Reconciling Beginner's and Expert's Mind
It's interesting when you find you no longer want to repeat the basic lessons over and over again. Not because there isn't anything more to learn from them, but because the repetition keeps you from moving forward. Recycling the known will never lead you to the unknown.
Sometimes you have to stand away from the fray and realize that most people don't want to go beyond repeating the known lessons. The unknown is truly more terrifying to them.
How much of the refusal to take the leap is based in fear? Fear of the unknown; fear of possible dangers or consequences; fear of failure; occasionally, fear of success.
I know that I prefer beginner's mind to expert's mind; although in truth making a negative value judgment about expert's mind is a symptom of expert's mind. Judgmentalism comes pretty much always from expert's mind. Beginner's mind is more likely to, literally, keep an open mind, and wait and see what happens. What happens if we do this? Cool!
Perhaps it's possible to enfold expert's mind within beginner's mind by acknowledging, without puffing oneself up, where one's strengths do in fact lie. That there are some lessons you really don't need to repeat anymore, because you really have learned what you needed to from them. And that there are still other lessons that you're still learning from, and needing to repeat. And that there are some skills you really do have under your belt, now; you will continue to practice them, although you don't need to keep rebuilding them from the foundation up, because you've now done that.
Perhaps, then, it's possible to say, over here, lesson learned and can move on to graduate level rather than freshman level; and over there, it might be good to take intermediate level one more time. It's not as if there's a test required to matriculate.
A couple of years ago, I remember sitting on my porch having a conversation with an old friend. Both of us have studied many kinds of spiritual and healing and artistic pursuits; between us we've been certified in numerous bodywork and energywork modalities; we've taken a long road together, done many of the same seminars and study groups, walked many of the same paths, met many of the same teachers. Even so, we're not always in congruence: individual needs make for individual emphases, here and there, and relatively greater or lesser individual strengths.
We sat on the porch that evening, after dinner, discussing a lot of the self-development work we'd experienced. All of the above. We came to say, each separately but at about the same time, that we were tired of repeating beginning-level workshops anymore, and wanted to pursue something more advanced. Not there was nothing to learn anymore from the beginning-level workshops—although in some instances this was rather more true than for others—but that we both sense time is growing shorter.
When you reach the point in your life when you realize that, barring accidental death or sudden fatal illness, you have passed the probably midway point of your alloted span, it becomes a matter of wanting to be efficient with one's time. There's less to be idle, less time to waste. Sometimes late-life illnesses enforce unplanned idleness. Then what do you do with your enforced free time? If there isn't some kind of hit on your ability to think clearly, caused by either your illness or your meds, it gives you time to think, time to create. Every wasted day seems lost, when you find yourself unable to do much. But even these can be used, for something.
So perhaps one way to encompass expert's mind within beginner's mind is to admit that maybe you do not need to keep repeating the same lessons, purely on the grounds of wanting to maximize your time and effort. Can one be efficient with one's spiritual and creative practice? I think so. You do it by removing clutter, minimizing distractions, maximizing focus, "working smarter rather than harder," and similar attitudes. You stop wasting time on things that you don't need to waste time on; things that are not essential and required for whatever form your practice takes. You shift that freed up time over towards activities that enhance your process rather than take away from it.
These can be really simple, small, pragmatic things, like finding a time-saving way to work. Or they can be turning otherwise unfocused time into focused time. So, an artist might find a time-saving way to wash her brushes; or she might turn washing her brushes into a meditative practice. Both are valid shifts of attention and consciousness towards something more fulfilling and useful.
Another way to reconcile beginner's and expert's mind is to think from up a level, from the symbolic rather than the literal level. When you start to look at your life from the symbolic level, it becomes possible to spot patterns and habits, and then consciously choose which to keep, and which to winnow out. Thinking from the symbolic level requires the ability to step back and be relatively objective about your own life and practice, and to take things less personally. Thinking symbolically means being honest enough with ourselves to both acknowledge limiting faults and acknowledge effective strengths. Mostly we only focus on our past failures; that's a habit worth winnowing. Thinking symbolically means looking at the transpersonal story, not just the personal drama; it means letting go of what's right in front of your nose so that you can see what's down at the end of the street. it's a shift of attention. And it can be a path towards finding the universal within the particular.
I've said more or less the same thing from several difficult angles, now. I've tried to rephrase it several times. I've repeated this lesson a few times, now, with slightly different words each time. It's way of spiraling around the topic till we can find a place to land.
The point is, once you get a skillset down, you need to keep practicing it, to keep it well-honed, but you don't need to be keep repeating the introductory class about it. It doesn't mean you have become an expert; it does mean you're no longer a neophyte. You're somewhere between.
So one final way to reconcile beginner's mind with expert's mind is to realize that expert's mind is a forever-retreating goal that you will never achieve. It's something we keep practicing, to keep those skills honed, all the while knowing there is always more to learn, more to discover, and more to practice.
Beginner's mind is an attitude towards learning: the open and absorbing mind, that sees what's really there, rather than what we assume or think is there. The idea that we think we don't need to learn anymore is expert's mind. So, we can find a middle point, between total ignorance and total expertise, and know that's where we spend most of our time, anyway. So just do it.