The Beginners’s Mind

“If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything, it is open to everything. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few. ”
Shunryu Suzuki

On the first day of school, we begin with a single assumption: there is always more to know.

My students are, like all students, afraid. They may be afraid of not being smart enough, pretty enough, strong enough, or rich enough. In the face of fear or possible failure, their instinct is to hide; to give up; to say, “I don’t care;” or to say, “I already know this.” Each of those responses is deadly to growing; and a betrayal of a greatness that waits to be cultivated.

So I ask my students to have a beginner’s mind, to develop the intellectual disposition that says: I know there is more to know. I look them in the eye and tell them: “The world is so large and so complex. None of us are experts yet. We should all still be learning. I don’t know what will happen here. We will learn things this year that have never been known, if we are open, if we are creatively alive. It will happen the way it does and it will never happen that way again.”

As a teacher, as the so-called expert, I must discipline myself to have a beginner’s mind as well. “I will learn from you, and my expertise will be enlarged,” I tell my students. “I know some things but I do not yet know this moment. I will be awake. My mind will be open, too. I will be ready to take in all that comes to me. Don’t hide behind the facade of already knowing. Tell me who you are, tell me what you know. Then we will be learning together.”

It is a co-operative enterprise, one that engenders love and respect. They have gifts to give, and I have gifts to give. But our starting place must be as open ground, waiting hungrily for seed, sun, and rain.


Author: talbirdsey

I am writing a postcard to the President everyday.

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