The Art of Losing

By Deborah Morris Coryell

In our culture the worst thing you can say about someone is that he is a “loser.” But aren’t we all losers? Isn’t life about chronic loss? The process of life is about endings and beginnings. We are losing all the time. As a matter of a fact, we begin our earthly existence by “losing” time, moment by moment. We usually don’t think in these terms, but perhaps we should.

We breathe in, a beginning; we breathe out, an ending. Life is all about letting go. If we can’t “let go” well, then we can’t live well. It’s all in how we see what we see: We can choose to see it as morbid (defined as having to do with disease), or we can choose to see it as the rhythm of life. By holding on too tightly, we become disconnected from the rhythmic ebb and flow of the world around us. We turn night into day with the flip of a switch and seek to defeat forces of decay and destruction. Loss becomes an affront: This “shouldn’t” have happened.

It is our decision as to how we live “the losing” in each moment. Possessions are lost or broken or otherwise disappear. People and relationships change, move on, or die. Pets grow old as we do. Places we loved once are no longer what they were to us. Dreams we once had we might never accomplish, or we might change our minds about our desire to realize them.

The ability to “change our mind” is a powerful skill and one we need to spend a great deal of time with in the face of loss. The power to “change our mind” lies in our ability to think about something differently, to think about what loss is and what it means to be a loser. There is an art to living, yes? There is an art to dying, we believe. What about an art to losing, to grieving? We are told, as children, not to be “sore losers” but did anyone teach us how to be “good losers”?

Take a deep breath. Reflect on this for a moment. Losing well is freedom — freedom from the pain and confusion and fear attached to loss. We are as surely attached to our pain and fear and confusion around loss as we once were attached to that which we feel we’ve lost. Perhaps we have substituted our attachment one for the other: the pain for the love. Breathe into the emptiness, breathe into the pain created by loss. Stay for a moment. We love. We give our love to someone or something or someplace. We are attached through that love. And suddenly (or slowly) that object is gone from our sight. Where do we put the love then? We have this love with no place to put it. Grief becomes our experience of not having our love received, of not having anywhere to put our love.

Healing our grief means continuing to love in the face of loss. The face of loss — what we see — is that someone or something is gone. The heart of loss teaches us that nothing — no thing — we have ever known can be lost. What we have known we have taken into ourselves in such a way that it has become part of the very fabric of our being. It is part of who we are, and as long as we are alive we have the capacity to continue to love even that which is no longer a part of our daily reality. This means that we will need to “change our minds” about many notions that we have had about loss: That what we can no longer “see” is gone. That what we can no longer touch doesn’t continue to live. That if there is no response, the relationship is over.

Close your eyes and see that which you can no longer touch, that which is gone from your presence. Reach inside of you to the feeling of touching, hearing, smelling, being with your experience of what you believed was lost.


We are haunted by societal fears that we should not continue to stay connected with what is gone, what is past, what has been lost. We are warned that there is a pitfall here, a caveat, symbolized by Dickens’ Miss Havisham: be wary of that part of us that might want to live in the past. The challenge is to bring the past along with us in such a way that we haven’t lost anything. We don’t ignore the challenge because of the pitfall. Truth to tell, we could not forget our past if we wanted to. What we choose to leave in the past, we can. What we choose to continue loving, we can. We are being asked to give new form to what was contained in an earlier relationship. Our grief becomes the container for what we feel we have lost, and in the process of grieving we come into some new wholeness. We create a way to incorporate, literally to take into our bodies, that which has become formless. Like the caterpillar, we go into a cocoon to a safe place so that the old self can dissolve and a new self can be created.

Like the art of losing, this metamorphosis is not automatic. It does not happen simply in the course of time. Rather, it is a self-conscious act. Grieving is a path to self-realization because in the process of grieving we acknowledge that which we choose not to lose. In the art of losing we can choose who we will be. We break but we break open so that we can include more of life, more of love. We get bigger in order to carry with us what we choose to continue loving.

Excerpted from Good Grief: Healing Through the Shadow of Loss

Related articles:
Giving Sorrow Words
The Value of Reminiscing
Creating Inner Space Through Prayer or Meditation
What About This Thing Called 'Acceptance'?

Also by Deborah Morris Coryell:
Time Does Not Heal All Wounds
Simple Presence – Open Heart

Deborah Morris Coryell Deborah Morris Coryell has worked in the health field developing wellness programs since 1974. She founded the Wellness Education Department for Canyon Ranch Spa Resorts as well as for the Pritkin Longevity Center. She is a visiting faculty member for Dr. Andrew Weil’s program in Integrative Medicine and is cofounder and executive director of the Shiva Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the education and support of those dealing with loss and death, located in San Luis Obispo, California.

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