Food For Thought


September 13, 2017


There’s a concept in Zen Buddhism known as shoshin, which means “beginners mind”. Shoshin refers to the idea of letting go of your preconceptions and having an attitude of openness when studying a subject.

When you are a true beginner, your mind is empty and open. You’re willing to learn and consider all pieces of information, like a child discovering something for the first time. As we accumulate knowledge and expertise, however, your mind naturally becomes more closed. You assume and think, “I already know how to do this”, and you become less open to new information.

When we are children, we are in a natural state and we see the world from a pure perspective. Our views are 360 and beyond. All things are more vivid & magical as we live in a mind of wonder. Unfortunately, as we grow up, our perspective narrows down and we lose touch with our natural state. Our wonder and amazement dies out, as we lose touch with our inner child.

If I knew the good fairy who is supposed to help save the the inner child, I would ask that her gift to the children of the world to be a sense of wonder so indestructible, that it would last a whole lifetime.

In adulthood, the way we perceive things all stem from past experiences and what we perceived others to have thought of us.

We have all been conditioned in a certain way, and many of our views on things have been influenced by others. This conditioning makes it harder to learn new things and limits our understanding.

The “I know” syndrome damages us, hindering the impulses for curiosity; as curiosity is a precursor to creativity.

A solution to this “I know it all” pattern - the mind of the so-called expert - is to adopt the Beginner’s Mind. A beginner’s mind is empty; It does not hold onto preconceived ideas or rules for it because is open, eager and receptive.

Zen teacher Shunrye Suzuki says, “If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything”. Translation: it is open to everything. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few.When we are free from views, we are willing and able to learn.

Korean Zen master Seung Sahn teaches to value the “I don’t know know”. He would ask students questions like “What is love? What is consciousness? Where did your life come from? What is going to happen tomorrow?” Each time a student would answer, “I don’t know”, Seung Sahn would then reply, “good”. Keep this ‘don’t know mind’, for it is an open mind, a clear mind.

Even in close relationships, if we rely on assumptions we lose our freshness. What we see in those close to us, I only see a small part of their mystery. In actuality we dont really really know them at all. Through a beginner’s mind we learn to see one another mindfully, free from views and without this, we listen more deeply and see more clearly.

Our political or religious beliefs for example, are mostly the result of the system you were raised in. People raised by Christian families tend to be Christian. People raised by muslims tend to be muslims. Even though you maybe don’t agree on every issue, your parents political attitudes tend to shape your political attitudes. The way we approach day to day work and life is mostly a result of the system we were trained in and the people who have influenced us on the way. I think it is scary to think that at some point we all learned to think from someone else. That’s how knowledge is passed down but there is a difference between knowledge and knowing.. I should write some thought on this later. :)

Who is to say that the way you originally learned something is the best way? What if you simply learned one way of doing thing, not the way of doing things? Who is to say that the way you originally learned a skill is the best way? Many people think that they are experts in a field, when they are really just experts in a particular style. In this way, we become slaves to our old beliefs without even realizing it.

We adopt some others philosophy or strategy based on what we have been exposed to without knowing if it’s the best way to do things.

There is a danger that comes with expertise. We tend to block the information that confirms our current approach. We think we are learning, but in reality we are steamrolling through information and conversations, until we hear something that matches up with our current philosophy or previous experiences. Most people don’t want new information, they want validating information.

As we become adults, our prior knowledge blocks us from seeing things new ways. Quoting zen master Shunryo Suzuki, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the experts there are few.”

I believe becoming a master is not someone who has achieved a peak expert level, or someone who has ‘beat the game’.

A master is someone who always continues to work on his craft with a fresh view each time practicing.

Meaning, someone who whatever he does, he does it with the enthusiasm one experiences while doing it for the first time. This is his source of unlimited energy. Every lesson is a first lesson. Every dance, he dances for the first time. Every love, he loves for the first time. It is always new, personal and alive. You have to become naked and drop all pre-consumptions, without “shoulds” or “ifs”. Operate without focusing on fashions, dogmas, habits, or other pictures-in-the-head of what is normal or proper. Even though it might be that children and old people are able to be more receptive to this beginner’s mind, we are all able to access it when we become ¨here now ¨.

Having a beginners mind, we must be able to learn something new, even if this means that the ideas and notions are comfortable or dear to us may be overturned.

A beginner’s mind is our mind’s natural state. It is not something difficult to attain or something that takes years of practice to experience. Beliefs as such, only make something simple feel difficult to catch.

A beginner’s mind is not something you “achieve”, nor can you “try” to be open and ready. This trying will only create internal tension.

You must rather strip away everything in the way of experiencing this natural state, emptying the teacup so that new views and ideas can enter.

A few ways of practicing:

- Let go of the need to add value.

- Let go of the need to win every argument. (letting go of the need to prove a point opens up possibility for new learning)

-Take on a beginner’s standpoint in a conversation.

-Explore something you normally take for granted, with a non-judgmental perspective.

-Engage your senses, in the moment.

You can also pick an everyday activity and do it mindfully. Brushing your teeth, making your bed,  getting dressed for example. Pay attention to your moves while you do it. Notice your breathing, be aware of thoughts, your facial expressions. Simply be in the moment and try to explore the activity like you are doing it for the first time.

-Observe mechanical and automatic judgements.

-Drop labeling things as good or bad.

-Hang out with people who have completely different lifestyles, jobs or worldviews. (by spending time with people of different ages, cultural backgrounds and professions, you expose yourself to ways of living other than your own)

-Try a completely new activity.

- Drop habits of commuting.

Breathing - focus your attention on a single action.

Grounding - sitting or standing, place both feet on ground with full awareness of the bottom of your feet. Feel all sensations.

Gazing - gaze at an object for a period of time. Strip away the name of what you call the object. How do you experience it with no name?

Drop label and identities - drop all false identities about yourself, for example, I am a republican, a vegetarian, a salesman, an activist, a mother, father, sister, husband, etc. With the beginner’s mind, you are empty. No labels qualify. Let go of who you think you are.. if only for a  few precious moments.

Play around with these practices on a daily basis, especially when you are in a wrestling situation.

Let curiosity enter, it is a trademark of the beginner’s mind.

Although the beginner’s mind is natural, over the course of life, we seem to lose this natural quality of consciousness.

To return to this state we need to install a new pattern. Practicing mindfulness on a regular basis can help. Put the practices to use whenever you want to open up to new possibilities.

All of us learn information from someone or somewhere, so we all have a mentor or a system that guides our thoughts. The key is to realize this influence.

Remember to remind yourself that whatever you currently see or whatever is know to you at the the present moment, is only a perspective. There are many other equally valid perspectives.

Return to the mindset of the beginner, go back to your natural state and open up to world of new ideas and possibilities.

These thoughts were inspired by talented friend OVERWERK.

Hack the system!

Omer Bhatti
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