In The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, William Blake expressed a wonderful truth: “If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, Infinite”.
To some extent, the expertise coming from our old learnings is crucial for us to take steps forward, to improve our knowledge and to allow ourselves to enhance our abilities. Without learning from the past experiences, we would need to learn every time the same things, what we already know, and our evolutionary process would not have gone so far. However, when the set of models that composes our expertise is used as a filter to meet the present moment, the main risk is to miss the richness of life with the multitude of possibilities that it offers. Without being aware of it, we find ourselves being in relationship with a narrow, limited and rigid world to which we rely to create definitions of ourselves, of the others, of the experience. Life is definitely more fluid than a model and, for sure, is less repetitive.
When models and habits replace reality, our identity loses a lot of those precious dimensions, that we could express in many fields of life, such as creative thinking, decision making, inspiring others and so on.
And, together with preventing us from taking the right opportunities at work, this is able to generate a lot of suffering in our lives.
It can become a sort of “not-living” life, imprisoned by a subjective world, made of restrictions, repetitions, habits and distortions, overlying the reality, guiding actions and behaviors with the same power as a universal rule.
It seems worth to introduce here what in literature is well-known as “Top-Down” and “Bottom-Up” experience processing in the brain. In very simple words that are not expected to be rigorous but just helpful to give an idea, Top-Down processing is a way of experiencing things basing on cognitive models, perceptions (that have always something subjective) old learnings coming from past experiences, consolidated opinions and beliefs, something that is able to strongly influence the way we meet the moment-by-moment experience. When we say that we live in our minds instead of living in the experience we refer to the influence of this Top-Down system.
Bottom-Up processing instead, refers to a more direct contact with the stimuli, both internal and external, that less significantly influenced by higher cognitive models and by the stories the mind creates on the experience.
The more expertise we have, the more we are at risk of making them become a model that overlies the reality, unless the use of those learnings is only focused on improving our knowledge and avoiding making old mistakes.
The difference between a wise mind and an “expert” mind does not rely only on how rich our expertise is, but rather on the use that the mind makes of it: the wise mind is open to approach the experience with the attitude of seeing, learning, discovering.
The “expert” mind refuses to truly meet the experience basing on the strong belief that it already knows what it is. Maybe we do not need a deep reflection to understand that the “expert” mind creates its own limitations and condemns itself to be slave of models and habits. In his book Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, Shunryu Suzuki Roshi states the following:
“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”
The beginner’s mind is an unconditioned, free mind, a mind that, although aware of the old learnings, is able to see things with fresh eyes, a mind that fully meets the moment with all what the moment can offer. If we consider that our mind shapes our world, a beginner’s mind creates a spacious world, full of possibilities, where people can allow themselves to see new details, possible new combinations, to discover things that they were not even searching for. A beginner’s mind, in the way that Shunryu Suzuki defines it, is the best example of wise mind, and requires awareness, patience, curiosity, all qualities that can be trained and cultivated in our daily lives.
Katiuscia Berretta: Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Certified Teacher by the Center for Mindfulness, University of Massachusetts – Medical School. Experienced teacher of Organizational Mindfulness and its applications on health promotion, engagement and productivity, leadership development and innovation. Former member of the Neuroleadership Institute and Certified in “The foundation of Neuroleadership”. Tony Buzan Licensed teacher of Mind Mapping and teacher of Applied Innovation. Former employee at IBM where she worked for 16 years Katiuscia has been has been operating in the R&D workload automation area and, before that, as a Research Assistant at the Department of Mathematics – University of Rome “Tor Vergata”. She is certified in UX foundations by Career Foundry and in Insight Innovation – Leading for Creativity by IDEO (Tim Brown). Katiuscia is an experienced practitioner of Yoga and Insight Meditation and regularly attends seminars and silent meditation retreats. In her activities, Katiuscia integrates together technical and scientific expertise with a long time practice. In cooperation with Centro Italiano Studi Mindfulness by Mondomindful, she offers a secure guide for positioning mindfulness and innovation pathways in companies and organizations.
Vicki Flaherty: Vicki Flaherty, Ph.D. was part of IBM’s Leadership Development team. She helped IBM executives lead with clarity, intention, and authenticity and her passion is awakening humanity in the workplace. She led the mindfulness movement at IBM and helped IBMers lead with resilience. As an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist, her career is about helping people succeed through design of onboarding, mentoring, career development, leadership, and talent programs. Vicki has been an IBM Corporate Service Corps alumnus, an IBM Certified Consultant, and a member of IBM’s Coaching Community of Practice. She is a leadership facilitator and coach, speaks at global events about success, and she blogs about leadership. Traveling with her husband Jim, running and gardening are key ways she recharges and creates focus, and she finds great joy in yoga, reading inspirational books, journaling and writing, especially poetry. You can reach her at: LinkedIn and Twitter. You can follow her at her Leading with Intention blog or via the Mindfulness series on IBM’s Jobs blog.