beginner’s mind does not equal ignorant mind
This past weekend, I had the privilege of grounding my sitting bones deeply in the role of student. That’s not something I get to do all that often, as a teacher of many subjects myself, and also as an adult. But as I played this part with one of my most beloved teachers, Tias Little, guiding meditation and asana practice, I was overcome with gratitude for the opportunity. I was reminded of what had kept me coming back to yoga classes again and again as an early practitioner. The joy of discovery. And the wonder of learning new things.
As adults, opportunities to explore and develop new skills are fewer and farther between…unless we seek them out. Children learn things every day. New skills, new ideas, new questions occur sometimes at a very rapid pace and in very quick succession. Parents and caregivers can witness the curiosity, the frustration, and the pride as new skills are tried and eventually mastered. First words and first steps turn into language comprehension and means of transport.
I’m not sure when it happens exactly, but eventually our learning plateaus. We know what we need to know to function as we want to in the world, and we stop seeking.
In the Buddhist tradition and also in yoga philosophy, students are encouraged to keep coming to their practices with an open mind… beginner’s mind. Meditation and asana practice are not meant to be mastered or perfected. They are meant to be practiced. And if we approach it like we already know all there is to know, then we become rigid and our opportunity to grow is cut off. So, we work to maintain curiosity. We continue to explore, to question even the things we have explored and questioned before.
This has been a skill I’ve been struggling to cultivate over the past several months, as a student in a new community of yogis who approach the practice differently than I was taught to approach it and speak about with a seemingly foreign language. But this weekend, in the midst of a meditation practice about going with the flow, I was able to put into thought, and hopefully words, why it is I’m often reluctant to open my beginner’s mind.
It’s the same reason that I often get frustrated when teachers instruct me to “let it go” in an asana practice. We’ve just done something challenging; a pose that caused some sweat, some ragged breathing, maybe even furrowed or raised brows at the seeming impossibility of it. Maybe it was hard. But it was part of my experience. I don’t want to let it go.
I understand what they are getting at. We don’t need for every past experience to be carried along with us into the future. That was frustrating. That was hard. Let it go. Move on. See with fresh eyes. Valuable, yes? Difficult…definitely. And not entirely necessary.
We don’t have to let go of everything we know in order to practice beginner’s mind. We shouldn’t. We have earned all the skills we have acquired throughout our lives. We have earned the knowledge we’ve accrued. Approaching familiar subjects with a beginner’s mind allows us to soften around our ideas; to remain curious and thoughtful about them and to be open to new ones. We don’t even have to subscribe to the new ideas. Maybe they don’t suit us better than our old ones. But even knowing that, the insight that our previous intel still fits the bill, will be lost to us without opening our beginner’s mind.
As Tias says, “A sticky mind becomes a brittle mind. Develop a mind that clings to nothing. Teflon mind.”
“The most important thing to remember is this:
to be ready at any moment
to give up what you are
for what you might become.”
In other words…