Beginner’s Mind

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

“The more advanced you are in spiritual consciousness, the more you experience the “present” in the Beginners Mind.”

I have heard this expression, “Beginner’s Mind,” before and this week it has come up several more times in very different conversations. When a concept comes up several times in different situations… perhaps you should pay attention because the Universe is trying to tell you something. For me, this means writing about it and attempting to be more conscious regarding this concept and how I may want to apply it.

What is “Beginner’s Mind?”
Wikipedia defines “Beginner Mind” by first giving it it’s Zen name, “Shoshin”:
Shoshin (初心) is a concept in Zen Buddhism meaning “beginner’s mind”. It refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner in that subject would. The term is especially used in the study of Zen Buddhism and Japanese martial arts.

The phrase is also used in the title of the book Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by the Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki, who says the following about the correct approach to Zen practice:
“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.”

Well, this article is an attempt to explore not only what it might mean but why it has value.
My sage spiritual mentor, Rodger, threw out words like:
Be open
Nonjudgmental to new information and experiences
Be Curious
Be “Present” (not distracted or too busy to see the forest from the trees…)

New experiences, information, relationships, thoughts, guidance, epiphanies, insights, revelations, feelings, knowings, “remembering” concepts, etc … all come to people who are open, curious, ready for more input into their lives and their consciousness. But, do you judge and look for flaws or weaknesses, or places for disagreement or are you more curious? Do you have a more rigid view of the world where new thoughts or experiences are NOT trusted and dismissed because these do not fit with what you already know or believe? Are these new experiences contrary to what you think, know or feel? Are you fearful because these are new and different or do you celebrate the exciting fresh possibilities?

Do you look at a new person you meet and ask about them and what they are most passionate about? Or, do you find them to be competitors for attention and you attempt to find ways to disqualify these new characters who are joining your “drama?”

“Beginner’s Mind” is not, just, for beginners. It is for every advanced “consciousness seeker” who has the innocence to experience insights and who can be open for moments of intense spiritual awakening. (Perhaps, we should all strive for this way of gathering our spiritual development.

Tip: Observe a young innocent child of 2 or 3 or perhaps 4 years of age as they react to a new object in their world. (It could be a new skill such as talking or walking or running or using a slide in the park.) Observe their excitement and wonderment as they explore the new point of focus. They may be filled with joy, and showing it. They are definitely “present” and engaged. This is how we can choose to be when we are walking through life. This is the manifestation of the most curious Beginner’s Mind…

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One thought restated:
Do you remember when you were a young child in this lifetime and you found the joy, the delight, and the wonderment in each new object or skill you discovered? This can be the way you experience each day, each new occurrence, and each new person who falls into your life. The power of the “Beginners Mind” is found in the joy of each new experience, each new learning, each new developing consciousness, or most importantly, each new “Remembering” of your Divine Wisdom that you find within your soul/spirit.

Zen Meditation for Westerners

Have you ever sat peacefully beside a campfire or a warming fireplace and gazed into the fire? You have even lost yourself for moments as you were transfixed by the dancing of the flames. It may have even seemed difficult to turn away from the glowing center of your focus.

Or, have you ever found yourself sitting on the beach watching as the waves roll in, break, and then wash up unto the beach? It is so meditative to walk along the beach and play tag with the waves that are thrown up unto the sand beneath your feet. Sitting by a river or stream can also bring the calmness of mind as you watch the moving water and hear the sound of the water as it washes downstream.

Watching the breezes blowing through tall grasses or leaves on a tree can also lead you into a peaceful, meditative state of mind. But why do these nature visions gently create the relaxed and mellow states of mind and body?

The very act of being out in nature, or finding enjoyment by appreciating natural beauty is one of the most important and most basic tools for finding inner peace and harmony. The very act of “being present” with the glorious natural beauty is another important tool. Find a way to let go of the “past” and release the uncertainty regarding the unknowns of the “future,” even for just a few minutes, can be a practice of restoration. There are many ways to do this such as: following your slowed breath with special appreciation of the cool air as you inhale and the warmth of your breath as you slowing exhale.

In the science of neuro-physiology, you may also learn that the sound vibration of running water (from a stream or from waves upon the beach) resonates with frequency of 10 Hz per second which neuro- psychologists understand is the same as the brain wave state known as the “Alpha” rhythm which, for most people, is the quiet mind, “meditative” state that can be found in EEG (brainwave) patterns of successful meditators. By being around moving water, your own EEG pattern may begin to align with 10 Hz per second and so help you to drift into a more relaxed state.

But what has this to do with the practice of Zen Meditation, which has been taught for thousands of years? Zen meditation, at its most basic level, is the practice quieting the mind by softly gazing through open eyes at the world. It helps to have a peaceful, quiet, meditative point to focus upon such as a candle, flowing water, a mandala, or even the beauty of a flower or tree. To become “present” and to slow your breathing as you focus are the first things to practice. In the beginning your mind may be cluttered with other thoughts and memories, but with dedicated practice you can learn to quiet these thoughts by not judging them and letting flow through you and out of your mind, while returning the soft focus on the beauty in front of you. There are times when times comes more easily and times in life when the distractions are more engaging.

A few moments of peaceful and slow breathing can better help you to prepare for the quieting of the gentle Zen focusing. Your position can vary from standing, to sitting, to lying down, though many trained meditators prefer the sitting position. Whatever your position, it is best to find a comfortable position where you might spend 5 -20 minutes peacefully gazing at the object which you are focusing upon. (If you are using a candle, be advised to do this safely and protected from hot wax or melting candles which may be too close to other flammable materials…)

Be as neutral as you can be regarding the focus of your attention. Accept the beauty and the moment. Allow yourself to drift deeper into the pleasant and relaxing quiet. Many meditators will allow these peaceful feelings to return with them for use through the rest of their day. This can  give them a more solid mental and emotional foundation so they can move more smoothly through the interactions of their daily activities. It may not solve all the challenges but it can be a very comforting, “centered” posture to move more gracefully through the dramas which can enter your life…

Pick a beautiful photograph if you can not get out into natural beauty. Choose a quiet time in your schedule when you are beginning this practice, because this may reduce the annoyances which can be distracting in the early stages of the practice of Zen Meditation. Some people pick early morning or sunrise. I like late afternoon or twilight times. Find the time that works best for you and stick with for a while until you know whether it is a good time in your natural schedule for meditation.

Be patient. Start slowly and for shorter periods of time. Remember to breathe slowly and more deeply than you might normally. Look to relax your forehead, your jaw, your shoulders, and anywhere else you may be holding tension.

My friend, Jim Papp, who is the author of the the book, “Inquire Within: A Guide to Living in Spirit” is a strong proponent of finding solitude in nature. His advice includes a walk or hike in a natural setting with the Zen mind of appreciation and “Presence.” The Zen experience of being with and in nature is a grounding exercise and a centering process which most people find meditative and healing of mind, body, and spirit. Finding all of your
senses surrounded by the beauty of the natural world gives a healthy calmness to your mind, body, and spirit. Connecting with nature is a practice that goes back in human history to the very origins of humankind and even basic survival for all lifeforms. The “ancient wisdoms” have been filled with appreciation and “presence” with Mother Earth, though this practice has been pushed into the background by technology and “modern” scientific rational thinking. This modern approach to nature has also gotten humans into a good bit of trouble with the lack of respect and “connection” with the Earth.

Blessings to you on your path toward greater consciousness and keep your eyes “soft focused” on the beautiful moments you encounter!

For more information on managing stress, including using meditation, consider the Stress Education Center’s website at www.dstress.com. For more support and information on growing your consciousness and spirit consider the Masters of the Journey community at www.mastersofthejourney.com.

Meditation for Stress Management

For thousands of years practitioners of meditation have used various forms of meditation for stress management and as a tool leading toward “enlightenment.” I have had personal experience using 4 forms of meditation for stress management and to a lesser degree for personal “enlightenment.” Each form has been described as an “Eastern” philosophical approach but all have been researched and used successful in Western cultures without religious or deep philosophical barriers. In fact, I would not put these techniques into a box that creates limitation for religious or philosophical reasons.

I will describe these 4 forms and the benefits that I have experienced without deep historical or philosophical backgrounds.

1. A Yogic breathing practice. At the core of every stress management technique that I teach, I ask clients to become fully “present” by breathing slowly and diaphragmatically. Yoga is an ideal form of reflection that asks the user to focus upon their bodies in positive ways while remaining in the present moment. It has been used for maybe 5,000 years. I ask my clients to lie back comfortably in a peaceful environment and to breathe slowly, focusing on cool air coming in with the inhale and then the warm breath as they exhale. To gradually slow breathing to 4 or 5 breaths per minute will gradually slow their heart rate and can help to reduce blood pressure (researched by Western scientists.) This is simple and effective.

2. Zen meditation is a mindfulness exercise that asks the user to keep their eyes open and to learn how to “soft focus” on the world which surrounds them. Breathing slowly and watching a candle burn or bubbles in the fish tank or the waves rolling up unto the beach or a campfire or a stream flowing will all give a similar result. A good exercise is to go for a short walk, moving at about 2/3’s of your normal pace, and feel the pressure of your toes and heels landing on the ground. Taking 50 slow steps can help create a more peaceful consciousness especially if you can also feel for the warmth of the sun or smell the fragrance of the woods/grass or listen for the soothing sounds of running water.

3. TM (Transcendental Meditation) was very popular in the 60’s and early 1970’s. It was a form process of sitting for 20 minutes (or longer) and holding your attention on a word or phrase by repeating this word over and over. Sanskrit words like “Ram ma” were assigned based on your “vibrational pattern” by your teacher. I like to use a word like love or peace. The difficulty for many Western people is that it requires a lot of mental discipline to “quiet the mind” and remain on the simple word/phrase. The skill of concentration requires motivation and lots of practice.

4. I learned a form of Kundalini meditation that was very “enlightening” to me in my mid-20’s. It was a 20 minute exercise that has 3 parts. The first 10 minutes, “focusing,” are spent holding my attention on an “uplifting” word or phrase. I used the words love, peace, or calm. After 3 months my mind cooperated better and was not so distracted. The second 10 minutes, “meditation,” are spent letting the mind watch images flow through as if I were watching a blank movie screen or blank TV. Thoughts that flowed through my consciousness during this section of the meditation were sometimes very revealing and interesting. The third section, “closing down,” was to take 3 deep breaths at the end, picturing myself surrounded and protected by white light. This ritual was useful for me and I had some pleasantly surprising revelations using this technique.

If you require instruction or support with getting started and using meditation, look for classes or workshops in your area. Some people find coaches or teachers to learn meditation. I found a group to meditate with (one time per week) and over several months this was very beneficial for me.

Meditation does not have to be a religion or dogmatic philosophy. It can be a mental, physical, and spiritual practice which allows you to “connect” your mind and body, in the present moment. Studies have indicated that even 20 minutes of meditation can take the place of up to 2 hours of sleep and you can be more focused and productive in your daily activities.

Western style meditation can be found in practices such as Autogenic Training and visualizations. Consider learning more at the Stress Education Center’s website at www.dstress.com.

Zen and the Art of Beach Combing

This past weekend, I was searching for sea shells on a beach in Ferndale, WA. It reminded me of the many times I found solace as I have walked beaches around the world…

Most of us have had the experience of walking on a beach. We have walked by the ocean or by a lake or by a river and as we walk we look for interesting things that have been washed up on the beach. The experience “absorbs” us by filling our minds with the present moment and what treasure can be spotted.

The act of walking by any body of water is relaxing for most of us. If the weather is calm and we do not fear bodies of water, then we can feel the soothing calmness that moving water can provide. I have been told that water gives off “negative ions” which are supposed to be relaxing (for most of us.) Moving water resonates at about 10 cycles per second and as our brains mimic or resonate with this pace, we can drift into an “alpha” brainwave state (which is a meditative and relaxing state for most of us.) Just the act of walking outdoors by water seems to relax us and this is enhanced by walking barefoot over warm sand as we feel the sunshine and listen for sounds of birds…

In fact, many people use similar images as a relaxation visualization that can soothe and even help to heal. We can benefit from a mental vacation and the peaceful rest of a brief Zen meditation. Perhaps we remember a beach that we have strolled upon. Perhaps we contemplate a walk down a beach that we have wished to visit. The very thought has powerful positive qualities. Adding details makes it richer and more powerful while also helping us to escape, for a moment, our normal beach-less lives.

I challenge you to dream. Image yourself walking, or better still, walk the beaches of the world and then lose yourself in the wonderful pleasure of this peace and beauty. This will heal your mind, body, and spirit.

Do Not Run With Chainsaws – Zen

When we were young, we were told not to run with sharp objects like scissors or knives or broken glass. Why, because these items are dangerous. They are sharp and you could trip and fall and hurt yourself. So, D.R.W.C.

Chainsaws can be dangerous. They are sharp and many bad things can happen if you are careless (or make a mistake) when handling them. Running chainsaws are more dangerous than non-running chainsaws but you should still pay attention when carrying a non-running chainsaw. Take proper pre-cautions. Dress appropriately. Look carefully at your chainsawing environment and avoid tripping if you are carrying a running chainsaw.

I like chainsawing. It can be Zen like. Though chainsawing is not quiet or peaceful, it requires full attention, in the present moment. This need for being present makes it Zen like. People do risky, sometimes dangerous (or even foolish) things, to force themselves into paying attention to the “being in the present moment.” Some people go skiing on dangerous icy slopes, at the top of mountains, in the middle of Winter. Some people drive their cars faster than the speed limit signs suggest. Some people jump out of airplanes, for fun. Some people try to sell you insurance or investments (consider this statement to be a joke.) All of these activities require facing danger and can make you focus on the present moment. For me, running my chainsaw gets my adrenaline flowing and tells me that danger is close enough that I should really let go of thoughts/memories from the past or to not concern myself with fears of the future’s unknowns and to focus on being present. Not all people would feel the same way. Heck, I know people who do not like hard physical work. These people sometimes find that working up a sweat is just too much effort. Oh well, they will have to find their own way to achieve a Zen experience.

Once you clear the area of dangerous debris (so you won’t trip and fall) and you have got your chainsaw running, remember, D.R.W.C., Don’t Run With Chainsaws… But along the way, enjoy the experience and find your way into the present…

Zen on…