In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.” Shunryu Suzuk, Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind
Beginner’s mind is a Zen Buddhist concept that refers to an attitude of mind that is open, fresh, free of preconceptions and awake to the many possibilities of a subject or experience.
In 2008 I embarked on action learning facilitator training as part of the Cultural Leadership Programme’s Leadership Facilitation Skills course. I had had prior experience of facilitated action learning in two different contexts so I certainly didn’t feel like a beginner. I understood the structures of the process and the broad ethos yet sometimes something would happen in the set that would get me really curious. I would leave with a sense of wonder and with a range of questions which boiled down to ‘how did that shift happen? or more specifically and ‘ what were the factors that produced that change and is it replicable?’
So naturally when the opportunity to apply to train as a facilitator with Action Leaning Associates presented itself I jumped at the chance. The training gave me ample opportunity to reflect with others on the subtle processes involved in enabling a set to work effectively, to understand the theories underpinning it and to see the conditions needed for someone to gain insight into their topic so as to effect meaningful change. The result was transformative for me in terms of my confidence in the methodology and in action learning as leadership approach.
A diary extract
A quiet revolution is taking place within. It feels so affirming to discover a process which is challenging but feels so natural to me. I can be my authentic self and grow whilst helping to create the conditions for others to grow. So liberating!!”
Diving into books on leadership at the time, I came across many connections between the group process of change and individual leadership which inspired me further.
Despite current ads and slogans the world doesn’t change one person at a time. It changes as networks of relationships from among people who discover they share a common cause and vision…our work is to foster critical connections…we need to connect with kindred spirit. Through these relationships, we will develop the new knowledge, practices, courage and commitment to lead to broad based change.” (Wheatley and Frieze)
I can see now that I approached the training with beginner’s mind, an eager, curious state of being present to what was happening and seeing the possibilities within each moment. As an Action Learning Associate now my task is still to keep beginner’s mind, to be ready for what may occur. So despite many successful experiences of facilitating sets my goal is to approach each set meeting anew, to let go of previous sense of achievements but instead helping to create a sympathy with others practicing, doing the work and seeing things anew. I do think having such a positive facilitator training experience and the reading I did during it has helped create a foundation which I can draw on, that I go back to, that acts as an inspiration years later.
From time to time (the) tribe (gathered) in a circle.
They just talked and talked and talked, apparently to no purpose.
They made no decisions. There was no leader and everybody could participate. There may have been wise men or women who were listened to a bit more – the older ones – but everybody could talk.
The meeting went on until it finally seemed to stop for no reason at all and the group dispersed. Yet after that, everybody seemed to know what to do. Because they understood each other well. Then they could get together in smaller groups and do something or decide things.” (Bohm, on Dialogue)