I’m sitting here on January 13, 2024, surrounded by a powerful winter storm. The temperature is 12 degrees, which apparently (I’m staying inside!) feels like  -10 degrees. I can hear – and almost feel – the intense power, the howling and yes, roaring, of the winds (now estimated at 33 mph) that surround this small building. Their force is assaulting the birds that keep returning to my birdfeeders, which are being mercilessly tossed around. Snow is falling, but it can’t compete – yet – with the mighty presence of the wind, so it is more blowing sideways than falling.

Such is the physical context for this exploration of new year beginnings. Somehow that feels appropriate: I sense that “stormy” might be one word to describe what we are moving into. I don’t think that I’m alone in this anticipation. Of course, every year has its storms, threats, and unexpected challenges – as well as its deepening connections and surprising gifts.

Perhaps we can contemplate helpful approaches – individual and collective – while grounding ourselves in a commitment to two related perspectives: an open mind and an open heart.


Familiar Step: Resolve and Hope


Let’s start with surface impressions…. To most of us, the phrase “new beginnings” sounds and feels hopeful. It has a ring of New Year’s hopes and resolutions. There are common associations: a renewed commitment to relationship or meaningful work, trying something new, beginning a path of abstinence from addictive substances or behaviors, a vision of healing on the personal or collective level…

In our psychological lives, I tend to think of new beginnings in the context of two primary arenas: resolve and hope. Resolve has a ring of intention and commitment. When we get caught up in anxious thoughts, for instance, we may resolve to catch those moments and turn our attention instead to our breath, our feet on the ground. There may be an intention to limit our preoccupation with stories of suffering and expand our availability to the present moment. Our resolve may have something to do with management of anger, or practicing going out for a walk when we start to fall into a dark and hopeless state of mind. We don’t want to keep going down a dead-end path… we want to commit to a new way of coping that will reduce suffering (for ourselves or others). “I am making a new beginning, starting down a new path.”

We know that sometimes, after our initial commitment to a new beginning, we stumble, fall, relapse into old patterns. And then we need to pick ourselves up and start out again. This often calls for support and encouragement from others..

New beginnings typically begin with hope. This can change, this can happen, this is possible – so we focus on strengthening our commitment and resolve, and seek inspiration that can keep us going. Farther down the road, some of that energy often weakens and we find ourselves discouraged – but there is always the possibility of renewed commitment and more support.

A new beginning may be launched without our intention – it just happens, and it captures our attention. Then we want to keep it alive, follow the path that is opened before us – and again, our hope for something different, better, deeper, healthier, more meaningful, keeps us going. The word “opening” captures this experience for me – you may find yourself drawn to a different word or image. The essential invitation here is to recognize the gift of such an opening and to be aware of how we choose to respond. Keep an open mind and an open heart.


New Beginnings in Counseling


In the context of counseling, new beginnings and commitments are common – to change our habitual actions or reactions, to pursue a goal, to improve relationships or health. There is a goal, a sense of what needs to be added or left behind, and some kind of plan for supporting and sustaining the new beginning. All of these rely upon our inner resources, sources of inspiration, our capacity for follow-through and commitment, and the essential ingredient of support.

The journey may be different after a significant loss. We tend to experience the new beginnings as imposed, demanded by life events that we did not choose: these are not inspirational, but required and painful. We don’t like them, we want the old ways back. Eventually, depending on the circumstances, we come to recognize the new beginnings that are needed… and with help, we slowly struggle to find ways to meet the challenges we experience.


New Beginnings in Spiritual Guidance


What about new beginnings in spiritual guidance? There may be similarities, but the context, the commitment, and the sustenance may be different.

What might context mean? If I am seeking meaning that goes beyond the physical to include the sacred, there is a deeper dimension to my sense of purpose, intentions, and connections. “Sacred” may not be definable, but at the heart of our lives we may sense a transcendent reality, a mystery, purpose, divine Being or Beings. Sometimes what we experience is a longing for the sacred without being able to define what that means. Around this sacred core may be aspects of our lives that feel related: nature, relationships, sacred places and times, messages from soul …. Whether or not we have a clear sense of what the sacred means to us or we are searching, new beginnings in this context tend to have a power and depth to them.

For instance, we may feel “called” or inspired to start on a new path of some kind. Sometimes the call comes in a dream, a conversation, a reading, a walk, or in meditation or prayer. When we experience this, we feel invited, inspired, or even instructed to begin something new (or to return to something forgotten, left behind). What we are called to may feel uplifting and joyful or difficult and challenging – but either way, we are to begin! What unfolds from here is likely, at some point, to require commitment: this endeavor matters, even though we may not have a clear sense of the deeper purpose. Some people have spiritual practices that help them to maintain (and re-inspire)  their commitment, and if they don’t, they may need to search for new ways of sustaining, re-orienting, surrendering, and receiving. We often need “re-inspiration,” reminders of how we began the journey, why this matters – and what the alternative of “giving up” might bring with it…

What about sustenance? This can be challenging: inspired beginnings often lose their power as time passes and old habits reinstate their hold on us!  The search for sustenance is often a central thread on the spiritual path. When we lose touch with the initial inspiration, get bogged down in the daily and the unexpected challenges, and lose the precious energy of “beginnings,” what then? Community can be very helpful, but especially for those who don’t identify with a particular religious path, communal support may be hard to find. Then even one or two people who share a spiritual orientation can make all the difference; so can a spiritual director or guide. So we search: for sustaining practices, reading, music, videos, connection with nature, sources of spiritual wisdom (living or no longer living), conversations. Sometimes sustenance may come from an unexpected source – a surprise, a dream, a vision. Whatever the source, we are called to go deeper…

New beginnings arise in the context of both counseling and spiritual guidance: they often begin with inspiration and then call for both commitment and help/support.

Self-care and Action  in a Potentially Stormy Year


I want to close by returning to my starting place: this winter storm and the anticipation of a potentially stormy year in our lives, on the planet as a whole. In this storm I am deeply grateful for shelter. Where might we look for shelter through the potential storms of this year?

We need each other – at least a few people to stay connected to, for mutual support. Even one can make a difference. If you’re an extravert with lots of friends or have families who share some of your values, you are fortunate.  When we don’t have a lot of in-person support available, we can turn to the second-best possibilities of remote connection: phone, texting, zoom and other such technologies. We can email, write and read letters – but we need to reach out and also allow ourselves to receive.

Reading the news won’t do it – it’s just not enough!  Reading inspirational books and articles is wonderful, but still, the other necessity is some kind of action, focusing on political issues, civil rights,  climate change, or the public issue that speaks to us most loudly.  We can get involved in civic efforts, write letters, make changes in our own lifestyle, and go to marches if that feels right. We can vote. We can join active groups. If you can donate to a worthy cause, do so. Now is the time.

We also need to take care of ourselves – mind, heart, body and spirit. If walks in nature ground and restore you…if you love to read, or do yoga…if you practice some form of meditation, contemplation, or prayer…if listening to music is the balm you need for soul and spirit …whatever resources sustain and inspire you, embrace these in your life. Find and draw on the sources of support that are right for you – spiritual, emotional, social, physical.

We are in this together. Let’s keep open minds and open hearts.



Image by Nile from Pixabay