“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.” ~ Shunryu Suzuki Roshi
In Zen, “beginner’s mind” (or “Shoshin”) refers to an attitude of “openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner in that subject would.” Beginner’s mind involves living with child-like captivation in the wonder of every moment, no matter how simple the object of the mind’s attention.
In my experience, gratitude is both a prerequisite and and a side-effect of Shoshin. Gratitude engages me in noticing details. Consider a maple leaf, its curves, its color, its smell, its texture, its physiology, its oneness among many, and so on. And then, having noticed these awe-inspiring layers of detail, I find myself plagued with even more gratitude.
Another way of thinking about the relationship between beginner’s mind and gratitude is to consider them as different aspects of the same whole — which is to say that they are two aspects of mindfulness practice. When we are mindful, we are in “a state of active, open attention on the present… [We] observe … thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad,” all of which allows us to live in the moment, more awake to every experience (Psychology Today).
But when it comes down to it, do practices like beginner’s mind, gratitude and mindfulness really matter? Do they actually make a concrete difference in the world, or are they just abstract theoretical concepts that don’t amount to much?
Open-minded, present-moment consciousness allows us to see the state of the world. Gratitude allows us to appreciate the Earth’s abundance and value other living beings. I believe that this state of compassionate awareness is what motivates human effort toward meaningful holistic change — change that supports global well-being of the planet and its life, not just self-centered individual benefits.
Here and now, in each and every present moment, we are presented with the opportunity to recognize and direct energy toward remedying damaging circumstances. In this season of Thanksgiving, how can I best harness compassionate awareness toward significant personal and collective action? What can I do “for the good of the order”?