Beginners Mind

As mentioned above, working with difference is simple but not easy. A very useful way of approaching our experience with difference is to apply the insights from another activity that is simple but not easy – mindfulness.

Sharon Salzberg, one, of the preeminent Western teachers and writers in this space, suggests that this idea of “simple, not easy” often seems to rub people the wrong way. We have learned to think that something simple should be easy, and that it’s complexity that is, and should be, challenging. If our conditioning tells us to think in terms of achievement and goals – always being better — we might think that being a beginner is a state we should try to get out of as quickly as possible.

Training in mindfulness defies these associations and invites us to see the enormous power in beginning again, an infinite number of times.

When working with people we find challenging in some way, we have what Sharon calls “the challenge of choice, that faces us in terms of how we respond to anything in life.” When challenged, we can choose to simply notice the thoughts, judgments, observations, and sensations in our response We have the choice to accept these things and simply begin again, returning to the present moment, or we can hang on tightly to what we think we should be doing, or respond automatically, out of habit.

Our willingness to return to the present moment again and again, in order to be tuned in to our thoughts and feelings with clarity, takes intention and effort. If we want to improve our ability to respond in a positive way to differences that challenge us, rather than responding through resistance or conflict, we need to start with being able to clearly see our habitual responses.

If we’re used to responding negatively to a particular person, group, or situation, it’s easier to respond automictically – as Sharon says, there can be something seductive and perversely comforting about the act of engaging in conflict. In order to change our response, we must simply sit with the feelings of discomfort we experience; just stop and notice.

The act of seeing discomfort for what it is takes effort – the effort to practice compassionate awareness without judging, analysing or acting out. By choosing to simply be present with your feelings, you can position yourself with greater emotional freedom. And in that freedom comes the choice to respond positively in the face of challenge. Sharon reminds us that “no external set of circumstances can prevent us from happiness when we are remembering beginner’s mind.”

Simple, not easy.

For more on Sharon Salzberg, and her book Real Happiness at Work, see and

Leave a Comment