For last year’s words belong to last year’s language. And next year’s words await another voice. And to make an end is to make a beginning.  —T.S. Eliot

“Please be patient while I reboot the system,” said the voice over the intercom. The flight attendant had been wrestling with the airplane’s video system for about 10 minutes before he determined that only a full reboot would bring the recalcitrant system back online. The plan full of travelers seemed nonplussed by the delay though I was struck by the word “reboot.”

According to Merriam-Webster, the term “reboot” first appeared in the early 70’s for exactly the purpose for which we understand it today, to restart a computer. The word is a variant of an 18th century use of the expression “bootstrap” from which the concept to “boot,” or start, a computer came. In the 50’s, a computer scientist described the process of loading a program into a machine with punch cards as a bootstrap technique. It is now a fixture in our American vernacular in ways the computer scientists of the early 70’s likely never imagined.

To reboot something is to shut it down and restart it again. The word suggests a refresh or renewal. A do-over. Today, we not only reboot computers; we reboot movie franchises and tv series, projects, concepts, products, and movements to name a few. As I considered the word and what it represents, my mind wandered to the other places in our lives that might need a reboot:

  • relationships
  • attitudes
  • assumptions
  • efforts
  • hope
  • careers
  • vocations
  • faith
  • education

Whenever I think of rebooting, I envision blowing out the detritus that clogs my computer’s memory. Rebooting seems to eliminate the dangling participles of computer code, background processes, unfinished executables and other randomware that seem to slow things down. How our machines mirror our lives! Think of all of the randomware clogging your memory and slowing you down. In his book, The Heart Aroused, David Whyte describes a hidden black bag that we carry with us throughout our life to hold all of the slights, failures, and missteps…by the time we reach middle age, it is a hundred feet long. That is what we do, we carry things, add more, and the bag gets heavier.

How do we reboot when it becomes necessary to clear out our own baggage? What combination of buttons serve as our “ctl+alt+del” (control+command+power for you Mac users)? The metaphor goes even further: unplug, power down, flip the switch etc. Like our machines, a refresh becomes critical when our self correcting mechanisms get hung up. The trick is making sure we don’t run down the path of addiction in our quest to reboot.

Rebooting requires us to interrupt the processes that are hung up. If we’re stuck, we need to remove ourselves from the muck. If the world is closing-in on us, we need to move to a different room. Disconnect. Turn-it-off. Unplug. Get away. Sometimes a physical change of scenery is necessary. Water. Mountains. Trees. Beauty. At other times, we can’t get far enough away. The baggage comes with us. There are short term ways to turn it off but the clutter only returns. A complete reboot requires us to dig deeper.

Where do we turn for a deeper reboot? Though it may sound counterintuitive, the answer is to turn outward from our self. Stop seeking and start giving.

  • Forgiveness
  • Love
  • Generosity
  • Kindness
  • Concern
  • Empathy
  • Sympathy

The problem is that the more baggage we carry, the more obsessed we become with our self. The heavier our burden, the more likely we are to turn inward. The answer begins with getting outside of our self and focusing on others. To truly begin anew, we need to unplug from the self talk that reinforces our isolation, inadequacy, and sense of disappointment and find something beyond. A fresh start isn’t just about us. It’s about how we view, react to, and treat the world around us.

Looking beyond our self, we project our new message: “please be patient while I reboot the system.” We turn the inward-focused sense of “me” into an outward focused sense of “you” and “they” and then, “we.” Then, it permeates all of our problem areas. Moving beyond our self allows us to refresh any and all aspects of our life. In this way, what we give dictates what comes back to us. Any other beginning is simply a replay, not a reboot.