Cultivating Shoshin (a Beginner’s Mind), April 2021
Shoshin is a Zen Buddhist concept which means ‘beginner’s mind.’ What would it look like to approach a situation, or life, with Shoshin? That is to say, to take the same attitude as when you do something for the first time.
I was with my brother when he picked a Golden Retriever puppy from a breeder. Ginger was 8 weeks old when she came to his house. There were many things that she had never experienced before. When we took her to the backyard, it became evident that she had never been on grass. It was fascinating to watch her explore. She picked up her paws very high, trying to step over the blades. When one of her paws landed, she appeared startled. Maybe it was the way the blades of grass felt or maybe it was the dew? She was puzzled, adventurous, and maybe a little brave. She was experiencing something for the first time. Something as simple as grass. She was curious. She experimented. She learned. Because she was a puppy, she approached everything with a beginner’s mind.
Shunryu Suzuki (1904-1971) was a Zen monk, teacher and the author of Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. He helped popularize Zen Buddhism in the United States and founded the first Zen Buddhist monastery outside of Asia. In Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind he writes “If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything, it is open to everything. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities…”
Contrast this with an expert. Experts amass great amounts of experience and knowledge in their fields. They rely on what they have learned and act in accordance with their knowledge and experience. Their thoughts and actions often may be efficient and predictable. They know what to expect when encountering something similar as what has been encountered before. Some of their questions can be eliminated. There are times they seemingly operate on autopilot. Novices and experts alike can adopt the Shoshin attitude. By setting aside our ego, our knowing, our certainty and our autopilot patterns we might have a different and more interesting approach.
The Shoshin approach might allow for:
• Opening to possibility
• Embracing uncertainty
• Releasing preconceptions
• Slowing down
• Being more present
• Awe and wonder
• Expanding one’s views
• Gaining new knowledge
• Having a truly new experience
• Making mistakes
• Heightened sensory awareness
• Lighthearted pleasure and enjoyment
This Beginner’s Mind approach can cultivate and expand on:
• Feelings of gratitude and appreciation
• Living in the moment/being more present
• Your awareness
• Your Creativity
• The joy you feel
So, how to begin?
Set aside any need you might have to be the expert. Set aside expectations and preconceived ideas. Allow yourself to go into an experience as a beginner, a novice, and imagine that you have never experienced anything like this before. For example, stepping onto your yoga mat for your practice. As you step onto the mat allow yourself to feel the mat under your feet – feel its texture, really look at its color, notice its temperature. Have no expectation of what will follow. Imagine that Cat-Cow is your first asana. Ground your hands, let your knees and hands support your body weight, and let your spine begin to undulate with your breath. Notice how the movement works with your breath, the suppleness of the spine, how your spine can move. It is fascinating! Because you are experiencing the movement as if for the first time, even if you have done it hundreds of times before.
Some tips for adopting the beginner’s mind approach day to day:
1. Set your intent every morning. Then your day can move along with your intent leading the way. Instead of doing things the same and on autopilot, we can create something more satisfying.
2. Soften and open your mind to learning. Get curious. Ask questions even when you think you know the answer. You might be inspired by the answers you receive.
3. Let your courage shine. Find your courage to feel your feelings. The courage to not know. The courage to change your mind.
4. Be present, slow down, and allow time. Take time to notice, to question, to experience and to see the wonder in whatever you are doing. Take time to listen to others.
We could all use a little bit more of Ginger’s Shoshin spirit!