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Starting Over

If you want to make lasting change in your life, practice starting over.

By Phillip Moffitt

It sounds really easy, doesn't it? But it's ever so hard to do. Starting over requires patience and determination. In Buddhism, those qualities are considered paramitas, essential characteristics for spiritual growth. Patience allows you to tolerate the times you fail and the times you then forget to just start over. Determination brings into play the essential energy for directing your attention back to what needs to be done right now. Both are supported by loving kindness toward yourself, combined with a recognition of how hard it is to stay the course when making change.

Get Back on Track. For Taryn, who reported one defeat after another, developing compassion for herself was essential before she could begin to practice starting over. When she got into yet another disagreement at work, or had a lousy date, or couldn't speak openly with a friend, she would get so angry with herself that she would shut down. Those around her would be bewildered by her sudden, complete withdrawals.

Through compassion meditation, Taryn learned to tolerate her feelings so that she could stay present with them, and then she was able to start redirecting her attention to just starting over. Because she was disciplined and highly motivated, she became quite effective at starting over once she got a feel for it. She has even learned to laugh at herself when she feels what she calls a "hindrance attack" coming on. In Buddhism, difficult mental states of greed, aversion, sloth and torpor, restlessness and worry, and doubt are referred to as hindrances. If you fail to be mindful of a hindrance, then you can be caught by it; if you recognize it, then you have options—you can just start over.

In helping Taryn decide whether to take the promotion, I asked her if she wanted it as an end in itself. "What do you mean?" she asked. "How could I not? It is such an opportunity!" I told her that she must be careful not to fall into the trap of making the decision based on a future that may or may not come to fruition. "Does this job seem as though it would be fulfilling even if it leads nowhere?" I asked. She paused, then her face lit up. "Yes, it is the perfect chance for me to express myself," she said. "This job reflects my values." She paused again. "You don't need to tell me: I know it will be a challenge. And I know I will get off course, a lot, but now I know how to start over," she said with a laugh. She had her answer. As it turns out, Taryn has been able to rise to the challenge and do a terrific job, though she certainly has had to start over again and again. Slowly but surely, Taryn has learned to move beyond her limitations and to live out her potential as best she is able.

What I told Taryn all those years ago when she first came—totally distraught—to meditation class, applies as much to you. If you wish to change some part of your life and are having a difficult time doing so, take these values to heart: Don't ever let anyone tell you that you cannot change; vigorously fight those inner impulses to distract yourself when difficulty arises; and don't allow that critical voice in your own head, the one that constantly tries to tell you there is no possibility of improvement, to rule your life.

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