Cutting Ballast

Balloon in Parc André Citroën, July 26, 2012Paris, France

Balloon in Parc André Citroën, July 26, 2012
Paris, France

One of the first steps in doing over is letting go of the old, no longer useful things. Or places. Or people.

I was writing to my friend Rita on Facebook regarding a post she had made about getting older, freaking out a little about her children growing up, wondering “How did I get here?”, “here” being a place where a new decade looms, babies become mini-adults, and life seems to have gone by so fast.

I commented to her only half-joking that perhaps this was a good time to practice Buddhist non-attachment (Rita is a Buddhist).

The exchange remained lighthearted, but serious all the same:

Rita: I’m seriously attached to the idea that my kids and I are never going to grow old and they’ll always be my babies. As some dharma teachers would say, I’m signing up for suffering.

Karin: Oh maaaaaaan, so THAT is what it is called! “Signing up for suffering.” Crap. I think I did that in big, bold letters with a Sharpie and now I’m having to cut ballast like a mean mofo just to get back to the center, eh? WHEW. *sigh* It is really tough, though. I know. I get it. Also, it is good to acknowledge the attachment, feel it for a bit, and then let it go. I find that if I bypass any part of the grief process, it backs up, just like a clogged toilet.

Rita: Clogged toilet! I love that — that’s what it does exactly if you try and avoid it.

Karin: Right?! And OMG I hate plunging, lol. UGH. I find myself deep breathing a lot lately, just trying to make sure my inner toilet is not too full of crap.

Rita: I was making myself miserable holding on to some crap. Finally I told myself- its time to let go of those attachments and just grow the fuck up Rita. It worked and the last week I’ve felt much better about some stuff that’d been bothering me for years.

There you go. To avoid suffering, sometimes (all times?) you have to detach, cut ballast, let go of outcomes, let go of that which weasels its way into our heart and engages the ego and makes it hard for us to move forward.

I’m having to do that in a really difficult way right now, and there is a lot of anger, frustration, grief, and pain all due to attachment to be cut out and flushed away.

Another way I have looked at it is being served plateful after plateful of overcooked spinach and having to eat it all if I want to exit the dining room (it’s a really mean boarding school type of place, this Grief School. Quite dark and Gothic.). I have to eat the spinach, digest it, poop it out, and then flush it away so (in the imaginary world in which I am making this story up) it can be processed into nitrogen-rich mulch in the sewage treatment plant. It will go back and feed the earth if I can take in all the spinach and transform it within. It will help things to grow, if only I can take it in and transform it.

Cutting ballast is never easy because I think that often we humans so look for ballast to comfort and keep us grounded.

A funny-weird/interesting note.

I went to search for an old blog post where I had written about ballast. Turns out I wrote a post on a now-defunct blog platform on March 28, 2007, nearly exactly six years ago, on this same topic. What I wrote then actually still applies to the present, so I am just going to copy in what I wrote there:

The first [book quotation important to me ] is from page 193 in my edition [of J.D. Salinger’s book, Franny and Zooey]. It’s [where the] character in the novel, Zooey, is calling his sister Franny, pretending to be their other brother, Buddy:

“The cigars are ballast, sweetheart. Sheer ballast. If he didn’t have a cigar to hold on to, his feet would leave the ground. We’d never see our Zooey again.”

shine your shoes for the fat lady part one

 shine your shoes for the fat lady part two

Then there is the very ending to the book [the images above — click to see a larger size to be able to read what it says]. This part of the story teaches me to try to remember to “Shine my shoes for the Fat Lady,” which is another way of saying to recognize the divine in everyone and to try to do our best by each one. To look for the divine in even the humblest of things.

I am trying to cut ballast in order to have my feet leave the grounds of Grief. I want to get to the place where I am able to see the Fat Lady and shine my shoes for her. That is, I want to be able to see the divine in everything and everyone, even in those who have hurt me, in situations that have hurt me – I want to let go and soar into the land of Acceptance.

I know if I detach, I can more fully fly freely into a place of less suffering.

Now, how to get my hand to unclench from the cigar, so to speak. That’s a bit more of a trick.

How do you go about letting go of things that are not grounding you in a positive way (as in providing stability and balance), but of the weight that is holding you back from moving into the future or moving into a place of less suffering? Of cutting ballast so that you can soar?

Do you have any suggestions on positive ways to do that? If so, please consider sharing below so we can all learn from your wisdom.

Thank you for reading!

Over and out.




  1. I wish I had a trick for you, chica. Something more definitive and inspiring than what I have to offer. All I’ve ever learned on the topic from life to date, all that my own experience has ever shown me is this: you breathe in, you breathe out, you repeat. Do that over and over and over. And after a few months of that, you’ll find it has gotten a little bit better, a little bit lighter. Wanting to let go does help some. Recognizing that some part of you really does need whatever you’re holding on to may help, too. But ultimately, it’s just about time and living with these things. Eventually our fingers loosen because that’s what life does. Sorry that’s so unsatisfying. If you find a better way, please be sure to let me know.

    • Thanks, Miss Anne. Yes, I think that “breathe in, breathe out, repeat” is indeed the recipe for this kind of thing. Your wisdom is spot-on, based on my prior experiences. And yes, if I find another way, or other techniques, I will share, for sure!

  2. Love and hugs to you Karin! I am learning lessons about cutting ballast, too. Letting go of things that I thought were rooting and grounding but were really just holding back. I can dig it! I am sorry for the pain of your life transitions right now, but I know YOU and I know you will be better for it in the long run. I pray for you every day, and I hope you will pray for me as I have some more health concerns coming up.

    • Thank you, Kate! I know you know a thing or two about this process, too. The weight you carry with health stuff is a real trial as well, I know. I guess it is like a kind of training, to see how much we can carry, while also letting the unnecessary weight go — like we’re backpackers on a climb, eh? Weighted down enough to get really strong, but also needing to cut away that which overburdens and really is not a part of the path for now.

      My best thoughts are with you. Thank you for your supportive comment. 🙂

  3. Hi Karin,
    I think seriously that admitting any truth is step one of the healing process.These are steps towards greatness, girlfriend.
    For myself, I have been in a “cutting ballast” era since 2010. My own life has shifted considerably. I now meditate daily and take better care of my own self. I have also learned how wonderful it is to be here and now.
    You tell yourself that yes, it is not pleasant throwing out ballast. But, going through the muck, you are cleaning house so you live a better life in the long run.
    Sending you you tons of love and courage.

    • But, going through the muck, you are cleaning house so you live a better life in the long run.

      Indeed. Thank you for the good words, B. I appreciate it so much. Thank you for sending love and courage! It helps. And I know that one day this will be past, I will have passed over the hardest bits and I will be able to “pay it forward” with love and encouragement for others, too (not that I cannot now — but you know. Sometimes it is a bit of a thing where we need to be buoyed up more than we do the buoying at certain times. 🙂 ).


    • Carole,

      Sometimes I got nuttin’, too, lol. Most times, in fact! In any case, good tunes are *always* a welcome distraction, and most often have a good message to listen to, as the one you posted did. Thank you. 🙂


  4. I’d say that what you are pondering is the first step towards a freer being. Having to start allover is a chance and the most painful thing to do, all at the same time. If only the human mind could be erased like a computer memory. But it can’t. I like to think, for a reason. So… starting anew is about learning discipline and self-acceptance.The first comes in when the temptation lingers in to think that “back then and there all was better”. In honesty, was it really? The second plays a role when you do the first, then get sick of being positive, and then regardless, decide to try again. This is life. A process – and I believe in your capacity, because you wrote it out and you are honest about how you really feel.

    • Hello, Susa!

      I had some full days since you posted this comment, so I apologize for the delay in a reply. Thank you for reading.

      Your comment reminded me of one of my most favorite movies, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and about the character in the movie who tries to have his memory erased of his love, only to walk into the same situation again… God I need to watch that movie again, lol!

      So… starting anew is about learning discipline and self-acceptance.The first comes in when the temptation lingers in to think that “back then and there all was better”. In honesty, was it really?

      Good advice for part one. In all honesty, no it was not. *cold water of reality washes over me*

      The second plays a role when you do the first, then get sick of being positive, and then regardless, decide to try again.

      Heheheheh!! Oh yes, this is the human mind, is it not? LOL! Perseverance. Yes, that is a key.

      Thank you for believing in my capacity to work this through, and thank you for the wise words. ♥♥♥


  5. I think the most important thing is to live in the present. Try to live the best way possible – now. The future is not here yet and who knows about it. The past is gone – close the book. Your purpose now is to feel today the best way you can feel. It is possible; you have the freedom to think what you wish, you own your thoughts. Sad thoughts will make you sad, so don’t go there. I believed that once retired we would travel a lot and be happy – we have traveled some but my husband was just diagnosed with Alzheimer. I don’t want to think about anything than having a good day, today.

    • Oh dear Vagabonde, what good advice.

      I am so sorry for the delay in response — the past three days have been very full and I have about collapsed under the weight of them! The good part is that I had many distractions, good ones, too, and that helped much. Also, however, I wanted to really be able to take my time to respond.

      I am heartbroken to read that your suspicions you raised when we saw one another in Paris have come true. I am so deeply sorry for your husband’s diagnosis, I am really saddened by it. I can completely understand what you mean when you write:

      I don’t want to think about anything than having a good day, today.

      Another reason I delayed this reply is that I knew writing it would make me burst into tears because of the poignancy of your comment, and indeed it has. I am crying for you. I know. Sad thoughts will make you sad, but I also know that bottling something up will only delay an inevitable explosion, so I hope I can offer my tears to you as a kind of feeling of love and care for the entire situation.

      Here are huge hugs for you. You have put my own circumstances into some perspective, and have ensured I will not wallow in sadness that is not worth wallowing in. Carpe diem.

      With love and much compassion,

      • Thank you Karin for your sweet reply. We were on a trip and just came back and I saw your comment on my blog. Being outside in natural and beautiful surroundings brought so much comfort. Peace and hugs.

  6. Sometimes we go through life thinking: Well, finally things seem to be no longer upside down! And then…

    It’s like falling into a deep, dark pit and at the beginning we see nothing but darkness.
    Finally, one day, we realize we are no longer so terrified, confused, dazed to see that the place was not so dark after all. We see, gradually, that the pit has steps to take us out of it. The steps of course are not so easy to climb because they are very steep. But manage we do, to keep on climbing…
    Dearest of all Karins, you’ll know the day when you are about to climb the last step and you’re never again going to be terrified, uncertain and unprotected.
    You’ll be even stronger than before and you’ll remember the fact that you are still alive, your children are alive, you have a roof over your head. They took your passport away but they’ll never be able to take your Master and everything else you’ve accomplished intellectually. They will never take away from you your Parisian journey…
    Hugs of all sizes for my beautiful and brave friend.

    • Hola, mi amiga hermosa!

      I think after the past month has passed, I have been able to cut even more ballast, and even the ties that are holding the balloon. Interestingly, as I do that, my feet have landed even more firmly.

      I definitely in the past month have been focusing more on the “Do” part of “Do Overs” — and I do have that feeling of still being alive (and in a good way, lol) as well as a sense of progression. I feel I still will experience barriers and possibly pitfalls, but my own acceptance of where I am is more firmly established.

      It is true that there is so much that cannot be taken. I also feel, though, that I have been called to let go of a lot — so that I can fly more freely. I’m a lot more excited than I was last month, although April was full of craziness, both good and bad, and not only for me, but for the planet, it seems.

      Step by step, right?

      Thank you so much for coming and reading and leaving such a kind and beautiful comment, Maria. Here are hugs back to you as well. I hope your own life journey is one that is full of wonderful things right now.


  7. Very late to this party but boy does this speak to me. I am in desperate need of letting go of that cigar exactly so my feet can leave the ground and I can rise up and get a new vantage point. Your posts so often resonate. Thanks.

    • Hey there, Betsy! There is no late to this party — I have not exactly posted in a really long time, lol. I’m late to my own party!

      I’m glad it resonates. It still does for me, too, in fact. I feel like I keep circling around this issue of needing to cut ballast. Sometimes some weights we seem to have to carry for a long time before we are ready to set them down. I’m not ready yet.

      But. Here’s to eventually being in a place where that is possible!

      Cheers. And hugs from Denver.

  8. hi Karin! I started reading you over at alien Parisienne years ago and was immediately taken by your authenticity and honesty. you are a thorough writer who doesn’t sugarcoat the tribulations you’ve been handed, and I have tremendous respect for you. I recently realized that you haven’t posted in quite some time! are you no longer blogging? We miss you in blog land!

    • What a lovely comment, Rebecca — thank you so much. It means a lot to me, really. I have not posted in a long time, it is true. Since March of this year (when I last posted), I have been focusing more on the “Do” part of “Do Overs” and also I had an interesting summer — a good one in some ways and a very challenging one in others. Summer moved into fall — and here we are in December. I’ll be honest: it’s mostly been anger at my most recent ex that has kept me from blogging because I could not imagine writing anything but bile that seemed to come out of nowhere September/October as the relationship with my on-paper-only husband and I went through its final death throes. Writhing, terrible ones. So there’s that…

      On the AWESOME side — I have had part time work since June of this year, and as of November have at last negotiated regular visiting time with my now-eight-year-old son! *GRIN* I think it is these two things that have really helped me so much in gaining some normalcy into re-entry into Denver.

      Writing this comment does make me feel like perhaps I could open myself up once more to writing about my life in Denver. It’s not depressing me so much anymore, either, lol. For a while there, I just could not summon up any words that would have been terribly encouraging, and while I do believe in being honest, constant negativity is not what I want the blog to be about. But I sure had to go to those dark places in my head to be able to come out the other side. In November, I at last began to see some light with being fully reunited with my youngest boy. 🙂

      Thank you again, and I will give serious thought to beginning to blog once more! It has been a necessary and welcome break for me to become more interior about things happening, though.

      Hugs from Denver!

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