The problem with change
It feels like an endless pursuit. Perhaps we don’t truly believe we will ever get there, but we just keep on pushing regardless.
Many of the choices we make in life are geared towards personal change, often around improving ourselves. Our commitments to lose weight, to get to the gym more, to be more mindful, to be less busy. To break those bad habits. To be the kind of person who is effective, focused, high achieving, and at the same time, charismatic, spacious, gregarious, and within all this - to still somehow have a sense of peace, equilibrium and quality time for ourselves and our loved ones.
But what happens if we do start to change, and are we really prepared for it?
I spent many years of my life desperately trying to break free from drug addiction, from self hatred, self abuse. It was a long fight - one I never actually thought I’d win - but due to the help and support of others, somehow I did. I’ve been clean for three and a half years now, and although I still judge myself sometimes, the hatred and abuse I once exacted on myself just isn’t there anymore.
It feels quite odd to admit this; I think it’s because as much as we want change for ourselves, we can actually be a little surprised when it happens, somehow unprepared for who we are as we emerge from the wreckage of our old self. We focus so much on the new identity we’re reaching for, like plants that are forced in the darkness searching for light, that when we find it we forget there is an old identity we need to let go of.
I think I never really mourned the boy I was from those dopamine-haloed days. I just pushed forward. But I look back now, and there are brief moments when flashes of those neon lit, electric-heartbeat nights burst back and pull me under into the darkness. Memories shimmer like oil spilled on water, hardly there but impossible to clear off the surface. And although there’s no going back - I couldn’t even if I tried, that club scene in London is long gone - I’ve realised some part of me is still hanging on to the person I was in those days. An identity shed and lost like the dried husk of an insect, a husk that should be blown to the wind but that I haven’t quite let go of.
Maybe we’re told that in order to move forwards, we mustn’t look back; but without acknowledging, pausing, and taking a moment to mourn, I’ve realised we never truly let go. Like a funeral pyre on the water, we need to gently launch the identity we once had to the tide, watching as it’s carried away to some mysterious unknown place beyond the horizon. Releasing ourselves from the grip of who we once were, with gentleness, with kind remembrance that it was that same frame that brought us to the bank on which we stand right now.
The memory will never really be gone, but the identification that we are still that same person will be broken, we won’t be held back anymore by who we were, rather we offer respect and thanks as we move onwards. In Buddhist psychology we find the idea of impermanence, that everything is in a constant flux and change. When we embrace this, we start to see we are never one fixed identity anyway, but a constantly unfolding reinvention of who we were and are becoming. In order for us to keep blooming, we have to acknowledge the dying petals and let them gently fall away.