Making a Fresh Start
Many of us think of spiritual life as an overwhelming path we struggle to continue following. We think of monks who seem to spend their entire lives reflecting and practicing. In fact, spiritual life is about making a fresh start again and again.
One version of Benedict’s rule governing monastic communities begins Always we begin again.
People who embrace monastic life make commitments for the rest of their lives. They live into their commitments by practicing making a fresh start over and over again.
Once a person with whom I met for spiritual direction was working to develop a particular practice. He was confused and discouraged and ready to stop trying.
I listened to the story of his struggles, and told him, “That is fine. Give up for now. Just make a fresh start tomorrow.”
Some of us act as if we believe spiritual life is all about dedication and perseverance. We seem to think spiritual life is about overcoming obstacles and fighting our way through every challenge.
My experience is more about trying and reflecting, learning and doing what we can. When we realize we cannot go further or do more, we stop and listen to sacred stillness. We remember spiritual life lives within us and all around us, and we rest in its loving presence.
When we open our eyes we wake up and make a fresh start.
Spiritual life is not about following rules or avoiding mistakes. We are not struggling to meet some high standard or exceed expectations. Spiritual life is about learning how, whatever our circumstances, to start fresh.
No matter how many time we have tried to practice listening to sacred stillness, we can start over again. Even if we do everything we expect ourselves to do one day, the next step is about beginning again.
Monastic life is about learning to make a fresh start.
We Practice Beginning Again
Each moment, each hour, each morning, each day, each week, each month, we make a fresh start.
It is not because we want everything to be perfect. We do not begin again to demonstrate our stubbornness or determination. It is not as if our will power is refusing to stop, refusing to quit. We are not trying, trying again because we have not yet succeeded.
Beginning again, and again, is about learning and growing each time we try. We want to continue growing and apply what we learned when we tried before.
As we put what we learn into practice we start fresh.
Spiritual life is not a test of endurance. We explore and practice what we discover. When we recognize spiritual life in us and the people around us we begin to see it more clearly. Spiritual life reveals itself to us in more depth.
We pause to rest, to reflect, to recover, to catch our breath. Always, we begin again. We stop, look around us, and decide to take another first step. We make a fresh start from a new place.
No two steps are exactly the same. Each step prepares us to begin again.
New beginnings feel like fresh starts. We let go of what has happened before, putting the past behind us. Beginning often has an energy of its own.
Beginning again can be a challenge and a struggle. We often require more motivation to start over than to continue. Some of us need to overcome inertia or frustration.
Beginnings are important and beginning again can be even more significant. Beginning can be exciting and energizing. A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. Every day on our journey depends on our first step.
Our days are full of opportunities for fresh starts.
When Do We Begin Again?
Each morning begins when we open our eyes. We practice remembering to open our eyes to the potential and the beauty of each moment. Some of us work to find ways to wake up and begin again in every moment.
We are like plants on which the buds are almost ready to bloom. As the blossoms start to emerge, and open, everything begins to change.
It can take hard work for us to send out branches and leaves, buds and blossoms. Sometimes growth is painful. It can be tempting for us to surrender and simply fall back to earth.
We get discouraged and start to doubt the value of growing and blooming. This is when we need to take some time to listen.
Many of us have felt like we were wasting time for many months. We feel frustrated and confined and confused. It is difficult for us to know what to do next. We are tired of waiting and eager to make a fresh start.
Before we begin taking steps and head off in a direction, we need to be prepared and ready. Some of us could use more time breathing in spiritual life.
Are We Ready for a Fresh Start?
We are not ready to begin again just because we are tired of waiting.
Getting ready to start again is more than simply having everything we think we need to take with us.
Some of us need to practice listening to sacred stillness. We want to be open to and in tune with spiritual life.
Others of us might want to do a little more reading and reflecting. The world is filled with bright, shiny objects and we do not want to get distracted. We may need to learn the lessons of our last few steps before we begin again.
Each of us has our own lessons to learn and skills to practice. Sometimes we can develop practices on the way, and sometimes we need to take some time to rest and listen.
We can help each other, but we also need to grow and learn from our experiences.
The path stretches out before us. We begin again as we take our next step.
Is this a time when we need to stop and give up, and make a fresh start tomorrow?
How will we make a fresh start this morning?
Where are we ready to begin again this week?
[Image by LindsayEnsing]
Greg Richardson is a spiritual director in Southern California. He is a recovering assistant district attorney and associate university professor and is a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s website is http://StrategicMonk.com and his email address is StrategicMonk@gmail.com.