Today was the first day of school for students at the high school where I work. It’s an exciting time that I enjoy each year – seeing returning students, happy to be back and excited to be moving forward – closer to graduation and adulthood.
It’s also an exciting, and anxious, time for new students. The freshmen class typically worries about whether they will be able to find their classes, of if they will know anyone. Many of our students come from towns, or countries, far away and have not yet met anyone in this new community they will be a part of.
For me it was a pleasure to roam the halls between classes, greeting familiar faces, meeting so many new students, and helping others to find their way.
In a new position this year, I too am trying to find my way. It is a good thing to be forced to have a “beginner’s mind” – to be always looking at things as if for the first time.
Beginner’s mind is Zen practice in action. It is the mind that is innocent of preconceptions and expectations, judgments and prejudices. Beginner’s mind is just present to explore and observe and see “things as-it-is.” I think of beginner’s mind as the mind that faces life like a small child, full of curiosity and wonder and amazement. “I wonder what this is? I wonder what that is? I wonder what this means?” Without approaching things with a fixed point of view or a prior judgment, just asking “what is it?”
~Abbess Zenkei Blanche Hartman
As we face the many challenges of change this year, I most often find myself asking how will I do that? or what will it take to get that done?
We often believe that to teach we must be the experts. The truth is that education must be about change because the world is an evolutionary place and it is impossible to be an expert each and every day. Donald M. Murray says the reason he writes is “to discover what I am thinking, not what I have already thought. I write not to confirm or document what I know. . .but to discover what I do not yet know. If I am to surprise myself with fresh insight, I need to be disloyal to what I have written – thought, felt, believe, remembered before. I want to discover what I know that I didn’t know I knew…”
This is not only true for the writer, but for every learner. In order to look at life from many perspectives we must never be too certain of what we know, but always aware of what others think they know, and what none of us yet know. I have learned that when you go through life with a beginner’s mind you launch more possibilities than you ever imagined before. The world seems to open up and become filled with opportunities.
“The very nature of beginner’s mind is not knowing in a certain way, not being an expert.” As Suzuki Roshi said in the prologue to Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s there are few.” As an expert, you’ve already got it figured out, so you don’t need to pay attention to what’s happening. Pity.”