Thursday, May 03, 2007

Losing Things

A lover, a breast, a dog, a roommate, your hair, your teeth, your figure, a connection with your children, a season, a species, your wit, the name of that actor, a pen, a sandal, your luggage, your mother, your marriage, your mind.

I’m losing it certainly. Losing my family as I know it. Losing the innocence of my children as the consequences of the divorce begin to affect them, and as they act out on it. Losing the security of financial dependence. Losing my identity as I think about how to create a new one.

Julie, my yoga instructor, (one of the special people in the world) focused this past March on a metaphor, of life being like sailing. She explained that you need to have a destination or a goal of something larger than yourself, and you sail toward that. Anchors can hold you back and you need to understand what they are and lose them. Lose them. That’s right. Let these things go. I thought about this and for the first time in my life thought about how it could be a good thing to lose something. That if I did, I would be OK. I might sail faster toward my goal. I really believe this. I believe that I’ll be OK. I can let go.

This past March, I was riding a pony called Marcus. He has a bit called a kimberwick and it is by its nature a severe bit, meaning that it hurts like hell when you pull back and the bit hits the roof of his mouth. He needs this type of bit because he can be wild sometimes. He’ll buck and kick out. So, I was trying to learn how to jump him over a cross-rail. Nothing that I haven’t done hundreds of times before on other horses, just not with Marcus. And, I had to learn something new. I had to let go of the reins. Seriously, I had to loosen the reins just as I was about to go up in the air on this pony’s back, with my butt out of the saddle and only the balls of my feet to balance on. If I held onto the reins, which I did the first few times to try to keep my balance, he resisted and bucked in the air as we jumped. When I later let go of the reins, I had another problem, I couldn’t steer. After we cleared the jump, we started to head into the jump in front of us.

Letting go.

My instructor Susie (another one of the special people in the world), told me I had to release the reins, not something intuitive, not something I wanted to do, something I was in fact, terrified to do, but it was the only way to progress. The only way that Marcus and I could jump together. She seemed to know that this task was something I had to do, that this was also a metaphor for what was going on in my life and that if I faced this fear, here with her in the ring that I would be expanding the comfort zone in all areas of my life. That maybe I could learn to stop clinging and make some progress in other ways too.

I went rock climbing for the first time in March. All of these things came together this March, which is why I felt compelled to write about this. I was in Joshua Tree, camping with a dozen women I’d never met and we all had to introduce ourselves and say why we were there and what we hoped to get out of our visit. I said that I had only decided at the last minute to come. That I had some momentous changes going on in my life and camping with a bunch of strangers in the desert seemed like just the thing to do.

Later that night, our climbing guide, Kathy Cosley (another one of the special people in this world) sat down next to me and said so you’re going through a big change? And I said yes, that my husband had filed for divorce at the end of February and that I was just beginning to understand what that meant. I assured her that I was OK though and then I repeated what I’d learned from Julie about sailing and the anchors. That it was OK to lose things. She liked that. I liked it too. I liked that I was OK and could convince people of that. Kathy asked me if I knew the Elizabeth Bishop poem on losing things. I said I wasn’t familiar with it. She tried to recite it, but couldn’t remember more than a few lines.

On our last day of climbing, Kathy led me and two other women on a three-pitch climb. Meaning, that we went up the height of three ropes, resetting our anchors as we went. Each rope is 50 feet, so we climbed to a height of 150 feet that afternoon. I was the first person to climb each pitch after Kathy, and when I made it to the anchor, where she was waiting for me, I would go to the spot she told me to wait, out of the way of the others. Kathy was belaying us from above, and yet somehow managed to find in her mind the rest of the poem to recite to me, as I sat on the ledge and waited for Sarah to join us. The title I discovered when I returned home and found the poem on the Internet, is One Art. It’s a villanelle and one of the most famous examples of that form. Bishop builds up the seriousness of loss with each stanza, until she loses someone of obvious importance.

Loss can be about images. Losing things can be like shedding layers of clothes on a hot day. So much of what we feel can be imparted by how we think about it. But, sometimes we have no resilience. I’ve been criticized for saying that I can’t believe how strong I feel and how well I’m doing. Some have said that’s the case, because you weren’t in love anymore anyway. Maybe that’s true. Maybe my sailing images and lessons from Marcus about letting go are simple frames that aren’t containing anything sensitive anyway. Or maybe not. I’m sure it’s somewhere in-between. I think it’s unfair for anyone to think that I’m not going to be troubled about my family being on vacation in Vermont without me. And that when I call my kids from my cell phone on the one day when we go into town and have reception, and they don’t want to talk to me that I’m not going to be in a funk the rest of the afternoon. But, there may also be some truth in the idea that I’m gliding and not crashing because I’m not heartbroken on top of everything else.

Letting go is not always that easy, I know. An image of a sailboat losing anchors, when those anchors are things like your spouse, or kids, or house is not a simple hammock daydream. Not the kind of thing you stay in bed on a Saturday morning to continue to muse about. But, I do believe in the power of thought, and the possibility that images--like anchors, or bits, and letting go--can help someone through an unbelievably tough time, is not so hard for me to accept. Sometimes the littlest thing can be something to hold onto. I learned this in climbing too. A rough spot, barely an eighth of an inch can be enough to grab onto with the tips of your fingernails and from there, you can push yourself the rest of the way. Images and poems and yoga are like that too. You never know what little thing will rescue you when you’re suffering a loss. Is it an art? Losing things? Can we get better at it? Should we? And will we really sail faster? I wonder about this. I know what my goal is: writing. Finishing my projects, and then writing some more. Will my divorce help me do that? Maybe it will. Maybe because as a married woman, I’ve become complacent and dependent. I’ve lost the hunger for success, gotten flabby and lazy. Maybe soon, I’ll be desperate and work harder. Too bad that’s what it takes. Too bad there’s so much pain with this. Is this a strange way of looking at it? Too self-centered? What’s the benefit for everyone else? I’m not the only one who matters here.

Is it possible that we only lose things that hold us back? Is everything we lose an anchor? Should we think of it that way? Is letting go always the right thing to do? Or is there some way to discern the correctness of loss? Maybe because it’s the right time, or because working through the loss is the next part of our journey. It’s all about attachments really. The anchors, the loss, letting go. If life is a journey and we are all sailing toward the end—our death--losing things is simply a preparation for that. Part of the course.

I do know that I wouldn't have anything to write about and little to hold on to if it weren't for these amazing women: Julie, Susie, and Kathy, who through the focus of what they know and do best, offer insights that transcend the sport to life. From the specific to the representative. From their mind to mine. So when something like this comes together, in a sort of cosmic ordering, I feel obliged to do something with it. I can only repay them by writing about it and offering it now to you. Namaste.


Anonymous said...

best piece yet...while you sail, make sure you can use the north star to find your way...some things we don't want to lose....

Kim Barke said...

Yes, thank you for that. I'll revise my image and include the north star. Such a beautiful idea.

Jackie said...

The pharma post got me here, Kim, but I found myself reading this post as well. It's a beautiful piece of writing. I'm glad you shared this, though I'm sorry you're going through so much sadness.


Kim Barke said...

Thanks Jackie. I thought about this for two months, before I sat down and wrote it out. We can never really leave our work behind as writers, can we? I'm so grateful for the inspiration and encouragement I receive from everyone in my life. Always good to hear from you.


gigirose said...

Isn't it interesting how in times of strong emotion and change we all seem to search for metaphors? I think its because we get so used to partitioning our feelings into little boxes and clamping down the lid and when something spills over, or when we don't have an appropriately labelled container...well, I can't even talk about the use of metaphors without invoking them. ahhhh.
It also reminded me of a conversation i've had with a few friends who have experienced great loss about how, at least for me, a big part of loss--of anything from a lover to a job to a relative--is about habit. or, getting over the habit.. of having them, of calling them, of thinking about that job, etc. Getting over the habit of waking up and thinking about that person. I think the rewiring process is a part of healing. a part of moving on.