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Cultivating a Beginner’s Mind
Cultivating a Beginner’s Mind

Manna from Heaven: A Lesson in Beginner’s Mind 

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Estelle Frankel, a therapist, spiritual director, and teacher of Jewish mysticism, describes how the lessons of Exodus encourage us to practice a “beginner’s mind”:  

The compulsion to repeat the past is apparent in the biblical myth of the Exodus. When Moses led the Israelites to freedom, they often yearned to return to Egypt. Though they were miraculously provided for throughout their forty years of wandering in the desert, the Israelites were often nostalgic for the “good old (bad) days” in Egypt: “We remember the fish we ate free in Mitzrayim—also the cucumber, melons, leeks, onions and garlic” (Numbers 11:5)…. Somehow, the miracle of the manna that fell from heaven each day in the wilderness did not satisfy the Israelites’ hunger for security. They missed the predictability and sense of control they felt in Egypt—where everything was known. Though in actuality they were oppressed and enslaved by the Egyptians, the Israelites looked back on their time in Egypt with nostalgia because they could not bear the uncertainty they faced as a free people. Freedom is, ultimately, uncertain and unpredictable. One of the first lessons we all must learn in order to be free is how to “bear” uncertainty and trust in the unknown. In the biblical myth of the Exodus, the manna was a vehicle for learning this lesson. Each day for forty years, the Israelites would have to go out and gather their daily supply of manna—just enough for that day…. The manna provided the necessary preparation for becoming a free people, for freedom requires an ability to bear uncertainty, to not know what is going to happen next, and to trust in the unfolding journey…. To go forward, the Israelites also needed to exercise curiosity—to take in and explore new experiences, to practice beginner’s mind. The manna became a vehicle for this learning…. 

The manna challenged the Israelites to develop beginner’s mind—to experience something new and fresh while eating the very same thing each day. Instead of seeking the answers that might put their questions to rest, the manna taught the Israelites to continually live the questions, to understand that the journey to freedom is about remaining awake and curious and not going into sleep mode.  

Frankel encourages us to adopt this same “mind” in even the most mundane routines of our own lives:  

It’s not just food that requires this attitude. Beginner’s mind is a way of life. Each day we are challenged to see the same familiar people and landscapes with new eyes. Just as the cosmos is created and sustained anew each moment, everything is alive and changing, ourselves included, if we are spiritually awake and paying attention. The manna teaches us that “[humans] do not live on bread alone,” on the physical dimension of reality, “but by every word that issues forth from the divine utterance” (Deuteronomy 8:3). When we see existence as alive with possibility, we come out of Egypt, our personal places of bondage and constriction.  

Reference:  

Estelle Frankel, The Wisdom of Not Knowing: Discovering a Life of Wonder by Embracing Uncertainty (Boulder, CO: Shambhala, 2017), 43–44, 45.  

Image credit: A path from one week to the next—Jenna Keiper, Winter Bird. Jenna Keiper, Mystic. Jenna Keiper, North Cascades Sunrise. Used with permission. Click here to enlarge image

There is humility in accepting how much we don’t know. 

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