Sunday, October 11, 2015

Guatemala, Day 1 and the beginner's mind

Today was basically the trip here and settling in. At some point on the plane, one the students made a memorable comment: “I just have no idea what to expect.” To me, this was just amazing, as it reflected her open mind, a clean slate upon which to write who knows how many kinds of new and different experiences.

This comment also reminded me of my yoga practice. I remember one of my teachers used to say that, no matter how advanced you become in the practice, it is important to always approach things with “a beginner’s mind”.

A beginner’s mind: The feeling of openness, the excitement of trying something totally new… not knowing… not being sure of yourself, maybe even feeling some insecurity or discomfort. Now I am thinking that this is how most of my students are feeling here, this week. And this is a good thing!

This also makes me think of something I learned in Spain last summer, at the CIEE International Faculty Seminar on Intercultural Development. The facilitators talked about zones of comfort we all experience when engaging with other cultures (e.g., in a global service learning program). I need to find the reference for this, but, basically, there is the comfort zone, where we are most of the time in our regular, everyday life. Then there is the stretching or the challenge zone, where we need to go in order to learn new things. Finally, there is the panic zone, when we have no idea what to do or how to deal with unexpected obstacles or stresses. Hopefully, our students will not be in the panic zone this week, but it’s great for them –and for all of us- to step out of the comfort zone and into the challenge zone, in order to be open to new things, participate, and grow.

I even did this yesterday, when our whole group went to eat lunch at a fast-food place called Pollo Campestre (“Country Chicken”) -not the best vegetarian option, right? With pictures of fried chicken all over the menu, I thought I was doomed to another Lara bar meal. However… I was happily surprised to find a great salad that included avocado, beans, cheese, tomatoes, etc. that I actually enjoyed. A small thing but, nonetheless, it was a moment of taking a beginner’s perspective. Thankfully I did, or I would have stayed hungry.

So, this week, I am going to remember my student, not knowing what to expect, coming in with a beginner’s mind. This will help me empathize with all the students, who are certainly going to spend a lot of time in their challenge zones here in Guatemala. Hopefully, it will also push me to keep the beginner’s perspective as well. 

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