Survival On The Savannah Plain With Beginners Mind
"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's there are few."
These are the famous words of Shunryu Suzuki in "Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind" who did so much to promote and popularize Zen Buddhism in the US during the 1960's.
The implication is that to have knowledge and experience of a subject - to have the mind of an expert - is limiting and we should always assume the mindset of a novice with no prior knowledge or expertise and maintain an open mind.
From an evolutionary perspective only the experts survive
If our paleolithic ancestors had behaved like that we would not be here today. From an evolutionary perspective only those with developed survival instincts and skills - only the experts - survived.
At time of writing, serving soldiers in the Ukrainian frontline in Donbas region are not fighting with beginner's mind. They are highly trained and experts in the use of military technology.
When I go and visit the dentist with a raging toothache, I do not want the dentist to have a beginner's mind - I want him [or her] draw on his extensive training and experience to extract my tooth and treat the underlying infection.
In my "day job" I am regularly presented with large contract offers for the purchase or sale of fuel products. The people who approach me want my expert opinion - usually very quickly - on whether or not the offer is genuine [i.e. not fraudulent], and whether or not the procedures are likely to be acceptable to their potential buyer or seller.
They do not want the beginner's mind I had 10 years ago when I first got into this business, they want my hard earned knowledge and experience - my expert mind.
So what exactly was Suzuki driving at?
“In the beginner's mind there is no thought, 'I have attained something.'
When we have no thought of achievement, no thought of self, we are true beginners.”
The key to this is "no thought of self".
So what we are talking about here is an expert performing with no ego involved. An expert with humility and openness.
The beginner's mind in action is best displayed by an expert who has mastered the art of "doing without doing".
This does not mean that the expert doesn't take action but rather it is about how she takes action.
It means that the expert is at peace whilst taking action - so she can perform with maximum skill and efficiency.
She is able to do this because she has put in the work to have achieved unconscious competence in exercising the necessary skills to undertake the required tasks and activities.
"You have a confident mind when you have a sense of certainty about your ability, which allows you to bypass conscious thought and execute unconsciously." [Dr Nate Zinsser]
Peak performance is meditation in motion.
Here in the UK we saw a great example of that recently when the England Women's Team won the 2022 European cup final.
On this site we place a lot of emphasis on learning how to think effectively and in order to do that you also need to learn how to stop thinking.
The most powerful and proven technique for learning how to stop thinking, and how to develop beginner's mind, is mindfulness meditation.
Many articles on this site focus on the practice of this form of meditation within a structured practice setting, but what I also find very useful are the many daily opportunities for practicing mindfulness in the simple everyday tasks and activities that I would otherwise do on "auto-pilot".
Next Article: The Art Of Being Alone Is A Skill
Return from "Beginners Mind" to: Walking The Talk