Approaching something with a preconceived notion of how it will turn out alters the experience and limits the possibility of new outcomes. The ego mind, the part of us that is attached to being right in order to survive in the physical world, will often make assumptions about a situation and then set out to prove them true. For example, if we have had an experience that leads us to conclude that horses are dangerous, our expectations will have us looking for things to be fearful of when we are around horses. We may misinterpret a horse's behavior to fit our beliefs and miss the equine beauty, strength, and intelligence because we are busy trying to protect ourselves from our own fearful imaginings. And if the object of our projected fear is sensitive to it, the outcome may indeed prove self fulfilling.
The Zen story of the blind committee members each examining a portion of an elephant and coming to very different conclusions as to the nature of the beast further illustrates how thinking that we understand something limits our ability to truly understand it. The "been there, done that" concept of believing we can know the bigger picture from our small piece of limited experience leaves us with a conception of reality that is not accurate in terms of the whole picture. Cultivating Beginner's Mind can encourage us to open our awareness and allow the experience of the present moment without trying to fit it into the box of the past.
When we recognize that our ego mind has taken charge of a situation we can then choose to inhibit those limiting thoughts and redirect our spirit to expand awareness, to inquiry and exploration instead of knowing and being right. If we ask questions and listen to the answers with curiosity and appreciation, we can explore the different points of view held by others in the situation. In the example above, we could put ourselves in the shoes of the horse and imagine his perspective. In a conflict with a friend, we could become willing to see things through their eyes for a few moments. We could even think about the thoughts of an impartial observer to stretch our awareness and options. Instead of trying to confirm what we already think we know, we can become curious about new and different experience. We can choose to become willing to empty our cup to make room for new information.
In the words of the Zen master Shunryu Suzuki, "In the beginners mind there are many possibilities. In the expert's mind there are few." One of my teachers used to say the same thing another way: "If you keep on doing what you've always done, you'll keep on getting what you always got". By allowing a new viewpoint and a clearer understanding of ourselves, Beginner's Mind can transform setbacks into something positive. If we accept responsibility for our disappointments and can look at our own limitations without judging them, we can glean a clearer understanding our ourselves that allows us to create new and more desirable experiences instead of repeating the old ones.