From Bitter to Better: How to Deal with the Baggages of Our Lives
by Eric Santillan
“Experience is not what happens to a man. It is what a man does with what happens to him.” – Aldous Huxley
I have written about uncluttering in several articles before. Uncluttering is a term coined in the 1930s to mean “removing clutter from your physical surroundings”, to make what you have and where you are neat and orderly. I have connected it to spirituality, because I’ve found that when my physical surroundings are uncluttered, my spirit is too–I think more clearly and I have a longer and wider view of things.
Today, I’m going to talk about a different kind of uncluttering–inner clutter: the self-dialogue that keeps us from living life fully– the “what ifs”, “if onlys”, and the “why me’s”. We call them BAGGAGES. BAGGAGES keep us from thinking clearly, and living courageously. Chuck Lorre has a book whose title captures what I’m talking about: “What doesn’t kill us, makes us BITTER.”
How do you deal with baggage? I can think of at least five ways:
CLAIM IT. The image of the airport carousel comes to mind here. If you don’t get your baggage, it will just keep going around the carousel in circles (usually for everyone to see). If you ignore your baggage, it will always be there and you will feel like you’re going in circles throughout your life (and it usually comes out in embarrassing ways for all the world to see). Claim the baggage. Take stock of what you have and to be aware of it. Denial will not solve anything. Open the baggage, accept that it is there (you don’t have to understand it at first; just know it is there, and that you act in a certain way because of it), and be familiar with it. Self-awareness is the first step to any resolution later on.
IT WILL HAVE TO GO THROUGH THE X-RAY MACHINE ANYWAY. When you don’t claim your baggage, when you are in denial, when you are ultra-secretive about your baggages, people you deal with will know anyway. People will still be able to see that you have baggages, in the way you act and react. We know people like that, with obvious chips on their shoulders, and that’s why we ask them, “What’s your problem?!” People can tell. If you are aware of your baggages and have laid claim to it, it is easier to explain to people why you act in a certain way.
GET A CART IF IT GETS TOO HEAVY. The first problem with baggage is that it can get too heavy. The second problem is that it is usually embarrassing to admit to other people. Nobody goes out with a smile and says, “Hey, I have baggage, help me.” But we have to remember that everyone has baggages. That we are all members of this Brotherhood/Sisterhood of the Wounded. Sometimes, the best way to help people is to allow them help us. They get the special perspective that brotherhood reveals: “I am not alone in this.” Get a cart. You don’t have to carry it by yourself.
CHECK IT IN. Now the problem with self-awareness is that we can get stuck in what we know and we can explain away our life through the lens of that one bad, hurtful experience. We can trap ourselves in this self-knowledge cage where we couldn’t get out. Two things can happen here: (1) we wallow in self-pity. Or (2) we can force people to accept us for who we are because of what we have experienced in the past. Or both. We can stop living spontaneously and we can become our own dark prophecies. We are probably right–we are who we are because of our negative experiences. We are afraid to care, show affection, try, and love again. But just like physical baggages, we don’t have to carry them wherever we go. We can check it in. We don’t have to live life angry and feeling victimized all the time. Life does not end with self-awareness. It ends with a decision that eventually leads to healing. And we can decide to be happier.
DON’T LOSE IT. While they can seem heavy sometimes, and there are days when they are just shitty to have, baggages are essential to our journey. Even if it’s hard to admit, we are our past and our pains. We are the wounds that may not have healed fully but make us fully alive. In fact, the deepest people we know are those who can journey with us through the pain because they’ve experienced pain themselves. We are who we are because of what we have experienced–both the good and the bad. What does not kill us could make us bitter, yes, but it could make us better too.
“If we could sell our experiences for what they cost us, we’d all be millionaires.” – Abigail Van Buren