The Clutter In My Head

The inner turmoil provoked by my pressing need to get my work moving, to resolve the issues surrounding the diversion of my attention to pressing personal circumstances, and to find some degree of balance and harmony within me, is evident as I gaze around my workspace and see literally dozens of loose ends, trails of reading materials, writing, articles and books, reference materials and correspondence, and emails and ideas are all over the place.

On top of the pile is a book by Stephen Greenblatt, called “Will in the World: How Shakespeare became Shakespeare,” which I am reading in preparation for attending a production of “Twelfth Night,” at the Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre, one of the few more pleasant diversions on a long list of diversions. Will drew deeply on his “inner life,” according to Greenblatt, frequently writing with a “strong current of ironic laughter” at the thought of himself and his parents, “laying claim to a higher status,” than what might have reasonably been assigned to them in his lifetime. Comparing some of Shakespeare’s poetry to the ideas expressed in his romantic comedies, Greenblatt reiterates how both forms attend to the narratives they contain, which are “never explicit, but never completely out of view.” This could be an apt description of my own circumstance presently, as they resemble those of the great Elizabethan poet, who “can no longer understand how it will all work out.”

Below that are several issues of the Atlantic Monthly, and back issues of Scientific American, which I can never seem to keep up with, and which are frequently in just such an arrangement on my desk. Sometimes they get pretty ragged by the time I finish with them from carrying them everywhere I go. In the compartment stand on the left is a fascinating cornucopia of articles, reports, clippings from my recent reading, various other magazines which are on the secondary list, also back from several months, printouts from webpages I’ve visited and my “current” folder where I try to accumulate the bits and pieces from my current writing and research. It tends lately to be anything but “current.” I have considered changing the title of it to, “Last time I looked,” but the optimist in me resists the idea.

Slightly out of view in that section is another recent “bargain book,” called “Meditations,” by Marcus Aurelius, which I became interested in after seeing the film, “Gladiator,” starring Russell Crowe as the general turned slave turned gladiator Claudius Maximus. Richard Harris played the aging Marcus so well, that when I read the book now I can’t help but think of his portrayal of the character as the one I am reading about. Combined with all of these “known” items, or at least the more immediate of them, is a collection of mail, various publications and notebooks, all mostly just waiting for their turn in the maelstrom of chaos.

There is more clutter in my head lately than anything I have been able to construct or accumulate on my desk, but my desktop gives a fair indication of what’s going on in my head at the moment.

It becomes problematical when I try to distill some order from the chaos sometimes, but generally it is also illuminating in an important way when I contemplate the many facets of my intellectual and emotional chaos. In isolation, they don’t always have the same power as they do when they are a component of an avalanche. My empathetic nature has always been active in me, but I haven’t always been able to make good use of it. As a child, it led me to feel apart from others as no one seemed to know how to react to it, and they frequently reacted fearfully, not understanding this aspect of me. Clearly, I didn’t understand it either.

Adults would frequently comment on how pleasant a child I was; they saw me as kind and considerate of my peers, even at an early age, but no one seemed to recognize the cause–not even me. As I grew, my insecurity and the lack of an environment conducive to promoting this nature, I fear, stifled its development and led to a great deal of confusion on my part when it would surface abruptly. As the years passed, I was only able to make miniscule progress in understanding myself, often shining momentarily on a particular occasion, only to lose momentum just when I seemed to be enjoying some inadvertent advantage.

When I finally experienced the liberation of leaving home, no longer inhibited by the expectations of others, I had such a powerful opening into my inner world, that it nearly ruined me. It was like a bomb had gone off inside my whole life. Had it not been for my daily routines as a soldier in the military at the time, I might have been completely overwhelmed by it. It wasn’t until I arrived overseas in Germany that I finally had the opportunity to explore my empathetic nature at length, to understand it better, and to see how it was influencing my experience in the world. What I saw when I looked inside myself was like a train wreck, or a broken staircase in an abandoned house in the image above. It was very much like the image above. But before long, I began to glean some important insights into my circumstances and make deliberate use of them, showing me that I could benefit from opening to this nature within me.

It was like emerging from a long, dark hallway after the longest night of my life. I began to recognize how out of sync this nature seemed to place me relative to the rest of the world I knew, and to this day, even as I feel more synchronized with my inner nature than I ever have before, I still experience excruciating emotional pain when I am unable to connect with others who clearly have the same inclinations, but are struggling as I did to understand or to uncover their understanding as I did for so many years. Even as I gain in strength and understanding of my own nature, I often encounter such enormous resistance from others. It is rare to encounter anyone who seems to recognize the extraordinary quality of empathy without shrouding it in social pressures, or who isn’t afraid to embrace this aspect of our human nature without some mitigation of the sort that effectively disables it.

Empathy will be the subject I will be exploring in the weeks to come. The notion is central to my life right now, and I need to express my heart and soul more than ever. I hope my readers will bear with me while I do.

4 thoughts on “The Clutter In My Head

    1. It is essential that we acknowledge our connections to others, even if we meet with inexplicable resistance to our empathetic inclinations, because the acknowledgment is often enough to inspire and propagate empathy out into the world. We may not be the beneficiary of this reciprocal empathy ourselves, but the seed is then planted in others, and may blossom in ways we cannot foresee or imagine.

      Your acknowledgement of my efforts to articulate this important principle gives me great hope that my efforts may actually have some potential in this regard, and I am very grateful for your kind words, and your friendship.

      Warm regards…..John H.

  1. Resistance is an interesting word. It is often used in psychological circles. I try not to determine the direction of the force. I could say, he is resisting me and my efforts. Or I could say, I am resisting his will to do things as he must. It is so subjective. I am often met with “resistance” by my clients – I’ve also noticed this is when I find myself most frustrated.

    Thankfully we can’t control who receives what from whom. We can’t control empathy, probably because we can’t always be certain lies in the depths of our own hearts. But if our love is true it will find it’s destination. It may not be the destination we had in store – love has it’s own sense of direction.

    1. In consideration of your occupation, which places you on the front lines of assisting those who are often in great need of empathy, I normally would resist the idea of opposing your point of view. However, in this instance, I find myself in opposition to your interpretation of the subjective nature of resistance.

      You may consider “resistance” (in psychoanalytical theory) as “the tendency of a person to prevent the translation of repressed thoughts and ideas from the unconscious to the conscious,” and your frustration may result from your client’s attempts to resist your efforts to bring this about, but it seems clear that no matter how you phrase it, when an ACTION is taken, or a FORCE is exerted, to advance toward a goal or a desired result, opposition to that action or force is a REACTION, directly undertaken in RESPONSE to the action or force, and NOT simply a matter of perspective as to “the direction of the force.”

      I am willing to mitigate my resistance to your assertion of subjectivity by agreeing that in RESPONDING to the original force or action, one may be said to be exerting their own force or taking their own action to oppose the advancement of the goal or desired result, and from their perspective, they may simply consider themselves to be asserting their own will to “do things as they must,” but logically speaking, no such assertion of will would have been necessary, had there not been an original advancement of action or force.

      The word “resistance,” according to the dictionary, has its roots in the Latin “sistere” meaning “to stand,” providing an insight into related words like “assistance,” and “desistance.” Assistance, i.e., helping or aiding one to stand–moving WITH an advance, is related to Desistance, i.e., to cease standing–to abandon an advance, and finally to Resistance, which infers “standing against an advance”–to oppose an advance.

      Empathy, on the other hand, is “the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another,” and we may not be able to control our inclinations to empathize by that definition, but the point I wished to express was that once we recognize that we possess a natural inclination toward empathy, we can CULTIVATE and EXPAND our capacity to empathize, if we can find a way to overcome the sometimes “inexplicable resistance” we encounter with our clients, and those others with whom we empathize.

      As always, your thoughts inspire me to consider my own with much greater scrutiny, and I love to share my thoughts with you for that very reason. I had thought that this posting might inspire others to comment as well, but it appears there is some additional “inexplicable resistance” out there to the idea.

      Thanks so much for giving me the opportunity to think harder about this subject.

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