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On New Beginnings and Tolstoy

Approaching the new year we begin again with the trope of “new beginnings”, a fresh start, "out with the old and in with the new". It's sounds so lovely, but is it helpful to embrace the idea of a “clean slate”?

When Leo Tolstoy was researching the war-part of what would be War and Peace, he found that in trying to get at the beginning of historical events, each milestone was preceded by its own contributors, and he became wary of attempts to express that complexity as a linear narrative. He realized that every tiny blowing of a leaf and fateful decision by a peasant from hundreds of years before led to the culmination of events or the making of leaders. Donald Trump, for instance, would like to believe that he willed himself to his new post, but Tolstoy would say that centuries of actions and inactions by millions of forces—seen and unseen—created him. So, essentially, each moment , and each person, is comprised of all of the energy of every action, thought, and force they have experienced--and even those that they haven't. Why deny this richness with the fallacy of a fresh beginning?

Sure, there is comfort in this idea of leaving behind the past and robustly approaching new goals and adventures, but pause for a moment and acknowledge the powerful notion that you are both part of the story and weaving the story; you are the weaver and the yarn. To pull your thread away from the weft is to leave only the warp—literally and figuratively. Take those past threads—even the unpleasant moments and actions—and weave them in. Actually, do more than that: pull that unpleasant thread, examine it closely, fondle it, know it well, then—with great intention—place it into your new fabric—wherever you want. It may want to be placed somewhere prominent, but do not kow-tow to your memories or fears or failings; these threads are meant to be learned from and put in their proper place. And what if the thread is a rich one that spans generations and is one that makes the unique fabric that is your life? Cherish it all.

Take heart that while you cannot deny every drop of rain that has fallen on you and every word you have spoken, YOU will create this story, this masterpiece, this life, and YOU choose the composition from this day forward.

I leave you with the words of Tolstoy: “The changes in our life must come from the impossibility to live otherwise than according to the demands of our conscience not from our mental resolution to try a new form of life.”

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