Opening Our Beginner’s Mind

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities. In the expert’s mind there are few.” ~Shunryu Suzuki


As children, we are steeped in learning. Our minds open. Our potential expansive. New concepts and ideas are presented, practiced, and added to a greater body of knowledge. We learn new skills, build essential strengths. We speak. Read. Write. We learn bad words (some of us earlier than others).

As children, we learn to identify what unconditional love looks like, while others of us learn to identify the face of evil, sometimes in our very own home. We figure out what burns, what stings, how much force it takes to break a bone jumping from the monkey bars. Some of us find out exactly what it takes to infuriate our mothers. Often – for me at least – it involved my hair and a pair of sewing scissors or mixing expensive perfumes in the bathroom sink to create something new and unusual. Unusual indeed.

The learning is constant and steady. Everything is possibility and urgency.

As we grow older, the onslaught slows. The timeline stretches. The lessons grow bigger, more abstract, and less obvious. We become distracted and mindlessly move inward in ever contracting circles. Our lives become routine. Predictable. Time seems to dissipate at an alarming rate. Everything is “have to’s”, “shoulds”, and worry.

One day we wake up, wondering where the possibility went. How our potential went unrealized. Why we “have to” do anything when we are creatures of choice. We wonder when did we start living small lives even though our talent and dreams were always so big? We examine our beliefs and as we begin to question the very nature of the rules that have become our jailer, we realize that this is actually a prison of our own making, that the shout of our mother to move away from the hot stove has become a constant refrain for anything that seems dangerous, different, out of the ordinary.

Perception is reality, and we have been caught looking down at our feet trudging the hard ground instead of up at the horizon alight with possibilities. We forgot what it means to live in the wonder and newness of The Beginner’s Mind. We are afraid. We think that in being The Beginner we are somehow “less than” – that somehow we have wasted our time and have to start over.

Our fear of being The Beginner is our folly.

When we become The Beginner, we never lose the best parts of ourselves. We simply shed the parts that no longer serve us and take with us an assurance that we are growing and moving in an ever-tightening, upward spiral towards joy. In The Beginner’s Mind, we realize that in order to learn, we must also unlearn. Old concepts and ideas that no longer serve us can be examined, then released.

We realize that as The Beginner our learning is fortifying and our unlearning is freeing.

This past year I became The Beginner. I climbed into the attic of my mind and started clearing out old, worn-out stories. I was stretched and pulled and poked and prodded. I was uncomfortable as hell, but I was also loved unconditionally. I looked into the faces of my teachers and saw compassion in their faces, love in their eyes. There were many moments I was afraid that I would be left behind and deemed unworthy. I was told that as long as I retained The Beginner’s Mind, I could not be left behind because as I was always beginning, I was also always moving forward. In contrast, those that live in perpetual fear of being left behind are also those that are too afraid to take in the feedback and grow. They are stuck – holding onto the rock as the water rushes past them, afraid to let go and begin again. And again. And again.

When you become The Beginner you realize that letting go is the best part.