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Sawaki Kodo Roshi, a 20th century Japanese Zen Master, talked about Zen as the “Study of loss.” What I like about this is how unappealing this sounds on the surface. In a culture that values unending growth and gain, who wants to study about loss? Kodo Roshi, in fact, says in Japanese, “Son wa toku, toku wa son” = “Loss is gain and gain is loss.”
These statements seem to be the complete flip of what we generally think of loss.
But we can find similar sentiments in the Book of Ecclesiastes, one of the books of the Bible:
Sorrow is better than laughter, because when the face is sad the heart grows wiser. (Ecclesiastes: 7:3)
One way to approach the study of loss is to look at it with reference to body and mind.
With regards to body, we are constantly changing – losing if you will – our old self again and again. This body, when we take the time to look, even with all the work we do to keep ourselves healthy, well fed, and fit, our body is constantly letting go of something. It could be the sweat, tears, or urine that come out of us. Or perhaps the air that we exhale in each breath cycle. Consider taking a few moments today to study the way your body manifests loss. How does that register with you? Are you aware of it as a kind of letting go?
With regards to mind, when we practice meditation we let go of thought – not of the thinking process but of our over identification with our thoughts. We are educated to believe that our thoughts are real and that they point to something concrete. (Consider Descartes, “I think therefore I am”.) Letting go of thought can be frightening at times because our thoughts tend to define who we are.
However, when we make the firm decision to look at loss, this looking can also ground us in the reality of our moment, the “is-ness” or “thusness” of right now. Or the “I am” quality of God. The reality of loss can help us to be more present to what is, rather than the way we want things to be.
When you are feeling anxious or hurried (like I often feel) you can ask yourself if you want, “Do I have an expectation that things should be different than what they are right now?” Letting go of our expectations is a study of loss, and it may also function as an antidote to the overwhelming anxiety that we sometimes experience in the present moment.
The study of loss has the potential to bring a well grounded calm presence to this moment. We may find greater equanimity with what is, and bring a measure of self-regulation to our emotional state. In this sense, loss is gain. I recommend trying out the practice of the study of loss, and then coming to your own conclusions about it.