A Beginner’s Mind

A “Beginner’s Mind” here is not specifically referring to the mindset of a beginning golfer. It refers to the Eastern philosophy of having a mind emptied of conditioned ideas, concepts, techniques and methods. An essential element of a beginner’s mind is having a curious and open mind to allow one to see what shows up when investigating and experiencing any activity……including your golf swing and your golf practice. Both a beginning golfer and an experienced professional could benefit from adopting the philosophy of a beginner’s mind to facilitate learning or improvement.

A beginner’s mind is receptive to learning something new. It is a place of freedom where there is no attachment to preconceived ideas and methods; there is no attachment to limitations; and it revels in the idea of possibility. As far as your golf game is concerned, it involves a ‘letting go’ of preconceived methods of how to swing a golf club correctly and conditioned traditional methods of golf practice. It involves having an open mind to discover new possibilities and your natural abilities. A beginner’s mind is central to the Eastern Zen philosophy of living and acting with “naturalness.” A beginner’s mind prospers in the realm of exploration and discovery. Striving for perfection, imitating golf swing models, golf swing technique and golf swing mechanics are not ‘naturalness.’ Emptying your mind is releasing your mind’s attachment to preconceived ideas, perceptions and instructions – to see what shows up! In the Zen philosophy, emptiness is naturalness.

If every golfer had the same body, the same physical and mental characteristics and the same kinesthetic instincts, then the traditional mechanical golf swing instruction model of an “ideal golf swing” would be a reasonable method to learn or improve one’s golf game. But, we are each unique, with different bodies, different physical and mental learning abilities, different instincts and different responses to stimulus. The best way to learn and improve one’s golf game is to explore, embrace the experience of sensory awareness, adapt, and discover what works for your unique physiology and instinctive ability. There is more than one way to swing a golf club and hit a golf ball effectively!

In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities;
in the expert’s mind there are few.
Shunryu Suzuki
Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

Applying the Eastern concept of Zen and a beginner’s mind to your golf practice would mean hitting golf shots with full attention as if you were discovering what it feels like to hit a golf ball for the first time. A variety of types of golf shots, swings, stances, grips and focuses would facilitate this mindset. For example, if you’ve never used a certain variation in your golf grip to hit a golf ball, you are almost forced to pay attention – not only to the results, but to the sensory awareness of how your body responds and how your body feels in a golf swing with that grip. Three simple golf exercises similar to those found in the Awaken Your Inner Golfer book follow. Simply, their purpose is to facilitate exploration and discovery of your instinctive kinesthetic abilities – your naturalness.

For a right-handed golfer:
For chip/pitch shots and half-swing ‘full shots’only,
have your right pinky and ring fingers
overlap your left middle finger.
Have the base of your left index
overlap the fingernail of your right middle
with the tip of left index
resting on the underneath side of the grip
between your right index and middle.

Make the only focus for your swing be,
as soon as possible after impact,
take a few steps back away from the target
so you can watch the flight of the golf ball
with the front of your body facing the target.

For a right-handed golfer:
Imagine there is a soft wall behind your back.
Make the only focus for your swing be
to feel your left shoulder blade
tap the wall on your follow through.

These exercises present a pathway to experience the present moment, which is a central theme in the Zen concept of “mindfulness.” There is no attachment to “how to swing correctly” or to past instructions. It is exploration just for the sake of exploration, for the sake of learning, for the sake of possibility – to see what shows up.

In Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, Shunryu Suzuki writes about the Zen concept of “Right Effort” and states, “Our effort in our practice should be directed from achievement to non-achievement. Usually when you do something, you want to achieve something, you attach to some result. From achievement to non-achievement means to be rid of the unnecessary and bad results of effort.” He expounds on ‘naturalness’ and states, “Naturalness is some feeling of being independent from everything, or some activity which is based on nothingness. Something which comes out of nothingness is naturalness.”

Cultivating true joy in our golf practice comes from our non-attachment to results. It comes from being in the present moment with openness to possibility. Curiosity and enthusiasm pave the way toward joy. True joy does not come from seeking results, but comes from just doing the activity, just having the experience. It is an open-minded practice, the practice of a beginner’s mind.

Exploring the golf exercises in Awaken Your Inner Golfer can also be a meditative experience (See the March 2018 Instinctive Golf Blog The Meditative Nature of the Golf Exercises on this site). It is said that, in its simplest, meditation is getting beyond thought. The exercises can help you go beyond your thoughts to access the wisdom of your body. They can help you go beyond your conscious thinking and analyzing mind into your unconscious body/mind where kinesthetic ability, adaptive ability, creativity and enthusiasm reside. In his book The Fluid Motion Factor, Understanding the Source of Exceptional Golf, Steven Yellin states, “If the intellect is engaged during a motion, the body will not be free….When the mind gets very quiet it starts operating in what I call a field of abstraction.” He explains that a quiet mind begins to access a deeper intelligence to perform the motor skill of a fluid golf swing.

My approach in Awaken Your Inner Golfer is one of facilitating self-discovery of your instinctive kinesthetic intelligence. Utilizing the concepts of exploration, an open mind and a beginner’s mind will help you learn what you already know. Steven Yellin also proposes the question, “When are you going to stop working on your golf swing and start being able to consistently access what you already own?….Better than the most sophisticated equipment is the inner genius of the body.”

In his ground-breaking 1974 book The Inner Game of Tennis about the mental side of peak performance, W. Timothy Gallwey examines the body/mind connection involved in any physical activity and states, “There is a far more natural and effective process for learning and doing almost anything than most of us realize. It is similar to the process we all used, but soon forgot, as we learned to walk and talk. It uses the intuitive capabilities of the mind and both the right and left hemispheres of the brain. This process doesn’t have to be learned; we already know it. All that is needed is to unlearn those habits which interfere with it and then to just let it happen. The quest is to uncover and explore the potential within the human body.”

(See the Instinctive Golf Blog Learning to golf is like learning to walk on this site.)

After writing his best-selling books on Inner Tennis and Inner Skiing, in 1979 Gallwey wrote The Inner Game of Golf, and in a little over a year knocked 15 strokes off his game – proof that the Inner Game really works for golf. From the summary review of his book, “When Mr. Gallwey is giving an Inner Game lesson, his approach has seemingly wrought miracles within the space of a few minutes. But there are no miracles; his method is to simply help players to observe what is, to quiet the mind, to control anxiety and to think positively. Readers of this book who take the author’s precepts seriously and practice them with an open mind will discover that they can lower their handicaps substantially. There are no gimmicks, no “tips” here; it is simply a matter of trusting your body, of practice, and of relaxed concentration.”

I believe the concepts these authors present for optimization of natural abilities in performing an activity, especially the motor skill of a golf swing, confirm the effectiveness of the approach of “awakening instinct.”  I believe that the process of stimulating your natural instincts represents a pathway to access the “field of abstraction” that Steven Yellin refers to.

In conclusion, could it be that when we quiet our thinking mind, we connect with an Energy and Intelligence beyond our human understanding?!? This is a Beginner’s Mind, the child-like innocence and genius that allows us to tap into our ‘naturalness’ – to see what shows up! With an open mind to possibility in your golf practice and your golf swing you can experience the freedom and joy resulting from the exploration and discovery of your natural instinctive abilities to enjoy and improve your golf game!

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