October 22, 2019

Shoshin Beginners Mind

There is a Zen Buddhist concept I wanted to share with you called Shoshin or ‘Beginners Mind’ which is really helpful to remind ourselves of even when we are quite experienced practitioners of any kind of learned skill. With Beginners Mind we approach with a great deal of openness to the task (or asana) in front of us. Because we are a beginner we approach a task fully expecting to totally suck at it, and that relaxation around the outcome is the perfect state to be open to where it can take us. Beginners Mind is a clean fresh slate without expectation.

When we are experienced we can approach a skill/task/asana in a totally different way…we fully expect to reach a certain level or outcome, quickly. And if we don’t reach it or improve on it then we can mentally be quite tough on ourselves. This is the thought process that goes ‘OMG I can’t believe I can’t touch my toes yet, everyone else can do it, why am I so bad at this, when am I going to be able to touch my toes, I nearly got there last week”…this is a form of subtle mental aggression which is unhelpful for our practice and for life in general. Focusing on the outcome of the asana is ironically exactly the energy and tenseness that stops us from relaxing into the asana and just being aware of the sensations. By bringing the past to an asana (our past experience of it, and our judgements around that) it can stop us being truly present with our experience of that asana on that particular day.

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

See if you can bring your beginners mind to your next class and relax your expectation around the outcome of your practice. The only outcome of the practice is to be truly present: to enjoy the practice, having the space and time to yourself and feeling your body move as you synchronise it to your breath. Whether you can put your head on your knees while pleasing is not so important. If you can make that energetic and mental shift who knows what shifts will happen in your body?

Off the mat Beginners Mind is a great concept to bring to everyday living. It opens up a space where we can be mentally gentle with ourselves. Pick something off your To Do list that you feel you are not accomplishing easily enough, fast enough. The weekly report or the supermarket run, it doesn’t really matter what it is. Feel the frustration you have around the task borne out of the fact you have done the damn thing a million times before. Commit to being approaching just one task today with Beginners Mind: be open to it being a slightly different experience by being present with it for what it is in this moment not what it has been in the past. Beginners Mind is certainly not easy to accomplish because we are so programmed to be fixed in the judgements of the past, but it can really transform a routine task into something a whole lot more enjoyable and less stressful.