When learning something new we often try to fit unfamiliar information into an existing frame of reference. This may be an honest attempt to try to understand, or perhaps to build rapport with the speaker, and it is often successful to a degree. But the residue of what is already in our cup commingles with the incoming new stream and does not allow us to receive it without some level of influence, just as our preconceptions color our experience to the point where understanding may become inaccurate. Think about the parable of the six blind men attempting to comprehend and describe an elephant. The one touching the leg thought it was like a pillar, the man at the tail thought it was like a piece of rope, and the guy at the trunk insisted it was like a tree branch. While they were all correct from their perspective, they all missed the true essence of the elephant.
Shoshin is a Buddhist concept that translates as 'beginner's mind'. It is a state of grace characterized by openess, freedom from preconceptions, creativity and enthusiasm. It invites us to open to a new experience and new knowledge from a child's perspective of curiosity and wonderment. No judgement, no comparison to what we already know, no attachment to limiting beliefs about our ability to do something, just a joyful willingness to learn and be transformed by the process.
One way to cultivate beginners mind is to approach new information with an attitude of 'Isn't that interesting?' and to become the observer who takes time to explore without expectation or judgement. Before you jump into thinking that you know something, ask questions and truly look with all your senses at what is before you. While the unconscious mind tends to seek certainty in its ongoing quest for survival, we can consciously choose to reaffirm our intention to be curious rather than opinionated. Many of us have been taught to think that not knowing means we are inadequate in some way, that we need to have correct answers in order to be loved, but perhaps it is in the opening to knowing and learning that we become more loving to ourselves and others.
"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities;
in the expert's mind there are few".