The Beginner's Mind
There are big differences in teaching yoga to adults and teaching yoga to children. Besides the obvious that children practicing yoga are a little smaller, a lot bendier, and quite a bit noisier, they also approach the mat knowing that they haven’t quite figured out their bodies, minds, future, opinions, or safety – which is a lesson that they unconsciously present to the adults who are paying attention. Even when they pretend to know it all (they do that a lot), they know that they don’t know. We’d realize that we don’t either, if we let them remind us. That truth can be joyful or scary depending on how we decide to look at it.
An adult approaches their mat in a brightly lit and mutely decorated yoga studio, ready to do the poses they know how to express. They might do a headstand when the instructor calls for a simple forward fold, because they know that they can. They don’t like the substitute instructor in the room that day because she’s new and doesn’t teach like the usual teacher. But what if they had approached the mat with curiosity, with the realization that they had never practiced on that particular day before, with those specific outside influences that had integrated into their body’s natural composition, that maybe that teacher was new to them but may have a perspective or muscle group focus that their students hadn’t mastered yet. If all students could do that, the class would go from a collection of minor nuisances to a moment to immerse oneself into a new experience, to cultivate a lesson on how to move through occurrences that are unexpected, and embrace an opportunity to harvest a lesson they hadn’t planned for.
The benefits of The Beginner’s Mind play out in real life every day, on and off the mat. The most nuanced expert knows that they don’t know it all and that a breath or a shift in perspective could turn an entire argument on its head.
Last week I went to New York for the day by myself, to try a Soul Sunday class at Urban Asanas, to eat lunch at a Champ’s Diner who’s vegan food Instagram I had been salivating over for months, and to visit MoMa Ps1. Yoga class was so good that I left feeling like I was walking on air, Champ’s Diner was closed due to flooding, and an impromptu lunch date with an old friend made it so that visiting the museum across town would have been too rushed to make it to my 5pm bus home. I wasn’t bothered – I went with the flow and discovered a new feminist bookstore, a crystal store attached to a plant store, and had the exact experience I wanted, despite 2/3 of my plan falling apart. That was new for me (how funny that I am a beginner at practicing a beginner’s mind) and changed how my experiences felt in my body.
Approaching life with curiosity rather than judgment helps you easily adjust to the current of life, but also makes the world float more easily around you.
A beginner’s mind is a lot like children in a yoga class. Happy and silly when it feels right, tough and buildable when things take a little bit more, and a belief that all things are worthwhile and possible because why wouldn’t they be? What is anything but an experience we haven’t had yet? What if it still gets to be meaningful even if it wasn’t what we planned? What if it’s usually more so when we don’t plan it?
When you hear yourself sticking to firm opinions, concrete plans, and easy judgments, remind yourself that there is struggle in sticking to immovable expectations in such a malleable life.
There is peace in turning your answers to questions and approaching every situation, even if we’ve encountered variations of it 1,000 times, like a beginner.
Children have a lot to teach us about the joy of a beginner’s mind. Start your day with pride about what you do know, and excitement about the many things you don’t. Though we can sometimes feel that as adults, we’re here to teach, it’s so important to let yourself be taught.
We’re all beginners at living in 2018. Let’s remember that.