beginner’s mind

We are a week here from the beginning of teaching in a new academic year. I’ll have new students but I’ll be teaching a class I’ve taught for many years at this point, and as always I feel that it’s a good idea to reflect.

I’ve reflected on these points before, over the years, because I feel they are important points for reflection. One is the notion of distance: as my understanding of the subject increases, as it necessarily will each time I teach, I need to work to remind myself that the mathematical distance between me as teacher and my students as beginners increases, and the responsibility of bridging that gap lies with me as the teacher.

Part of how I deal with this is to try and put myself in the position of being a student seeing the material for the first time, and this can be a tricky thing to do. But it’s a challenge I enjoy, because that approach can expand and enhance my own understanding of the material.

But for me, and this isn’t anything original to me, beginner’s mind goes much deeper than this. A different arena will be the aikido classes; again we’ll have beginners, and again I’ll need to put myself in the mindset of a beginner.

What’s interesting to me is that aikido is something I took up as an adult. I’ve always approached aikido with a degree of awareness that I didn’t have as a high school student (or before), taking math classes. One result of this is that I’ve approached the two subjects differently, in that I am much more consciously and deliberately aware of the aikido basics than I am some of the mathematical basics.

And perhaps this is part of things, that being aware of basics but not being enchanted by the basics is part of the path to achieving a beginner’s mind. After all, part of what we need to do is to achieve a bit of (a different sort of) distance from what we know, because what we know can be a barrier to the mind of a beginner.

My work on this will continue. There is great value for me in this work, because it makes me a better teacher, and it also makes me a better student.

~ by Jim Anderson on 25 September 2022.

2 Responses to “beginner’s mind”

  1. Beginner’s mind: like a lot of Zen concepts, this one strikes me as being full of paradox. Because yes, coming to a task fresh and open and without expectations and preconceptions is to open the gateway to creative engagement and playful experimentation, and that can bring joy and good results. Or an unexpected explosion. On the other hand, beginners don’t know how to do stuff. When I am playing the flute, I don’t need to stop and think “argh, where do my fingers go to play top F?” But my beginner students do. Their fingers are toddler fingers, that don’t know how to walk yet, let alone how to run about on the flute keys. Beginner’s mind implies falling over a lot. But toddlers often don’t mind falling over; they fall soft, and it is a new and delightful experience. Beginner’s mind is a mindset that can enjoy “failure”, or at least that is not scared of failure. Beginner’s mind is always prepared to ask “what happens if I do *that*? even when *that* is, to an experienced player, a clearly and obviously stupid thing to do. What beginner’s mind avoids, I think, is frustration and stagnation. It doesn’t mean that repetition is bad, and it doesn’t mean “don’t practice”!

  2. […] all ties a bit into my previous reflections. We of necessity bring with us the shadows and echoes of everything we’ve experienced, and it’s […]

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