Why Beginner’s Mind Is A Key to Health
I visited my adorable niece and nephew in California a few weeks ago. They’re 6 and 2 years old, respectively. We had a blast playing on the playground, giggling and laughing, engaging in imaginary play. This respite of silliness was a true salve for my inner child. If you haven’t gone down a slide or been on a tire swing in awhile, I highly recommend it!
One of my biggest takeaways hanging with these miniature “question machines” was the reminder of the power of cultivating “Beginner’s Mind”. A term from Zen Buddhism, Beginner’s Mind, means you approach life through a beginner’s eyes, with an attitude of openness and eagerness. If you’ve ever sat with a 2 year old, they’re favorite thing to do is ask “Why?” They vibrate in the world with curiosity and wonder.
Even though we’re here to learn and fill our minds with knowledge, as we get older, there’s a lot more benefit in “not learning” or rather emptying our minds. The basis for the Beginner’s Mind is that a kind of open mindedness gives us the ability to make better decisions, adapt to life’s challenges and ultimately have more joy.
Cultivating a Beginner’s Mind is a life enhancing practice that’s characterized by:
Curiosity – “Isn’t that interesting.”
Vulnerability – “I don’t know.”
Flexibility – “I’m open to whatever serves my highest good”
Acceptance – “It is what it is”
Just as in a meditation session, we observe whatever arises in our present moment awareness without judgment and preconceived notions and instead endeavor to simply let go. With Beginner’s Mind, there’s a deep commitment to widening our perception by paying attention to our own unfolding inner experience.
With a Beginner’s Mind, we resist the tendency to “know it all”, and let go of the need “to be right”. We don’t waste energy blaming, judging and fighting against things and instead focus on what is within our control. Instead of judging things as good or bad, we see them simply as they are, which gives way to exploring more possibilities and empowering understanding.
Cultivating Beginner’s Mind helps us overcome so many of the psychological obstacles that undermine our ability to make healthy lifestyle changes:
All or nothing thinking
Low tolerance for uncertainty
Low Self Esteem
So here are my top 5 ways to cultivate Beginner’s Mind:
1) Channel Your Inner 2 Year Old: Start asking questions like they do: what is this, why is it this way, how does this work? Have the intention to nurture your child like curiosity and awe of not knowing all the answers.
2) Practice the “Don’t Know” Mindset – Take in the realization that there are actually an infinite number of things about this great mystery of life that you just don’t fully understand. Say it outloud and often: “I don’t know”. Get used to admitting that you’re unsure about things. Rather than trying to figure these things out, you practice being at peace with the state of not knowing.
3) Eliminate “Should” – Saying something ‘should’ be a certain way attaches you to the outcome. Instead let go of the outcome and of your beliefs about what should happen and allow the intelligence of life to surprise you with new potential outcomes.
4) Be in the “Here-Now” – Find ways of calming and quieting your mental chatter and connect with your body’s senses through mindful breathing, meditation or yoga practice. Rushing through life on auto-pilot you deprive yourself of the gift of self awareness and insight which are the essential keys of rediscovering your Beginner’s Mind.
5) Stop Making Stuff Up – Observe your inner storyteller. Our past experiences and assumptions fuel the mind’s cycle of disempowering narratives and so much unnecessary suffering.
For more like this, listen to the latest episode of the Soul Science Nutrition Podcast: “When My Body Said No” – With Magic Barclay, Integrative and Wholistic Health Practitioner.