Between Beginning and Ending

The real story is between the beginning and the ending

We grow up listening to stories that start with “Once upon a time …” and end with “The End.” Once we learn to read, we might notice that these words are often in a larger, fancier font than the rest of the story. I wonder if this distracted us from the fact that the heart of the story lies between the beginning and the end?

Though I don’t think we can blame this on childhood stories, beginnings and endings also stand out in our grown-up lives. Think about all the stories that make up your life: relationships, challenges, stages, projects, etc. Despite the fact that we spend most of our lives in the midst of the story, what we tend to remember is how these stories started and ended – marriage or breakup, success or failure, and so on.

The energy of beginnings and endings

This isn’t surprising. When we’re just starting out, we are filled with energy and emotion. Think about the energy of a new year or – if you’re a lover of Mondays as I am – even a new week. Beginnings can feel exhilarating or paralyzing, exciting or anxiety-producing. Beginnings can leave us filled with anticipation or dread. In short, they are noticeable.

Similarly, endings have their own energy and emotion. While we see some endings coming, many pop up out of the blue. This affects their effect on us. Some endings feel like a relief, some like celebrations, and still others feel either bittersweet or downright sad. Like beginnings, they are quite noticeable.

Between times are more uncertain

The very concreteness of beginnings and endings can render times of being “in the midst” a little wishy-washy. We don’t know where we’re going, how much longer it will be until get there, or how it will feel once we do. We’re just going. Because of their fuzzy nature, the driving energy and emotion of beginning and ending can dissipate when we’re in the midst of the story.

In his book To Bless the Space Between Us, John O’Donohue poetically and vividly describes these times between beginnings and endings.

“You are in this time of the interim
Where everything seems withheld.

The path you took to get here has washed out;
The way forward is still concealed from you.

‘The old is not old enough to have died away;
The new is still too young to be born.’”

The uncertainty of these between times requires us to pace ourselves, which can be challenging. Those of us inclined to “get it done,” will need to slow down, to remind ourselves that this could be a marathon rather than a sprint. Those of us inclined to mosey, may need to step on the gas a little bit to avoid getting stuck.

Yoga and meditation can set the pace and tone for between times

My yoga and meditation practices really help in setting the pace and tone during these in-between times. Firstly, my practices teach me the importance of showing up regularly. When I unroll my yoga mat or sit down to meditate, the most powerful thing that I am practicing is showing up. This practice makes it more likely that I will show up to whatever else in my life I am in the midst of no matter how challenging, tedious, or exciting. If I don’t show up – to yoga, meditation, or life, nothing happens. To return to O’Donohue’s words, if I don’t show up, I won’t be present when the way forward materializes.

Secondly, my practices have taught me to let go of my need for results. Moving and breathing on my mat is good for me – body, mind, and spirit – whether or not I topple out of a balancing posture or am able to reach my toes. Meditating is beneficial whether my mind is focused and serene or hopping all over the place like a monkey.

Can you see how important letting go could be when you’re in the midst of something with no notion of when or how it will work out? Life is no different than practice in this way. All that matters is that we show up and participate. If we don’t, we won’t be prepared when the new is ready to be born in our lives.

Whatever you’re in the middle of, remember, this is not the end

What are you currently in the midst of? A semester, a process, a disagreement, a marriage, a volunteer commitment, an art project, or something else? Whatever it is, pause for a second to appreciate that you are in the heart of the story. Until the end arrives, I offer you a little more of O’Donohue’s wisdom to inspire you to keep showing up and to stay curious about what is being born in this chapter of the long, fascinating story of your life:

“What is being transfigured here [in the time between beginning and ending] is your mind,
And it is difficult and slow to become new.
The more faithfully you endure here,
The more refined your heart will become
For your arrival in the new dawn.”

May you trust – and maybe even savor – every step along the way between this particular “once upon a time” and “the end.”

(Excerpts from For the Interim Time by John O-Donohue in To Bless the Space Between Us)

So many of the lessons learned in yoga and spirituality are “easy said (or read) than done.” Having a companion in spiritual direction can give you the fortitude to remember that the story of your life is happening in the fuzzy in-between times.