In the last few days, I’ve been packing and organizing for a working trip to the jungle in the south of Thailand. Through the course of the trip, I’ll fly on eight planes and experience several forms of land and water transport. So I’ve chosen to “travel light.” I’ll pack only a few changes of clothing and the basic toiletries, and I’ll leave my laptop at home.
At first, I was thinking about “traveling light” only within the context of packing for this trip. It felt like a great relief to carry so little with me. Yet soon I realized that there was more to this than just deciding what I was going to pack for this trip. I started considering “traveling light” as a metaphor for navigating life.
My life has been quite full in the last few months with speaking, workshops, and trainings in five countries. I’ve also started work on several new projects for next year, including a new book. At home, we’ve also undertaken a couple of big house projects. And then, of course, there was the ever-present mundane, yet necessary, “stuff” of life. Life has definitely been overflowing. My guess is that, while the details may be different, you have probably experienced something similar at some point.
Initially, it just seemed like there was a lot going on. Yet soon I started feeling like things were piling up, one on top of another. I started feeling like I was carrying the weight of the world – well, at least my world – on my shoulders. Again, perhaps you recognize the feeling.
However, a couple of days ago during my morning meditation, a vision that I’ve seen many times before, and, in fact, written about twice, appeared again. In the vision, I see a man walking alone. The man is dressed very simply and carries nothing. While I see him from behind, I am aware that he represents me. As he walks, from time to time, he picks something up from the ground. At other times, it’s as if life hands him something from the side of the road. Sometimes he carries these things for a while; at other times, he sets them down right away. He seems to intuitively know what to carry with him and for how long. He is definitely “traveling light.”
Seeing this vision again, I realized that, over the last few months, I’ve been carrying a lot of “luggage.” I’ve just kept picking things up – thoughts, ideas, projects, concerns, and responsibilities – yet I’ve never set anything down! I’ve just kept adding to my load. And as a result, I had become exhausted.
That morning in meditation, I set everything down. The man in the vision was showing me what it looks like to “travel light” in life.
As I watched him, I had the feeling that he was making a significant difference in the world. Yet he carried nothing. He showed me that the simplest and most effective way to do my best work and live my best life was to “travel light.” He picked things up when appropriate, gave them his complete focus and attention for a time, and then set them back down again. He appeared very self-aware as well as very aware of everything and everyone around him. He appeared to love greatly and to have enormous compassion for life. He seemed to live in service of something much bigger than himself. Yet he actually carried only one thing at a time, and he only carried it long enough to accomplish what was his to do – to make the difference he was there to make. And then he set it down and kept on walking.
The powerful shift for me came when I realized that I can care about something, be fully present and fully engaged with it, and even pick it up and carry it for a time, and then the time will come to set it down again. Later, I might pick it up again – in fact, I might pick it up and carry it many times. Yet I must also practice setting it down. Trying to carry too many things at once leads to overload, overwhelm, and exhaustion. And then I can’t serve anyone or anything very well.
Nothing has changed in my outer circumstances. Projects and opportunities just keep coming. As I say “Yes,” I will undoubtedly take on new responsibilities and there will be new challenges.
Yet what has changed is my perspective. I can pick things up and then set them down. Going forward, I’m “traveling light.”
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