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How to Drop the Extra (Mental) Weight and Set Yourself Free

“Letting go gives us freedom and freedom is the only condition for happiness.” -Thich Nhat Hanh

Most people I know are carrying extra weight—and I’m not talking about gaining a few pounds.

I’m talking about the mental and emotional weight we lug around with us. We carry it everywhere—like a backpack full of bricks—and it weighs us down.

Personally, much of my extra weight comes from the expectations I have for myself to be more—more present, more productive, more enlightened. Although these might be wonderful things to work toward, wanting to be more can easily translate to not being enough now.

In that way, each desire to be more than what I currently am equates to a few more bricks in my backpack. An extra load to haul around on my back, making life a little harder to navigate.

For me it happens to be expectations, but our habits can weigh us down too. Watching television that doesn’t nourish our souls, eating foods that don’t nourish our bodies, and holding on to thoughts that don’t nourish our minds. The effects add up.

And let’s not forget the hand-me-down beliefs. Beliefs like “Good things don’t happen to people like me,” or “I’m just not lucky in love.”

Or the old memories we replay, or the feelings we refuse to feel that bubble under the surface.

They are all heavy, needless weight.

So what?

Maybe you’re wondering, what’s the big deal? So what if you’re a little weighed down; it could be worse.

Or maybe you’re thinking that backpacks and bricks go hand-in-hand with responsibility. It’s your burden to bear; best to suck it up and carry on.

You certainly can go about your life with your backpack loaded up. The weight is rarely debilitating—and that’s exactly when it can be most harmful.

It’s when we are carrying a little extra weight but we are still functional, we become complacent, content, or “fine.” We become used to the extra weight, we tell ourselves its part of life, and we stop noticing it.

But make no mistake: examined or not it’s there, on your back, making everything you do harder. Casting a shadow on your spirit. Making life less fun and less joyful than it was meant to be.

The Impact of the Weight

The weight from those bricks is what distinguishes children from adults.

It’s in how we move. Have you noticed how adults often hunch over a bit? They are struggling under the weight of their invisible backpacks.

The way they sometimes slog to work, schlep through the grocery store, skulk to the gym, as if they are literally dragging themselves through life?

How often do you see children schlep? Not very often, I bet.

Children bounce. They stand up a little straighter, walk a little lighter, look a little freer. You can see the difference from a mile away.

It’s in our laugh, too.

The weight from those bricks (yes, the ones you think are “part of life”) is what transformed your laugh from the deep, loud, belly laugh you had as a child, to the chest-up, shallow, copycat version you often hear from overloaded adults.

The weight from those harmless, “it-could-be-worse” bricks is also what keeps you up at night. It’s what keeps pharmaceutical companies in business.

It’s what led you to miss the subtle change in the air between September and October, and the way your dog gets so excited when you enter the room.

For me, my bricks are responsible for that rush to fire up the laptop first thing in the morning when there is so much to love in the raw, unscripted morning routine with my family. My bricks lead to me to feel stress where there is none and make choices that feel like self-betrayal.

Becoming Lighter

I can’t say for certain—and I sure hope I’m wrong—but there’s a good chance you’re wearing a backpack with at least a few unnecessary bricks in it.

Are you ready to take it off?

Step one: Open the backpack and take a good look at what’s in there.

What are those bricks, anyway?

They are different for everyone. What are your bricks?

What specific judgments, limiting beliefs, painful memories, unchecked thoughts, harmful habits, or denied emotions are in your backpack?

Take them out. Go ahead, it’s safe. Dump your backpack on the floor like a bag of Halloween candy. Spread the bricks out so that you can see everything.

Sort through them, just like you would with your trick-or-treating loot. Just like you might make separate piles for the chocolate, the gum, the quarters, the stuff you want to trade and the stuff you want to just throw away, do that with your bricks.

Your Good-People-Do-X bricks? They go over there where you can dig into them and explore what they’re all about when you have the time and energy.

The Must-Work-My-Way-To-The-Top-Of-The-Company bricks? They go in a different pile. Maybe they are grouped with some Hard-Work-Is-Noble bricks, or some Respect-Brings-Security bricks or some What-My-Parents-Always-Wanted-For-Me bricks.

Your I’m-Not-Loveable bricks—perhaps they go into their own pile, a pile you don’t want to touch just yet. That’s okay.

Taking stock of what is in your backpack is a big step. Sometimes, just knowing what’s in there lightens the load. Start with opening the backpack and taking a good look inside.

Step two: Let go of the bricks you can let go of now. Leave the rest for later.

Since I’ve opened, dumped out, and sorted through my own backpack, I’ve been able to let go of several bricks.

I have totally released my I-Should-Have-The-Perfect-Diet-And-Exercise-Regimen bricks, and my It’s-Not-Fair-That My-Dad-Is-So-Difficult bricks. As heavy as they were at one time, they are long gone now. They don’t weigh me down at all today.

There are other bricks of which I am fully aware, but I still carry from time to time. Bricks like Good-Moms-Love-Playing-With-Their-Kids and Time-For-My-Hobbies-Takes-Away-From-My-Family.

I know these bricks are still in there. I acknowledge them when I feel them weighing me down, and I have faith that my awareness is enough for now. That someday I’ll be able to fully leave them behind, but that day is not today.

I’m sure there are still more bricks weighing me down that I haven’t uncovered yet. I don’t know any human being with perfect brick awareness.

For those, I simply trust that when they are ready to be released, they will become heavy enough to catch my attention.

As long as I’m doing my part by staying aware, I will become aware of those bricks when I’m meant to.

Step Three: Remember that the bricks aren’t real.

Those bricks in your backpack aren’t real.

This might feel like a moot point because they feel real. We treat them as if they are real, and we behave as if they are real.

But they aren’t. You can’t literally spread them on the floor. You can’t physically weigh or measure them.

They are just perception—just thought. Like all thoughts, they come and go, wax and wane, feel consuming and then float out of your mind just as swiftly as they floated in.

When your thinking changes—which it always does with time—the weight of the backpack changes. When you see things in a new way, or you have an insight, or you gain new awareness, you just might realize that what felt like heavy bricks are actually more like foam bricks.

Or like imaginary bricks. They aren’t dangerous in and of themselves, as long as you remember that they aren’t real.

So when you are feeling particularly weighed down, take off the backpack and dump it out. Do what you can with what you see and set the rest aside. And remember, even the ones that feel very heavy are fleeting.

Photo by apparena

Announcement: Wish you could change your past? Learn to let go and create a life you love with the Tiny Buddha course!
  • Rachel

    Dear Amy, thank you for such a well written article. I’ve been a long-time reader of Tiny Buddha but this is the first time I’m commenting on an article :) this piece really resonated with me so I felt compelled beyond resistance to comment. The fact that I found it humorous also helped! 
    I remember 1 or 2 years back I was in a place of greater clarity than I am now, and I had a sudden insight one evening at my bathroom sink: I have been carrying around such a heavy load on my back, why don’t I get rid of it? The realization struck me like a bolt of lightning, and it was then that I realised how responsible I was for perpetrating my own suffering. I had a really controlling and harsh demanding mother and my childhood wasn’t very happy. I have always resented my mother for the hurt inflicted upon me and blamed my upbringing for the various issues I have today. But there comes a time when we have to take responsibility for our lives and thank you for reminding me of that. I need to once again look in my backpack; it’s been unusually heavy recently. A lot of my bricks are self-defeating ones and they revolve around fear and anger. I need to take back control of my life and actively work on making it the life I want, instead of forever blaming others for my circumstances. Thank you once again for this precious wake-up call!

  • Astha Kaushik

    Its true that we need to let go..but its not very quick and it takes courage and hardwork to let go of certain things completely. I guess it shud be on daily basis, we need to let go of everything which isn’t significant ad which is making us feel miserable and helpless. Every night before going to bed we need to free us from this extra burden which can be a slow poison if we continue to carry them with us. It should be a habit to let go and sleep peacefully as we need to face every morning with enthusiasm and smile.

  • http://www.facebook.com/dan.garner.54 Dan Garner

    Wonderful analogy and thanks for the message. I think this is something that I should practice now. Let go of my expectations. I have enough in my life that I can be happy now. I just need to flow with it. I’m going to try hard to put this into practice today, and hopefully the days after.
    Dan @ ZenPresence

  • Michelle

    You have a true gift for showing the way. I am hopeful that it reaches all those who need it, just like I needed to hear this this morning. Namaste.

  • http://www.facebook.com/amy.johnson.773124 Amy Johnson

    Thank you for your comment Rachel–I feel honored to be your first:)

    Your insight is spot-on: we are perpetuating it. Resentment, blame, history…it’s gone except when we bring our thoughts about it to the surface. Our thoughts TODAY impact us today–the past can’t possibly impact us unless we’re bringing it back into our present day reality.

    Enjoy the freedom in that! xo

  • http://www.facebook.com/amy.johnson.773124 Amy Johnson

    If you can make it a nightly habit, Astha, great. But when you skip a night (you WILL skip a night if you are human!), rest assured that we are self-correcting. Your mind returns to peace and wellbeing on its own, when we allow it to. xo

  • http://www.facebook.com/amy.johnson.773124 Amy Johnson

    Love that you are letting go, Dan. And it’s ironic…the more we let go, the more we get. xo

  • http://www.facebook.com/amy.johnson.773124 Amy Johnson

    Thank you, Michelle! I’m glad you found what you needed here. xoxo

  • Mylene

    This is such a beautiful post Amy! What resonated the most with me is that sometime, being aware of our blocks is enough and ok for now. It all start somewhere, and I believe it start with awareness…but I need to remember that feeling that I/it’s not good enough is one of my negative believe that I am slowly letting go of. You helped me do it a little bit more today, tks!

  • Heather

    Such an insightful post – thankyou. It really spoke to me as I know I carry around painful memories that I keep replaying. Almost like niggling at a tooth that hurts. The time has come to put them down and walk away. Reading it put in these terms helps to make the process simpler.

  • http://www.CritterWisdom.com/ Carmelo

    The mind sure does carry a lot of weight, baggage, bricks! Nice way of describing this and offering what to do.

    It all boils down to what you pay attention to and what you don’t. Like a song that plays in your head, you can’t really control that but you can decide whether or not you pay attention to the stuff (or song.)

  • http://www.facebook.com/stephen.fraser.946 Stephen Fraser

    So relevant for me right now..thank you..

  • http://twitter.com/horsebones Leke

    Bricks! Yes! So simple and yet so effective at making the point. It’s when we are carrying so many bricks, the strain becomes too unbearable and it’s very easy to dump the load. Well, that was my experience.

  • Jeneen

    This was amazing! What a wonderful concept – I am really going to start looking at my bricks and sorting them. Thank you!

  • Kathy www.yinyangmother.com

    Love the concept of the bricks, and the idea of unpacking each burden one brick at a time and seeing it for what it is, an imaginary drain on our lives. Loved the description of how kids skip through life – I see it in my kids and I so want to reacapture it for myself. Thanks for a great post.

  • laurita

    Thank you. I’m gonna look in my back-pack tonight.

  • Lily

    I have been repacking a few bricks I thought I had gotten rid of. I needed this post today. The one that is the heaviest is the brick that says “your not worth forgiving” and the person I cannot forgive is myself. I want to put this brick down. My mistakes are mistakes. that is all. I have learned the lesson and the shame I feel is no longer worth carrying around anymore. I will do my best to unpack and leave this brick behind me. It is indeed the heaviest one I have.

  • Diveprincess

    Thank you for a perfectly timed reminder of what’s really important.

  • Dr.SubhashDabir

    Good writing.

  • Lucas

    Being free is great but obviously we have to have consideration and responsibility towards others. Some people depend on us, like our children do and obviously we should all at least try to help and get along with our family. Those aren’t bricks. And also, human beings will always want more, but well put, the key is to be happy with who you are right now.

  • Justin

    I looked in my backpack and found a huge brick. The i have to be a super hero husband create as much wealth as i can for my wife and i as she graduates her PhD program and then create a business that flourishes in a down economy brick. Jesus h christ. Its exhausting. I know in my mind i made it up. My heart is a little slower to follow. I am ok as i am. I have the wonderful team of phds and engineers needed to build the business. My wife is peacefully asleep next to me as i search the web for soothing quotes on peace and tranquility. Ill put the brick down tonight and go to sleep. Thank you for your marvelous post. Namaste.

  • Irena

    The Secret of Letting Go by Guy Finley is also a book that might help get rid of those bricks.

  • kj

    This article is very good, it’s easy to read, the concept is easy to wrap my mind around and implement.

  • mohamed

    Oh that is exactly what I need…
    Two months ago I fell in love with my colleague in the university , I wanted her so bad that I get nervous when I talk to her I sweat and even can’t control my actions ..
    .A friend of mine told me that behind my back my crush is making fun of me with her friends , because I sweat and get nervous around her ,, it hurts me soo deep I cried hundred time about it and every time I see her I feel like crying , but I pretended as I don’t care at all ..I couldn’t face her and ask her why are you doing this ! ..but I just cut my relationship with her partly …
    But even that had been a two months I still feel hurt .I didn’t talk about it with anyone I couldn’t …but after reading this I think I’m going right ahead to her and ask her Why ?!!! I really need to release this thing …
    Please I need an advice