The phrase ‘beginner’s mind’ is used in meditation and mindfulness as an encouragement to greet the present moment as if it was the first time we had experienced it. Of course it is, but we don’t often live as if it is.
When we are sat, meditating, the object of this intention is often the breath. To sit and experience the breath as if for the first time is to alert our senses to where and how we feel the breath in our body.
Its cool entry at our nose. The gentle rise and fall of our stomach. The subtle expansion of our chest. The sharpening of our senses brings us into the experience and roots us in the present moment. To expand this practice into other areas of our day and life supports our intention to be mindful.
This is all fine in theory. How about a practical example?
Green, green grass
Last week, on a dank day, I set out on my morning walk with my favourite hound, Monty. I was still a little sleepy and ambled along drab urban streets towards the park.
I entered the park, released the dog and wandered along the black slick path. I turned the corner onto a narrower path and was assaulted by greenness. I was dazzled. We often use the word vibrant to describe vivid green grass, but this was beyond vibrant. It was if the greenness saturation had been turned up to 11. The vigorous springtime growth was riotously vital. It was as if I saw grass for the first time.
That I had experienced a ‘beginner’s mind’ moment became clear 20 minutes later when I returned, after a circular walk, to the same point I had released Monty. The greenness was no longer dynamic.
My initial urban walk down to the park had starved my eye’s green receptors of their favourite colour. When I first saw the grass it was the first greenness for many hours. It assaulted me. Then when I returned to the same point my eyes had been soaking up the green of the park for 20 minutes. The sensory sensitivity had passed.
Developing Beginner’s Mind
The trick is taking this sensory experience and developing it in situations and environments that are familiar. This is a re-tuning of our senses. A conscious decision to notice. We may choose one particular sense to work with or simply remain open to what our senses reveal.
The very essence of this practice brings us into the moment, encouraging our presence within our current experience.
In photography this can be explored as part of a mindful photography practice. There are two potential approaches. Either we visit a place/location that is completely new to us or we cultivate our ‘Beginner’s Eye’ by visiting familiar territory. Both approaches provide the opportunity to cultivate a grounding in the present moment. To see what we see as if for the first time. Perhaps the latter practice, on familiar territory, provides deeper opportunities to cultivate a gratitude for the familiar; to ‘give the mundane its beautiful due’ (John Updike). Something that we can then take into other aspects of our life.
A Mindful Photography Practice
Choose a familiar location
Limit your area of observation to a 100 x 100 metre area
Spend 30 – 60 minutes slowly walking through this area, tuned into your visual experience
Tune into the colours, the shapes, patterns, lines and textures rather than the named objects