One of the brain’s primary jobs is to recognize patterns–and it is very good at its job. It does this for a few different reasons. First, to help keep you safe. Taking in new data, processing it, and allowing our neocortex to decide how to handle it takes time. Time that a predator might exploit to kill you. Time during which a terrible accident may hurt you.
The pattern recognition part of your brain can connect discrete stimuli to a known pattern and coordinate a response much quicker. It is this ability that allows race car drivers to avoid accidents at 200mph, and firefighters to know that a building is about to collapse, without necessarily knowing why. This ability also helps you remember how to tie your shoes.
The downside to this is that the brain is also sidelining our ability to engage with our life. Ever notice how a year seems to pass much faster now than when you were a kid? The same process is to blame for that as well.
Other consequences can include bad habits that stick around despite our best intentions, and communication patterns that may be damaging to your relationships.
Fortunately, you can retrain your brain to engage more fully in the present moment–recapturing the magic and wonder that we expect only in new experiences.
This is what Shunryu Suzuki termed “Beginner’s Mind,” the ability to see everyday objects and occurrences as if they were brand new.
You don’t need any fancy mindfulness training to do this.
Try it now! Pick one of the objects around you. Investigate it as if you had never seen anything like it before. Touch it, smell it, taste it, listen to it. Study it with all of your attention. You may notice something you’ve always missed before.
It may seem unimportant to you to notice some scratch in the casing of your stapler, but imagine how it might change a walk in the park. Or a conversation with your spouse. Set the intention to bring beginner’s mind to something you normally find challenging.
You may be pleasantly surprised with the results.