Why Are You Carrying Your Pain?
A reflection on the wisdom of setting down a burdensome past
I’ve had a leather bag full of fear, hanging by a strap over my left shoulder for many years. I’ve been collecting fear in that bag since early childhood and it’s only gotten heavier and more cumbersome. It’s no wonder I’ve got a touch of tendinitis. The bag contains several pounds of: ‘I feel I’m not loved unconditionally,’ and even more of: ‘I need always to be brilliant so I can feel that I deserve to be desired’, and a whopping supply of: ‘I need to constantly achieve, lest I get left behind.’ Then there’s my suitcase, in which I carry fifty-plus years of insecurity, blame, and childish expectations of those closest to me. My palms are blistered from hauling it around.
And on my head I wear an old felt hat, ostensibly to keep the sun off my scalp, but in truth, I wear it because in a hidden compartment in the crown, I carry a little ball of the very worst stuff; unappeasable anger.
Lately I’ve noticed I’ve been transporting these things for no good reason. I’m not sure exactly what they weigh in total, but I do know that whatever the number is, it’s far greater than the pleasure they’ve given me for lugging them so long. In fact, I’ve come to realize they give me no pleasure at all. Perhaps you’re curious to know how it is that I hadn’t noticed this until now. I guess the answer speaks to one of mankind’s more exceptional qualities: An ability to forget.
If we were able to recall our pasts with total clarity, we would remember a time, way back in earliest childhood, when we weren’t dragging any of that emotional load, –and it would be obvious to us if we suddenly became packhorses for our own pain. But it didn’t happen suddenly, we started carrying the stuff slowly, little by little, over time, didn’t we? At this point in our lives we’ve been carrying this burden so long that we’ve become inured to its weight.
Only in forgetfulness can we come to the wrongheaded conclusion that our pain and anger are an essential part of us. Only through some spiritual amnesia could we possibly come to believe that letting this great and senseless cargo drop from our hands would somehow engender horrible consequences. It is strange, sad, and all too human, how we’ve come to almost cherish the ideas which are the most harmful to us; as if setting them down would feel like losing a limb.
What we are looking for is a blessing, a blessing that creates a circumstance by which we learn some great lesson about the world and therefore, about ourselves. There are two ways that lesson can happen; through loss or joy.
When someone close to us dies, it’s as though we are looking at ourselves in a mirror. Only then can we see. We see what we look like, what we have in our minds and what we carry in our hands. And so too, when we experience some great joy, such as when we’ve been reunited with a long lost friend, or when we finally make a long held dream manifest — will we see ourselves in that same mirror.
Of course we pray that these lessons come to us only through joy, but the blessing in either case, is that we’ll catch a glimpse of ourselves carrying all these needless and weighty things, things we hadn’t noticed. What happens next can be effortless. Instead of wanting to cling to them, we will see them for what they truly are, impediments to our happiness, and we will let them drop to the ground.
Looking into that mirror, taking a view that is long and vast, makes it far likelier that we will have the presence of mind to set our burdensome things down, once and for all — first the leather bag, then the suitcase and finally, perhaps with just a pang of regret, the old felt hat.
Peter Himmelman is a Grammy and Emmy nominated singer-songwriter, visual artist, author, film composer, entrepreneur, and rock and roll performer. He is the founder of Big Muse, a company, which helps unlock innate creativity. Clients include The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, The UCLA School of Nursing, 3M, McDonald’s, Adobe, and Gap Inc. Himmelman is also an alum of the Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern. His latest book, Let Me Out(Unlock your creative mind and bring your ideas to life) was released October, 2016 and is available on Random House Tarcher/Perigee
“There’s deep wisdom here along with very practical tools for translating our ideas into the real world.” — Arianna Huffington
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Originally published at thewisdomdaily.com on August 11, 2016.