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  • Writer's pictureSarah Koestner

How to Cultivate Beginner's Mind

If you're a perfectionist like me, learning and creating while practicing "beginner's mind" is something you might find challenging. What is "beginner's mind" you ask? Beginner's mind is a concept from Zen Buddhism that encourages the practitioner to cultivate a sense of openness and eagerness. It asks that we let go of prejudgement when engaging in an activity. No matter what your skill level, it is helpful to bring a sense of openness, presence, and childlike curiosity to your creative endeavors.

Despite its name, beginner's mind is not just for beginners. Practicing beginner's mind even when we're "experts" can help invigorate our acting, our creative endeavors, and our everyday lives with a sense of wonder and "nowness." It can help bring us into the present moment.

What are some ways you can begin to apply "beginner's mind" to your creative life?

1) Allow yourself time to transition. Arrive early to a new class you're taking so when you get there you're not in an anxious and harried state. When you arrive, take some quiet time to center and prepare yourself for the experience. This can take many forms. For example, you might find taking a couple of minutes for meditation helpful, or perhaps journaling helps to quiet your mind. Find what works best for you and turn it into a ritual.

2) Breathe. I know it sounds simple, but there's a lot of wisdom in this simple reminder. When you breathe, you relax your body and create more openness. More openness in your body leads to more openness in your mind, your heart, and more openness to the present moment.

3) Have a sense of humor about yourself. Many artists (myself included) have a tendency to take themselves way too seriously. This cuts you off from the enjoyment of learning and also from creativity itself. You can't be fully alive and creative if your inner-voice is prejudging everything before you have a chance to utter the first lines of the monologue, put pen to paper, or wet your paintbrush.

4) Be curious about resistance. If you're feeling anxious about trying something new, ask yourself what is making you uncomfortable. Figure out why you are afraid of committing to the activity. Oftentimes, "This is stupid," actually means "I'm afraid of looking like an ass."

5) Don't be afraid of looking like an ass. As an artist, you have to be willing to risk looking like a fool. This requires some vulnerability on your part. I'm not certain of many things, but I am certain that nothing great was created without vulnerability.

The next time you find yourself in a situation where you're exercising your creativity, notice how you react to it. Do you allow yourself a sense of play and openness? If you do, you are practicing "beginner's mind." If you don't, don't beat yourself up- that only exacerbates the problem! Instead, breathe, take a step back, and remember the above tools. Happy creating everyone!

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