Letting go of the old is one of the hardest things in the world for most human beings. Letting go of old worn-out habits, old ineffective thought patterns, old routines that just don’t fit anymore, old impressions of places or people that are now no longer useful, old feelings that are emotional scars that will not heal and get in the way of progress, are all things that most people when reading of them nod their heads and agree should be thrown away like an old ratty security blanket from childhood. Yet, how few of those people really would throw away or learn past these things! Most would just continue holding on to them.
Change–which is the one constant in the universe and in life–is quite a frightening thing for most people. Not small changes, for small changes are so common to our everyday experience that we even take them for granted. We take for granted that the sky will change and it will be lighter today and darker tonight, or if it is cloudy today it will be sunny in a day or two. We even take for granted some longer-term changes; we know that we were shorter and weaker when we were five than we are now, and we know that the short, weak five-year-old before us will one day grow into a taller, stronger woman or man. There are even some sad changes that we take for granted: if we have a pet dog we know that one day that dog will grow old and die. We don’t like to think of that day and so we rarely do, but we know it’s going to happen and we don’t lose sleep over it.
But there are other norms that we cling to with a quiet desperation, and anything that threatens to change them we feel threatens us. The thing of it is, all of these changes have to do with things that are within us. They might be embodied in outward circumstances, such as our careers or homes, but even then they have to do with what we feel we are as a soul, a personality.
There is one thing that most adults fear more than death or, it seems, even physical torture. And that “thing” is being wrong. It is this fear of being wrong that prevents us, most of the time, from letting go of the old. Too many times, when we are about to let go of the old we feel that we are admitting to having been wrong (and the assumption that there’s something shameful about being wrong is itself a negative, false assumption). You see, we feel as if we have invested just way too much time and energy to learn and figure out what we believe we have. We have, therefore, an overwhelmingly powerful emotional investment in what we think we know–our ways of doing stuff, our priorities, our beliefs, our feelings about people and places and things.
The ego, which is rightly the gatekeeper to our spirit, says to us, “Wait a minute! You’re thinking about changing your ways with this? You’re getting ready to change your mind about that? Don’t you remember when that certain event happened to you that proved to you that the way you’ve been doing things since then works? You’re safe! Why change? It could be very dangerous!”
But the ego forgets that change is the only constant in life. It forgets that the past is dead; only the here and now is real. We can let go of the old when we find that it’s no longer useful, or it gets in the way of a new level of achievement, or our circumstances have changed. It is natural for us to let go of the old; for as children we do so with ease. But as we get older, we become a little more and a little more expected to have permanent knowledge of stuff. Our society values our pride in thinking we know everything. Instead, we can and must learn to take pride in being fearless about making mistakes, changing, seeing a new perspective, letting go of the old, and revelling in the endless journey the end of which is not an arrival but an evolution into ever-new possibilities.