I randomly tuned-in to the US open tennis tournament while at the gym. Not having followed tennis closely for a few years, these players were new to me so I didn’t know their styles and strengths. I wasn’t connected to the audio so could only see the score and the body language. I had chanced upon the tail end of the match; the final set and match point. The player in the lead was leading by a lot and had to take her match point serve. She kept starting the serve but not taking it. She would toss the ball but then decide to let it drop to the ground instead of hitting it. She did this several times, enough for me to pause and notice. She looked calm, she was ahead, she looked very strong, she could win the match in under 60-seconds. What was hard in that moment? And then I realized: she has the weight of expectations on her. I thought, wouldn’t it be great if she could erase any internal chatter and noisy history and just serve with a beginner’s mind? Shortly thereafter, she served, she won. This match was over and the screen moved to another match.
While this was happening, a story was unfolding closer to me on my elliptical machine. While I was watching, my run was picking speed. I was starting to break sweat, feeling fluid in my body after having taken a break. I glanced at the speed and distance to see if I was actually building stamina again and then the machine stopped. I was distracted by the match and had pressed the wrong button. I had done about 10 minutes, so not my full planned time. “No problem” I thought and started again with a clean slate. I tuned in to the body, checked for alignment and pain. My body felt good after a long time. Then I tuned-in again to speed and distance. Distractedly, I hit the same button after another 10 minutes or so and the machine stopped. I lost track of my speed and distance once again. This time I noticed…what I wished for that player, I was getting in a very forced way. I was getting unplanned fresh starts. I kept having to let go of my agenda and tune in repeatedly to the here and now, to my beginner’s mind. By the third set, I had stopped monitoring speed or distance as a gauge of my health. I was just feeling the increased stamina in my body compared to the last few times when I felt absolutely sluggish. In the first set, I was having my own micro moment of success and perhaps the pressure to outdo my past self. But the unplanned pauses and erasure forced me into a beginner’s mind repeatedly. I had no clue about my distance or speed, I just got to savor my strength that day.
Practicing beginner’s mind might be the most pragmatic way to experience the full-bodied potential and delight of our endeavors. The measurements and markers, while helpful, then become secondary. When we lead with the markers, we behave like brains on a stick and often exit the visceral experience of being alive. I know beginner’s mind is easier said than done…but it’s easier done after repeated practice.
“But something slowly began to dawn on me — I still loved what I did. The turn of events at Apple had not changed that one bit. I had been rejected, but I was still in love. And so I decided to start over.
I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me.
The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.” ― Steve Jobs, 2005 Stanford commencement address