The beginner’s or explorer’s mind is one of the fundamental qualities of mindfulness. It means that we approach each moment with curiosity, fresh eyes, and with an open heart – as best we can, right now.
It means that we don’t expect how something or someone will behave, how it might come, what experience it/they will show or for what we need to brace ourselves.
So far, so good. And, somewhat difficult, at least in my own experience.
Automatically expecting, planning and anticipating
Of course, we are planning our actions based on experience. Of course, my brain is thinking “Yet again?!” when the children argue because they are bored and tired.
The way to work is well known to us and is therefore not consciously discovered “like an explorer” walking unknown terrain. And the hotel or the holiday region are so popular precisely because we know that the mountainside is calming on our nervous system, that the breakfast buffet here is particularly appetizing and that the kids quickly find new friends and the adults can therefore actually relax, at least somewhat.
Mindfulness without the effort
What I particularly like about mindfulness practice is the aspect of effortlessness. It’s not about achieving something (on the contrary) or getting better or living “always very consciously”.
No, everything is an invitation, an idea to try it out. A gift that we simply unwrap and see if it has a place in our lives. It is precisely about doing nothing and expecting nothing. It is looking at what life has in store for us and being open, allowing yourself to be surprised.
Yes, planning and organizing are part of life as well, and we also expect certain outcomes of our efforts. But the invitation is to let go every now and then and see: “What is going on right now? And what is this doing to me? How am I feeling?”
Genuine interest and turning towards, that’s all it takes.
Meeting other people with openness
This importance of turning towards becomes particularly clear when dealing with other people. Anyone who has children knows that many actions and reactions are predictable – after all, we are our children’s self-appointed experts – but it is immensely important to allow ourselves to be surprised again and again and not to miss out on change.
Life is change. Adults are often much more predictable because they already have more years of thinking patterns, action tendencies and routines under their belt. And yet, if we are not open to change and to surprises, pleasant or unpleasant, we constrict ourselves and others.
The less we approach our children based on thoughts such as “this is how it’s done” and “that’s simply how he/she is” and the more we are open and let go of needing to know how our children or others will cope with this or that, the freer they as individuals can develop and find their own way in this world.
Experiencing with a beginner's mind
Another example is how we approach the changes that come with various seasons of the year.
As an example, in spring or summer time ice cream shops are open again, the supermarkets promote barbecue food and utensils, and often the children are exhausted at the end of the school year. With the beginner’s mind or the “don’t know”-mind, we can start to look around. We can take time to ask ourselves questions and reflect on our surroundings.
For instance: Where does the food on the table come from? How are the flowers in the garden doing? Which relationship is particularly important to me? Who might need help or a sympathetic ear right now? What is my favourite ice cream flavour this season? What helps me best now to recharge my batteries: reading, going for a walk, doing a puzzle, going out, sleeping, ...
Not knowing what something or someone is like
Is it possible to keep cultivating a “don’t know”-mind, a beginner’s mind?
The less I focus on what I would like to have or wish for or what the news agencies might speculate, the more I can live the life that is here right now. Of course, this does not exclude getting more information when needed and planning and forming one’s own opinion.
However, as soon as we think we know what is right or sensible or realistic and align our everyday life completely accordingly, we will be disappointed. Life cannot be planned, and the larger the window of possibilities, the more options of action there are. Having an underlying thread to follow and still remaining flexible, always not knowing every detail and staying open. “What does this mean now? What are the consequences from this”?
Life can not be planned
As further examples, the ending of a school year (for those with children in their lives), or the last few weeks of work or personal commitments before a vacation, can be quite a time!
How will the kids manage? Where do they need help and where should I step back and let they find their own way? Can I be open about the final tests and not anticipate or expect a certain outcome?
The holiday hotel: How will it be this time? Does the food still taste as good? Will I try something completely new on the menu? The favourite holiday region: Why do I always go to the mountainside, what about it does me good? And what about this time? How affected am I by inflation and the impact on our vacation?
Stop, breathe and let go. Can you "wait and see", turning towards with genuine interest rather than directly anticipating a mood or an outcome and letting this affect you?
Let life surprise you
Life is a constant dance between (1) accustomed and practised steps in the familiar and safe dance hall, dancing along our routines and rituals and thinking that we know what to expect and (2) unplanned stumbling and a deliberate putting down of the feet and dancing out of rhythm.
How would it be to experience something like this? Listening to the music, feeling the body, stabilising again, noticing your fellow dancers, dancing out the door, being curious, sitting down, dancing in a group of two or five, doing nothing, shaking the body, looking around, spinning, and moving rhythmically again.
Dance your dance. There are no rules, only your very own experience. It will feel most natural and skilful when you are present in your body and in this moment and open to what it feels like right now.
Dare to not know how someone or something is. Let life surprise you.