One of my most treasured spiritual books is Suzuki Roshi’s “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind.” It has inspired millions, and truly is one of my go-to references about establishing the connection between our individual (smaller) self and universal (Higher) Self. In Roshi’s landmark book, which I try to re-read as often as I can (as well as the classic, Herman Hesse’s “Siddhartha”) I’m forever reminded to keep things fresh. To approach learning, especially about higher-consciousness, as if we are a beginner, each and every time we sit for meditation. What exactly does this mean, to be a beginner?
In today’s divided world especially, people are sure about how they feel. Whether the topic is politics or environment, or religious or spiritual, people are sure they are on the side of right and others who don’t speak the same doctrine are on the side of wrong. Sound familiar? I guess another way of saying “be a beginner” always, is to check to make sure you have an open mind and an open heart, always.
In my mixed-bag circle I hear some pretty strong stuff, and tend to overlook people’s hardcore emotionalism as a need to vent. I give plenty of leeway to those who have such strong opinions that their voices raise and their eyes widen. I watch these symptoms as indicators. Of what? That the person before me is closed to any discussion other than pats on their back that they’re right, right, right.
Sure, lots of people are in distress about the state of the world. When I was younger I even left America because I was so unforgiving about the Vietnam war, and didn’t return for a full decade. Today however, I am grateful to call the USA my home country. Even though it’s in a time of tumultuous cross-fires, this is the greatest country I’ve ever known, and I’ve traveled around lots. So bear with me as I share, from experience, how I learned that being set in my opinions only got me in deeper waters, than even the longstanding wars America fights in far off countries.
Put aside your need “to be right” for just a moment and try following my thinking about how the need to be open is a spiritual practice. And how approaching things from a fresh, new angle (whether practicing a yoga pose or determining how bad things are in the public arena), sharing Roshi’s viewpoint on “Beginner’s Mind” just might add some bright sunshine on anyone’s dark and gloomy spots.
When Roshi wrote his book waaaay back in the sixties, he was mostly referring to the Zen Buddhist “art of meditation” when he spoke of having a Beginner’s Mind. I love his use of a waterfall to demonstrate the meaning of universal consciousness (the Self, Divine Mind, “God”) the continuous contacting of which is the supreme aim of practicing meditation. I’m going to paraphrase Roshi’s imagery here, but if anyone wants a real treat, I urge you to read the entire book for yourself.
The waterfall is Roshi’s metaphor for how our singular mind is connected to the infinite vastness, the ineffable Mystery of nothing less than — cosmic consciousness. Or Higher Power, or God, if you want to keep it simple. Although Zen Buddhists such as Suzuki Roshi never use the “G” word. And really, that’s a good idea in speaking of spiritual matters because that little bitty word has way too many stigmas attached to it. Many people either freak out if they hear it (those who are anti-G, calling themselves humanists or atheists, or maybe they’re traumatized from too-religious of an upbringing). Or, as one of my spiritual teachers (a wise old Christian monk) recently noted as he began his talk on mindful Presence: “For every single one of you, there’s a different definition of God.” So he doesn’t use the G-word either, preferring, as I do too, to use Spirit (or Aum, Om) as readers of LordFlea know already.
In referring to the subject of how to tap into the spiritual side of life, the metaphor of Suzuki Roshi’s waterfall is the best analogy I’ve ever heard. He describes the state of connecting to this higher state — the universal consciousness that is all present — as this:
We, each one of us humans, is a tiny cell of consciousness that is connected to the whole, just as a drop of ocean water is still part of the unlimited ocean. If we came to a waterfall (or a stream, a river, an ocean) and took in our cupped hands, a tiny bit of the vastness before us, think of what you’re imagining holding in your hands, as you take it from the flowing waterfall to look at, and perhaps drink of — that this handful of water is symbolic of your human life. You are a separate being, but you are also part of the wholeness from which you came. You are both at the same time, even though some people never choose to experience this state of Oneness.
Even though you have been born in your human form (yoga scriptures calls this one-person connection to All, the Atman), you are still spiritually connected, and part of the whole spiritual consciousness (yogic Oneness, is Brahman, also called “the Self”) that permeates this existence, this universe …. the multiverse, as all of space discoveries is now more commonly called.
When I read Suzuki Roshi’s words for the first time many moons ago, I was struck about how similar his description of the waterfall was to my own inexplicable experiences of meditation. The Stillness. The Oneness. Totality. Yet, I was still me. How, after learning to follow a mantra and having trained my bad-ass monkey-mind to STOP obsessing, and keep it focused on a sound, and witness my thoughts, not engage in them —- how I felt connected to all that is.
And yet, when I came out of meditation and looked in the mirror, yes, I could verify that I was still this one same person named teZa (aka LordFlea, here). I have one body, not an endless array of cosmic-ness, yet my mind felt unlimited to any barrier, whether of skin or mental gymnastics. Even more deeply I felt this Oneness as my meditation practice grew stronger, as I went through layers of impurities. As my teacher told me I would. Until — I arrived at the place where each and every time I press my third eye (even for a breath or two, only!) I can jump into that state of Oneness, like a dog who’s learned to stand up on its hind legs for its tasty treat. I love the depth, the connected-ness of meditation.
Of course this took years of practice. But the payoff the stilling of the mind, is going deep inside Self, like sticking a finger into the CHARGED SOCKET of the Big Brain Itself (ha! it’s that shocking at first, so electrifying!). This place, state of mind, is beyond thought, and even if for just a glimpse that lasts only a few seconds, and eventually becomes longer in time and deeper in connection — all this amounts to cultivating a spiritual connected-ness. This, my friends, is Oneness consciousness.
So how does this meditative approach to “Fresh” apply to practicing yoga poses? And what, for goddess’ sake, does Oneness have to do with political or environmental angst? Bear with me, reader, a little longer.
The same fresh electric jolt that Oneness brought me (at the beginning of my journey) is exactly the same, each and every time! — when approaching anything with a Beginner’s Mind. If I think, “I’m a lifelong yoga person, I know this pose” instead of “ahhh, try to feel it as if for the very first time I’m going into this pose” — then I am in Beginner’s Mind. To do this means I have to be more aware. The key here: Awareness. I must remind myself to think as a beginner, and not as a Know-It-All adept. Each time I start a yogic practice session, or just want to do a quick back stretch, but yogically, mindfully, I must remind myself that … “I know nothing! I am a beginner. I may know where to put my feet, my arms, my gaze .. but I am going to let this pose here and NOW teach me as if I’ve never had any experience of this same pose, before. Ever.”
This takes discipline. To let go of our “knowing”. This also requires humility. Some people have a hard time letting go of “thinking they know.” Why? Because they’re insecure. Without knowing something SURELY, they feel impotent, less than, and likely afraid of feeling vulnerable. Many people I know in the spiritual/mindful world (yes, as much in this tribe as in the political circles I skirt these days) are filled with self aggrandizement. Many yoga teachers I see being pumped out of the yoga-mills these days tend to think of themselves as so advanced and knowledgeable, so sure they have all the information they need after they’ve gotten their relatively easy-to-get certification. Suddenly they’re experts about breath, asana, stilling mind, opening heart — that many in the “extreme yoga world” only end up losing the opportunity to experience the electrifying delight of a beginner’s approach. And sadly, they end up shortchanging themselves (and their students) of having an incredible experience each and every time they begin their yoga session.
To have a beginner’s mind takes great humility. Want to try it? I encourage you to, the next time you hit the mat, or just sit to stretch for a few breaths holding a pose, and feel the connected-ness of your being a handful-of-water you’ve just pulled from the Waterfall of Existence. Feel this, yourself before you share it with others.
Let your mind go still. Focus on your breath. Let your breath show you what’s happening. Each yoga pose, each opportunity to grow from understanding another’s point-of-view is different, each day. Each and every time you move your body, it’s a new experience! Subtle changes occur. Awareness becomes more expanded as you scan your body and sense how today … is different. You may learn something new if you just open your mind … one breath at a time.
For those whose breath gets choked up thinking about the state of the environment and other politically charged, topics, try this same kind of awareness exercise. The next time a news item, or a distressing topic arises, allow your breath to become your main focus, not the immediacy of this topic. And … as you focus on your breath … listen to those around you. Listen with something more than your ears, your eyes, your intellect. Listen to the sound of the universe that pulsates through your veins, in the form of your blood’s circulatory system, for instance. And remember: just as the moon and the sun and the stars are held in place, and don’t fall out of their orbits — you, too, and everyone here on Earth, is being taken care of by this Oneness consciousness that unites us all. And let go of any pre-determined judgement you have about this disturbing subject. Open your mind and your heart and allow the possibility of — something happening that you might not be aware of, a bigger plan, a higher meaning — and practice complete trust. In what? That we are all One, and no politician, no human talking head can ever destroy that true, inexorable connection. It all starts with YOU, your mind, your heart — keep it open!
And let me know how these suggestions work for you.
Share your thoughts with me here, and let’s get a dialogue going, shall we?
I wish each and everyone of you a blessed and Beginner’s Mind kind of brand new day, each and every moment. May your outlook about the world’s events, and your own private life, be filled with the Light of higher understanding. May you be able to better discern what to do, and what to not do. It could be something as simple as not spending quite so much time on social media today. Spending more time in quiet contemplation about who to spend your time with, where to focus your life’s efforts — nurturing a challenging relationship. Or … do some yoga!
Each day is a new beginning. Each breath — a new you!
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Your pal, LordFlea, aka teZa Lord