Cultivate Happiness with a Beginner’s Mind?

December 28, 2015

Beginners Mind

By Dr. Erin Wiley – Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few” ~Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind: Informal Talks on Zen Meditation and Practice

The start of a new year is around the corner and many of us might be anticipating a fresh start. A chance to renew our spirit, to make changes to our health and happiness, to learn and grow from our past experiences. In order to really break free from our patterns and ingrained beliefs, we need to have the courage to completely let go of our expectations. “A beginner’s mind” is a state of being in the present moment without expectation. It is an attitude of complete acceptance, free from fear and judgment, where the mind is open to all possibilities.

Children show us examples of a beginner’s mind everyday. If they hear music, it might move them to dance freely; they don’t care who is watching. Would you be so moved and free to dance? They are not afraid to pick up a paintbrush, regardless of skill and unconcerned about the finished product; they have no need to stay in between the lines or choose “the right” colours. They do it for the sheer joy of creating. Another example is the first time my two-year-old daughter saw the lights on our Christmas tree. She experienced sheer joy in seeing the lights for the first time, while I was already thinking about our busy holiday schedule, plotting meal plans and last minute holiday shopping. I was feeling relieved for having completed the tree, having immediately moved on to the next item on my to-do list, and completely missed out on the main reason one has a Christmas tree in the first place: the joy of appreciating its beauty, magic and sparkle! What have you missed out on because of your never-ending to-do list?

As adults, travel can help us experience the happiness of a beginner’s mind when we leave what is familiar and visit a new culture. Taking in new sights, enjoying new flavors, experiencing art and design for the first time. When we let go of our daily expectations of routine and obligations and are free to move about and explore it can bring a great deal of excitement and enthusiasm, and it is easy to feel happy. But do we have to travel far to find opportunities for new experiences?

Now imagine what would happen if we brought this attitude into our daily life. If we really enjoyed that cup of coffee, sat down for breakfast with our family, enjoyed exercise simply for how great it feels to move our body. How would our relationships improve if we paid closer attention in that conversation with a friend or saw our partner, parents or children with new eyes, just how they are in that moment, letting go of past grievances, hurt feelings or expectations about what roles or obligations they are supposed to fulfill for us? Imagine what our workplace would be like if we approached that next business meeting, got on that new project or connected with a co-worker with the enthusiasm and openness of a new grad? Might we bring out the best in each other, might we have more fun or might we learn something new?

Perhaps this year you can approach your New Year’s resolutions with renewed openness. Perhaps you will find the courage to take that dance class, sign up for cooking school, pull out those paintbrushes, write that blog or open that business, simply because you want to experience the joy of doing it. Let go of the beliefs that are holding you back, quiet that negative voice in your head, stop waiting until you are an expert and approach each day as a beginner.

For more information on “The Beginners Mind” check out this link to a video by Jon Kabat-Zinn on Mindfulness 9 Attitudes – Beginners Mind

You might also enjoy the book “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind: Informal Talks on Zen Meditation and Practice “by Shunryu Suzuki


Dr. Erin Wiley NDDr. Erin Wiley is a naturopathic doctor with a strong focus on preventative and integrative medicine. She is the Owner and Clinic Director of the Integrative Health Institute, an integrative medical clinic located in downtown Toronto. Erin has a strong clinical emphasis on stress related illness, anxiety, depression and hormone balance. As a naturopathic doctor, Erin is passionate about working with people to help them better understand their health and achieve their health goals.

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