“In the beginner’s mind there are many opportunities, but in the expert’s there are few”
~ Shunryu Suzuki
When I first started meditating and practicing yoga, I was driven by the desire to get better at these practices - to improve, become an expert, know how to practice properly. This was understandable really, meditation was frustratingly difficult at times, foreign and a little mysterious. I was eager to learn more, educate myself and move away from the discomfort of being a beginner.
The funny thing is, the way we approach meditation when we are just starting out is actually a great way to practice no matter how long we have been doing it. Zen Buddhists have a term for the naive and simple beauty that comes from having no idea what to expect - shoshin, or beginners mind.
The first time we try anything there is an element of excitement and intrigue that can fade gradually over time. As we become accustomed to whatever the activity may be, we can begin to take it for granted, skip over details and nuance that would seem novel to a brand new practitioner. This is as true for meditation and mindfulness as anything else.
Beginner’s mind implies an attitude of openness and curiosity. Lacking any preconceived notions of what meditation should feel like, we can instead simply sit with how it is.
It turns out the point of being mindful isn’t to reach some other state, or further place - it is simply to be with the present moment, whatever that means. The paradox is, that if we can adopt this approach we might find the peace and contentment we have been searching for. You have to let go of hoping this will happen, be prepared to practice with things just as they are, to relax with the world around you.
After years of yoga and one year of dedicated meditation practice, my focus on gaining ground and moving further along any sort of ‘path’ have dropped away by and large. Of course, I’m only human, there are still moments where I wish meditation was an easy skill that could be mastered - the ego loves to feel like an expert. However, my fundamental intention now is to practice with a relaxed, open attitude and a curious mind.
Embracing this approach allows us to simply notice how what is actually here and now, to wake up to the world around us. Awareness has been here all along - we practice not to journey towards it but to allow ourselves to rest here without clinging to thoughts and desires.
We can begin this way of practicing again with each new breath. Every moment offers a chance to start anew.
7 Days of Mindfulness for Beginners is a course I have designed for beginners, to help you start working mindfulness into your life. This course is free and starts tomorrow, and I invite you to join us whether you are a beginner, or a seasoned practitioner. It doesn’t matter how long you have been meditating for, we can all take the chance to start fresh, to simply begin again.