Many of us have done drastic things trying to make a fresh start in life. But no matter what we do, nothing seems to change. Outer conditions may be different, but inside we’re still the same. If changing things outside doesn’t make a difference, where does a genuine fresh start begin?
The answer lies in four connected steps:
Step One: Learn What Prevents Us From Making a Fresh Start
Our plans to make a fresh start have not delivered the new life we’d envisioned. So the first fact we need to understand – that runs completely contrary to our usual ideas of starting over – is that we can’t plan to do it.
If I plan a new start, that means I’ve envisioned a new position, power, or possession by which I will enjoy a sense of newness. The problem is, everything I imagine doing or becoming is a variation of past experiences and dreams. And clearly, nothing I pull from my past can bring a fresh start. It’s just a reconfiguration of an old idea that didn’t work the first time around. Our image of what it means to be a new human being is a product of our past, and it is what keeps us from making a real fresh start.
To be new we need a different relationship with life itself – a relationship where we stop planning life, and become a participant in it. It begins with putting ourselves where fresh starts actually take place – not in our minds, but in awareness of the ever-changing present moment.
Step Two: Have a Real Wish
Before I can have that relationship with the present moment, I need to understand that unattended, my mind gives itself to every vagrant image that promises a fresh start. It isn’t the object – the new job, the new relationship, the new person – that is the illusion, because these things can be obtained. The illusion is believing they will bring newness.
What we need is a new wish – a real wish – to stay conscious in the present moment, so we’re no longer drawn off into useless thought.
That wish will grow when we see the necessity of staying present to ourselves because we understand it’s not enough to want a new start. Instead we must need to be a new person.
Step Three: Be Willing to Take a Risk
Which brings us to the next step in truly starting fresh – the willingness to risk. Risk what?
When I feel bogged down, my mind immediately jumps in with its same old solutions. They feel comfortable. And they are all I’ve ever known to do. I worry my life will come to a dead end if I don’t follow the old path.
But now it’s evident that those old solutions go nowhere; and the fresh start I long for can’t be produced by obeying the pain that produces the longing. So I’m not going to do anything in this moment other than consciously participate in it by watching it.
I must be willing to risk not doing what my old thoughts and feelings are telling me, knowing they will just bring further suffering and repetition. Newness only comes by leaving the old behind.
Step Four: Resolve to Persist
When we see these facts for ourselves, we’re willing to take this risk to see what happens. Then comes the last of these steps, which is the interior resolve to persist.
It’s easy to give in to our old dreams. And it’s hard to go against those inner voices that are so sure of what we need. We must resolve to persist in just staying watchful, instead of taking the first solution offered by our mind. It takes time before we can hear the new voice, but our patience is rewarded with new guidance.
Our work is to make a shift in our attention. To what do I give myself all day? Do I give it to my repetitive thoughts, or do I keep it firmly in the present moment and what it offers?
As we give ourselves more and more fully to life as it unfolds, and are willing to give up our old selves, something is born in us that’s better than a fresh start in life. We become part of a life that is always fresh.
The opportunity is always here. We’re living in it. Understanding this leads to a fearless life, because if I no longer have to protect a plan I’ve made, I have nothing to be afraid of relative to its achievement or its failure.
Then I’m free. I can just drop whatever the past moment has been, and start over… and over again.
Guy Finley is an internationally renowned spiritual teacher and bestselling self-help author. He is the Founder and Director of Life of Learning Foundation, a nonprofit center for transcendent self-study located in Merlin, Oregon. He also hosts the Foundation’s Wisdom School — an online self-discovery program for seekers of higher self-knowledge. Guy livestreams two free talks a week. Each talk is followed by an open Q&A session. To register visit www.guyfinley.org/online.