Every ending creates space for a new beginning to emerge—a seedbed of potentiality and hope for something better. It’s a law of nature that life continually seeks places to germinate. Beginnings from endings can be an exciting time for us with opportunities for change. A time to establish a new habit, relationship, city, or a completely new way of life. But it also means saying good-bye to what we have known, loved, or lost.
“New beginnings are often disguised as painful endings.”—Lao Tzu
“We grin and bear it ’cause the nights are long. I hope that somethin’ better comes along.” — The Muppets
Experiencing an ending, loss, or defeat can cause us to become immobilized. We might grieve for what once was or might have been, as Lao Tzu (ancient Chinese philosopher) and the Muppets realized.
Beginning a new year in the North, with its long winter nights and bitter cold, can be trying. What I’m most motivated to do is snuggle up by a fire, sip hot tea, reflect, and turn in early. Nature turns inward at this time of year to conserve energy. I believe we should as well.
Moving through any transition means allowing space for self-reflection. This space invites our heart’s deepest longings to be revealed. Being fully human is to learn from what has ended, find something that gives us inspiration for the future, and take action by cultivating new seeds. But we must also be prepared for future endings.
Learning from endings
Every ending is ripe with messages to learn from. But how can we learn from endings that cause disappointment or grief? If we simply try to bypass our emotional reaction to the ending and get on with life, we miss the chance to honor the best parts of those experiences or find closure through acceptance or forgiveness. We also risk stuffing unresolved emotions that can plague us in the future.
There is a Buddhist story about a woman whose only child had died. Unwilling to accept his death, she sought out the Buddha and pleaded with him to bring back her child. He promised to create a medicine for this if she would gather mustard seeds from all the neighbors in her village who had not been touched by death. She, of course, discovered that everyone had been touched. She was then able to accept the death, find peace, and move forward with her life. When we acknowledge the sorrows from our loss, we can begin to cherish a new beginning.
As humans, no matter what our religious faith, beliefs, ideologies, or values, we have much in common. When we attempt to gather “mustard seeds,” we find that everyone experiences some kind of suffering.
Everyone experiences losses and disappointments. Everyone has fears, including fears of getting sick, getting old, and passing away. Everyone has desires and unfulfilled dreams. Everyone wants to be safe and secure and experience peace. Everyone wants to be happy and feel loved and cared for.
Choosing one’s own way
With the increasing disharmonies and divisiveness in the world, isn’t it time to rethink our connection with others and value the things we have in common? Isn’t it time to learn how to live our lives with less effort and more ease rather than great effort, stress, and dis-ease? Isn’t it time to reflect on what is really important in our lives and contemplate our spiritual nature and maybe even how we fit into the bigger scheme of things?
Victor Frankl, who survived two Nazi death camps, wrote in his book Man’s Search for Meaning about the men who walked through huts at the camps comforting others. He said, “…everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstances….” He went on to say that to choose one’s own way is a spiritual freedom that can’t be taken away—and it makes life meaningful.
Emotional suffering from circumstances in our life and in the world can compromise our physical, mental, and spiritual health. In spite of what is going on in and around us, this concept of spiritual freedom can help us shift our perspective—and our health. When an individual can face death and still find purpose, imagine what we can do when we take time to contemplate our deepest longings. Uncovering what we value—what we believe in and care about and what brings us joy—can give us hope and inspiration. While this may seem like a lofty process, when we regularly take time for self-reflection—through journaling, meditation, a solitary walk, or a talk with a trusted confidant, the answers begin to become clear.
Hope, Inspiration Action
The root of the words “inspire” and “spirit” is spiritus, which means to “breathe.” Living in harmony with our core values inspires us to breathe in hopes and ideas and animates us to take action.
Whether changing a habit, identifying a new life direction, or beginning a new project, it’s important to be aware of obstacles and find ways to overcome them. What may block you from living in alignment with your values—lack of time, resources, distraction? Taking action requires not only letting go of the past but also controlling the outcome. Remain open and curious about future possibilities, and the hope for something better.
When endings leave us feeling broken, we may also feel isolated. Hope and faith can help build an inner sanctuary of safety to help us move beyond our own condition. Having human connections provides us essential support and the security of community. These connections may even “conspire” to new help us find a meaningful path. Conspire means to breathe together in harmony.
Embrace the light
The poet Rumi said, “The wound is the place where the light enters you.” When we embrace the light of hope, faith, self-confidence, and compassion for others, we move beyond our own condition.
Desmond Doss is an example of someone who exuded this approach. He was a 145-pound World War II medic of the 77th Army Division who served at Hacksaw Ridge (also the title of a book and recent movie) on Okinawa, Japan. As a conscientious objector, he refused to carry a gun. Yet, following battle, but still under enemy fire, he single-handedly rescued 75 men and lowered them to safety below the ridge over a 12-hour period. He continued to say, “Lord, let me find one more.” If you can stomach the war scenes, it’s an incredibly inspiring movie.
Whenever plagued by inner anxieties and self-doubts, take time to reflect on your deepest values. You’re bound to find a spark of hope. Savor each step forward, each accomplishment, and every tiny pleasure. Draw inspiration from your endings your new beginnings to flourish.