Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Beginner's Mind

"New Every Morning"
-At the Desert Retreat House-

It seems so odd to me that in my later years of life I feel as if I am constantly looking at things as if I am seeing them for the first time. I walk along a desert trail, camera in hand, gazing at the cacti in spring bloom - suddenly, it's a flash of insight."  

I've seen blooming cacti many times before, but not in this way. It's brand new to me.  There are other times when I might have a conversation with my spouse of many years or times when I read a scripture passage that I have read many times in the past, and again, it's a "flash of insight" - like seeing it again for the first time. 

Yesterday I came to some type of understanding of what these "flashes of insight" may be all about.

I was reading a book of Zen essays when I came across a term that I don't ever remember seeing before:  "beginner's mind."  In the journey of life, you enter into a new state of wisdom by adopting a "beginner's mind." 

The Zen Master, Shunryu Suzuki, described a " beginner's mind" in this way:

If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything, it is open to everything.
In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities
but in the expert's mind there are few.

Treat every moment as your last. It is not a preparation for something else.

Actually I think Jesus taught his disciples something very similar when he sat little children and infants on his lap and told his followers to become like these little ones - wide open minds and wide open hearts. Jesus told his disciples that they would never be able to understand his new way of looking at the old world if they kept looking at the world with old eyes. 

Jesus was a Zen teacher inviting his followers to cultivate a "beginners mind."

Throughout the vast majority of my early years I had anything but a "beginner's mind."  I was an "expert." My expert credentials came out of my many years of  formal education and theological training. My extensive parish experience, classroom teaching, and service as a consultant qualified me as an "expert" in church, religion, spirituality.  

But I think it's really true that in the "expert's mind the possibilities are few."  The expert says,  "I've  been there and done that," so the possibilities are few indeed. 

It wasn't until I moved out into the desert and entered into these later years of my life that I came to realize," I really don't want to be an expert any more. In fact, I'm tired of being an expert." 

Yesterday I came to understand that I had finally come to a point in my life's journey where I was aware and wise enough to begin a new process of cultivating a "beginner's mind."  

Now flashes of insight come almost every day, and I am seeing it all again for the first time. 

I get up in the morning and watch the sunrise. I sit in this same exact place every day. I've seen the sun rise  hundreds of times- coming up over the eastern mountains. I've seen it all before, and yet it is new every morning.  

Basking in the excruciating brilliance of this new day in the wilderness, I call out to the universe. I sing out to the Holy Abiding Presence flowing in and through it all:

 "I don't know anything, surprise me!" 

I pray for the grace of a "beginner's mind." 


  1. An unblemished mind is not one that has never sinned.
    It is that which has forgotten to pattern thoughts..
    A crystal clear medium that reveals the divinity in us.
    The Hindus have a name for it _Cintamani.
    Or the thinking jewel (gem?).
    Similiar to Mani Padmam or Lotus jewel as beheld by the Buddhist.
    The path to Happiness is to forget - an endeavour simpler said than done.
    May we all be blessed with incessant, Child's curiosity and the magnanimity to accommodate everything we encounter without malice or prejudice.

  2. May we all we blest with that curiosity. Amen

  3. "We shall not cease from exploration / And the end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started / And know the place for the first time." T.S. Eliot

    "All things hang like a drop of dew / Upon a blade of grass." William Butler Yeats

  4. I think a beginner's mind is the preface for seeing through God's eyes.