There’s an old Zen story that compares the “master” or the enlightened one to a child. Children see everything new in each moment, experiencing life anew each day through introductory scenarios and first exposures. Try to imagine how exciting your life would be if everything you did all day was setting a precedent, every action and nuance occurring for the very first time. The jadedness of adulthood comes not from maturity but from repeated exposure to exciting things; things that were once joyful in and of themselves become droll and banal. We develop a tolerance to simple pleasures and then start seeking complicated pleasures, most of which cause problems.
This is what happens when we make habits of things that give us pleasure: they stop being pleasant. Alan Watts said, “The greater part of human activity is designed to make permanent those experiences and joys which are only lovable because they are changing.”
The key to keeping a child’s mind, or ‘beginner’s mind’, as Suzuki says, is mindfulness. The expert is the person of habit, the specialist, and, as the saying goes, there are few posibilities in his mind because he is so centered on one thing. If you cultivate singlemindedness, you will hit this roadblock of overspecialization. This is an especially salient point in today’s world, an ant colony in which each individual seems to be expected to be an expert in one thing. You choose a concept or a school of thought or some sort of niche and it becomes your life
Instead of choosing this tunnel-visioned path, we can choose to be constantly in flux, ever-changing. We can spend one day playing music and the next day gardening. If we utilize our energies properly and devote ourselves to working hard at living rather than at some sort of life’s purpose, we will begin to live like children again. We will find ourselves seizing the moment rather than the day or the year. Remember to live like a child; allow old boring experiences to wash over you in some sort of new way. Try to pick out the beauty of situations that you think are repetitive; no two events occur the same way twice, though surface appearances may deceive.
Picasso said it took him a decade to learn to paint like Rembrandt but a lifetime to learn to paint like a child. This is the crux of the point. To return to a state of beginner’s mind is not easy, but it is worth the effort. It requires a journey into oneself and forces the ego to question its own power. If you have dreams of being a perfect X or Y, how will you cope with the unexpectedness of how your skill develops, or how your interests deviate over time?
If you’re focused on the end result rather than the means, what sort-of questionable or even terrible things might you be capable of? Some of history’s worst atrocities were committed by men with good intentions but one massive and irreversible flaw: they decided their ends was worth any means. We must learn from history not to live our lives this way. Treat each moment as an ends to itself and do fully whatever it is you have to do right now. These fulfilling moments, when compounded, make up a worthwhile life.