Monday, January 02, 2006

Constructing the World

For over a year now, upon waking two hours early each morning I’m gripped with a fear that I feel as a knot in my chest. My mind immediately starts obsessively thinking about the things I have to do this day, this week. I urgently anticipate and rehearse scenarios over and over, out of proportion to the importance of the upcoming interaction. I’m trying to make sure things don’t fall apart, that there is no trouble. I’m also trying to make sure I don’t have emotional outbursts by being unprepared for social interactions.

This thinking each morning is also the construction of my world. Each morning, as I come out of sleep, I have to reconstruct this fear-based world with its particular character and then live my life in this world. I have enough mindfulness to see the world being reconstructed each morning, as it’s happening, yet can’t stop it. Interactions are a threat and an impingement; so I prefer to withdraw. Contradictorily, I work as a social worker with the chronically mentally ill, and so have to engage very difficult people.

The world I inhabit is thin. Emotions are blunted. Everything is scarce, so saving is important. In many everyday actions I try to save. When driving I try to save gas and save wear and tear on the brakes. I try to keep the heat in the house as low as possible to save energy and money. I save money by bringing my breakfast and lunch to work so as not to eat out, and only buy coffee when I can get reimbursed. When getting water from the faucet I try to use as little as possible. I make sure I don’t waste food. I try to manage my time well so I don’t waste it. My whole world is colored by this scarcity.

This saving behavior is just the outward manifestation of a conception of the world. The world is a place where there is not enough. It’s a desiccated place – dry, lacking water. It’s a place where I’m anonymous or not really known and so lacking recognition. It’s a place without ultimate purpose and so lacking in meaning (although meaning can be found in other ways). The saving thoughts and saving behaviors, on a deeper level, become a pervasive mood or shroud of lack. My world looks and feels a particular way because of this.

Recently, I had short experiences when this world of scarcity was pushed aside for a few seconds, allowing me to get a look at the world I always inhabit. Once, I was caring for this mostly blind, mostly deaf, chihuahua mix. She was a sweet, little, old dog named Stella. She would walk unsteadily around the house sniffing and trying to find her way. I saw she didn’t have water in her bowl and was anxious that the bowl always have enough water so she would always know where water was – not feel scarcity – and so I scooped up the bowl and went to the sink to wash it and fill it. I turned the water on and a mood moved in and replaced the usual me. I turned the water on full force and thought “fuck saving water, I’m going to use as much as I need for her.” Instead of the usual world of scarcity and saving strictures, I felt, for two seconds, a burst of desire to use the resources I needed. The feeling was that this is why these things are here. It suggested a way of experiencing the world, a relationship to it, which is probably common for many people. Things are there for their use, to indulge, without concern. They live in a different world than mine. For those few moments that other world pushed aside my world and I saw a glimpse of another way to be in the world and another world to be in.

Another time, after therapy, I saw a different world. Instead of my usual Spartan, world full of discrete, disconnected entities, I imagined and felt a world in which encountering others was anticipated with curiosity, interest and excitement. Getting involved in interactions would fill the heart with pleasure or pain, but that the encounter of others and the connections and disconnections was a major part of living a life. Engaging family, friends, new people, was a big part of the reason for living and gave life fullness. There are people like this. It arose quickly and left quickly, and it was a radical alternative to my world, where interactions are managed and felt to be impingements.


james burke said...

dear jeff,
do you have a girlfriend?

Jeff Meyerhoff said...


Yes, we've been together for 16 years, married for 5 years. She's wonderful. Why do you ask?


james burke said...

only you sounded so lonely as if you needed a hug.

Jeff Meyerhoff said...

Lives are multifarious things with many different aspects, many of which we aren't conscious of. I'm focusing in this blog on some ways my life presents itself to me, or one way I present it to myself and imagine it is life presenting its (true) self to me. Of course, more hugs are good, assuming one can receive the hug emotionally and assuming that the hugging is not part of a too invasive and smothering relationship.