You are walking down your path of life and someone throws a rock and hits you. You stoop down and pick up the rock. To prevent them from throwing it at you again you put it in your backpack. You also find that since the rock is in your backpack you do not have to see it and be reminded of the time you were hit. This helps you to forget about it and continue with your journey.
Someone else throws a pebble at you and you bend down and put the pebble in the backpack. Then a huge rock falls down on you and you put it in there also. This continues until you have quite a collection of rocks and pebbles of various sizes.
This all is good because it allows you to continue your journey – but it occurs at a cost – the weight of the backpack slows you down. There are some hills and mountains that you can’t climb at all with that weight. You get more and more tired of struggling along day-to-day – carrying this weight that no one else can see. Your backpack is the same size as everyone else’s but somehow they don’t seem to be weighed down like you.
You know where you are supposed to go, you haven’t changed your goal, but many times you had to pick a less direct route, one that skirted those really high hills or mountains that you just couldn’t climb. This has been tiring and frustrating but you have accepted it as your lot in life, you’re just not as good as fast as some other people.
But today you are not only frustrated but you are thoroughly disheartened. You realize for the first time in this journey that there is a mountain that you can’t climb and that going around it will tire you out so much and take so much time that you know in your heart that you will never reach your goal. For the first time in your life you admit to yourself that you are not going to be able to do this on your own, that you are going to need help. You just hope you can find someone who can really help, you’ve asked before and it never seemed to work out. This time you do your homework, you do your research, narrow down your search, talk to your short list of candidates and find the best of the best. If you fail, at least you can say that you tried your best and got the best help possible.
So this is the big day, your meeting with this guide, the guide of all guides, the guide that guides other guides. Maybe he will show you a shortcut, some secret passage that isn’t so steep, or may he will just carry your backpack for you. The two of you walk. He doesn’t quite look like you thought he would, he seems way too calm and laid back to be traveling this rugged terrain all the time, but all of your sources said he was the one who could help you the most. The two of you walk along your path for a while as he gets to know where you have been, how you got this far and where you need to go. You surprise yourself when your mouth, without your permission, starts blurting out how weak you feel and how hopelessly behind you have gotten.
He helps you find a sheltered and secure place for the two of you to sit and talk. In this quite place he explains that you are not weak, you are just carrying more weight than others. This is a surprise to you since you have always assumed that everyone else was just like you and that you were carrying no more weight than anyone else. Since this is what you have believed, of course it follows that this must mean that you are inherently weaker or less capable than your peers. At first you don’t believe him, but then he helps you to remember that there was a time when you didn’t have the weight. He also shows you how to tell how much weight others are carrying, by seeing how they bend at the waist, by seeing if they struggle going up hills or tend to lose control going down hills like you.
Once you accept this truth it changes everything, in a way you become a different person, you see yourself through a new set of eyes. This amazes you, but it is only the start. He now encourages you to reach into the backpack and to pull out one rock. This scares you but he has gained a measure of your trust and respect. Anyway, you are backed into a corner because you know you can’t get over this mountain without his help. Touching it immediately triggers the memory of the pain of it hitting you. The wave of upset that occurs in the wake of the memory washes over you. At first feels unbearable. After all, you are just barely holding it together anyway. His constant encouragement helps you continue. Gradually the wave of upset becomes a ripple and gradually the ripple dissipates.
You realize that you can now throw it away. This gives you and incredible sense of power, a level of control that you haven’t experience in a long, long time, since that first time when you started collecting rocks. The guide gently touches the rock, holding it with you. He tells you there is something very important that you need to do before you throw it away for good. Its okay if you throw it away now – that will be your choice – but if you can hold out just a little bit there is something wonderful that you can get from that rock.
Now you are really confused. What could you possibly get from holding onto something that was so painful? He explains that the weight of the rock can be turned into the most valuable thing on earth.
“No,” he says, “this is not alchemy; we are not going to turn rock into gold or platinum. The most valuable thing on earth isn’t gold or platinum or even diamonds.”
“So what is it?” You’re only willing to continue this game of twenty questions for a short minute as your annoyance builds.
“Its wisdom,” he state emphatically. He hands you a little book, a mini-journal with a little pen attached.
“Take a minute to reflect on what happened that day when that rock hit you,” he says.
“Decide what lessons you learned, what that experience taught you about life, what you would have done differently if you could do that day over again,” he continues.
You are puzzled but you also have that excited feeling that happens when the pieces of a puzzle are just about to fit together in your mind.
“Maybe you could have avoided getting hit, or maybe you could have done something to heal even faster,” he says.
With 20/20 hindsight, from this place of calm and safety, you are able to see the big picture around that event for the first time in your life. It’s so clear.
“See the new you, actually let yourself see the new you, with all the knowledge and experience you have collected on your journey – see yourself going back to that time and doing things differently, seeing things differently, thinking about it differently. Make sure to jot these lessons learned in this journal and keep it with you at all times.”
“So that is all that wisdom is, living through something, making mistakes and then figuring out how you could have handled it better,” you ask.
“Yep, that’s all there is to it, wisdom is just a collection of could-have, should-have, would-have’s that you later decide to do,” he states.
You jot down your new bits of wisdom in your new journal.
“Okay, now you can throw that rock away,” he directs.
You rear back and with all of your strength you launch it into the air and watch as it skips down the side of the mountain disappearing into the bottom of a ravine.
“Wow, that felt wonderful, very, very …what’s the word I want?”
“Yeah, that’s it, liberating is exactly it.”
“There is one final thing to do of course, “ he adds. He seemed to hesitate before he said it, probably he picked up on just how annoying this was getting.
“What now?,” you say, not really trying all that hard to hide your annoyance anymore.
“Well, you have some extra space in your backpack now, I was just wondering if there is anything you might want to take along with you for the rest of your journey, now that you have some extra room?”
“An extra canteen would be nice, there have been times when I had to make a detour just to get some more water.”
He reaches into his backpack and gives you a canteen, you thank him and put it where the rock was, it fits perfectly.
You realize that the weight of the rocks was only part of the problem. As your backpack filled up with rocks you also had less and less room to put in things that you really needed. So there were some tools that you just couldn’t take with you, some creature comforts that you just couldn’t enjoy. Missing those extras made many things harder to do and made some things impossible to do.
You continue this way for what seemed like forever, grabbing one rock at a time, allowing yourself to remember and extract and record a lesson learned before throwing it away and then deciding what you wanted to put in the new space you made. Finally all of the rocks and even the major pebbles are gone.
“Well congratulations!” he beams. He seems disappointed that you don’t have a smile on your face too, in fact you are actually feeling quite sad and sorry for yourself.
“I don’t want to appear ungrateful, I’m really very happy and amazed, but I just can’t stop thinking about all of the time I have lost carrying this around, You know many of the decisions I have made, the paths I decided to take, the only reason I took those paths was because they didn’t have steep hills. I just can’t get around the fact that I am very far behind from where I should be on this journey.”
“I wish I could tell you that this is not true, but that would be a lie. Yes, you have lagged behind… yes, if those rocks had never hit you or if you had had the support you needed to be able to pick them up and throw them away for good the trek would have been much easier and you would be much further along. That’s the bad news. But there is also some good news, in fact there is a big silver lining to this cloud.”
“You mean the wisdom I have achieved?”
Well yes, that’s part of it, the wisdom will help you make better decisions and handle difficult situations better from here on out and that will help you to make faster progress, but there is something else that makes it almost worth the strain of carrying that load all this time.”
“Okay, so you get the eternal optimist award, this better be good!”
“Believe me it is and you will know it as soon as you stand up.”
“How is standing up going to help me understand anything? If anything there will be less blood going to my brain so I will be even denser that I am now.”
“You already took several leaps of faith, you already have done things that didn’t make sense to you and found out that some wonderful things can happen even if you don’t really believe that they can. So how about taking just one more little leap, just stand up and see.”
You stand up and feel like you are going to become airborne – this is what it must feel like to walk on the moon – you feel just about weightless.
“You see the cool thing is that not only are you able to climb all the hills and mountains that everyone without rocks can climb but you are going to be able to even climb some that they can’t. This is because, all of this time – this long arduous journey – you have been in weight training. Carrying around that heavy backpack conditioned your muscles and strengthened you in a way that none of the people lucky enough to never have rocks in their backpacks could ever have experienced.”
“Way cool!” A giant smile grows all by itself on your face.
“So now you have the best of all worlds, you are stronger than you would have been if you never had any baggage, you have taken each piece of baggage and translated it into the lessons learned that is the heart of wisdom and you can use that wisdom to decide what you want to put in the new space you have created in your mind.”