Whether you consider yourself an expert or a beginner, our perceptions of how much we “know” and how much we don’t can have a profound impact on our daily lives.
I think we can all agree that the most difficult people to teach can sometimes be the ones who don’t think they need to be taught – the one who feels they don’t need to listen because they already know, right?
The moment we say, “I know,” we put a stop to our ability to know more – our cup is full, and we don’t want or need to know more.
In contrary, a beginner’s mind – a cup that isn’t already full, one that has space for learning, experience, personal growth and life’s many lessons – can obtain a world of knowledge and experience we neglected in the first place.
“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s there are few.” – Shunryu Suzuki
I’m sure you’re familiar with the fact that children are able to learn a huge amount while they’re still young. This isn’t only because their brains are creating and mapping neural connections at a rapid rate, but because of the attitude of the children themselves.
For those who have children; how often have they repeatedly asked “why, how, what, who, where, when” questions?
• “Why is the sunset red?”
• “How do aeroplanes fly?”
• “What happens when we go to sleep?”
• “Who made the sky?”
• “Where do babies come from?
• “When did mommy and daddy meet?
We might brush off all questions with “It just is,” and that’s the end of it, when all genuine questions are supposed to offer the opportunity for expansion and exploration. Children are instilled with the mindset of endless possibility, curiosity and potential, and unfortunately, we start to lose these as adults, especially if we already feel we “know” enough.
A Fraction Of Ourselves
There’s a world of possibility and potential just waiting to be explored, and there’s also the ability to truly listen. Give yourself a moment to think about this: “When we think we know, we stop truly listening.”
Instead, we filter out the parts we want to hear and those we agree with and ignore the aspects that don’t resonate with what we ‘know’ and therefore believe to be true. We develop the bad habit of wishful thinking. Why is that?
Perhaps it’s because we live in a modern age in which we’re expected to know things instantly, to have all the answers and “get things done.” With tight schedules and everyday stress so high that there’s no room left for wondering, researching, making mistakes and learning from them, and discussing why, how, what, who, where and when. Hitting ‘search’ on Google has become our go-to, and it replaced experimenting and exploring which makes our intellect and attention span a fraction of what it could be.
It’s Okay To Not Know
Like I once was, not knowing something is an aspect many of us have been conditioned into fearing since childhood. For example, knowing the answer in school was praised and not knowing it was punished, either in the form of a low grade or embarrassment in front of peers.
During our whole academic lives, we’re taught to believe that success is all about “getting it right,” “knowing the answers,” “ticking the right boxes” and continue to move onto the next and more difficult topic. There’s hardly any break, no reflecting, and those who dared to say they didn’t understand were deemed less intelligent and less able than others.
If we’re exposed to this way of thinking and being throughout our entire childhood, while our brains are developing, forming opinions and personalities, it’s no surprise we find ourselves in adult life terrified of “not knowing.” Even something as simple as having a conversation with a friend, we rarely sit patiently and really absorb what the other person is saying. Rather, we start forming sentences and indifferent responses as they speak, eager to tell them what we know rather than hearing something we could learn if we only took the time and energy to truly listen.
A Beginner’s Mind
Of course, un-doing years of taught behaviour takes commitment and time. Often, we continually tell ourselves we apparently don’t have enough time, but if we can gradually open ourselves up to learning and receiving – emptying our cup just a little so there’s room to fill it with something fresh – we give ourselves the gift of increased potential.
Beginner’s mind is a concept from Zen Buddhism called Shoshin: “Having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner would.”
There’s a significant value of approaching problems as a beginner, even if we already know a lot about them. It makes us more willing to experiment and gives ourselves the ability to expand. Not only do we physically give ourselves the gift of growing new neural connections and a healthier brain, but also the gift of self-acceptance and openness.
It’s this attitude that keeps us connected to our body and the present moment feeling fresh and alive, no matter what happens in our daily life. So, once again, be able to ask the world, “why?”
For more words of wisdom: https://ye-chen.com
Image from Unspash: mikito-tateisi-333584