Some cycles are helpful. Some are important. Some are simply self-destructive. From the outside looking in it can be easy to assess which is which, but when you’re caught in the incessant restlessness of constantly “pushing”, the insidious can seem inconspicuous. Sometimes it’s easy to mistake the cycle of self-delusion for self-determination, and we think that maybe if we stick a spoon into a light socket instead of a fork, this time will be different.
Every morning I get up early. The dull ache in my head, hiding just behind my eyes, tells me it’s too early. But I get up anyway. I meditate, I caffeinate, and I write, or, at least, I try too.
Sometimes the words meet me at my desk. Sometimes they don’t. Sometimes I can’t tell the difference, but I am always here; working, waiting, hoping something will happen. I call it my morning ritual. It is my ritual of beginning; my spiritual practice of starting the day, because “starting” is, itself, a spiritual practice. Every morning is a rite of passage; every sound of the alarm is a trial by fire, a test of strength, and I need rituals. I need the firm constancy of their anchoring, especially at the start of the day when I am at my most unsteady. Rituals give me a stable solidity that I can grip; an unassailable hand to aid in the daily act of holding on.
Some mornings it feels like I’m just searching for a good opening line; a sure place to stand and start. Sometimes I just don’t know where to begin. Beginnings are almost always difficult. Endings are often easier than we imagine, because it’s not that difficult to tell when, where, and how a story stops. Conclusions can often come on their own. The middle isn’t always hard to manage either, that’s where the story happens. Often the task feels like little more than transcription; recounting the chronological details of unfolding events in a sensical and sequential order.
But, beginnings are hard. Beginnings are hard because because beginning is hard. Beginning is hard because starting is hard. Starting is hard because starting is always starting-over. No slate is ever really clean. No beginning is ever really new. We start over each day in the shadow of yesterday’s triumphs and travesties, and that’s really hard.
We hold on to our past failures. We allow them to continually lurch over us because we feel that if they are not at the forefront of our thoughts then we will forget. And, we fear our forgetfulness will condemn us to repeating them.
For a lot of us, life feels like a vast and ever-widening collection of moments that we cannot change; a collage of profound instances in which we should have known better; an amassed assortment of words and deeds that we have either said or done that can never be taken back, unsaid, or undone. But, the tired weight of the scars, themselves, is burden enough without having to shoulder all the fucked up shame and judgmental allegations as well. Maybe we really should just let that shit go, especially when we consider that the trophy case of our previous accomplishments and past glories aren’t helpful either.
There’s nothing wrong with relishing what we once achieved, but ultimately that, too, is excessive baggage weighing us down, taking up space, and leaving little to no room for anything new. When we cling too closely to our victories we crystallize our understanding of ourselves into an idealized reflection of something that never really existed. Here, not only can our greatest successes stand in the way of our starting-over, but they can also sour the sweetness of anything that fails to live up to the imagined glory of who and what we once were.
Ta-nehisi Coates says that “Perhaps our triumphs are not even the point.” Perhaps, neither are our shortcomings. Perhaps they never have been. “Perhaps,” as he goes on to say, “struggle is all we have have” and thus, “we must wake up every morning knowing that no promise is unbreakable, least of all the promise of waking up at all”. Such an understanding should not be confused for apathy, despondency, or despair. Instead, according to Coates, “These are the preferences of the universe, itself; verbs over nouns, actions over states, struggle over hope.” Beginning, and beginning again. Starting, and then starting-over.
There are few things that we have overcome that will truly prepare us for that which is still to be overcome. There is almost nothing that can break us to the point of not being able carry on. We are always recovering; always actively healing. We are never through with the work of recovery; healing is never at an end. And, perhaps that’s why beginnings are so difficult because there is never one beginning but many. The number of our days is the precise number of times that we will have to begin again and again and again. Each and every moment, in fact, is a new beginning.
In my own particular way I believe in rebirth. Not because I’m convinced that some literal or metaphysical part of who we are stops just shy of deaths door only to turn around and re-enter some new cycle of existence. I believe in rebirth because I believe that each passing moment mourns the loss of the person we were and each new arising moment welcomes the arrival of who we can now become.
Maybe the battle is the victory. Maybe the fighting is the triumph. Maybe the striving is the success. Maybe the “win” is not at the finish line, but when we find the will to cross the starting line, and especially when we find the courage to continue crossing it again, and again, and again, and again…