For many of us the pandemic has been about multiple endings involving a great deal of grief and loss. Norms and expectations, our usual ways of doing things, and relationship dynamics have all changed. This has been a season of trying to re-invent the ways we work, worship, play, and relate to one another. I have moved to telehealth with my office clients, which greatly affects the sense of connection we can create with each other. We lose so much not being physically present in the same shared space. It is easy to focus on everything we have lost, and how things may never be the same again, and to become anxious and depressed about the chronic, ongoing nature of the state of crisis the world seems to be stuck in.
I have started encouraging myself and my clients to focus on how in a time of loss and endings, there is always an opportunity for new beginnings: a time for things to end, and a time for things to be begin anew. Death and re-birth are always intertwined in nature: the caterpillar becomes a butterfly, the autumn leaves decaying now are the mulch for next year’s spring growth. The things I have watched die in me have made room for new growth. Times of crisis strip away elements that we thought were important, life giving or supportive. Maybe this life jacket I have been desperately clinging to is actually a strait jacket that is keeping me from growing and stretching myself in new ways, or of seeing my potential, or of finding a healthier, more integrated way of showing up in the world.
Opening ourselves up to the possibility, or even the necessity of change is HARD! Change requires new neural pathways to form in the brain, which uses a great deal of energy. Our brains like to use the pathways already established and well worn. Neurons have to fire repeatedly in a sequential rhythm for new pathways to form, and it is easier to stay on the often traveled super highways in our brain than to turn onto a newly forming, still rutted dirt road, full of uncertainty and promise at the same time. But nothing changes when we stay on that superhighway – it takes us to places we shouldn’t be going any more, and perhaps don’t even want to go anymore, but we just seem to land there over and over again. I would like to share a poem by John O’ Donohue that poignantly captures both the challenges and rewards of new beginnings:
For a New Beginning
In out-of-the-way places of the heart,
Where your thoughts never to think to wander,
This beginning has been quietly forming,
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.
For a long time it has watched your desire,
Feeling the emptiness growing inside of you,
Noticing how you willed yourself on,
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.
It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the gray promises that sameness whispered,
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent,
Wondered would you always live like this.
Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream,
A path of plenitude opening before you.
Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is at one with your life’s desire.
Awaken your spirit to adventure;
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.
(By John O’Donohue)
As you read this poem, I encourage you sit with a few lines that speak to you. Perhaps you might journal any thoughts, emotions or body sensations that arise as you consider the invitation to shed old ideas and patterns of behavior and grow into the new self that is constantly forming within us. When you read the line about the potential for a new beginning that “watched you play with the seduction of safety,” what happens in your brain, emotions, and body? Do you find yourself being “seduced” by the comfort of the familiar, even when the familiar has become stagnant or potentially destructive? When you read the line: “And out you stepped onto new ground, your eyes young again with energy and dream,” do you feel challenged, motivated, afraid? All of these reactions can exist at the same time. Don’t try to analyze these responses, just make space for them to be there. Be curious about them.
In the Natural Lifemanship model of Equine Assisted Psychotherapy, we talk a great deal about the principles of pressure. Pressure exists for all of us in our everyday lives: pressure to show up at work or in our relationships, for example, and although this term can carry a bad connotation, pressure is actually necessary for anything to happen. Without alarm clocks, bills to pay or requests for connection and care from our friends and family, very little would be accomplished in our world! We have three choices in response to pressure: we can ignore it, resist it, or cooperate with it. What do you notice in yourself as this poem encourages you to “awaken your spirit to adventure?” Are you drawn towards this invitation? Repelled by it? Unmoved? Notice the internal pressure you feel to ignore, resist or cooperate with the idea of growth through new beginnings. Do you feel “the emptiness growing inside of you?” Are there relationship patterns and routines that you have outgrown? Instead of “willing yourself on,” can you allow yourself to move in a different direction that is more true to your authentic, genuine self?
If you are not quite ready to step “onto new ground,” can you at least allow yourself to imagine it? To try it on in your mind and body? Remember, courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is being afraid and stepping out in faith anyway. Sometimes it is “going scared.” If you allow yourself to be uncomfortable, to open up to the reality of the inevitable losses of life that also hold the rich promise of new beginnings, “Soon you will be home in a new rhythm, for your soul senses the world that awaits you.”
The destination does not have to be clear before you embark on a new journey. We think we have to know exactly where we are supposed to arrive before we leave, but journeys are not always about destinations, but rather about what and whom we encounter and experience along the way. We are not called to be successful, but to be faithful. The world defines success in ways that often leave us empty, exhausted and overwhelmed. What would it look like to focus on being faithful to this next step of growth, this new beginning that may be calling softly to you? It may just be a whisper, and easy to miss, but your soul hears and longs to respond. So here’s to some new rutted dirt roads, some still tangled paths, some new beginnings!