A Google search suggests that the most common reference to the “beginner’s mind” originates from the title of Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki’s book: Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. It is said to reflect a saying of his regarding the way to approach Zen practice: “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few”.
This is one of those seductive, philosophical sayings that roll off the tongue elegantly and sound oh so clever. But is it? Wikipedia elaborates with “It refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner in that subject would.”
What I like is the justification that in learning one can be naive, even wrong and it’s okay. In fact, if one is self aware and open to correction, it is intentional – desirable even. What a forgiving environment in which to learn. Doesn’t it reduce, if not eliminate, the counter productive pressure to project expertise? It is a very humble, and liberating, recognition that however much one knows today, whomever one is, one cannot know all.
In taking the stance of the “beginner’s mind” (“even when studying at an advanced level”!) we can all be open to learning and collaborating ― teachers can teach students and students can teach teachers. It fosters mutual respect for the value of different perspectives.
For anyone who loves to learn, this is like freedom, wide open blue sky.
If this resonates with you, you might also appreciate “Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment” (1). It is an old (1991) but a short classic that speaks of the process for becoming a master, of anything.
Against Malcolm Gladwell’s articulation of research that “Ten thousand hours is the magic number of greatness” (2) ― i.e. that to master anything one must exert 10,000 hours of concentrated, structured, intentional learning against it ― we can all benefit from a measured pace. “Mastery” provides a guide for undertaking the journey of mastery.
(okay, 2nd confession: I read, a lot)
(1) “Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment”, George Leonard, Penguin Books, USA Inc, NY, USA.
(2) “Outliers: The Story of Success”, Malcolm Gladwell, Little, Brown and Company, NY, USA, 2008, p 41.