Y’all know this blog spends an inordinate amount of space on the science and practice of improvin’ health, increasin’ happiness and makin’ the world a better place. In this here post, I posit that “Beginner’s Mind” is an essential tool in that quest.
Beginner’s Mind is the attitude and curiosity we embrace when we take on a new activity with joy and wonder. Unless we do something to foster it (or we’re Drew Barrymore in the easily forgettable Fifty First Dates), Beginner’s Mind follows a certain life cycle that moves in lock step with our personal growth. We’re born with it. We have it through much of our childhood. But once we’re teenagers, we know everything and our minds often close. I know mine did and so did my sons.
Then, we’re thrown out into the real world and we’re humbled. We get Beginner’s Mind whiplash. Little by little we become experienced, competent and sometimes, cynical. Cynicism is the geezer callin’ card.
In this post, we explore the various facets of Beginner’s Mind using me as Exhibit A. We look at how the loss of a Beginner’s Mind causes us to lose perspective, we look at what Beginner’s Mind actually is, and we discuss how to get it back when we lose it.
Geezerdom – A One Way Trip to Lost Perspective
I’m a geezer. I owned up to it in this post and in the Karma Sense Eating Plan. But I hope and believe, my geezer-ness is only skin deep (i.e. I look old but I’m immature for my age). When I hear complaints that kids today always have their faces towards their smartphones, I throw a “geezer flag” because I remember what my peers and I did when color TVs became affordable, when the selection of channels went from less than a dozen to over 100, when access to personal music libraries became increasingly portable, when arcade games went from mechanical pinball to all-electronic video, when video games made their way in the home, when self-absorbed moguls proudly displayed their brick-sized mobile phones as they made investments in the latest technology companies that drove miniaturization, wireless communication and the many other technologies that made smartphones possible.
If you want to close your mind to how the younger generation uses technology, you have no one to blame but yourself.
Facebook is a perfect example. It’s a platform started for college kids that now has a user base skewed towards older folk as the college kids all scramble for an alternative that keeps grandma from learning about their latest piercings. The end result is geezers use their smartphones to post complaints on Facebook about how younger generations use their smartphones. This irony is not lost an a minfulness snob (to be discussed later).
Case in point, I was scrolling through my Facebook feed the other day and encountered this post,
I suppressed the urge to complain about the spelling of the word “millennials.” I was less successful suppressing my urge to throw a geezer flag.
I provoked my Facebook-obsessed geezer brethren on my personal page as follows.
Some of my friends had fun with it. Most of them agreed. My inner feeling was the geezers who complain the loudest about the latest mobile game trend were just jealous they didn’t have a version of their own.
Lesson #1: It’s always easier to maintain an Beginner’s Mind when you surround yourself with other people who want to play along.
Lesson #2: Let he or she who is without sin, cast the first stone.
Lesson #3: Fiber-chu would be an excellent name for the senior citizen version of Pokemon (Pokemon SC).
Beginner’s Mind – What It Is
“Beginner’s Mind” is a relatively new addition to my vocabulary. The first time I ever heard it was when I started my Health Coach training in January of 2015. It was an odd experience to learn and live the concept simultaneously. It’s one I documented in a series of posts (here is the first in the series) while I was in the midst of that training.
Learning Beginner’s Mind
I discovered that “Beginner’s Mind” is part of a collection of seven essential attitudes that comprise a more mindful existence. Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn documented these attitudes in his book Full Catastrophe Living. These attitudes are:
- Acceptance – embracing the current state without dwelling on the past or relying on expectations for the future.
- Beginner’s Mind – operating in a state of curiosity without expectations based on the past.
- Letting Go – noticing and the subsequent releasing of past assumptions, expectations and preferences.
- Non-Judging – resisting the urge to classify one’s current experience.
- Non-Striving – resisting the urge to force events into one’s own timetable.
- Patience – allowing events to unfold at their own pace.
- Trust – believing in the reliability, skills and experiences of others upon whom you depend.
Without these seven attitudes and the mindfulness they foster, a coach can’t truly collaborate with a client. The coach must be 100% present, focused on the client and not hampered by preconceived notions. The coach needs to come into each session with curiosity and wonder. The coach needs Beginner’s ind. Geezer mind just won’t work.
Living Beginner’s Mind
I came into my coach training from a corporate and start-up environment I had been in for over thirty years. It was a situation in which I always had to have the immediate answers. There was no time for learning and curiosity. And the corporate world has no patience for non-striving.
The coaching climate was the Bizarro World version of where I was coming from. It took all the mental energy I could muster to get to the point where I would trust, let things work at its own pace and, accept that I was not the expert and embrace my curiosity about others. When I finally did, it was a turning point (documented in this series of posts).
One of the most effective tools for getting to this point was “naming.” My colleagues in my cohort became adept at calling me (or anyone else) out when I showed signs of geezer mind. They would tell me I was “striving” and that I was acting like a Jaded Curmudgeon. By having this taxonomy of desirable attitudes, I knew exactly what kind of changes I needed to make to get back on the right track. Eventually, I got good at it. I became a Minfulness Snob (a phrase coined by someone in my cohort).
Lesson #4: To discard a geezer mind and embrace a beginner’s mind, label your attitude whenever you detect either and adjust accordingly.
Lesson #5: Jaded Curmudgeon would also fit in Pokemon SC.
Lesson #6: Mindulness Snob for Pokemon SC? Not so much.
Beginner’s Mind – Living Vicariously Through Children
Do you remember the very first time you saw a moving car? A rocket liftoff? A snow capped mountain? How about the ocean? That sense of awe is something the Jaded Curmudgeon loses pretty quickly.
I remember when my first son just became adept at sitting up on his own power. He had the worst diaper rash imaginable. He was miserable and that made Mrs. H and me miserable. We read through Dr. Spock who said the best thing to do was to expose the rash to fresh air.
Since the weather was decent and we didn’t really want him free-ballin’ it around the house before he was toilet trained, we took him outside and sat with him in our front yard.
We lived on a quiet street that was somewhere between rural and suburban in setting. This was when the lad first discovered the automobile. Every few minutes, a colorful new, self-propelled four wheeler zipped past the house and his eyes widened, his arm stretched out as he pointed in the direction of the car long since passed, and he made the noise and face you make as if you were saying “WOOOOOAAAHHH!” It was an experience that totally changed my perspective on the mundane.
Last week I went back to Durham, NC to relive that feeling while serving as a mentor for the latest batch of Duke trained health coaches. I’ve been workin’ in the capacity of health coach for almost two years now. The tools are second nature to me. I own my Mindfulness Snobbery.
As mentor, I expected a nice refresher of the material, an opportunity to meet a new collection of folks dedicated to better health, happiness and world-saving, and a bit of fun to boot. But overall, there’d be little new stuff for me to learn.
Instead, I got, “WOOOOOAAAHHH!” That was the reaction of the students as they absorbed and practiced our special brand of Health Coach Kung Fu. And seeing it from the perspective of a (now reformed) Mindfulness Snob, was as beautiful to watch as my son’s expression when he saw his first 1982 Honda Accord. Because Beginner’s Mind can even make a Honda Accord an object of joy and wonder.
Lesson #7: See Lesson #1
Beginner’s Mind – It’s Never Too Late to Have a Happy Childhood
In the movie Fifty First Dates (it may be forgettable to you but my brain doesn’t work that way), Drew Barrymore’s character wakes up each morning with no memory of what happened the day before. Fifty First Dates is the opposite of Groundhog Day in premise and entertainment value.
Because Drew’s character can’t remember the previous day, she entertains herself during breakfast by reading the same passage from Tom Robbins novel, Still Life With Woodpecker. Still Life With Woodpecker is a memorable love story that takes place in a pack of Camel cigarettes. Among the genre of love stories that take place inside a pack of Camel cigarettes, it rises to the top.
In that novel, our hero, about to undergo a foolish and futile activity utters the following words to his love.
“It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.”
And that is the essence of Beginner’s Mind. For it will not only enhance the competence in most things you do. It also help you become happier as you do it.
Today’s Shameless Plugs
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