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Beginner’s Mind In Birth

Posted by on Oct 14, 2014 in Blog Posts |

Beginner’s Mind In Birth

How do you have the birth of your dreams? Forget everything you know, everything you have heard or learned, and enter into your labor as a beginner, as a novice, an initiate, as a blind man who is seeing for the first time.

Kikakou, a poetry student of the great seventeenth century haiku master, Basho, wrote:
“a blind child,
guided by his mother,
admires the cherry blossoms.”

In life we all switch places becoming in turn a child, a guiding teacher, and a maturing blossom. To realize your dreams, you must enter into your birth as the child, being guided and led not by your subjective thoughts, or stories you have been told, or what you have read, but rather as a blind child being led by, and following the ecstasy of direct and immediate experience. Or be even as the newly opened cherry blossom, feeling for the first time the sun warming and drying the rain from its petals, or the wind rocking and swaying it gently, tenderly, through the exuberant air.

Marcel Proust told us that “the journey of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in seeing with new eyes. “

Can you remember a winter day when you were tucked happily and safely away from the cold at home, maybe wrapped in a favorite blanket, with a cup of tea, and a favorite book, judgement suspended, and the tale unfolding and completely absorbing you into its very pages? What was it you loved best about your favorite stories, or favorite books, even though some of them were set in rather commonplace landscapes, with ordinary characters, and sometimes even everyday life occurrences? I would venture a guess that it was the way the author, with an artful stroke of his pen, was able to whisk away the usual veil of the known and habitual, which was ever before your eyes, and show instead, a world that though seemingly familiar, embodied an ingenious ability to astonish anew. Lost in the lines of such imaginative tales, in the swiftness of a masterly literary instant, we found ourselves completely divested of all our usual, solidified, stony, and habitually hardened ways of perceiving, and instead, led gladly into realms of expanded views, reenlivening our world and leading to wondrous epiphanies, and ecstatic visions. In truth, all great authors, artists, and musicians have a gift for challenging our assumptions, deconstructing our assumed ideas, and leading us into a place of unfamiliarity from all our known, and staunchly held schemas of life. This artful guidance allows for the unwrapping of their work to be as a gift of fully present moment engagement and awareness, freeing us from the ordinary, and releasing us into an openness, freshness, and newness of perception, of experience, and of life. We stand before their work then in a state of astonished unknowing, what Buddhism calls, “don’t know mind”, available and fully accepting of new ways of seeing.

Zen master, Shunryu Suzuki said:
“I discovered that it is necessary, absolutely necessary, to believe in nothing. That is, we have to believe in something which has no form and no color–something which exists before all forms and colors appear… No matter what god or doctrine you believe in, if you become attached to it, your belief will be based more or less on a self-centered idea.”

He is speaking here of our preconceived notions about life, and the importance of looking beyond them, to believe in nothing or in other words, suspending judgment, and not allowing it to color our present moment experience.

Each of us looks at the world through our own subjective lens as our mind strives to access, and to apply what we already know about objects of introspection and perception. This information though, will always be old, and possibly incorrect internal models, being made as it were, of past experiences and emotional content. This blanket of past knowledge, which the mind throws out before us, tends to blind us from newness or immediate experience of life as it truly is. We will remain blinded by this covering then, unless we choose to throw it off, looking beyond former internal, subjective awareness, with a Beginner’s Mind that is willing to see and perceive in a fresh, new light, unhindered by past assessments and labels, before we have even experienced some object or situation. We can choose not to be captives of past internal cognitions, throw open the door to our cell, and breathe the free air of immediacy and present moment wonder.

If we were to always default into relying on our past memory storage and retrieval of our subjective impressions of what music sounds like, or what dancing feels like, we may end up attending a concert, or doing the dance steps, without really hearing or feeling them. We would simply be resorting to memory and habit, going through the motions, without being fully aware or even present at the concert, or on the dance floor.

Now imagine attending the concert while setting aside all preconceived ideas of how it might unfold. Image how utterly sublime it might be to bare our heart and soul, that the music might reach for us as two virginal lovers about to kiss for the first time, or as the ocean approaching the wooing shoreline, to drench excitedly its rocky edges, inundating and climaxing upon its delightedly feverish and welcoming sands.

If dancing in present moment, open expectation, we might experience it as William Butler Yeats describes:
“ O body swayed to music, O brightening glance, how can we know the dancer from the dance.”
This is becoming fully absorbed, completely embodying and become one with the art of dancing itself. We are no longer object and activity, we are quite simply united as dance itself.

In Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, Alan Watts speaks of entering into the immediacy of life.
“Life is moving too swiftly to be approached tentatively and gradually, for while one makes elaborate plans for enlightenment, the immediate truth is slipping away all the time. The person who dallies on the edge of the stream, wondering how best to take the plunge, testing the heat of the water with his toes, and thinking how it will feel when he is in, soon gets into the habit of putting off the issue. The Zen disciple must walk quietly to the edge and slip calmly into the water without further ado, without allowing himself time to conjure up fears and anxious speculations as to what it will be like, or to find elaborate reasons as to why he should not get in at once.”

If we approach life tentatively, always consulting and comparing to the known, and seeking to plot, plan, and figure out how this situation, this person, or this object may affect us, based on stored memory and past emotional experience, we end up never tasting the real thing, but rather an overlay of what we have already experienced. It makes life rather like a recipe that is trotted out every single holiday, the same boring, old, dish, not because everyone loves it, but because it has become habit to cook it. Even though, something new and surprising would be much more welcome, palatable, and enlivening.

Alan Watts tells us that this way of thinking keeps us moving through our days as an isolated being, separate from the world, and our experience of it, “as one who stands outside and considers primarily the effect which life is having and will have upon himself. Apart from this effect he has no realization of life whatever, and thus he never actually lives.”

If we habitually approach all of life based on what our conscious mind retrieves, analyzes, and tells us what we might expect of new situations, based on that which we have known before, we will find ourselves missing the point entirely. It is as John Keats says of reading and understanding poetry.

“A poem needs understanding through the senses. The point of diving into a lake is not immediately to swim to the shore but to be in the lake, to luxuriate in the sensation of water. You do not work the lake out, it is an experience beyond thought. Poetry soothes and emboldens the soul to accept the mystery.”

And there it is, the best part, mystery. Sticking to the known, the familiar, the habitual, will enslave us forever to a life devoid of mystery, and thereby astonishment, wonder, magic, romance, fascination, awe, reverence, and intimacy.
It is your choice, do you want to enter into one of the most sacred, and beautiful days of your life, the day your most precious treasure, your child, comes into the world, with eyes and heart that will perceive its unfolding through the lens of preconceived habit, plodding through its anxious hours dwelling on past worries, or fearful future what ifs, and never really being there in the present moment at all? Do you want to give all the joy of birth away to other people’s stories, and conceptions, or your own tendencious, anxious stories of what may never even come to pass? Or are you willing to be as the blind child, experiencing the cherry blossoms for the first time, and in doing so, inviting marvel and the miraculous to unfold?

“ What is it you seek?” asked the teacher of a student who came to him for wisdom.
“Life”, the student replied.
The teacher answered, “ If you are to live, words must die.”

To realize the birth of your dreams, let go then of words, concepts, preconceived notions, habits, and revel in each present moment as it arises, in all its fullness, and then let it naturally pass away, welcoming the next, with joyful, and excited abandon.

“In the Beginner’s Mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.” Shunryu Suzuki