What Lies Beneath?
By Stephen Doherty
I saw the angel in the marble and carved
until I set him free. -Michelangelo
When I was a young lad, I used to enjoy watching Bonanza on Sunday nights. One episode stood out to me above all the rest. It was a story about an oversized teenage boy named Marcus, who also happened to be blind. There was little sensitivity in how stories were told back then and the taunting and cruelty inflicted upon this young man would be horrible in any era. As if fate hadn’t been cruel enough in denying him his sight-he had to endure the brutality of a harsh frontier life. Near the end of the show, Marcus handed Ben Cartwright a beautiful wood sculpture that he had carved. Ben and everyone else stood there wide-eyed at the realization that blindness had not prevented Marcus from achieving artistic brilliance as a sculptor. As they heaped praise upon him, he humbly proclaimed, “Aww..it was nothing. Those beautiful figures were already trapped inside the wood. I just knocked off the bark a little and set them free!” These words left an indelible imprint that would stay with me forever.
Life is oddly paradoxical in that we often equate success with what we gain or pursue or collect. The reality is that more often than not, happiness and success are determined by what we are willing to relinquish. What lies within each of us as we begin to “shed the bark?” Is there not beauty in all of us that need only be uncovered? We spend our lives deliberately and inadvertently “collecting” a backpack full of character traits, bad habits, beliefs, tendencies, preferences, etc. This collection includes things that have driven our lives-for better or for worse-and continue to accumulate as we get older. Tragically, our reluctance to “lighten the load” by selectively relinquishing things we know are hurting us or impeding our progress, seems to be a rampant societal problem. I’m not going to analyze the reasons why–I’m no psychologist, but who can deny that our overall societal happiness and health is in decline-not ascension. And who can deny that it’s the respective list of things we can’t or won’t shed that is at the core of this decline.
I remind my kids regularly that the decisions we make in life and the activities we engage in and the pursuits that we embrace-all have consequences. I also remind them that life can be coy and tricky in that the invoices for the decisions we make might not show up for a long time, but they do invariably arrive. I also remind them that life has a way of inflicting change upon those of us unwilling to pursue it voluntarily, lest it be social, financial, physical, spiritual, or all of the above. The best way to keep our backpack light is to not put useless things in it, to begin with. The second best way is, to be honest with ourselves about what shouldn’t be there. With few exceptions, too many of us become spiritual hoarders of things that have long ceased to have value.
I would close out these musings with a simple challenge. What represents the heaviest or most useless, even destructive weight in your backpack? More importantly, close your eyes and envision a life relieved of its weight and influence as you move forward without it? Choose just one, although most of us have many. For me, I was able to unload a terribly burdensome habit that had cost me far more than it had benefitted me. I had carried its monumental weight in my own backpack for decades. Relieving myself of the burden of its presence would not repair or recover all that was lost while it was present-but it did clear the way to begin rebuilding and reshaping my life in a way that would benefit myself and my children going forward. It’s never too late to lighten your load and your past definitely does not have to equal your future. I encourage you to review your own inventory and find something that has no value or is having a negative impact on your life–and throw it overboard! Who knows–it might be habit-forming.
“I am not what I have done. I am what I choose to do.” -Carl Jung