By Sean Grover, LCSW
Once upon a time, there was a lost man who carried around a basket of troubles and wandered the land calling out,“Who will help me with my basket of troubles?”
Many pitied him, some laughed at him, but no one helped him.
Then one day a king passing by in a golden chariot and called out, “I will make you a soldier and teach you to fight. Then you shall be free of your troubles.”
So the man joined the king’s army, became a soldier and learned the art of war.
But he awoke one morning to find that his basket of troubles had reappeared and grown heavier. And so, while the king slept, the man slipped away and left his warring life behind.
Struggling under the weight of the basket, he continued to travel the land and asking, “Who will help me with my basket of troubles?”
One day a wealthy man in fine robes, riding a handsome horse, called out to him, “I will teach you how to make money and live a comfortable life. Then you shall be free of your basket of troubles.”
So the man learned the ways of business and in no time accumulated great wealth.
But one morning the man awoke only to discover his basket of troubles had reappeared again, in fact, it had grown larger. So while his servants slept, the man slipped away and left his life of wealth behind.
The basket was difficult to bear; yet he pressed on and continued to call out, “Who will help me with my basket of troubles?”
A beautiful woman looked down from her window and smiled at him. She called down, “I will teach you to be a lover. Then you shall be free of your basket of troubles.” “This sounds familiar”, the man thought to himself. But the woman was lovely and the man was so eager to be saved. What did he have to lose?
So he went to her. As promise she taught him to be a great lover.
But the man awoke to find his basket of troubles had grown massive. And so, while the beautiful woman slept, he slipped away and left his lover’s life behind.
By now the weight of the basket was crushing him. With every step, he grunted and groaned, “I shall never be free.”A great sadness filled his heart. And so, feeling defeated, he sat down to rest.
A beach lay before him. On the sand, he saw a small boy tossing seashells in the air and singing songs. The boy looked so familiar, yet the man could not place the face.
The boy spoke to him. “Are you the one who carries a basket of troubles?” The man simply sighed and looked away. “Why do you carry troubles around all the time?”
Again, the man did not answer. This saddened the boy, but still he continued to speak to the man. “Come play with me.”
The man stretched his legs and finally spoke. “I am too old to play.”
“Anyone can play. Come and try. Please.”
The man examined the boy and realized his eyes were sad like his own. He must be lonely, he thought. So he put down his basket of troubles and joined the boy on the beach.
The sand cooled the lost man’s tired feet, the sun warmed his body, and the water tickled his toes. The boy taught the man how to make sand castles, to chase the white waves at the water’s edge, and to dance and sing songs. The man laughed for the first time in years.
Just then, something magical happened. When the man returned to his basket of troubles, he discovered that it had grown smaller and lighter. Overjoyed, he turned to thank the boy, but he’d disappeared.
“I shall come back in the morning. I must thank him.”
The next day, the man returned to the beach and found the boy. Again, they played together, singing songs and splashing in the water all day. By sunset, the man’s basket of troubles was so small that it fit in his pocket.
Sensing their time together was ending, the man quickly called to the boy, who was already a distance away. “How can I ever repay you?”
“It is I who must thank you!” said the boy with a gentle bow, “For so long I wanted someone to play with and you gave me my wish.”
With those words, the man finally recognized the boy. It was himself; his youthful spirit he abandoned so long ago.
The man flushed with warmth and great waves of happiness washed over him. As the man welcome the boy back into his heart, tears sprang from his eyes; not tears of sadness but tears of joy. From then on, in all his travels and until his last breath and beyond, the man never felt lost or weighed down by his troubles again.
I have told this story to many therapy groups over the years and it never fails to have an effect. So often in life, we feel consumed by our problems. Yet the more we focus on them, the more we struggle under their weight. Soon, our troubles begin to define us and like the man in the story, we yearn for someone else to save us.
We may search for completeness in achievement, recognition, and admiration. These are all attempts to remedy the emptiness we will by winning the approval of others. But no matter how much success or admiration we receive, we’re left wanting.
In my office, my patients and I spend a lot of time laughing. Laughter is a way to put down our basket of troubles and get some distance from it by focusing on someone else. When the man joins the boy on the beach, he is not seeking salvation or redemption – he is playing and being in the moment. He puts aside his troubles to help another human being. In that instant, his troubles shrink.
Playfulness, laughter and acts of compassion are timeless; they reawaken our youthful spirit and strengthen our life force. Living in the here and now, taking time to honor our feelings, help a friend or perform acts of service – these are the true tools for enriching your life. They refuel the tank of your life force is on empty.When we lose this sprit, we are old no matter what our age.
So next time you have a good laugh, a heartfelt exchange or put aside your worries to help someone else, notice how your basket of troubles lightens. If you listen closely, you may even feel your youthful spirit tap you on the shoulder and whisper in your ear, “Hey, buddy, good to see you again.” www.seangrover.com
* I’d like to give a shout-out to Rabindranath Tagore, one of my very favorite poets, whose poem “The Price” inspired “The Basket of Troubles.”