The Beginner’s Mind at Work

by Benson Hendrix

Cup of tea
Image by moonlightbulb

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.” – Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki, “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind”

One of the concepts in Zen Buddhist philosophy is the idea of the “beginner’s mind.” This is the idea that people should approach a subject with excitement, an open mind, and no preconceptions, regardless of how much knowledge they have gained about a subject.

When someone gains experience and a certain comfort level with that expertise, they might run into the “expert trap.” Starting to think of themselves as “experts,” or “guru-ninja-superjedi-badasses.” Experience is a wonderful thing to have, and is necessary in both personal and professional growth. When it becomes closed-minded, there is the risk of prejudging a situation. When this happens, people can miss potential solutions that don’t immediately present themselves, or don’t match what their expertise tells them.

In an Internet age where everyone is considered an expert in something, how do you resist falling into this trap?

  • Mindfully look for opportunities to move out of your comfort zone, by trying something new (whether it’s a new strategy at work or a new hobby at home). Try to recapture what it’s like when you experienced something new, and keep that feeling with you when you start to fall into the “expert trap.”
  • Don’t stop asking “why can’t we do …?”
  • Failure will happen from time to time. Respect and remember the lessons you learn from it.
  • Don’t get bogged down by the tools. They are only important for helping you achieve your (or your organization’s) goals.

For a communicator, with the added benefit of the plethora of “social media” tools (from video to audio, and blogging to Facebook, livecasting and beyond), the toys for this childlike creativity have never been greater. The chances to mix and mash a unique way of telling your organization’s stories has never been easier (Don’t let the ease of these various tools take away from the primary goals of your project. What’s your ROI? How do you measure success?).

By keeping your options open, you are allowing yourself to best respond to the circumstances around you, instead of assuming you know how those circumstances will progress, or that you can bend outside forces to your will. When these feelings start to emerge, please take a moment to reflect on “The Cup of Tea”:

    One day a university professor visited a Japanese Buddhist Master to ask him about Zen. The master served tea to his guest. When the professor’s cup was full, the master kept pouring, spilling tea out of the cup and onto the table.

    “Stop! The cup is full!” the professor said. “No more tea will go in.”

    The master paused and looked at the professor.

    “Like this cup,” the master said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”

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Benson Hendrix is an Albuquerque-based public relations professional and perpetual student. When not pondering technology, public relations, social media, higher education and other topics at www.bensonhendrix.com, Hendrix can be found writing about rugby at www.rugbysupersite.com.

Happy Birthday to Beth Kanter, the Bodhisattva

A Roof for the Bell

Bodhisattva: Term for the historical Buddha Gautama prior to his enlightenment as well as for other individuals destined to become buddhas. In Mahayana Buddhism the bodhisattva postpones attainment of nirvana in order to alleviate the suffering of others. The number of bodhisattvas is theoretically limitless, and the title has been applied to great scholars, teachers, and Buddhist kings.

Today is Beth Kanter’s 53rd birthday. In an effort to honor one of our great leaders with a surprise, Tweetsgiving Founder Stacey Monk enlisted 53 bloggers to blog about the impact she has made in our lives. I was honored to be included in the group.

Why? Because Beth has made a tremendous impression on me over the past two years! I have been blessed to work on some cool projects with her. She has been a great teacher, friend and source of inspiration. I am grateful for each of our interactions, and often find myself contemplating her suggestions for a day or two afterwards.

Beth reminds me of a Bodhisattva, an enlightened one who dedicates their time teaching others the path. She teaches, trains, blogs, and constantly gives information to people who can use it for societal change everyday. Her endless excitement about both communications and nonprofits continues to astound me. And it’s contagious, too.

Unlike many of her other contemporaries similar in influence, Beth really embodies what The Cluetrain Manifesto Co-Author Doc Searls meant by the Generous Web. She gives for the sake of doing the right thing, and accepts whatever comes back as gravy. We could all stand to be a little more like Beth.

Happy birthday, Beth. You truly are one of the great ones.

Vacationing in the Rockies w/ Thich Nhat Hanh

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Once in a while you get to meet one of those people you greatly admire in life. Caitlin and I will meet Thich Nhat Hanh, a world reknowned zen master, this Friday in Estes Park, Colorado. He is hosting a retreat dubbed “Awakening Our True Potential – Mindfulness” at the YMCA there.

This retreat comes at the right time for me as I am struggling greatly to overcome some character defects, in particular, shortness of temper, impatience, etc. which seem to be my personal Achilles Heel. I find these defects ground themselves in reacting to the present (and how it either inspires fear and/or reminds me of the past). And before this turns into a self-wallowing post, let me say that I am also very aware of the assets I bring to the table and how they benefit others.

The greatest ways to confront the defects so far are developing enough awareness and presence of mind to pause and respond rather than react. Another critical aspect of this is taking care of myself so I am rested and capable of being pleasantly present for others. Road travel just wrecks me, and often I am unable to respond intelligently after successive trips.

And so as I work on this comes the retreat with one of the people whom I respect the most from a spiritual level. Thich Nhat Hanh wrote the greatest book on love that I have read, and his other works like Going Home: Jesus and Buddha As Brothers and A Guide to Walking Meditation have really helped evolve my spiritual awareness. What will I learn from Hanh and the monks from Plum Village?

I don’t know! LOL, but it’s sure to be enlightening and peaceful. There will be more insights not only on my personal agenda for the trip, but I am sure on other things I am not even considering. Openness and a willingness to explore new things represent the best course. With those attitudes in mind, new tools and insights will surely come. Ultimately, if I can be of better service to others as a result of this trip, I’ll be happy.

And what a beautiful place to have the retreat. We are sure to enjoy some great hikes and photography in Rocky Mountain National Park during our retreat. I’m looking forward to it!