Beginner Mind

How Will It Go?


I’m impressed this week by how difficult it is to show up to our next experience, ANY experience, without having written, in some small way, an advance script of “how it will go.”

This happens to me at work all the time. A meeting might be called, let’s say to work through some minor glitch in a system, and once I know the six people who will be in the room, I notice this inevitable tendency of my mind to start writing the script:

“I bet he’ll want……”   “She’s going to be really pissed if we suggest…….”   “I know he isn’t going to accept any responsibility for…..”  “I’m going to be ready for her to….” “His tendency is to…..”

These voices are subtle and buried; they’re so subtle and buried that until very recently I never noticed (nor would I have believed) they are as noisy as they are, but they’re there. It’s very hard to show up to any experience without having some hint, some flavor, of at least one aspect of what’s going to happen. We go into most situations “prepared” (braced, biased, leaning this way or that.)

And what happens when we go into a situation prepared is that we miss the experience of that situation. Completely. When we go into a new experience prepared for what our old experience, or fear, or imagination has told us might happen, we completely miss the new experience because we’re merely reenacting things we already know in order to alleviate the discomfort of sitting with things we don’t know, thing we can’t know, because they haven’t happened yet.

And I do that fifty or sixty times a day, every day. How about you?

How many of us can go out on a first date or into the first week of a new relationship and honestly hold the posture, “well, this is new. I don’t know. Let’s just see what happens!”  How many of us can go into a testy work relationship, a person with whom we traditionally have some friction, with the posture of, “let’s see what happens this time. This is new.” If you’re like me, more than likely, we brace, waiting for what we fear is going to happen, and ironically, we cause the very thing we fear by bracing for it. The other person reads our posture, and the thing we brace against presents itself. It manifests because we have made so much energy available for it that it can’t NOT manifest.

What is called in Zen “Beginner’s Mind” is a baffling thing; it is present in children without effort, yet many adults cannot reacquire it no matter how hard they try, and some see no value in it whatsoever. Beginner’s mind might also be called by the practice “to begin again”  and is a facet of the spiritual discipline of innocence. It is the quality of coming to something new with a sense of not knowing, curiosity, openness, eagerness to explore. And we can bring it to every single thing we do. Every relationship, even those decades old, every practice, as mundane as loading the dishwasher, can provide surprise and delight if we’re able to bring beginner’s mind to it.

These issues surface in Touch Practice constantly. With a new person who comes to practice with me at my home, there is a very typical conversation a few days beforehand that goes something like this:

Q: “So I’ve read your website.  How does it work? do we take of our clothes and start hugging each other or what?”

A: “Well, we start several feet apart from each other, actually, fully clothed, and we just stand there for a few minutes and breathe and ground.”

Q: “Then what?”

A: “Well, that depends. Each person is different. It depends on what is going on in your body at that point.”

Q: “Will we get naked eventually?”

A: “I can’t say what will happen; it all depends on what happens energetically and where your body wants to go. But there is no requirement to get naked. It is possible, if that’s what the body wants and what you choose.

Q: “Will it be erotic?”

A: “I have no idea. That all depends on what happens for you.”

Q: “I don’t want to have any erotic feelings while it’s happening….”

A: “It is usually very difficult for people to predict how they’re going to be feeling a day in advance, and, even if predictable, the things we feel are not controllable.  Certainly our behaviors are controllable, and what you decide to do about your feelings will be up to you.  I’ll certainly sit with you and support you, whatever you’re feeling. However, I can’t guarantee what you will or won’t feel, nor do I have any power to alter that. I will try to create a safe environment for you to feel whatever you feel.”

You see the pattern. The conversation takes many forms, many different shapes, but it’s always a conversation about “how do I know what will happen.” The answer for me has shifted increasingly from “we can’t know” to “we don’t want to know. We want to have a new experience, not repeat an old one.”

Engaging the unknown is stressful, and so we reasonably look for ways to support ourselves. But those support systems are built into Touch Practice from the foundation. It’s safe because it’s boundaried, not because it’s predictable. It’ll last an hour, not all day. It won’t result in any sexual acts no matter how much erotic energy you might experience. We will breathe no matter what we feel. We will stay grounded in our feet no matter what else is going on. Beyond that, the practice is all about exploring the unknown, unpredictable, unrehearsed way in which we respond in the moment, and there’s power and beauty and innocence in that exploration.

Take the next hour and try to go into one new experience completely unrehearsed, unbraced, open, with a child’s mind. One experience in the next hour. That’s it. If you’re like me, you’ll find that surprisingly challenging!!!  And, if you can experience it even a little bit, you’ll remember one of the greatest and most valuable practices of being little kids, and it’s a practice you can have in your life even now.

Be well, and have a great week.

Have thoughts you’d like to share?

Touch Practice is a sacred practice for me, and part of that is keeping confidences sacred. While a name and e-mail address are required to post a comment, feel free to use just your first name, or a pseudonym if you wish. Your e-mail address will never be seen by or shared with anyone. It is used to prevent spam and inappropriate comments from appearing in the blog. I’d really like to hear from you!

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