Need a New Perspective? Try the Buddhist Concept of 'Shoshin'
April 22, 2019
That quote from 14-year-old actress and producer Marsai Martin in a recent Teen Vogue interview brought me to a stop.
It just felt so true.
As kids—prior to any outside experiences, circumstances, or people influencing us—we're pretty optimistic. The world's our oyster.
But somewhere along the way, our perception of our capabilities starts to narrow, and our skepticism grows along with our expectations.
And when we reach adulthood and start our self-care journeys, we find ourselves wishing to get back to that sense of optimism, courage, and spirit we once had as kids.
“As we grow, we feel like we have to go with what is socially accepted and what works," Ethan Nichtern, a Buddhist teacher and the author of The Road Home, tells Shine. "There is a tendency to become less curious, especially when we enter so many environments where it seems like acting with total and complete certainty are the way to get ahead.”
The question becomes: How do we revisit that state and reclaim our inner child?
The Zen Buddhist concept of Shoshin, or developing a “beginner’s mind” may be the best place to start. This concept is all about dropping our expectations and preconceived ideas about something and seeing things with an open mind and fresh eyes, just like a beginner.
What Nichtern has noticed in the people who seem the most present and open: A balance of knowing and not knowing. “The most awake people have a grasp of what they are talking about, a clarity of attention, but they also seem open and curious about other perspectives," he says.
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The practice of Shoshin is all about embracing your curiosity and viewing "not knowing" as a strength rather than a weakness.
Bhante Saranapala, a Buddhist monk and President & Founder of Canada: A Mindful Kind of Nation, explains the value of Shoshin to Shine with this metaphor:
"If the cup is already filled with water, then no matter how much water we pour, the cup cannot retain water. 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 so many preoccupations, such as unnecessary ideas, perceptions, memories, knowledge, etc., then no matter how much we teach, it will be a waste.”
So, how do we incorporate this into our daily lives? Here are some simple techniques to encourage your beginner’s mind.
No one knows everything—which is a great thing. With a beginner’s mind, it’s important to allow yourself to be willing to learn.
A great practice Nichtern suggests is initiating a conversation with someone you don't normally talk to—whether it's a co-worker, cashier, or subway companion. It's a way to actively be curious about the people, experiences, and perspectives around you.
An even easier practice: Challenge yourself to read an article about something entirely outside your wheelhouse or a piece written from a new perspective.
If it 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 more.
“Beginner's mind doesn't mean that you don't trust your experience or own intelligence," Nichtern says. "You can still trust those and remain curious without solidity or being rigid. 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 recapture curiosity and innocence.”
Notice Your Expectations
We tend to imagine the outcome of a particular experience or opportunity before it happens. Usually, this is a defense mechanism we use to protect ourselves, but in cultivating a beginner’s mind, it’s important to try to resist the temptation to assume.
When you send that text, e-mail, application, or put yourself out there for something, try not predicting the outcome. Instead, take time to wait and see. Meet your expectations with optimism and openness.
Practice Being Fully Present
A key part of Shoshin is fully arriving in the moment. A lot of times we go through the motions and don’t stop to really soak in all that we are experiencing. It’s important to take moments to yourself each day, if even for two minutes to pause and reflect.
You can do this through meditation or having a moment of silence to yourself to just breath and find clarity. Taking a step back is helpful in getting present in the now.
Seek Out Newness
It’s difficult to try something new every single 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.
If you commute one way to work each morning, try switching up your usual route, pocket the headphones, and take a look around as you head to where you’re going. You may notice something you didn't before, or at least feel delighted in the novelty of an old habit.
It might feel uncomfortable embracing Shoshin at first—and there's a reason: "We don't live in a very curious age, because it seems like we view not knowing as a weakness rather than a strength," Nichtern says.
But it's never too late to channel the curious spirit we had as kids—or, discover a new curious spirit now.
Today's recommended meditation:
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