Curiosity, Surprise, and Wonder

beginner's mind

The last of Frank Ostaseski’s Five Invitations is to cultivate don’t know mind – i.e., a mind characterized by curiosity, surprise, and wonder. This invitation does not encourage ignorance but rather a sense of exploratory innocence, without attachment to a view or outcome. As Zen Master Susuki Roshi says: “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”

Ostaseski argues that our culture encourages us to overidentify with the rational, thinking mind. We are afraid of losing control. When threatened, we either recoil, get angry, or become inflexible, believing ourselves, our views, and our memories to be right. And when memories are taken as truth, they go unquestioned. Yet neuroscience tells us that the human memory is neither objective nor truthful. Why not let go and see what new ideas or options might emerge?

Ostaseski encourages us to engage with life right where we are and sit in awareness of our emotions and experiences as they play out. This invitation asks that we let go of our busy-ness and predisposition toward setting agendas. We’re asked to let go of preconceived ideas about what should be happening or how we should be feeling and simply breathe. In a posture of not knowing, we can open up to a fertile boundlessness that transcends form and structure. In deep silence, we can plumb the depths of our basic nature.

“To know the sacred is not to see new things, but rather to see things in a new way. The sacred is not separate or different from all things; it is hidden in all things.”
― Frank Ostaseski, Buddhist hospice worker

“No my soul is not asleep. It is awake, wide awake. It neither sleeps nor dreams, but watches, its clear eyes open, far-off things, and listens at the shores of the great silence.”
― Antonio Machado, poet