Or was that just the beginning?
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about transitions. Beginning and ending and beginning. I think we all can feel the typical New Year energy humming in the air. Like the self-aware population of our earth collectively decided to strike a tuning fork before the 2020 recital, re-tuning our instruments for another year of practice, rehearsal, and performance. That really is the ritual we’ve built into the much maligned New Years Resolution. For some reason, we feel the gravity of that transition, but can we really say there was much functional difference between the two days? It was Tuesday, then it wasn’t. A Wednesday was born, then it wasn’t. Yet 2019 was laid to rest while 2020 dawned. It was inconsequential, yet momentous.
The New Year transition has the power it has because of the power we’ve collectively given it. The accepted calendar says something shifted, and that’s enough for us all to call it a holiday and watch a ball of lights drop to the ground in a city most of us don’t live in. Substantially, something seems to have changed, so why not act like it? There is something so natural in using artificial transitions like this as a reset; hence, the New Years Resolution. Use this time of year to reflect on the past, take stock of the present, and collect yourself for the future. New Year is a great beginners course in embracing transition and harnessing the power of forward vision. Because as hard as this New Year might feel to stick to your goals, you can bank on there being one next year. And do you want to merely start over or have something to build on? This particular orbit, this wheel of fortune and fate, really never stops spinning.
Around this time of year, my wife and I take a long weekend to get away from the house and the job and the cats and the chores to intentionally celebrate what went well in the previous year, recognize what didn’t go well, and set goals for the next twelve months. Throughout the year, we harness the power of the transitioning months to review our goals for the year, course correct, and set specific items to be accomplished in the next 30 days. Once a week, we sit down for twenty minutes to review progress made, details of the week, and celebrate the small wins. Twice a day, I take time to write in a journal, taking notes on my day and review progress made on the year’s goals.
It’s not always perfect. But it’s regularly intentional. And it’s a few steps beyond utilizing New Year. Each transition is useful to address some facet of our many-sided lives. The New Year rolls the calendar over. The birthday marks another successful orbit around the sun. The wedding anniversary marks another year you successfully avoided divorce and hopefully developed an even strong intimacy and friendship.
I wonder how different our culture would be if we gave more thought to these kinds of transitions and rhythms? How do we end and begin things? Are we paying attention enough to use them in their full potential power? How could a shift in mindset change a day or a year?
Consider the Jewish practice of Shabbat or Sabbath. The traditional day of rest in this culture begins at sundown Friday evening and lasts through sundown Saturday evening. The transition from day to day in this mode of thought occurs with a concrete, predictable moment that observably occurs every 24 hours. The boundary in the calendar is actually far less arbitrary than saying “midnight” is when the date changes. So if the day begins at sundown, it follows that the first substantial act of the new day is actually rest and sleep. Regardless of whether Sabbath is beginning, rest and sleep are the first things on the agenda, top priority. Only after vital time is passed resting does waking, eating, working, and playing begin. This is really what we were handed in the Genesis story of creation. Adam enters the scene on the culmination of the sixth day, then the seventh day is declared to be a holy day of rest, consecrated by the Divine Itself. Like he got to walk on the stage for the first time just for the standing ovation. Adam’s first full “day” of Being was passed in rest.
It’s a mindset shift. Are you sleeping every night in preparation for that day’s work or are you sleeping to catch up from the last day’s work? Do you charge your phone battery before you utilize it as a tool or do you charge it after you’ve spent it? Do you earn your paycheck to budget and spend in the future or do you earn it to cover what you bought in the last two weeks? Are you leaning forward in anticipation or limping behind in despair?
How can you treat endings as beginnings and beginnings as endings? How can you rethink transitions that will help put you in a growth mindset? In the historic cantata, Carmina Burana, composer Carl Orff adapted 12th and 13th century poems to create a work of musical mastery. The poems deal with the ever turning cycle of fate. In a very real way, the piece at the same time celebrates and laments the wheel of fortune. The opening (translated) lyrics erupt from the choir:
O Fortune, like the moon you are changeable, ever waxing ever waning; hateful life first oppresses and then soothes playing with mental clarity; poverty and power it melts them like ice.
The first poem of the piece is known as “Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi” (“Fortune, Empress of the World”) and starts with the very well known “O Fortuna”. And in a perfect illustration of the ever turning wheel of fortune, the work ends with the same poem, the same declaration, “O Fortune, like the moon you are changeable, ever waxing ever waning”, the same notes. The beginning could be the ending of another cycle while the ending could be the beginning of another cycle.
So consider this New Year a chance to subtly shift your mindset and set some real intention behind the transition of the decade.
Or was that just the beginning?
I just returned from a lovely, subzero weekend spent in Missoula, Montana. My wife Dixie and I rented ourselves a cozy Airbnb tucked into the backyard of the quintessential mountain family home. Beyond the snow drifted front porch of our tiny house rental, we spied the rear facade of a forest green cabin-style home with a pair of raised garden beds in the yard that faced each other to form a fire pit and built-in seating, a raised rack built to hold our host’s canoe and skis, and a small 100 sq ft ice rink. Built into the side of our weekend abode hung a sturdy, overhanging bouldering wall. Beneath the rental’s awning, still outside, mind you, were a variety of shelves full of supplies and linens to restock the rental alongside a fully stocked outdoor library and a simple patio table and chair set. This was undoubtedly envisioned for a warmer vacation than ours. Inside, we discovered a cozy one room apartment with a full kitchenette, bathroom, hightop dining table, queen bed, and a small hide-a-bed sofa facing the double doors toward the covered porch. Tucked into the wall near the kitchen area was what we learned to affectionately call “the little heater that could”. This small electric wall heater successfully kept our little room toasty, even as strong winds outside howled a chilling negative 25 degree windchill. This, we made home for a charming and inspiring 48 hours.
We retreated from home because we wished to convene deliberately, to distill only the essential facts of our life together, and see if we could learn what our marriage has to teach us through our history, to discover the vital signs of our current relationship, and to dream of what the future holds. We borrowed this idea from our marriage mentors. Our purpose was threefold.
First, we reflected on what was successful and good and on what was unsuccessful and discouraging in 2018. This provided a few rich hours of reminiscing on various vacations that we took to Washington D.C., Arizona, Seattle, and Victoria, Canada. We celebrated the launch of new positive habits like journaling, reading, and enjoying a weekly Sabbath free from screens. Losing weight, shrinking student loan debt, and starting to practice yoga together were landmarks to commemorate in their small beginnings and offered as refocused priorities. We did the hard work to remember the bad as well. Tense relationships that acted as sorts of slow acting poison to our home life were brought forward to once and for all pray forgiveness over and let rest. We learned in 2018 that with some, love is best practiced at a distance. Exhausting activities that were misaligned with our priorities were recognized as such and allowed to rest in our history, no longer haunting the present.
Second, we set out to determine our household priorities for 2019. We desire to build a united front as we move in to this year. It is our hope that common purpose will work to amplify the voices and actions of two beyond our natural maximum volumes and capabilities. With what I began calling our “big words”, we set a vision for our near future: Health, Freedom, Creativity, Together. These are the themes that we will continually revisit throughout the year, a heading of sorts, helping us navigate what lies in the future. We crafted a weekly schedule down to the details, because we believe that freedom lies in discipline. We have made time set aside to exercise, to read, to talk, to create, and to explore. Things that don’t serve our “big words” are much easier to say “NO” to now that we’ve sorted out what we want to say “YES” to. We also began drafting what we’re calling our family constitution. Lifting the idea from Stephen Covey’s, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, we are beginning the process of composing a written constitution for our family today and in the future. We aim to establish “what people like us do”, to craft a home and family culture by beginning with the end in mind. By intentionally defining the kind of character, integrity, and values we will have in 20 years, we already set our faces in the right direction.
Third and finally, we allowed our imaginations to carry us into the ideal future. With no holds barred, we each brought lists full of “things to pitch” and crazy big dreams. In our minds, we talked and acted out what it will be like to launch businesses, to own a home without ever needing to take a mortgage, to graduate college, to run a self-sufficient life on the edges of town, to vacation overseas, to own property in other countries, to make music together, to give heaps of money away to causes we believe in. We envisioned podcasts to start, books to write, movies to shoot, albums to record. All these and more went swirling into the air with abandon. Then, we chose a couple to focus on in 2019.
What happens next will test our resolve and our follow through. I’m inspired to live into a future that we’ve dreamed up together. Together, Dixie and I envision a life full of rich health, deep relationships, rewarding work, and exciting creativity. We’re moving forward. On his podcast Side Hustle School, Chris Guillabou closes each episode with a tagline that has been rattling around in my head for weeks:
“Inspiration is good, but inspiration with action is better.”