Thankful for Beginners Mind

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! It’s hard not to write a sappy, sentimental post about all that I am grateful for. But it’s all true, and from the heart. And one of the biggest things I am feeling gratitude over, is learning the Beginners Mind approach to life as we go deeper into the winter months.

I think Nelle’s photo of her recent snow day perfectly expresses “Beginners Mind.”

German Shepherd Nellie playing in snow
Dogs have beginners mind every single day!

Taking on a snowy, dark winter in Alaska would be tough if I didn’t have this outlook. Everything is new for us. From the three layers of clothing we must put on just to take Nellie out a walk, to figuring out what clothing to wear when it’s 30, 20, or below 20-degrees.

Hmm, what to wear when it's 0-degrees and you're sweating your ass off running three miles?
Hmm, what to wear when it’s 0-degrees and you’re sweating your ass off running three miles?

What is beginners mind you ask?

I’m glad you did! I’ll let Leo Babauta of Zen Habits explain it for you:

What is beginner’s mind? It’s dropping our expectations and preconceived ideas about something, and seeing things with an open mind, fresh eyes, just like a beginner. If you’ve ever learned something new, you can remember what that’s like: you’re probably confused, because you don’t know how to do whatever you’re learning, but you’re also looking at everything as if it’s brand new, perhaps with curiosity and wonder. That’s beginner’s mind.

Leo Babauta, Approaching Life with Beginners Mind

This approach is useful when you meditate, because you don’t want to come at it with expectations. Every meditation session is different than the last. Beginner’s mind is also useful for navigating life in general, wherever you live.

And when you’re trying something new, like spending your first, coldest winter in life, in a place where you’ve never lived, Beginners Mind is a HARD thing to do!

Yes, eyelashes freeze when it's this cold!
Yes, eyelashes freeze when it’s this cold!

Most grown-ups just don’t feel comfortable with newness, with not knowing what to expect. Dogs and kids are beginners mind embodied, always learning, always growing, trying new things. But as adults, we get lazy. We just don’t feel at ease with many new things, trying them, failing, and hopefully, trying again.

From learning how to run in snow, to walking on ice (I had my first spill last week. Ouch!), to driving on the street, every time we walk out the door, Jim and I are dealing with something new. It’s exhausting at times, and scary. But oh, the payoff is huge.

Northern Lights View from Willow, Alaska, November 21, 2023
Our view on Tuesday morning, 5:00 am

You don’t get to cruise through life and stay the same without paying the price. The nature of life is change. Without embracing it, we wither and fade away.

Northern Lights Willow Alaska November 21, 2023
What a wake-up call!

It’s easy for me to be thankful for Beginners Mind after the fact. In the moment, when I fall on my ass, or trudge through snow, cursing the humidity steaming up my glasses, I am not feeling it. Sure, somewhere in the back of my noggin’ my training in meditation is helping. What I do know is that when a particular Alaska challenge is behind me and I’m back at the cabin seeing incredible views like this, I feel the benefits of the approach.

We are now enjoying just under 7 hours of daylight. When I look out my window and see darkness at 4pm this week, I’ll remind myself about the benefits of Beginners Mind, and try to walk the talk once again. Rinse, and repeat, over and over.

I hope you you and your family and friends have a beautiful Thanksgiving holiday together.

12 thoughts on “Thankful for Beginners Mind”

  1. The views! The experience!! I’d never heard of beginner’s mind before reading your entry, so thank you for sharing this with us! I grew up with frozen eyelashes and all the harshness of a rural winter, but thinking about experiencing it for the first time as an adult is mind-blowing! Thank you for your perspective and optimism!

    • Amy, you are tougher than I am for sure. People here say that winters in the midwest are actually worse than here! I had no idea that these things happened in the cold and I had no idea how bad ice can be for dogs and people! Yep, every day blows my mind here. Thanks for reading.

  2. The northern lights with a front row seat!! That’s a big positive for sure. Adjusting to life in that cold must be pretty intense but I know you guys will breeze through as you always do. I’m glad to see Nellie is enjoying it too. I love reading your updates.

    • Hey Patricia! Yeah we get to watch the lights from inside our cabin. But to get the whole experience, I learned you HAVE to go outside. It’s the only way to see the lights pulsing overhead, it’s kinda wild. Thanks for your support and encouragement.

  3. “Our heavenly aid is surely pledged however slowly it doth come…”, (from The Divine Comedy, Dante A.), not unlike the recent Barbie movie, living in Alaska for whatever amount of time is the head-on experience of Joseph Cambell’s “The Hero’s Journey”. It will lift you up while knocking you down, this is the nature of nature’s journey, serendipity will be your horn of plenty. These next few months will test your emotions and intellect at new levels, can you adjust to the radical swings of local weather conditions? Will you tread lightly so as to avoid injury? Will you disregard warnings or cautions? Will the simple become divine again? Stay positive, have fun, and make well considered decisions. Eric, acting President of The Francis McDormand Forlorn Society.

    • Mr. President, I was just thinking of you! Thanks for the beautiful note, and those great questions to ponder. We are doing our best to ride this rollercoaster with a good sense of humor and positive approach. It’s a long ride for sure.

      • Three feet of snow and the last seven days Rene? Please be extra careful, if you need anything please don’t hesitate to contact me. Spoke with Dave Barten the other day, he’s doing great. All the best, Eric.

  4. You guys are truly amazing, and I love, love, LOVE being able to witness things through your eyes as “beginners”. You both leave the places you adventure a better, brighter place.

  5. To borrow a phase from Tripawds, welcome to the club that nopawdy wants to join – the “dark at 4pm, and COLD temps” way of life that we have here in the Frozen Tundra! I know exactly how you’re feeling right now. Happy Winter!

    • HAHA, great way to put it Paula. Yep, being from Wisco I know you get it. Now I do, and have a whole other level of respect for folks who endure these winters. xoxo


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