Already Rhythms: Starting with what is

Seeking a rhythm of life in a new season can be a daunting task. When we face a shift or start to experience the reality of a new chapter, it’s very easy to start to grasp at anything to hold on to, hoping to retain some sense of normalcy, return to what worked before, to find our way back to where we started. But we all know that you can’t go back home once you’ve left. Once a shift occurs, whether it’s the end of a job, the completion of a degree program, the loss of a loved one, or the joy of a new child — when the shift occurs, the world changes and we can’t go back.

However…when we set out to establish rhythms that give life and help us to flourish, we don’t have to start from scratch. Instead, we have to start with what already exists, what’s already there.

Now, this might sound a little bit contradictory, as I say we can’t go back and we have to work with what we already have. The reality is, that even as a shift occurs in our lives so many things stay the same, moving along. For instance, as I’m facing this new chapter of life post-graduate school, so many rhythms of life have continued to chug along around me uninterrupted. Our morning routine hasn’t changed. We get up, eat breakfast, and get ourselves and our son ready for the day. This rhythm exists and it’s a good rhythm.

Or maybe it’s helpful to remember the changing of the seasons here. Summer turns to Fall turns to Winter turns to Spring. “To every season…turns, turns, turns…” While we may be experiencing a shift, the leaves still change, the sun still sets and rises. Rhythm persists.

Ok. So what? In the pursuit of rhythms of grace, rhythms of life that call us towards greater flourishing and help us live fully engaged in the world with gratitude and purpose, we have to start somewhere. So, let’s start with what already exists. Because no matter how big the change, there are good (and likely bad) rhythms all around us each day, habits that shape our emotional states, impact our energy levels, help us engage and disengage with the people we love. Let’s start there.

What rhythms does your life already possess? Use my example: how does your morning practice shape the way you start your day? Does the way you begin your morning, in it’s existing rhythmic cadence, enliven the way you step out the door and engage with the world? Or are there disruptions and distractions that get you off on the wrong foot? (For an example of setting a good rhythm, I love Joshua Becker of Becoming Minimalist’s 10 Minutes to a Clutter-Free Morning”).

I’m also very aware of my technology rhythm, as I’m sure many of us are. There is a rhythm throughout the day of when I pick up my phone to check email, Facebook, texts, and whatever else. This rhythm forms me, it impacts how I face the rest of my day, as conversations and updates and news articles catch my interest, sparking joy or sorrow, calling for my action or my disregard. And this isn’t even mentioning how technology impacts our sleeping and waking rhythm! (For more on that, check out this Harvard Health article about blue light). This rhythm of engagement with the tech around me exists, it ebbs and flows throughout the day and week, connecting us and forming us. To what end does it form us? Are we made better by the way we rhythmically engage with technology and information?

As I take more time doing my “rhythm audit,” I’d like to look at more rhythms that exist. The point is that in the midst of a shift, it’s easy to want to go out and find something completely new to take on and replace what’s missing. It’s so easy to want to add, to fill the space, to clutter up what is now open space. But by starting with what is, we can get a better sense of what else has been forming us in the background, just beyond the horizon of our attention. Although I’ve spent the last four years in a masters degree that focused heavily on spiritual formation, there have been plenty of other rhythms and forces at work in my life that have been and will keep forming me now that that academic work is over. Taking stock of all that exists, with joy-filled curiosity, can help us get a better sense for what needs changing and how new rhythms and patterns of life might be helpful in drawing us towards greater wholeness and flourishing.