The phrase shoshin means ‘beginner’s mind’. The goal of practice is always to keep our beginner’s mind…in the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few.
I rarely quote Zen Buddist sayings, but this one resonated with me yesterday. On our journey towards gaining greater knowledge, we do not always gain equal measures wisdom. As we create patterns and form new connections in our mind, we are at the same time closing off other pathways. In fact neuroscientists have observed this very process, called neuroplasticity, in studies on the effects of learning within neural structures in the brain.
Whatever field of study or line of work we pursue, we seek mastery. In this pursuit of mastery, we gain not only knowledge, but confidence. But what I have come to understand is that confidence is often times the most significant impediment to mastery. It is like a layer of cement holding in place those neural connections while simultaneously preventing new connections and relationships to form.
Confidence is not necessarily a negative trait. Accomplishment is a powerful incentive to continue our studies, training or work as we see measurable improvement. We also rely upon confidence to carry us through when certain skills become difficult to master.
However, the true path to learning is to never lead with confidence. You never want to assume that you are an expert or feel so certain in the superiority of your knowledge. Just as assumptions are the enemy of innovation, expertise is the enemy of learning as it leads to egoism and self-assuredness.
Instead, lead with the heart and mind of the beginner, allowing for the fact that your knowledge is never fully complete and never without fail. Because no matter how much you think you may know, there is always something more or something new to learn.