Shoshin: Cultivating a Beginners Mind

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few." - Shunryu Suzuki

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Shoshin is a Zen buddhist term, which translates to “beginner’s mind.” Beginner’s mind is the goal of Zen practice. It is the capacity to approach all new moments, whether the experience at hand be known and|or habitual or not, with a sense of openness and curiosity; to not limit ourselves to past experiences and knowledge in our appraisal of the present moment.

Related to that, I loved this observation on finding a sense of equilibrium (and innovation) between experience and curiosity/openness to the unknown from Twyla Tharp's book The Creative Habit: 

Every artist faces this paradox. Experience–the faith in your ability and the memory that you have done this before–is what gets you through the door. But experience also closes the door. You tend to rely on that memory and stick with what has worked before. You don’t try anything new. Inexperience is innocence, naïveté, and humility. It is a powerful ignorance that is summed up for me in an obituary I read of the All-American football player Ellis Jones. Jones, who died at age eighty in 2002, lost his right arm in an accident when he was eleven years old. But that didn’t stop him from playing guard offense and linebacker on defense in the 1940s at the University of Tulsa and later in the fledgling National Football League. “I played football before I got hurt,” said Jones of the accident that cost him his right arm. “It never occurred to me that I couldn’t keep playing. I guess I was too dumb to think I could not do it.” Inexperience provides us with a childlike fearlessness that is the polar opposite of the alleged wisdom that age confers on us, the “wisdom” telling us some goals are foolish, a waste of time, invitations to disaster. In its purest form, inexperience erases fear. You do not know what is and is not possible and therefore everything is possible.

It is that perfect moment of equipoise between knowing it all and knowing nothing that Hemingway was straining for when he said, “The thing is to become a master and in your old age to acquire the courage to do what children did when they knew nothing.” You cannot manufacture inexperience, but you can maintain it and protect what you have.

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Photo of Alexandrea

We're definitely on to something here with the "beginners" mindset. How do you see this working within the context of the classroom? Is it culture shift for schools, teachers, students, all the above? What would be the approach for each audience?

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