To be mindful is to be awakened to now, presence from moment to moment. As you awaken to life in the now, you’ll begin to release expectations of future moments, as well as the grip of the past. Before arriving here and now, this very moment was considered the future, and will soon become the past. By bringing your attention to the present you are tuning into the only moment that decisions are made, change is created, and life is experienced. Now is when everything is happening.
Mindfulness is best experienced rather than explained. Expanding your awareness and examining your inner world is a life-altering experience. In order for you to appreciate the magnitude of this shift in perception, this is something you must feel on your own and not just take the word of someone else. A good way to introduce yourself to practicing mindfulness is through the avenue of adopting a certain set of attitudes, allowing you to focus on the present moment. In today’s article, I’ll be focusing on the attitude of the beginner’s mind.
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What is Beginner’s Mind?
A beginner’s mind is the attitude of experiencing this moment as if it is the first time, with curiosity and open-mindedness. Other ways to tap into this experience are recognizing the feeling of wonder and excitement, surrendering to the unknown in your life, and allowing yourself to be new at something.
Just as mindfulness must be practiced to be understood, the attitude of a beginner’s mind is meant to be applied to the present moment. However, the mind has a lifetime of stored memories that it will refer to when similar emotions are experienced. Therefore, you are likely to anticipate, assume, expect, or plan out moments rather than experience them for what they are.
When was the last time you surrendered and accepted that you simply don’t have the answer, in a way that’s not defeat-est but rather curious? By the end of this article, you’ll understand the beginner’s mind, how to recognize when you’re reliving a past experience, and how to tune into the now.
Take a moment to think back…
Bring to mind a time that you were feeling some sort of suffering, discomfort, anger, or negative emotion.
This isn’t the first time you’ve felt this way, and it isn’t the first time you’ve felt this way for this particular reason.
Maybe someone in your family knows exactly what to say to push your buttons.
Maybe your partner isn’t listening or communicating with you again.
Whatever it is that is bringing up these emotions within you is something that is familiar. And the familiarity invites predetermined thoughts, behaviors, and feelings into the present moment.
Because you have been through something similar before your mind is smart enough to connect the dots and bring you right to how this usually plays out for you.
This is an example of an expert’s mind, the mindset claiming to have all the answers, allowing you to move forward with a sense of knowing, having a specific plan ready, and leaving little room for something different to happen. Everyone is guilty of an expert’s mind.
A beginner’s mind, instead, is the attitude of curiosity that encourages you to remain open to what’s going on rather than expecting what will happen. Even if whatever is taking place happens to be something that has happened before or maybe happens frequently.
It’s difficult to detach yourself from the emotion or thought pattern that happens so frequently, but by doing so you are allowing space for something new.
By choosing to be curiously aware of the present moment you are opening yourself up to possibilities, opportunities, and the chance of a different outcome. The attitude of a beginner doesn’t have expectations of how things “should” be handled or experienced, because it perceives this as the first time.
A beginner is present with their experience without the feeling of attachments to particular outcomes or resistance towards others. There is a certain level of acceptance that comes along with a beginner’s attitude. You must accept the insights that come with your past experiences while also accepting that you don’t have all the answers.
Real change occurs when you are recognizing that what creates expectations, attachments, and limits within you are related to past experiences that are not happening right now.
Being in The Now
By choosing the attitude of an expert’s mind you are basing your behavior and decision-making on similar past scenarios and circumstances. When experiencing a negative emotion you’re likely to remember the sequence of events that followed. If this involved other people then you’ll remember how they acted toward you and how that made you feel.
These memories are so powerful just the thought of them can make the mind and body believe it’s happening now. If you’re recalling the same thought patterns, which are attached to negative emotions, the moment you are experiencing may feel indistinguishable from the past. Your past holds great insight into certain possible outcomes but it can also be a shackle chaining you to the same outcome.
Each time you connect back to a previous event instead of connecting fully to the present moment, you narrow the chances of alternative responses and solutions. If there is going to change, there must first be awareness of what needs changing, and that happens by tuning into that experience.
The past can’t be changed, it can only be a heavy influence on the present moment. It could also serve as a reminder that you can make a conscious choice to choose differently this time. How you use the past boils down to your intention.
The intention you bring alongside the attitude you choose is essential because it’s guiding you on your path. The intention behind an expert’s mind is often to have the solution, to “know already” and maybe even anticipate what’s to come. The intention behind the beginner’s mind however is purer, more allowing of the unknown and therefore more open to what’s possible.
Only by recognizing where your attention is focused can you become aware of your mindset. And by setting the intention of remaining open-minded and curious, you are welcoming a new set of moments to unfold. Below are a few mindful prompts to help you understand which attitude you’re operating from:
Recognize when you’re experiencing an expert’s mind
Bring to mind the present moment and how you’re feeling about it.
Notice and listen to your internal dialogue for a few moments.
Then ask yourself, “Am I anticipating the next moment or a few moments?” “Am I placing blame or judgment somewhere?” “How does my reaction make me feel?”
Become aware of the “unimportant details” or “familiar scenarios” you’ve already solved.
Ask yourself: Where’s the majority of my attention invested? Am I reliving what has already happened to me?
Once you’re aware that you are choosing an expert’s attitude about a situation, begin to list the pros and cons. How does this way of thinking serve you? How does this way of thinking limit you?
How to experience a beginner’s mind
Take 3 long inhales, followed by deep exhales inviting you into the present moment.
Become aware of the situation that has you feeling intense emotions.
Bring to mind the ways you anticipate this unfolding or how it usually does for you.
Ask yourself what part of this situation, that has not happened yet, have you already decided upon in your mind? Bring awareness to how that makes you feel and invite the possibility of something new
Now match your expectations with a dose of curiosity. Welcome the idea of something new and focus on remaining open to possibilities.
Notice resistance to the present moment and allow yourself to lean into it. Feel your feelings, sit with your emotions, and be present in your body.
Revisit the present situation and your emotional relationship to it.
Keep Coming Back
The biggest challenge of adapting one of the mindful attitudes is coming back when it gets challenging. It’s important that you remember you didn’t acquire your way of thinking by stumbling upon it, your mind-body connection has powerfully been cultivated through years of repetition. By deciding to change the way you think you must also accept the challenges that will follow, starting with keeping a focus on the present moment.
To practice mindfulness can be explained simply, but to be profoundly understood can only come by being in the present moment. Start by recognizing a situation or circumstance that you continuously have an expert’s mind, and set the intention to open up. Become curious about your thinking as well as how life is unfolding. Be aware of your body’s reaction to the mind, and how all of this is impacting your experience.
Make a choice to keep coming back to setting intentions, admitting that you are a beginner in life, and becoming a witness to the life unfolding before you. Keep coming back and watch what begins to surface.
Love. Heal. Grow.