Carry On by Carrying Less

Written By Bob Hunt

Many years ago, I spent a summer taking teens on one-week canoe trips in Algonquin Park, a provincial park in Ontario. One of the many things I learned from those trips: the age of a teenager is directly related to the amount of equipment they stuff into their rucksack. The older they were, the more stuff they carried. It may be hard to believe, but there was even one teen that brought rocks along for a fire pit! That was an unnecessarily heavy load to carry.

Image of rucksack with assorted camping gear
Photo: Jonas Nockert via flickr Creative Commons

We can imagine all kinds of possible “what-if” scenarios, which often results in our packing more weighty gear than we are able to carry. Sometimes our ability to imagine literally outweighs our ability to make good choices.

That was an important learning for me, and it is one that I use to this day with patients. I listen to them as they tell me all the things they struggle to carry in life – other people's desires, other people's fears – and then gently point out that they are carrying a lot of "stuff".

I offer to spend some time with them looking at the "rocks in their rucksack". What can they leave behind? What misplaced feelings of responsibility, what resentments (theirs or someone else’s), what reservations are they allowing to distract them from attending to their own physical, mental or spiritual health?

You can begin this process at home by taking a large piece of paper and listing all the things, relationships, work-related and personal life commitments that you have. Then ask yourself: What in this list do I really need to carry? What am I carrying out of habit? What things made sense to carry a few years ago but are of little value now?

You may find that giving your “rocks” to others creates new opportunities. Passing on hosting the next New Year’s party creates an opportunity for someone else to learn how to host a party. Not taking on the next big project at work will allow someone else to develop new skills. Inviting my son to join me rather than clearing the snow myself gives us time together.

Adjusting to a new diagnosis, starting a different treatment program, even hearing that you are cancer free creates new challenges and new opportunities.

Rather than adding new things, what will you decide to let go? Carry on by carrying less.