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.
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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