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 first time I learned about having a beginner’s mind, I was blown away by the concept. Coming from a history of an excessive love of being right, the idea of throwing “I already know that!” out the window and viewing the world as a curious learner was admittedly jarring for me.
“You couldn’t possibly mean I might be able to learn something about this particular thing that I’m convinced I know everything about?”
Oh wait…that is what you mean? Hmm . . .
Last year, I had the great pleasure of accompanying my husband, Eric, on his maiden voyages to both my motherland, Korea, and my fatherland, India. After having traveled to each of those countries seven and eleven times prior, it was incredible to be able to visit them with someone for whom everything was truly new . . . no real preconceptions or judgments.
We went to places I’d been many times before, and he’d asked me questions I wasn’t able to answer. Not because that thing hadn’t been there the previous four times I’d visited, but because I had stopped seeing through new eyes and had never asked the question he’d asked before. It was eye-opening for me to not be able to answer questions about places I’d convinced myself I knew so much about!
After watching his presence, awe, and curiosity . . . I was inspired to step into a beginner’s mind myself, to see the countries anew. With fresh eyes. And it was glorious. I got curious and asked questions. I looked past the things I’d seen before and ventured into new ways to see the world around me.
Throughout the copious travelling I’ve done in my life, I’ve very easily gotten lost in what I’d call the “been there, done that” mentality. I’d forget to acknowledge the information all of my senses were receiving: the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, energies, and tactility of it all.
I didn’t appreciate every moment because I wasn’t being present — I was letting my past experiences wholly determine my current experience. To have a beginner’s mind is to be mindful of how I can use my previous learnings to expand my experience of life, as opposed to contract it.
Are there areas of your life where you could benefit from looking at things with a beginner’s mind? Where are you holding yourself back by living out other people’s beliefs about how your life is supposed to look? How might having a beginner’s mind change the choices you make on a minutely basis?
Next time you’re adventuring, here are some questions to ask yourself, to encourage you to have a beginner’s mind and to bring you back to the present moment:
Take a few deep breaths as you mull over your answers to the above questions then open your eyes when you’re ready to re-embody your beginner’s mind!