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July 11, 2019

Zen has the idea of the beginner’s mind – a mind that is fresh and alive. Sometimes I wonder how you can practice beginner’s mind when meditation is all about focusing on one thing only – it seems a very stagnant way of using the mind. One would at first think to practice beginner’s mind is to keep it moving, keep everything “new”. But actually the best way is just the opposite; it is only through repetitiveness that we discover and dissolve our mind’s tendency for habituation. One of the Zen practice is asking the question “Who?” If you ask the question Who? You may experience a sense of bewilderment, a kind of openness and freshness in the mind because it is suddenly freed by the state of not-knowing. But eventually your mind will lose that openness and return to its ordinary state of delusion and wandering thoughts, so you ask the question again, “Who?” The power of the practice comes from the power of the question, not the word itself. By maintaining the question in the mind, we can purify it and recognize its nature. But the power of the question will only come if you always ask the question as if it is being asked for the first time — in other words, you ask it with a beginner’s mind. It is definitely not easy to keep the question fresh and alive after asking it for hundreds or thousands of times. Once the question “Who?” degenerates into just the word “who” – then the point is lost. What turns “Who?” into “who” is habituation-the reason why after driving through our own neighborhood for years, we stopped noticing anything new. Habituation is the mental process of labeling reality so that your mind no longer pays attention. Once you stop paying attention, then you just go through the motion and you sleep walk through life. Have you ever drive home from work and when you finally pull into the garage, you can’t remember anything that happens along the way home? Or maybe you are sitting on the cushion, going Who? Who? and then without you noticing any difference you are just repeating the thought who, who, who,…. without a true desire to find the answer. Can you keep each question as fresh as the first one? Can you feel each breath as if for the first time?