Last year, Yo-Yo Ma released (as part of Audible’s ‘Words + Music’ initiative) Beginner’s Mind. It’s 90 minutes of personal memoir and exclusive musical recordings. In it, Ma shares “four stories of beginnings” and the lessons he’s gained over decades pursuing meaning, connection, and shared purpose.
In this project, Ma set out to explore the key set of influences and experiences that shaped how he sees the world. Ma’s words are paired with new musical recordings, ranging from Bach to compositions from Argentina, Brazil, China, Lebanon, and Turkey. The new recordings are exclusive and do not appear on any other release.
Ma’s stories ask each of us “to strip away preconceptions and reclaim a beginner’s mind…one open to new questions, new connections, new explorations, and unexpected answers.”
I highly recommend Beginner’s Mind, which is available for FREE to all U.S. listeners. It’s a big dose of inspiration and a call to reflect on our values and influences.
It made me think, wouldn’t it be great if more musicians spent time reflecting on and articulating their own defining stories, and then paired these with curated recordings and performances?
And there’s more to be gained from this idea. On an extremely practical level, the concept of the Beginner’s mind can be an excellent tool for staying sane and engaged in these uncertain times.
How can you tap into your own beginner’s mind to connect to your best self?
The Zen Buddhist concept of the Beginner’s Mind is connected, for me, with having a daily practice, whether it’s meditation, yoga, qigong, or journaling.
With qigong, for instance, the daily practice involves ongoing refinements and nuances to a set of exercises that improve your balance, energy, posture, and focus. It takes commitment to confront your own inner challenges each day. Because every day you feel as though you need to unlearn and then relearn many of the same lessons. You need to begin again. It’s humbling.
Just like music.
Or for that matter, just like teaching, coaching, or any other life-long discipline. We aim to become ever more skilled, ever more truthful, and to find ever more meaning.
The Beginner’s Mind: what is it really?
It’s about being:
Open to change
Willing to explore new challenges
Ready to let go of our old assumptions
Willing to be embarrassed, to feel slow, and to begin again.
Of course, when you are closer to being an actual beginner (as I am with qigong and yoga), it’s not such a stretch. But when it’s work we’ve been doing a long time, it’s a challenge to let go of our pride, set aside our ego, and reconnect to the mindset of someone new to the game.
“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.”
— Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki
How to activate your Beginner’s mind . . . in the practice room
To listen to yourself with fresh ears and a new perspective . . .
Devise a new warm-up routine: Dare yourself to try new approaches.
Tackle that special repertoire you’ve always wanted to try but have avoided.
Use a practice journal to be more intentional and specific with your practice time.
Set small goals for short time segments—use the Pomodoro technique.
Record / video your practicing. Listen first for what’s working well and build on the positive.
Assess your physicality as you play or sing, looking for ways to release tension and to more directly convey your musical intent.
Ask a colleague to listen to you and give you feedback. Be open and curious.
Practice mindfulness, be fully present.
. . . in teaching
To become more creative and engaging:
Ask more questions to understand your students’ process.
Notice where they get stuck in applying ideas and skills.
Notice your “go to” interventions—your habits.
Challenge yourself to respond in new ways. Expand your toolkit.
Experiment with at least one new mini exercise to get your students:
listening in new ways
setting goals for practice sessions
In teaching, using the beginner’s mind is about being in sync with your student learners. It’s about focusing on the process, taking one step at a time, and being tuned in to how students process new ideas and skills. That way, we can keep learning alongside our students.
. . . in mentoring or coaching
In using the Beginner’s mind in my own work, it comes down to understanding how a client is viewing their own situation.
This requires Active Listening as opposed to making assumptions and using a one-size-fits-all approach.
I want to understand how the world looks from my client’s perspective, in order to offer the tools and feedback that are most helpful.
This means gaining clarity about their goals, motivations, and perceived obstacles.
Once we have clarity, the action steps and the journey ahead comes into focus. And once the journey is started, we work on getting past the inevitable obstacles that arise.
Mantras to help dial into your Beginner’s mind
Don’t get it perfect: just get it going.
One step at a time: just focus on the next step. Learn as you go.
Lose yourself (your ego) in the action.
More tips here:
Beginners Mind: The Art of Starting Over
And if you’d like expert coaching to help you activate your best self and move forward in your career, check out my offerings HERE.
Dream Big, Plan Smart, Live Well