Conversations For Transformation: Essays Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

Conversations For Transformation

Essays By Laurence Platt

Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

And More


Beginner's Mind:

On Having No Memory

The Hess Collection, Mount Veeder, California, USA

August 23, 2011



This essay, Beginner's Mind: On Having No Memory, is the companion piece to On Having No Past.

It is also, with On Having No Past and There's Nothing To Get, Revisited, the prequel to A Belief System Blind To Itself.

It was conceived at the same time as As Good As It Gets.




Our attachment to the past, while rampant and prevalently ongoing, goes almost unnoticed. It goes almost unnoticed not because we don't know we're attached to the past. It goes almost unnoticed because it's so much a part of our modus operandi, it's so much part of how we are that we rarely consider the possibility of not  being attached to the past.

In much the same way as a fish doesn't distinguish it lives in water because it's always there, because that's how it always is for a fish, in much the same way as a bird doesn't distinguish it lives in air because it's always there, because that's how it always is for a bird, so we don't distinguish we live in the past ie we're attached to the past - because it's always there, because that's how it always is for us human beings.

If I stop and notice the form of my attachment to the past, if I stop and take notice of how living attached to the past shows up, I notice I constantly compare  current situations to those I already know. It's not something I do consciously. It's not something I do deliberately. It's simply machinery which incessantly repeats the mantra  (if you will) "This  reminds me of something which happened earlier" ... "This  is like something I already know" ... "This  resembles something I'm familiar with" ... over and over and over again.

The machinery incessantly comparing current situations to those I already know, doesn't show up for me as unusual. The way I compare everything to something I already know, is just the way I am  ... or so I say. It's how I judge things. It's how I look for their validity. I almost never  look at things the way they are  without comparing them to what I already know. Looking at things the way they are without comparing them to what I already know, is called "beginner's mind", a not necessarily elusive, difficult, or far fetched  way of looking at things.

"Beginner's mind" was first articulated in the annals of Zen. If beginner's mind is looking at things the way they are without comparing them to what we already know, you could say beginner's mind is setting aside  what we already know when it comes to assessing something new. It's more than that actually. You could say beginner's mind is setting aside what we already know when it comes to assessing anything in front of us. You could say beginner's mind is not being held hostage by our memories of what's already happened. You could say beginner's mind is in effect having no memory.

There are a number of scenarios which could result in what I'm calling "having no memory". But the ones I'm considering for the purpose of this conversation aren't the ones you may think I have in mind. I'm not talking about having no memory as a result of illness. I'm not talking about having no memory as a result of injury. I'm not talking about having no memory as a result of aging. I'm not even talking about having no memory as a result of drinking too much wine.

There are two ways I'm speaking about having no memory. The first way I'm speaking about having no memory is intentionally setting memory aside. But it's the second way I'm speaking about having no memory, having no memory, which is the powerful and (another) entirely appropriate Zen distinction. Notice it's the former, intentionally setting memory aside, which is the access to the latter, having no memory. The former is an act of intention. The latter is a possibility.

So beginner's mind is the possibility of having no memory. The beauty of this is you can't be  beginner's mind if you're unwilling to confront the machinery you are. It's in confronting the machinery we are that we discover the access to being beginner's mind. It's the same access, by the way, to discovering who we really are.



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