© Hulton Archive
© Hulton Archive

I want to talk about practices that are conducive to cultivating Beginner’s Mind—the mind fresh and awake to many possibilities. This mind is different from the mind we often bring to habitual activities or habitual ways of thinking or responding. How can I be a beginner in each moment, even in those situations where I am doing something that I have done many times before?

I have found the practice of the half-smile conducive to cultivating Beginner’s Mind, as well as the practice of taking on several points of view in a particular situation. These are the two practices I want to consider here.

Like many other practices, the practice of the half-smile—for the space of three breaths—can bring us to the experience of what I call “Buddha space.” By this I mean the space I know from sitting every day over a long period of time. It is that space that is open to the most possibilities and to seeing most widely. Often, having a moment of “Buddha space” is enough to recall me to a wider mind than I normally have as I race around through the course of the day.

The practice of the half-smile has nothing to do with feeling like smiling. For those of you who have not done this practice before, you can think of it as “mouth yoga.” Just lift the corners of your mouth slightly—not a full smile or a grin—for the space of three full breaths. Let your attention be on the sensation of slightly lifted corners of the mouth and then with the three breaths.

This is a practice you can do when you first wake up in the morning. If you already do some daily meditation practice, the half-smile is a practice you can do when you first begin your regular meditation. When I first began doing the half-smile, I did it whenever I found myself waiting: standing in the checkout line at the grocery store, on hold on the telephone, waiting for an appointment in the doctor’s office.

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