We have been experiencing “chaos as grand potential” throughout our entire history. From the first potential of life that exploded from the stars and hurled across a universe in chaotic fashion, to the evolution of all species on our Earth, to the splitting of cells that form life in a mother’s womb.
Growth and evolution emerge from chaos.
Another way of thinking about chaos is the process of positive disintegration - originally used in psychology by Kazimierz Dąbrowski who viewed tension and anxiety as a necessary part of any personal growth process. This term has also been used by Joanna Macy to describe how living systems evolve; when continued feedback tells a system that it has become dysfunctional, the system responds by changing.
In other words, when old ways of doing things are no longer adaptive or effective, we are catapulted into a disintegration process, or chaos, so that new ways of doing things can emerge that are positive for a sustainable life.
Chaos is a necessary part of the process any living system, individual, or community goes through to adapt, evolve and remain sustainable in their environment.
For people, that environment may be our own personal body/mind, our families, our workplace, our society, or our collective global community.
From the chaos, or disintegration, comes the grand potential for something wholly new to arise – something that surpasses the old way of being and has become a more inclusive and integrated way of being.
I am reminded of Pema Chodron’s book When Things Fall Apart dedicated to finding hope when we are suffering from pain or loss; when we are in the midst of disintegration. Through her soothing words, she assists her readers to remain open and aware through the confusion and anxiety of chaos.
Pain and grief often inhabit the space of chaos. As familiar ways prove no longer useful, we are thrust into a space of unknowing and chaos before new ways can fully develop.
I reflect on the grief I have experienced in my own life, and on the grief in others that I have witnessed and supported. When loss and change erupt in our lives, we are left in the emotional wake to re-create who it is we are in our changed world.
We are left to find a new way to make meaning and to find adaptive strategies to live on and continue to thrive. It may mean letting go of certain roles or identities, or it may mean embracing new ones and honoring the process.
This doesn’t happen overnight. Before new ways emerge, we are left in confusion. We are left in anxiety. We are left in pain and grief.
In this chaotic space we may feel fear, uncertain and out of control. We may react and grasp for anything that might give us a sense of comfort, control or allow us to numb out from feeling at all.
We see this on a personal scale as well as on a global scale - whether grasping for escape through another drink, Netflix series or new pair of shoes, or whether grasping for control through declaring another war, or engaging in oppressive acts against others.
Positive disintegration can only happen if we stay aware, open and conscious to see the potential that lies within the chaos, and to then act to create new ways that are sustainable.
If we learn to navigate our own personal grief and chaos in conscious ways remaining calm, open and trusting, then we gain the ability to navigate the grief and chaos in our world in the same way.
Remaining conscious and open is absolutely necessary because globally we are in the midst of a significant disintegration process, and we need to change how we live.
We know that the capitalist industrial growth complex that currently defines our global economics and social systems has become dysfunctional. We are witnessing extreme abuses of power, violence and tactics of separation – all rooted in fear and grasping for control.
We are all experiencing the impacts of this global chaotic time – grief, anxiety, uncertainty. We are also witnessing efforts to make changes for a sustainable and equitable future.
Joanna Macy calls this time The Great Turning. In her book, Coming Back to Life – Practices to Reconnect Our Lives, Our World, she exemplifies many of the ways we are seeing the process of positive disintegration carry out in our world.
From direct action and legislative work to slow down the process of environmental and social destruction, to academics and grass-root groups working to educate about the impacts of our capitalist industrial system, to the cognitive revolutions and spiritual awakenings that deeply shift our consciousness toward a sustainable way of being on this Earth.
We have the ability to stand strong in the winds of chaos, to choose openness and compassion, to hold fast to our vision of a vibrant and sustainable future, and to act in loving ways, now.
We are seeing new forms of sustainable practices emerge, witnessing the resurgence of ancestral ways of knowing, and experiencing shifts of consciousness.
There is no one person that will save our planet or human family. It takes the whole global community to respond, which means it takes each and every one of us to step forward in our own ways to shine our light and hold hope, trust and compassion through this time of chaos.
Each one of us has a gift - has words to share, actions to motivate, art to show, or ways of being that exude love, trust and connection.
There is a place for everyone – whether it is the front-lines of direct action and resistance, raising conscious and compassionate children, or actively healing your own wounds - these all contribute to the healing of our world.
Joanna Macy says, you cannot "fix" the world, but you can take part in its self-healing. Healing wounded relationships within you and between you is integral to the healing of our world.
Each one of us who chooses love over fear, feeling over numbing, and compassionate action over apathy, contributes to the emergence of a sustainable new way of being in our world.
I invite you to reflect on the ways you are responding in your own life to a global future of love and sustainability? What are the gifts you bring to this world? How are you actively living your gifts every day? I would love for you to share in the comments below!
And I thank you for remaining open and compassionate amid this time of chaos as grand potential.
A few weeks ago I spent two days with 30 other people immersed in collective grief expression and ritual, led by Francis Weller - a soulful author, therapist and grief ritual practitioner whom I greatly admire.
It was a time of learning and reconnecting with practices that felt like a lost tradition within our soulful right as emotional and spiritual beings. It was also a time of reflection, connection and witnessing each other in whatever grief and rage arose.
Although many things arose for me that weekend, the one pervasive sorrow that is always present within my heart is the pain I feel for our world.
Six years ago I was immobilized by this pain - the despair knocked me flat. It took a long time to regain my footing. (An experience I will share more about in later posts). I am now grateful for this time of devastation, as it has gifted me a deeper experience of our oneness and connection with all life.
And, I am continually learning how to live with it, and to harness it in a way that it is a gift.
I have learned that creating opportunities for me to share this pain in the presence of others is the most healing thing I can do…for myself and the world.
Our world needs our tears. Joanna Macy eloquently writes:
The truth of our inter-existence, made real to us by our pain for the world, helps us see with new eyes.
It is why I do the work that I do. I feel called to create more community spaces for us to share our grief and pain with each other so it can be held and then released and transformed into compassionate awareness, action and collective healing. So that we can see with new eyes.
It gives me hope.
I believe that grief for the suffering of our world is a form of activism – it is necessary, especially when we live in a society that makes it so easy for us to numb out.
That weekend in sacred ritual space, Francis invited us to write. One of my journal prompts was “I will not pretend…” and I had 10 minutes of stream of consciousness, before sharing my raw words within the communal grief container that we had created together.
I now share this little piece of my heart with you, in its raw anger and sadness. My heart continues to reach out and continues to break open – spacious enough for both grief and love.
I will not pretend
I will not pretend to be okay with how the world is.
I will not pretend that oil in our rivers, suffocating beautiful life is okay.
I will not pretend that our political and corporate systems are led by conscious, heart-centered individuals, when in fact I mainly see wounded children living in their shadow qualities that out-pour as greed, selfishness, and power hunger – blind to the oneness that we are.
I will not pretend that living in a society that numbs out doesn’t affect me to my very soul – my heart broken every-day.
I will not pretend that pictures of emaciated polar bears on my Facebook screen doesn’t pierce my heart so sharply that I am left alone in my kitchen to cry the tears of the world.
I will not pretend that I am okay with the violence that blares from TV screens in millions of homes each night across the globe, feeding fear and insecurity and separateness.
I will not pretend that news stories of good people saving a whale from suffocating on plastic is something to celebrate – our own need to feel like we are saviors, when in fact we are drowning our earth in the toxicity of our own waste.
The whales are SPEAKING to us – they are making themselves known – they are crying for help. They are signs.
We are ONE. We are fucking ONE.
When will we come to see that what we do to the beauty around us is what we are doing to ourselves?
When will we feel that another clear-cut forest is another puncture wound in our own precious body?
I will not pretend that things are okay.
I rage against the status quo. I rage against anything that numbs.
And under my rage is a profound sorrow.
And under that sorrow is a profound connection.
This is my heart calling out. Let’s gather together, drink our tears together, and let this elixir wake us up to re-remember where we came from.
And in this re-remembering, we will come to know intimately that we are all one. And, we will be called out of our slumber to act in service for our earth, our cosmos, ourselves.
Thank you for witnessing.
Shauna Janz, MA is a teacher, mentor, and facilitator at the crossroads of grief, trauma, ritual and ancestral healing. She is the founder of Sacred Grief offering immersive online programs for folks interested in deepening their skills in these areas.
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