The Buddhist Podcast for Stories to Inspire, Mindfulness, and Spirituality
77 - Steps of Life Host: Venerable Miao Guang
Once upon a time, there lived two brothers, Mark and Jayden. As entrepreneurs, they invested in a hotel downtown, using the penthouses on the 80th floor as their homes. Mark and Jayden enjoyed hiking and recently decided to take on the Pacific Crest Trail hiking challenge, which spans 2,650 miles from Mexico to the United States and ending up in Canada. So, they began to train every weekend to prepare themselves physically as well as mentally.
One day, they had just returned from training. When they got to the elevator, there was a sign that said, “The elevators are currently out of order. We apologize for the inconvenience.”
Jayden sighed and said, “You must be kidding…”
“Are you up for a challenge?” Mark asked.
“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” Jayden replied.
Mark nodded and began running towards the stairs.
Jayden yelled, “Wait for me!” And then ran after his brother.
Since they had been training, they ran up to the 20th floor with ease. However, when they reached the 40th floor, their legs began to shake. Their heavy backpacks, filled with all their equipment, were weighing them down. Feeling tired, they sat on the stairs.
Jayden whined, “Seems like it was a bad idea to take on this challenge.”
“It’s not that bad,” Mark replied.
“My legs hurt, and my backpack is too heavy!” Jayden exclaimed.
“Imagine us in the middle of the Pacific Crest Trail, what would we do then? This is why we’re training. Come on! Don’t give up so easily. Always think positive.” Mark replied.
“Don’t lecture me! You keep going if you want! I’m going to sit here for a bit.” Jayden said.
“Okay, taking time to rest is also important when hiking. If we need to rest, then let’s rest, but let’s not give up.” Mark replied. He fished in his backpack for some snacks. Finding some cheese crackers, he offered them to Jayden.
Now feeling slightly better, Jayden came up with an idea, he suggested, “I know! Let’s leave our backpacks here, and come pick them up when the elevators are working again. What do you think?”
“I’m going to continue with my backpack. If I was doing the challenge, I couldn’t just leave my backpack behind. So, I’m keeping mine on my back.” Mark replied.
Jayden shrugged and said, “Alright fine! I’m leaving mine here.”
Without his heavy backpack, Jayden ran up the stairs, soon leaving Mark behind. Struggling to keep up with Jayden, huffing, and puffing, Mark yelled, “Let’s take another rest here.”
When they both looked up, they realized they were on the 60th floor.
“See! You should have listened to me on the 40th floor and left your backpack.” Jayden said smugly.
Mark sat down on the stairs and began sipping his water. It was then Jayden realized that he did not have his water with him. Mark smiled and said, “Want some?” Jayden nodded.
Resting his head on his knees, Jayden looked at Mark and said, “Can I ask you a question?”
“You just did, so go ahead!” replied Mark.
“Why did you and Julia divorce? It seemed you were going to be together forever. What happened?” Jayden asked.
Mark sighed and said, “Sometimes, we don’t realize how important someone is until we lose them. I didn’t realize how little time I spent with her. I guess she felt I loved my career more than her because I was working 24/7. It was my fault for not being there for her. I thought I needed to provide her a comfortable life by focusing on my career, but all she wanted was for me to spend time with her. I was selfish and couldn’t see things from her perspective.”
“I see. Would you do things differently if you had another chance?” Jayden asked.
“Definitely! I would consider the pros and cons carefully. Honestly, I was too immature back then when we got married.” Mark replied.
“I’m sure you’ll meet someone again,” Jayden said.
“Thanks. Shall we continue with the remaining 20 floors?” Mark replied.
“Sure! We can’t give up now, we've made it this far!” Jayden said as he stood, ready to go.
Up the last 20 floors, they really struggled, tired and out of breath, but they persisted. When they finally reached the 80th floor, they were completely exhausted.
Catching his breath, Jayden exclaimed, “Finally! We’re home!” He rushed to the door of his penthouse, rummaging around for his keys, and then he yelled, “Oh no! My keys, they’re in my backpack!”
At that moment, Mark smugly waved his keys and opened the door to his penthouse. Realizing he had not weighed the pros and cons when he left his backpack on the 40th floor, Jayden, now alone in the corridor, fell to the floor like a deflated balloon.
This story illustrates the span of one’s lifetime. The 80 floors represent a life of 80 years.
The first 20 floors depict our youth. When we are young and full of energy, we’re quick on our feet, willing to innovate, and be fast learners. We see the world with fresh eyes full of wonder and yearn for adventure. We’re a force of nature in human form ready to go full-out.
As we reach 40 years old, or the 40th floor, life is now more focused on the important choices we make. This period is considered to be the peak of one’s career, where we are working our hardest to realize our dreams, making ends meet, and dealing with important life-changing decisions. The heavy backpacks in this story represent all the things that potentially weigh us down, whether it be career, marriage, family, or health.
As we now reach the 60th floor, aged 60, our physical strength is in decline. Having experienced all the joys and sorrows of life, we see life differently. Some only now begin to live life with enjoyment and contentment.
Finally, when we reach the 80th floor, aged 80, we discover that our body is old. Our teeth are no longer as white or strong, our hair is grey and white, and we feel rather fragile.
In this story, Jayden decided to let go of his backpack that was filled with everything important to him. However, when we seek to open the various doors throughout our lives, we find that the key to our happiness was in that “heavy backpack” we left behind. Each of us carries different things in our backpacks. It may be our aging parents, our healthy body, our happy family, our travels, and so on. As we age, and climb up the stairs of our lives, to reduce the weight of our “heavy backpack,” we may put down our perceived burdens one at a time. However, when we are old and fragile, looking back, we realize that we no longer have the strength to bring back true happiness. Therefore, it is important to consider carefully when making decisions, so that we can seize each opportunity that comes our way.
Just as Venerable Master Hsing Yun says,
“Everything has its pros and cons,
simply understand how to weigh them.
Always keep sight of what is possible,
for even dry stone and rotten wood can be used as medicine.”