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How to See Afresh for Mindfulness

Seeing afresh is normally referred to as the beginner’s mind for mindfulness and was first used by the Zen master Suzuki Roshi. He once said: ‘In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.’ What does that mean?

Consider a young child. Children, if they’re fortunate enough to be brought up lovingly, are the greatest mindfulness teachers in the world! They’re amazed by the simplest thing. Give them a set of keys and they stare at it, notice the wide range of colors reflected in them, shake them and listen to the sound – and probably giggle too. Then, of course, they taste the keys!

Children epitomize the beginner’s mind. They see things as if for the first time because they’re not filled with ideas, concepts, beliefs, names or thoughts about what’s the right or wrong thing to do. Babies don’t intellectualize. They connect with the raw sensory data entering their mind, and love it. Young children, if lovingly brought up, are naturally mindful, and that mindfulness is a true joy for them.

You can see life in a similar way. You can cultivate this attitude of the beginner’s mind, of seeing things afresh – you just need to make a little effort. Try this exercise:

  1. Sit or lie down in a relaxed and comfortable posture and close your eyes.

  2. Now imagine you’ve been blind from birth.

    You’ve never experienced color before. You’ve heard people talking about it, but you can’t even imagine color. Spend at least five minutes doing this. When you find your mind wandering off into thoughts, gently guide it back to this exercise.

  3. When you’re ready, open your eyes, as if you’re seeing for the first time.

    See with the beginner’s mind. Enjoy the colors and forms in front of you. Notice how your mind automatically names different objects. Bring the attention back to the variety of colors, shadows, reflections. You may begin to notice things you’ve never noticed before – that means you’re engaging with the beginner’s mind and seeing afresh.

  4. Continue with this beginner’s mind attitude as you go about your activities today, and be with each experience as if for the first time.

When you experience the state of the beginner’s mind, you live in a world of fascination, curiosity, creativity, attention and fun. You’re continuously discovering and looking out with the eyes of a child. You’re in ‘don’t know’ mind. When you think, ‘I know what’s going to happen’ or ‘I know what the breath feels like,’ you stop looking.

You don’t know what’s going to happen, you just think you do. Each moment is fresh. Each moment is different and unique. Each moment is the only moment you have.

If you’re a beginner to meditation, you’re in an enviable position. You really are in the beginner’s mind! However, by the time you practice your second meditation, you may begin comparing it to your first one – ‘It was better last time’, or ‘Why can’t I concentrate now?’ or ‘This is it. I’ve got it!’ You start to compare, conceptualize or condemn.

When this happens, try to let it go – as much as you can – and bring your attention back to the here and now, the present moment, as if you’re engaging in this for the very first time. The beginner’s mind is fundamental to sustaining a long-term meditative discipline.

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