it gets busier. We are supposed to know how to manage, plan and schedule all of that, seamlessly. We look at Food Network, HGTV and Pinterest to learn how to cook, make a home and what to wear.
…Phew. Are you exhausted yet? I know, me too.
That is why I chase beginner’s mind. I am not confused about my talents, my worth or my abilities. I don’t need to live in that place of doing everything well. I know how to make large abstract paintings; I know how to design stuff; I know how to love my husband; and most importantly I know how to love my children. With everything else, and even with those things I know, I am okay with trying, flailing and with falling down.
I take pottery classes and sewing classes and Adobe Illustrator classes and sushi making classes and yoga classes and glass blowing classes; I try like the Little Engine that Could. I cultivate beginner’s mind. I love that I don’t need to be an expert, or even excellent, or even good. I love that I get to make mistakes and wrinkle my brow like a child trying to draw a straight letter.
I started my yoga practice when I was 30.
I pursued Vinyasa and Bikram and Yin and Anusara with an archaeologist’s curiosity and gusto. I had no idea what an edge was, and I repeatedly crossed mine and got hurt. But I kept going for about five years. Then I had my first child. All of a sudden, two and a half hours (including driving and showering) for yoga felt extremely indulgent. Self-care turned into self-ish. Then I had my second child. And then, a few years later, just a few months ago, at the age of 40 I picked up my yoga practice again.
I was square in the middle of beginner’s mind.
It is, and it isn’t, like riding a bike. It is because I still had my breath which had helped me through natural childbirth and many things since I left my mat. I could get right back into my breath. However, my body was so different, and I was stiff. It felt like molten metal had been poured into the crown of my head, filled up my entire body and then cooled. I felt stiff, hard and unable to move. I went anyway.
I wasn’t good at yoga anymore. I had no practice. I was totally okay with that.
I was okay with that because I could go to my mat, work hard, shake, not do Koundinyasana or Bakasana and not care if everyone around me could do it except for me. Such is the liberation of beginner’s mind.
Beginner’s mind is absolutely no concern about appearance or ego attachment to performance. It is the luxury of playing and trying and reaching and dreaming big.
Today, eight months later, I can do Bakasana although still not koundinyasana. And omg, I just started reaching for inversions and am free all over again—practicing Dolphin on the wall, being inspired by yoga selfies on Instagram and even brave enough to try. My yoga poses don’t look like what I see on Instagram. None of my asanas look like the pages of Yoga Journal or elephant journal or any journal! But inside I feel graceful, fluid and flexible (at least more so).
I feel non-judgmental.
I feel connected.
I feel grounded.
I feel free and joyful and strong.
My body is no longer made of cooled metal. It is made of muscle and bone and skin and good music and sweat.
My ten-year yoga practice (with a long pause in the middle) still feels like beginner’s mind and is exactly the way I want it. I often say the sure-fire way to kill a desire is to learn too much about it, which does seemingly go against my intellectual curiosity. So this is what I do, I only try to know what I need in the moment. It helps me float. It helps me lift. It helps me elevate for just a few seconds. One day I’ll be able to hold my handstands, then I’ll have to learn Koundinyasana, move on to paddle board yoga, maybe needlepoint or…
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