“In the beginner’s mind, the possibilities are many. In the expert’s mind, the possibilities are few.”
-Shunyru Suzuki Roshi
Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind
In 1884, a family in Michigan went to a cemetery to have dinner with their father. The man passed away the year before.
During that time period, death was a constant in people’s lives. Epidemics of yellow fever and cholera raged across the US. Children often passed away before the age of 10. Women frequently died during childbirth. Many people had picnics and other gatherings in cemeteries so they could break bread with loved ones who passed away.
This was not the first time that large numbers of people in the US had died due to disease and other causes, but only in the late 1800s did people begin to congregate in cemeteries. So what really led to this change in behavior?
Quite simply the beliefs about what cemeteries should be used for had changed, leaving room for a new possibility. When our beliefs change we come to a place of beginner’s mind where new things are possible. Like a child, we ask “Why not?” instead of accepting the way things are. In this article, we will go deeper into this idea of beginner’s mind so we too can open to new possibilities.
What exactly is beginner’s mind?
Knowing that you don’t know it all. A sense of the possibility to know more, to keep learning and growing. The “expert mind” holds that certain truths are facts and therefore is limited by them. In the beginner’s mind, nearly anything is possible, because the beginner is aware she doesn’t know.
There is no “can’t” in the beginner’s mind
There is no limitation. There is only possibility. There is a sense that progress can be forever made. Having this sense of unknowing leaves room for innovative ideas and makes you more flexible around changing circumstances.
How does eliminating beliefs help you return to beginner’s mind?
A belief is the epitome of an expert conclusion. It says this idea is the truth. Everyone knows we can’t build a flying machine. It really is true we can’t go to the moon. It’s a fact that I’m a terrible human being. As each belief is accepted, the possibilities are reduced. If you can’t build a flying machine, or go to the moon, then why bother trying. If you’re inherently a terrible person, then why try improving yourself.
But when you eliminate a belief, new possibilities open up
Those who believed it was possible to build flying machines, created airplanes. Those who believed we could get to the moon built rockets. Those that eliminate beliefs that say they are incapable, unworthy, or unloveable, allow new possibilities for their lives to emerge. They are free to achieve more, build healthy relationships, and experience greater happiness.
I used to walk away from people with the voice in my head questioning if I said the right thing, or worrying about what they thought. I was sad for days if I was not invited to a party. I would never wear anything outrageous for fear of what others thought. When I eliminated the belief “What makes me good enough is having others think well of me” I became my authentic self. The voice in my head got quiet. I spoke my truth, dressed as I wished. I call it my Martin Luther King Jr. moment because I was free at last.
But don’t some experts seem to know they don’t know?
Yes, and I would say that although they have developed great expertise, they have not fallen into the trap of believing they know it all. Those experts know that knowledge is forever changing and hold their ideas lightly. They have been able to maintain a beginner’s mind despite learning a great deal.
Morty who was a life long learner often started sentences with “I don’t know, but here’s what I think.” He said it left him open to learning. He also used to say “What happens to questions when you think you know the answer? They stop.” And what happens to learning when you don’t question? It too stops.
Beginners mind is knowing that you don’t know. It is a state of mind that is freeing because it opens you to new possibilities. The expert’s mind is full of conclusions stated as facts and so has fewer options.
Eliminating beliefs allows you to grow your beginner’s mind because you see your idea as “a” truth instead of a fact. You are now free to see options you could not before.
It’s possible to be an expert and still have beginner’s mind. You just have to know that what you “know” is not the truth.
Children often have beginner’s mind a bit more than adults do. That’s why even in a solemn place like a cemetery, they will still run around and play. You too can play when others are taking things too seriously. Just hold your ideas as one truth out of many and you will have more of that freedom.
How parents and children can thrive during hard times
Some parents have noticed that their kids have become more difficult since lockdown. I hear reports of children not listening to their parents, getting angry more often, pushing the boundaries, and speaking to them in a way that they didn’t before. All of these behaviors alone would increase the challenge of parenting. But even worse, you don’t even get a break since there is no more school, babysitters, or nights out. And if you’re working from home too, these challenges are only multiplied.
As a result, being a parent has become more stressful.
Fortunately, there is a way to reduce this stress. You can get your kids to do more of what you want and less of what you don’t even during hard times.
Presenting: How parents and children can thrive in difficult times (online workshop)
We start off by learning how you can feel stronger despite everything that’s changed. Then we learn strategies to help your children feel stronger and do what you need them to do. The goal is to have them come out of this crisis feeling more capable and more optimistic about life. We don’t want them feeling afraid that they can’t cope. You’ll learn how to show them that they can thrive no matter what.
This program will be available near the end of May 2020. To be notified when you can register, join the waiting list.