A Forever Change

I receive daily emails from several sources that focus on self development, further education and spiritual growth. Some I read religiously. Others I only check out if the excerpt sounds interesting. Many titles begin with promises of renewal and change. Others list a certain number of steps or items for success in whatever they are promising, should you follow them. I know that there are many ways of changing one’s self to achieve greater success and achievement in as many aspects of our lives. But I feel that many of these articles fail in mentioning one important point: in order to take on a “better version of yourself”, you must also be willing to let go of the old version.

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Most of us lead very busy and full lives. We’re working, looking after our children and families, doing household chores, all of which keep us alive, though not always living a life we would like to live. It’s easy to fall under the spell of ‘Three Ways to Simplify Your Day’, or ‘Finding Peace and Contentment in the Fury’. We pick and choose what is offered and try some of these suggestions in our lives. However, a month or so later we’re back doing things the old way because these suggestions just wouldn’t work in our lives. Or so we think.

I have learned over the past years that if I wish to move forward in my life, I have to let go of the old: there just isn’t room for the newer version of ‘Tim’ if the old one is still around. It’s easy to say but not easy to do. You see, I kind of like the old version. I am used to it. I know how I react to things. I know that it takes time to get used to new stuff but I am too entrenched in the old self to really give the 2.0 version of me a chance. As a result I tell myself that this ‘didn’t work’, or it’s ‘not for me.’ But that’s not really true. It like I am trying to implement a new operation system in my computer while still running the old software: it won’t work.

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What does work for me is letting go of the old, trusting in the process of change. I stop trying to put great expectations on the results and just enjoy the journey. When I first got into recovery everything was new, enticing and also overwhelming. I learned that I had to look at myself differently, as a person in recovery. I had to let go of my former version for the newer one in, get used to it, live with it and get comfortable with it. Hanging around in a bar with my old drinking buddies would not have kept me on the straight and narrow. I had to let go of the me I knew to make room for a new me that was emerging. Putting your dirty clothes back on after taking a shower, you’re still going to smell. Recovery wouldn’t work if I was holding onto my old self while trying get comfortable in my new skin. And I had to trust that the process I was going through would work for me as it had for literally millions of other folks, but only if I gave it an honest chance. And to do that, I had to say good-bye to the ‘me’ I was, and welcome the new whoever that might be.

Change is only possible when we make room for it. It doesn’t matter if it’s a small thing such as changing your bedtime, or a life shifting change in profession. We have to let go. We must let go. Otherwise we are bound to fail. Ensure a successful transition to the newest version of ‘You’! Move forward and leave the old behind. Say good-bye to who you were to make a ‘forever’ change.

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Starting With Me

I was told from a young age that having both Irish and Dutch roots, I would be doubly stubborn. I’ll let those around me decide if that is true or not. For my part, I do know that I haven’t always agreed with the status quo and have tried things just a bit differently. I wasn’t a trail blazer, but did things my own quiet way and I lived a lifestyle that differed greatly from my family’s. I was different not just to be different because the pressure to conform was great. However, I knew that I wouldn’t be happy living the way that was ‘expected’ of me.

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In both career and lifestyle I chose my own path. It wasn’t without it’s challenges and I am sure that part of the pressure that I felt led me down a dark road that, fortunately also led to the doors of a recovery program a little over ten years ago. And also fortunately, I was not told how be or act, but was given suggestions that I was free to follow in order to begin living life on a more balance keel. These ‘suggestions’, the twelve steps of recovery, were up to me to follow and implement in my life at my own pace. I was still quite stubborn and this way of applying the program suited me well. And while I am hardly the poster boy for recovery, I have learned to live life on life terms, one day at a time.

I think that recovery has worked for me because it isn’t forced: nothing used to arouse me more than telling me what I ‘had’ to do. This is the philosophy of ‘attraction, rather than promotion’. I was given suggestions, the members shared their own experience, strength and hope, and I could take it or leave it. There is a lot of wisdom in this philosophy, with a far greater reach just that of sobriety.

Gandhi told us: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” You can’t force people to change, but you can give them the option of living life another way. Telling people what to do rarely works. Showing them how to do something has a much better chance at success. Letting others see what you are doing and how you are living allows them to make a choice. If, indeed, the changes that one makes in their life are attractive, others will follow suit and make similar changes in their own lives.

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I know there are a lot of problems facing the world: economics, climate change, and health challenges have such far reaching effects that as a rather stubborn individual, I have little chance of making any impact upon. In truth, few people ever do. However, I can live the changes I would like to see in the world. I can put out my recycling. I can live a healthier lifestyle. I can respond with kindness and compassion to situations. I can share. It may not seem like much to pick up one bottle off the street when there’s litter everywhere, but I am living my beliefs. And I am making my little part of the world just slightly better. Perhaps your neighbour will see what you have done and decide to help. Even if that neighbour doesn’t change, I have still made my world, and therefore, the world a whole, just an iota better than is was yesterday.

I can’t control what others do. I have learned that my circle of control has a radius that only stretches a few centimeters beyond the tip of my nose. I can’t tell people what to do or how to do it: many are just a stubborn as I am and just as intransigent to change. But they may be attracted to make a change when they see positive results in others. Demonstrating changes and offering suggestions won’t instantly move the world but it does make a small difference. And if the only difference is a little less stubbornness and a bit more peace of mind, then that’s fine with me.

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There is a Solution

I finished reading a short book last week called: Awareness: The Perils and Opportunities of Reality. It’s by a Jesuit priest, Anthony De Mello who died in 1987 at the age of 56. The book, published posthumously, is really a compilation of talks he gave at various retreats throughout North America and his native India. If you get a chance, it is worth a read. The chapters are short and concise, and full of incredible wisdom and insight.

One of the things he discusses is his belief that people are not looking for a cure for their illness or their problems. Rather, they are looking for relief. How often do I look for relief from the pain and discomfort of an illness? If I suffer from knee pain, I would rather take a Tylenol, because the cure, losing the extra 30 plus pounds I’m carrying, would be work in the form of exercise and diet. It’s easier to get relief in pill form than curing the problem. I am unhappy in my relationship, so I seek some sort of an outlet to make it more bearable because to find a solution implies a lot of effort. Relief is faster, easier to attain, and, most notable, does not require me to make the changes that the cure requires.

What if I hate the job I working at? What might the cure be? I could quit, discover my passion and work at it. But that would mean moving out of my comfort zone and living in uncertainty. So, I seek methods of relief. Maybe it’s recreational drugs or booze. Perhaps I go for high risk activities or adrenaline rushes. There are many routes to find relief and avoid the cure.

Finding a cure to my challenges means finding the root cause to my woes. And few people are willing to look that deep. It may mean some self-reflection. It may mean some outside assistance with a psychiatrist or other therapist. It may mean admitting to past mistakes in life choices. And for most of us, our Egos won’t allow us to go that deep. So, we stay stuck, looking for momentary relief rather than trying to cure our ills.

Finding a cure means making changes to our lives. Many people tell me that I live their ideal life. I tell them that they can do the same thing if they want it. But few are willing to make the changes in their lives necessary to live this life. Few are willing to take the risk. Living in Costa Rica does imply an incredibly special lifestyle that I love. But it also means that I live far from my family. It means adapting to a new culture and a new language. It’s not all butterflies and bananas all the time. We are all free to do whatever we want in life if we are willing to accept the consequences. The cost of the cure, of making life changes, is much higher than the cost of relief.

So many of us seek relief from the suffering rather than a cure from whatever ails us. We try to avoid the challenges in life by putting on blinders. It’s easier, often a faster but it offers only momentary relief, and then we must seek that relief once again. Over time, we begin to identify with our pain and make it part of our being. We forget that it there is a cure. And we forget that if we are willing to do what it takes, there is a solution.