Saying Good-Bye to the Old - January 2007
Date: Wednesday, January 10 2007
Saying Good-Bye to the Old - January 2007
By Catherine Whelan Costen
The power of positive thinking is a strong belief Ė my belief is that the power is in the Thinking - whether it is negative or positive. Whatever we believe and think about with strong emotions (passion, love, fear or hate)is what we make happen.
Every year we flip the calendar and say good-bye to the old and welcome the new, but is this more of a symbolic gesture than a reality? Do we desire to be rid of the old? Do we welcome the new or dread it?
For many people the old represents comfort. Old slippers, old flannel shirts, and old papers all hold memories for us and usually we are reluctant to trade them for the new and unfamiliar. Whether it is January or August, letting go of the old is often a difficult process.
I am reminded of our rambunctious Golden Labrador. He was a 130 lbs of happy-go-lucky, tail-wagging exerburance for 13 years. When he developed dementia and was doing things in the house that he used to do outside, we knew it was time to say good-bye. As the months passed and we knew what we had to do, we swore we would never have another dog. This fellow was what we knew, what we trusted and what we depended on. We knew his personality so well. He had listened to the childrenís complaints, stories and dreams over the many years. He never talked back, didnít judge and could be counted on to keep a secret. Saying good-bye was just too painful.
Then a funny thing happened. I started to explore the idea of a small dog. The more I examined what a new puppy would look like in our home, the more I liked the concept. Sure it would be different and there would be training, schedule changes and new messes to clean up, but there was something intriguing about the challenge. I admit I have a fear of dogs and so I do not enjoy the initial stages of letting them know who is the boss, but that fear is something that I knew I could overcome. I had done it before. Admitting my fear of the new was uncomfortable. Admitting I feared a puppy was somewhat embarrassing. Iíd seen what a little dog could do when it was peeved and I must say, size doesnít matter! The worst part was that I didnít want to share the thought that I had a fear. If I stated that I had a fear of the new dog, my family might say, Ďdonít get a dog if you are afraid of ití. Many people prefer to avoid what they fear and often our support people encourage us to avoid it too. After all, if you cave in they will have to pick up the slack.
I now have a wonderful little companion. We had a couple of small spats. He nearly chewed my finger off one day, when I chased him into his kennel to retrieve a sock he had found. I didnít know that a dog considers his kennel his territory and that if he got the sock into his zone, I was the one intruding. We both learned a valuable lesson that day. I donít put my hand in the kennel in anger, and he behaves in order to avoid the spray bottle. I learned what technique works to reassure him in this new relationship and to give me the courage to be the adult. I conquered my fear again and it is now four years later and he follows me around like a puppy!
Life is full of learning curves, saying good-bye to the old and encountering the new is a big part of the human experience. I could have kept the old dog alive on life-support, so to speak, for several more years and prolonged the inevitable, but I would not have known the joy of the new puppy. Letting go is difficult in any situation. Overcoming our fear of change, fear of the unknown and fear of our own inadequacies is the first step to real freedom.
Every January many of us symbolically say good-bye in a group where it is safe and we arenít really saying good-bye to anything other than a date on the calendar. It might serve us better to examine the beliefs we hold, the things we do and the attitudes we have and say good-bye to the things that do not serve us. We come into and leave this world alone and many believe we will be asked to account for the time spent on earth, but during the journey many of us fear being alone. We either donít want to know ourselves or fear what we might find if we did know ourselves. Instead we depend on others to tell us who we are and what we believe.
We fear self-examination. We fear exploring or challenging the beliefs we hold because they are the old and comfortable. It is what we know. If we let go of beliefs that do not serve and allowed for new understandings and beliefs we might discover the new is not so frightening. Many fear the sense of emptiness that happens when the old leaves us. We very quickly seek a replacement for the old, like I did with my dog. If we do not examine what we are saying good-bye to and explore the replacement we often end up with a replacement that we are not comfortable with.
Fear can be the most destructive emotion, although it also has a positive purpose connected to our very survival. Fear creates the adrenaline rush that triggers the Ďfight or flightí reaction in our body. But what happens to people when they are prevented from either, by virtue of their position in life? People who live in a constant state of fear end up angry, and when they canít express the anger because of fear of reprocussions they become depressed and often dysfunctional. What has fear got to do with the dog story you ask? A great deal.
Fear is tied to our beliefs. Our beliefs are tied to our family system and the many people who teach us when we are young. What we believe will happen if we do x, y, or z is often imbedded in our subconscious. It is what allows some people to be successful and others to continually fail. I believed that my first dog was suffering and that it was in his best interest to be put to sleep. I believed that by keeping him at home on medication would only serve my need for companionship and my inability to let go of what I had known. I believed that I could overcome my fear of the new dog. This belief has served me well.
Someone else might have believed that the dog didnít want to die and that medicating the dog for a few more months or even years would prolong the dogís life and that the dog was getting joy out of this existance. They might believe it, because that is what their parents did with the family pet, or because a friend was keeping their pet alive in the same manner. They might be afraid of condemnation and that if they didnít do the same as their friend, then the friend would think they were cold and cruel.
For another it might be a case of them being a caregiver all their life and that is what they believe they do best. If the dog is gone then they would have no one to care for and therefore be useless, if they believe their existence depends on being needed. They could expand that caregiving outside of their comfort zone into the many very important areas of humanity, but that would require faith and overcoming fear. For many that is too difficult. Staying where it is comfortable even if it means extra work or enduring hardship is sometimes preferable, the saying, Ďbetter the devil you know than the devil you donítí serves that belief. The latter belief would not serve me, but it would serve the Veteranarian who would treat the dog and the pharmaceutical company that provides the medications and perhaps the person who is comfortable with that choice.
So we need to consider if a belief system that we claim as our own, is indeed what we believe and if it serves us and our goals. Do we hold a belief because our family does, or because we are afraid of offending someone else? If it doesnít serve then we must say good-bye and embrace a new system that does serve us.
To read the rest of this article written in two parts:
This article is fairly long - it is meant to provoke thought and discussion--
What do we believe and do our beliefs serve us?
[Proofreader's note: this article was edited for spelling and typos on January 12, 2006]