Become a Beginner – Simplify

Becoming well in body and mind and spirit is our focus in Simply Well. Ageless wisdom teaches that only when you are experiencing life simply, and celebrating its ordinariness, are you living in harmony. In contemporary times, the Zen master and scholar Suzuki Roshi has termed this approach to life the “beginner’s mind.”

Wellness is not a matter of accumulating something-like more data or more special programs. Rather, wellness is realized by being present and unburdening yourself of all that prevents a natural state of basic healthiness. To be well is to become more simple. Here are a few suggestions to get you thinking and moving like a beginner.

  • Simplify your stuff. How can you expect newness, freshness, and surprises if every square inch of space in your home and every corner of your mind is filled with “stuff”? It is beneficial to leave room around you for something mysterious to take place in life. Consider how your “stuff” may be a burden or may keep you trapped because it identifies you with the past and with a limited definition of who you are. Consider whether or not you would like to make a change here. Try giving a bunch of stuff away and learn what happens.
  • Simplify your diet. How natural, fresh, and true to their original color are the foods you currently eat? Foods that are cooked simply or eaten raw tend to supply many more nutrients than those that are “worked over” in a variety of ways. Refining your diet in this way can have profound effects on the quality of your entire life.
  • Simplify your life. Look carefully at all the ways in which your energy is being used, and note especially where and how it is being drained away. What might happen if you simply said yes when you meant yes and no when you meant no?

Take time to rest your mind. Use nature as a source of healing and meditation or prayer as a daily practice for keeping attuned to what is important. When the big picture is kept in the forefront, the little things just fall into line.

The great majority of us are required to live a life of constant systematic duplicity. Your health is bound to be affected if, day after day, you say the opposite of what you feel, if you grovel before what you dislike and rejoice at what brings you nothing but misfortune. Our nervous system isn’t just a fiction; it’s a part of our physical body, and our soul exists in space and is inside us, like the teeth in our mouth. It can’t be forever violated with impunity.

Boris Pasternak

See your loved ones as brand-new every day. After living with people for years, adults or children, it is easy to develop the notion that you really know them. And in some ways you do. Yet it is a trap to always anticipate their reactions to certain things. Doing that almost assures that you will get just what you have expected. Acknowledge that human beings are much more complex and mysterious than that. There are always surprises to be uncovered, always new depths of appreciation that can be explored. Allowing someone else to be brand-new may start with pretending or imagining that you are meeting them again, for the very first time. It works.

Watch your language and your thoughts. Expressions like “I’m too old for that . . .” should be red flags, signaling you to become a beginner again.

Turn problems upside down, especially health problems. Instead of assuming the attitude that problems are things to be fought against and conquered, try playing with the notion that an illness, or any other problem, may be a friend or a teacher at this particular time in your life. “Listen” to what this challenge has to teach you, or what it forces you to practice-like patience, courage, or creativity. Don’t consider problems as something “bad” or “good”-just as “different” or “interesting.” Admittedly this attitude isn’t easy to hold when times are really difficult. It takes gentle persistence to turn problems around and to make this approach to handling upsets a way of life. Why not begin now?

An Exercise for Beginners
Look out the window or step outside for a moment or two. Look at something, anything, in the natural environment-the sky, a cloud, a tree, a patch of earth. Soften your gaze, letting your eyes see each thing as if you have never seen it before. Be a beginner. Be an explorer. Let your curiosity about that thing grow. Now imagine that this is the very first and the very last time you will ever experience this gift. Absorb the impressions as fully as possible with all your senses and let yourself feel gratitude.

The Hebrew word dayenu, meaning “it is enough,” captures the essence of living in gratitude for life. To live dayenu as a way of life is to be ready to embrace the mystery of the moment, fully, and then let it go. In this moment, all is a gift. One breath is precious, one smile, one day of seeing the sun. If there is no next moment, this attitude allows one to die freely, happily, with deep appreciation for all that has been and is.

“The misery here is quite terrible; and yet, late at night . . . I often walk with a spring in my step along the barbed wire. And then time and again, it soars straight from my heart-I can’t help it, that’s just the way it is, like some elementary force the feeling that life is glorious and magnificent, and that one day we shall be building a whole new world.”

Etty Hillesum, 1942,
Dutch Jew, died at Auschwitz

Reprinted with permission, from Simply Well by John W. Travis, MD, & Regina Sara Ryan. Copyright 2001. Celestial Arts, Berkeley, CA.

The online version of Dr. Travis’ Wellness Inventory may be accessed at ( The Wellness Inventory may also be licensed by coaches, health and wellness professionals, and organizations.

Connection error. Connection fail between instagram and your server. Please try again
Written by John W Travis MD MPH

Explore Wellness in 2021