Hitting the Restart Button

I used to have a neighbor who would yell at her young children a lot.

I would listen to her voice reverberating through the thin walls of our building and vow that if I ever had kids, I would never do that.  Plain and simple.

Fast forward a decade plus and  – well, you can guess where this is going!

I’m the first to admit that even the thought of this being my last year does not exempt me from getting hot under the collar more than I’d like.

I’ve been reading the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying lately, and Sogyal Rinpoche’s teachings resonate with me when he says:

Whatever we have done with our lives makes us what we are when we die.  And everything, absolutely everything, counts.

In other words, I don’t get a pass for being an overtired/overworked mom.

Because resigning myself to my habits and the parade of excuses that go along with them is a giant cop-out, I’m trying really hard to look precisely at how my mind works these days.

Meditation is very helpful for this.  As is noticing when I’m headed off-kilter and saying to myself, “Begin again.”

My husband calls this hitting the restart button.  Which basically means that at any point in time — whether you are about to lose it or have already made some kind of mistake as a parent or a person — you get to notice it and have a new start in the next moment.

We talk about our restart buttons frequently in our family.  It’s a way of showing the kids that we’re not perfect, but we’re trying to be better.  And it teaches them the meaning of resilience and the importance of making new choices when things aren’t going right.

The hope born out of having a fresh start at any moment – no matter how big the failing – holds all kinds of possibility for me.  It can be done over and over again ad infinitum.  It reminds me that whatever you do with your mind repeatedly becomes your mind’s habit, and it will rediscover its own original calm nature.

Of course, it helps to approach the restart button with some compassion towards yourself, as Sharon Salzberg says of meditation in this article in the Shambhala Sun:

Even if I’m teaching people just to be with the breath, my emphasis is that the critical moment in the practice is the moment we realize we’ve been distracted. We have a phenomenal ability to begin again—when we’ve gone off somewhere, we can begin again. And in that moment of beginning again, we can be practicing loving-kindness and forgiveness and patience and letting go.

This week I wanted to share a short piece of inspiration by Portia Nelson, who funnily enough, was most famous for playing the role of Sister Berthe in “The Sound of Music”…


Chapter I

I walk down the street.  There is a hole in the sidewalk.  I fall in.  I am lost.  I am helpless.  It isn’t my fault.  It takes forever to find a way out.

Chapter II

I walk down the same street.  There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.  I pretend I don’t see it.  I fall in again.  I can’t believe I am in the same place.  But it isn’t my fault.  It still takes a long time to get out.

Chapter III

I walk down the same street.  There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.  I see it is there.  I still fall in.  It’s a habit.  My eyes are open.  I know where I am.  It is my fault.  I get out immediately.

Chapter IV

I walk down the same street.  There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.  I walk around it.

Chapter V

I walk down another street.

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13 responses to “Hitting the Restart Button”

  1. Debbie says:

    Perfect timing as I needed to hit my restart button yesterday after going off center. After, a yoga class no less!!

    I love the poem. A therapist gave it to me years ago – I didnt’ realize the source until now.

  2. linda says:

    I love what you posted… I went to a small Indian restaurant in New York city couple of years a go and at the end of my meal I got this phrase handed to me by a waiter “Awareness means you simply see who you are without struggling to change. Your awareness make all the necessary changes, not your struggle.” This being aware of awareness has had a great impact on my life and in my clients lives as well. Awareness is so powerful.

  3. Barbara says:

    Such an important point, Linda! The noticing needs to be done with a quality of complete acceptance. No resistance. A surrender, instead of a battle.

  4. Katie says:

    I love the idea of living with a restart button, and sharing it with the kids . . . how refreshing . . . that we can re-create moments, interactions, ourselves. And the piece by Portia Nelson is right on . . . that awareness often comes in stages, and is an active process.

    • Barbara says:

      Speaking of buttons and kids, did you ever see the Staples gimmick of a button that you push that says, “That was easy!”? This is very fun for the kids. Like after they finish a particularly grueling homework assignment, they bring out the button and give it a hard slam 😉

  5. Thanks for this post, Barbara. I love the pothole metaphor. It shows how easy it is for us all to do the habitual thing. The concept of “Begin Again” is so helpful.

  6. Noel Abbott says:

    Dear Barbara,

    First, I love the power with which you share your life, your heart, your “failings” (hah!!). The idea of a restart button, as others have said is wonderful. It’s a single small moment of awakening, and the cumulative effect is like a great wave that washes over our lives and the consciousness we bring to it.

    To Sharon Salzberg’s hopeful and insightful comments:
    “the critical moment in the practice is the moment we realize we’ve been distracted. We have a phenomenal ability to begin again…..And in that moment of beginning again, we can be practicing loving-kindness and forgiveness and patience and letting go.”

    I would add that any one of these moments have the potential to bring us to a new place. That is a place of realizing who is beginning again – the quality of being-consciousness that is noticing, is practicing, is beyond the time-space paradigm.

    To Portia Nelson’s autobiography, I would suggest an alteration of view and add another chapter: Chapter III – “it is my fault” — The idea of fault and not fault I would challenge. I would draw a distinction between “fault” and “responsibility” and suggest that it’s all part of learning in this “no fault” existence. Doesn’t mean that we aren’t accountable, but fault is a quality of mind that attacks spirit. It’s not a place of consciousness and compassion.

    The final chapter I would add is beyond walking down a different street but walking down the same street with the same hole and doing so with an awareness of the ephemeral nature of all life, of our ability to choose, and of the non-judgmental compassion for one’s own being, all others who have walked near that hole (all beings for all time) and for the hole itself.

    Barbara, your blog is sparking something in me. Maybe I’ll start one myself. I feel like there’s too much on my plate in too many areas of completion, responsibility and activity. But, if I see a chance to love another human being, I don’t ask if I’m busy. I just do it. Thank you for your incredible inspiration. Maybe a blog that incorporates yoga insights from my practice, meditation, and poetry. Your thoughts (online or offline) please.

    PS: Yoga will start May 1st Saturday. I’ll email today………. Love, Noel

  7. LCS says:

    Hi Barbara,

    Thanks for this lovely post. It’s a perfect reminder, especially in the context of relationships. I’m so glad to be with you on this journey!


  8. Tara Aarness says:

    Thank you so much for your words of wisdom, as they are a gentle nudge in the direction I need to set off in. For 37 years, I’ve walked down the same street and keep falling into the same hole, alternating between taking the responsibility and placing it onto others. These past few months I’ve realized that I need to find a new street to walk down and now I have the confidence to hit the restart button and choose a different street. Thank you.

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