Most of us hang on to old emotions, interpretations, and beliefs past their expiration dates. In fact, we would be well served to throw away many negative feelings, unsupportive stories, and gloomy thoughts immediately…or at least in a timely fashion.
Yet, we don’t. Then, they keep us mired in the past and hinder our progress in life. And we keep chewing on them even when they become moldy and stale.
The Story of Two Monks
This human tendency reminds me of a story I’ve often heard about a senior and junior monk traveling together. At one point, they come to a river with a strong current. As the monks prepare to cross the river, they see a young, beautiful woman attempting to cross. The young woman asks if they can help her get to the other side.
The two monks have taken vows not to touch a woman. Yet, without a word, the older monk picks up the woman, carries her across the river, places her gently on the other side, and continues on his journey.
The younger monk watches aghast. Then he crosses the river, rejoins his companion, and silently walks on. An hour, then two and three, pass without a word spoken between them.
Finally, the troubled junior monk can’t stand it any longer. He breaks the silence and says, “Why did you carry that woman when we took a vow as monks not to touch women?”
The older monk looks at him and replies, “Brother, I set her down on the other side of the river three hours ago. Why are you still carrying her?”
This Zen story is often retold to stress the power of living in the present moment rather than operating from the past. We tend to “carry” past hurts, resentments, and stories for many years (or hours). By doing so, we only hurt ourselves.
A Decade of Lugging Around Emotional Baggage
Sometimes, hanging onto negative emotions, like anger, resentment, and sadness, becomes habitual. We end up lugging around what is often called “emotional baggage,” even though doing so feels hard and uncomfortable.
I know this first hand. I had a giant suitcase filled with all my stories and negative emotions about my marriage. I brought this emotional baggage to every encounter with my husband for about a decade. I was angry, resentful, and hurt—even though the reasons I thought I had for feeling that way were based on the past.
So, why would I do that? I hate to admit it, but I wanted my husband to feel the pain I felt. Unconsciously, I wanted to punish him for the hurt I experienced.
So, I kept telling myself the stories about how he was to blame. And I kept holding up the huge suitcase between us like a protective shield.
Yes…my behavior hurt him. But it hurt me more. And it almost destroyed my marriage.
Despite this fact, we are still together. How is that possible?
I put down that emotional baggage. As Jackson Brown sings in The Late Show, “You go and pack your sorrow, the trash man comes tomorrow; leave it at the curb, and we’ll just roll away.”
Has Your Emotional Baggage Expired?
Ask yourself the same question I asked myself about my marital emotional baggage: Does carrying it still serve you? Has it reached its expiration date?
Or query: Why am I still carrying it? You must be getting some benefit out of lugging it along or still focusing on it. If you weren’t, you’d have dumped that long-past experience in the trash long ago.
That perceived benefit makes you want to hold onto your stories, emotions, and beliefs. For example, maybe doing so keeps you safe or makes you feel better about yourself. Possibly, it allows you to avoid taking responsibility for your own actions and, instead, place blame on someone else.
But these are only perceived benefits. In fact, you are not receiving any benefits at all. Quite the opposite.
If you are ready to move on, leave that luggage by the side of the road for the trashman. Throw the expired products out. Put down the lady.
You’ll feel so much lighter…and happier as a result.
Make a Choice
Everyone experiences hurtful words or behavior at some time in their life. You can choose to ruminate over such past events—like the junior monk—or focus your attention elsewhere.
The choice is yours.
I think you’ll find the going gets easier when you let go of the stories, emotions, and beliefs that no longer serve you and concentrate on the present moment. You will find more peace and happiness when you are no longer focused on your past painful experiences.
Keep in mind that those events are, indeed, past. The past no longer exists, so why bother with it?
You can’t change it. But you can change how you live now and what type of future you create.
Will your future include your expired hurts and a heavy suitcase filled with negative emotions? Or will you enter your future free and unencumbered?
What do you choose? Tell me in a comment below. And please share this post with a friend or on social media.
Photo courtesy of sandipruel.