Experience the Freedom of the Beginners Mind

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Sometimes more than others, the uncertainty of our collective path forward weighs on me. These past couple of weeks I was very attuned to the fact that the words “I don’t know” were coming out of my mouth extremely often. As much as we all try to live in the moment, we are trained through our culture to believe that we should have the answers, we should know what is next and if we don’t, it is a failure in us.

In this time of COVID, a freedom exists to say the words “I don’t know” without judgment from others or ourselves. We have to surrender to all of these factors outside of our control. What this acceptance of “not knowing what is next” allows us to do is to live in the now a bit more authentically.

As I was pondering this concept I recalled a quote by Shunryu Suzuki I had read a long time ago: “If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything, it is open to everything. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few. ” 

A couple of days later I received an email from the CEO of Retreat Guru which is a retreat site that I have used before. He so eloquently expressed what I had been feeling so I shared some excerpts of the email with my classes this past week as I asked them to explore the possibilities of their physical practice by connecting to their “beginners mind”. He mentioned the same quote in his email. It was the universe at work again.

As we started on our backs I shared with my students the beginning of the email. It started off like this:

“I don’t know”

I find myself saying these three words a lot lately. When I’m asked what my plans for the winter are: I don’t know. When I’m asked how the company is doing: I don’t know. And I keep hearing it too: friends saying they have no idea what they are going to do in the Fall. Are the schools going to remain open? Are they going back to work? They don’t know.

In the past admitting ‘I don’t know’ just wasn’t socially acceptable. As soon as the words slipped out of my mouth I felt like somehow I’d failed in the planning department. Saying “I don’t know” was admitting that I was missing something, something was absent that needed to be present.

But the truth of it is, none of us know. And we never really did.

As we warmed up with Sun Salutes, I shared a little more:

I recall in my twenties feeling this immense pressure to have the answers to everything. Of course I didn’t have them, but I acted like I did; I must have looked ridiculous when I think about it. I felt suffocated and trapped by my approach. And I don’t think I was alone in this charade. I can even feel this burden in my 8 year old niece when I ask her a question that she obviously doesn’t know the answer to; as soon as I tell her, she bluffs “Well actually I knew that, but I just forgot”. Somehow we have created a society where we have never felt safe to not know… until recently.

When I first started meditating I recall reading a quote from a Zen Monk which just nailed it:

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few”. 

It feels like we all have an opportunity for beginners’ mind now.

As we moved and flowed I offered some variations that reminded us to channel our “beginners mind”. We “saluted” in Dolphin Plank (pictured above) and played with bandha lifts to remind ourselves that on the mat we are ok with not knowing what is coming next. We often even smile and find joy in the unexpected…trying something on our mats for the first time.

Off the mat it can be more challenging to embrace the now instead of focusing on the next. However now more than ever we have the opportunity to practice the Beginners Mind off the mat. As we softened into pigeon pose I shared a final excerpt from the email:

We are living in a moment where our reality feels turned upside down.  And so many of us are looking for truth – looking for what is real. We find ourselves drawn to authentic people and situations, but what happens when our search turns up something uncomfortable? What happens when we touch raw groundlessness and uncertainty? When what we want is something solid to rely on, groundlessness is challenging, even scary.

That’s what we face when we say “I don’t know.”

But… not knowing isn’t a cause for worry. We never did know! Nothing is missing; certainty was never there in the first place. With that understanding, which is quite daring, we begin to settle into the unknown. By relaxing there, we become comfortable in any situation. We may feel lighter, relieved from the pressure of having the answer. Situations become fresh and more playful. Confidence begins to dawn. Our beginner’s mind becomes pregnant with possibility.

And the beautiful thing is that societally this is already starting to shift. What might happen when we all truly accept uncertainty as the fabric of life?

I don’t know. But I’m curious to find out.

As we settled into Savasana, I reminded my students that this is the chance we have to transition the Beginners Mind off the mat. By settling into the “I don’t know” we can choose to live more fully and mindfully in the moment. During this time of uncertainty where we feel like we have lost “knowing” what was next, the realization that certainty never existed… only the illusion of it, allows us to truly experience the freedom of the Beginners mind both on and off the mat. Namaste.