Inspired by and dedicated to Arlette.
I'm pretty certain I first heard of an albatross through reading Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner", though I don't remember if it was high school or college. I recall the image of the albatross being repellent. Even the word seemed off-putting. It was as bulky and ugly as I imagined the birds themselves to be.
In the poem, a sailor is made to wear the carcass of an albatross hanging around his neck as a punishment. It is there, weighing him down, no matter where he is or what he's doing. The albatross has come to symbolize something heavy and burdensome from which you can't seem to get free.
It's occurred to me of late that many people are carrying a virtual albatross around with them all the time - a cumbersome bundle of limiting beliefs, old stories, and self-criticism - wrapped up and woven through with shame, guilt, and regret. I know I did. I've written a great deal about it in this blog and in my books.
Sometimes people's eating behavior becomes another layer of the albatross they wear. Instead of eating for nourishment, it becomes about numbing the pain of carrying the albatross. It becomes about eating (or restricting) as punishment for being the kind of person who has an albatross. It makes the albatross-bearing experience more complicated and layered. It deepens the mire.
The other day, I used the expression "an albatross around my neck" to refer to a situation I previously felt stuck in, and in response, I was asked what I knew about the albatross. Not much, I had to admit, and off I set to learn more. I Googled. I followed shared links. I watched videos in a state of pure wonder at these unique sea birds. They are an absolute marvel.
Did you an albatross can fly for miles and barely flap its wings? They practice a technique called "dynamic soaring" in which they find an air current created by the friction where atmosphere meets ocean. Carried in the flow of this current, they soar long distances without struggle or exertion. They are buoyed by physics I can't explain, and by metaphysics I can't explain. They soar supported by a deep trust in the sky above and the sea below. They glide as though they were born to do it, because of course, they were.
As I watched this beautiful albatross, I was filled with an expansive sense of freedom. I sat in a coffeehouse surrounded by college students studying for final exams, and tears formed behind the lids of my closed eyes. I have felt her flow. I have experienced that sense of trust in myself and the world around me, and it's the most wonderful thing I've ever felt. When you find that flow, you want it to carry you always.
So I urge you to figure out how to let go of what weighs you down. I encourage you to put down your albatross, should you be carrying one. Set it down gently out of reverence for what it has taught you, or fling it far into the sea and watch it sink out of sight. Either way, put down your albatross and instead, be like one. They are elegant. They are enviable. They are unbelievably free.