Beginner’s Mind

Shunryu Suzuki, the Zen master, said “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are only a few.” Once we believe that we already know, we close the doors to learning. Yoga helps undo the conditioning of our mind to resume the pure state of being without the interference of thought waves. It’s the difference between being what the Buddhist master Ajahn Chah called “being the one who knows,” verses becoming and identifying with thought waves themselves in a state of attachment.

One example is to imagine you are on the beach watching the waves move into shore, or in the other example, you believe you are the waves witnessing your oncoming destruction repeatedly as the waves smash onto shore while trying to hold on. In the first example one is occupying a space in which we can bear witness to the changing nature of life and consciousness while still being engaged, whereas in the other, we are contracting around specific emotions and thoughts, often wishing something was different in some way. My teacher Rolf Gates says, “Yoga is the ability to reflect on the mind rather than react from it.” In other words, yoga is the ability to live from a beginner’s mindset with freedom and ease, curious and open to whatever the moment brings.

Many of us oscillate on this spectrum of being while some may spend more time in various mindsets than others. We may spend whole periods of our lives in an attached mindset without realizing it because when we are attached, it often makes sense to us. We invent reasons why it is reasonable to be attached and convince ourselves that our logic is sound. All of this is okay, because eventually we see that no matter how attached we are, it doesn’t change the nature of reality. We get tired and maybe injured if we practice our asana with too much attachment. We exhaust our emotional selves when we become too attached in our relationships. We lose our sense of wonder when we get too attached to material things. As the Buddha explained in the Noble Truths, being attached leads to suffering.

Yoga is a light that can help us see our attachments and gently begin to release our grip on them. The practice purifies our bodies and minds, dissolving the conditioning that makes us feel like we need to attach and grasp, and reopens possibilities in our perspective. Like a flower slowly blossoming in time, we cannot pry open the petals to make the flower bloom faster. We must trust the process, practice with devotion, and continue to renew our intention. I have learned that by combining our bigger sense of why we practice with a sense of letting be, we can allow the unfolding of our practice to happen in its own beautiful way. With steadiness and ease, the fruits of our practice will develop. And as we gain insight into the nature of reality, we understand that living with mindfulness and compassion is the true practice of yoga, and we will begin to live from this place more often.

The practice of yoga reaffirms what we knew when we were beginners in this lifetime: the world is a magical place, abundant with the sweet nectar of beauty all around us if we are willing to open ourselves to it. Yoga helps us remember a beginner’s mindset around life itself, inviting us to be curious and inquire within using our bodies, breath, movement, and awareness. As we slowly shed the expert mind’s conditioning that shrinks the possibilities, we discover a freedom of the heart and openness of the mind that is available to us all. We remember that we already have everything we need; we simply need to realize it.

Namaste,

Colin Brightfield

Founder, Jai Rhythm Yoga

Instagram: @brightfield