Chaos theory

Michèle Cooke

We cannot but live in chaos. To assume anything else, or to desire anything else is simply an illusion, delusion. Yet we all strive for order, and are hurt, angry, astonished, when life thwarts us. We can, and do react in two ways: we either accept the chaos and try to disentangle it. Or we run from it in fear and loathing. Probably none of us do just one or the other. Most of us probably do both. And this is the human dilemma: The tragedy that holds us back; and the agony that enables us to escape, if only for a little while, into a semblance of peace and harmony.

To live is to communicate with others. To communicate is to create continuous chaos. We each of us live in our own little world. Quite literally, a very little world. One in which we can find our way. Which makes sense to us, because we have found a way through it. We have dotted the way with signposts we can read, pointing to places we want to get to, that we know, or think, will do us good. Our own little world, that we have put in order and have learned, perhaps with a few little stumbles and a few dead ends, how to navigate. We even people this world with friends, lovers, other living beings who, though they may not necessarily have a map of our world, are willing and able to read it and follow it.

But then along come the real living breathing feeling people, each with their own map of their own world and their own ideas of which is the right way to go. Not only have they not read our map; they either don’t know that we have one or they couldn't give a damn. Why, indeed, should they? After all, it’s comfortable where they are. They know their way around, they can read the signposts. It’s nice to feel that you know what you’re doing. That things make sense.

So course we don’t like it when someone else barges in and tells us, shows us, that our signposts are pointing in the wrong direction and perhaps even leading us nowhere. It hurts. It has to.

Our carefully constructed world has to crumble so that it can be rebuilt with more solid foundation. We all have to be dragged kicking and screaming into new knowledge, insight, into understanding. We resist it with all our might. Why? Because rearranging our picture of reality is always an ordeal, always turmoil. always chaos. For chaos is not simply dis-order. It is the clashing and confrontation of different orders that are fighting for space, hurting and bruising one another.

We can only learn through this suffering because it is only by the chaos of confrontation that the reality we move in, the comfort zone that we can cope with, is questioned.

Love and security are not enough. Love opens us to the very possibility of someone else’s reality being valid. And yet, at the same time, it cocoons us in the illusion that this will be the same as ours. Is this why the shock of difference hits us with such force?

And security is simply the refusal to see, to accept that we live in chaos. There is no shelter from the chaos of living. Except death. As long as we have the presence, or memory, of other people, we are buffeted by the storm of their realities raging against ours. Even the hermit had to live in the world before s/he could leave it.

Yet, in the end, love is our only hope and our only chance for moments of peace. If we define love as the willingness to let somebody into our world and to allow theirs to impinge on us, then love must hurt. It is only by suffering that we act on the need to escape the pain of chaos. We can only do this by re-scrambling our order. By creating space in our world for new possibilities, seeing and allowing new ways of being for us and those we want in our world.

In the children’s story, the Velveteen Rabbit, toys become real by being loved. But the Rabbit doesn’t become truly real, doesn’t see or feel all that he can do and be until he has been forced into sorrow, until he cannot but weep. It is only then, when his tears fall, that the flower grows and blooms, that the toyroom magic begins to work and he is granted the use of all his faculties. He can only become what he truly can be once he has known what pain is.

And this pain must perforce be physical. It is the tear that is wrung from the depths of his sorrow that confirms not only the reality of his suffering but, in doing so, allows him to be real, to feel even more intensely and to embrace life.

There is no body-soul dichotomy. Our bodies are not merely the vehicles of our soul; they are its manifestation. Emotional pain is always physical; it is in us, in our bodies. We can only love by being, and being is bodily living. All else is dreaming, wishing.

Divorced from the materiality of the lived life (Martin Buber), there can be no real relating to others, no actuality of the now, the present moment. And no spontaneous lived truth. All else is in the realm of the reified, is thought or spoken , thus always at one remove from the reality of living.

Yet: does understanding, learning, strengthening the structure and base of our constructed world really ease the pain? Is this why the cut worm forgives the plough, as William Blake tells us? The worm is supposed to understand that the plough is coming from another world, one that has to rip through his world and thus through him. This is what he understands and is why he forgives. So we are told, or at least led to understand. A cut worm regenerates, they say. But only if two-thirds of it are left intact. Otherwise it cannot survive. Do we have to understand to forgive? Can we only forgive if we learn from the pain? If we can integrate the new order into our own and become more whole again? Love is the only possible salvation: The only act that opens up us enough to let other orders, other worlds, other people into our own. But it cannot, and does not always save us. Even the worm, when torn in two, cannot forgive the plough.

Are we more resilient than the humble earthworm? Does the act, the fact of loving save us from resignation? A self-fulfilling prophecy in the best possible sense? I love you therefore I cannot but continue to love you. To love is to want to understand and to accept that your world is valid for you. Even if it rips through mine.