We all want to control our lives, to some extent, so that we can feel safe. Change often throws a wrench in that plan, hurling curve balls and body blows that mess with the order you crave. Change can feel chaotic. Befriend chaos, and you will befriend change. Befriend change, and you will unlock the secret to a peaceful life. The first truth of change is that it happens and we are always in the middle of it. The second truth of change is to allow the future to emerge within, through and around you. The third truth of change is to embrace chaos. Buckle in, stay present, know who you are and get ready to grow.
The difference between a deck of cards and an iPhone illustrates the possibilities of chaos. The deck of cards is shuffled and completely disordered, a prime example of chaos. The iPhone is a prime example of order, an amazing machine, the result of decades of precision technology. What happens if I drop the cards on the ground? Are they any more or less ordered. No. They are no less chaotic than they were in my hands.
What about the iPhone? If I drop the iPhone, it will be less ordered. It could even be unfixable. The machine will be broken, and just as when I accidentally poured water in my iPhone a few years back, the technical geniuses at the Apple store will tell me to get a new machine because there is nothing they can do to restore order to my phone.
The deck of cards won’t organize itself. But it can easily be put into order with the help of an even moderately intelligent mind. It has potential to be put back into order.
When you think about it, this is incredible. The deck of cards which is completely chaotic has greater adaptability and potential for order than the precisely designed iPhone.
Chaos Theory says that even the most disorderly system contains within itself the seed of order. This is true for relationships, families, work teams, political systems, communities, even your own complex personal perspective. Margaret Wheatley describes it like this-
If a system is dislodged from its stable state, it moves first into a period of oscillation, swinging back and forth between different states. If it moves from this oscillation, the next state is full chaos, a period of total unpredictability. But in the realm of chaos, where everything should fall apart, the strange attractor comes into play and a new kind of order emerges from the chaos.
Maybe chaos feels too strong a word. Maybe the word “messy” is closer, like a messy conversation. You don’t know how to begin it, but you stumble in and when two people engage the conversation with humble curiosity, incredible things emerge. Or else maybe the word confusion seems more fitting. As Milton Erickson said, “If you are willing to be confused about what you know, what you know will grow bigger, better and more useful.”
This is why chaos (at least some chaos) is a gift. If the world functioned like a machine, it would struggle to handle change. Thankfully, the world is a living system and operates more like a deck of cards (sometimes it feels like a house of cards), where change becomes an opportunity for new things to emerge. If people operated like machines, we would struggle with change. But we are more like a deck of cards. With some reorienting of our perspective, such as recognizing that you can’t always control the cards you’re dealt, but you can always control the way you play them, and some reorganizing of our choices, change brings incredible new opportunities.
Think about Chaos Theory in terms of some intensely personal and difficult situations. On the day you lost your job, it felt like the sky was falling on all your hopes and plans. Little did you know that an incredible new path (blue sky) was unfolding in your chaos. The day your spouse told you he was leaving you, it felt like a heavy door was closing on your face and taking your feet out from under you. Little did you know the new love you would find. The chaos you felt when your parents died, when your beliefs started changing, when your kids left home….all were new opportunities in disguise.
As Friedrich Nietzsche said, “You need chaos in your soul to give birth to a dancing star.”
Chaos and Order
Chaos Theory is closely related to the Butterfly Effect. Change is powerful and not nearly as random as it often appears. Making one, small change such as changing your routine, smiling at a stranger or crossing the street to talk to a neighbor, can lead to incredible transformation. Chaos Theory reminds us of our power to co create the future through mindful participation in change.
This excerpt from the novel The Shack by W P Young describes the beautiful chaos of a garden. A fractal is a part that appears to break off from the whole, but retains the form of the whole and the potential to become whole again.
It was chaos in color. His eyes tried unsuccessfully to find some order in this blatant disregard for certainty. Dazzling sprays of flowers were blasted through patches of randomly planted vegetables and herbs, vegetation the likes of which Mack had never seen. It was confusing, stunning, and incredibly beautiful.”
“From above it’s a fractal…” Sarayu said over her shoulder.
Every step he [Mack] took changed whatever patterns he for an instant thought he had seen, and nothing was like it had been.
“A fractal…something considered simple and orderly that is actually composed of repeated patterns no matter how magnified. A fractal is almost infinitely complex. I love fractals, so I put them everywhere.”
“Looks like a mess to me,” said Mack.
“That IS exactly what this is—a mess. “But,” she looked back at Mack and beamed, “it’s still a fractal, too.
Fractals remind us that if you step back from what appears to be chaos, and take a higher or wider view of a situation, you see beauty and order that was hard to detect when you were close up. Change invites this high and wide perspective. As hard as it is, learn to stay open and awake in the middle of change because incredible new doors are opening for you. Change always comes bearing gifts of new possibilities.
As the artist Cezanne said, “We live in a rainbow of chaos.” Enjoy the color, variety and gifts that change brings to your life.