One of my favorite things about having kids is viewing the world afresh through their eyes. My four-year-old is in that non-stop talking, curious-about-the-world stage that can be so endearing. The other day after questioning how babies in the womb receive nourishment he recapped, “So let me get this straight. You ate food, it went into your belly, then into my belly button through your extension cord?”
I paused a beat as my love for him grew impossibly greater. I didn’t have the heart to correct that perfectly mistaken word choice. “Extension cord. Exactly,” I replied, “And there has been an invisible extension cord connecting our hearts ever since.”
I imagine in the future the poor kid will fail that portion of the anatomy test, but for now I couldn’t help but savor the innocently bungled terminology. (And, seriously, don’t you think extension cord is a more apt description than umbilical? Latin, schmatin.)
Zen Buddhists refer to this fresh-perspective-taking as beginners mind, much like viewing the world through the eyes of a child — with curiosity and a sense of wonder. With the help of my little guy I had now shifted my perspective from taking the world for granted into beginners mind. How lovely and amazing.
We (ahem) older folks can cultivate this child-like sense of wonder and curiosity in our lives every day as well and fortunately we don’t always need a little one around to help. For example, I have just recently been learning to slackline in our backyard. (In case you are not familiar, a slackline is nylon webbing tethered between two trees about two feet off the ground. One walks the length of it, balancing much like a tight-rope walker.) More challenging than it appears, slacklining requires concentrated focus, a light touch, and a playful attitude — some of the same components necessary to cultivating mindfulness and beginners mind.
My senses are automatically on high alert, attuned to my immediate surroundings and body sensations. I am walking, yes, but because I am balanced two feet off the ground, I am hyper-focused on every subtle movement. Perched on the line, my ordinary perspective of walking has shifted into new, novel territory and I feel like a kid again.
The challenge is to bring this sense of beginners mind with us throughout our days because boredom, complacency, and disregard cannot coexist in the face of genuine interest and sense of wonder. We can choose awe, appreciation, and awareness. Not only does it make us feel younger, but literally slows the aging process as well.
By moving through our days intentionally encountering our world as if for the first time we become aware of what is so often taken for granted. Beginners mind is also cultivated by pulling ourselves out of automatic habits and conditioning through stillness — whether with five minutes of meditation** or simply sitting silently for a spell. Deliberately stepping out of our comfort zones and challenging ourselves to learn something new is another sure way to revisit the wonder of childhood. So go ahead and give beginners mind a try. Encourage your inner child to come out and play.
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