Maintaining the “Beginner’s Mind” in Mindfulness Meditation Practice


~ Shunryu Suzuki 

As you advance your meditation practice, there is an important concept in Zen Buddhism called the “beginner’s mind” that must be continuously applied. The beginner’s mind is an attitude that is open, non-striving, and free of expectations. For example, let’s say you’ve completed 1000 hours of mindfulness meditation. In mindfulness meditation, you are consciously building awareness of your thoughts, emotions, and body sensations with full acceptance of the current experience. After many years of practice, you soon get to know your thought patterns and emotional responses very well. You eventually come to intimately understanding of how your body reacts to different circumstances. You also find that even though the instructions for practicing mindfulness meditation involve an attitude of not attempting to change your emotional experience, that it usually does anyways, in a positive direction.

Maintaining a beginner’s mind means that even if you are doing your 1001th mindfulness meditation practice, you resist saying “these thoughts and emotions are going to occur, because that’s what has happened the last 1000 practices.” You must welcome the idea that ANYTHING can pop up in your mind sphere. You must acknowledge that your thought patterns and emotional responses can change over time, since our brains are plastic (and not so ironically, meditation changes the brain too). You also must remember to not expect a certain effect (e.g. distress reduction), even it provided you with this the last 1000 times, because mindfulness meditation is inherently about accepting what is.

Without application of this attitude, advanced practitioners may find hindrance in their practice by: (1) intentionally thinking and feeling certain things only because it is expected, rather than to investigate what is actually occurring, and (2) feeling disappointed when a mindfulness practice doesn’t provide emotional relief. Thus, the beginners mind must be maintained to truly advance and deepen your meditation practice.