The Uncanny Fear of Loss, Part 3

About Last Time

Last time (in The Endearing Distribution), we asked whether this terrible fear of losing something much too dear to lose, isn’t about ‘us’ losing ‘something’ after all. We let ourselves see these memories of ours as a kind of self-weaving tapestry, embroidered from precious bits and pieces of all those fleeting things we desperately hoped we would never lose, and now we have.

That’s when we realized that you can’t miss something you still have. You can’t even worry about losing what you haven’t got yet—like that 100 years of life you expect to get, when you’re only four and suddenly begin to wonder when this shiny new life will end. No—you can’t miss something you still have, because it’s right inside you (or right beside you!)—reminding you every morning when you wake up, that this lovely thing you love so dearly is still here too. It’s what you used to have that you suddenly miss.

Under the Same Sunrise

No, the real tragedy is that we don’t wake up and see what we’ve got until that lovely thing is gone. Now we would give anything—even a big chunk of those remaining 100 chances—for just one chance to see and touch Her again, when the same sunrise dawns over us both. You see, a hundred years is an awfully long time to wait to see each other again.

Learning is Sorrow, Actually

I am going to challenge you, in this third and final entry in the series about loss. Why must we lose something to finally see that it used to be here? Better said, why don’t we seek out and clutch that one thing we love best, before we realize it’s no longer here to hold? Well, maybe the whole idea of ‘learning’ a lesson, is that anything we are afraid will happen must happen—so that ‘fear’ may transform itself into ‘sorrow’. Maybe every lasting thing we’ve learned is a selfless sorrow, a grieving companion inside—who vows to stay right here, beside us (to keep us from getting too lonely). Maybe that’s why our memories are jealous of us, too… because “thoughts are things” as Prentice Mulford said (Mulford, 2013). Maybe our thoughts are just as afraid of being forgotten as we are of forgetting our thoughts?

I say this because, as the famous Bishop Berkeley once wrote, if no one needs you anymore, you almost cease to be anymore. We all need to be needed, we all need to be perceived—as though no one had ever noticed us before—so that we become that one thing they are terrified of losing from their sight (Berkeley, 1979). Cognitions appear to be ‘totems’ of what we were afraid we might lose sight of (filling in as understudies for the leading parts we palpably lost). Our memories seem to compete for our affection, every waking day of our lives, until we and the things we loved most (and lost anyway), meet again under the same sunrise. Let’s face it—you dare not lose Her twice—even if all she ‘is’ now, is a phantom limb on our real willow tree (Ramachandran, 2012; Ramachandran, Rogers-Ramachandran, & Cobb, 1995).

Source: Lonny Douglas Meinecke (collage)

Psychological Climate

As you probably know, I didn’t mean to study this science. But like a lovesick Siren beckoning to a homesick sailor, I’ve been chasing her from sea to sea—for a very long time now. And what I’ve noticed is how much this mental climate (on the inside) is so very like the physical climate (on the outside). It’s actually harder for me to see these as two different things, than as one amazing thing you can only see in a variety of less amazing ways.

I suppose Edward Norton Lorenz is partly to blame. You see, he discovered that small variations in detection (that we didn’t notice at the time), will become huge variations in our predictions… eventually (Dizikes, 2011). Isn’t that exactly how our mental weather seems to behave inside? Because those small, ‘unimportant’ instants (when I failed to notice someone beside me), often turn out to be the lasting reason I miss her or him in a big way, later. Or, metaphorically, when I long for rain and get too much at once, what remains of me afterward is indelibly weathered and etched, instead of watered. You know, when you spend enough time in the Mohave, you realize how much like worn and weathered people the aching desert features seem to be. Somehow, the Earth and its inhabitants do not seem all that different. We both seem to strive to survive a common inner storm.

Why We Fear Loss

In closing, why are we afraid of losing things, if… in order to miss them… we must lose them anyway? I think it’s because a ‘memory’ is (eerily) similar to an individual of any living species… it doesn’t want to die. And because it doesn’t, each of us must die a little inside each day, so that memory can survive… to remind us one more day of what we’ve lost.

The Nobel prize winners, Hubel and Wiesel, found something so uncanny, so similar—when they left eye neurons with no real purpose to live for… yet they exhibited a desperate will to find one worth living for anyway (Wiesel, 1982). Just maybe the things we miss… miss us back… in a roundabout way? Maybe these ‘spooky things’ that haunt us long after our loved ones are gone, help us everlastingly notice what we wish we’d noticed before. The ‘things that we miss things with’ (these weathered neurons, battered by life’s storms), keep on reminding us… to notice what they cannot forget. They seem to whisper… silently… “Notice me! Please—tell me you love me! Because it hurts too much to bear this loss alone!” These lonely cells of ours keep on doing (just as desperately) on the inside, what we desperately wish we had done on the outside. Anyway, that is how it seems to me.

The Beloved Mind and its Neglected Heart

Take heart dear reader. What we loved isn’t actually lost (not really). We just can’t physically hold it close anymore. Nor can we hope it will hug us back (at least not physically, although our grief does seem to beg us to hug ourselves; Germer & Neff, 2013). Still, maybe we misunderstand this thing we call ‘social cognition‘? Maybe it isn’t something that we ‘learn’ or ‘control’ or ‘do’. Maybe it’s here because of things we wish we’d done but couldn’t? Maybe cognitions count on us to neglect the things that mattered while they were here, so that we will attach to our memories of each other… instead of each other. Because that was the core of my original thesis, when I began this journey to study the human mind and its neglected heart (Meinecke, 2017). We hug our thoughts and push each other away.

So, maybe the idea of ‘knowing’ isn’t really about the mind after all? Maybe knowing, like flow, was us physically ‘being’ something utterly and completely, at the time? An amazing psychologist in New York seems to think so (Holzman, 2014). None of us, then, would remember what we had ‘completely’ been—would we? Why would we? The famous Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi called this ‘flow’ and each of us knows what that feels like (Csikszentmihalyi, 2008). Think about it—wouldn’t that mean there’s a less visible ‘struggle for existence’ going on, as Darwin put it, between information and existence? But this struggle is a struggle between thoughts of things and the things themselves… a rivalry for our sole affection and attention. Because while the living things are here, all they ask for is our time and our adoration (before they have to leave this life). These ‘cognitions’ of ours, on the other hand, rely on us to avoid biological life (so we will never forget to spend time with these ‘echoes’ of things we’ve lost).

Source: pxhere/free for personal & commercial use (no attribution required)

If so, and I do think that it may be so, then it follows that all knowledge is sorrow, because everything that’s here today is what we were most afraid we would lose yesterday (childhood, youth, life itself); ergo, instead of being here with them briefly, we stayed away so we would never forget how much we wish we had been here with them (Marchant, 1646). This much we know: when we’ve said everything we could possibly say, nothing remains for us to say—does it? So what if we just don’t say it all? Now it’s stuck inside forever, repressed until it’s too late, waiting to be said to those beloved others who will never return. Like Hachikō at the railway station, waiting for a master who would not be coming back. It’s a paradoxical dilemma. Notice life and lose it forever… or let life slip away so you’ll never lose it (‘memories’). This uncanny fear of losing everything we loved, may just turn out to be a way for human sorrow to be our mistress forever.

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