Some of the most popular videos shared on social media are of babies. What is it about these young beings that make them so endearing to us? There are many characteristics about them that we find appealing, but one of the most touching, perhaps, is their sense of wonder. They live in the present moment, often delighted and astonished by their unfolding experience. Isn't that something that we wish we all could do?
The good news is that we can actually cultivate this experience of open-hearted wonder. In mindfulness, this quality is known as "beginner's mind" and it is considered to be a core attitude of mindful awareness. Beginner's mind is the ability to observe our experience with fresh eyes, uncluttered by preconceived notions.
What would be possible if we experienced "beginner's mind" more frequently? Consider the impact of what we know on our quality of life. What do you think you know about yourself - or about your family, friends, or work?
When we know "how things are", our responses to situations become limited. With fresh eyes we can experience wonder, appreciation, and gratitude more readily. We can consider alternative interpretations and approaches to the challenges or opportunities in our lives.
Cultivating beginner's mind encourages curiosity and compassion - two qualities that are critical to growth and self-development. Here are three exercises to help you reconnect with the attitude of beginner's mind:
- Try Mindful Eating - Most of us have some automatic patterns and attitudes about food and eating behavior, and not all of them serve our well-being. Eating mindfully involves shifting your relationship to food so that you experience the life-giving activity of eating in a particular way. Guided mindful eating exercises like this one can help you experience food in a fresh way - using beginner's mind. As you observe your experience non-judgmentally, you will notice thoughts and feelings that accompany your actions. Distinguishing the thoughts and feelings that you have about food can reveal assumptions for you to explore. To learn more about mindful eating, check out this blog.
- Play Click - Click is a fun activity to do with a partner. It is best experienced outside in a scenic setting. Each person takes a turn being the viewer or the pointer. The pointer stands behind the viewer, covers their eyes, and helps them move towards a view (an object or scene) that he or she wants them to see. The pointer gently aims the viewers gaze towards the view and then says "click" while uncovering the viewer's eyes. The viewer gets a "snapshot" of the view before the pointer covers their eyes again and guides them towards the next view. After experiencing severals views, partners switch roles and do it again. Although this activity is quite simple, it is a powerful way to encourage alternative perspectives and strengthen focus.
- Challenge your assumptions - Self-doubt is a symptom that we have developed self-limiting assumptions about what is possible for us. If we indulge it, it can sap our confidence and affect the risks that we are willing to take. Self-doubt often pops up when we are considering taking actions. The next time you notice yourself experiencing self-doubt, try engaging your curiosity about your underlying assumptions. Ask yourself these questions:
- What am I telling myself about this situation?
- What am I afraid will happen?
- What evidence do I have that my fears and beliefs are true?
As you tease out the thoughts, feelings, and beliefs that are connected to your self-doubt, you may notice that they remind you of past experiences. Consider the possibility that what you think you know about your situation may not be true. What would be possible if you considered your situation as an experiment and adopted an attitude of not knowing?
A well-known monk, Shunryu Suzuki, once said "In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's there are few." Beginner's mind is a doorway to untapped potential.
As you consider this, here's a fun video of someone just beginning their journey.
What about you? Where have you experienced "beginner's mind"? Please share your experiences in the comments below.