It’s an understatement to say that most of us are unhappy. Why? We did not get the unconditional love we needed from an early age, so we learned to survive by developing “skills” that would decrease our pain and give us a sense of satisfaction or even purpose. We learned to be angry and to attack, run, lie, and earn approval with competence in a wide variety of ways. Our skills temporarily DO seem to make us feel better, which is exactly why we use them.
But then we discover—after considerable practice and use—that our survival skills cause their own problems. Anger and intimidation can sometimes keep people from hurting us, but those behaviors also cause enormous difficulties in relationships and often lead to loneliness and bitterness. In other words, the temporary advantages of our survival skills are more than outweighed by the consequences, each of which adds to the burden on our back.
Additionally, we carry around the lies we were taught as the people around us—most notably our parents—used THEIR survival skills. As our parents used anger, controlling, and withdrawal, we learned that these skills were acceptable. Their behaviors also convinced us that we were not worth loving, perhaps the worst wound of all. Each of these experiences added yet another weight to the burden we carried.
Over the years the lies we were taught and the skills we were then required to learn became a mountain on our backs. It grew one seemingly small piece at a time, so we didn’t notice it. Even now, as we can barely stand under the enormous weight, we deny its existence, because it’s all we’ve ever known. But whether we recognize the mountain or not, eventually it becomes intolerable. We can barely walk. We feel alone. Our relationships are dysfunctional. We develop physical manifestations of our stress.
And then when we inevitably stumble on a small pebble on the ground, we fall, crushed by the mountain we’re carrying. Because we don’t recognize the mountain, we blame our pain on the single pebble—the single event or person—that apparently “caused” our stumble.
If we want to be happy, we MUST recognize the mountain. Invariably that requires the help of people who can see it much more easily than we can. But then what can we do? Analyze it? Weigh it? Draw it? Dissect it to learn its exact composition? Yes, we could do all that, OR we could just shrug our shoulders and roll the mountain away.
One day I suggested this exact approach to a woman who had carried a mountain around all her life. She had argued with me about it on many occasions, defended herself, rationalized her unloving and hurtful behaviors, and more. She was exhausted.
“But how can I do that?” she asked. “How do I get rid of this mountain I’m just beginning to recognize?”
“Just let it go,” I said. “It’s all old stuff. You don’t need it. It causes you nothing but pain. Let it go.”
“I still don’t understand.”
“Try this: Say to yourself, ‘I don’t know anything. If I knew something, I wouldn’t be carrying this mountain around that’s ruining my life. So instead of arguing with you and resisting you all the time, I’ll shut up and trust you to teach me what is true.”
She did that. She trusted and listened, and within days she said, “I feel weightless. Free.”
A day later she said, “I feel kind of disoriented too.”
“Oh, that’s all right,” I said. “You’re confused by not carrying around that familiar but deadly companion. You became accustomed to a weight that was killing you. Now, you just need to learn to enjoy normal gravity—which is much easier but temporarily disorienting, almost like you were weightless. But you don’t need the mountain.”
We all carry mountains of various descriptions and sizes. With help, we can roll them of our shoulders and experience the feelings of freedom and joy. Sometimes we’ll be tempted to pick up the mountain again. It’s familiar. Sometimes it even seems to have advantages, as we throw pieces of it at the people we believe to be threatening.
Dump the mountain on your back. Find people to help you do that. Learn to walk free. It’s remarkably like flying.