Tomorrow at 5am I will be leaving for for Baja, Mexico, to complete the last part of a 300-hour yoga training course. Most people think that I choose to study in Mexico due to its climate and natural beauty. It’s true—in January, the sun offers a gentle brightness that dissolves winter’s steel wool from my brain. Night brings chilly clarity, along with stars that seemingly outnumber the grains of sand on the shores where we camp. Migrating whales come so close to our shala that we hear them spew and splash, and when everyone dashes out to see them, lessons stop to allow for the glorious intrusion. I could go on. But there is another reason I am eager to take this trip.
This retreat is a place where I am in charge of nothing. Everything I need is either in the bags I carry, or given to me by the staff. This includes food, water, shelter, community, education, and support if I should become sick or injured. Luckily, the facility is reliable and catastrophes are rare. I will be free to focus on immersive learning (okay, and on eating fresh vegan meals that I didn’t have to plan or prepare).
Since I arrive as a student, I am liberated from needing to know any kind of complete answer to anything. I ask the questions—even if they happen to reveal that I missed an assigned reading. When I speak, I don’t have to have a point. To take it even further, if I don’t want to speak or engage at all, there is no judgment because no one was expecting that of me anyway. If I try an exercise or technique, I can mess it up because I’m the student, and that is what students do. And at the end, I only need take away whatever my body and brain can carry. There is no test.
All this sounds quite lazy, but for me this mindset is an example of shoshin, sometimes called “beginner’s mind.” It’s an attitude in which we approach learning with curiosity and lack of expectation, even if we think we already know things. Counterintuitively, it is often this state of mind that allows for the deepest learning.
I look forward to sharing new knowledge with you upon my return. In the meantime, why not join me in liberation? Are there a few minutes each day when you can be in charge of nothing? You might listen to a podcast about something completely new to you instead of tuning into a familiar news outlet. Or, during a regular catch-up chat with a friend or family member, listen like there is no need to simultaneously prepare a comment, reflection or question. Wait until they stop talking to decide what you will say. You might also try driving a new route to a familiar destination (allow time to get lost), or using your regular walking route to see how many “new” houses, fences, dogs and trees you can notice.
One of these exercises will lead you into territory rich for surprising new learning. Or not. The one thing I can say with happy confidence, as my bags sit packed and waiting, is that honestly don’t know!