(Bravely) Remain a Beginner

“Always, we begin again.” –St. Francis

There is a wonderful story told in Buddhist texts of a great teacher and an eager student. The student has studied for a very long time, and he seeks out the master teacher to further his meditation studies. He wants to absorb further wisdom from this enlightened being. The master teacher invites his student over for tea. As he pours the tea into the student’s cup, the cup becomes fuller and fuller. Soon it is brimming with tea. But the master teacher does not stop there. He continues pouring. “Wait! What are you doing?!” the student asks, “The cup is already full!” “Yes,” says the meditation teacher, “so too is your mind. You are filled with speculations and expectations and a sense of mastery. How can I teach you until you empty your cup?”

Sometimes we empty the proverbial cup, and sometimes the proverbial cup is emptied for us. Have you noticed? Life is always changing. We are always at the beginning of something, even as we are at the end of something else. As soon as we master one challenge, we move on to the next and are beginners again. And yet, many of us have this driving desire to reach some pinnacle where life is all sorted out and we are experts. I say this with love after learning it the hardest way possible: This place is a myth. And even if it weren't, I think it'd be awfully boring.

In our society, we are often encouraged to be masters. We are often rewarded for sounding completely confident, for admitting no fault, for pushing and even bullying our own opinions on others. We are taught that we must advance and be advanced.   I notice this in class a lot: Students will mostly do whatever the “advanced” option is. (And many kudos to many of my students for being open to the fact that the advanced option usually relates to working with the mind in some capacity. Unless you are training for the circus, that is.)

I’d like to gently challenge the overvaluing of mastery. As Suzuki Roshi says, “In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind, there are few.” At the beginning we have an endless expanse of fresh experience awaiting us. Relieved of the pressures of others and of our own egos, we can explore endlessly. We can make mistakes, take a wrong turn or two, and change course. We can fail and start again.

It works this way with yoga practice too. This is why we call it "practice" and not "yoga performance." We can arrive on the mat in the present tense and be with whatever arises. We can give those sensations, intuitions, and feelings we usually brush away (because they are contrary to our desired outcome) voices. I can tell you from my personal experience, there is tremendous power and freedom in being a beginner. I will probably forever consider myself a beginner at both yoga and at life because I know that both will continue to surprise me.

Want to explore this more? This will be the inspiration for class at Moksha Lakeview tomorrow at 8:30a. With beginner’s minds, we will explore a fresh practice through the body, breath, mind, and heart. Expect alignment-based vinyasa with a focus on the heart center, breath work, related yoga philosophy and sutras, and guided meditation. Bring a sense of wonder, a willingness to explore, and your beginner's mind. See you there.