Susan Kaiser Greenland (2011) echoed the teachings of Suzuki Roshi that “a beginner’s mind is open and receptive to new ideas, not closed down by adhering rigidly to what we believe to be true. Putting preconceived concepts and ideas aside to look at something with fresh eyes is one of the most difficult qualities in mindfulness practice” (p. 238). Children lead with questions full of the joy of learning which we “sometimes inadvertently condition out of them. … [Mindfulness] is the polar opposite of the school day during which children are often compelled to direct every bit of their energy to a static rigid goal” (pp. 240-241).
When I was about 6 or 7 years of age, I was introduced to the importance of uncertainty and being a non-expert by the way my mother responded to one of my questions. The question I posed that day and my mother’s response remain with me and emerge at various times to remind me that the desire for certainty is only my wish to be able to do something I cannot do, predict the future. I wanted to know where good non-Catholics might go when they died. At that young age, I already felt that God was not so arbitrary or rigid to send good people any place but to Heaven. My mother provided me with a remarkable answer. She responded that God would have a similar plan for all of us who had lived good lives. This wonderful reply would not have followed the teachings of the church but it was an answer that allowed me to have faith in God. The only certainty was this plan could not be understood through an intellectual exercise. Uncertainty is the certainty of life. Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer (2011) suggested “from the moment we are born we are presented with absolute facts rather than facts in context. … [We simplify and make] the world seem more predictable…we educate ourselves into mindlessness” (p. 124).
Whenever I begin to think of my personal ideologies and pathologies in ways that invest them with absolute certainty, I take myself back to a time when I had a beginner’s mind open to ideas and willing to wonder aloud about the world around me. It is not only to children that we have denied that opportunity. Tomorrow, I will wonder, “What is my unicorn today? This will counterbalance a healthy cynicism born from the failure of my certitude.