Coping with a Sense of Loss of Control

My brain is like a computer with 20 tabs open, and I never know which one the music is coming from. These days, this family joke applies in a more literal sense. Nowadays, every tab on the computer screen takes me down another rabbit hole of information, misinformation, theory, opinion, or Op-Ed. The world as we know it is undergoing a state of transition and it feels like a free fall. It’s no surprise that many of us yearn for the once-familiar feeling of firm ground beneath our feet. We struggle with coping with a sense of loss of control.

A definition of loss and lost

I recently encountered a quote that stopped me in my tracks because it so poignantly captures what we are all going through. The quote is from essayist Rebecca Solnit’s book, A Field Guide to Getting Lost. It reads, “There’s another art of being at home in the unknown, so that being in its midst isn’t cause for panic or suffering, of being at home with being lost.

“Lost [is] mostly a state of mind, and this applies as much to all the metaphysical and metaphorical states of being lost as to blundering around in the backcountry.

“The question then is how to get lost. Never to get lost is not to live, not to know how to get lost brings you to destruction, and somewhere in the terra incognita in between lies a life of discovery.”

Solnit continues, “Lost really has two disparate meanings. Losing things is about the familiar falling away, getting lost is about the unfamiliar appearing. There are objects and people that disappear from your sight or knowledge or possession; you lose a bracelet, a friend, the key. You still know where you are. Everything is familiar except that there is one item less, one missing element. Or you get lost, in which case the world has become larger than your knowledge of it. Either way, there is a loss of control.”

The sense of loss of control

Life has imbued us with certain values. Many of them may focus on the need for control, a long-term plan, a clear sense of direction. Humanity is accustomed to and comfortable with the idea of feeling in control. Sheltering in place can make us feel out of control. Ironically, from the enforced smallness of many days spent sheltering in place, “the world has become larger than [our] knowledge of it.” By staying home, we may feel stripped of many personal freedoms (freedoms once taken for granted). Suddenly, it’s easy to feel as if all our power to control our own lives is MIA as well. How can we succeed at coping with a sense of loss of control?

Coping with a sense of loss of control – choices

Solnit reminds us that we do. She writes, “Imagine yourself streaming through time shedding gloves, umbrellas, wrenches, books, friends, homes, names. This is what the view looks like if you take a rear-facing seat on the train. Looking forward you constantly acquire moments of arrival, moments of realization, moments of discovery. The wind blows your hair back and you are greeted by what you have never seen before. The material falls away in onrushing experience. It peels off like skin from a molting snake. Of course, to forget the past is to lose the sense of loss that is also memory of an absent richness and a set of clues to navigate the present by; the art is not one of forgetting but letting go. And when everything else is gone, you can be rich in loss.”

I love the imagery of the snake shedding its skin. Those episodes in every snake’s life happen periodically for one reason: growth. Growth and life are inextricably linked. We can choose to either focus on the losses behind us or embrace and greet what we have never seen before.

Facing a blank canvas

In many ways, our collective and personal choice is not unlike an artist facing a blank canvas.

Artist Lucio Fontana bravely facing a huge blank canvas awaiting his mark.
Photograph by Ugo Mulas.

Art, science, writing, and all creative endeavors spring from a place of space, questioning, and a willingness to sit with the unknown. Solnit continues, “How do you calculate upon the unforeseen? It seems to be an art of recognizing the role of the unforeseen, of keeping your balance amid surprises, of collaborating with chance, of recognizing that there are some essential mysteries in the world and thereby a limit to calculation, to plan, to control. To calculate on the unforeseen is perhaps exactly the paradoxical operation that life most requires of us.”

Please let me know how you and your family are “keeping your balance,” “collaborating with chance,” and cozying up to the unknown in your lives. How will you choose to face the blank canvas before you? Who knows, perhaps we will discover some of our clearest understanding of what’s really important, beautiful, and valuable during this time. I look forward to your comments.

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