Flotsam and Jetsam

Posted by: Mike

So– just to clarify, flotsam is wreckage of a ship or boat that is found floating or washed up on the shore, and jetsam is unwanted material that has been thrown overboard.  Jetsam is a contraction of jettison, and flotsam is from Anglo-Norman French, from “floter,” to float.  Although they result from two quite different scenarios, it is reasonable to see the two terms combined, as the finder of either, at sea or on the shore, might have some trouble distinguishing between them.  If you find a crate of trash, however, or a spar and life jackets, the distinction would be rather easy to make.

Metaphorically, lots of uses can be made of flotsam and jetsam.  To be a little morbid, but to make a point, over the years helping to clear out the homes of the recently deceased it has been easy to see how much most people accumulate of “things”; most of which not only could have been jettisoned and most of which was acquired for reasons that were not based upon need and which could have been dispensed with.  It must be something innate in humans that drives us to accumulate and to be so reluctant to let go.  I’m not talking about the compulsive hoarder, but rather about most of the rest of us.  It makes sense, however, if you think about early humans living in small tribes.  Although living a nomadic existence warrants having only limited possessions, once the tribe has settled down, some aspects of having things makes life a whole lot easier.

It might be good practice if we could say to ourselves, “Could I walk away from everything I have and remain reasonably happy and who I am now? ” If we say, “No,” to the question, I wonder if it would be possible to redirect ourselves (somehow working out the internal conflicts) so that we could be able to say, “Yes,” and mean it.  Remarkably, I expect that we would find it quite freeing.  The flotsam and jetsam may contain some of our history, but they also contain binds that limit our freedom to be who we are.



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7 responses to “Flotsam and Jetsam

  1. David

    Nice post. Now how about our psyche/memories/thoughts? We should probably all do a lot more jettisoning of our thoughts that aren’t needed anymore. We should turn much of our mind’s attention to flotsam and jetsam.

  2. mhz1936

    Nice thought; but I’m afraid just wanting to jettison memories of the past won’t do it. I suspect what happens is that past memories are artfully integrated to a multitude of recollections. Surgical excision won’t work no matter how much we try. I expect, however, that letting go and giving up on memories of the past can take place, if we can review calmly the events that trouble us with a compassionate perspective, such that we eventually can replace the troubling emotions which are attached to difficult memories with compassionate caring.

  3. David

    But isn’t it in ‘psychotherapy’ where you try to gather up all the stuff that might just ought to be flotsam or jetsam? I’m not talking about surgical excision, just letting go of what needs to be let go of. Many of us cycle things over and over again through our minds and memories. Many of these things need to be battered against the rocky shore and recycled and consumed by detritus feeders. Those detritus feeders need food too, you know.

  4. David

    Another thing…flotsam and jetsam in relationships as well as within the self. The key is for the flotsam and jetsam to be not hidden. When we throw things overboard or the storm hits us, things go over the side. But we shouldn’t do it in the dark of night so we or those in relationship with us can’t see it going overboard.

    The point is this. Sometimes in our relationships, there are things that just need to be tossed overboard in full view, never to be brought aboard again.

    I’m thinking specifically about relationships here. In our relationships, sometimes we don’t need to revisit ‘issues’ we just need to toss the issues overboard in full view. Both parties need to do the tossing. And we need to let the currents take those issues away, never trying to drag them aboard our vessel again.

  5. mhz1936

    So complicated. I wonder what you mean bh letting go of things not in the dark of the night. I think you mean that people need to be as open and direct with others as possible, but being careful not to harm or injure. Your metaphors are compelling, but as I said, so much is interconnected in our brains, that the letting go is not a simple or easy or quick process.

  6. David

    Many people try to push things into dark corners or hide from things they don’t want others to see or within relationships try to ignore things that are problems. That is what trying to send the jetsam off in the dark of night is about. In relationships and with oneself, we must acknowledge and let go difficult things–jettison them overboard and never look back. But we must do this in the light, rather than in the dark.

    I’m actually not saying that people always need to be direct as possible. I’m saying that people need to forgive debts completely, sometimes without even knowing what exactly is the debt is that they are forgiving. Being too direct, i.e., explaining the issue to the other, brings the issue up into sight. Sometimes it’s best to say, “Well, let’s not talk about it. You can just throw it overboard. It’s okay. I love you. I forgive you, no matter whatever it is.” And sometimes this needs to be done over and over and over and over again, until the mess is all cleaned up. Some ships are so messy, that it takes years and years to clean up. Then, finally, everything will be ship-shape.

  7. mhz1936

    Let’s keep manning those pumps; lots of leaks in this here ship.

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