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In Japanese martial arts and Zen Buddhism, a beginner’s mind is taught. Not just as a beginner, but throughout life in all circumstances. According to, a beginner’s mind is “dropping our expectations and preconceived ideas about something, and seeing things with an open mind, fresh eyes, just like a beginner”. If you’ve ever learned something new, you can probably remember what it was like. There is confusion and, hopefully, curiosity and wonder. The phrase is also used in the title of the book Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by the Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki, who says the following about the correct approach to Zen practice: “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.”

Beginning something new can be humbling.

When I started riding motorcycles in 2002, that was an extremely humbling experience. Half-way through the class, I wanted to quit. But I was encouraged to keep going, adapt a beginner’s mind (had no choice on that one!), and I succeeded in getting my motorcycle license. I went on to ride multiple cross-country trips in many challenging conditions. But with anything, there is always more to learn.

I did eventually learn to ride (pretty well, I might add!), but when you are out on the road, some days can kick your butt. Here’s a pic of me after riding in the rain all day.


Image: Denise looking dejected next to her motorcycle


Last year, I embarked on learning to ride off-road. This forced me to return to a beginner’s mind when it comes to riding. Riding in the dirt is much different than street-riding. The rules and processes are mostly different. After a day of it, my body hurt. My mind was tired. I felt frustration much of day as I tried to learn this new way. I eventually went on to ride the Cheese Country Trail. (Yup, you guessed it. That’s in Wisconsin!) It felt triumphant. And, I had to stay in beginner’s mind the entire time. Doing things like this are a form of mindfulness. When we HAVE to pay attention and remain alert, we are training our brain that we can do it.

But what about when we have been doing something for years? Is a beginner’s mind still helpful?

Maintaining a beginner’s mind, even when we feel that “we got this” can be challenging. Once we learn something, our mind naturally goes on auto-pilot. But, if we can remind ourselves to approach our daily task with curiosity, and even wonder, we notice the details. We see solutions and new ways that we did not see before. Even going for a walk on a familiar path can be illuminating by bringing a beginner’s mind. You might ask yourself “what can I discover today?” At work, brainstorming sessions are a great way to cultivate this newbie approach. In these sessions, no idea is “wrong”. You start with any big, small, crazy, or practical idea that comes to mind. Not until you write down all of the ideas do you cull and home in on the best approach.

So, what familiar task will you approach anew this week? Take some time to choose something and experiment with it. You might be surprised at what you learn.

If you are ready to assume a beginner’s mind in your own life and would like some assistance through spiritual coaching, I’m here to help. You can set up time with me here.

P.S. When we choose arrogance over humility, we just sound and look like a jerk. 😂 Please enjoy this tongue-in-cheek song by Mac Davis from 1974!



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