Beginner’s Mind

Beginners’ Mind
Alison-ChristianBoth St Benedict and the Buddha spoke of something called, “Beginners’ Mind”. St Benedict in his “Rule” wrote that however long we have been people who pray, we must always come to prayer as if we know nothing. It is so easy to think that knowledge is wisdom, learnt techniques of prayer, prayer itself. But prayer is about coming as openly and honestly to God as we can, it is about learning to “be still and know that I am God.” It is about understanding our utter dependence on God, “Without me you can do nothing.”

However, that isn’t as easy as it sounds. Our minds are often distracted and anxious in prayer. The great Dutch theologian, Henri Nouwen, wrote of a simple way of praying that had helped him over the years. When faced with a problem which filled his mind and heart and for which he didn’t know the answer, he would say, “Lord, I don’t know what to do about this….and I don’t have to.” In that, “I don’t have to,” was the moment of letting go and of letting God, of opening himself up to God and returning to “Beginners’ Mind.”

But “Beginners’ Mind” is not just an attitude for times of prayer. It is an attitude that we are invited to develop for our lives in general. The ego is always vying for the upper hand. Pride is our constant uninvited and sly companion. As soon as we learn something new, become “wiser in our own eyes,” most of us are tempted to vaunt our newfound knowledge and wisdom. What happens when we do that is that we close ourselves down to everything else. We are no longer open to that deeper place of receiving; we cease to see, to listen and to be aware of the Spirit moving deep within us and of others and their needs. We cease to have “beginners mind.”

St Aquinaus saw what he described as “the clear light” at the end of his life and decided that all his writings were as “chaff.” He became silent and never wrote again. Perhaps all his knowledge and wisdom in the end led him back to “Beginners Mind.”