The 5-Minute New Year's Resolution That Will Make All Things New

We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.

—T.S. Eliot

We’re going to take down the Christmas tree.

Again.

Last year, it was depressing.

Not because the holiday season was over, but because we’d done it before. Many times. It felt like, somehow, after a year of striving and scrambling and doing and accomplishing, we were right back where we started. Square one. We hadn’t progressed; we’d returned.

Life isn’t a straight line. It’s a circle. If you can’t accept that, it can be pretty depressing.

That’s what the African immigrant told me. Right before he fired me.

Circles and Lines

I was completing my post-doctoral residency—moving forward and rushing ahead—and he had just arrived in the States to continue his education. In the course of the initial interview, I asked him where he hoped to be in five years. He looked confused. I asked him why.

He told me.

He told me in the United States, we expect progress all the time. We’re always trying to get somewhere else. We think life is a straight line. But where he came from in Africa, they were farmers. Seasons mattered. And the seasons came and went and returned again. They knew life was a circle. Everything comes and goes and returns again. Everything. Our sadness. Our joy. The things we love and the things we don’t.

I only saw him once. He never came back. Now, I know why. I couldn’t help him, because I was in denial about how life really works. I couldn’t accept life is about circularity and rhythm and returning.

Straight Line Dis-ease

All of existence is in orbit, rhythmically cycling and returning to where it began. At a microscopic level, electrons orbit around a nucleus. At a galactic level, the earth circles the Milky Way. Our days are defined by a planet spinning like a top. Our years are defined by a hurtling planet lapping the sun and returning to its beginning.

All of existence is a circle.

Our body itself exists within an existential circle. Upon birth, we are dependent creatures, then we become independent, and we return to dependence near the end. We didn’t breathe, and then we breathed, and we will not breathe again.

All of life is a circle.

Why do we forget this?

Because we suffer from the dis-ease of the straight line. We’ve been taught to believe life is only meaningful if we’re getting from here to there—doing a lot, becoming more important, accruing more stuff, feeling safer, and increasing our comfort. Even the good work of redeeming the world can become its own straight line, as we single-handedly try to move the world from here to there.

We pretend life is what it’s not.

We need to get real about how this whole thing works.

We need to bend our lives back into the circle they already are.

A New Year’s Resolution Solution

It’s New Year’s resolution season.

We get flooded by articles about change and transformation, why most of us will fail, and how to become the exception. Most of these articles are written by well-meaning individuals trying to convince us of their formula for progressing along the straight line they prefer. They, unfortunately, spread the straight-line dis-ease. They don’t help us understand how to live within the circular reality of all things. No wonder our resolutions fail.

This month, I’m not going to invite you onto my straight line.

I’m going to invite you to get off of yours.

With one five-minute resolution.

For five minutes a day, just breathe. Breathe in. Breathe out. For five minutes, get off your straight line and experience the circular rhythm that keeps you alive. Don’t try to breathe better. Don’t try to do anything.

Just attend.

At first, as the breath seems to repeat itself, you’ll be bored and distracted. But be patient. When your mind wanders, bring it back to the breath. Notice. Each breath—while seemingly the same as the one before it—is different, unique, new. Begin to witness the endless variety within the circular rhythm of your breathing. One breath at a time, break your addiction to the straight line by experiencing how every time you return to something old, it is the first time—indeed, the only time. When you forget for a day or two or ten, begin again when you remember.

Forgetting and remembering is a circular rhythm, too.

Ending Where We Began

We’re going to take down the Christmas tree.

Again.

Last year, it was depressing.

This year, I think it might be joyful, because at the moment of returning to the familiar, I’m going to let go of my straight line just a little bit more. I’m going to embrace the rhythm of my life. I’m going to pay attention until I became aware of this:

Like most of life, it is the same thing as always, for the first time ever.

The only time ever.

Last year, my daughter wasn’t old enough to handle the delicate ornaments. Last year, my boys weren’t dancing to Uptown Funk by Bruno Mars and my daughter wasn’t lip syncing Taylor Swift. Last year, the sun wasn’t sending pale rays onto the living room floor and that vanilla candle wasn’t burning and this particular moment wasn’t happening. Last year, I wasn’t breathing my way into the rhythm of it.

It will be the same, yet new. Maybe better, maybe not. But definitely new.

Life isn’t a line. It’s a circle. Resolve to breathe it in and breathe it out. Fall into the rhythm of the way the world spins and the way this life unfolds. It might just change everything, while changing nothing at all.

It might just make everything new.

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In his debut novel, Kelly weaves a page-turning, plot-twisting tale that explores the spiritual depths of identity and relationships, amidst themes of healing, grace, faith, forgiveness, and freedom.

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About Kelly

Dr. Kelly Flanagan is a psychologist, author, consultant, and speaker who enjoys walking with people through the three essentials of a truly satisfying life: worthiness, belonging, and purpose. His blog writings have been featured in Reader’s Digest, The Huffington Post, The 5 Love Languages, and the TODAY Show. Kelly is the author of Loveable and True Companions.