“Do not wait until the conditions are perfect to begin. Beginning makes the conditions perfect.” – Alan Cohen
The cold of January hardly feels like a new beginning. The symbolic child heralding the new year looks more vulnerable than strong. Yet this lull between the holidays and spring’s new buds is a great time to reflect on what has been and what might lie ahead.
My vacations often take me on hikes along mountain trails. I begin with energy and a plan. The early hours lead me through green, lush grasses and shrubs, where it is hard to see beyond the next bend in the trail. As I start to climb, the undergrowth thins. I see an outline of the trail ahead. I grow into a quiet rhythm, a steady pace, a mindful presence. Soon I come to an opening where I can look back to view where I have been. I notice the switch-backs, the ups and downs, the troublesome ravine. I also get a glimpse of what lies ahead– the formidable twists and turns. Knowing how far I have come, I don’t need to be so afraid of what might follow.
The new year is like that hiking trail. I look back where I’ve been and get a glimpse of where I am going. Though the way ahead may not be crystal clear, I can set a direction, create a plan, start afresh.
New beginnings have energy. They are empowered by the spirit of Yes. Too often when we want to change we choose No – a diet full of nos, a budget full of nos, a litany of can’ts. I can’t leave my job. I can’t impact my relationship. I can’t afford to go back to school. I can’t save any more money. I can’t find the time. No carbs, no fun, no joy.
What if instead I looked at what I can do? Where I can turn toward a future different from today and see a glimmer of light in the horizon.
What might that look like? Often it is a simple change. Over the holidays I saw a niece who lost 35 pounds. A year earlier she decided to go to the gym regularly and stop drinking cola. She said Yes to herself.
Saying Yes may hold in it some farewells. My niece said farewell to daily colas. She said farewell to an hour of habitual TV. She said Yes to a stronger body, a sense of well being, a belief in herself.
What part of my life is not working? Is it my relationships? My finances? My health? What can I do about it?
Part of moving out of today’s stuckness is looking at what motivates me to stay where I am rather than move to what might be. It could be fear – I am afraid of not having enough, I’m afraid I’ll fail, I am afraid that I will see that I am already failing. I’d like to get back in shape, but how will I look at the gym? I’d like to save more for later but I fear I won’t have enough now. I am afraid of what I will lose rather than what I might gain. Fear is a powerful motivator – to do nothing, to stay where I am, to give up.
Another motivator, or anti-motivator, is complacency – it’s not that bad, it’s good enough, I don’t really deserve to be happier, healthier, more secure. It’s not that bad to carry my credit card debt – doesn’t everyone? All marriages grow dull. At least I have a job, even if it doesn’t pay enough and I am bored to tears.
A third motivator to staying stuck is hopelessness. Nothing I do matters. I have no agency. It’s rigged against me. They will never give me a promotion. As soon as I get ahead an emergency comes up. It’s in my family genes.
How do we break through these roadblocks? How do we energize ourselves to try another way? The first thing is to understand our patterns, our vulnerabilities, our weak spots. Like my hike, I can look back and see where I stumble, where the path shifts, where I get stuck.
Secondly, define a strategy to address the roadblocks. How will I circumvent my weaknesses. I am a morning person and am much more able to get things done in the morning. I don’t save my exercise until the evening. That doesn’t work for me. If I have a project to tackle, I do it early, before the day’s interferences come calling.
Another strategy that works for me is to enlist help – to team up with a friend, spouse or partner to support me in my change, to walk with me, to ask them to listen as I brainstorm ideas. I do not need to do this alone. Roadblocks are much easier to remove with a partner.
Finally, I become willing to change. Until I am willing, what I know and how I strategize won’t matter. How do I become willing? I listen to myself, to what I really want. I come to recognize what I know deep in my heart. I trust my true self, the one I know to be authentically me. Once I am willing the universe will support me in my change. As the inspirational author Alan Cohen says, “Beginning makes the conditions perfect.”
The New Year is like being on top of the mountain. I have perspective. I am not as distracted. I have time to reflect on what it is I want, what I truly want. When I settle back into my hike, after reaching the pinnacle, I am re-energized. Once I decide what I want to change, determine my strategy and become willing, I have a boost of energy to take me there. Like the New Year’s baby, there is new life in a fresh start.
Mary Lou Logsdon provides one-on-one spiritual direction in the Twin Cities, leads retreats and teaches in the Sacred Ground Spiritual Direction Formation Program. She has an MA in Theology and a Certificate in Spiritual Direction from St Catherine University. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.