This morning, as I awakened alone inside the quiet warmth of my bed, I found myself contemplating the habitual way we brace ourselves against loss.
I was considering a dear friend of mine, who is facing a particularly grueling passage of loss, inside a lifetime full of too many losses.
I was seeing the way trauma inherently plays into this pattern of bracing against loss.
The energetic of foreboding, of always waiting for the other shoe to drop, for the wildfires to return with increasing ferocity, for the phone call bearing bad news, for the email confirming rejection, for the child’s fever to spike, for the next disappointment, the next closed door, the next heartbreak.
I have a friend who suffered several miscarriages in a row, two of them midway through pregnancy. And she says now whenever she’s gestating anything—a new vision, a promising creative project, even the sale of her house—part of her is just waiting for the heartbeat to stop, for the delicate promise to be ripped from her body before it has a chance to thrive.
Life is full of loss—some of it dramatic and traumatizing, and some of it so subtle and insidious, it seems almost inseparable from living. Loss of time, loss of control, loss that comes with aging, loss of cherished dreams, loss that comes with every change we face.
Every moment there is loss of one kind or another. Every single day is lost as it is lived.
And the losses build up over time, creating specific neural pathways in relation to loss. It seems the longer we live, and the more we lose, and the more disillusionment we acquire, the more it seems we expect and await this ongoing loss, while subtly bracing ourselves against the pain of it.
And at what cost—this subtle posture of bracing against?
At what cost have we become loss-avoidant?
At what cost are we defended against the very nature of life?
In the end, everything we love is lost. And along the way, our willingness to love fully and freely becomes intimately intertwined in our willingness to lose.
It’s not the continuous presence of loss itself, but how we relate to this presence of loss that determines how freely and openly we experience our lives.
Lying there, alone in my morning bed, both hands on my heart, I decided to turn towards loss. Not towards any specific loss, but more towards the guarantee of continuous loss; the presence and pulse of it.
I lay down all my resistance, my refusal, my denial of loss.
I lay down my bracing against, my projection and my expectation of loss.
I felt life come closer, closer in. I felt the life of love opening wider inside me.
I lifted myself out of bed, smoothed the covers and pillows into place, and went to take a shower.
With the hot water pouring down upon my head and spine, I consciously beckoned loss again. I opened to the hot water as life, tasting me and living me and losing me all at once.
I dressed and went out into the kitchen to start the kettle. I heard my boy stirring in his bedroom. Soon he came out smiling at me sleepily, a blanket wrapped around himself.
As though magnetically drawn to my undefended heart, he walked straight to me, and into my arms. “Good morning, my mama” he whispered, looking up at me devotedly.
I hugged him close, inhaling his messy copper curls, this boy-becoming-man.
Altar candle lit, logs placed upon the embers in the wood stove, burning, fueling warmth in our home. The wild morning prancing of the dogs through the space—everything so temporal, so temporary.
And then my long, lanky woman-child, emerging from her bedroom, gracefully meandering her way into my arms; we meet eye to eye and heart to heart now. So often nothing needs to be said.
And just for a moment, as I sat down with my candle, burned some cedar, and offered up my prayers, I inquired further into this notion of bracing against loss.
I opened with curiosity to what this feels like inside my body, my heart and my mind—to be defensively postured against further loss. I tracked its familiar presence in the big life moments, following acute trauma, but also more subtly and habitually, entangled in my everyday breathing.
I recalled how I felt after the fires tore through our valley, last September, leaving miles and miles of neighborhoods left in ashes, our air unsafe to breathe. And even for those of us whose homes and neighborhoods were blessedly unscathed, how it left our hearts trampled, our roots shaken, our marriage to these lands deeply rocked.
Or that time when my daughter was nine and suddenly became so violently sick , fighting for her life in the ICU, and it seemed we could have lost her. And how afterwards, my faith was injured for months, my nerves rattled to the core of my soul. Sometimes even the threat of inconceivable loss is enough to wreck us.
It’s natural, this bracing against what hurts.
And yet, when we are subtly braced against loss, we tighten and close off our hearts to life.
As we refuse the certainty of loss, we block our capacity to hear and feel what holds us and guides us.
We navigate choices defensively, strategically, and even manipulatively, to avoid further loss.
At best, we feel numb and anxious. And at worst, we make harmful messes from the blind-spots that accompany ferocious loss-avoidance.
We repel intimacy—with others, and with our own selves.
Bracing against loss drains us of our life force.
It robs our hearts of trust and faith.
It distances us from life itself, from what we want, from what we love.
Sitting there with my candle, with my eyes and belly soft, not for the first time nor the last, I turned all the way towards loss.
All the way.
I turned my bare chest towards the piercing promise of continuous loss.
I turned towards it sensuously, like I would turn to a lover for a kiss.
I said yes. I opened completely. I offered myself.
And as I let loss have me once again, life and love came rushing in, so simply, like an ocean breaking through a dam.
In the end, everything is lost.
In our willingness to lose everything, right now, we are free.