Open, Curious, and Accepting

The Buddhist concept of Shoshin, or developing a “beginner’s mind,” may be the best place to start an “open, curious, and accepting” practice. This concept is about dropping our expectations and preconceived ideas and seeing things with an open mind, fresh eyes, and simple acceptance–just like a beginner.

People who seem the most present and content have a balance of “knowing” and “not knowing. The most awake, deeply practiced people have a grasp of what they are doing or saying, a clarity of intention and attention, and they also seem accepting of other perspectives, ideas, attitudes, though these may be contradict the perspectives and stances they already believe. Accepting is understanding comfortably that other people may have different ideas and opinions while not necessarily agreeing with them.

The practice of Shoshin is all about being open to embracing your curiosity, and viewing “not knowing” as a strength rather than a weakness.

Her’se a metaphor: 

If the cup is already filled with water, then no matter how much water we pour into it, the cup cannot be filled any further. Water will overflow and it will be a waste. If we want the cup to retain or hold water, then we must empty the cup first. In the same way, if our mind is already filled with preoccupations, such as unnecessary rigid notions, opinions, stories, ideas, and the like, then no matter how much we hear, it will be a waste.

How do we incorporate this into our daily lives? Here are some simple techniques to encourage your beginner’s mind.


Practice Curiosity

Not being a know-it-all is such a great thing, for with a beginner’s mind, we are able and willing to learn, understand others, build communities, and feel comfortable within ourselves. Open and curious is about this.

A simple practice suggests initiating a conversation with someone you don’t normally talk to—perhaps a colleague or a co-worker in another department, a friend with a different political view, or even a cashier or salesperson. It’s a way to actively be curious about the people, experiences, and perspectives around you. It enhances us, and our practice of being patient, compassionate, and generous.

Another practice is to challenge yourself to read an article about something entirely outside your wheelhouse or news articles from an outlet with a different perspective. Then accept it for what it is, even if you disagree, with a “knowing” not “not knowing” mind.

If all this feels daunting, remember that being curious doesn’t mean you have to throw away what you already know—you just have to open yourself up to seeing and learning more.  “Beginner’s mind” doesn’t mean that you don’t trust your experience or own intelligence. You can still trust those and remain curious without solidity or being rigid, without reifying your beliefs at the expense of being open and curious. If beginner’s mind meant “don’t trust what you know,” it would leave us open to manipulation and gaslighting by others. It doesn’t mean that. It means recapturing our innocence, in the best of ways.


Notice Your Expectations

We tend to imagine the outcome of an experience or opportunity before it happens. But in cultivating a beginner’s mind, it is important to resist the temptation to assume we know outcomes. We need to remember that there is no cause and effect, so we can ever know the “effect” of an action we take.

For example, when you send a text, e-mail, application, or whatever, try not predicting the response. Instead, accept the response, when it comes, with curiosity and openness. It doesn’t matter whether the response is positive or negative, try managing and accepting it with openness and curiosity. Whichever, respond appropriately.


Practice Being Fully Present

A key part of Shoshin is fully arriving into the moment; this is a form of mindfulness. We need to remember that we don’t often take a deep breath and allow ourselves to fully experience where we are and what we are doing. It’s important to take moments to open yourself to the present, even if for a moment or two, three or four times a day.

You can do this through meditation–maybe 3 or 4 minutes, 2 or 3 times a day, or by having a moment of silence in which you take a deep breath and find clarity before moving forward. Taking a step back, to silence, is helpful in getting present to yourself.


Seek Out Newness

It’s difficult to try something new every day. However, by making small modifications each day to seemingly mundane tasks or routines, we can renew our senses and experience things with a fresh set of eyes—open, curious, and accepting.

For example, at the gym, frequently change the workout. If you commute one way to work each morning, try taking another route. If you normally drive, try taking the train. Pocket the headphones and look around. You’ll likely notice an environment you hadn’t seen before. And feel pleased with the novelty of this newness. It is refreshing to not have to force things into old pattern.

Shoshin might feel uncomfortable at first—and there’s a reason: we are biologically designed to see the phenomena in a consistent way. But “not knowing” is the path to liberation.