Health questions often go hand-in-hand with extreme emotions. The intense feelings associated with an injury, a new diagnosis, or some other change in health status can make it difficult to feel confident about the questions you ask and the decisions you make in these situations.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by health-related issues, one way to begin managing the situation is with beginner’s mind. A familiar lesson from mindfulness practice, beginner’s mind can help almost anyone cope with the emotional turmoil and information overload associated with unexpected health news, big health changes, and significant health-related decisions.
What is beginner’s mind?
Beginner’s mind is like having a blank piece of paper inside your brain, ready to receive any and all information you choose to add. Beginner’s mind is a state of being that requires you to erase, or at least ignore, any existing knowledge or judgment about the situation or topic, retreat to your internal quiet space, and observe what you find there.
Follow these three steps:
- Temporarily set aside everything you think you know about the topic at hand— on purpose, just for a little while. This can be challenging, especially if you’ve achieved a high level of education, training, or expertise. However, it is as necessary as erasing a chalkboard to prepare for the next lesson.
- Perform an introspective activity to access your inner stillness. Whether the activity is meditating, journaling, painting, visualization, or something else, perform the activity without expectations. If this proves to be a challenge, don’t let it stop you: Let your expectation be that you’ll have no expectations.
- Observe your experience in the absence of expectations. Notice what comes up for you, no matter how profound or seemingly insignificant. Be aware of any partially formed thoughts, visual images, or sensations in your body.
Easier said than done…
Achieving beginner’s mind is not easy. The most difficult part can be temporarily setting aside what you already think you know. One way to get there is simply to state, “I don’t know.” Say these three words out loud with a heartfelt sense of curiosity, rather than a sense of desperation or hopelessness, and observe their power. Remain open to insights and new understandings will reveal themselves.
If your long-held knowledge, cherished beliefs, and strong opinions stand in your way, ask follow-up questions to step around them. Some examples include: How do I know this? Who told me? How did I first learn it? Where does this belief come from? What’s the worst that could happen if I set this belief/opinion aside for just a moment? What’s the best that could happen if I set this belief aside for a moment?
Try it for yourself.
Here’s some wisdom from a classic mindfulness training article called Beginner’s Mind:
“People don’t allow themselves this stance of “I don’t know” often enough. This is because we always know, or we always think we know. Most of the time when people think they know, they don’t really know at all. All they know are their past impressions of the situation that is happening now, the conclusions they came to on previous times, or judgments about similar events or circumstances that happened once upon a time.”
As you experiment with achieving beginner’s mind, notice any resistance or reluctance to let go of long-held beliefs. Notice what happens when you are successful with your experiments.
Why does beginner’s mind matter?
Beginner’s mind can serve as a starting point any time you want to explore new concepts, ideas, potentials and possibilities. In the vocabulary of mindfulness practice, the experiences that you self-observe are called “awarenesses.”
The Beginner’s Mind article offers insight into why thinking you already know something keeps you locked into a mindset that runs counter to health and wellness:
“Living with “I know” is a tremendous handicap that keeps us out of the present, and living in the past. It doesn’t allow us anything new, no surprises, no insights, no discoveries. It doesn’t allow us to unlock and understand any of the mysteries of the present moment, and it keeps us frozen in the judgments of the past.”
Beginner’s mind and health questions
When you apply beginner’s mind to your health, you’ll be able to ask better, more meaningful, health questions. Here’s an example of what that might look like in terms of how it helps you cope with unexpected health news.
Samantha was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes by her primary care provider today. Her grandmother was blind because of diabetes, and Samantha is frightened she’ll end up without sight in her elder years, too. Samantha left the doctor’s office in tears and refuses to take any medication. Samantha used beginner’s mind and came up with the following health questions:
- What do I already know about this condition? How do I know it?
- How do feel about my knowledge?
- If I had never heard of this disease before, how would I find out? What would I want to know? Who would I ask?
- What actions am I being asked to take? What actions do I want to take? What actions am I willing to take?
- What are my next steps? How do I feel about taking the next steps? How will I feel once the next steps are taken?
The health questions Samantha developed from beginner’s mind helped manage her emotions. From a more neutral perspective, she took ownership of her health, and gained the confidence to make positive changes.
Asking health questions with a beginner’s mind can help you improve the quality of the health questions you ask. Better questions lead to more relevant, targeted answers and better outcomes for your health.How might your health improve if you cultivated beginner's mind?Click To Tweet
How might your health improve if you cultivated beginner’s mind? Leave your answer in the comments section below.
Last updated: 5-3-2019