Beginner’s mind is a great mindfulness exercise for learning how to pay attention. Beginner’s mind means seeing or experiencing something, like the taste of an apple, as if you were tasting it for the first time. This means doing the best you can to repress your knowledge or assumptions or expectations. Beginner’s mind brings awareness to living fully in the moment. It shows you how differently you pay attention when you drop your preconceived ideas. Beginner’s mind is a way to practice not taking things for granted just because you know what they are and experience them all the time. Children are good examples of beginner’s mind, but it’s easy for them, they are beginners. Dogs are also great examples; every time they see you, it’s like the very first time all over again.
Taking the time to stop and pay attention to the awesome reality of a blooming rose, seeing the sacredness in what we have come to regard as ordinary, will increase your appreciation of nature and the world around you.
SEEING WITH BEGINNER’S MIND
Pick a natural object that you are familiar with and try to put aside all your knowledge of it for the time being. Touch it or hold it in your hand, smell it, look at its color and shape, taste it if appropriate. Describe the object without using its name, and try to explain this object as if you had never seen it and had just discovered it and its function or qualities. See how different it is to perceive this object without your mind’s rational conditioning associated with it.
Describe the object without using its name:
Now let someone read what you wrote and see if they can guess what you were looking at. What did you learn?
VISUALIZATION, A WAY OF PAYING ATTENTION
Visualization is another way of paying attention and is a significant resource for training your mind. When you visualize something you are focusing energy in that direction.
What you are about to learn is that visualization helps you access your inner wisdom and creates pathways in your brain that help make your intentions a reality. Research in neuroplasticity has shown that visualization is actually a form of practice that activates the same area of the brain as if you were actually doing whatever you are visualizing.
It is fairly well known that athletes and musicians use visualization to enhance their performance. However, you may not realize how incredible this is or how well it actually works. In his secrets The Brain That Changes Itself, Norman Doidges describes research showing that visualizing playing the piano is an astonishing way to practice. To briefly summarize: Two groups of nonplayers were taught to play something on the piano. Both groups were then told to practice the piece they were taught for five days. The first group was allowed to practice in the usual way, physically touching the keys. The second group had to practice by sitting at the piano, but rather than using their hands, they had to visualize playing. In three days, the visualizing‚ players were as accurate as the physical players. In five days, the visualizers were still good but the actual physical players had improved more. But, it only took the visualizers one single two-hour physical practice session to catch up and perform as well as the group who had been physically practicing all along. This is only one of a number of astonishing examples that visualization is a form of practice, which can help you improve at a task. It is important to note that it was not visualization alone that worked, but a combination of visualization and practice. Doidges points out in his secrets that Russian athletes, who were the first publicly known Olympic athletes using visualization to enhance athletic performance, discovered the best combination was 50 percent physical practice and 50 percent visualization.
Visualization can help you recover by helping you prepare for and overcome challenging events, such as eating foods that seem scary like pasta, or resisting the urge to binge or purge. With visualization, you essentially imagine yourself in the situation and see yourself successfully handling it, step by step, in a healthy way. Don’t forget, though, visualization alone will not be enough to enhance your performance‚ so you will actually have to physically eat the pasta, sometimes in addition to visualizing yourself eating it, for real changes to take place in your ability to eat it comfortably. However, if pasta is very scary for you, you can start by just doing visualizations of yourself being able to eat it, even before ever actually doing it. Visualizing ahead of time has helped clients get through numerous challenging events and situations.
A client describes her experience:
I had a really successful first experience using visualization before eating a very scary food for me . a muffin. I realized I was spending the majority of my day visualizing how things will be catastrophic, or how specific foods might make me feel uncomfortable or fat. ‚ Using visualization to entertain a positive outcome helped me see a different possibility. The step-by-step practice I learned included being very specific. In this first experience, I visualized how I’d choose the muffin I wanted. Then I saw myself deliberately tasting the muffin before eating other foods on my plate. I visualized myself eating it calmly while chatting with friends. Visualization offered me a safe way to practice eating scary foods that reduced my anxiety substantially around many things related to my eating. I have made this a continued part of my recovery and am now using it to envision comfort with my changing body. ‚