Art of Losing

One Art

by Elizabeth Bishop

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.

In Telugu there is a saying, ‘raviganchani chota kavi ganchunu’. What the sun cannot show you the poet does. It takes a great poet to put things in perspective and Elizabeth Bishop was one such poet who gives you a very different perspective on loss.

As she points out, ‘so many things seem filled with the intent /to be lost that their loss is no disaster’. We don’t realize that we keep losing many things in our life. And we lose things in such a way that we can never get them back.

I remember reading a one page story of Paul Zachariah in one of the English magazines. In this a person in a plane wants to hijack a plane and asks the pilot to land in a remote village in Kerala. When the pilot says that there is no airport in that place and that he cannot go there, he starts crying saying that when he came out of his hometown he thought he would return soon. Life took him elsewhere and he could never return back to his hometown.

In the current urban society you can see many people are scared that there are losing something. When the IT boom happened towards the late 90s, this was very evident. People did not want to lose a chance to go and work abroad. So people quit companies without informing anyone. I personally have this experience of playing cricket with a person who was working in my project on a Saturday. On Sunday, he has left for US without inform any of us. He was not alone. There were many like him who were ready to lose their ethical standard because they did not want to lose a golden opportunity. It was also a time when a team mate of mine was give a 40% increase in salary and a substantial amount of shares. Yet the look on the face was one of disappointment. As a colleague of mine remarked, “This is the age when people are getting paid the most and are unhappiest”

The new trend now is to tell people ‘to follow their passion’. I am reminded of a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon in which Hobbes asks, “If he is following his passion, who is going to pay for his luxury shoes?” or something similar. With this ‘follow your passion’ going around, many people in middle age are confused if they have lost something by being in a job. Ofcourse they know that their livelihood depends on their job and yet with all the money coming in there is a sense of unease. A sense of having lost out in the game. One either because they did not follow their ‘passions’ or because they were not able to climb the ladder of success in the corporate world. As I had mentioned in an earlier article in this series, even though you would have earned much more than what your father did, you may still not be counted as a successful person since the parameters of success have changed. Hence you will see a lot of middle aged people whose speech tells you that they have lost something.

It takes a long time and experience to realize that you cannot get everything and there will be something which is lost for forever. Many cannot let go. That one incident which ensured they did not get the promotion, their decision to move to another company, their decision not to take up a certain role and so on. The loss gnaws them continuously and I am sure you have met as many bitter people as I have. For some reason it is very difficult for people to let go of some things and this definitely has an effect on their lives.

The poet though is not talking about such a loss. She is talking about a more personal loss. A loss of a house, a loss of a city. Maybe the loss of childhood, loss of the teenage days and so on. As she says there are things which we have no choice but to lose. We lose them naturally. Some of them like your old house or your city, you lose voluntarily for you believe a better life awaits you elsewhere. As the poet says life is all about losing things. What she doesn’t say is that we lose some things and gain something else. (Which we may lose again!!) You gain a new house, you gain new friends, you gain a new city and you gain a new continent. The reason she says that we must practice losing is because only when you accept a loss do you realize what you have gained.

Life is a constant battle between loss and gain. A person’s spiritual evolution happens when he/she is able to see the constant interaction between loss and gain and not be swayed one way or the other. It is a very hard task to accomplish but that is where Hindu spirituality drives us all. A path whose destination is equanimity in the face of sadness and joy.

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