Credit: Zelig Smulson

Beginning Again — Making way for infinite beginnings and meaningful change

(Part 1 of 2)

“Human beings were given a secret and that secret was not how to begin, but how to begin again.” -Elie Wiesel

I’ve been thinking a lot about change and beginnings. I recently traveled in Southeast Asia. While I traveled a lot in the past, this trip was markedly different — I’m older and I traveled with a partner. When you’re with someone for so long you have a lot of time to talk. And talk we did, about religion, technology, science…you name it.

Moreover, the consistency of having one traveling partner means that conversations can go deeper — they can twist and turn, rest, and then resume again with more gusto and information. We weren’t constrained by time, we had nowhere to be. The only pressing matter was conversation.

And for the first time, in a long time, I revisited some of my core thoughts and beliefs about myself and the world around me.

What do I really think about family, motherhood, faith and religion? And how technology is affecting us? And about how my life is going and what success means to me?

Through this exploration I experienced a shift in what I think and believe about myself. And this shift felt like a new beginning.

More than the hikes and dives and people we met, this shift felt real and sustainable and significant.

And this made me think about how we change, or rather, how we begin again.

Out of Beginnings — Finite and infinite beginnings

Last week marked the ultimate beginning — the reading of Bereshit (the first chapter of the Book of Genesis) — the one with “In the beginning God created…”

And I read something that caught my eye. While the first word ‘Bereshit’ (in Hebrew) is generally translated to “In the beginning”, it can also be translated into “Out of beginnings”.

Out of beginnings [God, the Universe] created the world.”

I love this. I interpreted this to mean that out of beginnings WE are created. Beginnings — moments of meaningful change — are the engine of our becoming (our creation). As Maria Popova writes, “Our becoming, like the synthesis of meaning itself, is an ongoing and dynamic process”.

In short — Beginnings fuel our creation.

But what kind of beginnings?

According to a teaching about the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashana, which took place a few weeks ago) there are two types of beginnings: finite and infinite.

And different changes we make in our lives result in either finite or infinite beginnings (or both).

· Finite beginning — (Caused by physical changes) Moving to a new apartment, getting a new job, dating a new person.

· Infinite beginning — (Caused by non-physical changes) Changing thoughts, opinions and beliefs about yourself and the world.

· **beginning = change that has some meaningful impact on our lives (not a complete definition, but will do for now)

For example, for me:

· Finite beginning is starting a new position at my company or embarking on a trip to Southeast Asia.

· Infinite beginning is the change in my beliefs about career and what career and success mean to me while on this trip, mainly that seriously focusing on my career can actually be meaningful AND that I don’t need to be an expert to have something meaningful to write/say.

*Note- these two beginnings don’t always coincide. For example:

· Finite beginning only — Think of all the times you (or someone you know) entered into a new relationship (a finite beginning) without undergoing an infinite beginning (a change in fundamental beliefs about yourself or the type of relationship you want to be in)?

The result: A repeat of past mistakes

· Infinite beginning only — Think of all the times you read personal development books, practiced meditation, repeated affirmations or mantras (in short — made all the mental/spiritual changes) but failed to leave that relationship or job.

The result: No actual/material change in your life

In my opinion, real, sustainable growth incorporates a healthy mix of both infinite and finite beginnings — both changes in beliefs about ourselves and the world AND the physical changes.

However, we’re often so focused on (and excited about!) the day to day finite beginnings (the new job) that we forget about the importance of infinite beginnings (the new beliefs about work, life, etc.).

Using this framework, I reflected on the past few years focusing only on my infinite beginnings. And interesting things started emerging, patterns that I had never realized before.

For example, one of my most significant infinite beginnings occurred after college. In college I was big on freedom. And to me freedom was a loud, wild freedom that meant saying yes to every experience, trying everything, no restrictions or rules (as I’m sure many of you can related to). A freedom that was solely external.

And then after college I traveled to Nepal and lived in a village with a friend who was religious. She was the opposite of ‘freedom’ (her life was shaped by rules and restrictions), but she was at peace, and she had a strong sense of who she was and what she thought about herself and her life. This wasn’t a eureka moment. But from that summer on I redefined what freedom meant to me. It now meant saying no to experiences that weren’t good for me, practicing more discipline with the habits and actions that are good for me, and also being more open to religion and ritual then I had ever been before. This infinite beginning played a pivotal role in my most significant finite beginning — the decision to move to Israel.

Now your turn!

The best way — I think — to explore and examine our beliefs and thoughts about the world and ourselves is through conversation. So talk through this with a partner!

1. Reflect on the last few years (or more)

2. Create a list of finite beginnings and infinite beginnings

3. Discuss with a partner — what were some of the significant infinite beginnings in your life? What led to these beginnings? How did these infinite beginnings affect other areas of your life? Are there any areas in your life where you want to initiate an infinite beginning?