The Perks of Being a Lifelong Beginner: Practicing Shoshin (初心)

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We may equate being a beginner as a negative thing. When we’re trying something for the first time, building a new skill, or learning something new, we may feel self-conscious and inept; clumsy and spastic. We may valourize the competent, and devalue the amateur in ourselves.

However, feeling like a beginner, and staying a beginner can actually be advantageous—fostering a “beginner’s mind” comes with some serious perks. I’ve written about the Zen Buddhist concept ‘shoshin (初心)’ a few times now, but it’s been such an important teaching in my own personal development—my athletics, creative work, and life—that I think it warrants repetition. 

When we’re a beginner, oftentimes our minds are malleable and open to new information, learning, and possibility; we’re more coachable and receptive to feedback. This mindset encapsulates humility. However, as we gain experience and become very skilled at what we do, Shunryu Suzuki in Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, writes that,  “might easily lose our original attitude towards it.”

If we’re not cognizant, our egos may take the front seat, shoving humility to the trunk. Over time, our minds become ossified, and closed off to new information. We may become stuck or inert. For as Shunryu Suzuki writes “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”

Shoshin keeps us humble and grounded. It prevents us from getting bored of an activity that we’ve done for a long time. Because there are always new styles to learn, distances to run, terrains to explore, and techniques to master.

As it relates to the arts, Natalie Goldberg in her book Writing Down the Bones says, “[Beginner’s] mind is what we must come back to every time we sit down and write. These is no security, no assurance, that because we wrote something good two months ago, we will do it again. Actually every time we begin, we wonder how we ever did it before. Each time is a new journey with no maps.”

Living with, and practicing shoshin can make every day an adventure. We can view our relationships, careers, hobbies, and undertakings with a new lens—even in the most familiar terrain.

1 Comment

  1. Ha, I knew there was merit to constantly learning new things. I’ve been a beginner all my life, from my career to hobbies. But sometimes I also wish I’d hunker down and specialise in something, yanno?

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