Beginner’s Mind and Recovery
The Dangers of Expert Knowledge
Those who have expert knowledge about any topic are usually well respected for this. Such people have devoted their expertise to learning about their chosen field. This means that their opinions on these topics should be respected. There is a dark side to expert knowledge. It can cause people to become a bit closed minded and unwilling to consider other alternatives to their opinions and conclusions. There is also a tendency for humans to behave as if they were experts on a topic even though their knowledge is limited in that area. Beginner’s mind is recommended as the ideal approach to learn – it means that even those who have learnt a great deal about a topic can continue their learning. If experts do not maintain a beginner’s mind it can cause them to become stuck.
What is a Beginner’s Mind?
In Zen Buddhism they refer to Beginner’s mind as Shoshin. It refers to a situation where people are open and eager to learn new things and do not have too many preconceptions about what they are about to study. It means putting aside preconceived ideas for a short time so as to consider new information. If people have already made up their mind about something it will be highly unlikely that they will learn anything new. It is not necessary to be a Buddhist or learn about Zen in order to develop Shoshin.
The Empty Cup
There is a famous Zen story of a university professor who went to visit a renowned meditation master. This professor had been studying Zen and he wanted to gain more knowledge from the monk. The academic launched into a speech about all that he had learnt about Buddhism. While he was doing this the monk started to pour tea for his guest. The liquid reached the top of the cup yet the monk kept on pouring tea into the utensil as it overflowed. The professor felt alarmed and asked why this esteemed master was continuing to pour after the cup was full. The monk responded by saying, you are like this cup. He went to explain that he could not teach the professor anything about Zen because his brain was already full of ideas about Zen. He did not have a beginner’s mind.
The Benefits of Beginner’s Mind
Beginner’s mind is the best attitude for people who want to learn anything. The benefits of this type of attitude include:
* If people already have a many rigid opinions and beliefs about something it can make it difficult to gain any new knowledge.
* The Zen monk Shunryu Suzuki once said that, in the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few. Those who have a more open attitude will be able to think outside of the box and come up with solutions to problems that the expert would never consider.
* Those people who have this type of attitude are far more willing to make mistakes and learn from them. The expert can live in fear of making mistakes so this prevents their knowledge from progressing any further.
* Beginner’s mind keeps people humble and helps them avoid arrogance. This means that they are usually nice people to be around and have no problems making friends.
* This type of attitude can help people avoid dogmatism and zealotry.
* When people keep a beginner’s mind it prevents them from becoming bored. Life is more exciting when there are plenty of new things to learn.
The Dangers of Closed Mindedness in Recovery
A closed mind can be dangerous for people who hope to cover from an addiction. If they already have too many opinions and beliefs about recovery it can get in the way of their sobriety. This is because recovery is a process and not an event. Putting down alcohol or drugs is just the beginning of the process. When people become sober they start to rebuild their life and this requires gaining new knowledge and skills. If people are closed minded this can prevent them from making progress along the path. This is why the best possible attitude for people to have in recovery is a beginner’s mind. That way they will more easily pick up the knowledge they need to make a success of their sobriety.
An Open Mind and Humility
Humility can be another wonderful asset for people in recovery and it often goes hand in hand with beginner’s mind. Being humble does not mean that people have to subservient – it is not a sign of weakness. Instead humility is all about being honest and open. It means that the individual is willing to admit to their own weaknesses and limitations. The individual does not acknowledge such deficiencies to make themselves feel bad but because they want to be always learning. They have realized that saying don’t know can be the most empowering attitude a human can have. This is why beginner’s mind is sometimes referred to as don’t know mind.
Focus on the Process and not the Goal
Humans will utilize a process in order to reach a goal. This includes all the steps they take to make their aspiration a reality. Most people tend to be goal orientated – especially in western countries. This means that their focus is mostly on their next goal and they just see the process as something getting in the way of them and their ambitions. Those individuals who are process orientated are more focused on the journey to goal than the actual goal itself. This is a far more satisfying attitude because people spend much more time working towards goals than actually achieving them. The person who is process orientated finds it much easier to live in the moment and they are not waiting for their life to happen.
Beginner’s Mind and Emotional Sobriety
In order for people to get the most from their recovery they will need to develop emotional sobriety. This is the willingness of people to feel their feelings. The individual who has this type of sobriety lives in the moment and is more accepting of the world. These attributes are quite similar to what is required with beginner’s mind. Those who have developed emotional sobriety will likely find that they are naturally more open to new knowledge and will not be afraid of admitting that they do not know something.
How to Develop a Beginner’s Mind
In order to benefit from a beginner’s mind the individual needs to:
* Put aside their current beliefs and opinions about the topic being discussed.
* Listen carefully to what is being said. Instead of listening when the other person is talking it is common for people to be more concentrated on how they are going to reply.
* Beginner’s mind does not meaning ignoring things that were learnt in the past. It just means temporarily putting them aside.
* Beginner’s mind means having the willingness to change views, beliefs, and opinions if more compelling evidence comes along.
* This type of attitude usually requires that people avoid black and white thinking. It is common for people to divide the world into good and bad or right and wrong but things can be a great deal more complicated than that.
* Beginner’s mind means focusing on each step and not just the complete sequence. For example, martial artists will break each movement down into smaller and smaller parts so that they can improve their technique.
* Beginner’s mind means being less concerned with the goal and paying more attention to the process.
* One of the enemies of beginner’s mind can be common sense. Just because something is considered to be common sense does not mean that it is right – it was once common sense to burn witches.
* Beginner’s mind means not having any expectations about what is going to happen. It involves just doing something and seeing where it goes.
* Sometimes this type of attitude involves faith and taking a leap into the unknown. For example, if a yoga teacher suggests a new pose the learner has to have faith that the teacher understands their abilities.
* In order to keep a beginner’s mind the individual needs to get rid of their fear of failure. There can be many missteps on the road to success, and if people are too afraid to fail they will never achieve anything meaningful in life.