Beginner’s Mind

“For things to reveal themselves to us, we need to be ready to abandon our views about them.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

I started using meditation to manage anxiety as a competitive tennis player in high school and one of the concepts that has stuck with me over the years is the idea of “beginner’s mind”. Beginner’s mind is the idea that each moment is new and that we are seeing things for the first time.

As a parent, it’s easy for me to make up stories in my head about the way that Olive and Hadley are, as creatures, based on all of the things I’ve experienced with them in the past. Two stories I tell myself that immediately come to mind are 1) Hadley is an outgoing climber bean eager to jump into any new environment and 2) Olive is great at tolerating high stress situations. 

But if that’s how I see my babies, then it doesn’t allow a lot of room for them to be different than that, for me to appreciate them the way they are, and for me to be their best advocate. Last week at swimming, I had to hold Hadley back from jumping into the pool. I was expecting that same eager baby today but when we got to the water she was clutching my bathing suit with a death grip. My first instinct – and honestly the first thing I tried to do – was to unlatch her from my bathing suit and to hold her out to let her kick around the water. As I tried to pry her tiny fingers open, she screamed at the top of her lungs and our incredible teacher encouraged us to take our time, offered tons of toys for her to play with, and ultimately met us exactly where we were. Beginner’s mind. By the end of the lesson, Hadley didn’t want to leave the pool deck.

I could tell a hundred stories like this about Olive, too: e.g. “last week she was an agility rockstar, this week she was spooked by a jump”, “last week she did tricks at a construction site, this week she barked her brains out when someone knocked on our door”.

In the same way that I try not to compare Hadley and Olive to other babies and dogs, I’m trying to be selective in how I compare them to themselves, so that I can always show up for them the way that our swim instructor showed up for us today.

I’m super curious: have you had any similar experiences with any of your babies? I’d love to hear!

(You’ll find tons of videos on Beginner’s Mind from Thich Nhat Hanh, Andy Puddicombe of Headspace, and others, but this 3 minute video with Jon Kabat-Zinn exactly addresses what I wrote about above).

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