“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few”
June is traditionally the month when students finish their studies and prepare to move into the unknown world. This time of year I get calls from newly minted interior designers asking for advice. I give the answer I always do – know your craft, but always strive to keep a beginners mind.
Beginners mind is a Zen Buddhist concept called shoshin. Simply stated, it is the temporary suspension of all that is known to make room to ask “what if”?
In this month’s newsletter, Mel Zuckerman, founder of the world famous Canyon Ranch, extols the virtues of cultivating beginners mind. Many years ago, as an overworked and unhealthy businessman, he had his first experience at a holistic wellness retreat. foreign to his point of reference to that point, he saw things through beginners mind and wondered “what if”? Asking that question without any preconceived answers was, as Mel puts it, “an explosion of possibilities – the right time, the right place, the right people, and, yes, a beginner’s mind all coming together to create a life-changing Aha! moment”. it was the catalyst for his own journey to wellness and the birth of a business that has prospered for decades.
It’s those aha moments that keep life fresh, reinvented and inspiring as we see things anew. Imagine all the things we take for granted that we might never know unless someone asked “what if”. Medicine and technology would be back in the stone ages and forget about anything provocative in literature, fashion or the arts. The world would be beige with no lovely bursts of color that come from letting our minds wonder to some place new and untamed. We might never know the pleasure of discovering our own multi faceted selves if we don’t get outside of ourselves and ask “what if”.
As an interior designer, it is necessary to have beginners mind with every new project or person I meet, I’d risk repetitiously turning out the same fabrics and colors and furnishings, instead of truly hearing and expressing a clients unique needs. Beginners mind allows me to see a space unencumbered and the possibilities start coming to me in the form of pictures in my head.
Frequently I hear “I would have never thought of that” when I propose a new approach to a space. It’s hard for so many of us to see the state of our homes (and maybe even the state of our lives) because we are always looking at things from a known point of view. When I do an Interior Design Shrink speaking engagement I always ask people to close their eyes and think of how their house feels, instead of how it looks. Why? Because many times our eyes don’t really process what is right in front of us. We go right to seeing things from a place of preconceived notions or implanted imaginary rules of should and must. We might never even stop and question how that mindset came to be in the first place or how it is limiting and shutting off new possibilities.
In order to move to a place where we create space for new ideas and opportunities for our homes, our lives or humanity, we need to make room in our excuse and rule filled heads. We must temporarily suspend all of the limitations we possess and return to a state of beginners mind. It may seem silly to suggest ignoring what we know to learn something new, but that is just the process that needs to happen. That is the essence of the practice of mindfulness, which is key for being present in the moment and engaging your beginners’ mindset. Asking “what if” can be a powerful to shakes things up and keep us from stagnating environments and lives.
Imagine the possibilities if we didn’t get stopped by our old patterns or those automatic tape recordings that go on in our heads reminding us of our fear of failure, our self doubt, our guilt, assumptions and beliefs. How liberating to take off those heavy glasses and see through a pair of fresh, untainted ones. Like a child that calls it as they see it, we too could get back to a simpler, untainted version of ourselves.
Canyon Ranch’s motto, the “Power of Possibility”, is a reminder to always ask “what if?” … and then make time to fill in the blank. Simple questions like that are the starting point for finding life’s most important answers.
I am hoping to fill in a few blanks myself and refuel my creative core by taking a little summer break. I’ve asked myself “what if I slowed down a bit?”. I’m excited to not know the answer and temporarily suspend my usual 24/7 pace of go, go, go to find out. I’m looking forward to engaging my beginners mind and finding inspiration in new people, places and experiences, and maybe even seeing something or someone familiar for the first time again.
See you in September!
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