Thursday, February 25, 2010

Fairy Eyes, Beginner's Mind

It started on Sunday with a dear friend and an afternoon walk.  The girls wanted to wear fairy wings, so with their wands in the air, we set out in search of bits, bobs, and lost things to use for building a fairy garden.

The lot next door to our house is empty but for trees, rocks, and wild grasses.  To one set of eyes, a vacant lot is just empty space.  To another, it's a wonderland of secret treasures.  Having kids helps us keep our fairy eyes open... it's that ability to see things with a beginner's mind, with "an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconception," that creates opportunities for learning, growth, and self-awareness.  This is one of the guiding principals of our at-home education:  beginner's mind.

Shunryu Suzuki's book Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, reflects a saying of his regarding the way to approach Zen practice: "In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, in the expert's mind there are few."  I think this is the best way to approach just about everything.  When our ideas are already formed, there's no room for anything new... no room for anything magical or full of wonder.

In a wonderful lecture, Beginner's Mind, Abbess Zenkei Blanche Hartman defines beginner's mind as, "...the mind that is innocent of preconceptions and expectations, judgments and prejudices. Beginner's mind is just present to explore and observe and see "things as-it-is." I think of beginner's mind as the mind that faces life like a small child, full of curiosity and wonder and amazement. "I wonder what this is? I wonder what that is? I wonder what this means?" Without approaching things with a fixed point of view or a prior judgment, just asking "what is it?"  

Our world is one where knowing things is held in the highest regard.  Our schools function to test and measure minds and our children are pushed to memorize and repeat facts.  But what about preserving their ability to see things as they are?  What about nurturing their ability to build on ideas of their own?  Isn't this just as valuable (or maybe even more valuable) than the ability to remember things?

I think a child's mind is more than a bowl to fill... more than a receptacle for the things our society deems important.  If we spend all of our days filling up their heads with ideas, then what happens to the ideas of their own?  Equally important to learning about the world from a teacher's or an adult's perspective is seeing the world from a child's eyes.  

We filled a basket with treasures and have been working on our fairy garden all week.  We're practicing wearing our fairy eyes and seeing things just as they are, without prior judgment.  

With practice, we begin to see other aspects of our lives with this mind.  We lose our prejudices and notice that the world is full of wonder and magic.  It's here, in this spacious awareness, that we become free.
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