Spring is traditionally thought of as the season of new beginnings. The winter barrenness is replaced with leaf and flower buds, animals come out of winter hibernation to enjoy the longer, warmer days, and we humans begin our ‘spring cleaning’ in our homes. The idea of a ‘new beginning’ is inspiring and freeing and tends to leave us with feelings of hope and joyful anticipation. There is even a phrase coined for these feelings- spring fever. My question for you today is, can we learn to cultivate spring fever all year long?
Spring fever seems to incorporate the notion of beginner’s mind. Dr. Ronald Siegel, in his book, The Mindfulness Solution, writes that the Zen master, Shunryu Suzuki, called beginner’s mind “the ability to let go of prior conceptions and see things with fresh eyes”. So, just as the plants, trees, and flowers bloom anew in the spring bringing a fresh look to the world, we can train ourselves to see things afresh even when spring is not in the air. According to Siegel, Suzuki said, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few”. Looking at the world through a beginner’s mind, then, we are curious and open to possibilities. If you’ve ever watched a baby exploring her toes, and or tasting a new food, you understand the wonderment of experiencing something fresh for the first time. For that baby, her world is full of possibilities.
As adults, that would mean viewing our internal and external experiences freshly, without preconceived notions and fixed beliefs. It would mean recognizing that no two moments are truly the same, that each breath, each sound, each vision, each sensation is unique if only we would notice. And if we are aware of each unique experience, if we are curious about what we are experiencing, we might begin to feel more of a sense of awe and excitement, feelings akin to spring fever.
Too often, though, instead of being open and curious to each experience, we approach each new minute, each new hour, and each new day, with habitual predictability. Our eggs and our sandwiches taste the same, if we even taste them, we relate to our friends and loved ones in the same stale ways, we are frustrated and angered by the same situations, over and over and over again. But, how can we get out of this mindless rut and begin to see our world in a fresh, new light if, indeed, our lives involve repetition and perceived predictability?
Part of the solution may be to change up some of the ways we do things. If we are used to the same breakfast every day, perhaps we can try something new. If we tend to sit in the same seat at the dinner table, perhaps we can move to a different seat and gain an alternative perspective. We can be aware of the repetitive and habitual arguments we have with family members and make a conscious effort to respond in a different way. But everything new becomes old again, so where does that leave us?
Mindfulness, learning to be in the present moment without judgment and with lovingkindness, may hold a key. Developing a mindfulness practice, where in our daily meditations and yoga we practice awareness of breath and bodily sensations with the intention of noticing with a beginner’s mind. Aware that even if we have practiced a body scan one hundred times, this body scan is different from all of the others. Aware that even though we take thousands of breaths each day this breath is different from all of the others. A regular mindfulness practice will then make it a little easier to experience the eggs we eat every morning for breakfast as if it is for the first time. A regular mindfulness practice can help to ‘condition’ the brain to think in that way.
Spring time is a time for renewal and it engenders feelings of hope and joy because the world begins again. We have the capacity to bring a beginner’s mind to our daily experiences during all of the seasons in order to experience more of a sense of awe in our lives. We may experience a fuller life, with less stress, anxiety, and depression. Spring fever ALL year round. Who can argue with that?
Marcia Kaufman, Ph.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist