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brief encounter with beginner’s mind

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Last weekend four of us travelled for the Beginner’s Mind retreat at the monastery. Throughout the many hours of sitting and walking meditation, the head monk kept pointing towards the basics. Nothing fancy, nothing to achieve, nothing to accomplish, he’d say. Again and again, bring your awareness to this moment — this breath, this sound, this body sensation.

In the Japanese traditions of martial arts and Zen meditation, beginner’s mind (shoshin 初心) refers to “having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner in that subject would.” In the West, the term has became known through a book by Shunryu Suzuki, late of the Zen Center of San Francisco. In the Introduction, the editor paraphrases its central theme–

The mind of the beginner is empty, free from the habits of the expert, ready to accept, to doubt, and open to all possibilities. It’s the mind that can see all things as they are, which step by step and in a flash can realize the original nature of everything. … This is an ancient way of teaching, using the simplest language and the situations of everyday life.

Perhaps that’s why this short retreat seemed so long and so deep. Going back to basics took me to the building blocks of life itself: breathing in and breathing out. As I described in monday’s post, it led me past the mind’s ceaseless meandering to existence itself. For split seconds it gave me — as best I can articulate this — a taste of my True Nature.

source: Suzuki, S. (2010). Zen mind, beginner’s mind. (40th anniversary edition). Chadwick, D. (ed). Boston: Shambala, p. xiv.

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