Begin Before You Begin

Very often how we begin something, especially if it has to do with matters of the deep self and soul, determines whether or not we manage to finish it and how. Through my journey, I have discovered that there is a phase in all things that most people are not aware of or at best rush through. Some refer to his phase as “The Beginning before the beginning” and it is vital that we are aware of its significance. In this article, I explain why the Nike slogan of “Just do it” is perhaps not the best advice one can take when it comes to the unique journey of your soul.

Begin before you begin.

In some martial arts grading systems, the student moves down the ranks instead of up. We have grown used to believing and conditioning ourselves to look at development as a cumulative process that adds up. We move from stage 1 to stage 2 and so on until we get to the top. 

In the Japanese art of Aikido you don’t start at the beginning, you start before the beginning. In fact you begin from a negative position and work your way towards zero, meaning that point zero is a position which is earned, not given. See how that’s a totally different way to look at growth and development? 

For starters it’s a massive ego check. It’s also an invitation to examine your own life and current state of being. Are you beginning atthe beginning or are you beginning beforethe beginning? Are you working towards earning your point zero or are you assuming that your point zero is a given? If you are starting at zero how is that working out for you? Are any of the challenges you are facing due to the fact that you did not start before point zero? 

Let me give you a few practical examples from my life. I advise all my students to arrive early to class – not just intime but beforetime. Ideally they need to be there ten minutes before the start. These ten minutes are not wasted. They should be utilized to prepare themselves for the start of the session. This might mean just settling in a corner or it might mean getting rid of the residue of the last traffic jam they were just in, or heated meeting, argument or chat they just had. Either way, they should not just arrive on time, and certainly not late, and expect to be able to get off to a great start. You are not a robot. You are not a machine. Making a habit of arriving early will ensure you get the most outof yourexperience.

Before I give a talk in a room I want to understand the room. It will give me information I can use. I may notice that one side of the room has less noise than the other. Or that the view from that side of the room is different. These are all things I can utilize. It’s the same as how the Samurai would study the terrain of a battlefield before the start of the battle. They would note the earth, the elevation, the pits, the direction of the sun and wind. All these elements are vital and can mean the difference between life and death. History is full of examples of how well-organized, small military units have beaten enemies far larger and more heavily armed than them just by being better prepared. 

Although I’m not a gardener I know that before any garden can be planted the earth must first be prepared. People who are close to the earth and nature often understand the concept of the “beginning before the beginning” better than others. 

Just as there is a beginning before the beginning, there is also an end before the end. The Sufi poet Rumi is quoted as having said “Die before you die”.This can be interpreted in many ways but in terms of authentic living, which is my focus, it means that we need to let go of, or die to, the things that are not helping us live our true lives. We must engage the parts of us that are preventing us from being who we naturally are. We must do this before our actual physical death. To die before you die, to my understanding, is a call to arms. 

In my early 20s I was ill-disciplined with my health. My diet was not good and I smoked and didn’t get enough sleep.  I was running on adrenaline most of the time. I had many burning thoughts in my mind which I could not express to my close friends because I felt they could not relate to them. I had no understanding at the time that these thoughts were my authentic voice trying to be heard. For me to start living my true life I had first to die to the parts that were preventing me from doing so. I had to stop going out late at night. I had to start saying “no” to people, including my family, and I had to find seclusion to be able to write down my thoughts. 

I am told by some youth counsellors that many young folk today have suicidal thoughts. The world we live in today can appear such a desolate, heartless, hopeless place. The truth of the matter is the parts of young people that are expressing suicidal tendencies are specific to the parts of them that need to die inside them in order for them to embrace life better.  A kind of suicide indeed, but not a physical one. The parts of them that are holding on to suffering need to die, the parts of them telling them they are not worth anything need to die, the part of them that is keeping them from doing what they are born to do needs to die, long before their physical death.

Can you think of where in your life you need to begin before you begin? Equally can you think of where in your life you need to die before you physically die? Be brave and inquire, get curious about how this could be affecting you. Are you rushing into beginnings without proper preparation, are you trying to get something new in your life but cannot because a part of you has not let go or “died” yet? If so, then you have work to do. But the good news is that you are not alone, and are far ahead of others who are not even aware of such a concept.