I have gone from being able to do 100 push-ups in a set to not being able to do one and back again. I spent years developing myself as a fencer only to have to tear down what I’d built and start from scratch. Years ago I could touch my toes without bending my legs, sometime in the future I will again.
Three major surgeries have made me intimately familiar with starting over from square one.
Only 50% of climbers who aim to conquer Everest reach the summit on their first try, and it’s a well charted route with expensive guides, ropes, and oxygen.
One thing we know for certain: an attempt to reach the summit is always accompanied by a trip to the bottom.
It’s important as someone who learns and strives to get comfortable with going back to the beginning. These beginnings can be thrust upon you by circumstances like injury, sickness, or unplanned breaks. Alternately, they can be the result of the hard realization that what you built needs a new foundation.
When it is the result of circumstance, you need to have the strength to get up and rebuild. You must have the presence of mind to savour the familiar path and receive new insights from it. And you must have the integrity to take each step again — if you try to rush to the end, and catch up to “where you were”, you’ll most likely end up back at square one. Just like the first time, it takes rhythm and a firm but loving brand of self-discipline.
Perhaps choosing to return to the beginning is the hardest. It is humbling to embrace the beginner’s mindset, especially if you’d found some modicum of proficiency in the past.
The consolation is to know that each return to the beginning teaches you about how strong you really are. I am a hiker and a climber and I take the same routes all the time. There is a way that walking a familiar path can be pleasing — like returning home. There is an internal journey that is always advancing, and following a road you know well on the outside can free up your mind to go further on the inside.
When I struggle my way through those first push-ups, or the humbling experience of having my butt handed to me in a fencing match, a part of me says: “Hello, old friend. I’m looking forward to walking this road again.” I try to use these moments as a reminder to focus on the immediate. To be present to the new journey and open to what I might learn from it. I know that I can get to the peak again, because I’ve done it previously. I also know that just like before, the journey is made in steps.
Here’s to new, old, beginnings.