“No one is useless in this world who lightens the burden of it to anyone else.”~ Charles Dickens.
In high school one of my favorite subjects was geology. Having decided I wanted to be a nurse, I was basically free to specialize in the subjects of my choice, as the entrance requirements to nursing school just called for success in any subjects. In Jamaica, like England, you spent your last two years in high school taking three main subjects before you sat the big final exams (‘Advanced Level’ Cambridge Exams) which would then qualify you for university. But I loved those rocks and fossils! I loved the principle of uniformitarianism, that dictated that how things happen to the earth’s crust today is exactly the same way that it happened in the past. The present is the key to the past. I loved big rocks and little rocks, I loved rock formations and volcanic plugs; roche moutonnees and other features of glaciated valleys. I also happened to be the only girl in the class, which added to the interest!
When I look back at my life, and ponder on the paths I have chosen, I often wonder how my life would have been different if I had decided to continue to study rocks. I am not sure what an entry level job as a geologist looks like! Could I have worked nights and weekends to help mix a career and motherhood? Would I have had the experiences and wonders of the human interactions that nursing has provided me? Rocky roads less traveled!
If it wasn’t for the weight factor, I would bring rocks back with me whenever I travel. Smooth pebbles from the beach at Pwllheli (don’t even try to pronounce it, the Welsh accent requires a host of consonants and vowels regular mortals know nothing about!); chips of quartz from a mountain in Snowdonia; yellowish orange miniature pyramids from Jamaica. Rocks ground me, they pull me back to my center, they put me in touch with a rhythm and rhyme of the natural world.
One of my favorite TV shows is ‘Iyanla, fix my life’. This healer works with broken people to try to teach them new ways of living in the world, new ways of handling old traumas, old scars, old dysfunctional habits. One of her tricks is to assign one of the parties the job of picking up heavy boulders from around a garden, and place them in a sack, which the person then has to carry around. The rocks are of course symbolic, they represent the ‘baggage’ of emotional burdens, the unhealthy patterns and weighty memories that we allow to take up way too much space in our heads.
I have been reflecting on the weight of guilt, the toll it takes on a body and a mind. As a teacher I often have to try to help stressed out students deal with the extra load they try to carry in addition to the school work. It may be pressure that a family member puts on them, making them feel as if they do not deserve an education. It may be an insecure spouse who feels threatened by a wife who is trying to ‘better’ herself. But the energy spent feeling guilty is energy which if directed correctly would make the school work so much easier. An old song has been floating around my head, so I went to Mr Google to discover that it was Barry Gibb who wrote the lyrics (my mind was hearing the Sanchez version): “Lay your troubles on my shoulder, put your worries in my pocket, rest your love on me tonight”. Such a generous offer.
But for those who are overwhelmed by guilt, by some incident in their past that threatens to upset any thought of peace and happiness they could have, how do you retrain your mind? How do you change that well-worn path of self-destruction? A friend of mine would say that before we are born (or reborn) our soul makes a plan, chooses a purpose and mission for our life, and other souls volunteer to travel with us. They come into our lives to help us learn our lesson, or fulfill our assignment. So perhaps that horrible event was actually the unfolding of our life’s plan, and it is up to us to find the message in the pain.
Another friend who has battled addiction, like Iyanla, has done her work, but knows that it is work she must continue to do daily. Like all experts, it is the discipline of practice that brings you to excellence. When I say to her ‘one day at a time’ she often responds that some days it is one minute at a time! But the concept is to take life moment by moment, rather than worrying about future challenges. Like all change, it is easier said than done, but one boulder at a time, we may be able to shift the burden. As the Yorkshireman told me, many decades ago: It’s a bit like beating up your head on a brick wall; it does feel good when you stop!
So, if you find yourself overwhelmed by things that are outside of your control, just for today, try to rest your worry down. If not for a whole day, then just for an hour. You can always pick it up later. See what it feels like to step out into the world free from encumbrances. It just may be addictive! Begin with forgiveness, and try to move on from there.
On this Good Friday morning, I wish you a day free from worry, a weekend to appreciate the amazing gifts of family and friends, another opportunity to learn as much as we can in this university we call life.