I love trying new activities and I love learning new things. I enjoy moving my body and exploring the limits of my own physical abilities. I especially enjoy trying a new thing I think I should be able to do well and then failing spectacularly. Like the first time I tried trampoline dodgeball. No matter what my intention was, when I started to move I ended up in a completely different body arrangement and location than I planned.
I spend a decent amount of time participating in physical activities. I workout at a gym, I train martial arts, I frequently go partner dancing (when there’s not a pandemic), and I hike and bike and play outdoors. I have good body awareness, which means I generally know where my various body parts are in time and space. It also means I generally have control over where my parts are in relation to each other and in relation to other people and things.
When I experience an activity that negates all my physical practice and renders all my refined movement moot, it brings me so much joy. It’s like I get to be a child again, meeting some part of my body for the first time. It’s a gift. And it’s why I endeavor to embody the concept of beginner’s mind.
I first heard the phrase beginner’s mind at a martial arts camp. There were expert instructors from many different styles offering classes. I took a class in a style I had never tried before, and while some things were familiar to my body, many movements were completely new. It was really fun. I stayed in the same room for the next class, which was also a style I had never tried.
The instructor from the first class also stayed to take the second class and we partnered for a drill. The technique was well outside either of our styles, so we muddled through together and had a great time. After the class, I thanked her for the great opportunity to train with such a high-level martial artist. Her response was that she was only at a high-level in the style she had trained for many years. For the rest she was brand new, with a beginner’s mind.
I appreciated learning a name for the practice of seeing the world as though for the first time. No matter how much training or experience I have, I can always choose to come to an experience without my preconceived ideas of how it should or could be. Although it takes practice, it is worth leaving my expectations and judgements behind in order to be present for what is.
It is immensely rewarding to apply the beginner’s mind concept to other parts of my life as well. I see it apply in all the many ways I have tried to “think outside the box.” When I put down the lens through which I have been seeing the world and try on a different lens, I experience the same feeling of wonder and marvel at the world around me.
I took an art class in college that was required for all students. We touched a little on art history, a little on artistic mediums, a little on the elements of art. The goal of the course was not to make us experts in art. It was to give us a framework for considering and appreciating art. It offered me a new lens though which to view the world, and I began to see things as though I had never seen them before. I set my well-established understanding of the world down and I began to see the artistic potential in everything. I grew a deeper appreciation for art.
A similar thing also happened with one of the required math classes. We covered several of what I would consider obscure math tidbits. We talked about fractals and Euler circuits and other conceptual things I can’t even remember all these years later. The goal of that class was not to teach us all the finer points of advanced math. It was a class designed to introduce new ways to think about the world. And it worked!
Suddenly, I found myself at the grocery store examining produce for the mathematical relationships between their leaves and stems. I noticed the beautiful pattern in the overlapping public transit routes around town. Once again I was looking at the world as though I had never seen it before, and I could see math all over the place. I began to appreciate math in the same way I appreciate art.
More recently, I have come to embrace the beginner’s mind in my consideration of the challenges facing our modern world. Many of these challenges have been around a long time, like racism, economic inequity, and climate change. When I examine these issues as though I have never seen them before, I can see more options for creative resolutions than I previously considered.
This is not a magic fix for all the problems of the world, but it is a useful exercise. All the societal ills still around today means the things we have been doing as a society have not resolved them. We need to do something (a lot of things) differently, and looking at the world through fresh eyes could help us figure out what to try next.
Information and Inspiration
Jaydra is a human in-process, working to make the world a better place. Sharing thoughts, feelings, and observations about the human experience.