Most of us are very familiar with the dance between peace and chaos. Everything is going smoothly or at least nothing stands out as being a major challenge. We feel like life has allowed us to take a deep breath. We feel we have finally reached balance. Then along comes something to deal with, something that demands our focus, and something that re-orders our priorities. We wonder when we are going to finally reach a peaceful equilibrium and blissful homeostasis.
In his book Toxic Success, Paul Pearsall writes that this state of balance isn’t something that is natural for us. Balance does not happen in nature; there are times of peace, followed by upheaval, and then the pattern repeats itself. As humans, he says, we may desire arriving at some perfect state, but this is not our nature. Life is always in process. For many of us, this doesn’t feel like good news.
I used to think whenever I achieved some desired state that I would be “done.” As someone who likes to get things done, I started to notice that no matter how neatly the goal or vision seemed to convey completion to me, once achieved there was always something beyond that achievement, state, or idea. The old saying that the top of one mountain is the bottom of the next took on personal meaning for me. However, the question occurred to me—if we could ever be done or complete, would we need to be students of the school of life on planet Earth?
Chaos allows us to create and recreate and can catapult us to the next level of personal and spiritual development if we work with it rather than resist it. If we yield to chaos and learn from it, chaos can be an incredible teacher. For those of us who love a bit of control, this idea may feel challenging to integrate.
I’m not talking about cheap contrived drama when I write of chaos. I’m writing about chaos that arises naturally from participation in life that forces us out of our comfort zone and spurs us on to our next level of human potential. If we feel like we needn’t grow or learn anymore, we aren’t advancing the plot. Perhaps paradoxically, this is not to suggest that you are not whole as you are, you are, but your expression in the world can be deepened and developed by embracing change and the dance between peace and chaos.
The chaos of the world can certainly enhance our spiritual development. We can embrace both the temporal and the spiritual and each can inform the choices of the other. A Buddhist may characterize this vacillation as the dance between samsara and nirvana. Samsara is about life in the world and nirvana is the blissful peace state of the enlightened master.
Many of us feel we want to be only in the state of nirvana and we get very discouraged and even plain bummed out when we have to deal with messiness of samsara. We are tempted to think if only we could be on a mountain top and in the lotus position blissed-out we would be happy! But chances are good you would still be struggling with samsara even then. Maybe your bum would be sore from sitting so long, maybe you would feel cold and chapped sitting on a Tibetan mountaintop, and perhaps you would miss your loved ones.
If we could accept from the beginning that temporal life is always in a state of change, we might be able to accept the dance as we are moving to the music.
Hindus believe that the chaos we speak of is maya or illusion. This perspective may help us deal with the chaos but not get caught up in it. Further, if we yearn neither for peace or chaos, samsara or nirvana, but accept both states, as if we are holding them gently in our open hand, we may develop and deepen our inner peace and truth that can be a great comfort to us in times up change, upheaval, and struggle. Let’s forgive ourselves for not yet operating from the perspective of an enlightened master and accept ourselves as learning pilgrims on life’s journey with its many vicissitudes.