When we are little there is so much to learn about our physical world. We took on seemingly gigantic challenges when we learned to speak, tie our shoes, read, write, make friends, and maybe even learn a musical instrument. The learning curve was steep, but we were used to starting from the beginning with virtually everything.
As we get older we can lose our “beginner’s mind” and learning something new that takes more than a few hours or days can seem unbearably long. We expect to be able to master things much more quickly than is sometimes reasonable or even necessary.
I taught a class on the So Purkh Meditation recently, and was reminded of how hard it is for people past a certain age to be challenged with something new, particularly when it is difficult. I feel a similar impatience with respect to learning banis (the longer texts that mantras and shabads usually come from).
It’s not that we get denser with age. It’s that we expect so much more from ourselves. It might take a child several years to play their scales correctly on a piano, and yet we expect to be able to read five verses of scripture in a foreign language in a half hour. Since we tend to settle into a small set of activities that we are comfortable performing, we often forget what it takes to learn something completely new.
A woman came up to me after the end of the class and expressed her frustration with not being able to recite the shabad. I told her the same thing happened to me when I first started learning it. An hour and a half class was not a realistic amount of time to attain mastery. Yogi Bhajan said it took 1,000 days of consistent practice to master anything. That’s every day for just under 3 years! That’s why you’ve mastered reading, writing and tying your shoes... you started a while ago!
It occurred to me that being patient with yourself is actually part of doing this practice. Indeed, because before we can do it, we must persevere and stumble through it!
If we can keep a “Beginner’s Mind”, we can awaken that part of ourselves that enjoys the challenging position of starting at the bottom of a very steep hill. We will know that if we keep walking in the general direction of that peek, we will eventually make it to the top.
5 Ways to Cultivate Your Beginner’s Mind:
1. Say “YES!” to opportunities and activities that challenge you: Are you good at yoga? How about taking a martial arts class? Or learning to make Thai food?
2. Do something you normally breeze through very slowly: This will make you aware of the nuances involved in “mastered” activities, and give you a better idea of how much skill and coordination you’ve acquired with practice.
3. Teach! There’s no better way to appreciate your own power to begin from scratch than by teaching a beginner.
4. Forgive yourself for not being the best at everything.
5. Honor yourself for having fun anyway.
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