The Art of Beginning Again

The tradition of making New Year’s resolutions is a good one.  It’s all about leaving behind the baggage of the previous year and deciding to improve at something, add something positive to our life, or otherwise change for the better.

Most of us who make them, though, don’t keep them longer than 6 months, and about a quarter of us don’t make it through the first week, according to Statistic Brain.  This sounds a lot like my own experience; even when I set a reasonable, specific, achievable goal, I have never made a life-long habit out of the resolution.

So is there a point to making them?  Certainly.  Resolutions are almost always about making a positive change in our lives.  Even if we “fail” at them, we have lost nothing by trying, and, for the vast majority of us, we’ve gained at least one week of positive change, whether that’s eating healthier, spending more time with family and friends, starting a new hobby, volunteering more of our time or doing some other activity that helps us or others. The only negatives of New Year’s resolutions for most of us are that we feel discouraged when we don’t keep them–possibly leading to abandoning them entirely– or we put off returning to them until the next New Year.

Of course, annual self-criticism doesn’t need to be a part of the tradition, and we don’t have to wait until the next trip around the sun to hit the New Year’s reset button.  In fact, we’d be better served if we could make any day we want the beginning of a new year, a time to accept our losses, and start anew.

Fortunately, there is no limit to the amount of times we can restart from the beginning.  Meditation is sometimes called “the art of beginning again” partially because meditation teachers realize that failure is inevitable when we do something challenging.  Given enough time, we all make mistakes, we all falter on our path, and we all fail to achieve perfection.  The beautiful thing about the New Year’s tradition is that it reminds us of this basic fact, that we can begin again and do better.

We can carry this awareness with us each day.  Moreover, if you practice yoga, tai chi, meditation, or any other art that requires dedication and focus over a long time, the art of beginning again is essential.  It’s essential not only because we sometimes lose motivation, don’t have the time, or have other events take precedence in our lives, but because there is little, if anything, we can do continuously.  We can’t hold a posture forever, every tai chi sequence comes to an end, and our minds inevitably drift when we sit on our meditation cushions. Our practice of beginning again is necessary for all kinds of human endeavors, and self improvement is no exception: it is a natural pattern, perhaps as necessary as having to breathe out so we can breathe in.   

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