“By definition, having a beginner’s mind means having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and freedom from preconceptions when approaching anything. Beginner’s mind is actually the space where the mind does not know what to do. It is that delicious state when you are sure of nothing, yet completely fearless, totally available to the moment.” – excerpted from Nithyananda Mission’s website
Beginner’s mind suddenly struck me as the perfect practice solution to the troubles arising in my household: a constantly repeating and exhausting cycle of Rowan feeling jealous (his words), Rowan causing mischief with his little brother, his brother getting sad (usually crying), and me (mother) getting utterly frustrated and exasperated to the point of snapping. The cycle continues over and over again. I try patience. I try speaking kindly. I ask over and over again for a change of choice and behavior, and yet – here we go again. And again. And again.
The mantra “Connect, even when infuriated” surfaces over and over again in my awareness. Connect. Even when infuriated. And yes, I do get infuriated. Tripping, flinging any known object to man in his brother’s face, a vice grip to his brother’s neck or shoulders, an “accidental” body slam while pretending to fight dragons… Day in and day out I am constantly saying No. Please don’t. What are you doing? I resort to sending him away for time outs (usually unsuccessfully). I even resort to taking time outs for myself to get away from the madness. (Rowan won’t take space for himself in his room? Fine. I’ll lock myself in the bathroom then and count to ten). In my worn down state I know that none of this is working. Pushing my son away is not what I want to do. Connect. Even when infuriated. I recommit to keeping him close and not sending him away, even for 10 seconds. I amp up the positive reinforcement. I commit to “no more firm talking” (as the continuation of the above mentioned cycle is Rowan then moving from mischief and jealousy to his own aching heart of sadness and hurt feelings. “Can I just sit on your lap, mama? Don’t talk firmly to me. It hurts my feelings!”) How hard it is to stay close to love when I am angry, tired and worn down! The authors of Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Lives of Boys say that “violence is the product of an exhausted mind” – and this rings truer than ever. I’m perennially exhausted so my fuse is shortened. I’ve over time come to expect ‘negative’ antics from Rowan towards Braeden. My responses have become painfully stale and ineffective. We’re stuck. I’m stuck. So what to do? What to do…
And then it strikes me one day: Beginner’s Mind! Like a dog barking from the bottom of a very distant well, I hear a crackle of inspiration. What if each day I commit to looking into the moments of angst from a fresh perspective? What if I choose an orientation of inquiry? What if I ask questions? What if I dig deeper into the emotions and actions of the moment? I can choose to be curious. I can practice letting go of any storyline that I’ve created about my children’s behavior. Even though I’ve just been here in this mess of redirection and bubbling familial conflict five minutes ago, what fresh response can I bring now? And now? And now?
Since we’re practicing Beginner’s Mind, let’s encounter this again as if for the first time: “By definition, having a beginner’s mind means having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and freedom from preconceptions when approaching anything. Beginner’s mind is actually the space where the mind does not know what to do. It is that delicious state when you are sure of nothing, yet completely fearless, totally available to the moment.”
So how can I be free of this cycle of suffering? Set aside preconceptions when approaching anything. The space where the mind does not know what to do is actually something to celebrate. Rather than scramble for an ‘appropriate’ or ‘effective’ response to any potentially harm-inducing action arising in my household, I can slow down and consider not knowing what to do, then start fresh from that place. I can practice seeing my oldest with new eyes, over and over again. I can accept what is, loosening my own vice grip on my desire for change. I can throw strategy out the window and be spontaneous with my responses. Rather than resist and succumb to our literal wit’s end, we can choose fresh availability to the present moment as if we’ve never experienced anything like it before. Because, truly, we haven’t!