I’ve never been exactly sure what “beginner’s mind” is.
Nonetheless, I know about the struggle to be a beginner, just to let myself learn and grow and take steps as small as I need them to be to keep moving. I know a lot about that struggle.
And maybe it doesn’t need to be a struggle at all. Maybe it, like other spiritual practices, is a matter of daily mindfulness, of both gentleness and discipline. Maybe it’s a matter of finding a new approach, a new way into learning.
Let me show you where I’m coming on all this.
I was a precocious child. I was verbal; I liked learning at school; I loved to read; I enjoyed math, English, French, science, music, art… If you put it in front of me, I wanted to get my hands on it—and more important, get my mind around it.
What I quickly learned was that most things were easy for me. Many things we covered in school I had already learned at home. I learned that the way to be ahead of the game—and I had already learned that “ahead of the game” was important—was to do those things that I already knew.
So I slowly withdrew my attention from math and science—places where I had to go more slowly, places where I needed more help and it was clear I wasn’t at the head of the pack.
When I could, I spent all my energy on subjects I was already good at.
The good, the bad, and the beginner
Now, on one hand, this wasn’t such a bad strategy. I won awards, I got a lot of praise, and my ego felt great. Mostly.
Only “mostly” because on the other hand, I had lost one of the most powerful skills a child can learn: The ability to tolerate frustration and to keep going in pursuit of learning and growth.
So nowadays, when I find myself in that little-girl place of not being able to tolerate frustration, of wanting to throw in the towel when the grocery delivery app is thwarting me, I am trying something new.
This new approach—the letting-myself-be-a-beginner approach—is to stop, slow down, and start again. Stop, slow down, and start again.
Stop, slow down, and start again.
In the “slow down” piece of the pattern, I am allowing myself to feel frustrated. I am recognizing the frustration and reminding myself that I don’t have to be perfect at everything I do. I am slowing down my breathing, my mind, and my heart. Slowing down to remind myself that even here, where the grocery delivery app is difficult, I am not stupid, bad, or wrong for struggling with it.
I am not stupid, bad, or wrong for being a beginner.
You are not stupid, bad, or wrong for being a beginner.
I am not stupid, bad, or wrong for struggling with seemingly “simple” things.
You are not stupid, bad, or wrong for struggling with seemingly “simple” things.
Remember that we all have strengths—there are some things you do that others find mysterious and difficult. They would need your help to do these Mystery Things. But to you, there is no mystery. There is flow, there is gentleness, there is ease.
So let’s agree to be beginners today. And when it feels hard, when we feel stuck or frustrated or upset by what we perceive to be a lack of progress, let’s stop. Stop. Slow down. Start again.
Begin again in love.
Thanks so much for this timely post. I struggle with this, a LOT and it is tied to my anxiety, depression, “stuckness” and perfectionism. I understand all too much except the ability to believe in myself and apply the stuff I know to myself.
Giving ourselves permission to be where we are–stuck or no–is one way to allow change to happen gently. I’m glad to hear you’re acknowledging this “stuff” in your life. You can do it! You can move to the next level! You can allow yourself to change gently and consistently!