“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few.” Shunryu Suzuki.
There is a concept I learned while my kids were in Montessori education called scaffolding—a technique that is reflected in the goals of learn it, do it and then teach it. In this way, the student comes back to the same material in a natural spiral, each time the student is able to add to their understanding and expertise as they come to achieve some level of mastery when they become proficient enough to teach what they know. Our emotional and for that matter relational development shares that same circular spiraling motion, which explains the very common phenomenon of feeling like we are always somehow arriving back where we started.
This can be a discouraging experience when it comes to childhood emotional wounding. There is a definitive way in which we are always circling around the most profoundly painful aspects of our childhood in order to both better understand what happened to us, but also to transmute that learning into something functional and useful as we mature. Thinking about our spiraling as a form of higher education is helpful because it allows us to witness the depth of insight and compassion we have hopefully evolved for ourselves and our history. The key to making this work is to deliberately come back to ourselves with a beginner’s mind—a way of seeing that lets you look at even the most familiar of situations as though for the first time.
Bringing new eyes to an old painful situation becomes ever more possible with time, which I think is why it has long been said that time heals all wounds. Each time we circle back and reflect on the old wounds that continue to bind us, there is an aspect of what we believed to be true that literally falls way. And the more that we intentionally move towards this process of letting go, the more that the situation becomes new, one that we could not perceive before.
I have been having these experiences in multiple forms and with the generations of people I love on all sides. After five decades of anger with my mother, this process finally freed me to see, as if for the first time, that she could have never done anything differently. Mostly, I was left saddened by the time that I lost in my vindication that I should have had a different mother. So not surprisingly during this holiday time with my children, I was also for the first time able to witness how my overcompensating mothering ended up passing on much of the same distancing that I was so trying to avoid from my own childhood.
Maybe this is why we are blessed with so many decades in this life. Because it takes so much time to lift the veils of our own misunderstanding and get back to the beginners mind. The more we can come back with a beginner’s mind and the openness and curiosity that comes with it, the more readily we can release our old pain masquerading in new form.
So here I am again, humbled but grateful, that at the very least, I raised a family that is not afraid to look at and talk about these wounds that may have otherwise separated us for decades as they did, in my own family. Years ago I memorized the 50 principles of miracles from the book A Course in Miracles and the one that most often comes back to me is, “A miracle heals the past in the present and thus releases the future.” It all starts with a beginner’s mind- a good way to start a new year.