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How to Have a Beginner’s Mind

Lessons from the master

"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's there are few." - Shunryu Suzuki

There is no better teacher than a child. Anyone who spends time authentically connecting with a child can attest to this fact. These little people have a way of humbling us and introducing us to an enlightened perspective. The trick is to refrain from injecting our adult stodginess and open up to their innate wisdom.

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few” – Shunryu Suzuki

These are just a few of the lessons I have learned from my child, who is the beginner’s mind master, about how to live fully:

1. It’s the journey, not the destination. Ryan Holiday suggests that we “focus on the effort–not the results.” What actually ends up happening is not up to us, but the effort we put into it is. So, have the intention of making a difference, having fun, doing good, or whatever your mission is, but understand that if these things don’t come to pass it’s okay. Be present and focus on the moment as it is happening.

2. Go with the flow. Last week we took a short day trip to our local State Park. I had a general idea of what we could reasonably be expected to do in a day, but knew better than to have a hard and fast plan. When we got there, the park offered us many more opportunities for learning and fun that I didn’t even know existed. Because I was open to anything, our day was much fuller than I could have possibly expected.

3. When in doubt, twirl. This advice is posted on a plaque at the dance studio my child attends. It is fantastic advice that I highly recommend incorporating into your life. It is especially useful in high-stress situations, when everyone is uptight, when you are in danger of losing your temper, or when you are in line at the DMV.

4. Let go of control. You may have a plan. It may be a good one. But the universe may have a different plan. It doesn’t have to be done your way. Open yourself to the possibility that the universe’s way might be the better plan and go with it. My child often says, “I’m ready for anything!” I highly encourage this attitude.

5. Chose love. Every time. No matter what. You cannot control how other people react to what you are doing. They are acting according to their set of beliefs, experience, education, and egos. So are you. When you are met with resistance, choose love.

6. Be open. The child-like mind sees an opportunity for fun in everything. A pile of sticks on the ground can become a teepee. Sections of PVC pipe can become a marble run. Water has endless possibilities. If you are closed and can only think of the mess, only see a pile of sticks, can’t see the possibility in a tub of water, or think you know all there is to know about a subject, opportunity will elude you. If you are able to see opportunity in the ordinary–or even better, the obstacle–you will succeed where others fail.

7. Have a nature adventure. When I told my child that we were going on a hike, I was met with resistance. I couldn’t understand it. Why did my child not want to spend time in the outdoors? Then I realized that it wasn’t time in the outdoors she was protesting. It was the actual word “hike.” Once I focused on why the outdoors is fun–flowers, animals, trees, rocks, sounds, smells, pinecones, moss, sun–and not the physical act of walking, she was all for it. It’s about perspective.

8. Just be. Like the child in the above picture, take time to just be. Leave blank spaces in your calendar on purpose. Not just in case meetings run long, but so you have time to breathe and reflect during the day. I get my best ideas when daydreaming. You might, too. You’ll never know unless you allow yourself time to do so.

9. Eat outside. In fact, do everything outside. Outside is the best. There is nothing more humbling than spending time in nature. It helps to put your troubles in perspective and recharge your batteries. Escape the hustle and the bustle of the urban lifestyle and find a way to commune with nature as often as possible. Sunshine and fresh air are good for you.

10. Wear a hat. In her book Hands Free Mama, Rachel Macy Stafford tells about a drawing her child made for a “What I Want to Be When I Grow Up” project at school. The drawing was a lady with a blob on her head. The teacher explained that the little girl wanted to be a mom when she grew up, but not just any mom, a mom who wears a hat. Rachel explained that on days when they are not in a rush and do not have important things to do, she skipped doing her hair and just put on a hat. These were easy breezy days full of fun and spontaneity. Not the usual days of rush, distraction, and commitment. So the child wanted to be a mom, but only the kind of mom who doesn’t yell, isn’t in a rush, and doesn’t take the time to do her hair.

Above all, lighten up and enjoy each moment. If these important concepts sound impractical for your adult life, perhaps you have developed an expert’s mind. It’s okay, you can choose a beginner’s mind at any time with these guidelines. Remember in Mary Poppins when the dad, who was serious and career-minded throughout the movie, finally adopted a child-like mind? He was promoted to senior partner within hours! Could this happen to you? You’ll never know unless you try!

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