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25. Beginner’s Mind

25. Beginner’s Mind

Shunrio Suzuki, the great Zen master who first introduced Zen to the West is quoted as saying, “Achieving enlightenment is not difficult. What is difficult is maintaining a beginner’s mind.”

Most Westerners, when they hear this for the first time have no idea what he means. It sounds ridiculous. Our society values and admires our “experts”. The whole point in being a “beginner” is to later become and expert, right? Why hold on to the ignorance of the beginners mind?

But Suzuki is not talking about our knowledge when he says “beginner’s mind.” He’s talking about the way we relate to that knowledge. Do we use the information, or does the information narrow our scope of inquiry?

The simple way Suzuki put it was, “In the beginners mind there are many possibilities. In the expert’s, there are few.”

Gary Zukov in The Dancing Wu-Li Masters uses Einstein as a classic example of the beginner’s mind. A beginner sees things the way they are, not the way they must be. Scientists at the turn of the century knew that the luminiferous aether must be. They knew light was a wave and that waves needed to travel in something. Thus, there MUST be ether for it to travel in.

Einstein saw what was. The speed of light was proven to be constant regardless of the motion of the viewer by the Michaelson Morley experiment. All Einstein did was raise this fact’s status from paradox to postulate and voilla the Special Theory of Relativity was born.

Now that the speed of light was no paradox, Einstein gave us other paradoxes that we have lived with since. In Special Relativity, the Twins Paradox allows for one twin to grow old on earth during a short, but very fast trip for her twin sister.

Of course his greatest paradox was his discovery and acceptance of what was rather than what must be when he proved that light is a particle as well as a wave. This was what won Einstein the Nobel Prize, and underlies all the “weirdness” associated with quantum physics.

In many ways, I guess that’s what this book is an attempt to do. To recapture the beginners mind in terms of my own attitudes and allow the Shamanistic cure to do its thing.

Despite being a hardened rationalist.

Despite being an expert and “knowing” better.

I like to think and hope that my recent flirtation with delusion was more caused by my attempt to maintain a “beginner’s mind” than by the beginnings of dementia or a slide into schizophrenia.

In my support, I can point to the fact that from the beginning I saw the delusions as “potential” delusions. Nevertheless, I was unwilling to dismiss them as delusions from the beginning. I took my time to think them through and analyze them with an open mind first.

Well, a somewhat open mind, anyway. An open mind combined with my aforementioned nemesis, “hope springing eternal.” That’s not the same as an open mind of course. That’s wish fulfillment with a nice euphemism attached.

In my current condition, I don’t think it’s possible to eliminate wish fulfillment entirely. I do so desperately want to cure this thing that I’m willing to suspend disbelief in every direction.

Anyway, it occurred to me that perhaps this is one of the ways ayahuasca works its magic on some people. Through its hallucinogenic images, it forces the patient into adopting the “beginner’s mind.”

They say that “seeing is believing,” and while I consider that an overstatement, especially for experienced psychedelic users, the ayahuasca visions are supposed to be unparalleled in their believability.

They most definitely cause “cognitive dissonance” for anyone who experiences them. Remember from the previous chapter, there are two ways people can deal with cognitive dissonance. The individual can either discard the original belief or disregard the contradictory evidence.

In my case, my original belief is that of Rationalism. Spooks and spirits, superstitions, gods and all the other “supernatural” stuff don’t fit and get tossed. The contradictory evidence will be the strength of the ayahuasca visions. If they are strong enough, hopefully I’ll “discard the original belief” (Rationalism) long enough for the placebo effect to engage and really cure me.

Once cured, I can then slowly work myself back into my original beliefs if I so desire. Actually, it will probably happen even if I don’t desire it. Living in Western society makes it next to impossible for me to hold onto any belief system other than Rationalism.

At the moment, I’m deep into Rationalism again. I regard this whole ayahuasca attempt as an act of desperation, (which it undoubtedly is) with little chance of success. Like Suzuki says, in the expert’s mind there are few possibilities.

I am counting on the ayahuasca to make me a beginner again…

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July 16, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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