I like to use symbolism and metaphors when I work with both my clients and my students. I’m sure I get an eye roll every now and then with, “Here she goes again”. But it offers an opportunity to visualize our experience of life in a way that may seem less abstract, more solid or relatable and understandable.
One analogy that I use often is the idea of rocks in our backpack. Imagine that you are wearing a backpack. This is obviously an invisible backpack, but imagine it hanging on your back. You can feel the straps coming across your arms and feel the weight at the top of your shoulders across your back lightly pulling down. Now imagine that there are rocks in the backpack. The rocks represent things that are bothering us, things that we are holding onto, things that take up space in our lives. For some of us we have small rocks, like pebbles. Rocks that represent our day to day stresses and responsibilities, the things on our to do list. Maybe there is just a handful, for some of us maybe a bucketful. Maybe some days those rocks are bigger and heavier because of some stressful event going on in our lives. Or maybe we are just having a rough day and the rocks seem just a little heavier. Can you feel the heaviness of your own backpack?
Now, imagine if those rocks were even bigger like bricks or boulders. So heavy that it makes life hard to walk through because of the shear weight of the backpack on your shoulders. These brick or boulders represent the trauma we have experienced, the pain, the resentment we are holding onto, the depression, deep anxiety or fear, maybe anger or resentment, loss or grief.
Walking through life every day with a backpack full of big rocks is hard. Sure, we could carry a heavy backpack on our shoulders for a mile, maybe a few…but to get up everyday and carry boulders on our back as we try to go to work or school, try to raise children, be present in our relationships, attempt a social life, be there for others or even take care of ourselves?
I often encourage my clients to make some decisions about the rocks. With a backpack full or rocks, holding you down, it may seem impossible to pick just one rock to focus on, but we must start somewhere. Maybe pick an easy rock first. Create a plan, take care of the rock and your backpack will be lighter. Maybe just a little lighter…but with time, one rock at a time, life will be easier to walk though when there isn’t so much weight.
Another option is to give some rocks away. Sometimes we hold so tightly on to a large rock because the thought of ever being able to tackle it feels scary and overwhelming. Or maybe we have had this large rock for so long it feels like it is forever attached. But how much lighter would your backpack be if you gave a rock away? Seek out others to hold space for you… for your rocks. This could be a family member, a friend or a counselor. Anyone who will support you, not hold judgement against you and who will validate your experience and your feelings. Maybe offering your rock to God, to nature, to the universe. Allowing someone else to hold a rock for you means some of the weight is taken away, making life a little easier to walk through.