Have you ever been with a child when they see something completely new? How their eyes grow wide, their breathing changes, their whole posture alters, and their entire focus is concentrated on that new thing? Nothing else in the world exists for them at that moment, just the sheer wonder and joy of something new.
One of the great, unexpected, joys of my life has been becoming a grandparent. This is not to say I didn’t enjoy my children’s magical moments, but as a grandparent you have so much more time, can dedicate that time to really being with the child and the enjoyment is more concentrated. I was voted least likely to marry and have children by my school peers; I ended up married with children before most of them! The happy consequence of this has been being a ‘young’ grandparent. My energy levels are nowhere near what they were as a young mum, but my enthusiasm is far greater, particularly when responding to the never-ending curiosity of my grandchildren.
That is the engaging trait of mindfulness, the beginner’s mind. Not to be childish, but to be childlike in your experience of the world and each moment. To open your mind and your curiosity to the world around you is one of the key attitudes of mindfulness.
This openness and curiosity can only be achieved with awareness. If we let our days drift by without paying attention to them, we will miss moments that may make a difference of enrichment to our experience. Have you ever had the experience of arriving somewhere and realising that you have no recollection of the journey, how you got there, anything you may have seen en route, even if (perhaps most worryingly), you have driven yourself there in a car! We function so much on autopilot when we are carrying out routine tasks. Mindfulness asks us to take a stance of the beginner’s mind to ensure that we are aware throughout our lives. There are many inspirational quotes exhorting us to practice awareness as though our lives depend on it – which of course, they do.
“If you miss the present moment, you miss your appointment with life. That is very serious!”
Thich Nhat Hanh
“Do every act of your life as though it were the last act of your life.”
“Ardently do today what must be done. Who knows? Tomorrow, death comes.”
Back to our thoughts as we cherish every moment, we need to do this with curiosity, openness and no judgement. We tend to move through the world quickly, looking for the most effective path, not fully taking in each unique moment. Although this has benefits of efficiency, there is a downside to this pattern of behaviour. We can miss out on a lot of important things like new perspectives, ideas, or different approaches to problem solving. A beginner’s mind enables us to be open to possibilities, be more creative and connect with the people in our lives. This encourages others to engage with us, as they experience your interest in them and demonstrate your appreciation for their thoughts and ideas.
By having an open and curious mind, we can also free ourselves from expectations about future events based on past experiences, because no two events can be exactly the same. When we face the future, we sometimes use the image of coming with a ‘full cup’ or an ’empty cup’ to describe our attitude to facing something new. If we face up to any situation with a full cup, it means we have no room for a fresh perspective. At that moment, we are already full to the brim with our own preconceptions, there is no room for any new thoughts or ideas.
Observe yourself through your day and see if you are coming to your life with a ‘full cup’, unwilling to make space for new perspectives, ideas or opinions. If this is the case, consider if you can experience these situations with an ’empty cup’, bringing your beginner’s mind to the fore. Try opening your mind to your day-to-day activities and view them as if you had never experienced them before. Allow yourself to be just a little amazed by the ordinary, see the wonder in simple sensations, feelings and ideas.
The beginner’s mind takes practice, as all the attitudes do, but unlike some of them, this is an attitude that we have simply lost touch with, we were all children once!