Sunday, 12 February 2017

初心 Sho Shin; Having a Learner's Mind Means Having an Open Mind

In the last post ("A Change in Perspective Can Reveal to Us Our True Teachers") I talked about how changing our perspective can have a positive impact on our training and our lives and how this change in perspective can help us see the lessons all around us. In this post I would like to share with you a quote by the late Dr. Wayne Dyer. A quote that has helped me to change my perspective and thus has already positively impacted my life this year. As the title of this post suggests this quote has to to with having an "open mind" I am relating this to the "beginner's mind" and how being in such a state can have positive impacts on how we approach such things as goal setting and the pursuit of set goals. The quote is as follows:
Have a mind that is open to everything and attached to nothing.

Like many things that Dyer wrote in his many books and said during his many public speaking appearances, many of which you can view on, this quote is simple, easy to remember, but very profound and applicable in a wide range of areas with regards to training and in life.

In this post I would like to share with you my interpretation as I deconstruct this quote and give you some examples of how applying this quote in my life has enriched my experiences this year. Applying this quote has also allowed me to let go of things that, in the past would have caused me a great deal of stress. One may even say that this quote is somewhat serendipitous in nature. Let me explain why.

We are all familiar with the concept of having an "open mind." But, open to everything? Being open to Everything seems like a pretty difficult state to be in all of the time. I consider this quote to be reflecting the Asian philosophies, and concepts of the importance of having 初心 Sho shin, a 'beginner's mind' which is rooted in Zen Buddhism. I have discussed such concepts in previous posts (See "Emptying your Cup and Filling it with Greatness" and "The Trinity of Proficiency in Karate Do: Technical, Cultural and Linguistic Ability").

(初心 Sho Shin Calligraphy by Author, 2017)

This idea of having an open mind is often likened to being modest and humble, while 'soaking in information' in a learning setting. I do believe that there is a humility needed in order to maintain an open mind in the sense that we must be aware that we do not know everything on any given subject and closing oneself to hearing other points of view is limiting. But, this humility in no way makes me feel subservient to any one who I am engaging with. I believe that every experience, every conversation, and especially every opportunity to reflect is an opportunity for growth. In our Karate-do training we often become very focused on the goals we set. In our focused state we often become very invested in our approach to achieving the goal. Sometimes we may even feel a sense of desperation in our pursuit of that goal, especially when we think that we are close to achieving it. This, that is to say that we want to reach the goal as fast as possible. I have come to realise that this desperation may actually be deterring us from achieving our goals.  In my personal experience as a school teacher, karate-do instructor, and a father of two this phenomena of becoming invested in the approach; the things we do to achieve the outcome, doesn't seem to occur in small children. They seem happy just experiencing the journey and are sometimes even upset by coming to the end of it. In this case, I am using the example of a small child to represent the pure sense of an 'open mind'.

I am not saying that we should not be invested in the pursuit of our personal goals, but I do wish to strongly suggest that the try to enjoy the process a little more and not try to rush it. The process of self-review and self-assessment are very important in this pursuit. We have to be constantly assessing and re-assessing what we are doing to make sure that we are moving in the right direction, doing the appropriate things that will continue to lead to successful outcomes and always remain open to trying new things; different approaches along the way. Children exemplify this mental flexibility in play. (Golstein, 2012) discusses this in Play in Children's Development, Health and Well-Being where he states, "... play during early childhood is necessary if humans are to reach their full potential" (p.3).

This brings us to the second part of the Dyer quote; developing mental flexibility to be able to detach from our preconceived outcomes. Just as improved physical flexibility allows joints to move more freely and with increased range of motion. Moreover, it has been proven that improved physical flexibility prevents injury to muscles and joints. Similarly, mental flexibility increases our potential for growth by moving more smoothly through our experiences and may even prevent injury. Let us consider in what areas improved mental flexibility will impact our lives?

One way, that I have found, to increase my mental flexibility has been to simply let go of what I expect to happen and live in the moment of the experience. Whether I am practising in the Dojo lifting weights in the gym, or cross training, I am always in the moment, but I also make it a point to reflect after every session and look for ways to improve. In this respect, I am not attached to any one exercise or approach to training more than any other. As a student I try to remain open to whatever is being taught and try not to form my personal opinion on the subject prematurely. But, the area in my life where I have really felt a positive impact after applying the principal of this quote has been in my relationships. I have found that I am the most stressed when I am trying to control the situation to the point of forcing it. In situations like this I can now feel myself becoming rigid, in my body and in my thinking. Have you ever felt this way? I am not suggesting that we totally give up taking control of all situations especially not when the flow of leadership comes to us naturally or when we are protecting the lives of others, but in these cases such control never seems forced, quite the opposite, it seems to flow even more smoothly. I am talking about having the capacity to assess when it is time to let go. When we develop this level of inner reflection and self-control, in my experience, the successes are still achieved, but with much less stress. It is in this way that someone with this capacity just seems to be in the 'Right Place' at the 'Right Time'; serendipity.

It is a difficult concept to grasp; achievement through letting go. In his best-selling book Man's Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl wrote about the pursuit of happiness and success, he very eloquently wrote:
Don't aim at success - the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one's dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one's surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long run - in the long run, I say! - success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think of it.

I will leave you with this. I really feel that I have a lot to think about and my changing perspective regarding my current life goals has brought with it many questions to consider. All I can do is search within and around me for answers and, as Frankl suggests, "listen to my conscience" and carry on.

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