Minds, it is said, are like parachutes. They only work when they are open.
Learning to open your mind is a crucial part of seeking enlightenment. You need to move past the stuff that fills your mind, what you believe that you already know, in order to see things in a new way.
The common teaching to facilitate this growth is detachment. Letting go of expected outcomes, releasing the chatter of the ego that works to keep you in your comfort zone, is a crucial step to opening your mind and your heart.
Beginner’s mind is a code for this kind of detachment. The beginner, it is said, is open to possibilities in a way that others are not.
Often, the beginner is contrasted with the expert, meaning someone who has fixed on the one right and proper way to do things, someone stuck in their beliefs and what has succeeded for them in the past.
I don’t call people who are locked into tight little expectations experts, although I know they often call themselves that. I call them fundamentalists: people who think they own the one true way, have possession of the one right answer, whatever church they believe in. It might be Christianity or Atheism or Social Justice, but whatever keeps them boxed in and self righteous, any narrow view of our shared human situation will do as a limiting, fundamentalist belief.
To become open, we cannot fall back on attachment, attachment to belief, attachment to expectation, attachment to needing specific outcomes. We have to detach from convention, be present in the moment, face what is, and become new to find better choices.
It is possible, though, to be learned, skilled, mature, to be far beyond a beginner, and still be present, fluid and responsive beyond rigid rules & conventions in the moment.
That possibility is called mastery.
We learn a great deal from masters, those who continue to work the process, be open and vulnerable, and who learn even as they teach. These masters do not imagine perfect outcomes, rather they live in the flow of perfection, learning and choosing again, beyond rote routine and into co-creation that exists between the messy human and the shining divine.
Mastery takes striving, denial, discipline and intense focus. The essence of a master is not just in the choice of what they do, it is more in the choice of what they don’t do, the stillness and precision that brings responsible beauty.
It’s easy to think that spiritual honesty is saying what you believe, chasing your desires in the world. It’s easy to think that following your bliss means following your comfort, doing what feels good in the moment.
The process of purifying desire, though, burning away the dross and programmed, the shoulds and the illusions, is at the heart of achieving mastery. That’s why mastery can only be achieved through deep immersion and consistent work to become one with what one wants to master.
“If you seek enlightenment, seek it as a one whose hair is on fire seeks water,” Sri Ramakrishna told us. There is an intensity to mastery, a commitment, a lifetimes work that demands we move outside of comfort to be continuously challenged.
This isn’t, though, something fundamentalists believe. They believe in the rules more than the process, believe in finding a way to slip through the loopholes and then complain that the universe isn’t delivering what they think they are entitled to. They don’t want to have to let the fire burn their beliefs, they want to give themselves to some codified text, as if perfection can exist in some specific human creation that we call Godly.
The expert might pontificate and refer back to their own sacred texts, but the master has to work with the material at hand, feeling the essence, pulling polished techniques from a bag of possibilities to shape the outcome in a dance with nature.
If you don’t understand what I am talking about, then you have never studied a master, never opened yourself to the possibilities that discipline & precision can bring to subtle and nuanced creation. You don’t yet know how craft can meet instinct in a refined way to allow fluid, intense details.
You are instead a beginner, never imagining there is more than the fundamentalist rules that need to be clung to in order to assert a connection with creation. As a beginner, the mastery of others eludes you, so you demand that they follow the beliefs you know to be fundamental and true rather than challenging you to come out and engage beyond your own easy, isolated comfort.
Mastery always starts with mastering the beat of your own ego so you can begin to hear between the thumps, listening first to the lessons the universe offers you and then to the songs inside your own heart. Removing noise and crud from purity is the key, while time, focus and discipline are the starting requirements. Like any skill, the more you use them, the stronger they become, the more delicate and muscular you can be, the closer you get to your own personally shaped and crafted toolkit for engaging nature.
That is much easier said than done, but mastery is always like that.
There are many times when we don’t need a beginner, we need a master. When our father is in surgery, a beginner just won’t do, but neither will a meatball fundamentalist who only knows how to follow the book.
Making a start at moving to mastery is a tough choice. It means letting go of whatever old expectations and assumptions we built to defend us so that we can be willing to take the knocks that a long learning curve requires. A commitment to mastery is a commitment to the long term, to frustration, hard slog and sweat that will slowly bring growing rewards.
It’s easy to sign up to be a beginner who is on the path towards fundamentalism, learning the rules and working to ignore and silence anyone who challenges you. The limits of the book will remain hidden until they aren’t, that moment when you realize there is more work to be done.
For me, though, it is much more important to sign up for mastery, for doing the work of owning the process, learning and being reborn in every moment as we become more and more knowledgeable, disciplined and precise, ready to engage what is rather than what the book says should be.
Opening your mind and heart is a lifetime journey to mastery. You always need to be beginning the next stage of your journey, owning the knowledge & skills you have gained while being open to every surprise and new possibility that presents itself.
A master mind, after a lifetime of work, seems to be worth the effort.