How Much Does Your Life Weigh?
“How much does your life weigh? Imagine for a second that you’re carrying a backpack. I want you to picture the straps on your shoulders. Can you feel them?
Now, I want you to fill it with everything you have in your life. Start out with the things on your shelves, drawers, and all of the silly things you collect. Notice how it starts weighing down.
Now go on to the bigger things: clothes, small appliances, lamps, towels, the TV. The backpack already weighs a whole lot. Now, go on to the biggest things: the sofa, the bed, your tables and chairs…
Get it all in there: the car, a studio or a two-bedroom apartment. I want you to place this all in that backpack. Try to walk. It’s difficult, isn’t it?
Well, this is what we do with our lives on a daily basis. We overload ourselves until we can’t even move. And don’t forget, movement is life.
Now, I’m going to set that backpack on fire, what do you want to pull out of it? Photos? Photos are for people who can’t be remembered. Take the gasoline and burn them. In fact, let it all burn away and imagine waking up tomorrow morning with nothing. It’s exciting, isn’t it?
You have another backpack. But this time you have to fill it with people. You can start out with your acquaintances: friends of friends, people from the office… Then go on to the people you confide your secrets in: your cousins, uncles, aunts, brothers, sisters and parents. And finally, add in your spouse or significant other.
Put them all in the backpack. Feel the weight of it. Your relationships are definitely the heaviest weight in your life. Can’t you feel the weight digging down on your shoulders? All of these negotiations, discussions, secrets and compromises…You don’t have to carry that weight.
Why don’t you set the backpack down? Some animals go about their whole lives carrying around other animals in symbiosis. Luckless lovers, monogamous swans… we are not these animals. If we move slowly, we die quickly. We are not swans. We are sharks.”
–Bingham, in Up in the Air-
The emotional backpack of your life
Our backpack is full of stones of all sizes — big, small and medium. I like to empty it out from time to time, but it quickly gets filled up again. That’s the thing about life. It’s really hard to take something out and choose what you do and do not want. It’s hard to decide what is simply a passing thing and what really helps you and makes your life better.
We all carry stones, rocks and boulders in our emotional backpack. In fact, we usually keep it unnecessarily full. If you’ve ever wondered what’s been holding you back when you want to keep going, I urge you to take a look inside your emotional backpack. It’s very likely you’ll find your answer there.
Though you can’t see everything in it, I bet you feel heavy just thinking about it. Maybe it’s full of guilt, confrontations, emotional dependence, high expectations, demands, frustration. All of this holds us back and keeps us from moving forward.
To this we must add that those of us who have lost a loved one carry a backpack full of absences. And how can we empty out the part of our backpack that we miss? It’s really difficult, especially when we blame ourselves for things that no longer have a solution.
When you look through your backpack, you’ll surely notice that much of the weight you’ve been carrying was placed in there by other people. Small and big stones that others from your past have placed within you: their fears, frustrations and rigidity.
You might have even placed toxic feelings in your backpack generated by anger, fear, excessive sadness, anxiety, prejudice. These are all weights that don’t leave your side and therefore influence your decisions and behaviors.
This weight is without a doubt the most difficult one to carry. It’s so complicated and heavy that sometimes we can even find ourselves crying out for help because it’s dragging us down into the mud. We’re incapable of ridding ourselves of it.
Carrying that backpack to the hilltops is a truly terrifying kind of self-sabotage. I wonder what happens to us. Why do we cling so hard to memories, to the bad things that life offers us, to the toxic people. Only four words come to mind: fear of letting go.
Fear of letting go
Sometimes we’re perfectly aware of what is holding us back in life and draining our energy. However, we’re incapable of opening up our backpack and taking some of the weight out. What’s wrong with us?
Well, all of these heavy stones are bound by a feeling of identity and belonging. In other words, they’re a part of us (though an undesirable part, of course.) Sometimes we think that if we get rid of it, we’ll also be letting go of what defines us. Or it makes us feel like we’ve failed in some way.
Feeling that if we don’t hold on a while longer we’re letting ourselves and others down is an astonishingly common feeling. It seems that if we refuse to keep that partner, colleague or family member in our backpack, we’ll become a terribly selfish person. This is pretty contradictory if you think about it, right?
I’d define the fear of letting go as emotional vertigo. This is nothing but pure fear. The fear of facing the emptiness that loss generates. It’s the fear of grieving over the loss of our love, over the sacrifice, and our penchant for masochism.
Given these difficulties, we behave in a very cruel way towards ourselves. How much more do you think you can carry on your back? It doesn’t make sense for your life to become an ordeal of suffering, especially knowing that there is only one way to go…forward.
Maybe you’ll feel more like emptying your backpack if I told you that this is a space in which negative things take away from what is really important and good for you. Leave room for your strengths because these are your wings.
Rid yourself of negative feelings and toxic people. They’re truly lethal. Think about our metaphor. They’re capable of drowning you in the river without even attempting to come to your aid.
It’s simply about stopping every once in a while to go through our backpack and getting rid of what’s unnecessary and negative. It’s about being aware that everything we do in life is strongly determined by what we carry within. It‘s important to periodically undertake a new journey with renewed baggage.