Learning Something New – Be Like a Toddler

This re-post is dedicated to the people I have the privilege of teaching and mentoring.

As adults we are so used to being competent and knowledgable…. at least in some areas of our lives!
So when we take on a new challenge or want to learn something new it can be difficult.

I teach new yoga students and yoga teachers, and see how tough it can be for some to get their heads around being a beginner again.

Learning something new as adults makes us feel vulnerable. It’s a time where old fears about our worthiness surface, self doubt seeps in and egos rush to defend ingrained thinking and old beliefs.

beginner's mind

One way of countering this all too human reaction is to apply the Zen wisdom of Beginner’s Mind. This concept refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level.


Here are some steps to practice:

1. Be open and curious. Beginner’s Mind is about using the spirit of enquiry.  There’s a Zen story about this:
A student visited a Japanese master to inquire about Zen. The master served tea. When the visitor’s cup was full, the master kept pouring. Tea spilled out of the cup and over the table.
“The cup is full!” said the visitor. “No more will go in!”
“Like this cup,” said the master, “You are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”

2.Take one step at a time and let go of the outcome. Focus on what needs to be studied at each step.

toddler running and falling

3. Be like a toddler. Fall down seven times, get up eight times. Celebrate falling down as well as getting up.

4. Let go of knowing. Embrace “I don’t know” thinking rather than conditioned “I know or I should know” thinking. We only know things up until now. How can we expect to know something beyond our experience?

5. Shake off shoulds. Shoulds are imposed on us. Instead, be the best you can be in that moment and take responsibility for your actions. Own your own life rather than ‘shoulding’ all over it.

6. Use your experience. Keep an open mind on how to apply your experience to each new circumstance. Get creative with what you know and what you are learning.

7. Experience the moment fully. Slow down and pause. Be fully present to what is going on around you and within you.

When you do this your mind quietens and you make space for the new. You find your Middle Ground.


29 thoughts on “Learning Something New – Be Like a Toddler

  1. I was giving a presentation to a group of 20 somethings a couple of weeks ago. They are part of an initiative that is focused on engaging younger adult minds in philanthropy. Through photography, they go into social service organizations and learn about our city, and tell its stories. I was there to inspire them in their story-telling.

    One of the women had a photo she’d taken of two young boys she’d encountered while in Vietnam. They sat in a boat, fishing. what is the story of the photo for you, I asked.

    She talked about innocence, about how through western eyes, they have little, but they seem so content.

    I commented on how the boat is anchored. How the river flows, and she was on a boat going in the opposite direction, but they are anchored.

    She hadn’t noticed the anchor.

    It is so easy in our ‘western’ minds, to assume we know what is going on for others. We forget the value of being anchored to where we’re at, to be open to the world around us without losing our sense of being grounded in ourselves, constantly flowing through every moment.

    Love your steps Val — and the fact you reminded me of that moment. Hugs <3.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I love these, Val, especially the first one, it makes so much sense! The celebrating falling down as well as getting up in # 3 really speaks to me too – the celebrating falling down usually comes after the fact when I realize how much I learned or grew during those times I spent on the floor. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I take too much of what I think I know into new situations. I need to work on beginner’s mind because even though I attempt to let go of preconceived notions I feel them creep back up on me.

    Liked by 1 person

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