Monday, October 03, 2005

The Mood That Wouldn't Change

I quoted Emerson in a previous post saying that our changing moods change the world. I’ve been struck recently how my larger mood seems relatively fixed.

It’s common to find oneself, at the end of the work week, looking forward to days off and what we’ll do over the weekend and feeling a lighter, happier feeling. Or, we’ll fall into a mood in which our life looks hopeless or sad and we’ll wonder what’s the purpose of our life projects that seemed so important. Or, we’ll feel a renewed hope as our life projects feel meaningful.

I’ve been stuck in an overarching mood of despair which appears each morning I wake up and anytime I’m not occupied with some activity. While I’m distracted doing something, I’m not thinking about my situation. It’s the technique of keeping busy that many recommend to avoid painful feelings. But as soon as I stop being occupied, the conditions of my life colored by this despairing mood descend upon me. Life seems purposeless and there’s a terror at wasting my life with no sense of what could make it meaningful.

At 45, it looks like I’m not going to be a somebody as I described in my first two posts. But if I’m not going to achieve somebodyness, then what’s the point? Simply to go from activity to activity trying to feel that that’s enough?

An alternative is to see through the narrow desire to be a somebody. Don’t equate success in life with being a somebody. This is possible to do. But right now, with the somebody valuing regime holding sway, this looks like a way to make myself feel ok for failing at the only thing worth being, ie being a somebody. An attempt to fool myself into thinking that the only thing important to do in life isn’t really important. A consolation prize for failing.


Julie said...

Hey Jeff,
Finding the self is whats important. Being a somebody is the booby prize. My dad was a somebody. Now he's just a grumpy old man. He lost his somebodyness when he retired. He keeps having accidents.

When you find the self maybe your sombodyness will just spring from that but if it doesn't it won't matter because you'll have found the only thing any of us really want.

Jeff Meyerhoff said...

I'm trying to make myself experience what you are advocating, but wresting my day-to-day experience from wanting to be a somebody is hard.

I'm going to post something on uniting being myself and being a somebody.


Rodolfo Baett said...

Hi Jeff, in Washburn's transpersonal model the mundane identity construction is an unavoidable step in the process of living. But sooner or later it is realized to be a dead end and leads to a major crisis.

I think I have gone through this in my early 20's in the form of a severe neurosis and depression.

Today I see the process of being somebody as a hall of mirrors, projecting own elements and introjecting elements from others; ironically, in this phase it seems that introjected reflections of our own components are responsible of our self-image.

Now I am not interested in being a somebody, but I still need to play such a role to live in this world and satisfy my family needs.

I don't think I have found the self, instead it seems I have fell in a kind of nihilistic path, similar to that mentioned by Sartre.

To find the self there are many tricky paths, with a high risk of deluding yourself (if it is really possible something like that). I prefer to try to do it by self-inspection, diving deeply into the waters of my instincts and emotions; alas, there is no guarantee.

Jeff Meyerhoff said...


So, you found your way to my blog.

I think most people don't have that identity crisis which you said that sooner or later people have. Most just live out their mundane selves. Some mellow with age and some get grumpy (as Julie says above). A few really develop and grow.

What do you mean by being a somebody? I've been using it in a negative sense. Perhaps it means something different for you.

Can you describe that nihilistic path described by Sartre - as it relates to you. There's a new book out you might like: The Affirmation of Life: Nietzsche on Overcoming Nihilism.

In finding one's true self or true path, I've found that close attention to one's experience - feelings, emotions, recurring interests, important memories, sayings that you remember over time - are good indicators of the direction to go in.

These days I'm not feeling that "hall of mirrors" affect that you mention, but you're certainly right about its existence. I do see how my self is a construction of introjects and how it's hard to know whether something is so deeply introjected that it is now just who I am or whether something is an introjected part that really isn't me. I don't think there is an objective criterion for deciding that. We mold a self from the parts that coalesce and have the power to marginalize other contenders for inclusion in the self. Of course, there is the Buddhist approach of just watching the selves arise and pass moment after moment, but there is a type of self that gets created there too; although at the end of that path there may truly be no-self.


Rodolfo Baett said...

Hi Jeff

I say “being a somebody” to refer precisely to the “persona”, the “someone” created by projections and introjections, the social identity, the historical memory, the public man, your profession, your family role; you talked about the mundane self. I have realized that there is a strong motivation to be this somebody as soon as you begin your teen years. I used to believe that somehow I would find a clue, a lasting meaning, a way that your life would make a strong sense the rest of your time in this world. Sadly, as soon as you begin to see the psychodynamic process involved, you are out of the play. Then you are again facing the question: who are you ?

I agree that most people never face this identity crisis, there are many examples in my life. This identity crisis seems to be a necessary step in the growing process. But this path is not easy, there are serious challenges. For me what seems to be very problematic is a kind of feeling of lack of sense of existence, the strong, contingent and gratuitous quality of life. This paradoxical nature leaves me perplexed.

Sure there are moments when I am able to sink in an unconscious playing of a role, you forget about your situation and enjoy playing the game. But sooner or later you are conscious again and old questions arise. I used Sartre to describe the sensation I have in this condition, it can be described as “nothingness”. Sure you remember Sartre’s Being and Nothingness. What I can see in Sartre’s formulation is that consciousness seems to be ego-free, in a paradoxical twist you find that “being” and “nothingness” seems to represent the same.

Who wrote the book you mention? It is interesting, Nietzsche and Sartre had something very important to say, Nietzsche concentrated himself in making conscious the genetic inheritance we all have, making old ideals and aspirations of humanity crumble in the process. He talked about moral and ethics as no more than surviving needs made unconscious and built in our genes in million years of biological evolution. He proposed a path to our unconscious depths to reconnect with our ancient source of vitality. Sartre talked about this nothingness in a negative sense, as the counterpart of being, both being inseparable.

There is no objective criterion for separating and deciding what you are apart from projections and introjections. Robin Robertson wrote in his book “The Shadow”, what is left as soon as you retire a major part of them from your environment. The problem is that in this situation you have to really construct your life. Freedom has an onerous price.

“Of course, there is the Buddhist approach of just watching the selves arise and pass moment after moment, but there is a type of self that gets created there too; although at the end of that path there may truly be no-self.”

I agree, but the question again rise: what is to be no-self ? It is not easy to face existential nothingness, it produces strong anguish; is it possible to reach a stable state like this while you are embodied ? why me ? what makes me different from others who are not in this predicament ?

Well, maybe this questions have no answers, but they keep running in my mind.

Jeff Meyerhoff said...

As I was reading your post, I was reminded at how grounding meditation can be. I like to intellectualize, but it's easy to get thrown off course and sitting and just keeping the attention on the breath and move you into a more grounded place where the play of thoughts and feelings is not so dominant.

In an experiential practice like Buddhism, the question what is the no-self will arise as will many questions, thoughts and judgments. The practice is to take some time to step out of the ongoing of thoughts, feelings and sensations, and be grounded, for awhile, in just being.

It's not as if I push this kind of thing, I just thought it might be a helpful action to take given what you describe.


Rodolfo Baett said...

Yes, I take your point. For some reason I don't particularily like meditation and alike. It can be dangerous for labile minds; as a proof you have Wilber's case (with humour).

But maybe I could try, in fact sometimes I do, a soft concentration and relaxation activity. Nothing like TM and his burden of rituals, ethos and indoctrination.

Jung had his objections regarding "negative mind techniques" as he referred to meditation. Instead he suggested an active psychic journey, using full psychic powers.


Jeff Meyerhoff said...


I don't do a sitting meditation anymore, but when people seem pushed about by their thoughts I recommend it. Most people reject it. Maybe you're more open-minded than most. Whatever works for you.

I don't think one has to get into a big debate about meditation. If one is interested, one gives it a try and sees how it is. Jung may be right for some and wrong for others. Our paths are various.

The name of that author of the Nietzsche book is Bernard Reginster. It's from Harvard University Press, so he must have some authority of connections.