Shoshin: a word from Zen Buddhism meaning “beginner’s mind.” It refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness and a lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner would. – Google
When everything changes, you have to change too
2020 broke all the rules. Living life “as usual” was simply no longer possible for any of us. Everything changed. The ways we worked, socialized, worshiped, took care of ourselves -inside and out, dated, studied, taught, celebrated, and mourned – we had to figure out new ways to do it all.
Most of the people I meet with for spiritual direction would agree that, in the end, this was not actually a bad thing. It required us to set aside habits we didn’t even know we had. It invited us to get creative and to be quite discerning. Suddenly, many of us discovered that we were living the way we chose to live, perhaps for the first time in memory.
Change is a process
Let me say right out of the gate that this invitation was not an easy one to accept. (At least it wasn’t for me.) There was a period of resistance and rebellion that is quite natural when faced with sudden, up-ending change. “No way! I’m not going to do that! I’ll just wait this out until things get back to normal.”
There were also long weeks and months of growing pains as we tried doing things in many new ways until we found the methods that worked best for us. Think: different video conferencing systems, different brands and types of masks, different ways of staying fit, different ways of doing things we’ve always done another way.
In other words, the openness, eagerness, and lack of preconception described above didn’t just show up. We had to get there – in our own time and in our own ways.
Being a beginner at Beginner’s Mind
One of the things 2020 was teaching us was the inner state needed to “get there.” 2020 invited each of us to a master class in a profoundly fruitful way of living called “Beginner’s Mind.”
I first ran into Beginner’s Mind in a yoga class. I was taking a class in an unfamiliar style of yoga with a new teacher. I don’t know if this teacher could tell I was somewhat experienced on my mat and yet still bumbling around, or if he simply noticed me bumbling around (I do know which my ego prefers to think!), but as he led us through the series that morning, he wove little pearls of wisdom into his patter about the gifts of being a beginner.
I went home and shared some of these ”pearls” with my husband, who casually said, “He was talking about Shoshin. They teach that at my Aikido dojo.” Thinking there was no possible way that a Japanese martial art could have anything in common with yoga (and colliding with an opportunity to set aside preconception), I looked it up. He was right!
As I began to explore meditation practices for myself and for my students, I found references to Beginner’s Mind all over the place. Western and Eastern traditions, religious and secular, all shared the intention of developing the habit of making the mindful choice to stay open, receptive, willing, and curious as you respond to life.
Taking Beginner’s Mind off the mat and into life
While Beginner’s Mind proved to be fabulously useful within my physical yoga practice, those gifts paled in comparison to all the ways I found to incorporate it into my daily life. As a new mother of young-adults, Beginner’s Mind was just what I needed to navigate the first summer cohabitating with a child home from college.
If you haven’t had the “opportunity” to experience this yet, opening your home to a 19-year-old who has just completed their first year in the “real” world is a time of upheaval that runs a close second to 2020. The mess! The crazy schedule! The new diets! The fact that they know everything about everything!
After the first week of living again with my first-born, I was in tears. Who was this stranger? Where was my baby? As I am wont to do, I retreated to my yoga mat to move and breathe and pray for clarity. It hit as I shifted my position in what must have been my 8,000th downward facing dog and found a whole new way to open the muscles around my hips.
I realized in a flash that this stranger was my baby, and, as I had just learned something new about a posture I’d been doing for years, I had the opportunity to get to know this person I’d known for his entire life in a whole new way!
I had a hard time staying in savasana (corpse pose) at the end of my practice. I couldn’t wait to get inside and get to know my child all over again. I had so many questions! “Where did you learn that?” “What do you think about this?” “Do you cook? Do you want to cook for me?” “Do you like to take long walks? Would you take one with me?”
When you’re a beginner, everybody and every experience can be your teacher
Over the weeks that he was home that first summer, I even discovered that he had embraced a mindfulness practice one of his professors had taught him that I’d never heard of. My child became my teacher – a role Beginner’s Mind reveals that everyone in our lives can play if we allow it.
Could living with Beginner’s Mind be your New Year’s resolution?
Which brings me to my point. Instead of thinking in terms of resolutions as we welcome this brand-new year, what if we instead considered maintaining a way of living that we all were forced to embrace in the year that has just drawn to a close? Living with Beginner’s Mind has the power to make every day (even every experience in every day) as brand-new as January 1.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could discover and celebrate the joy, energy, and freedom of being a beginner at this thing called life all year long?
Happy New Year!
Want to learn more about Beginner’s Mind or other mindfulness practices? Schedule a spiritual direction session!