Precarious Habitations: A Week of Mental Management
“Events stream past us like these crowds and the face of each is seen only for a minute. What is urgent is not urgent for ever but only ephemerally. All work and all love, the search for wealth and fame, the search for truth, like itself, are made up of moments which pass and become nothing. Yet through this shaft of nothings we drive onward with that miraculous vitality that creates our precarious habitations in the past and the future.
So we live; a spirit that broods and hovers over the continual death of time, the lost meaning, the unrecaptured moment, the unremembered face, until the final chop that ends all our moments and plunges that spirit back into the void from which it came.”
-Iris Murdoch, Under the Net
All week I have been reading Iris Murdoch’s deeply humorous and thoughtful novel Under the Net. It helped me to maintain my sense of humor and perspective as I waded through one emotionally precarious moment after another. While the above quote seems very deep and fatalistic, the character who is narrating it moves from one ridiculous situation into another totally random self-inflicted confusion. He never stops moving and acting or until the very end, gains any self-knowledge or finds a mentally focussed center to act in a mindful way. His ungrounded optimism and fearless ignorance make for some deeply comic and ironic self-commentary, which I could both relate to and laugh out loud at.
In this interval of waiting to move, I can make no definite plans that might interfere with my main purpose, so my mind feeling constrained like a cat in a harness can only try and burst into a thousand unassailable alternative futures, and other parts of my mind that must concentrate on work and managing keeping an emotional balance are made frantic trying to calm my overactive imagination. Whenever I got too seriously into this struggle, reading Murdoch kept me on the lighter side and showed me a way to maneuver through without too much damage, just a little less sleep and a little more agitation.
Now that I look back on my week, most of my days at work I was dealing with difficult patients with complex issues and very full schedules that needed constant adjustments in order to fit into other people’s schedules to get everybody the time they needed to facilitate their continued recovery. I was able to accomplish this even with my constant feelings of being overwhelmed and off balance mainly because in the middle of my bouncing from one challenge to another, I have developed an inner voice that is able to retain compassion for myself and anyone I am dealing with. I can help myself muddle through where in the past I would be adding up the failures in my head, I could see each situation I worked through no matter how frantically as a mildly irritating victory over my distraction. I was able to help people and be a good enough colleague when working with my fellow employees. It was not smooth or graceful but functionally rough and unsatisfying.
Coming back to the tarot every night helped me to focus on what was important and the tools available to get me through this period of disequilibrium. It is appropriate that my week ended with the very symbol for grace and flow, The Princess of Cups. I am feeling like I can settle into the coming week by flowing from each moment into another until I pass through this zone of uncertainty.