The Wonders of a Beginner's Mind

Self Awareness Jul 16, 2020

I have been journaling for almost 18 years now. It has been my go-to in trying to make sense of my thoughts, emotional experiences, and interactions with people. Even when I was unwell or exhausted, I mentioned in my journal that I felt tired and incapable of writing at length. Not only has journaling been a comforting pursuit, but it also made me realize my fondness for writing. Through journaling, I could change my habit of ruminating into contemplating since it helped me compartmentalize my thoughts and become better aware of my patterns.

A couple of years back, when I went through my older journal entries, I observed how my patterns of expressing myself were more or less similar to how I journaled years after, even though I had changed so much in that period. That is when I realized that I never reinvented ways to reflect and express myself in all the years of making journaling a daily habit.

Over the course of learning or practising something for a long time, we stick to what we know and start believing that 'we know it all.' It is evident in most things we do—if not all. As professionals, we may think there are a few sure-shot ways to develop the best ideas or solutions. In relationships, we may pertain to certain activities religiously to maintain the bond. As learners, we may follow the proven ways to excel. As educators, we might have figured out what works and does not work in the classroom. But, it gets worse when we attach our identity to those approaches. We then become rigid to change or even challenge our beliefs. I experienced this in school when I questioned a concept my Grade 7 Social Studies teacher was discussing. They responded, "This is what you are supposed to learn. Do you think you know better? Let me be the teacher. Just listen!"

Do we try to reinvent our approaches or succumb to our knowledge curse? Do we try to unlearn patterns that might not serve us well over time? When we start asking ourselves questions like these, we begin to look at things from a beginner's mind, a concept that has its roots in Zen Buddhism. A beginner's mind perspective teaches us to quiet the expert within us and see things from a fresh perspective. While an expert may claim to know a lot, a beginner starts learning on a clean slate with no prejudices or preconceived ideas.

The beginner’s mind perspective is not just helpful when it comes to learning or experiencing something; it can be catalytic in rediscovering ourselves, improving relationships, and finding meaning in life. With such a mindset, we can periodically create ways to stimulate ourselves intellectually, emotionally, and physiologically. When we become curious about our partners, parents, or friends, we understand more about them instead of assuming things about them, blaming them, and complaining. When we struggle to find meaning in our lives, the beginner’s mind perspective can help us reconstruct possibilities and seek new ways to find coherence.

So, how can we start applying the beginner’s mind? Questioning our psychosocial conditioning is one possible way. What we got exposed to as youngsters—is it still helping us? If yes, what can we do to make our experiences even better? If not, how can we reinvent our experience altogether?

A strong urge to be accepted and seen can also get in the way of exercising our minds like beginners. In the kind of collective cultures in which we live, we tend to do what our parents, peers, and close ones do to feel a sense of belonging, which is a basic human need. At times, the need to fit in gets in our way, and due to the fear of judgment, rejection, and alienation, we stop discovering new possibilities.

Exercising a beginner’s mind needs us to be open to experiences. It requires curiosity over assumptions, overconfidence, complaints, falsified interpretations, and blatant criticism. Since I have learned the concept, I try to exercise it mostly in my learning and reflections. So, when it comes to journaling, now I try to ask myself different questions that allow me to reflect on my experiences from a fresh perspective, if not always, most of the time. As a result, the process has become reconnecting and more meaningful for me. I make an effort to exercise it, even when planning for sessions as an Emotional Intelligence Practitioner/Facilitator. So, even when the fundamental principles I teach/facilitate are the same, the experiences, examples, and stories I bring about keep changing

James Clear, one of my favourite authors, once said, "We are all idiots, but if you have the privilege of knowing that, then you can start to let go of your preconceptions and approach life with a beginner’s mind.” So, what will you start looking at with a fresh perspective?

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Aprajita Jha

Aprajita Jha is Linchpin at My Emotions Matter and can be reached at [email protected]

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