One of the enjoyable things in life is those silly, harmless shenanigans we (my family, friends and I) enjoy playing on one another. I sit here wondering “what leaps to mind for you?” While hiking with others, it’s fun to “pick on” someone who is truly in the moment and hiking with childlike abandon. During rest periods someone will find a medium-sized stone and slip it into this “lucky” person’s backpack. By the time we reach the summit or half waypoint, the backpack usually has a few lovingly selected stones nestled inside (weighty). When this person finally notices the treasure hidden in his/her backpack, the real fun begins.  And, yes, I’ve been on the receiving end of such rascally antics.

Many years ago, I was at a weekend retreat in the mountains. At one point, the facilitator talked about the metaphorical backpack and the collection of stones that tend to fill it up throughout the years. The essence of her message was as follows:

What kinds of stones, you ask? These may be considered memories you continue to give gravity to. These memories tend to be heavy, bringing you feelings of regret and other emotions that sit on the side of fear. How heavy is your backpack?

During the retreat I sat and thought about what was sitting in my own metaphorical backpack. The exercise was to remove stone by virtual stone and ask myself:

» Is this stone actually mine, or did I choose to carry it because someone suggested I should?
» If the stone was actually mine, did I still bow under its weight, and more importantly, why?
» Who was I at the time I put the stone in the backpack? How had I changed since then?
» Was the meaning of the stone something I still believed in or gave weight to? If yes, why?
» Did it feel accurate for me to continue carrying the weight of the stone around? (I tend to follow an inner accuracy scale rather than the typical concept of right and wrong.)

I found myself throwing many of these stones away. And, I chose to continue carrying a few (unbeknownst or not). That backpack was considerably lighter. I’m sure if I took a look right now, I would still find a few stones rattling around in there. Well, will you look at that, I just found one!  😉

As children we take on much of what others believe to be true, and unless a child is blessed with very enlightened parents (which is truly rare), this will be the norm. The more conscious the parents are, the less weighty the child’s backpack may be. However, children are also influenced by other family members, friends and those that have power over them (teachers, coaches, etc.). A child may feel an inner sense of inaccuracy when something is projected onto them, but they don’t know otherwise (nothing to compare it to), and if continually projected, they will accept it as truth. In addition, if a strong sense of self (confidence, self-esteem, self-worth, inner recognition) is deteriorated during childhood, a person might adopt the concepts and beliefs of others without using a healthy filtering process. We see this in the teen years, when peer pressure takes its toll on those who are more disconnected from self.

In addition, those negatively charged experiences we all have become static or frozen in time, resulting in a stone in the backpack. Our innate fight-or-flight system will catalogue those negative experiences and constantly pull them up when we face a similar challenge (distorted self protection that may run amok).

So, I applaud those who can rummage around in their virtual backpack and remove the stones that weigh down their own sense of true self. This then enables a person to:

» Live with more authenticity in the true self
» Remove the defensive armouring that prevents the chambers of the heart to open to life. (Having said that, there are certain times when we simply need to put that defensive armouring on to keep our most precious self safe, and then know when to remove it once again.)
» Cultivate transparency to engender a strong and positive voice in the world
» Live in a state of vulnerability, for this is the safest place to truly live from

I freely admit that this is easier said than done. And sometimes we need the help of others (counsellor, psychologist, EMDR therapist, art therapist, hypnotherapist) to assist us with removing those weighty stones we may be packing around.

As I continue to move further in and farther up from practicing this and other exercises, I find I more calmly assess the world from “behind my eyes,” rather than reflexively acting as it comes rushing at me.

I invite you to find some quiet space to sit down with your own backpack, finding a deep curiosity motivating you to reach in and self-journey for a while.

Wishing you a deeper sense of self-awareness.

by Janine Algar
image: Trekker resting via Shutterstock