In her bestseller, Wild, Cheryl Strayed describes her journey of self-discovery hiking solo along the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State. She initially overpacked the giant backpack she would nickname "Monster." She also arranged for packages to arrive at various points along the trail to resupply her with essentials for the journey, including fresh clothes, boots and cash.
When preparing for family vacations, I must restrain myself from overpacking our first-aid kit. I stuff in a lot more than Polysporin, Bandaids and slings. I pack sutures, surgical tools, scalpel blades, needles, syringes, sterile gloves and dressings, epinephrine, Benadryl, Gravol, oral and topical antibiotics, a stethoscope, an otoscope, oral airways and a resuscitation mask.
When preparing for a trip, you can't bring everything you may possibly need. You don't want to bring every comfort from home - or you might as well stay there. You can't foresee everything that may happen.
Space is limited, and you don't want to be weighed down by a load on your shoulders.
We all carry baggage as we journey through life. Our load can be physical or emotional.
It can be our habits - our stereotypical patterns of thought, feeling and action. It can be maladaptive ways of thinking about ourselves, our family and our friends. It can be sadness, anger, anxiety or grief. It can be an addiction.
To critically unpack and sort through everything in our lives is much harder than emptying our bags. Much of what loads us down and keeps us from moving forward is invisible to us.
But life offers hints. Do you make the same mistakes with different people? Do you get into the same arguments with the same people? Does a person, place, date or experience trigger panic, sadness, anger or self-criticism? Have voices from the past become your negative self-talk?
Choose your travelling companions with care. Real friends love and support you in a reciprocal relationship of give and take. They are fun to be with and they stay by your side when things are not so fun. They keep you moving forward, and they help you to grow.
The absolute essentials that we need cannot be carried or shipped to us. They are the personal qualities that we honour and nurture in ourselves: curiosity and humility to continually learn and laugh at ourselves, the courage to take the risks necessary for growth, the flexibility to meet the unexpected, the creativity to discover solutions and the grace to accept the worst of life and to give back the best we have.
As we move forward into a new year, what are you carrying on your back? What will you bring along from the old year? What will you leave behind?
. Dr. Davidicus Wong is a family physician at the PrimeCare Medical Centre. His Healthwise column appears regularly in this paper. You can read more about achieving your positive potential for health at davidicuswong.wordpress. com.