Beginners’ Mind

In this season of new beginnings, I’ve been thinking about what it means to be a beginner, and the vulnerability it takes us, as adults, to expose ourselves to learning a new skill.

This month, I tried two new physical activities. My regular workout routine was getting stale, and I wanted a different challenge. Last week, I went to my first Aikido class, and Ohmygod! It kicked my ass! Aikido is all about meeting the energy of your partner and getting them to the ground by meeting and shifting their energy. The movements are surprisingly small and use no force. A few days later, I went Contra Dancing (kind of like square dancing) and literally felt like I was being shuffled blindly by other people across the dance floor in a dizzying maze.

With both classes, I noticed how nervous and tense I got, trying to remember all of the right moves, how awkward I felt in my body. Totally not fun! But, then there were these few moments, a few glimpses of relaxation when I could feel the moves without intellectualizing them, and could ease into it. Those moments of “getting it” were priceless. I could improve on this; there is potential here. I felt new sensations in my body, and became more alive and awake because of it.

So, after being knocked on my ass and after missing nearly all the contra dancing steps, I went to coach my Beginning Runners Group. I thought about how it takes guts to show up for something that is new and unfamiliar. I remembered how I couldn’t walk down the stairs for a whole week after my first time running. (And, now I know how to prevent that extreme level of soreness in other folks!) In our group, we talked about posture and breath. I encouraged participants to take stock of their breath and posture, and just to notice it, to be curious. The author of “Zen Mind, Beginners’ Mind,” Shunryu Suzuki writes “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” Curiosity and willingness is what allows us to learn and transform as people: physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Consistently showing up for a new practice leads down a path of hard work, mysteries, surprises, and profound insights about ourselves and each other. These mysteries and revelations are what I like most about my own training and working with others. I hope to have many more Aikido classes and Contra Dances in my future. Ask me about it, the next time you see me– help keep me accountable ☺ And, come to a class sometime, I’d love to see you!

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