I am a beginner.
Sure, I've been involved in some sort of Martial Art since I was 8 years old and I'm 38 now. But, in my mind I'm still a beginner. Beginner's don't have to be cool or claim to know everything. Beginner's don't get uptight when they make a mistake. Beginner's are always learning. They seem to have more fun, too. They aren't overly critical of themselves. They don't classify themselves as "good" or "bad." They are simply a beginner... someone who is in the present and there to learn. Beginner's love what they do regardless of how well they do it. Or, should I say, beginner's love unconditionally.
This concept of being a beginner is really a mindset, a "beginner's mind." By adopting a beginner's mind, it opens you to learning without ego getting in the way. So often, as adults, we tell ourselves, "I know this! I should have done better! Anything I do should be done well or not done at all. Or, this is how I've always done it." A beginner's mind means temporarily throwing out all of your opinions, beliefs, logic and reason just for the sake of learning.
It is okay to say, "I don't know." For this is the first step in learning something new. In the martial arts, an "I don't know" mind is the wisdom of the warrior. We don't allow ourselves to say "I don't know" often enough. This is because we always know, or we always think we know. Most of the time when we think we know, we don't really know at all. All we know are our past impressions of the situation that is happening now, the conclusions we came to in the past or judgments about similar events or circumstances that happened to us before. "I Don’t know" means keeping an open mind and responding according to circumstances, not according to how we assume things will be.
Being a beginner means letting go of being an expert. We are all experts in something. We may think we are experts in our job, in raising children, in cooking a certain meal or in how we communicate with others. It’s difficult to let go of being an expert. Doing so means confessing that we really don't know anything. What we know belongs to the past. But this moment is new and offers its unique challenges. If I let go of being an expert, I can listen to others with an open mind. Then I can find that even a beginner has something to teach me.
Beginners aren't afraid to fail. When we were children we were always starting something new. Then, as we go through our twenties, thirties, and further, we become more hesitant about being a beginner again. Why? Maybe it's because we don’t want to look silly when we fail. Having a Beginner's mind means it's okay to fall down, it's okay to fail and it's okay to laugh at ourselves when we make mistakes. Tell yourself (and others if they are watching), "I'm a beginner!" Then get up, dust yourself off, smile and immerse yourself in learning something new.
A beginner's mind can transform the way one experiences life. It opens your mind to new possibilities and makes life fun.
In the next section, I list some thoughts to meditate on to help maintain a beginner's mind.
“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”
– Zen Master Shunryo Suzuki
A Zen story about having a Beginner's Mind:
A professor once visited a Japanese master to inquire about Zen. The master served tea. When the visitor’s cup was full, the master kept pouring. Tea spilled out of the cup and over the table.
“The cup is full!” said the professor. “No more will go in!”
“Like this cup,” said the master pointing to the professor, “You are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”
Meditate on this concept: What would it mean if we were able to approach everything in our lives with beginner's mind? Are there objects, people, or situations that you tend to react to "automatically," as if you already know what they are?
Vashon Borich-Leach, Sensei teaches traditional karate and tai chi in Branson, Missouri. She considers herself a life-time student of the arts. Her blog is an open journal of lessons learned in the martial arts. If you are a martial artist and would like to contribute to her blog please contact her.
©2012 Branson Karate & Kobudo™