Beginner's Mind

'In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's there are few' 

('Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind' by Shunryu Suzuki)

'The mind of the beginner is empty, free of the habits of the expert, ready to accept, to doubt, and open to all possibilities. It is the kind of mind which can see things as they are, which step by step and in a flash can realise the original nature of everything'. (Richard Baker, Introduction, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind)

'Beginner's Mind' has also been called 'Don't Know Mind', 'No Mind', 'Open Mind', 'Child's Mind'. It brings an   innocence, a freshness, a curiosity to life, replacing well-worn habits of mind with new perspectives. One has only to watch a child examining a daisy or a tadpole for the first time to be reminded of how it is to see the world through fresh, unclouded eyes.

In practice we can return to a 'Beginner's Mind' by experiencing each breath as new, unique; each moment as a fresh, new beginning, and any experience in the body and in our perceived world as a new experience to which we can bring curiosity and an openness to what is rather than what we think or believe it is. 

A useful practice can start with taking our place, being comfortable and alert, sitting or lying with ease, held by our support, open and allowing. Feeling the body connecting us through to the earth... head gently resting on spine ... eyes closed or gently open .. jaw relaxed .. tongue resting .. chin tucked in .. shoulders relaxed, dropping ... arms resting .. hands in lap or on the support. Our seats grounding us .. legs heavy .. feet connecting us to the earth. We are being soothed .. our nervous system relaxing .. body and mind calming .. at rest. 

Each moment is new and we are part of this newness .. all we experience is new ... we can let go for now of our thinking minds, our expectations ... for this time we can bring an open 'Don't Know' mind to our practice ... to each breath we can simply open and allow it all to be exactly as it is. No effort, no pressure .. each breath totally new .. each breath a new beginning... 

And so with sounds ... hearing anew.. as for the first time .. allowing each sound to register afresh, letting go of conceptual naming mind ... and hearing silence ... the silence before sound arises.. and after it goes.. effortless... simple resting in awareness ... spacious, open, wide, allowing ..

And so with any thoughts that arise .. letting go of judging mind.. simply being with what is exactly as it is.. nothing to fix or change .. allowing.. quietening... letting be..

Simply being here in the present .. in this fresh moment.. letting go of ideas of the past and of the future .. this moment is enough ... enoughness ... resting in not knowing .. .. 

And being aware of the heartspace .. resting, allowing contentment in things just as they are, in simply being. 


We can practice 'Beginner's Mind' in our daily lives. In his book 'Zen in the Art of Helping,' Davod Brandon writes (with reference to his role in social work):

'Helpful listening is simply listening. It is a form of meditation wherein the speaker becomes the object of the concentration rather than the breathing or a mantra. The focus of the helper's concentration is the sound of the speaker's voice and the possible meaning of his words.

Nowness closes no doors. It involves an openness which throws away fears and expectations It opens itself to risks, to new learning experiences and interpretations. it declares 'I am ready to see you in a fresh way. I wish to put no boundaries on what you might say or do.'

'Let go of the need to be right, and approach every situation as an opportunity to learn something about yourself''.

More contemporaneously, the practice of Insight Dialogue as developed by Gregory Kramer is about the same openness to be present, to simply listen:

'I invite you to take the time in your practice to speak from silence and to listen deeply. What remains when you step out of roles, even for an instant?' ('Insight Dialogue: The Interpersonal Path to Freedom').

Rick Hanson, in his current Wednesday meditation/talk series on living with each other promotes the value of bringing 'Don't Know Mind' into relationships, to bring fresh perspectives onto our usual, habitual yet often unhelpful ways and patterns of being with others:


In this way, the practice of Beginner's Mind, of listening anew, afresh, for once without judgement, could be seen as a radical act for the world.  




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Falling Open..

Amoda Maa writes:

'While the invitation of openness is a timeless one - it is the essential pointer to freedom that cuts through all cultures, all ages, and all traditions - it is also a very timely one. As collective consciousness exhibits increasing polarisation leading to increased fear of those with a different worldview, it also mirrors the underlying grip of ego consciousness that fears its own demise. Nations go to war with each other; the ego goes to war with the present moment.The resolution to both the inner tension of the ego-self and the outer tension of the world is the willingness to surrender the argument with what is: to meet reality without resistance. This willingness to surrender is a falling - moment to moment - into silent awareness. And it is up to each one of us to take responsibility for this.'  (Falling Open in a World Falling Apart, p.16)

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On meditation ...

'Let the meditation do the meditation' 

'Let the stillness be the meditation' ...

If we can drop the effort from our practice we may touch into a deeper quiet and a greater stillness ..

'Feel the mighty still earth beneath you .. all we're dolng is joining it in our stillness.'

(from Henry Shukman's Original Love Course, Zone 3, session 1, summer 2022)


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Remembering death

'... remember we are going to die ... we think we have time, and that's our mistake .. the reality of our mortality can be brought about to us more or less vividly by events but it's absolutely real regardless ... there are schools that encourage us to remember every day - this will all end, the experience we're having right now, each of us, it will end for each of us .. and isn't it enough just to call that to mind every day? (Henry Shukman)

'... one of the central teachings of the Buddha is the truth of impermanence .. and the real bedrock of the spiritual path is coming to terms with our mortality and in part it turns us toward this profound appreciation for life as it is and in the work I've done for so many decades of being with the dying's changed my priorities ... why is it important to cultivate a mind of love? why is it important to leave the violence of disrespect, of disparagement, of hatred behind? why is it important to mitigate, diminish confusion, delusion? What is really important to do in this life? ..I think it is to wake up ..and  to actualise compassion in the fundamental experience of wisdom.    I also hope death is the great equaliser.   Everything that is near to us and dear to us will go and as such this moment as it is is the place where we're called to wake up.' (Roshi Joan Halifax)

( from the Original Love series on Samadhi, August 2022) 

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Support .... the most important thing

'Basically the most important thing in the world ... is support ... realising that we're not alone is the most important thing we can do...

If we just allow this moment to be as it is, and for our troubled hearts to be as they are .. even a happy heart, a light-hearted heart, if you study it, has got this sense of engagement going on...'

(Henry Shukman, Original Love - Support. May 2022)

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