Carrying Baggage

September 14, 2023 by

By John Schorling

We all accumulate baggage throughout our lives, much of it stuff we might be happier if we did not continue to carry with us.  There are regrets, losses, perceived slights that we hold on to, to name just a few.  We often wish things were different regarding these experiences, that we had acted differently or made different choices, that a relationship hadn’t ended, or that someone had acted differently toward us.  Yet in this moment, things are just as they are, and wishing they were different will not make them so.  “Wanting things to be different than they are” is a basic definition of suffering often used in mindfulness practice.

Mindfulness has been defined as “Intentional present moment nonjudgmental awareness with kindness”.  So is it possible to just be with our experience as it is, without judgment, noticing any desire for things to be different that arises?  There are often little things that we wish were different- the temperature to be cooler, the environment to be quieter, the chair to be more comfortable.  And as we pay attention, we may notice that more significant wishes for things to be different also arise.  When this happens, we can pay attention, noticing what we feel in the body, what thoughts come up, what emotions are present.

We might notice gnawing in the pit of the stomach as thoughts of something mean we said to a friend arise, and become aware that we have been holding on to feeling guilty.  Noticing this, we can ask ourselves, is there something I might do that would help the situation, perhaps apologize?  Maybe the situation can’t be addressed, or doing so wouldn’t help.  If that’s the case, is it possible to acknowledge this, to recognize that continuing to hold on to guilt over a situation that can’t be changed is causing us suffering, and to respond with kindness and compassion for ourselves?  How would we respond to a friend in a similar situation who shared it with us?  Would we criticize or blame them, or would we respond with kindness?   And acknowledging all this, can we let go of the self-blame, at least a little?

Sometimes we may feel we need to hold on the guilt or self-blame because we feel we don’t deserve to feel better, or because we feel holding on to it will keep us from acting the same way again in the future, or because we don’t want to forgot what we have lost.  Yet these beliefs are often not accurate.  Holding on to blame and guilt just tend to make us more reactive, and when someone says or does something that triggers these emotions, we are more rather than less likely to react in exactly the ways we’re trying to prevent.  If we really desire to respond more skillfully to difficult situations, and to experience less suffering, perhaps we can be more kind to ourselves and put down some of the baggage that we’ve been carrying.

Filed Under: Monthly Musings