In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's mind there are few. "
― Shunryu Suzuki
I used to think I knew stuff. All sorts of stuff. So much so that as soon as someone attempted to tell me something I would cut them off with a quick, Yeah, I know that! Then I'd launch into a me-centered story proving my vast knowledge of the subject at hand. I did this sort of thing enough times to recognize when it's being done to me.
Just the other day I was excited to explain something I had recently learned and a friend of mine cut me off mid-sentence with that familiar, Yeah, I know that! But the thing is, I didn't even complete the thought. So what he thought he knew, I have no idea, because it hadn't been shared yet. Not only did he know all about it, he also knew what it was before I even spoke of it. Before a flood of immediate annoyance washed over me, I took a deep breath and looked at my friend. I recognized myself in him. I often thought I knew what I didn't know and I was eager to tell anyone with ears, all about it.
Sure, we do actually learn things in life. We then might even begin to grasp these things on a substantial level and feel that we really do know them. We might even become an expert on a given topic. Obviously gaining knowledge isn't a bad thing. The desire to know is a worthy goal. With our knowledge we can do many things. We can get things done efficiently, build bridges, learn a skill and help others. But, there's a high probability, that for the most part, we are not all know-it-alls. We are, at best, know-it-somes. And there's something to be said for taking a pause before we leap into showing off everything (we think) we know.
In Buddhism they talk about the benefits of having a beginner's mind. It's a state of mind that can help us see the same things in a different way, as if we are seeing them for the very first time. A way of approaching things with our mind open, like an empty glass with plenty of space to be filled by new possibilities. Imagine a mind free of preconceptions and judgements. As if our mind was like a little kid full of wonder with a boat load of questions. What does this do? How is this like that? Why?
I enjoy experimenting on my own mind with self inquiry so I asked myself if I could do away with my, I've already done that and I already know that approach for awhile, to see what happens. Besides, there are a lot of things I've already done that I do again, on purpose. I listen to my favorite song more than once. (Donovan's, Happiness Runs ) Watch my favorite movie over and over again (Harold and Maude) And what about love? I mean, think about it, you may have known love before but you haven't known it with this new person that you're now with. How can you give them, and yourself, a fighting chance if you think you already know how the entire story will turn out?
So, in the spirit of not-knowing, I recently signed up for an eight week course that I had already completed just a month earlier. It's not as if I failed the first time around or that I didn't pay attention. I simply chose to do it all again with a beginner's mind. No big whoop, right? Not right. Whenever the teacher began to teach me something I had recently learned I felt my knowing ego mind get restless. I could feel my forehead tightening and a bored agitation forming. Ugh, I already know this stuff! I could feel myself getting wrapped up in the story of why did I sign up for this? I could be doing so many other things with this time! I could be learning something new! I could... I should...... But I soon recognized my spinning mind and took a slow, deep breath and gently told myself, Shhh, not now. I'm listening. I had to keep doing this until finally the agitation lessened and then the coolest thing happened. Even though this teacher was speaking the same words that I had heard before, I was hearing them differently. Turns out, with my new, wide-eyed eager to learn approach in this unique moment, I was able to take in different information. My capacity to learn felt like it was expanding inside of me. Like that empty glass, I made space for newness. The act of making that space available within myself felt like wisdom at work and I had no intention of interfering with that.
Try putting your expertise on hold in any given situation. When a friend tells you about their pain, try just listening patiently instead of waiting for a break so you can jump in and compare your pain to theirs. We often hand out our own life sample snippets in an attempt to advise another, and that could be helpful at times, but what might do the trick in a deeper way, could be to simply listen.
If you're currently going through something similar to what you've gone through in the past, remind yourself, that was then and this is now. Now, there's just no telling what will happen. And maybe that's a good thing.
Maybe you're leaving the door open for new discoveries and new possibilities.
Maybe what you thought you knew wasn't the truth.
Maybe it's a relief to let go of the need to have all of the answers.
Maybe knowing that you don't know is the best knowing of all.
But, then again, you probably already knew all of this.