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Day 33 – Beginner's Mind

We're looking at our human mind's faculty of awareness, and at some of its innate qualities. Today we're focusing on cultivating beginner's mind.

A Zen Story

A university professor went to visit a famous Zen master. While the master quietly served tea, the professor talked and talked about Zen. The master poured the visitor's cup to the brim, and then kept pouring. The professor watched the overflowing cup until he could no longer restrain himself. "It's overfull! No more will go in!" the professor blurted. "You are like this cup," the master replied, "How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?"

Beginner's Mind is an aspect of mindfulness that is very important, yet difficult to explain because of its utter simplicity. Beginner's mind is innocent of preconceptions and expectations, judgments and prejudices. Perhaps it is helpful to think of beginner's mind as the mind that faces life like a small child, full of curiosity, wonder and amazement. "I wonder what this is? I wonder what that is? I wonder what this means?"— without approaching things with a fixed point of view or a prior judgment, just asking "what is it?"

Recall the Socratic conception of wisdom: knowing that one doesn't know. If we have the answer already, then there is no need for us to look; we stay stuck in the same mind-set as always, reacting to things as always. When we see the same things, interpret them the same ways, react to them in the same ways, nothing ever changes.

To have the beginner's mind is to look at things as if you were seeing them for the first time. Beginner's mind can help us to see things in a new light, rather than automatically respond to them with the same old patterns of behaviour—this is because we are “letting go” of and not using our automatic, everyday interpretations of people, things, and events.

Living as if we always “know” is a tremendous handicap that keeps us out of the present, and living in the past. It doesn't allow us anything new, no surprises, no insights, no discoveries. It doesn't allow us to unlock and understand any of the mysteries of the present moment, and it keeps us frozen in the judgments of the past.

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