Monday, April 9, 2012

Back to basics . . . Again

"In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.” – Suzuki Roshi from, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

I found the above quote in an article about Steve Jobs’s connection to Buddhism. The point of that quote in the article was to illuminate how Steve Job's genius manifested. He never let what was already in existence deter him from finding something better. The article, of course, also discusses how a student of Buddhism treated his employees as Steve Jobs did, but that is not the point of this post.

As I have mentioned before, there is something special about the beginner’s mind. When we let go of the need to know everything and open our eyes to all the possibilities, what previously seemed impossible becomes possible. If we think we know everything, then there is no opportunity to learn more, and our world-view becomes limiting.

The last post discussed what the Easter/Passover season means, and along with those themes, it is spring -- the perfect opportunity to start anew. It is a time to let go of any of our preconceived notions about the world and see the possibilities that exist. To me, this is the interesting piece about where the Passover story ends. It ends with the escape from Egypt. It does not go on to talk about the 40 years wandering the desert.

But those 40 years are where the learning takes place. Those 40 years are the beginner’s mind and an absolute expanse of possibility. The Middle East desert is nothing if not an expanse of possibility. It is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been . . . and I lived in New Zealand for 10 months.

A view of the desert from the top of Masada at Sunrise.
 It is very easy for all of us to think we have the answers. It is easy for us to think we are experts, especially about our own lives. Being sure is safer than questioning and being open to possibilities. Choice can be paralyzing (link to a TED talk on the paradox of choice). But it also holds the key to that which we may never have deemed possible.

Yoga helps us remember that each moment is a chance to learn something new. There is always a new muscle to discover, a new technique to learn, or a new posture to practice. And it is called a practice for a reason. People have a meditation practice; they do not master meditation. Similarly, doctors and lawyers have practices. On some level, they understand that if they believe too strongly in their “expertise,” they will miss the full story.

I find that the most exciting part of being a lawyer. Every day is different, even if from the outside it looks like I am doing the same thing. It is easy to generalize and lump cases together, but the truth is that every individual client is just that . . . an individual. Their story is a clean slate, and I know nothing about it before walking through the door to meet them. Sometimes that is literally true, and while frustrating at times, in many ways it allows me to be completely open to possibilities. How can I be an expert on a person I know nothing about?

Thus, there is a story beyond the excitement and freedom of breaking free of slavery. To me, the story suggests something bigger. We are slaves to our “expertise.” It is when we let our minds be blank slates like the sun rising over the expansive desert that the greatest possibilities for our lives emerge. It is easy to lose track of that sense of emptiness in the modern world, and yoga provides the tools to bring us back. Meditation and asana are about calming the mind and coming back to the present moment, the moment when anything is possible.

Are you ready to break free and be open to the possibilities that await?


© Rebecca Stahl 2012, all rights reserved.


  1. Meditation always give peace of mind to one who does it regularly. I always enjoy practicing yoga. Interesting post.

    1. Thank you very much, and I agree about the ability for meditation to provide peace of mind.

  2. I love the idea of maintaining a beginners mind! It keep us curious with a child-like innocence and open to learn new things!