Did you ever listen to the announcements at the airport about claiming your baggage? In case you didn’t know it, there is baggage claim etiquette:

  • Make your bags easy to find, so buy a suitcase that is neon green or has purple polka dots. My favorite is the one with bright police-crime-scene tape wrapped around it.
  • Keep the claim ticket you get when you check-in.
  • At your destination, check your bag with your claim ticket. If the information doesn’t match, guess what, it’s not your luggage.
  • Pay close attention, MANY BAGS LOOK ALIKE!

On one of my latest trips I found myself intently watching people at the baggage claim carousel. I’m not sure what drew my attention to something usually so mundane, perhaps it was the feeding frenzy about to unfold. It was a late Friday evening, it had been a long flight, the weather was terrible, and people were jockeying for position. Everyone looked like the defensive line of a professional football team, agitated with nervous energy waiting to explode, poised to tackle the first bags to come down the line.

As I watched, I realized this was a brilliant metaphor for the emotional baggage I have carried throughout my life. Like others I know, I have spent time in therapy, 12 Step groups and employed various spiritual practices to heal the old wounds inflicted on me, as well as those I have heaped on others. There was a time when my “baggage” was several large steamer trunks I was dragging behind me. And for a while I believe I rented storage space for what couldn’t be carried!

Along the way, I discovered that some of my baggage wasn’t actually my own. Much of the baggage I was toting around was someone else’s pain, and someone else’s shame heaped onto me. It had oozed out of their wound and had taken over my world. I had spent years not checking the claim ticket to see if what I was carrying around was indeed mine. In remembering that MANY BAGS LOOK ALIKE, over time I have been able to check my claim ticket more carefully and release what I had been dragging along. I’ve even stopped paying rent for those storage units that take so much energy to maintain.

But the harder part, the riskier journey for me, has been learning to live with the baggage I claim from the carousel that was put there by my own unconscious living. No matter how much I may want to change, or how much I participate in life in order to be more self-aware and compassionate, I have (and probably will again) participated in living unconsciously, acting in ways that are thoughtless, hurtful, self-centered and unkind.

The challenge is slowing down so that I don’t contract in on myself in shame and embarrassment. Only then can I hope to have greater clarity when looking at my baggage claim ticket. Only then can I have a better chance of living more consciously. It is about acceptance and being true to every feeling that comes through these experiences. It is having an awareness and understanding of what I have done so that I no longer pass my own wounds on to another. This exercise of the heart is what cleanses me, changes me and makes me new. And ultimately, I always need to risk being made new – it’s not really optional anymore.

Some days I find myself standing at the carousel, watching it go around, staring at all the bags, trying to discern what is mine, and what I can put back. Sometimes it’s overwhelming. But if I remember to lift my eyes, I can see I am not alone. I can see everyone standing at the carousel too. Whether you realize it or not, we are together in this journey of turning judgment into compassion, for it is our iniquities and frailties that bring us together. Because every act of unconscious living is really someone asking for help in reading their own claim ticket more clearly – asking to be loved enough to risk being made new.