Zen Buddhism teaches a concept of "Beginner's Mind", Shoshin, as a positive attribute, something to cultivate. Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki said, in Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind: Informal Talks on Zen Meditation and Practice, "In the Beginner's Mind there are many possibilities. In the expert's mind there are few." According to Zen, we should all try to have a Beginner's Mind.

Now western science agrees. In a paper about "earned dogmatism," which appeared in The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology in November, 2015, Professor Victor Ottati from Loyola University of Chicago reports on a series of experiments he conducted showing that "self-perceptions of expertise increase closed-minded cognition." In other words, science says those who think they are experts are more likely to be closed-minded.

Some westerners didn't wait for the science to embrace the philosophy. Dr. Kevin Tidgewell of Duquesne University, the School of Pharmacy, Division of Medicinal Chemistry, spoke about how religion influenced his research and his science. Although he grew up as a Catholic, attended and teaches in a Catholic university, he points to Zen Buddhism and, in particular, the philosophy of the Beginner's Mind as his most important influence: "And so when you come at your science and when you come at questions of science, you should come with an open mind in that all things are possible, not simply the previously held beliefs and the standard beliefs of the field."

In the course of his lifelong spiritual quest, Steven Jobs studied Buddhism. He read, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind and traveled halfway around the world seeking a guru, which he finally found in his hometown of Los Altos, California. He "learned to trust intuition and curiosity--what Buddhists call 'Beginner's Mind'--over analysis and preconceptions."

In Primal Teams, a book that shows "leaders how to harness the optimal emotions that fuel extraordinary performance," Jackie Barretta tells us that experts are the last people to include in creative brainstorming sessions. They often lose their ability to think up or consider wildly creative solutions that lead to team breakthroughs. Newer, less "expert" team members may resent them. A better practice is to help people let go of the idea that the so-called experts "know it all." In doing this, you can open a team to new ideas and help them forge stronger bonds between themselves.

So how can you develop a Beginner's Mind, a mind open to many possibilities, a mind ready to ask questions? Here are a few practices from Mary Jaksch of Goodlife Zen:

  1. Take one step at a time.
  2. Fall down seven times, get up eight times.
  3. Use Don't Know mind. Don't pre-judge.
  4. Live without shoulds.
  5. Make use of experience. Don't negate experience, but keep an open mind on how to apply it to each new circumstance.
  6. Let go of being an expert.
  7. Experience the moment fully.
  8. Disregard common sense.
  9. Discard fear of failure.
  10. Use the spirit of enquiry.
  11. Focus on questions, not answers.

With a Beginner's Mind, you will be more open to possibilities and more creative. You will also form closer bonds with others in your life as they experience your interest in them and your appreciation for their thoughts and ideas.

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Published on: Nov 16, 2015