On the Myth of Beginnings

Lately, I find myself preoccupied with the notion of the fresh beginning.

The adjective “fresh” here is necessary, because more often than not, beginnings are stale.

Or perhaps, to be more precise, all beginnings (barring that most primordial one, if it existed) are stale, the seeds of their genesis having been sown in countless prior events. Like all linguistic constructs, the word “beginning” breaks down when subjected to the tortuous demands of accuracy. It’s a testament to our fundamental unity as human beings that we understand each other well enough despite dwelling in a haze of linguistic imprecision.

But to return to the notion of the fresh beginning, the more I think about it, the more it assumes a mythic quality. The observations of early Hindu-Buddhist thought coincide with the observations of existential philosophy and contemporary neuroscience: what constrains us from ever completely starting anew is the fact that our thoughts and actions leave imprints on our consciousness that dispose us to habituate the very same thoughts and actions.

A useful analogy would be picture someone walking through a grassy field for the first time as a shortcut to some particular destination. In the beginning, the passage leaves a barely discernible trail. Still, it’s visible enough to catch the attention of another passersby also in search of a shortcut. The second passerby deepens the marks left by the first passersby, rendering the trail just a little bit more visible. Eventually, more and more hikers deepen the rut created by the initial trailblazers, until at some point, you have a a regular little dirt path, complete with handlettered signposts and a pebbled pavement.

In a very real sense, all of us are in a rut. To be even more precise, all of us are an agglomeration of countless major and minor ruts. All of which simply means that if any of us are to start anew in anything at all, it will be with a long and protracted beginning.

Like I said, all beginnings (barring that most primordial one, if it existed) are stale.


2 thoughts on “On the Myth of Beginnings

  1. Erik says:

    Nice post Eileen! I agree that new beginnings could possibly be myths… But what would happen if this belief became widespread in society, wouldn’t we create a void in mankind? I believe the opportunity to “start from scratch” is THE driving force for mankind’s self development or self improvement—the last bit of hope we have to create a better place. After reading you, the title I’m keeping for myself is: On the Necessary Ignorance of the Myth of Beginnings. 🙂


    • Eileen says:

      Possibly, though I’m not inclined to think so. 🙂 I think it better to accept and confront a bleak truth rather than to find motivation in a consoling myth. But then, the more important question is: is it true that beginnings are myths? <-)


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