Beginner's Mind

Ah, greetings.  And, welcome to another episode of Fishing Without Bait, where we attempt to introduce a mindfulness-based concept of life without expectations, and what that can do you to be present and aware, and pay attention on purpose, and live a life out loud – find the uniqueness in every moment.  One of the most important and beneficial aspects of the mindfulness experience, the mindfulness journey is to develop a beginner’s mind.  

Jim:    Well, what is a beginner’s mind?  So, we have to differentiate what is the difference between a beginner’s and an expert’s mind.  So, let me give you this as an example out of my own personal experience as the message that we try to put out has depth and weight behind it.  A number of years ago I was called to the hospital to visit someone suffering from withdrawal symptoms.  And, when I walked in, of course they were laying in a bed wired for sound.  They asked me, “Can you help me?” And, I said, “Certainly.  However, I have one (1) request for you.  I’d like to take all the knowledge that you have about recovery, take all the knowledge, put it on a CD, and run it through a shredder.”  And, they were astonished.  They were shocked.  They said, “Well, I don’t understand.  I’ve worked on this for a long time.”  And, I said, “This is not about me merely doing it.  It will illustrate a point.”  I asked them, I said, “Who’s laying flat on their back, and who’s standing up?”  So, the idea is that these expert minds can get a sense, and get a bit of trouble.  And, once again, we keep repeating the fact of being the observer behind the thinker.  So, a beginner’s mind can be your most valuable asset.  And, it is a rare and precious gift.  A beginner’s mind’s a concept developed in Zen Buddhism – shohine, to be exact, which means openness, eagerness, and lack of preconception.  We’re reverting to other language.  We apply that to honesty, openmindedness, and the willingness to try.  So, I want to ask, Mike, my co-host, Mike, the producer of this program, if he’s ever been around a two (2), three (3), four (4), or five (5) year old child.

Mike:    Yeah.  Certainly.  Cousins.  Friends’ kids, etc.  Yes.

Jim:    And, have you been around the child when their eyes were big with wonder and fascination at every single thing that they saw?

Mike:    Yes.  Certainly.

Jim:    Right.  And, I can tell you, I have a two (2) year old granddaughter, and a few months ago I took her to the aviary with all the exotic birds in there.  And, she stood there in the aviary, and her mouth was open, and she actually shook – shook with wonder.  

Mike:    It has to be.  So, we’re talking about the aviary – and for those who don’t know, the aviary here in Pittsburgh.  You’re talking about where there’s the big, wide, open space, right?  Where there’s just birds there, just around you.  And, it is definitely a sensory stimulating event to walk into that room.

Jim:    Oh yes.  There’s no cages there.  They’re free.  They fly free.  So, it’s a really great time, and it gave me a great deal of gratitude to be able to sit there and watch her just shake with wonder.  It was amazing to watch her just shake with amazement at what she was seeing.  So what are some of the steps that we can take to begin to develop this beginner’s mind?  What we do is, we try to take one (1) step at a time.  So, quite often what are we trying to do?  We’re trying to rush through our lives.  Are we not, Mike?

Mike:    Exactly.  I can definitely relate to that.

Jim:    How can we get from Point A to Point B as fast as we possibly can, while anticipating Point C?  Have you ever been in a grocery store line when something bogs down when somebody has to write a check or things slow down a little bit?  Or maybe they have a coupon that has expired and they’re having a little bit of a conversation with the checkout person?

Mike:    Too many times.

Jim:    Right.  So, what is everybody in line doing?

Mike:    They start looking around.  They start tapping their foot.  They start sighing heavily.

Jim:    Yes.  And, looking at their watch.  They’ve got to get moving.  Again, I’d like to relate experiences out of my own life.  And, not too terribly long ago, I was standing in a grocery line.  I had some articles, and these couple of people behind me.  And, a situation like that occurred where it didn’t flow smoothly.  And, they were complaining, and screaming, and yelling.  I mean, they were getting upset.  So, I turned around to them, and I said, “Perhaps if you were in that much of a hurry, you could have came earlier.”  So, like we mentioned in a previous podcast using time as currency, how are we going to spend it?  Be mindful of what we do.  So, have you ever taken children anywhere in an automobile?  Remember when you were young?

Mike:    Okay.  I don’t.  Nobody lets me babysit their kids.  

Jim:    You’re taking a three (3) or four (4) year old somewhere, to Grandma’s house, or to play golf, or to get ice cream, or to the movies.  What are they always saying in the car?  What are they saying?

Mike:    I’m bored.

Jim:    Right.  And, “When are we going to get there?”

Mike:    Are we there yet?  I’m hungry.  I have to pee.

Jim:    And, quite often, that’s how people go through their lives, “Are we there yet?”  When, in a mindfulness journey we emphasize the journey and not the destination.  Quite often what we don’t do throughout our life is look out the windows and see where we’re at.  We don’t see where we are and enjoy that present moment.  So, again, it’s being mindful and taking one moment at a time, and one step at a time.  And, Mike, people have such a fear of failure, do they not?

Mike:    Oh, certainly.  I know I do.  

Jim:    They have such a fear of failure.  And, again, it’s not how often we fall, Mike.  It’s how often we get back up.  So, fear of failure – and, there’s that word “fear” again, Mike.  Fear seems to permeate every single podcast that we do.  Fear is that corroding element running through the fabric of our lives.


Mike:     It’s the thing that makes us take pause and miss opportunities.  

Jim:    Absolutely.  Or, saying the words, “I don’t know.”  I’m sure you’ve been around many people who’ve believed they were experts, and had an expert mind.

Mike:    Right.  And, you couldn’t convince them otherwise.

Jim:    Right.  So, the idea is that saying, “I don’t know,” is a perfect example of having a beginner’s mind.  Saying “I don’t know,” means that what you’re trying to do is open up possibilities and turn certainties into possibilities.  I’m not going to pick on any particular profession, however, this one comes to my mind.  I’m sure you’ve been examined by many doctors and the like.  How many of them have come up and told you, “Mike, I don’t know,” when you ask them “What’s wrong, Doc?”  

Mike:    Thankfully, not many.

Jim:    Well, the idea is, I would prefer to hear the words, “I don’t know.”  I would prefer to hear the words, “I don’t know,” rather than an individual set on a predetermined, prejudiced path that they already intend to follow.

Mike:    Right.  And, I think that’s stubbornness and the lack of being able to divert their path.  And, again, missing opportunities.

Jim:    So, what does, “I don’t know” mean?  It means being flexible.  And, actually, there’s a thought that it’s a warrior’s wisdom.  And, in truth, we’re all warriors, are we not?  We’re spiritual warriors.  We’re going through our life.  We’re navigating our course.  And, a warrior has to be flexible when dealing with an opponent, right?  And, we wrestle with life every day, do we not?

Mike:    Right.  We all do.

Jim:    Absolutely.  So, avoiding having a prejudice about our own biases and the path that we are predetermined to go the right way is the surest obstacle to growth, Mike.  So, the next thing in a beginner’s mind, in developing the beginner’s mind is avoiding the “shoulds.”  Are you aware of self-defeating words, Mike?

Mike:    Yes.  Yes, I am.

Jim:    Can you tell us what some of them are?  I should.  I need to.  I must.  I need to.  I have to.  

Mike:    For me, does this go along with this?  Because, I’ve always had, “One day,” that seems to be toxic.  “One day I’m going to do this.  One day this is going to happen.”  Is this along the same vein here that we’re looking at?

Jim:    Absolutely.

Mike:    Because it feels like it placates you for the moment, and you don’t actually take action on something.  So, it’s like, “I should one day do this thing.  I should really mow the grass today.”  And, you just don’t.  That was your brain power to acknowledge it, and it’s a thing that needs to happen.  But, you replaced actually taking action with that in your mind.

Jim:    Absolutely.  And, what they are is they’re self-defeating words, Mike.  And, they set us up for failure.  Because, remember, we’re setting ourselves up with unrealistic goals.  So, this is the basic premise of Fishing Without Bait – is to live a life without predetermined expectations.  And again, when we have those words coming out of us, Mike, we have to ask ourselves, “Whose voice is that?”  Is it the thinker?  It’s certainly not the observer.  We have to be mindful about where that voice is coming from, and to challenge it.  And, remember, these words are created in our own mind.  We create them.  And, again, if we repeat things, and keep reiterating things, it’s because we’re trying to create new habit patterns for individuals.  We’re trying to create new thought patterns.  We’re trying to create a new design for living, Mike – a new design for living based on mindfulness.  In changing habit patterns, when there’s a continuing theme of mindfulness practices where we want to, as we referred to in previous podcasts, we have a lifetime of repeated patterns of behaviors and thoughts, and these have developed into, like I like to refer to, as an eight (8) lane superhighways that are well-traveled and well-maintained by us because we do them every day.  Some of these, of course, are helpful to us and productive.  Other ones take us to places where we prefer not to go.

Mike:    So, practice makes perfect, but sometimes we’re not practicing the right thing?

Jim:    Absolutely.  For sure.  So, one of the things that we do in the beginner’s mind is avoiding comparing ourselves to others.  One of the surest ways for self-defeat.  So, let’s say comparing ourselves to others where we have this expert’s mind, let’s say a driving force behind advertisements is manipulation.  A driving force of advertisement is to have you compare your life, which they devalue unless you have their particular product.  “Wouldn’t be great if things were like this?  Wouldn’t it be awesome if this was your life?”  So, let’s say a commercial for alcohol or beer.  So, a fellow drinks this particular beer, and all of a sudden, what type of females are attracted to him?

Mike:    Oh hello.  All the ladies.  All the supermodels.  All the bikini girls.

Jim:    Yes.  All the beautiful women.  

Mike:    That’s what I’m missing in my life.

Jim:    Absolutely.  So, tell me, Mike, have you been to many taverns at 1:30 in the morning?  Tell me how much happiness there is there.

Mike:    There’s not a much of happiness going on.  There’s a lot of desperate, trying to find the closest thing to a beauty in a girl they can before they leave at 2:00.

Jim:    Yes.  And, again, the idea here is to be mindful of how you’re being manipulated.  Being mindful rather than impulsive.  Mindfulness is learning how to respond rather than react to situations.  How often do they put out new cellphones, Mike?  How often do companies put out new ones?

Mike:    Every couple of weeks, it seems.

Jim:    Yes.  And, tell me the reason for that.

Mike:    Well, it’s really just so you buy new ones.  Apple is going to have a new iPhone every year, because people will buy that new iPhone.  They’re always putting out a new Samsung phone – to the point where cellphone companies have adapted to this.  There’s one provider that you can get a new phone and swap in your old one three (3) times a year.  Who needs a new phone three (3) times a year?  But, you want the new shiny one.

Jim:    Absolutely.  And, again, I refer to my favorite philosopher, Thomas Murtin, the Trappist Monk who said that men’s minds were like crows picking up every shiny object and then sitting in their crowded nest wondering why it’s so uncomfortable, which means their mind.  Now, Mike, having a beginner’s mind does not negate your experiences.  We don’t devalue experience.  I’m not asking people to put everything in their life into the trash can – everything that they’ve learned, everything that they’ve processed.  So, let’s say, like crossing a busy road.  Would the life experience of looking both ways be beneficial for you?

Mike:    Certainly.

Jim:    And, not all experiences are wrong.  And, again, being the observer, we want to mindfully step back, observe, label and describe, and which of our habits and our patterns are impeding our growth and happiness?  

Mike:    So, it’s kind of the, I’ve always heard uou should go through your house once a year and put your mind on something.  I think it’s a fung-shui thing I read recently.  You should look at every object and ask, “Is this something I love or need in my life?”  And, it feels like you’re doing that with the pieces in your brain.

Jim:    Absolutely.  So, we’re asking people to let go of their expert mind.  And, again, perhaps I’ve referred to this before.  You’ve seen horse races, correct?  Absolutely.  They’re big, magnificent animals.  And, they can do one thing.  And, they can do it well.  And, that’s run fast in a straight line.  However, Mike, what do these horses have over their eyes?

Mike:    Blinders, on the sides.  To focus.

Jim:    Absolutely.  So, when you have your expert mind, you have your blinders on, and you’re not open and flexible to life’s experiences – to have open mindedness and a willingness to try.   Are you always right, Mike?

Mike:    Oh, I’m not.  I’m certainly not.  I think I’ve been mistaken three (3) times this podcast.

Jim:    You do very well at what you do.

Mike:    Thank you.

Jim:    However, if you thought that you were the be-all and the end-all of podcast production or video production, how much further do you think you would get in your profession?

Mike:    “There’s nothing more to learn.  There’s nothing left.  Obviously, why aren’t people paying me more money?”  And, that becomes a very toxic attitude.

Jim:    And, when we begin to think that there’s nothing more to learn, perhaps I’ll relate an experience of Socrates when he went to the Oracle in Delphi in Greece.  The Oracle at Delphi was a place where peopled would go.  These women, priestesses, would basically talk gibberish to an individual.  The priests would interpret what they said to the question.  So, Socrates decided that he was going to go to the Oracle.  And, when he came back, his students – the people asked him, “What did the oracle tell you?”  And, Socrates said, “The Oracle told me that I was the wisest man in the world.”  The people said, “Well, how do you interpret that?”  And, Socrates says, “I believe that I’m the only person in the world then who truly understands his own ignorance.”  Socrates certainly had a beginner’s mind.  What’s mindfulness all about?  It’s experiencing the moment.  Mike, are you familiar with The Horace?  He’s a Roman poet?  The Latin phrase: carpe diem?

Mike:    Yes.  “Seize the day.”  

Jim:    Seize the day.  What does that mean to you?

Mike:    That means, take advantage of every day.  Get the most out of every day.  Sometimes, squeeze the juice out of every day.  But, that’s also getting more done, or appreciating the day?  How do you take that on?

Jim:    Absolutely.  Seize the moment.  Seize the day.  Be aware the uniqueness of each moment.  So, I want to give everyone a homework assignment now.  And, that homework assignment is the next time that you’re in a familiar environment – like your home, your office, someplace that you go frequently, I want you to look around and observe one (1) thing that you were unaware of.  One (1) thing that you didn’t see before.  That’s an idea.  And, I’m certain that you will.  

Mike:    That happens to me in the studio all the time.  As you know, we have some things around here.  And, sometimes I look, and then I stare off into space, and I’ll say, “How long has that thing been there?”

Jim:    So, again, in becoming the observer, let’s examine commonsense, Mike.  Would you rather have commonsense or uncommon sense?

Mike:    This is a trick question.  And, I know I’m going to pick the wrong one.  Common, or uncommon sense?  I don’t know.  What’s common is the question I pose.

Jim:    Well, commonsense is “Look both ways before you cross the street.”  

Mike:    Right.  The things, those little things that you’ve labeled as “That’s a keeper so I don’t get myself hurt.”

Jim:    Right.  That’s experience from the past that’s beneficial, which we don’t want to discount.  Uncommon sense, Mike, is intuition.  Uncommon sense is just stepping back and using that wise mind.  Uncommon sense is having that beginner’s mind and being open to possibilities.  Such as commonsense told scientists that bumblebees can’t fly.  

Mike:    What?  Because of how big they are?

Jim:    Yes.  Because of the size of their bodies and their wings, according to a physicist, bumblebees should not be able to fly.  However, do they?

Mike:    They certainly do.  

Jim:    And, again, we want to turn certainties into possibilities.  When the Wright Brothers made their first powered airplane flight, many, many, many newspapers wouldn’t run that story because they didn’t believe that it was possible.  Their commonsense told them that man couldn’t do that.  Sure.  And, again, turning certainties into possibilities, and we’re going to end up dealing with the fear of failing.  So, Mike, when was the last time you tried something new?

Mike:    Every day.  What are you talking about?

Jim:    Great.  Though many people are stuck in the, as we’ve referred to in the past, human doing versus human being.  Being a human being means being able to have the courage to deal with fear.  So, what is courage?

Mike:    Bravery.  Overcoming, to me, it’s overcoming the monkey mind or lizard brain that tells you not to dive in because you’re scared.

Jim:    Overcoming fear.  So, let’s say a fireman that’s going to go into a burning building.  Do you think he might have some fear?  Absolutely.  So all courage is is the ability to deal with fear.  And fear can be, in this case, a beneficial emotion as to be weary and aware of what the environment is around them.  And again, there’s that word “fear” again.  And, in reviewing the concepts that we discussed today, having the beginner’s mind versus the expert’s mind, turning certainties into possibilities, the idea of honesty open-mindedness and the willingness to try, the avoidance of the fear of failing.  Mike, if you fail, do you know what that means?  

Mike:    Hmm?

Jim:    That means that you failed.

Mike:    That’s it?

Jim:    That’s it, and nothing more.  

Mike:    That’s the end of it.  I’d call it a learning experience.

Jim:    Absolutely.  And, again, a beginner’s mind is your most valuable asset – a rare and precious gift.  And, I’m going to ask my producer to end this podcast on a positive note.  

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