A few weeks ago, I finally got to see my daughter and grandchildren in person for the first time since the pandemic began. What a lovely day! And what an interesting experience, before and after.
First, there was the very alien process of getting ready. I’ve been in sweats or shorts and flip flops or slippers for about 16 months. My only fashion experience over that time has been to grab the closest light-colored top because it looks better on Zoom and it hasn’t mattered whatsoever what was on the bottom or if it matched. And shoes! My shoes were actually coated in dust, so had to clean a pair before I could put them on. Then there was the purse issue. I’ve needed nothing but my driver’s license and a debit card for so long, it’s a complete habit to stick them in a pocket to run to a store. Wearing dress slacks for the first time in ages, I was horrified to realize I had no pockets. I’d have to use a purse to put my items in so that they weren’t scattered everywhere on the restaurant table. So bizarre.
Next was the drive. I haven’t used GPS in over a year, so it felt alien and distracting. Maneuvering through traffic felt strange and a little scary. Could I still do it, I wondered, as I had to cross three lanes in heavy traffic or make my way into a car pool lane and then again back out? And of course, there were all of the crazy drivers, cutting in front of people, speeding, swerving out of their lanes as they texted while driving. It felt pretty chaotic.
It took me a few minutes to realize that I was doing all of these mundane tasks mindfully. My brain was fully awake to what was previously habitual behavior. I had to consciously think through the most basic steps to activities that I never gave a thought to before the shutdowns.
I think it’s a surprising gift to recognize the most basic things that we took for granted pre-pandemic now require actual thought. That really got me thinking about all of the other things that we take for granted and certainly brought gratitude to the forefront of my mind.
It was a gorgeous day. I noticed everything about the drive to Long Beach. The temperature was perfect, around 75 degrees. The sky was blue with puffy white clouds and the beach was long stretches of sparkling white sand as far as I could see. The ocean, which I also haven’t seen for over a year, was glistening and beautiful.
Of course, none of that compared to getting to hug my daughter and grandchildren after this drought of family time. Had I begun to take hugs for granted back in the old days? The kids had actually grown many inches since the last time I saw them and I was relieved after the first few minutes to realize that even though they were taller, they were the same otherwise. My loving, fun and amazing grandkids. And to sit and have a meal with my daughter was again a very mindful experience, noticing her face, her mannerisms, the details of our surroundings. What was previously a routine experience, always enjoyable, but one that I had probably taken somewhat for granted was instead a brand new experience, which is when the mind lights up.
There’s a myth about mindfulness that is pretty wide-spread and that is that mindfulness means relaxing and zoning out. The exact opposite is true. Mindfulness is about waking up to the details of life, to noticing what’s happening inside and out. It’s about breaking out of our habitual patterns and noticing the real beauty in the details of life. Mindfulness and meditation provide the possibility of what is called a beginner’s mind.
Think of the first time you did anything. Rode a bike, saw an ocean, flew on a plane. You paid attention to the sights, sounds, smells, people and feelings. You fully experienced the experience. Then, since our brains are quite efficient, they started chunking these activities into habitual routines so that we don’t have to waste brain power thinking about them.
Unfortunately, that results in us losing the wonder and awe over these experiences and we do them completely routinely, no longer noticing those sights, sounds, smells, people and feelings, unless they are irritating in some way.
Beginner’s mind normally takes concerted effort to re-achieve. But re-emerging from a year plus lockdown makes it easy. Everything feels new again, so this is a fantastic opportunity to pay attention to what it feels like to pay attention again. To experience beginner’s mind. I have a laundry list of activities to enjoy through that state ahead of me. Going to the movies, the mall, museums, concerts, happy hour with friends, amusement parks with the kids, a hike in the mountains, maybe even a trip somewhere on a plane. What an amazing gift!
If you haven’t been in lockdown for the past year, you can still achieve beginner’s mind by setting an intention to pay attention. You can do this with any activity. Meditation helps strengthen our ability to keep our focus, so you may consider meditating before attempting this.
The process is simple. Choose an activity you normally do out of habit. Driving, filing, eating or any other activity that you can perform without really thinking about it. This time, pay attention to every detail. What can you notice around you? Really look at every detail of what you can see. As you perform the activity, notice your sensations. How does it feel, smell, taste?
Another way to practice beginner’s mind is to do something you’ve never done before or go somewhere you’ve never been. As you do so, notice how much more you notice. It is in the noticing that we build our mindfulness muscles.
I have been to Disneyland many, many times. I still remember the first time I took my small children to Disneyland and how magical it was. By the 20th time I visited over the years, I mostly noticed negatives – the crowds, the long lines, the heat and the expense. Then I took my young grandchildren for their first time and suddenly it was magical again. It was pure joy to watch their awe and wonder. I was able to share their beginner’s mind and it was absolutely delightful. You don’t have to go to Disneyland to experience this, but if you’re struggling with achieving beginner’s mind, try observing something as if you were a child. A hummingbird feeding at a flower, a tree swaying in the wind, a bustling restaurant, a meal with family.
The concept of a beginner’s mind is the development of a mindset that is willing to see everything as though it is for the first time. It is seeing the world as though we have the eyes and mindset of a child, without predisposed biases, opinions or judgments. Life is amazing when we really pay attention with a fresh perspective, so spend some time this week experimenting and experiencing life through a beginner’s mind. It not only makes our experiences richer, but you’ll probably find you have more joy and motivation as you go about your days.
Until next time. We can live better lives and create a better world. All it takes to get started is a mindful moment.
Meditation is the most effective technique to strengthen mindfulness. The key to experiencing the full benefits of this practice is to meditate every day, even if you start with just a few minutes and work your way up to 20 to 30 minutes per session over time. Consistency counts and the benefits are cumulative, so be kind to yourself and meditate daily. We have guided meditations to help you get started at work2liveproductions.com, but here are the instructions for a simple sitting meditation to get you started:
Sit comfortably with fit flat on the floor and hands on your lap. Close your eyes or soften your gaze and begin noticing your breath. Breathe normally, paying focused attention to each in-breath and out-breath. Notice every detail, from where you feel your breath in your body to the pace, depth and temperature as the air moves in and out. Each time your mind wanders away from the breath, simply return your focus to the breath. It is in this noticing that you’re building you’re mindfulness skills. Your mind may wander 100 times in just a couple of minutes and that’s normal. Each time you notice – that’s mindfulness.