Under Construction: How Our Internal Reactions Shape Our Material Environment

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by: Jamie Rautenberg

I repeatedly discuss how our external reality is a direct reflection of our internal beliefs. Here’s a perfect example from my own life that I wrote about just a couple of years ago when I received another lesson in surrendering to this truth.

Since then, I’ve completely deconstructed my entire belief system. It’s only reinforced the fact that it is our perception that rules our outer experiences. But, this did not mean I was exempt from a painful learning process…

Spring 2013

Birch Coffee was set to open in the retail space beneath my apartment building right after we moved in last summer. However, unexpected delays caused a few super noisy days per month, and the occasional water shutoff for the next 2 seasons, though we always got a fair warning.

Considering my last upstairs neighbor apparently operated a small wood shop out of his place, this was still a major upgrade.

Birch finally opened, just in time for the surgery to place a permanent IV line into my chest to start my daily Lyme Disease treatment. But, after a few months of bed rest, the banging returned. Only this time, it sounded like the hammer was going to bust through my bedroom wall. I dismissed it until it started happening every day, way too early in the morning, weekends included.

Finally, we asked management what was going on, and they informed us that the apartment next door was being gut-renovated and the loudest parts of it were almost over. We would have appreciated the advanced notice, but this is what we sign up for when we choose to live in an apartment in NYC.

It’s not a surprise, but it’s harmful nonetheless.

At this point, I’m pretty much bedridden and these grating, unpredictable sounds are causing seizures throughout the day due to the sensitivities of my nervous system.

Needless to say, it was an unpleasant couple of weeks, but I dealt with it.

After one beautiful drill-free week, the hammering began again upstairs one morning. It’s always jolting me right out of my dreams before I even get to the good parts.

One loud whack and I’m up.

And I’m pissed.

And I’m having another meltdown that leads to another seizure that’s loud enough to freak out our new neighbors next door.

The front desk calls to check up on us, and Sean explains it’s ok and we just have to wait it out.

A few days later, I receive an email from the general manager of the building requesting that I call her. The guilt I feel for disturbing my neighbors tells me that I’m in trouble. After running through several paranoid speculations of what she’s going to say, I dial.

I’m nervous, but she immediately disarms me by asking how I’m feeling, followed by sharing her concern that I’m not being hurt. Apparently, the fits of rage that precede most seizures were mistaken for domestic abuse.

“Nope!”, I explain, “It’s just one of the many things Lyme can do, and it happens to be loud. I’m really sorry if it disrupts anyone, but I have very little control over it once I’m triggered. One of the keys to my recovery is that I have a quiet calm environment, and the recent construction is pushing me over the edge. Is this almost over?”

She’s quiet for a moment and then responds, “Well, there’s going to be more renovations, so can we offer you a quieter apartment? Maybe one facing the courtyard, not the street?”

It’s nice of her to offer, but there is no way in hell I am moving apartments. I can barely hold my cat for 10 minutes without muscle fatigue, let alone pack and move boxes.

“Well, I should tell you that the company that bought our building will be gutting every single unit when each tenant moves out.”, she painfully explains.

“Oh, wow. Well, is there any way we could at least get some warning so it’s not such a shock to my system?” I ask. She says that she will do her best to give me advanced notice and sincerely apologizes.


Another new normal to adjust to, another test.

When the scaffolding went up outside our building last week, it was the icing on the cake. Turns out, the building manager forgot to mention one minor detail-it’s not just the apartments they are renovating. The outside has to match its new insides. This means replacing every single brick with a chip and a crack.

There was disappointment, of course, but this time, I did not react to the news with rage. I laughed, shrugged my shoulders, took a deep breath, and surrendered.

And with that, I’m officially living inside my own metaphor. There’s no escaping it, my building and my body are in repair.


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