In a world of carefully measured things, loss has its own column. It’s off in the margin somewhere but it’s there. I’ve been thinking about loss a lot lately. Not so much in the big losses but in the small ones that leave us undone. The truth is, much of what I experience as loss in my life is of my own making.
I’ve been reading a great book by Pema Chodron “When Things Fall Apart”. It’s one of four books that I have begun recently, but it finally grabbed my full attention and I feel like I am ready to fully hear and absorb what lives in the pages.
“Sometimes we feel guilty, sometimes arrogant. Sometimes our thoughts and memories terrify us and make us feel totally miserable. Thoughts go through our minds all the time, and when we sit, we are providing a lot of space for all of them to arise. Like clouds in a big sky or waves in a vast sea, all our thoughts are given the space to appear. If one hangs on and sweeps us away, whether we call it pleasant or unpleasant, the instruction is to label it all “thinking” with as much openness and kindness as we can muster and let it dissolve back into the big sky. When the clouds and waves immediately return, it’s no problem. We just acknowledge them again and again with unconditional friendliness, labeling them as just “thinking” and letting them go “
As I attempt longer meditations (sittings) I am all too familiar with this concept of thoughts appearing as waves and being swept up. This past week I have been practicing saying “thinking” aloud. It helps me to remember to acknowledge the thoughts and then gently let them go. I don’t do it perfectly by any means, but I am very mindful of when that wave is about to overtake me. If I give in and let it stick around, the next sensation I feel is one of drowning … I’m quite familiar with that one too.
“The most difficult times for many of us are the ones we give ourselves. Yet it’s never too late or too early to practice loving-kindness. It’s as if we had a terminal disease but might live for quite a while. Not knowing how much time we have left, we might begin to think it was important to make friends with ourselves and others in the remaining hours, months, or years. It is said that we can’t attain enlightenment, let alone feel contentment and joy, without seeing who we are and what we do, without seeing our patterns and our habits. This is called maitri—developing loving-kindness and an unconditional friendship with ourselves.”
“Seeing who we are and what we do”
“Seeing our patterns and habits”
This is hard for me. Not just hard, but sometimes it’s a concept I can’t really even understand. Unconditional friendship with myself ? What a radical idea. I wonder what that even looks like ? Sometimes my version of loss is in losing something I never really had, or in grieving a loss that never materializes. I am a bit of a worrier if I don’t catch myself before I stretch my imagined thoughts out like taffy. I’m twisting them until they are so distorted they don’t resemble the original thing at all. A thought becomes an action becomes a fear … and then I’m running with it like scissors in the hand of a child.
There are literally a million types of loss. There has never been a very good accounting of such things. It is hard to find a single yardstick by which to measure or compare; no accurate scale by which to weigh the grief. Maybe that’s a good thing. We are all different and our experiences plunge to different depths. Can you accurately compare the pain between loss of life or loss of love ? Can you weigh the difference between losing a job, a friend or use of a limb ?
Maybe the deepest losses are the ones where you lose your sense of self. It can happen in an instant. It can happen when you feel rejected or when you mistakenly believe that you aren’t good enough. Your “worthiness” isn’t something to be measured. Your worth is something to hold gently and firmly in your heart.
This has been my challenge for as long as I can remember. Comparing myself to others is something I have to constantly guard against. What would happen if I didn’t try so hard ? What would happen if I was my own best friend ? My own biggest fan ?
I recently applied for my first artist residency. Impossibly hard for me to put myself out there as a real artist, but that’s what I am. It’s what I do. I bumped up against all of my fears and trepidations. I am constantly comparing myself to others and feeling like I fall short. This was no exception. But I moved beyond it long enough to complete the application process. The people I chose as references lifted me up. They believe in me. It helps me to believe in me.
I suppose in a way, opportunity is sometimes disguised as loss. It’s the trail that seems unclear and ungroomed, but breaks out into wide open meadow bursting with colors and life ! It’s the goodbye that had to happen in order for a hello to move into your view. We need to trust what is. We need to be ourselves. Trust that who we are, will attract who and what we need.
And all will be well.
All will be well.
“Sometimes my version of loss is in losing something I never really had, or in grieving a loss that never materializes.” Indeed. Those are the ones that sear and burn like acid, and yet, in the cold reckoning of daylight and sanity, are nothing more than grey smoke and mist.