Beginner's mind – how fresh eyes can see a little deeper

Written by Mandy Mercuri 
March 13, 2024 
A hand holds a seed head in the sunlight as it is closely observed with a beginners mind

As if for the first time....

Do you remember when you were a kid, chasing butterflies wondering how they could possibly have once been a hairy squishy caterpillar? Or climbing a tree, peering down on the world from it’s lofty branches? Tasting exotic fruits for the first time? Squishing up your face and spitting out the tartness of a lemon, closed eyed pleasure at the sweet, ripe peach.

I recall wanting to gobble down information until I burst. I was voracious, like Pacman, always chasing endless input never satiated. Learning something about how the world worked and that pleasurable sensation of having your mind blown?

As kids, we are eager to expand our minds, to soak up new experiences, try new things and explore. Kids are willing to question. Without the weight of expectation or preconceived ideas, kids are able to bring up that important question – why? (And, yes, I was one of those kids who constantly pestered my parents with this question!). There is no hesitation or embarrassment in asking the question, just genuinely wanting to know.

They have a beginner's mind.

Beginning means you are at the start of a journey of knowledge. Like the open-mouthed featherless baby bird, squawking and expectant, hungry. Every experience is new and full of wonder. A path to be explored.

At some point though, we change from this child full of wonder to an adult with rigid perceptions, constraining beliefs. Curiosity turns into certainty. The not known into the known. The extraordinary into the humdrum. Wow into ‘meh, this again!’

Beginner’s mind is the attitude we might bring to our experience that embodies childlike wonder. Asking ourselves ‘what is this?’, ‘What is happening?’. Bringing an open and curious attention to our experience.

This month I have been cultivating beginner’s mind.

Specifically, about internal processes such as my motivation and mindset. Gently inquiring why I do things I do, why I think the way I think, why I act the way I act.  As a beginner, learning something as if for the first time, I can let go of any preconceived notions, beliefs, old stories or memories, release the pressure of societal expectations and just examine things as they are. With fresh eyes. Walking that infernal question, who am I? Really?

Photo of an almond tree showing ripening fruit within

And then I chipped my tooth...

All that introspection was tossed out the window because I had a physical sensation screaming for my attention. The tooth broke on the first day of a long weekend and so I knew I was unlikely to get on to my dentist for a few days. Suddenly I became a beginner in the art of chewing. No more shovelling food in at a rapid rate, chewing mindlessly on automatic pilot. I had to concentrate. Delicate nibbles, cautiously exploring textures, directing masticated clumps of food towards the right, away from the sensitive and sharp cracked tooth. I chose my food more carefully (definitely avoiding almonds – that dastardly but delicious culprit!)

And then if I ever needed my mindfulness practice it was sitting in the dentist's chair as it the offending tooth was repaired. Youch! It was almost with cartoon-like terror that I watched the dentist turn towards me brandishing a ginormous needle. All I could think to do as that was heading towards my open mouth was close my eyes and breathe.

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

~ Marcel Proust

Bringing a beginner’s mind to your experience and being curious has many benefits...

Connection. When we drop assumptions and ideas, we can see other people more clearly. Curiosity helps to build connection as we can be more empathetic. It can also help to drop that sense of expectation we might have for our loved ones, looking at them with fresh eyes, seeking the joy in their eyes, the warmth of their embrace. Offering them this mindful presence is a great way to disrupt a common pattern many of us have (especially in longer term relationships) – taking the other person for granted and not fully appreciating them. I know I have often been guilty of this.

Creativity. As someone looking to boost my creativity (currently via The Artist's Way program), a beginners mindset helps to find new ways of approaching things, new ways to look at and experience the world around me. I have been trying to write a scene set in a cemetery and so when I actually took myself there, I brought this beginners mind. I was examining, and questioning the purpose of these randomly assigned cement blocks, the words permanently assigned to them. I could question the ceremony, the culture of death in a different way, dropping all pretence and beliefs.

Wellbeing It probably comes as no surprise that curiosity has been demonstrated to be a good predictor of academic achievement. Ditching perceptions and beliefs and keeping an open mind can also help us live healthier happier lives.

A close up of Max, a drenched springer spaniel with sad puppy eyes

So, why not put your learners cap on, and give some of these reflection questions a try to help cultivate a beginner's mind…

  • What’s going on here?
  • Can I look at this another way, with fresh eyes?
  • Am I truly seeing this or just predicting what is known?
  • Am I bringing a preconceived notion to this interaction?
  • How old do I feel at this moment? (This was a great questions from this podcast – sometimes we are bringing preconceived notions from our past – from some often younger parts of us that are feeling vulnerable or afraid.
  • What can I feel, hear, smell, see, taste? Engaging the senses is a great way to truly understand what is right in front of you!

I'm Mandy Mercuri

I'm here to help. I'm a mindfulness coach that can help you on your own mindfulness journey, to work through the challenges life throws us.
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©2023-2024 Mandy Mercuri.
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I acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the unceeded lands where I work and live, the Wurundjeri People of the Kulin Nation. I recognise their enduring connection to the lands, waters and culture. There is so much we can learn from them about being present and walking mindfully through Country and life. I pay my respects to Elders past and present. There has been and remains prejudice and ignorance, including my own, yet I look forward to the future where our great nation is strengthened and grounded by Voice, Treaty and Truth.
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