This weekend was another zen retreat. In the past, it was fairly common for whomever was leading the retreat to say something to the effect of, “even though you’ve all been here before for a retreat, settling into the same schedule in the same room on the same cushions… try to keep the mind of a fresh, new, unique retreat. This retreat, right here right now, has never happened before…”. Embracing this beginner’s mind is not only crucial to Zen but to our entire lives. It is so easy to fall into our routines and be on auto-pilot for most of the day. When we get up, shower, go to work, have meals, walk our dogs, see our friends… etc. But what if tomorrow you tried taking a shower or having breakfast for the very first time?!?! What do I mean by this? I could get all wordy and conceptual… but what it really boils down to is simply paying attention. 100% meticulous attention to your situation. Take breakfast for example – pay attention to what your body is asking for to eat… open the fridge or cupboards and take in all the sights, smells, colors… what is the temperature? When making your food… pay attention to the textures and transformations of your chosen ingredients. When eating your food… put down your to-do’s, email, iPhone, etc. and perhaps try chewing each bite 10 times. Take your time, notice how your body, mind, spirit reacts?
Now, be sure to take in the rest of the room, we don’t want to be in our own little bubble, that doesn’t help anyone. Does someone need your attention… your partner, your dog? How will you respond? The point is, when we are paying meticulous attention to our situation, free of (or at least minimizing) the chatter in our heads… then our situation and our relationship within the situation can be clearer. We can then act from a place of greater stillness and efficacy for both self and other!
Can we then extend this inquiry from not only our day to day routines… but what about the things that have caused us suffering in the past? Like a chronic pain or illness… or how about someone at work that keeps rubbing us the wrong way? What if you were encountering this person for the very first time? Might we react from a place of patience and compassion instead, rather than from the emotionally-charged place of our “history” with that person. The “expert-mind” wants to chime in and be like, “yuck… not him again, he’s always such a self-centered jerk… I’ll definitely need to put my defenses up to deal with him today”. Most of the time this is all unconscious… but, of course, this is then going to color our overall experience, our speech, our actions, etc.
It’s easier said than done right?! And the mind is at the root of it. A practice of cultivating a beginner’s mind is necessary. Meditation (in my opinion), is the best… and believe it or not, probably the most efficient way to attain this. But if meditation is not on your radar at the moment… just consciously bringing inquiry, curiosity, and most of all, vast openness to your experiences and situations is a great place to start.