Monday, January 17, 2011

Beginners' Mind

I have had a few seriously challenging yoga classes recently. I have to say, I found myself getting frustrated and even a bit mad at the teacher for doing difficult sequences and poses I could not achieve. I left the first such class feeling all out of sorts. At the second one, the teacher mentioned a Zen concept called Beginners' Mind. Wikipedia defines this as "having an attitude of openness, eagerness and a lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even at an advanced level." I started to think about the practice in a different way.

When I first started yoga, every pose was a revelation. I didn't know what would happen, I had no idea there were Sun Salutations that were done in the same order every time, and I didn't expect to be able to do every pose. Far from it! I developed a sense of humor about myself that I didn't have anywhere else in my life. I could attempt the impossible, like an arm balance, or my first nemesis pose, Ardha Chandrasana, and laugh if I fell. Somewhere in the last 3 years I've lost some of this ability. I needed a healthy dose of Beginners' Mind for sure!

Think back to when you started something new: learning an instrument, trying a new computer program, or a new dance move. I'm sure you learned to take things one step at a time, without jumping ahead or trying to learn everything at once. Clearly you didn't expect greatness the first time around, or even the second or third. Unfortunately, for so many of us, that eagerness and openness quickly gets replaced by a fight to the finish, and an expectation of perfection. We become dissatisfied or even angry if we can't get it just right. That's exactly where I found myself on my mat.

Now I could be frustrated at my teachers for kicking it up a notch, or I could see this as the opportunity it clearly represents: to return to my starting point. Be a novice again. I shouldn't be able to do every pose, because that's where I've been (mostly) for a while now, and my practice was feeling a bit stale. I no longer had the feeling that I could walk out of class and deal with anything life threw my way. I didn't have to work or foster a sense of humor in the face of a challenge, so I stopped trying as hard. I was coasting. I am hitting the reset button, to find that eagerness and lack of preconception again. Where might you be treading water in life? Can you step forward by looking at it with the mind of a beginner?

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