The growth I’ve experienced this past year can be perfectly captured by a Buddhist tale I read two months ago by Mark Epstein called Advice Not Given.
The tale is as follows: a monk seeking enlightenment begins his journey to a cave high in the mountains where he might find what he seeks. On his way, the monk crosses paths with an old man who appears to be wise. The monk asks him whether he has any advice on how he might reach his goal. In response, the old man drops the bundle he is carrying. Of course, the monk thought—the secret to enlightenment must be to simply let go of his ego! However, this leaves the monk feeling unsure of where to go next. Promptly, the old man picks up his bundle and continues on his way.
This fable highly resonated with me. I’ve been juggling my own bundle this past year. At times, the bundle feels like it’s glued to my back. I feel anxious about both my future and my past. More than that, I feel paralyzed by the present-- about who I am, my identity, and whether the way my life is now is the way I want it to be. I am fixated on how I am separate from others, and what my legacy may be when I die. I become terrified when the difference is not immediately clear to me.
My solution? To drop the bundle. In these moments I decide to not care about where I’ve been or where I’m going. I decide to focus instead on fully enjoying the present moment. I focus not on how I might be different from others, but on how we are all the same. However, this new mindset becomes a bundle on its own. It becomes a new identity I need to keep up with even though that was what I wanted to avoid in the first place. Like the old monk, I wonder—where do I go from here?
Dancing between these two extremes, I often feel disoriented. I feel terrible about not being able to make my mind up about whether I want to pick the bundle up or put it down. More than that, I often don’t even know what I want in my bundle. Do I want to read or focus on athletics as a hobby? Do I prepare my bundle for a career in medicine or psychology? Should I begin to prepare my bundle for my future family? Should I fill the bundle with more things, or should I dump it out onto the ground and start over—and, in turn, become an entirely new person?
However, this Buddhist fable and my experiences this past year have taught me this: whatever I am contemplating, picking it up and putting it back down is a necessary process. Just knowing this helps me to suffer less when it happens. This makes the less process feel less out of control and more peaceful. I can pack the bag and repack it—switch back and forth between hobbies and never really master anything. It’s my bundle—and it’s my life.
About the Author
Hey everyone! I'm going into my fourth year of psychology with the Faculty of Science. I joined hu because I want to make a positive impact on the university community by talking about mental health-- a topic I truly love.
I'm a people-loving introvert that spends her free time immersed in stories, whether it be video games, books, TV, or music. I also love to swim!