Becoming a parent for the first time was the moment I learned about the “beginner’s mind.” Thrust into the role of taking care of a precious new life, I was keenly aware of all I didn’t know — and all I was being challenged to learn — for the very first time.
It was exhilarating and exhausting in equal measure.
Initially, the beginner’s mind and I didn’t get along. I don’t like failing. I prefer to be comfortable, and sometimes I just want to zone out and work on auto-pilot. But the beginner’s mind doesn’t particularly allow for any of those things.
In fact, when we begin something new, we tend to be hyper-aware, vigilant and focused. We lend our full attention to the new activity because everything about it is a novelty. There is often a feeling of being off-balance, and striving to re-establish equanimity moment by moment.
In this way, beginnings require complete presence of mind.
But as we do something over and over, that attention wanes and our awareness falters. What was once an exhilarating puzzle to be solved can feel tiresome. Instead of excitement and joy, we experience fatigue and resentment…even sorrow.
The yoga practice we once loved becomes stale — a chore to complete.
The daily sit we used to look forward to becomes obligatory and uninspired.
The book we excitedly started reading to deepen our understanding on a challenging topic becomes cumbersome and draining.
In most cases, the option to give up is available.
But there is another option, steeped in the promise of growth and rebirth: we can learn to begin again.
Through our well-being and mindfulness practices, we can allow ourselves to be reborn as a beginner, as many times as it takes to recall that it’s never too late to begin again. Even as a yoga practitioner of almost two decades, I often find myself approaching a posture as if it is brand new…and in many ways, it is.
The practice and the postures are new because who I am is different every time I step onto the mat or sit on my cushion.
Growth isn’t linear.
Learning never ends.
Beginnings and endings are on a continuum that continually blend into one another.
As the author Rolf Gates shares in his book Meditations from the Mat:
Throughout our practice, our mind wanders, we become distracted, we feel fatigued, and then we remember and we begin again. We come into the now. We feel and hear our breathing, we feel the air on our skin, our attention opens to encompass the experience of our entire body, we see what we are looking at, we are conscious of our heartbeat slowing, we are practicing asana. Then our mind wanders, we fatigue, we remember, and we begin again.
As we practice beginning again, and again, we simultaneously come into deeper relationship with endings. The beginner’s mind understands the power of something new coming to an end.
Think of the first time you watched your favorite movie and the end credits began to roll. In that moment was both both a celebration and a mourning. Now think of your first savasana, or the first time the ending bell chimed to conclude your meditation, or the first time you left a favorite vacation spot. In each of these moments lies the bittersweet companionship of celebration and sadness, of beginnings and endings.
As we engage with something more frequently, the power of beginnings diminishes and fades, and endings become normalized and less sacred. We often forget to pause and savor every step in the process. But, in the end, life gives us no choice but to learn the lesson that beginnings and endings are inseparable — two sides of the same coin — two snapshots of the same continuum.
By learning to begin again, we see the reality of the cycle of life, the balance of receiving and giving, and the power of both beginnings and endings.
Perhaps, most importantly, a beginner’s mind is never too scared to start over.
The invitation of the Beginner’s Mind is to show up fully in the present moment and to allow ourselves to be completely with whatever is there. It is to resist the temptation to go numb or to “check-out” in favor of our auto-pilot tendencies. In this way, there is immense beauty in the decision to cultivate a beginner’s mindset. Beginnings may not always be easy, and yet — for better or for worse — they are the only place where we can start.
Learning to begin again is an expression of resilience.
As we lean into a new yearl, may we each find the time to express gratitude for beginning again. Having the choice to begin again means that we’re still here.
But here we are, learning to begin again, together.
Guest post by studio BE faculty member Jyothi Behne.
Based on the values of healing, growth and authenticity, Jyothi's classes are a combination of storytelling and intelligent sequencing. After battling eating disorders and self-harming behaviors for over 14 years, Jyothi's discovery of yoga in 2005 saved her life. She is now living her 9th year of active recovery.
In 2010, Jyothi left her career as an Education Policy Analyst to become a full-time yoga teacher. She lives with her husband, Bo, and their two vibrant and creative children, wherever the Navy stations them (which is always changing).
Feature image by carballo/Adobe Stock