Beginner’s Mind means I’m much more interested in a person who’s not afraid to say, “I don’t know” than those who “know” they have every facet of life all figured out.
My truth is, some questions have multiple answers. And some questions have no answers at all, not yet anyways. Not until humankind catches up and figures a few things out. Take the secret of quantum physics, for example. It was the brilliant Columbia University theoretical physicist and string theorist Brian Greene who said it’s possible the human mind is not capable of understanding all the complexities of quantum physics. Perhaps our brains lack the one critical component to fitting all these pieces together, in order to find the missing link to understanding.
My brother, also an scientist, tells me that science is magic. He says many things that used to be considered magic were ultimately found to have simple scientific explanations. He believes that some day, science will explain everything that humans still marvel at. Like ghosts, for instance. It’s just possible that some of us can simply see across dimensions. Or extra-terrestrials. They may be us, having learned the secrets to time-travel, coming back a few centuries to study our primitive selves.
I actually enjoy my brother’s musings on the possibilities of science. They’re creative. At least he’s making an attempt to make sense of things without saying, “they don’t exist but in the minds of crazy people.” That, I believe, is a lazy way of navigating this enormous universe. I don’t respect the art of constantly searching for short-cuts.
There are those who believe that today, in this moment, all of the truths of the universe have already been revealed. They believe that anything that stands outside of that understanding is just a.) crazy, b.) non-existent, c.) heretical.
In hundreds of years we really haven’t changed much in this regard. It wasn’t too long ago when we burned people for believing the earth was round, ruined those who believed the planets rotated around the sun, and institutionalized the guy who believed that something called germs might possibly be the cause of the astronomical percentage of nosocomial deaths.
To me, there is nothing so uninteresting as cynicism. Those who believe they have everything all figured out have little to offer my insatiable curiosity. I am infinitely interested in those who aren’t afraid to say, “I wonder”. And it’s widely understood that the “I wonder” types make creative and intuitive scientists. Intuition and science make sexy dancing partners.
Through all of this, I’m constantly enamored by Beginner’s Mind, a Buddhist term for opening to wonder. It’s about taking all of the information in and sitting with it, feeling it, before lobbing a judgment or an explanation (and sometimes a ludicrous explanation) like a hand-grenade, into the arena of thought. Beginner’s Mind is about actually listening to what other people say and think, knowing we have something to learn from every human on the planet, no matter who they are. Beginner’s Mind is modest and humble.
I think the world needs less closed-minded bravado and more Beginner’s Mind.
In my own life, I had to learn this the hard way.
Seven years ago I underwent a colossal mind-shattering transformation. Called a Spiritual Emergency in the form of a spontaneous shamanic initiation, I instantaneously lost my perception so completely I thought I was going to literally die. To illuminate the severity of what I went through, I didn’t know what my hand was on the end of my arm. I gaped at it like some kind of horrifying starfish alien had attached itself to my body. This total break from reality lasted for months while my new brain formed another unique world-view, one more creative and open-minded. Suddenly for me, the entire world became a terrifying freak-show of wonders. Gone was the closed mind I had spent so long and so hard cultivating. In scientific terms, my exhausted and over-worked left-brain completely checked out for awhile while my previously neglected right-brain stepped in and created a whole new reality for me. (Watch Jill Bolte Taylor’s incredible Ted Talk for an idea of what I went through– without the massive stroke.)
I wrote a book about this odyssey, currently in the editing stage. It’s truly wilder than fiction.
I understand that everything I experienced through my own spiritual emergency, my own personal hero’s journey of the soul, may have a perfectly credible scientific explanation. I know the brain is a wondrous thing, capable of so much we don’t have words for. To me, it doesn’t much matter. Anything that allows us to transcend the banal into the realm of the unexplained, divine mind-blowing phenomena, without the use of drugs, is magic to me.
About a year after my psycho-spiritual odyssey took place, my life was completely changed. I was now living in a tiny mountain village in northern New Mexico, traveling to California for my master’s degree in psychology. One beautiful summer day, I turned off my laptop and set it on the couch, tired of writing yet another paper on transpersonal theory. I could barely keep my eyes open; I needed a nap. I made my way upstairs to my cozy bedroom with sea-foam colored walls and white chiffon curtains gently exhaling and inhaling in the mountain breeze. I lay down on my bed, peaceful, and was out in seconds.
I had the most amazing dream. Angels filled my bedroom and were standing around my bed, playing ethereally beautiful music. They were singing, but it didn’t sound like human voice. It sounded like a stream flowing with cascading musical droplets made of crystal… delicate, exquisite. There were harps. Of course. They were angels after all.
When I woke I felt like I had been infused with an energy so pure, like I had injected multi-colored joy straight into my veins, a rainbow angel junkie. I had such clarity, everything just made sense. I went back downstairs and finished my paper, thinking, wow, awesome nap, and not much more.
That night Aaron came home from work and asked me how my meditation was.
Meditation? I hadn’t meditated. I asked him what he was referring to?
“I came home for lunch,” he said. “You weren’t downstairs. But from upstairs I heard loud music. It sounded really beautiful. Harps? I assumed you were meditating to it. I didn’t want to disturb you. So I just listened and left.”
My mouth fell open, my jaw dropped. How did he hear my dream?
I had no explanation. There were no electronic devices upstairs that played music. Not even a cell phone. But by that time, it was just one more phenomenon I hadn’t the ability to make cognitive sense of. It was my new reality.
So, I let it go. I didn’t try to force an explanation.
I just said, “Thank you”. To whomever was listening. And I meant it, with all of my heart.
It felt good to leave it at that.