Guest Blog // Pack Shake Down

Guest Post // Amber Gruber


I’m going on a trip soon. This trip is something of a trust fall into the universe and it necessitates that I travel light. So I've been thinking a lot about baggage in both the literal and metaphorical sense of the word.


Thru hikers on the Appalachian Trail know some things about traveling light. Their 2,180 mile journey takes months to complete and they carry everything they will need to survive the wilderness on their back. Often hikers will have an experienced backpacker do something called a "pack shake down" before they begin their trek. Their pack gets examined with no mercy. If it isn't an absolute necessity, it has to go. The line between what we need and want gets blurred by emotions. Hikers try to parlay functionality into items that make them feel secure. When those security blankets are mercilessly ripped out of their pack they try to rationalize why it is that they need them.  These shake downs are not easy, but on a long distance hike every ounce matters.


When I turn my thoughts from physical baggage to the kind we hear about from counselors and therapists, I immediately recognize that it's a term that I've only ever heard portrayed in a negative light. And to clarify, when I say baggage in this sense, I am talking about the emotions, memories, scars, and thought patterns that we carry from a myriad of life experiences. I feel that I need to turn the tables on that negative connotation, and here’s why; I've been on many trips where I over packed. Embarrassingly so in some instances. I hear my Boy Scout of a dad saying, "always be prepared", as my inner hippie child yells back, "we'll figure it out when we get there!" But I digress. I've over packed on numerous occasions, but the truth is that I've always needed some baggage on my journey. And what I needed for each trip was different.  


When it comes to emotional baggage, couldn’t the same truth apply? Maybe we’ve overpacked.  But we’ve also brought along some things that we need.  We have to pack differently for every chapter in our story.  So it comes down to intuitive discrimination. Our scars are reminders. Our experiences are teachers. But we hold onto a lot of extraneous information about our past that doesn’t serve to make us any wiser.  With that in mind, can we do a pack shake down emotionally?  Can we detach ourselves from our own story just enough to see the lesson learned that made us every bit of the human being that we are today? Maybe we should hold space for the memory of the last time we left our heart somewhere to get tripped over and broken. But could we unzip it from the layer of heavy sadness that lies in the specifics? Maybe we do need to remember the red flags in friendships that have gone South in years past over betrayed confidences and broken promises. But do we really need all the stories of misplaced trust we've set up as an emotional obstacle course for anyone trying to get near us?  And if our regrets serve to remind us of paths we shouldn’t walk again, let them.  But for god’s sake, if there’s one thing you unpack, let it be the belief that those mistakes define who you are.


As I search through my own stories, I see how hard it is to dissect the lesson from the lurch in my stomach when I walk down memory lane. Sometimes memory lane looks more like a sketchy back alley your mother would not let you walk down at night. What I'm positing is not easy. But as we travel through life, every memory carries a certain about of weight and we are only built to carry so much.  I'm really asking if we can scoop the wisdom out of the wound. I know how hard it is. I know how closely we identify with our hurt. There is wisdom in our hardest stories, but it might be Siamese twins with an ache we're certain we won't get over. There are details, nooks and crannies, ringing words, that are no longer of service to us and they are not as inextricable from their lighter side as they may seem.


Baggage is not the enemy. Excess baggage is. Learn to recognize the difference. Know that without a doubt, you cannot shake your pack down once and be done. Know that on your first attempt, you may not be able to part with one single thing. In fact, there will be things you unpack that you’ve left alone for years because they’re too hard to look at.  Give yourself grace. Allow yourself time. If there are particularly painful stories that don't seem to have any valuable life lesson attached, let them be. You are not far enough removed from their sting yet and that is okay. No effort along the path is ever wasted. You will accrue new stories and scars between every shake down. And this process will never end.  But do the work anyway.  Because it’s worth it.

Travel light(er).  Live the better story.

PS: These thoughts were very much inspired by this quote from my favorite poet and constant wellspring of thought provoking jewels, Andrea Gibson.

"I do not need air traffic control to tell me there have not been enough flights for me to lose all my baggage. But I am learning to claim it at the exact same carousel where I am learning that beating yourself up is never a fair fight. It only knocks the wind out of your chances to come clean through that canyon, to be exactly who we are so we might become exactly who we want to be. So if our baggage is to run, may be one day run like we sing. Like someone took apart a cello to build our hamstrings."


Amber also wrote this gem on TGM. Her beautiful pic and bio reside there also!

Ayesha Comment