In the book Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, the Soto Zen master Suzuki-roshi said this, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”
My husband, who is a musician, not a Zen master, has something else to say about beginners mind. Having become “expert” at playing one instrument, he has gone on to learn to play a number of instruments and as well, become a great singer. He ponders the reasons why many other proficient musicians don’t chose to learn more than one instrument. He’s concluded that an expert can “wear their ego on their sleeves. It’s just too hard to go backwards to a place where we suck again!”
“Sucking” again is humbling. We try and fail, stumble and move forward slowly and sometimes not at all. Progress is often measured in inches instead of strides. But in a positive light, when we are learning something new in earnest, our mind is ready, attentive and open. We listen fully, we try things we have never tried before- there is a lot of receptivity brought to the table. We see progress and we marvel in it. We see progress and though we may also see a long winding road ahead, we are willing and we are at times filled with eagerness.
In Yoga, we get many opportunities to practice with a beginner’s mind. From day to day, our body changes. One day we are flexible, open and easeful. The next, we may be stiff or even sore depending on what we’ve been doing in our life off the mat. Every experience on the mat offers an opportunity to practice beginners mind. We don’t assume a level of “expertise” from moment to moment, because the body can sometime surprise us. We deal with who we are in the moment and begin. We train ourselves to develop awareness- one of the key elements of beginners mind… awareness without judgment, awareness without attachment to outcome. We work with alignment cues as they are given, without the preconceived idea that we are going to execute a pose like a “rock star” but with the humility of a beginner, open to whatever is before us in the moment, open to receiving whatever outcome is in store for us today- knowing that tomorrow is yet another day.
A true beginner knows they are not going to get everything they want right here, right now. And of course, even an expert can bring this passionate beginners mind to tasks they have repeated over and over in their lifetime in order to bring attentiveness to these tasks and a willingness to experience something completely new.