Experiencing the Familiar Afresh: A Mindful Approach

That title probably seems almost a contradiction in terms. However, it alludes to the third of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s attitudinal foundations of mindfulness, “beginner’s mind”.

Too often we take things which seem ordinary for granted. We don’t give them much attention at all. We don’t experience them as they really are because we allow our thinking and beliefs about what we “know” to get in the way.

Developing “beginner’s mind”, a mind that experiences everything as if for the first time, will enable us to fully appreciate the present moment. This quality of mind is especially encouraged in mindfulness meditation so that we take a real interest in every day experiences such as breathing and other bodily sensations. The attitude of “beginner’s mind” helps us to be free of any expectations that may have come from our past experiences. It allows us to be open to new possibilities and stops us from getting caught in the trap of our own expertise.

A great place to cultivate beginner’s mind is outdoors in nature. You could watch the clouds moving through the sky, look up at the stars on a clear night, observe the water flowing down the stream or gaze at the leaves swishing gently in the breeze. Can you really see these phenomena as they are right in the moment with an uncluttered mind, without them being masked by your own thoughts and opinions?

Another opportunity to practice in a similar way is with people we encounter in our daily lives. Can you approach each person without preconceptions about how they’re going to be or are you just seeing the reflection of your own thoughts about them? This could be with family members, friends or colleagues.

You could additionally try it with routine daily activities as we do in the home practice for the first couple of weeks of an 8-week mindfulness course. Can you take a shower and really be curious about how the water feels on your skins, its temperature and pressure, the movements of the body involved in washing and the smells of the products? Can you brush your teeth and really experience the flavour of the toothpaste, the sensations of the froth and bristles, and the movements of your arm and mouth?

You might like to try it with walking too; noticing how it feels to place the soles of the feet on the ground and what it’s like to feel the weight shift from one side of the body to the other. Or with eating something that is familiar to you; really paying attention to how the food looks, the smell, the texture and the taste.

There are many ways of experimenting with the concept of “beginner’s mind” and I hope you will enjoy exploring them.

If you are interested in learning mindfulness, I facilitate an 8-week Mindfulness for Wellbeing Course in Exeter and also offer introductory taster sessions.

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