Illness assaults the world of our everyday life, a world we inhabit without much conscious thought. The largely unexamined presumptions of what our world “is” and how it “works” enable us to get on with our business in that world. Its features, knit together into a routine way of taking action and making meaning, make up much of the fabric of our lives. It is through this world that one initially experiences illness, and it is the coherence of this world that illness most directly threatens.
Thus, starting with a firm grip on the features of everyday life will give us a better purchase on the shifting terrain of illness. The world of daily life is largely one of meaning. Meanings help us to connect one thing with another. We recognize patterns amid clutter.
We are guided through this landscape by an assortment of bodily habits and dispositions, mental images, internal voices, and emotions.
Each acts in and upon the others, shaping and reshaping personal and larger social, cultural, and environmental realities. In the world of dreams or delirium, no other person needs to exist, but neither a person nor the world has much meaning apart from the other. There is no question that rocks can exist in a world without people, but their meaning, if it could be said to exist at all, would be entirely different.
The life-world each of us inhabits is unique, defined by our biography, body, personal store and stock of knowledge and meanings, and interactions with the worlds of others. As I act in and upon the world, the world, in its turn, influences and impresses itself upon me. The notion of a person without a world is difficult to imagine.
The shipwrecked Robinson Crusoe keeps a diary for an imaginary audience of others whom he may never meet. He delights in his solitary commerce with his man Friday. Prospero, the deposed duke of Milan, is ruler of spirits and powers on his enchanted isle, yet he discovers a wish to return to the world and to engage it as he has not done before.