That’s Men: Behind the scenes at the worry museum
I write a journal called Morning Pages every morning. It’s a jumble of everything from working out the to-do list for the day to figuring out the meaning of life, though I haven’t had a lot of success with either. I took the idea from Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way and, like other people who do it, I’m pretty sure the practice has changed my life, though I’m not quite sure how.
Sometimes I go back over the journal for the corresponding date in previous years to see what my preoccupations were then. All too often they turn out to have been quite mundane and frequently they are the same preoccupations I am currently having.
But about this time a year ago, something had happened. It was so much on my mind that I woke up a few times during the night thinking about it and I felt like a zombie while I was writing my morning pages.
What was this event? I haven’t a clue. There is nothing else about it in the journal for the month. Neither is there anything in my appointment diary that gives me a hint. And my mind is blank on the matter. “What a fool I am after all,” I wrote, but that’s nothing new.
Which brings me to a work called In the Omnibus by Honoré Daumier in the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin. It’s one of a series of works by the artist of everyday Parisian life in the 19th century. The drawing shows a row of passengers sitting in an omnibus, lost in their thoughts with a preoccupied look we can all recognise.
It was in the news a few months ago when it was recovered by the Criminal Assets Bureau more than 20 years after its theft from the gallery.
ForgettableLooking recently at the faces of the passengers as depicted by Daumier, I wondered what they were thinking about, and what did it matter in the end? Did even their own fate hinge on any of these thoughts that absorbed them so completely? If the artist had written down a list of their worries and had gone back to them a year later, would they be as baffled as I was by my worries of autumn 2013?
In the end I felt a slight sense of panic as I studied the picture; the idea that we spend much of our lives absorbed in a forgettable, possibly pointless world inside our heads is a scary one.
It is even more scary to consider that people can stress themselves out to the point of physical ill health over things they will mostly forget within weeks or months. Imagine a headstone that says “Here lies so-and-so who worried himself to death over, er, something he forgot.”
PointlessNot all of us need fear the headstone.
A woman who faces a whole stack of genuinely big challenges told me when I commiserated with her that she simply never worries about the future. She doesn’t have a philosophy to explain this: it’s just the way she is.
However, although she doesn’t worry, she is taking effective and determined steps to resolve her issues.
Could this mean that worries are completely pointless, just a form of mental wheel-spinning, that have nothing whatever to do with finding solutions to problems?
That, in turn, suggests that worrying is a behaviour all on its own, perhaps a leftover from the evolutionary process; that the worrier is like a dog, fruitlessly but with great determination, gnawing on a bone.
Dark dimensionWhere do worries go? Is there a museum of worries somewhere in the universe? Or, worse still, are our worries flying though space like old radio programmes destined to go on and on in some dark dimension until they are sucked into a black hole?
And, more importantly than all that, what are you worrying about today? And how much will it matter in a year’s time? Will you even remember it?
Padraig O’Morain is a counsellor accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His latest book is Mindfulness on the Go. His mindfulness newsletter is free by email. firstname.lastname@example.org