The Weight of What We Carry
On a bleak, gray morning I set out walking up a steep hillside, struggling to stay on the gravel path. A strap across my forehead attached to a pack on my back cut deeply into my skin. Because the pack was so heavy I was bent over, unable to look up, seeing only the gravel road. Suddenly, two sandaled feet were standing in front of me on the path. With difficulty I looked up into a woman’s face. She was observing me tenderly. “My darling,” she said gently, “what is this heavy burden you are carrying?”
I gingerly set down the pack, peeled back the cloth cover and revealed hundreds of glass figurines, some with broken, sharp edges. Kneeling beside them, exhausted, I lifted each with care and explained, “This is my mother’s, passed down for generations, I am expected to . . . This is my father’s; it is very heavy, but it is from his mother and father. I cannot break the chain . . . This is my husband’s, it would kill him if I left it behind. These belong to my sisters, they have insisted I . . . my friends . . . they expect me to . . . ” Patiently the woman listened; gazing down at me with complete adoration.
When I finally finished, I looked at her with weary sadness, and my tears flowed, “I’m afraid I’ve broken them. I’m so sorry. I was responsible for all of this, and I’ve let so many people down.” She reached out and placed her hand on my cheek. Like a pitcher fills an empty glass with clear water, love and understanding was poured into me. Smiling softly she said;
“My beloved, is there anything here that is truly yours to carry?”
In my mid 30’s, at the time of this dream, I was torn between living a life of my own choosing, or committing to a life of lies to appease others. In choosing the latter for most of my life, I had created a chaos so dire and hopeless it felt like my only choice was to eliminate my future all together. Defeated, I just wanted to lie down and never wake up.
The belief that I was somehow responsible for the joy and sorrow, the delight and disappointment, the success or failure of others was consuming my life’s journey. Developing discernment was critically important; “My beloved, is there anything here that is truly yours to carry?” The moment she touched me I learned that having compassion for others does not mean being responsible for their lives (no matter how much they may insist you are). To help is not to fix, to support is not to bear the full burden, to guide is not to control, and to sacrifice self to appease others is selfish.
In the dream, the woman smiled at me and moved on. Slowly I rose up to stand. I could feel my body unfolding, stiff and aching from being bent so long under the weight of responsibility. Finally, I stood up straight, reaching my full height. Without the heft of the pack on my back I felt lighter, weightless, free. I could see everything around me with sharp clarity. Where I believed there had been just one path, there were thousands winding and rolling through a magnificent landscape. The valley was green and lush, the sky was blue and cloudless and the horizon was limitless.
And just like that, I woke up.
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