As human beings, we crave certainty and order—concepts reinforced by evolutionary theory. After all, how could the “fittest” survive if they weren’t clever enough to make their lives a little less uncertain? Yet at the same time, chaos exists in both human beings and nature—the turbulent sea, the fluctuations of wildlife, the oscillations of our hearts and brains, even the outbreak of pathogens. Disturbances create disequilibrium but allow creativity.
To find calm in chaos, it’s helpful to first recognize the value of disorder in your life. Then you can learn to acknowledge and move through chaos with seven simple steps.
In the midst of change—times like right now—everything can feel chaotic. Nevertheless, when we are overwhelmed by chaos, it can serve a valuable purpose. While chaos can seem ominous because we’re taught to avoid it, in reality it may be refocusing our minds and positioning our psyches for growth.
In fact, our lives can be the most exciting, and feel the most rewarding, when we experience chaos. How can that be? The hormone our bodies release in response to stressful, exciting or dangerous situations—such as utter and uncontrollable chaos—is called adrenaline, and many of us take part in certain activities (from skydiving to watching horror flicks) just to relish that adrenaline rush. And in truth, without some degree of chaos, our lives become stagnant. Yet to trust in chaos is a learned behavior.
What Is a Chaotic Mind?
The potential for chaos lurks in everyone and everything. Yet chaos and order are barely one step away from each other. Unsettling as it may seem, our confusion, disturbance or doubt is simply the journey of our system moving into and out of chaos—or into and out of order.
The play of chaos goes something like this: First, we experience a feeling of turbulence or disturbance. We move into a period of vacillation—torn between opposing responses. As our chaos goes full out, it feels like we’re in limbo. When everything seems ready to fall apart, this strange kind of force comes into play. It’s as though a magnet pulls everything into form. Where there was once chaos, there is now an inherent order: our relationships fall into place; the decision we need becomes clear; the project we’re working on starts to gel.
How Do You Calm a Chaotic Mind?
Right now, thanks to the pandemic and its fallout, we’re living through one of the most chaotic times the world has ever experienced. I firmly believe we’ve all become obsessed with the tumult of the moment, tuning in to every form of media as often as possible. But from contagions to shootings to protests to economic failures, only one thing is certain: chaos and the uncertainty it causes.
When chaos strikes, it can help to look at the feelings it can generate. Use them to reshape the way you respond to negative feelings and build personal fortitude and strength. Recognize that you are being asked to change, embrace new skills and move forward. Chaos can be a great motivator, prodding and pushing you to keep going, renew your goals and question your behaviors. As the renowned writer Arthur Miller noted, “Chaos is the score upon which reality is written.”
With that thought in mind, and the acknowledgement that there is no clinical research on how to overcome chaos, here are seven simple yet effective strategies to help you move through chaos, stop feeling overwhelmed by it and come out feeling calm.
Move Through Chaos with Seven Simple Steps
- Trust in yourself. When you’re in chaos, trust your inner voice. Believe in your guiding values and continue to recognize and welcome what’s positive in your life.
- Have faith in a higher order. Whatever happens, the structure of your world will maintain its shape. It won’t dissolve. Focus will emerge.
- Know that sanity emerges in purpose. Your main concern is not to gain pleasure or avoid pain, but rather to see a meaning in life. Meaning is the attractor; it pulls your cohesive self through. Use this time to pause, ponder, reboot and launch a “Project Self” to help you build a calmer and more focused you.
- Allow yourself to grow. Pulling back does not get you through. Simply discover the state of calm through introspective practice. Be gentle with whatever you’re going through.
- Look in the direction you want to go. You may feel like a ship at sea being tossed around. But keep pointing the ship toward the shore or the light. Keep breathing and steering the boat. Know you’re going to get through it all. In the end, there will be a wide, calm, and a deep delight.
- Be willing to be disturbed. This is the challenge. Once you emerge from chaos to order without too many bruises, you’ll know you can throw yourself into the maelstrom of chaos anytime, and you’ll still be all right.
- Keep moving. The next time you find yourself in chaos, keep moving and remember what Nietzsche said: “You must have chaos within you to give birth to a dancing star.”
(Originally published for AGEIST Magazine)
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