Cultivating Beginner’s Heart

may my heart always be open to little
birds who are the secrets of living
whatever they sing is better than to know
and if men should not hear them men are old

may my mind stroll about hungry
and fearless and thirsty and supple
and even if it’s sunday may i be wrong
for whenever men are right they are not young

and may myself do nothing usefully
and love yourself so more than truly
there’s never been quite such a fool who could fail
pulling all the sky over him with one smile

–ee cummings


Ever since I stumbled upon Zen philosophy (back in the San Francisco Bay area circa 2003), I’ve been fascinated by the concept of “beginner’s mind.” I’ve attempted to maintain it myself, to varying degrees of success. It’s a daily, lifelong practice.

“In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few,” teaches Suzuki Roshi in his classic, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind.

Buddhists see the heart and the mind as one entity: the heart-mind. Westerners generally think the heart feels, and the mind knows.

Could we equally say, “Beginner’s heart”?

Take a deep breath. Arrive here in this moment even more fully. Let your heart-mind read and absorb these words.

“When we talk about understanding, surely it takes place only when the mind listens completely—the mind being your heart, your nerves, your ears—when you give your whole attention to it.” ~ Jiddu Krishnamurti

Can we blur the lines between mind and heart? The mind is the heart. The heart and mind are inseparable.

A beginner’s heart is open, curious—full of awe and wonder.

Beginner’s heart remembers that we are all ultimately the same.

Emerson lived with beginner’s heart:“That which draws us nearer our fellow man, is, that the deep Heart in one, answers the deep Heart in another—that we find we have (a common Nature)—one life which runs through all individuals, and which is indeed Divine.”

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Heart-to-Heart Communication

“If we want to do good, it has to be in our words to the people we live with, and the people that we meet on the street, and the people that we interact with at the stores, and the people we work with.

If you want to stop nuclear war, pay attention to your speech, pay attention to how and when your words are connected to your heart, and when words aren’t connected to your heart, and what’s going on when they’re not.

Without judging it, just study it, begin to look at it.” ~ Jack Kornfield

broken record

How and when are my words connected to my heart?

When they come from a place of understanding, a remembrance of oneness, rather than from a feeling (falsely) superior or inferior.

When they well up with truth, clarity and necessity.

How much of our time is spent speaking in broken-record small talk and superfluous phrases?  Words decidedly disconnected from our hearts. Mindlessly coming from habit.

“That’s so funny.”

“Did you hear…?!”

“How about this weather, huh?”

“You know…”

The most common question in the English language must be, “How are you?” And nine times out of 10, we ask it and completely glaze over at the answer. That why we’ve all trained ourselves to say, “Fine, thanks, and you?” “I’m well, thanks for asking.”

How am I?

Well, I am feeling a little tired and anxious and also super grateful and content this morning. I’m hungry and lazy with the mildest of headaches and I’d really like to crawl back into bed and snuggle with my hubby and daughter but I kind of need to get to work.

I’m never just “fine,” no one is… yet we say so even to our partners and parents and close friends —unless we are really there, speaking from the heart, present in the moment.

It’s complicated yet simple. We can be feeling all this and knowing that it’s okay and natural to feel whatever arises.

This is our challenge, if we choose to accept it: observe when and how our speech (spoken conversation, written words and body language) is connected to and flowing from the source of the heart…. and when it is not.

Slowly, slowly, with the magical power of awareness and attention, our words and ways of expression become more genuine, more meaningful, more loving and more real.

This is life’s work. It’s not going to happen in a week, probably. We have years and generations of practice speaking from the mind, from the ego. It will take effort to recreate new patterns. It will take time, patience, persistence and love.

So… how are you?

Compassion for the Bully Campaign

When we think of safety in schools, bullying often comes to mind.

Most (if not all) of us have been bullied and some of us have carried those wounds with us for many years. We’ve also all witnessed bullying in some context or another, which can trigger our own feelings of helplessness, aggression or other defense mechanisms. When we hear about suicide as a result of bullying, many efforts are made to raise awareness so it doesn’t happen again. Then it does.

We want to stand up for the victims. We want justice. We want to create change; we want to change others. We all want to feel safe.

Despite all efforts, why doesn’t raising awareness about bullying or creating anti-bullying programs seem to be making a difference?

When we hear of cases of bullying, we are quick to identify with or act on behalf of the bullied, the victim, the oppressed; the other child(ren) gets labeled as the bully, the victimizer, the oppressor.

But many of us have also bullied.

“When we are honest with ourselves, we realize that we have all bullied and been bullied in some way, at one point in time. Maybe you can remember a time when you bullied and a different time when you were bullied…” – “Why Anti-bullying Campaigns Don’t Work,” I am Intelligence

No one is born a bully; it is a behaviour that is learned from somewhere.

As adults we are quick to say, “Kids are cruel!” without taking a look at the power dynamics in our own relationships as expressed in our homes, classrooms, schools, offices and in the media.

“The bully” has been bullied; just as “the bullied” sometimes goes on to bully others. And just because someone has bullied, doesn’t make them “a bully.”

I remember getting teased, and I remember teasing others. I remember my first black eye and the guilt and shame that followed. I remember abusing my power in the classroom when I saw students asserting their power over “the other” – especially when it came to racism; I had no tolerance for the intolerant (double bind). And I remember feeling cornered by my principal who wanted me to change my grading scale because over half of my class was failing. (As a first year teacher, I wasn’t sure how to grade work that was never turned in…).

Neither “side” feels good, and I believe both stem from a feeling of helplessness. But we aren’t actually helpless, but we do need to rethink our approach if we want to stop the bullying (which actually starts with compassion).

“While anti-bullying assemblies and awareness campaigns intend to empower ‘the bullied’ to take a stand, they usually do not work, as you may already know. Worse, when we view people as this or that it isolates people further while reaffirming existing beliefs about the way the world works, and while society may think in black and white, the world exists in all spectrums of colour. In other words, there is more than one way and the way to it is not by fighting back or attempting to raise awareness through anti-anything. When we fight against, we actually perpetuate differences, create extremes, and get further from what all people on ‘both sides’ really want.” – “Why Anti-bullying Campaigns Don’t Work,” I am Intelligence

There is nothing anti- about awareness and true justice only comes through forgiveness. Maybe it is as simple as sharing that message with young learners, but just in case, here is an activity to try:

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Everyday Enlightenment: Mindfulness + Compassionate Action

“By three methods we may learn wisdom: first, by reflection, which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.”



Life is paradoxical, yet simple.

The two wings of the bird are needed for her to fly high and glide with grace. With just one, she won’t be able to get off the ground. We, too, need two dovetailed qualities.

Mindfulness isn’t enough; we need compassionate action too. Mindfulness, or daily life practice, or being, must be paired with action, with compassion or doing.

Hope and fear are also two sides of the same coin. So are attachment and aversion. Life is a matter of precarious balance. Holding on and letting go.

And then there is birth and death. No matter how many times we read or think about the fact that life is impermanent and ends in death and that everything is actually changing all the time, it only really sinks in when we experience drastic change or huge loss.

We want a sense of control. We want, as Pema Chodron says, “solid ground beneath our feet,” a firm foundation of righteousness and security on which to stand. (But when we think we’ve got it, this is an illusion.)

We want to know things. We want to understand. We want to be present, mindful, happy, inspired, inspiring.

This is a worthy path. Yet it’s important to remember that living in the present moment 100 percent of the time isn’t actually very practical. Sometimes, we think about the past and reflect. Sometimes we feel nostalgic. Sometimes we dwell on or obsess about things from the past. This is when we want to heighten awareness and note our tendency toward rumination (or whatever it may be).

Wisdom comes through time, reflection on experiences, lessons learned in daily life and relationship.

My intent is to be present as much of the time as possible, paying attention to what I’m doing, who I’m with, where I am, my mind and body, my actions and influences.

Sometimes, I think about the past. Sometimes, I plan for the future, knowing however that those plans will serve as a guide, a vision and not an expectation or delusion.

Maturation of mindfulness occurs with time and discipline.

Buddhist teacher Gil Fronsdal suggests there are always three things happening in any situation: What’s happening? What are you doing? How are you? They work together and overlap.

We can view reality as it is, pay attention to how we are responding and how we feel.

What’s Happening

We can address, “What’s happening?” wisely by looking at the nature of what’s happening in this moment. Checking in. Asking, am I in the present, fully experiencing this?

What We’re Doing

We can examine, with openness and curiosity, just what is it that we are doing. How are we reacting or responding to this moment, this experience?

How We Are

We can address the question, “How are you?” by working with emotion in meditation.

Gil argues that the question, “How are you?” is the inquiry into our emotional state, our energy, our health or lack of health, and is the most important aspect of human living. Throughout the day, pause and ask yourself, “How am I?”


Go back to, “What you do.” Sit in meditation. Also: act in the world. Mindfully speaking, eating, walking, traveling and so on. Practice generosity. Done appropriately, generosity nourishes our hearts and benefits others.

The mind is really just a series of activities: thoughts, ideas, beliefs, memories. Feelings. Mindfulness enables us to see these activities in a clear way. To see emptiness and form. To realize that everything is neither one nor two.

Be mindful. Look at what’s happening, what you’re doing and how you are in the present moment. Then communicate, act, behave and aspire—with compassion, love and kindness.

Let’s go out and do the things we can do to benefit all beings and the planet, our passions and purposes.