I was hit by a realisation the other day, when my cat entered my room after I returned home from a short trip. She started “inspecting” everything with curiosity, as if she’s never been in that place before. She was taking her time to experience the room as if for the first time.
This made me think of a concept in Zen philosophy which is called “Beginner’s Mind“. It’s not that my cat was suffering from amnesia, or that she hasn’t been in my room before. It’s about the fact that she was experiencing her environment as it was, in the present moment. “Beginner’s mind” refers to experiencing whatever appears in our field of awareness, with a fresh and open mind, as if encountering it for the very first time.
Another concept, similar to the beginner’s mind is “Tabula Rasa“. This refers to the state our mind is in when we are born. A clean slate, which is open and receptive to all new experiences. A state where we receive information as it is, in a direct way, without it being filtered by preconceived beliefs about the world.
Most of what we humans experience in the present is not the actuality of things, but rather what we mentally project on them. What comes into our field of awareness is being seen through the lens of our past experiences. Our judgements, comparisons and beliefs about our current experience all tend to have a common reference point – the past.
Bring colour back into your life
“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities,Shunryu Suzuki
but in the expert’s there are few.”
When we cultivate the beginner’s mind we are no longer limited by our beliefs, as we are instead opened to life as it is. We are allowing the actuality of the world to reveal itself to us in its full richness. And we no longer block ourselves from the universe’s infinite possibilities.
We can thus once again get in touch with the excitement we felt as children, when we inquisitively explored the world, and the fascination we had in discovering it.
We rekindle our life force, and gain renewed vitality, enthusiasm and passion for life, as we are no longer obstructed by mental barriers in the quest for fulfilling our life’s purpose, and we experience life with more flow and ease.
Animals, time and the present
“The present moment, if you think about it, is the only time there is. No matter what time it is, it is always now.”Marianne Williamson
Accessing the beginner’s mind can only happen in the present moment. And there is so much we can learn from animals in this way. The reason I mentioned my cat earlier is that she made me realise that beginner’s mind is their default state. It is the natural way in which they experience the world. And that is because the time for them is always now.
Animals are always awake to their present experience. They actively participate in whatever happens in the moment. Dogs are another great example. When they are with us, we can see the happiness in their eyes, and the excitement they feel when we play with them. They are joy, and gratefulness. When they are with us, they give us their undivided attention.
But how about us humans? How much are we actually there when we are with our pet? How much are we actually there when we are with fellow humans? We tend to go through most of our lives living either in the past or the future, and thus experience life through the prism of the mind.
The antidote is to enter the now, the present moment.
Noticing, Curiosity and Wonder
We can start practising the “beginner’s mind” or “tabula rasa” state anytime, anywhere, with anything we encounter in our field of awareness. And the best ways of accessing this state is through noticing, curiosity and wonder.
We can notice, by deliberately placing our attention on what we are experiencing. As what we place our attention on naturally expands, we start being aware of details and qualities we might have missed before.
We can practice getting genuinely curious about the object or being in front of us, as if seeing it for the very first time. What would that be like – to see, hear, taste, touch or smell something we haven’t experienced before?
We can wonder, at the beautiful natural creation that is all around us – the different nuances of colour there are in the sky, the ever changing shapes of clouds, the movements of trees as they allow the wind to play with them, the variations in the song of a bird, the sensation of drops of rain on different parts of our skin, and so on – but also the man-made creation which can be equally awe-inspiring and fascinating.
We can zoom in on only one specific thing, zoom out and marvel at the universe as a whole, or pick anything in between. The idea is to experience “it” with full openness, from a point of presence, and see what we discover!
Enjoy the process!