“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few”
― Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind: Informal Talks on Zen Meditation and Practice
It’s usually the focus in their eyes I notice first. They may be 22, they may be 52, but they are starting something new. Their heightened situational awareness causes them to engage with the world around them in ways that are often only tapped into by a beginner. I’m here to argue that beginners shouldn’t have all the fun.
It’s the start of another new school year here in Round Rock and I have the privilege of greeting a few hundred new employees around this time each year. It’s always a celebration, but this year I’m bringing increased authenticity to my enthusiasm.
I’ve always been happy to greet these new folks, but there was always a sense of sympathy for the work ahead of them starting something new. They are either entering a new profession and don’t yet know what they don’t know. Or, they are experienced but joining a new organization. They will need to learn the culture, make new work friends, establish their reputation, create new routines, and find a parking spot. They must feel so unsettled.
They are walking into a new building and the only thing they know for sure is that they will meet new people. They get to be whoever they want. We don’t know them yet so even if they were the fool in their last job, they get a new start with us.
Maybe it’s turning 40 soon, or maybe it’s reaching a certain level of comfort, but I’m finding my feelings for these beginners turn from sympathy to envy. And while we can’t turn back the clock, and may not want to find a new job, how can we tap into the mindset that comes from starting something new? From beginning again?
When Suzuki was speaking of Beginner’s Mind he reminded us:
For a while you will keep your beginner’s mind, but if you continue to practice one, two, three years or more, although you may improve some, you are liable to lose the limitless meaning of original mind.
The hard part he goes on to say is not balancing our expert and beginner’s mind, it’s not a dualistic approach. The two ways of thinking do not balance each other. There is a finite amount of space for our mindset and the expert’s mind is in direct competition with the beginner’s mind. Satisfaction comes from learning, improving our craft, growing our skillset, without losing the beginner’s mind. Much easier said than done.
We must remain the learner…even when we are mentoring others. Because we are not really mentoring them. We are learning with them and just playing a different role. None of us really know what we are doing. We are just doing our best.
He goes on to tell us:
The same thing will happen in your other Zen practices. For a while you will keep your beginner’s mind, but if you continue to practice one, two, three years or more, although you may improve some, you are liable to lose the limitless meaning of original mind.