Why is it so hard to set aside this emotional baggage? For one reason, it’s invisible, and how do you let go of something you can’t see?
We use a metaphorical visualization process to help people make their emotional baggage more tangible invisible, and thus more amenable to be dealt with. Because a picture truly is worth a thousand words, mental metaphors are a powerful way to help one deal with the invisible sources of emotional pain. This one entails seeing emotional baggage for what it really is – a rock in the center of your soul.
Here’s an example. On the first day of our 4-day Certified Values Coach Trainer course, I dump a big pile of rocks on the floor at the front of the room. Then I invite people to come to come up and select a rock to represent some emotional baggage that is holding them back and dragging them down. This could be:
An ancient grudge that’s poisoning their equanimity.
Fears that prevent them from doing what they need to do to achieve a goal.
Habits that prevent them from being their best selves.
A worry or anxiety that keeps them awake at night
I have a supply of permanent markers at the front of the room, and invite people to give that emotional baggage a name and write that name on the rock. I tell them to carry the rock around with them for the entire four days.
Every day, they are to talk to their rock, explain to them why they’re letting it go. If they do this in good faith, I tell them, they will eventually hear the rock talk back (not literally, at least not usually). The rock – that psychological pain they’ve been carrying for so many years – will try to justify its existence and prevent them from getting rid of it.
On the last day of the class, I invite everyone to come up to the front of the room and set their rock own. If they wish, they can tell us what the rock represents, or they can just set it down and walk back. This is almost always a very emotional experience.
At the end of the program, I bundle all of the rocks into a backpack. I then haul them, depending upon where the class was held, out into into the desert, up to the top of the mountain, or to the banks of a lake or the ocean. I dig a hole and bury the rocks, or toss them into the water, as a way of assuring my students that those rocks are gone forever, and that when the emotional baggage they represent tries to worm its way back into their consciousness, as it inevitably will, they can remind themselves that what they are feeling is just the ghost of a memory that is now buried in the desert or at the bottom of a lake.
In the following weeks and months, I almost always hear from people about how liberating it has been for them to leave behind the dead weight of that emotional baggage. Every now and then, I even hear the word miracle to describe the peace and clarity they have attained.
This is an exercise it can be done with any group at work or at home. It is also something you can do just for yourself. Carry your rock around for a week, and then have a funeral ceremony and bury it. Then turn around a walk away, free at last from the dead weight of that emotional baggage.