Over the last couple of months, Jewish people around the world have focused on two of the most sacred holidays in the Jewish religion: Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Many theologians reference this period as a “time of new beginnings.” As I was thinking of the concept of new beginnings, my thoughts drifted to a seemingly simple, yet truly fundamental concept that has roots in my earliest training in gestalt therapy: the concept of beginnings, middles and ends.
In general, gestalt theoreticians teach us that when our life movement is natural and whole, as we travel along through various cycles in our day or in our lives, each cycle has a solid beginning, middle, and end. As the general relationship between and among beginnings, middles and ends becomes more visceral to us, two critical axioms inherent in gestalt theory stand out: 1) it always takes a beginning that is large enough (dynamic, enriched and long enough) to support the middle and, 2) it’s impossible to have a solid beginning without first having a solid ending.
The structure of the sacred Jewish holidays does honor to this inter-relational concept of beginnings, middles and ends. First, the holiday of Rosh Hashanah marks an acknowledgment that a year is coming to an end and a new beginning is in process. However, the structure of this holiday period, while noting a new beginning, doesn’t start with that beginning. Inherent in the holiday structure is the principle that a firm beginning can’t occur until first, there is a solid ending to what came before. Thus, during this holiday period, people engage in self-reflection, examine their behavior from the prior year, determine whom they may have harmed, accept accountability for the things they might have been done differently, make contact with the humans they may have hurt, intentionally or not, with true acknowledgement of their acts, and then mourn deeply for the prior words and actions that now bring sorrow, hoping and praying for the opportunity to begin again. It is, in fact, only after an in depth process of ending that space opens for the possibility of a new beginning.
I find this whole notion of beginnings, middles and ends, and the corresponding axioms to be alive in almost every conflict situation that finds itself to my practice. Often, a significant part of our work as conflict resolvers, whether mediator, coach or consultant, is to provide a framework for people to come to a clear, well-thought out ending to a piece of their current life.
One thing we can help our clients understand is that if sufficient time and attention is not given to an ending, it will be difficult to start and sustain a new beginning. We can work with our clients to help them formulate plans for a beginning that will be long enough and strong enough to support the large next phase of whatever life will bring to them.
Clients typically come to us at a time of deep pain. Who wants to stay in pain? Clients want to shorten the process, jump to the end, and get a result. It is our responsibility as conflict resolvers to work to assure the processes we design with our clients have, themselves, a solid beginning that will support the work that must be done – the information that needs to be gathered, the options vital to consider, the communication that leads to lasting decisions. Once clients make decisions, we have the ability to help our clients create and acknowledge an ending is taking place; the process is over. When clients leave with the embodied understanding that they have resolved their conflicts and the process has ended, when they see and feel the result of their work, those moments become a core component of also marking the end of the events that brought them to our door. With our help, our clients achieve a true ending, and are prepared for a new beginning.
Regardless of one’s religious orientation, this time of year can be a great time to begin to ask: How do I manage beginnings in my life? Do I jump to the middle of my life events? Am I intentional about creating real endings for my experiences? Knowing and embodying the work of beginnings, middles and ends, allows us experience the rhythm of this dance, heightening our awareness in ways that can be useful to our clients and that lead us to be more highly effective in our work as conflict resolvers.