“Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes.”
I just started knitting a couple of months ago. Two wonderful students taught me how. I have to be honest—I was incredibly clumsy there for a while. My fingers felt uncoordinated, too big, too slow. And I couldn’t seem to remember the simple pattern I was taught. The simple scarf I was creating in order to learn different stitches was lumpy, full of holes, decidedly NOT beautiful. Whenever I tried to talk and knit at the same time I would mess up, have to pull out the last row or three, and start over. But I LOVED it.
I kept practicing. One stitch after another. Getting the pattern of under – wrap – pull-through into my muscle memory. Slowly, my hands were learning. They were becoming more coordinated, remembering the movements without my having to think about them. I felt like I was really getting it! And then…I graduated to the Purl Stitch and had to start the process of learning all over again.
I thought about being a beginner again this month when I saw my 75 year old former professor of Modern Dance perform in Seattle. Many of you know that I was a dancer in college, but you may not know that I never took a dance class until I was 18 years old. For a dancer, that is incredibly late to begin to train your body. Seeing my former dance teacher brought me back to those early days of discovering dance, and what it was like to be a beginner surrounded by dancers who had been training for most of their lives.
Coming to dance at such a late age, I felt uncoordinated, untrained, and clumsy. My legs hadn’t trained at an early age to rotate, extend, and lift; my arms and shoulders felt stiff and ungraceful. But I loved moving my body. I loved discovering what it could do. Through the movement of breath and body, the patience it took to train my muscles, and the discipline of learning technique, I discovered a new form of self-expression. I found that I loved dance for these reasons, and also because it introduced me to the deep peace of inhabiting my body with presence.
Looking back on my experience with knitting, and with coming to dance as a young adult, I think of many yoga students who come to yoga practice as adults. You are beginning something new, and that can be so challenging sometimes. You might be feeling new, or uncoordinated, struggling to move in ways where you haven’t developed the muscle memory yet.
Luckily, in yoga and in mindfulness practice, we can put “beginner’s mind” into practice. Beginner’s mind is a willingness to be new at something, which means it is a willingness to make mistakes. It frees us from our expectations of having to be perfect. It gets us out of our comfort zone and into being open to possibilities.
We can also bring beginner’s mind to anything that we have done many times. Many of you have been practicing yoga for years. Beginner’s mind allows us to view each moment as unique and containing unique possibilities. Approaching one’s yoga practice from beginner’s mind allows each class, practice, posture, and moment to be new, even when doing something we have done thousands of times.
I invite you to bring Beginner’s Mind to your practice and to your life this month. What would it be like if you didn’t have to get it right? If you didn’t have to be perfect? What if you allowed yourself to be a beginner, to make mistakes, without self-judgement and self-criticism? What if you could approach anything from a place of being brand new?
I think we would all have a lot more compassion for ourselves and for each other, and maybe, just maybe, we would take more risks, try something new that we have been wanting to, and let ourselves be a beginner again.