Shoshin: A Beginners Mindset

Millennials are one of many groups of people seemingly “obsessed” with self-improvement—and that’s a good thing! When you observe the world’s current and past climate, we need to strive towards improving ourselves now more than ever. It’s an addiction.

That’s why nearly 95% of millennials surveyed say they commit to personal improvement, as well as are willing to spend up to $300 a month on self-improvement. That could be in the form of working out, practicing mindfulness and meditation, buying books to expand learning, and much more.

I’m shamelessly part of this pact, with the entire of human history, philosophy, fiction, interactivity, advice at our disposal – I can’t sit idly by watching the days melt away.

Recently I’ve discovered this concept of Shoshin that I’d like to share. The idea of submitting yourself as an empty vessel, understanding there’s a danger in having expertise, and letting go to observe and listen. Having a “beginner’s mind”

This daily concept can drastically improve and alter our perspectives, actions, and interactions with our community.

For how significant this concept is, it’s actually quite simple to integrate into your day-to-day, it just requires consistency and habit.

Having a Beginner’s Mind = Having a Purposeful Foundation

To contextualize what having a “beginner’s mind” means.

Let’s say you’re an avid yoga practitioner. You regularly take classes, engage in fast-moving, strength-building power flows, and you’re a beast at the poses.

Then, one day, you decide to take a gentler, more beginner-friendly yoga class. If you weren’t practicing shoshin, you might be bored by this class, underwhelmed by it, and ready to leave before you’ve enjoyed your savasana (mediation) at the end.

But if you were practicing shoshin, or having a beginner’s mind, you’d get a lot out of this class.

Instead of running through the motions, you’d focus on building a strong foundation, becoming more mindful of your alignment in postures, and approaching every flow with a deeper intention. You’d take that cultivated energy with you after class and talk to your lover like it’s your first date or your mother like it’s your first conversation. You’d begin again, starting anew.

That’s what having a beginner’s mind is all about—appreciating every moment for what it can teach you, remaining a student no matter how much you’ve learned. It instills in you a particular type of confidence that comes from being open to new experiences.

Now, take this example, and apply it to everything: school, work, your relationships, and beyond. Imagine how things could change.

When you approach your life in this framework, you’re able to derive new meanings and messages from everything, even things you’re more experienced in or knowledgeable about. This mindset allows you to remain teachable and humble, something that could benefit us all!

For myself, when I was younger I had this insatiable sense of needing to be right, mostly in relationships. That I understood the problems and had the solutions found so easily.

Growing older, I found myself letting go more, but not completely. Finding out of Shoshin and reading more into it. Something inherently I used to try to project or felt extreme inadequacy about was being an intellectual. Now I realized the need to trying to be the smartest in the room, if someone knows more or is more well versed, amazing, applaud that!

So, What Is Shoshin, Exactly?

Where does the word “shoshin” come into play?

Well, it directly translates to “beginner’s mind,” the concept we’ve been discussing. Shoshin is a Japanese word that, in Zen Buddhism, means:

An attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even at an advanced level

That’s why the yoga example is so applicable. No matter how advanced your practice, regardless of how long you’ve been studying yoga, you can still approach each class with openness and excitement.

Perhaps there will be a different teacher you’ve never studied under who has something brand-new to say. Or maybe the person next to you in class will have questions you’ve never considered before. Maybe you’ll learn a pose you never knew existed.

The options are limitless. If you’ve ever heard the expression, “The more you know, the more you realize what you don’t know,” that’s another example of shoshin. No one has all the answers—that’s why questions are so crucial for being our teachers.

People are afraid of asking a questions because, at least in my belief, that you don’t want to look dumb or a dreaded feeling of “being wrong”. How can you be wrong asking question? In fact I’d say there’s supreme confidence in doing so as you’re opening yourself up and letting someone teach you instead of assuming the answer based on your own perception.

A great Bruce Lee quote is:

“A wise man can learn more from a foolish question than a fool can learn from a wise answer”

How Can You Practise Shoshin?

Shoshin can be practiced every single day, in every individual activity, chore, interaction, and more, as you navigate the world.

When you go out to eat, can you try a new dish? Or if you have an old favorite, can you attempt to taste it for seemingly the first time, picking out nuances and flavours and identifying them?

Ask the waiter what certain items are, what they’d recommend, make adjustments based on what you want to eat!

Talking to your spouse or partners – everyone feels nostalgic for that honeymoon phase that was the beginning of your relationship. You learn everything about each other, and then fall into a zone where it’s both assumed you off the cuff can recall the name of their year 7 PE teacher.

Practically, once and a while ask a question you may or may not know the answer of, perhaps you’ll learning something new? Instead of predicting what they’d say and just listen to listen.

When you take a photo, paint a picture, walk your dogs, clean your dishes, how can you be a beginner? Is there a better way of making a cup of coffee in the morning? Walk to a place you’ve never been before.

As you can see, the idea of shoshin can be applied anywhere. Take this quote by Shunryu Suzuki, for example:

“In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”

There is a danger that comes with expertise. We tend to block the information that disagrees with what we learned previously and yield to the information that confirms our current approach.

Begin Again Today, and Tomorrow, and for the Rest of Your Life

Mindfulness is something everyone can benefit from—practicing shoshin is a life-changing perspective that can add drastically to your life. When we change our minds, we change our interactions, influencing our communities, and inspiring the world! It’s really that powerful.Click here to check out my other posts, and come back regularly for more content like this.

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