“Chaos is what we’ve lost touch with. This is why it is given a bad name. It is feared by the dominant archetype of our world, which is Ego, which clenches because its existence is defined in terms of control.”
― Terence McKenna
There’s a little known secret that’s reserved for the quiet minds who pursue some measure of personal enlightenment, one that is stumbled into somewhat unexpectedly by those who are committed in the search for the kind of lasting fulfillment that true self-actualization brings about.
While terms like enlightenment or self-actualization themselves are operative and interchangeable (say, with any term which encapsulates the notion of mental liberation or equilibrium, with the euphoric revelation of this kind), it’s nonetheless a common denominator that most of us seem to be striving for: personal peace.
Life is chaos — and we should embrace it.
From Bibles to Buddhas
In truth, such a realization is only one component among many in a discussion where there are multiple truths and multiple avenues to consider.
This particular avenue is simply one vein, albeit a critical one, in the journey towards the kind of fulfilment that we seem to be looking for — relentlessly.
And while it, alone, doesn’t shake us to our core, it functions as a catalyst for that underlying and constant liberation that we seek, resonating with a self-evident dynamism apparent in all facets of our existence.
It’s an echo that reverberates through everything we do and everything we think, creating a wealth of meaning from the mundane and aesthetically framing the beauty of life as we know it, even in the most trivial corners of our existence.
That we exist in a reality whereby chaos dictates all — we ought to lean into this fact through a virtue of spontaneity rather than an apprehension of change.
This underlying quality of our existence is made apparent in all of the methods by which we study our place in this world. It’s something espoused from nearly all religions and philosophies — Eastern and Western alike — as well as the various laws of nature, of thermodynamics, of motion, chemistry, biology, physics.
It’s something that science understands and tries to resist (by incessantly trying to dissect and organize a sense of order from disorder) and something which underpins the fabrics of our political, economic and cultural systems.
It’s something that history has made abundantly clear to us despite the limited perspective we possess as we flow through time and something that makes us inherently obsessed with innovating our way into the future without realizing why.
Understanding the beautiful chaos of life, and the spontaneity of our existence, can ultimately make or break our experience of it.
Intellect versus Intuition
It hadn’t been until I realized the fact that this principle — of chaos and spontaneity — flows through intellect as much as it does through intuition that I began to truly appreciate its all-encompassing presence.
In the various fields relating to science — chemistry, biology, and physics especially, we see this principle at play throughout an infinitude of contexts.
In the chemical reactions that occur all around us; in the weather patterns and climate trends; in the way that heat is transferred and in the rules of entropy or radioactive decay; in the geological events of our planet or the coronal activity of our star; in the microbiological and atomic worlds that we’ve only recently begun to explore with relative understanding.
Mathematics are an effort (and a good but flawed one at that) to create some semblance of sense out of the nonsense around us. While our application of knowledge to this world (be it through math, through conceptualized laws of understanding, through experimentation, etc.) can be argued as a counter-example to the inherent chaos of our reality, they are simply the actions of a species trying to comprehend its own existence. Of applying form, of interpreting and organizing information.
Our actions to order our world aren’t exactly a lost cause and they are, in my opinion, wholly necessary if the priority of our collective existence remains grounded in the cultivation of knowledge and the perpetuation of our progress as a species. But this doesn’t mean that our reality is susceptible to our understanding, and it doesn’t mean that we can effectively change the simple fact that we exist in a universe whereby chaos is a constant.
On the intuitive side of it all, things are a bit more accepting of this principle.
Whereas our intellectual capacity has at least acknowledged it (thanks to the work of minds like Newton or Heisenberg) or tried to fit it into some measure of a formulation (chaos theory seems an ostensible example), our intuitive understanding has whole-heartedly embraced it.
Heraclitus’s River. The Tao. The Brahman. The Logos. The Matrix.
Many notions floating through the teachings that emanate from the Buddha to the Bible alike, through ancient Vedic texts, the I Ching, ancient Egyptian wisdom or Greek mythology teach us that we cannot attain the kind of peace that we seem to be pursuing unless we accept the chaotic nature of our reality.
The stars do it in the celestial processions that swirl around over us in cosmic whirlpools of transformation. The mountains do it in the way that they erode into rivers and plateaus of non-permanence. We do it ourselves as cultures and civilizations thrive and die over time.
We possess an intrinsic acceptance of change, despite how uncomfortable it may make us on an individual and collective level. We know that the source of all stress is a lack of control and it is this lack of control which proves to be the antithesis of embracing chaos.
In other words, we can see an interesting contrast at play.
The unease brought about by lacking control over an uncontrollable world versus an embodiment of the idea that we’re mere passengers on the ride.
This is, ironically, real liberation.
So what about all the things that we find ourselves routinely doing to exert control over our lives? The fact that we can build businesses, put ourselves into states of good health, take ‘control’ of our minds, make a difference in the world and manifest our own destinies.
From the privileged perspectives of those who find themselves with the time and opportunity to read these words, it may seem like we have a lot of control over our circumstances. But if we compare our positions to any throughout history, or even any other in our current world, we can see that control is far from something we can ever assuredly claim.
Moreover, if we had the ability to compare our current circumstances with those awaiting us in the future (we’re all destined to experience some measure of personal calamity or misfortune if we haven’t yet), we’d see all the more clearly that any assumption that we can truly control our circumstances and our fates is a foolish one.
No matter how good of a physiological state we put ourselves in, countless physical ailments can end us instantaneously. No matter how much wealth we can accumulate, we’re never immune from some kind of personal ruin. No matter how much control we think we have over our minds, we’re always one good pressure test away from realizing its not a question over control in the first place.
We don’t have to like the fact that life is a string of chaotic events, glued together by our reactions and interpretations — we just have to accept it.
However, it would behoove us to spend a little more time focusing on the interpretations — on the in-betweens which are book-ended by the events.
Our perspective is the energy that flows through the chaos to create the kind of life we do or don’t wish for. To give or take meaning. To contextualize and to steal some semblance of order from disorder, just because.
Ultimately, it is our minds that create the static which underpins the beautiful spontaneity of our existence.