Being a Beginner

Being a beginner at anything can be scary. But, as we go through life’s trials, willingness to be a beginner often turns out to be the ultimate expression of courage.  The old scary becomes the new fun.  The old impossible becomes the new possible. 

We are somewhat obsessed in our current society with becoming experts.  After all, we genuinely believe that being an expert yields more credibility, more financial success, more knowledge, more control, and a fuller sense of joy.  An individual with an expert mindset might even think that if he or she obtains more facts and knowledge about recovery or some other goal, that it will lead to a more complete experience of recovery and life in general. But, there is much to be said about taking on the approach of a beginner instead. 

Why is this topic so important me? Well, I’m a music and writing teacher and have worked with several groups in addiction and trauma recovery, young children, and even adults seeking to simply learn something new.   In these roles, I have faced a couple of different problems that have required beginner’s mindset.  For example, being an advanced musician and professional writer myself, I have to keep going back to the basics and reminding myself of this: just because I have familiarity and knowledge of the premises behind a simple concept, doesn’t mean that others do. I have to think like a beginner in those circumstances  - otherwise my students/clients simply aren’t going to understand what I’m trying to get across. 

Another scenario that comes to mind is something a friend told me about feeling like he was “done with a topic that he was trying to learn and yet unable to recall the information for his exams. Being “done” might sound great at first glance, but it can be completely frustrating to think you’ve learned all you can, and yet, not get the results you want.  In those situations, it’s best go back to Beginner’s Mind and allow great new perspective to pop up out of nowhere. 

Zen Master Shunryo Suzuki speaks of the Zen concept of Shoshin when he says,  “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”  Many of us have walked through life saying, “I’m open minded,” when really we’ve been sorting through concepts and only allowing those that agree with our conditioned sensibilities to permeate our minds and hearts.  If we are truly to embrace Shoshin and truly approach life from a standpoint of “even if I don’t agree with this idea, even if I don’t like this idea, I will be curious and explore it with an open mind,” can you imagine how many possibilities for wholeness, freedom, joy and unmitigated learning might crop up around us?   Well, I’m not sure whether you or I could fully imagine that right now given that we have been conditioned to think narrowly for most of our lives, but we can sure try! 

So, after decades of singular, tunneled focus at becoming expert, where do we expertified adults look to understand how a beginner operates?  

Picasso said, “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.” If the child epitomizes the beginner mindset, let’s look to the child as our first master. 

Lucy Chen, fine artist, takes the Picasso quote apart in her blog and helps readers to understand what it means: “It means to open all our senses, to allow our different senses to merge in order to experience the world in extraordinary ways that an infant would. It means to stay curious. It means to stay pure and innocent. It means to live a simple and straight-forward life. It means to have the guts to say what we think, especially when it is important, and making sure we are heard.”

Chen’s “opening the senses” advice seems to ring the mindfulness bell. But, in order to learn from the child master, we must not only open but merge the senses. Basically, we must break down perception boundaries in order to experience a life without boundaries

Of course, we all backpedal at times, but what are you doing to keep yourself childlike, teeming with curiosity, and ready to explore? Are you traveling, painting, doing perhaps FUN inner child visualizations beyond the deep digging work?

Careful not to try and become an “expert” at being a child. It’s all about freedom, fun, and being your truly joyous self!

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