The Things We Carry
When traveling the world in the gloriously extravagant backpacker style as I do, everything I own is carried preciously on my back, lugged from one place to the next. Every article of clothing, every toiletry item, every souvenir, adds to the cumulative weight that I must bear on my back daily or weekly, depending on how often I decide to move about. Needless to say, I must force myself to be really choosey with what I commit to carrying around the world with me. Everything must have its specific purpose, everything must get its fair share of wear and tear, and everything must fit happily together. If it doesn’t, I am carrying extra baggage and it’s simply dead weight.
Coming from somebody who has hundreds of items of clothing back home and has embarrassingly unnecessary mental pain throwing away even useless trinkets that trigger some obscure memory, I have issues with this. I’ve gotten better over time (although I’m sure my family will beg to differ, who have graciously offered up their garage space because of my inability to throw things away). I mean, maybe I don’t want this sexy red skirt today, but what if I want it a year from now? Then what? I know, it’s all so trivial isn’t it…
Just today, I had to make the decision to part with a very well worn gray sweatshirt that I’ve carried with me through somewhere around 20 countries. I loved it dearly. In fact, I already miss it. But, my backpack was getting way too full and I wanted to allow myself the option to buy things in the places I was visiting to bring home with me. But with the way I was going with my bag stuffed to the brim, there was no chance of fitting even a feather. So, this morning I sat on the floor of my rustic bungalow with a cup of chai tea, pulled everything out of my backpack, and went through my things one by one, interrogating myself as to how often I’d worn the item since I’ve been traveling, and the odds of me wearing it again during my travels. Sadly, the items that proved to be the most dead weight were two of my favorite things, my gray sweatshirt and my running shoes with hot pink nike swooshes. I had been carrying both of them around with me for over 2 months, and had barely used either. So, I folded the gray sweatshirt neatly and set it in a corner next to the shoes. I sat and admired them lovingly for a while, questioning myself as to whether I was doing the right thing. Then, I stood up, said goodbye, and left my bungalow to catch a bus to the next village.
All of this got me thinking about the intangible things I carry around with me that also weigh me down. What about the mental and emotional items I subconsciously cling to that are nothing but dead weight? It got me thinking of unhealthy mental habits, childhood fears, distant memories, old sadnesses, and emotional and mental stresses that I have buried deep down and haven’t bothered releasing, maybe out of a mixture of both habit and comfort. It dawned on me that there must be some sort of a connection between having trouble parting ways with physical items and having trouble parting ways with the intangible ones.
I thought about all the things I have discovered through my years of traveling, meditation and self reflection. Two of the most important lessons for me that I’ve realized are the nature of impermanence, and the importance of love. These are both umbrella terms that I could go into far more detail about, but I’ll leave it at this for now for the sake of a shorter blog post. I am constantly striving to be a better person, to continue growing emotionally, mentally and spiritually. And I realized that as I am going through this process, I should treat my mental and emotional graspings the same way I treat the items in my backpack. One by one, I must go through them and question whether they are of any real benefit, or if they have simply become old creatures of habit and comfort like my hot pink nike shoes that I was absent-mindedly carrying around for a rainy day.
Even more importantly than keeping our backpacks clean and orderly is keeping our minds clean and orderly. We should work to carefully select which mental constructs and habits we would like to hold on to, and which are better off setting aside and leaving behind. I think if we all interrogate ourselves, we would realize how much emotional and mental deadweight we subconsciously carry around with us, and how much lighter and better it feels to just throw it away and continue on down the road. Sometimes we must let go of things simply for the reason that they are heavy. So, in alignment with my bi-weekly backpack cleaning, I plan to do the same thing with my mind, keeping what is beneficial and necessary, leaving behind what is not, and continuing on down the road.