Finish lines create different responses in different people. For my brother, a competitive distance runner, the last mile of any race was always his fastest. Knowing he was almost there allowed him to give everything he had. “No reason to leave any gas in the tank,” he seemed to be thinking.
I remember having the opposite reaction during each of my kids’ senior years of high school. Rather than dashing toward this proverbial finish line of full-time parenting, I did everything I could to slow down. Knowing I was almost there made me want to savor it all and dawdle my way to graduation day.
While both are natural reactions to seeing that an end is near, both create a little upheaval. Dashing for the finish line requires a full focus on the future (even if it’s just 7 minutes away). I think it is highly unlikely that my brother was taking in the scenery or even enjoying the act of running in all his last miles.
On the other hand, dragging your feet toward the finish line indicates at least a little resistance to a pending change. For me, I was clinging hard to a “project” that I’d been fully invested in for 18 years. As excited as I was for each of my children to embark on their next stage, I wasn’t quite ready (I wasn’t at all ready) for that stage of my life to end. I was allowing “the scenery” of parenting to obscure every other aspect of my life.
What if endings were just another step along the way?
There is another way. When I’m teaching, no matter the length of the course, getting within sight of the finish line energizes me. This isn’t an energy to rush toward the end, just getting it done. Rather, it is an energy that inspires me to teach the last class with the same enthusiasm, zeal, attention to detail, and presence with which I taught the first.
The difference is in the lack of special treatment. While my brother obviously knew there was a last mile in every race, he treated these miles differently. While I obviously knew my babies would one day grow up, I will confess that it was easy to pretend this was an unlikely possibility for about 16 ½ of the 18 years it took for that to happen.
When we treat endings as a matter of course – the natural or expected thing – we can give them our all without lunging toward them or resisting them with all our might. Our energy goes into doing whatever it is we’ve been doing all along. This is a steady, rather peaceful way to be almost there.
Beginning, continuing, ending, beginning anew
A yoga chant that I find very meaningful is “sa ta na ma.” Sa symbolizes beginning or birth. Ta is continuing or life. Na is ending or death. Ma is beginning anew or rebirth. As I repeat the sounds over and over again, I feel little flares of emotion and connection to each.
I feel a burst of joy when I intone Sa and recognize how much I love beginnings. Ta feels like home because I am and always have been a do-er. I feel a little snag of grief when I say Na and know that endings are hard for me. My response to Ma shifts – sometimes it feels like hesitation, sometimes like curiosity, sometimes like relief, and sometimes like wonder.
As the chant goes on the little flares of emotion smooth out. The sounds smooth into one another like a circle. Except for Ma – starting anew or rebirth. No matter how smoothly it flows back into Sa, somehow Ma is spacious enough to hold a little wonder – the wonder that every ending (every single one of them) leads to a new beginning.
The wonder of beginning anew
It is with this wonder about new beginnings that I naturally end every course I teach. Wonder at where my students will take the knowledge I have shared with them. How will it change them? How will they change it? Wonder at who I will next have the joyful privilege of teaching. Wonder at what all I will continue to learn as I do so.
And I realize that, despite the finish line upheaval that we created for ourselves, when we found ourselves almost there my brother and I were both still filled with wonder. What would his next race be? What did my next stage of life hold in store for me?
I see now that, like the opening moments of my chant can be filled with hitches and hesitations, our movements from beginning, through middle, to ending and beyond don’t have to be smooth for us to get from almost there to there. It’s that flowing naturally and smoothly to and through each ending allows us to enjoy the wonder of beginning anew.
Repeat after me: Sa Ta Na Ma, Sa Ta Na Ma, Sa Ta Na Ma
There is so much life-giving wisdom tucked into the various aspects of a yoga practice. Reach out to learn more.