The other day I was doing a computer search on contact improv jams in the Bay Area to see if it was possible to fit one in during my upcoming vacation in San Francisco.
The website for one of the jams said for a class that preceded the weekly jam that beginners and advanced practitioners with a beginner’s mind were welcome. I loved that statement.
The idea of beginner’s mind is one that is mentioned often in the yoga world and was taught as an integral part of the principle of “opening to grace” in the Anusara system.
What I think is meant by practicing or bringing to the mat or to the dance a beginner’s mind is approaching each practice, every step, every pose, every aspect of alignment and technique with wonder, openness, and an ever-growing willingness to learn.
When we are new to a practice or a style, discovering our own capacity to express and experience the form is exciting, as is a growing mastery of body and mind in the language of the form.
Being advanced, though, is not just about physical or intellectual prowess. It is about developing a nuanced relationship between ourselves, the practices, and our fellow practitioners. Being freshly open to new insight and learning even from beginners helps us deepen our practice and experience ever greater enjoyment (bhoga).
Peace and light, E — Posted with WordPress for BlackBerry.
Vikalpa samskara is a term that describes the fundamental process of an ever refining yoga practice. It encompasses both study of text (with a teacher) and experiential learning and practice. With just experience, we may feel full unto ourselves, but we cannot explain the richness of our experience to others nor can we understand why. If we just hear something from a teacher or see a picture or read about it in a book, however, no matter how book smart we are, we do not have the understanding that comes from personal experience. It is by continuously combining and refining study and practice, that we can have a progressive deepening of true knowledge.
We often talk about “beginner’s mind” with respect to asana practice and meditation (and bringing the beauty of that state off of the mat). We are invited to be receptive and open the way is an ideal beginner, who wants to learn, but does not yet know the topic.
What does “beginner’s mind” really mean, though, in the context of someone who is experienced? I do not believe that it should mean discarding either book learning or discrimination built of experience. What it suggests to me is to approach our practice and life with freshness, with open-mindedness, without being bound by preconceived notions. I think this is the true process of vikalpa samskara. To be able to deepen our knowledge ever more deeply, we have to be willing to be open to shifts and changes in understanding. Then “samskara” does not become a rut, a bad habit, the inevitable effect from a previous action, but the development of a deepening path for more refined understanding.
I took this picture the other day when I was walking to work. I have seen TV cameras set up at this spot dozens of times to film news interviews. I have seen tourists galore photographing each other. I’ve seen a couple of photo shoots of brides and grooms dressed in their wedding clothes. I’ve seen the fountain full of ducks or gulls. I’ve seen it empty of water, with rain pelting on it to eliminate any reflection, in a blizzard, iced over, full of algae, as a play spot for dogs who like to swim, in fog, in beating down sun, with cherry blossoms floating on the water, and with waves from a strong wind. Although (or more likely because) I’ve walked past this view hundreds of times in the 25 years I have lived on Capitol Hill and the 18 I have worked for the Department of Labor, I have never taken out my camera and photographed this incredibly photogenic spot.
When I took the photograph on this day when the reflection just happened to be perfect, it led me to see the spot the way tourists see it: full of freshness and wonder, beauty, and excitement to be in this place that represents a certain mind-blowing type of power. Reflecting on the act of taking the photo from my perspective as a resident, led me to think about the Anusara alignment principle of “opening to grace.”
One of the many aspects of “opening to grace” is having a “beginner’s mind.” What does it mean to have a beginner’s mind on or off the mat? I think it means being open to new insight, to a sense of joyous discovery, to a feeling of fresh intoxication and wonder, no matter how many times we have done or seen something before. How many times have you done lunge or downward facing dog? Eaten a green bean or a potato chip? Petted a dog? Turned on a light switch? Filled a glass with potable water out of the tap? If it is the “same old, same old,” then you will lose the desire to practice and the possibility of growing. But most of what we do, especially as we get older, is a repeat of something we have done before. Grasping at new experience as a cure for boredom or jadedness will only make us unhappy. If we can see each day with newly opened eyes, then we can find fulfillment in each moment and be better able to grow. We will be open to ever deepening refinement and exploration within the space of our existence.