Fìn

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 Fortuna_Wheelrethink 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.

Fín.

Or was that just the beginning?

Journal

Have you given thought to how you begin and end your day? What intention have you built into the first moments of your morning? What allows you to relax and rest as you prepare to sleep? I believe these bookend moments define the quality and health of your daily activities. May I suggest that whether you have a routine or not, keeping a journal or diary is a worthwhile endeavor. No practice has inspired me to try more things, be more attentive, and practice listening than keeping notes on my day.

But what the heck should you even write about? Reading and studying the journals of both great and ordinary people throughout history may leave you with the sense of inferiority, as I certainly felt at the beginning. Not all of us will write compelling prose in the once obscure pages of our notebooks like MLK Jr., Anne Frank, or Thoreau. We can’t all be published posthumously from our daily scribbles, and maybe there should be comfort in that. The practice of keeping a journal is not for others, but it is wholly to your own benefit. Keep a journal for you.

(If I may digress for a moment: I have never understood why when a man keeps such a notebook, it is called a journal, but the women’s equivalent is called a diary. If either of these words have ever hindered you from taking up the habit, choose the other word. Or name it something else entirely. What you call it could not matter less.)

To begin, grab any old sheet of paper and write down things that are important to you that you would want to take notes on and have a record of if you ever should get the urge to travel back in time. These things may be documenting workouts, bullet point summaries of the day, or what you are grateful for. A quick search online can point you toward several templates, ideas, and examples if you get stuck. (My favorite examples are the 5 Minute Journal template and Tim Ferriss detailing his practice.)

Next, decide what time is right for you and how much you want to write. I write for 15 minutes in the morning with my gym clothes on and for 15 minutes in the evening before getting into bed to read. This lets me fill half a page in the morning and complete the day’s page at night. But, of course, that is what is right for me.

Finally, write. Once you’ve chosen an initial template and time frame, the next step is to simply write. It need not begin with “Dear Diary”, though if you’d like to consider an entry as writing to a third party reader, go on ahead. It may feel clunky at first, but remember, you’re taking notes on your day for you and for you only. There’s no need to write and think in finished, publishable prose. And remember, if you want to tweak your template, try splitting the page for a morning and evening session, or any other change you might conceive of, do it. You’re writing by your own rules. These will inevitably change as your values and priorities evolve.


I currently write six days a week with the following template. (Dixie and I practice an adapted Sabbath day on Fridays, during which, even journaling is allowed to rest. Next week, I’ll explain and discuss our Sabbath practice in detail.)

Header – Scripture chapter and date.

Scripture reflection (5 lines) – I value reading a chapter out of the bible every morning before I open my notebook. I reflect on the subject of that chapter, raise questions, or summarize what I’m reading in my own words in order to more fully comprehend and understand.

⇐ [Left Arrow] (1 line) – I value learning to listen to what Dixie cares to speak about as we prepare for bed and fall asleep. I figure the last thing my spouse wants to talk about in the day carries added weight and importance, so I recall our conversation from the night before.

Future (2 lines) – Without drowning in too many self help guru’s messages of imagining my best life, I do practice a form of visualization. I take stock of my current habits and imagine them out to their final conclusions, for good or ill. For example, what would I look and feel like if I ate like I did yesterday? If the outcome is less than ideal, I know exactly where I must course correct. I also take the time to imagine what it would be like to live into some of my wildest dreams and goals, engaging as many senses as possible. A common recurrence is owning a house with an expansive porch where I spend a majority of my time at home outside reading, playing, smoking my pipe, and having conversation with friends and family.

Today (2 lines) – With the two lines above in mind, I spell out one or two discrete and exact actions that I could do today to put me one step closer to the future I visualized.

Gratitude (1 line) – What am I grateful for in the exact moment of writing in the morning? It may be as simple as the cool glass of water I have that morning. Nothing is ever off limits where gratitude is concerned.

⇒ [Right Arrow] (2 lines) – With the same philosophy as the left arrow in the morning, I take care to notice and actively listen to the first thing Dixie wants to talk about when I get home from work.

Summary (5 lines) – Here, I take notes on my day. A summary of notable events, conversations, tasks completed, my inner self talk, or emotional state.

TIL [Today I Learned] (5 lines) – If everyone can teach me something, than I am never not a student ready to learn. This posture helps me enter my world with humility and curiosity. By taking notes on specific things I learned, it again helps me to practice active listening and engagement throughout my day.

“Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardor and diligence.” – Abigail Adams.

Prayer (5 lines) – As a Christian, a prayer practice is central to what I believe it means to commune with the Divine through Christ, but I have always struggled with the words. So here, I pray through writing. I address God. I vent. I ask questions. I challenge. I request. Prayer is much more to me than five lines a day in my notebook, but where I feel words are necessary, this is where they go.

1% (1 line) – The Kaizen Method, or One Percent Better exercise, is a reflective practice that I discovered some time ago in which I ask myself how I could be just one percent better tomorrow than I was today. Too often, goals and aspirations grow to be so grandiose that they becoming daunting in their size and complexity. So instead of asking how I could lose 100 lbs. in one year, I ask how I could work toward losing 2 lbs. in the next week. I draw little check boxes next to my one percent better tasks for tomorrow, then either check the box or circle the box the following day depending on if I followed through or missed the mark.

Gratitude (1 line) – What am I grateful for in the exact moment of writing in the evening? Keep it simple and honest. Again, nothing is ever off limits where gratitude is concerned.