On Beginner's Mind


Last year, I was doing a corporate workshop and I was about to put everyone into breakout rooms specifically to practice their budding deep listening skills. Someone said they didn't want to be included in the breakouts because they had a call to make, and "besides, I've already done this exercise." I said nothing but the New Yorker in me wanted to say, "are you going to not get up tomorrow morning because you already got up today?" Essentially, the message was: I have nothing to learn in this area. My experience is sufficient.


Me: You Can't Predict The Future

I have a mindfulness practice that includes the intention to formally practice--we call it sitting--each day. Guess what doesn't happen some days? I don't sit. I just don't. No, it's not that I forgot or didn't have the time--who doesn't have 10 or 20 minutes? I just don't do it sometimes. And another thing I don't do is beat myself up about it. I get up the next day, and begin again.


Maybe I practice, maybe I don't. The evening before, I absolutely have an intention. In fact, the minute before my usual practice time I have the intention. And guess what I don't know until the day is over? If I ever actually sat for 30 minutes and did my formal practice. You know what else I don't know? What's going to occur during practice. I sit, get settled, focus on an anchor point or start a body scan or whatever, and I have no idea what's going to happen until it happens.


Also Me: You Can Predict The Future

The brain's job is to keep all of your various biological systems working and to predict when it's going to need to switch things up a bit to meet its prediction of what's happening. It switches up your hormones, water, glucose, salt, and other resources, according to its best guess of what you're about to need. Its guess is a calculation based on the vague sense data it gets from various inputs such as sight, smell, sound, and the sensations in your body.


Your brain takes the path of least resistance, favoring all the patterns and memories of the past. THIS IS IMPORTANT. You know this, on some level; it's how we have come to develop maladaptive behavior patterns. It's the mechanism underlying all habits, "good" or "bad." Therefore, my brain isn't going to predict that I get up and sit for 30 minutes and that I do a body scan in the evening out of nowhere. There will be nothing resembling automaticity regarding my mindfulness practice unless at some point I start to create a brain that predicts I'll get up each day to do my sit and do my body scan before bedtime. And I have. This is why, most days, I get up and do my sit and also do my body scan in the evening. We become what we practice.


The Second Step Is The Hardest

I'm sure you've heard the first step is the hardest, but the first step is to have an intention to practice. Without that, you have no direction. It's the second step that's the hardest--actually doing it. Once you're sitting there, it's much easier to sit for 10 or 20 minutes or more than it is to get there for the initial minute. If you're having difficulty establishing a practice, why not make an intention to get up and practice for two minutes each day? That way, you're creating a brain that predicts you'll do that. Two minutes of practice will become its path of least resistance!


On Curiosity During Practice

Having a mindfulness practice means you're committed to doing the same thing each day, every day. When I put it that way, it sounds boring. Fortunately, there's a hack for that. The antidote to boredom is curious friendliness. Each time you go for a run, you sit to do mindfulness, you wash dishes, you walk the dog, you snuggle with your child or partner or dog, you can do so with beginner's mind and with an eagerness to experience whatever unfolds. This requires a mentality that isn't certain it knows what's going to happen, and an openness to . . . whatever arises in each moment.


Remember beginner's mind today. What can you approach anew?


There are two classes remaining this year: Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and Mindfulness for Financial Advisors.


May you be at ease . . .


Mary