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Beginner's Mind

It happens every time I teach mindfulness meditation: someone thinks they’ve done it “wrong”. I don’t mean “wrong” in my opinion, but in theirs. Somewhere, somehow, people have gotten the idea that meditation is some magical state, achieved by the most perfect of meditators, where the mind is blank and absolutely everything is tranquil and calm. Have you ever had this thought or experienced what you perceived was doing it “wrong”: instead of a peaceful, quiet mind you experienced constant thoughts about the past and/or future, disturbing emotions, alarming imaginations and, basically, inner chaos?

If you have experienced such things, no worries: you are normal AND you are doing it “right”. Mindfulness meditation is about being in the present moment, on purpose, with awareness. The gift in mindfulness meditation is being able to “be here now” or to be aware, non-judgmentally, of what is occurring for you. Awareness is the key and acceptance is the next step. Once you become aware of your thoughts, feelings and sensations, you have the opportunity to accept your experience, non-judgmentally. And if you find you are judging what is occurring, again, you are normal! Simply notice the judgmental voice and continue being aware. We are well taught to be critical and judgmental – and this skill is appropriate at times, but not when it comes to self-acceptance. So, begin learning to leave judgment to an acceptable time and place and continue being aware and allowing “what is” to be noticed.

Having a beginner’s mind in meditation is important: each moment is new and each moment is the only moment we have. As the poet Rumi says: “Welcome and entertain them all!” In his poem, “The Guest House”, he is referring to all thoughts and emotions, particularly the unwanted ones. With a spirit of graciousness, stop for a moment and notice: what is here, now? Can you welcome any thought, any feeling, as if you were the owner of a guest house and as if each thought and feeling were to be welcomed as a guest arriving? As if each moment was a chance to begin again? Why not give it a try?

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

Jellaludin Rumi,
translation by Coleman Barks

If you’re ready to give meditation a try, I invite you to listen to the meditations I offer – you can download them free.

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