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Painting by Muriel Massin

Finding microorganisms on some other planet won’t be any great revelation, and it won’t change anything about our own lives. It will just indicate that we have developed the ability to detect what we already know is there. Humanity’s preoccupation with finding “alien” life is to me a defense mechanism: a form of avoidance that lets us focus on something other than the mess we are making of the web of life on our own planet. Let’s focus our energies on healing that, and stop pretending that finding microorganisms on Venus matters in any way whatsoever. Our meaning, and our paradise, are here in this world. — Chris Jordan

*

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

— Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

— Elizabeth Bishop

Losing things is an undeveloped skill for most of us. We don’t know how to travel lightly through life. We burden ourselves with possessions of all kinds, objects, memories, beliefs, and attachments. Letting go of the sense of ownership and possession is called “dying to the world.” Anchorites and seekers after enlightenment aspire to freedom from attachment, hardly noticing the substitution of one identity for another more “spiritual” one.

Truly letting go feels like dying, but on the other side of that experience we are capable of a broader mental space to live in. Holding tightly to an identity construct supported by a persona and a stage-set that supports it reassures us that we are “somebody.” We fear being a “nobody.”

These are common ways of functioning in our world. It leaves little room for our essential self, a self that could be called soul, to flourish in the world.

We all know that when we die we can’t take anything with us except perhaps that essential self. Everything else will have to be relinquished, willingly or not. We have to travel lightly to the next world, whatever and wherever that is.

We are given riches in this life, starting with our bodies and our minds, that are fleeting gifts. They are to be used, fed and watered until they blossom and release their perfume.

A life well lived is not one of piling up possessions and riches. I have to remind myself of this now since my life has become a stripped-down version of what it formerly was. A life of maintenance of a well furnished theater of cherished possessions has mutated into a pared down focus on a few essentials.

Love, a simple creativity, an environment of beauty and a modest sense of adventure are the main structure of my life now. The heavy load of personal possessions has been stripped away, not without a sense of loss I must admit. I liked that cushioned life and got very attached to it, but an unexpected turn of events has challenged me to examine the balance of gains and losses.

It’s about time. I’m heading into my eighth decade on this planet. Inner qualities have been developed in those years, qualities that should weigh more than a load of furniture, it seems to me.

It’s easy not to get attached to things if you never own anything, but the energies of ownership can take you over and make you smaller and more rigid than you would otherwise be if you have means.

It’s a lesson, a spiritual exercise to notice your grasping and holding onto things. You learn something about yourself when you’re asked to let go. The question is “what am I without my props?” The answer holds up a different kind of mirror.

As our civilization confronts massive loss now, we notice examples of every stage of it around us — grief, denial, rage, sadness, blame and self examination. Our invisible self deceptions and props have suddenly become obvious. We suddenly see how our utilitarian habits and our rigid self interests have put us in a bind.

Letting go of the old way of life and finding our way to what is essential may help us to love and care for each other and the world.

Is there another way forward?

Written by

I occasionally write fiction and also about creativity, loving, language learning and travel. I’m a longtime painter and reader.

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