Beginners Mind: The Art of Starting Over - Goodlife Zen

Beginners Mind: The Art of Starting Over


In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few. ~ Shunryu Suzuki

Do you remember what it was like when you fell in love with someone or something? I’m sure you remember the glow, the excitement, and the joy.

Did you remain enthusiastic – or did the glow fade?

If we’re honest, something happens in time. And it’s not pretty. Love seems to peter out, and enthusiasm wears off.

If we focus on a particular skill, we become an ‘expert’ in time. That’s a worry. Because as Zen Master Shuryu Suzuki warned, in the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few.

We can regain the excitement and love that we once felt through cultivating Beginner’s Mind

What Zen people call Beginner’s Mind, is a state of ultimate freshness. It’s a way of experiencing everything anew in each moment. Before I offer some suggestions of how to cultivate Beginner’s Mind, I’d like to tell you about an experience I had recently.

Some weeks ago, I decided to return to karate training, after an absence of 5 years. I talked my teacher, Grandmaster (Hanshi) Andy Barber, and we agreed that I would come back as a lowly White Belt (after leaving as a 4th Dan Blackbelt). I was delighted with the idea. It was fun training as a White Belt. In fact, it has been one of my most interesting life experiments.

Now that my status was wiped away, the challenge was to embody the essence of being a senior Blackbelt – without wearing any outward sign at all.

What I found was that starting over allowed me to reconnect with my Martial Art practice in a new way. Because I restarted as a beginner, I could let go of all the mind-baggage that had collected in my previous eighteen years of practice. It all became very simple and beautiful: just this punch, just this kick, just this block.

Starting over with Beginner’s Mind enabled me to train in a totally different way. I was able to drop all the ideas of how I should be. (Because when we function as an ‘expert’, we carry a lot of shoulds.) Without the commentary in my mind, I could gather myself in silence of body and mind, and then explode into action from within that deep silence. I would have happily stayed a White Belt for ever, and just worked hard to perfect simple things. But my teacher is now slowly stepping me up the grades again…

Imagine for a moment what it would be like for you to start over. What would it be like to be a complete beginner again? In our culture the word ‘beginner’ has a negative connotation. But, in fact, to be a beginner is the ultimate way to approach a task.

Beginners Mind is the pathway to true mastery

Here is how to access Beginner’s Mind:

  1. Focus on one step at a time – without looking back or forward.
    So often our energy is sapped through the way we use dwell in the past or in the future.
  2. Lose yourself in action.
    Our full power only appears when we forget ourselves. The way to do that is to focus on sensations. Notice how your feet feel on the ground, how your heart beats, or how your breath flows in and out.
  3. Let go of stories.
    We all accumulate stories about our habitual actions or our relationships. These stories often come with a ‘but’. For example, we may think, “Yeah, I really love doing xxx, but …” Stories that include ‘but’ are joykillers. When you notice such stories, resolutely put them out of your mind and focus on sense experiences.
  4. Be willing to rediscover what you think you know
    As an expert we think we know something. And maybe we do. But if we approach this knowledge with Beginner’s Mind, we are able to see it in a new way. And that unhindered seeing allows us to be creative, to get out of our rut, and to grow in a new way.
  5. Let go of status
    Status is a hindrance. Because it creates stories in your mind. What others think about you is not your business. If you let go of ideas about your status, you’ll live a life of happy freedom. So many people live their lives yearning for a higher status, or worrying that they don’t measure up to the status they have. What a waste of energy!

As Shunryu Suzuki said, ‘in the mind of the beginner there are many possibilities’. If you allow yourself to start over – whether it’s with a skill, or whether its in a relationship – you’ll discover new possibilities and a new freedom.

You might even gain true mastery – which is doing what you love with Beginner’s Mind.

What is your experience of starting over?

About the author

Mary Jaksch

Mary is passionate about helping people create a happy, purposeful, and fulfilling life. She is the founder of GoodlifeZEN and also the brains behind, one of the biggest blogs for writers on the Net. Mary is also a Zen Master, a mother, and a 5th Degree Black Belt.

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