The Sacredness of Beginnings

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If we are to have a culture as resilient and competent in the face of necessity as it needs to be, then it must somehow involve within itself a ceremonious generosity toward the wilderness of natural force and instinct. The farm must yield a place to the forest, not as a wood lot, or even as a necessary agricultural principle but as a sacred grove - a place where the Creation is let alone, to serve as instruction, example, refuge; a place for people to go, free of work and presumption, to let themselves alone.
— Wendell Berry, The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays

I stood four feet from beauty yesterday. A young doe somehow missed my coming down the path in the woods and froze solid only feet away from me. She was nearly within arms reach. I was walking my dog and because the deer was so still, he didn’t notice her. The doe and I made eye contact. Her ears twitched. And I stood still for a moment between two creatures whose instincts were at odds with each other. Run towards and run away.  I took in as much as I could, though it was only moments. And then I had to move on before the dog and the deer recognized each other.

And I think that is how it is with all new things in our lives—we come upon them suddenly—we barely recognize them in the mix of all we are looking at. And when we stop, we can see clearly. The new thing staring at us, requiring us to be still and quiet just to see it.

But it’s just not that easy. We try to observe the new thing and meanwhile at the end of our leash are the old habits, the old instincts and a constant familiar tug toward what we know—what has felt comfortable—what wants to continue. What wants to chase that new thing away because the quiet and stillness and openness required to let it in is just too scary—too unknown.

Growth requires these moments of stillness and anticipation. Of simply not-knowing. Growth requires that you can be lost between these two states of yourself—the old and new, your inner hound and the young deer, and just be still for a moment. This state of in-between is so necessary, and so unsupported by our culture. Even for the healthiest, happiest among us, this is not an easy place to find or to stay. Our culture wants to fill that place with things, with achievement, with judgments and busy-ness. If you take the time to do nothing in order to sort out what your next move or idea is, you will likely find yourself feeling badly for ‘not getting anything done.” Our dayplanners and calendars have slots for every hour which imply that every hour must be equally productive. But it just doesn’t work that way. Especially with beginnings.

And if you have a history of trauma or significant loss, beginnings can be even harder. Trauma is about being overwhelmed and caught off guard—and so the precious open state of beginning—the quiet, still place that is necessary for growth—doesn’t feel nourishing, it usually feels terrifying. Trauma survivors hate to be caught off guard, so rather than actually taking in what is new, they anticipate the old, scary experience of the past—even if it is nowhere near them, even if it is long gone. Better to know what is coming, even if it is bad, than be surprised.

And this is why healing from trauma is so important—not just because you want to heal the wounds of the past—but because healing allows you to grow again. It allows you to have a new relationship to beginnings, to openness, to growth. This healing can take a long time—and even when the terror or fear has subsided, you will still struggle with the newness of the experience, with the feeling of being lost in the unknown.

Most beginnings don’t look like much at all. Like the doe, they blend in to their surroundings so perfectly you almost miss them. The beginning of a trail head for most hiking trails are not easy to spot—they are a break between trees, maybe a rock outcropping, nothing more. Which is why beginnings need our help. They need our attention and care.

The thing about growth is that it happens in cycles, think circles and not lines. Beginnings don’t stand out at the front of anything, they happen after endings. Beginnings are really an 'in-between.' The beginning of a butterfly happens in-between the caterpillar and the butterfly. The beginning of the frog happens in-between the tadpole and the frog. Beginnings are easy to miss because we expect to be somewhere else.

So beginnings need our respect.  There will be time ahead for the hard work and gratification of moving forward—for seeing things get done. There will be plenty of time for the challenges that you can see and share and wrestle with. But in order for all of that to happen: you need to be able to be still. To honor and witness the young and innocent as it appears in our life over and over. To trust the experience of not-knowing long enough to find the ‘new.’  And they need our protection. We need to protect the forest of quiet so the new can show up. We need to protect the hours in our day where we can integrate what was finished and allow the new beginning.

© 2015 Gretchen L. Schmelzer, PhD