The Beginner’s Mind: Podcast Episode #001



What is The Beginner’s Mind?

It’s all about letting go of preconceive notions that we have about ourselves and that others may have of us, and giving ourselves full permission to suck. It’s the notion that approaching something as a true beginner paradoxically sets the stage for greater progress then if we were to approach the same activity with the mentality that says, “I have to be a pro, or an expert”or just “take this seriously.”
Those thoughts can be stifling, limiting. Nothing crushes childlike curiosity more that an adult sense of obligation, and preservation of appearance as someone who knows what they are doing. – It’s about throwing all that out the door, casting aside any preconceived notions of how we think things are supposed to be, and just being comfortable with NOT knowing anything….
 – words of wisdom from Toby McGuire
The Beginners Mind enables us to move from the fixed to the growth mindset and paves the way for enthusiasm which is really the driving force for accomplishing anything. It’s about Flipping the script and shifting the focus from outcome to process.
Everything we care about comes from consistency of practice (for better or for worse). Everything, positive or negative, from success at work to six-pack abs, or obesity to cancer, happens by process – not event. Barring a cataclysmic or a lottery winning event,  We don’t just wake up in a radically different state of happiness, health or wealth. Most of what we want comes very slowly over a long period of time.
The greatest lesson I’ve learned to date, is that we, by our intention and the practices that follow, can strongly influence the direction into which we proceed…
Everything in the known universe is trending either toward regenerate or degeneration, function or dysfunction, health or disease. What matters ultimately, is direction. Therefore, we must, recognize this fact, choose our direction, set our course, and love process.

It’s all about the Journey!

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last human freedom – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. – Victor Frankle

Why this podcast? Why now?

Human beings, as far as I know, are the only species capable of contemplation. It’s said that history isn’t formed by causes and effects, but by challenges and responses. In any given situation, we have the ability to pause, reflect, and ultimately decide what to make of it. The hard part is reminding ourselves of this ability and using it on the spot.
But there are two states in which we do this automatically… one is when we’re enlightened (we’ve mastered the game of life), and our ability for discernment has been so finely tuned as to be ever-present and near perfect. But this could take several lifetime’s to achieve, literally. The other, is when we’re beginners. If you remember what it was like as you were learning to drive, you had to pause, adjust this and that, remember all the steps, come to a stop sign, assess the situation, choose how to proceed, etc.
I’m doing this podcast because there have been many times in my own life when I can recall feeling a sort of pressure to be perceived as, and to portray myself as an expert, or a professional of some kind or another. There’s nothing inherently wrong with expertise, if you have it with regards to a particular subject. The problem arises when you step outside your comfort zone and try to go beyond you current areas of expertise. This is where the fear of looking stupid (I think it’s called “stupidaphobia”) gets the best of us, stifles our enthusiasm, and blocks us from just being curious learners. – You can’t maintain the appearance of a pro or an expert and go dancing for the first time, and expect to not look stupid. In fact that harder you try to act like you have it all together, the dumber you look.
And for anyone who’s felt that same way and then tried to take on something new (a new challenge at work, learning a new skill, attempting a new creative project) which, by the very definition of “newness” you’re not likely going to be any good at, at first – You may have felt like you were butting heads with yourself. – On the one hand, your inner Self (true Self) has this passion and curiosity that you really want to follow. And on the other hand, the ego has a vested interest in keeping up appearances. Now you have to make a choice: Do you stifle your passion to preserve the ego? Or do you follow your curiosity, and accept yourself as the beginner you are?
If the journey of a thousand miles begins with a one step – adopting the beginner’s mind is the key to dissolving any pressure so that first step can be taken.

“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” – Mark Twain

“The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of a doubt, what is laid before him.” – Leo Tolstoy

Episode #001 – notes

Mindset – Fixed vs Growth – People with a fixed mindset—those who believe that abilities are fixed—are less likely to flourish than those with a growth mindset—those who believe that abilities can be developed.
    • Beginners mind = the growth mindset and paved the way for enthusiasm which is some is lost but now believe is essential for accomplishing anything. It’s also about shifting the focus from outcome and achievement to reclaiming joy in the process. Most of the things we want in life, I believe, come very slowly over a long period of time. Not in one event. Therefore, we must cultivate our love for the process.
    • “Or you got it, or you aint” – Mel brooks —> might apply to some things for example physical capabilities (.e.g arthritic tennis player vs young gun) —> The beginner’s mind / growth mindset may not enable you to transform any situation, but it could illuminate ways to transcend it, overcome what otherwise would hold us back for sure.
    • Practical application for viewing something old in a new way fresh eyes? – In the creative arts – Acting, singing, people go through this process of trying things in all different ways most of which are bound to be silly and bad – you would never perform it that way. But after scrambling your conception how how you think it should look, sound or feel, you then free yourself for authentic self-expression. e.g. sing it like Donald Duck, now high now low, super fast, really slow – NOW, do it like yourself. Enables you to move forward in your own unique way
  • Benefits – It’s stoic in a way – to approach things you’ve experiences 1000 times as if it where your first time. Like Reasoning from first principles – it allows you to experience the activity for what it is is .e.g. eating plain food mindfully
  • Its also a reaction to the growing fetishizing of “eliteness” and trying to be “world class” – even if it means choosing a niche so minuscule as to be meaningless (e.g. holding the world record in tango spins) – Much of this is for the ego and media attention. BUT – I now believe that to make true progress in the areas of life we really care about, there is no room for ego, we MUST adopt a beginners mind and allow ourselves to start again, to look like fools, to progress at a rate that does not try to ‘hack’ or outsmart nature. Just as you cannot have a baby in less than 9 months – you cannot hack what is and always will be a natural process – learning. Sure you can do it in a smart way without taking too many side-roads. But the path is the path. To hack it is to compromise that which you are truly aiming to acquire

First Principles: The Building Blocks of True Knowledge

12 Characteristics of a beginner:

  1. Playful
  2. Present
  3. Goalless (but not aimless) – “not all who are wandering are lost”  – no expectation of a set or specified outcome.
  4. Enthusiastic
  5. Loving – in resonance
  6. Passionate
  7. Considerate
  8. Empathetic
  9. Uplifting & uplifted
  10. Light hearted (wears the world with a light cloak)
  11. Ageless – age has no meaning, is not given any thought or consideration, has no relevance, and does not exist (in that space)
  12. Timeless – flow
There is one other state in which someone could embody the same characteristics and that is when he/she is an enlightened master. —> If we think of beginner and master as being two points on a continuum and recognize that the continue is cyclical (we’re always be going through cycles of nearly mastering one thing and being a beginner in another perspective (students, teachings, spouses, parents, employees, employers, etc) – Then Master and Beginner are infinitely close to each other.

 Master <——————> Beginner

On the Master and the Beginner

The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence at whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him, he is always doing both.

On the journey in-between:

We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. – T.s. Eliot



10 years ago I collapsed into bed seeing spots… 3 years later, I got up. Since then it’s been a long road to recovery, followed by long hours and commutes to work in midtown Manhattan (5+ years behind a desk).

More recently, I started my own business, got married, lived in Spain, and just this summer stepped back into gym to train, and the water to surf. All the while I experienced a strange and, not entirely pleasant feeling – that of being AN ABSOLUTE BEGINNER IN VIRTUALLY EVERY ASPECT OF LIFE.

My first instinct was to resist. I’d try and ‘hack’ my way to: building a business; learning Spanish; being a good partner; and getting in shape.

I couldn’t.

Now I am pursuing the only option I believe I have. Perhaps the only option we all truly have. 10 years ago I was turning 25, I had my whole youth ahead of me. In recent times it’s felt like “where’d my youth go?” – I’m not on a mission to get it back nor ‘make up for lost time.’ I can’t. Rather, my aim (if I have one) is to embrace myself as the ultimate beginner I am. And to enjoy this process of learning.

– Ben


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *