I just read about the soaring sales of antidepressants in the United States, a trend that’s been going on for months. There’s little doubt similar things are going on in other countries. It doesn’t take much introspection to conclude why this is happening. We live in a world of chaos, only some people didn’t get the memo until recently and now sadly they’re grappling with the chaos on their very doorstep. I don’t say that to be smug or snide and I hope nobody takes it that way. My own encounters with chaos began earlier in life and have continued since, but everyone’s experience is different. It’s from my years of facing chaos that I write this post, hoping it will help people to deal with the current situation and maybe future events as well.
Chaos is what happens when you make a plan for life and that plan gets wildly thrown from the tracks, maybe even so much as catching fire and exploding. It’s the sudden terminal cancer diagnosis when you have so much to live for, the violent car accident on the way home from a fantastic vacation, economic disruption right when you make that critical career leap. It’s also just a part of existence. This world has always been chaotic as a rule of thumb. You might escape chaos some of the time, especially the more potent, wilder forms, but sooner or later it will come for you and that’s a scary realization.
What do you do when chaos strikes? The natural tendency for many is to cower or hide. The thought, whether conscious or not, is that perhaps the chaos will subside or move on if they don’t engage it. That’s rarely the case and in fact such a strategy can actually increase the chaotic elements in your life.
While you must engage chaos, there’s a wrong way and a right way to do it. You can try lashing out at the chaos and hope to eradicate it from your personal sphere that way. The thing is chaos has a tendency to absorb that kind of energy and send it back at you in the worst ways.
If you plead with chaos it won’t subside and it might become worse, especially if malicious people are part or all of the source. Same goes for trying to reason with them.
It might sound like you don’t have a lot of options, and maybe that’s because you actually don’t. The only real way I’ve found to effectively deal with chaos is to calmly yet firmly contend with it. That might sound stupidly simple, but the practice is far from it. When you feel your back is against a wall, or worse your feet are about to slide off a cliff, the last thing you want to do is stay calm and apply even, optimal effort. Putting off that natural reaction is exactly what you must do if you really want to change the situation for the better in the long run.
To fully contend with the chaos you must first understand it. Of course, your gut reaction is that you just want to get rid of the thing, not examine it, so this is where most people are done and they go on living with the chaos negatively impacting their life indefinitely. If you take the time and go through the pain of figuring out how the chaos arose, why it came for you, and what you could have done to prevent it, you’re ready to really contend with it. This requires you to not shirk responsibility while crying you’re a victim. You must strive to gain understanding since fighting an enemy you don’t understand doesn’t work.
This process of fully understanding the chaos in your life increases your awareness of things you were likely naive about, whether willingly or not. Knowledge is power but knowledge can also cause heightened awareness and more pain. This is another hangup for many since they can’t or won’t push through the sometimes exquisite suffering enlightenment causes. We as a society like to think of knowledge as insulating us from the negative aspects of existence and always multiplying our happiness automatically, but there’s some truth to the saying “ignorance is bliss.” Knowledge can absolutely bring with it pain, but without it you can’t effectively contend with chaos. So, which do you choose?
If you have a greater understanding of the truth of your situation in life, plus you keep moving forward despite the increase in pain as your awareness intensifies, you stand a chance of subsequently increasing not only your capacity to feel happiness but also your overall sense of satisfaction while gaining an unyielding sense of purpose, and other highly positive emotions. That, in turn, allows you to see the way through the chaos, reshaping it into a constructive situation. You can’t get all that by trying to hide from the chaos or just lashing out at it in anger.
Image by Steven Symes. All rights reserved for this blog post text and the accompanying photograph.