Monday, February 1, 2010

Beginner's Mind

Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki, once said, "In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's there are few." Employing beginner's mind is one of the most powerful tools we have to keep our practice, and our daily life, fresh and interesting.

We are often trapped by delusions of expectations - thinking that we know what is going to happen before it happens based on past experiences. It is important to remember that no moment is like any other moment, and each moment brings with it new possibilities. When we cultivate beginner's mind, we can live more fully in the excitement of these possibilities, and free ourselves from the tyranny of our old opinions and incorrect expectations.

If you practice vipassana or Zen meditation, you have the opportunity to use beginner's mind with every breath. Start by imagining that, in your entire life, you have never noticed that you are breathing. Be curious about this experience; stay present through the duration of each inhale and each exhale. Feel the subtleties of the sensation of air moving in and out, rubbing up against the inside of the nose, or feel the gentle rise and fall of the belly or chest. By investigating the process of each breath as deeply as you can, you will soon see that no two breaths are alike.

When you are willing to see everything that happens as if it were happening for the first time, the richness of the present moment can be fully known. In his book, Full Catastrophe Living, Jon Kabat-Zinn offers some ways to cultivate this practice during your daily life as well:
The next time you see somebody who is familiar to you, ask yourself if you are seeing this person with fresh eyes, as he or she really is, or if you are only seeing the reflection of your own thoughts about this person. Try it with your children, your spouse, your friends and co-workers, with your dog or cat if you have one. Try it with problems when they arise. Try it when you are outdoors in nature. Are you able to see the sky, the stars, the trees and the water and the stones, and really see them as they are right now, with a clear and uncluttered mind? Or are you actually only seeing them through the veil of your own thoughts and opinions?


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