Beginner's Mind

This week, I am preparing to attend PantheaCon, a pagan conference in San Jose. I'm washing all of my red and black outfits, madly typing up ritual outlines, and checking my suitcase twice to make sure I have all the gear I need for the many workshops and events I will be attending.

One of my favorite things about attending PantheaCon is the opportunity to drop into Beginner's Mind. There is such a wide variety of different Traditions, practices, techniques, and ideas shared at PCon. For someone like me, who wishes with her whole heart that she could somehow know All The Things, it's a great chance to learn completely new information, revisit existing topics, and gain new insights from others' perspectives. For me, Beginner's Mind is a pleasure and a necessity for my well-being, because at this time in my life I find myself often in the position of having to be "the one who knows the answer," whether that is in a tarot reading or Right Livelihood consultation, or making a professional decision about my business, or in teaching CAYA's Aspirants and Initiates.

In CAYA Coven, we value Beginner's Mind, and talk about it a lot. Part of our system of teaching is that we share with one another what we are passionate about, in small-group meetings. This can occasionally mean that a beginner in a topic will make a beginner-level presentation to the rest of the group. The group might include very experienced practitioners, as we are a highly eclectic Coven with many different levels and types of experience included. In this scenario, it would be easy for the experienced ones to sort of write off the beginner as a "newbie," or sneer at the lack of critical analysis or basic information that a beginner-level presentation might contain. After all, we see this tendency all the time, everywhere from the entertainment industry to spiritual teachers to new authors to you-name-it. Someone comes out of the blue with a new work and people begin to say, "But who the heck is that? I've never even heard of them before," or "That's good information...if you're a beginner. Not very useful to me."

Yet, when we take off the "expert hat" and allow Beginner's Mind to rise within us, there is so much joyful growth possible. For example, I have been working with Ancestor reverence for many years now. I have visited the graveyards, dug up the dirt, left the offerings, sung the songs, framed the photos and funeral prayer cards, anointed the heirloom jewelry with holy oils, whispered the names, lit the candles, made the sugar skulls, served up the dumb suppers, read the diaries and cookbook margin scrawls...I have a solid practice. It's active, engaged, and rich already. And, that said, I am still not tired of hearing about everyone's various methods of Ancestor reverence. I want to hear about "how you make a special violet tea and put it in that special cup with the violets on it from Aunt Fanny who loved violets and we had them at her funeral and then next year violets just mysteriously grew on her grave and Mama said it was a miracle." It's the human aspect that stimulates me in that scenario. I do not actually need instruction on how to prepare tea as an offering, but when you tell me the story of how you do it and why that is sacred to you, it then becomes really important to me to hear the details. I find pleasure in your process, and am inspired to go home that very day and make tea for my Ancestors.

One of the reasons we in CAYA cherish Beginner's Mind is because we are actively engaged in a perpetual process of learning. What that means, for those of us who are more experienced, is that we are given great gifts from our "newbies": the freshness of their enthusiasm, new perspectives on existing topics, and the joy of exploring one another's very diverse viewpoints. Occasionally, we like a good debate as well. "Newbies" keep us on our toes with their curious questions, bold assertions, hypotheses, processes, and fresh ideas. They are holding an important and divine role in our work together: the embodiment of authentic Beginner's Mind.

And for those of us who are more experienced, to go within and locate that source of Beginner's Mind with its freshness and excitement for a topic or practice can be a little more difficult when left to our own devices without a helpful "newbie" around. How many times have any of us found ourselves smug and secure inside of a practice or principle that then becomes stale? How many times have we found ourselves so overly-familiar with a practice that we begin to cut corners and take the easy route rather than maintaining diligence, simply because "been there done that"? Beginner's Mind is a great antidote to the creeping crustiness that threatens to throttle the expert.

When I go to PantheaCon, I love to engage my Beginner's Mind. I'm looking forward to hearing about peoples' beliefs and practices, even the ones I already know about. I am ready for my mind to be blown wide open, even if it's just with the reiteration of a concept I already know, spoken with truth and clarity by a fresh voice. What a gift!