A human being is a complex system and this system is built to evolve. When the system takes in new information it has to re organise at a higher level to accommodate the new information. If the system either refuses to let information in, or resists it once it is in, the system will not re-organise at a higher level, instead it will return to its previous position.
The rub here is that for a system to evolve at a higher level, it has to go through a period of ‘chaos’, which is reorganisation in process and actually the old system falling apart and dying (necessary for the update). Chaos / falling apart can feel uncomfortable and we may instinctively want to stop the suffering and without realising it, resist the process, leading us back to where we began. A bit like a computer that hasn’t done system updates for a long time! The cost of not updating is seeing the world through outdated eyes, a bit like a sat nav that hasn’t been updated and takes you to the middle of nowhere instead of a business meeting you need to be at.
The reason we resist the chaos is because we identify with the old map, we think we are it and to lose it will mean losing ourself. We are in fact much more than the map!
The key here is to know that for reorganisation at a higher level to occur, chaos must be tolerated. Know that if you’re feeling chaos in your body mind system, the internal map can’t handle the new information coming into it. The system must update, must change to update, it must welcome the chaos. Chaos precedes positive change.
We often don’t get as far as recognising the chaos, because of medicating, entertaining ourselves, blaming, distraction. We forget that this is a growth opportunity and that by not taking it we are committing ourselves to repeat the stress the next time the information tries to enter the unevolved system.
So, we should be delighted when chaos begins, because it means our system will soon we able to accommodate what it cannot now.
The law of thermodynamics backs this, its science! Firstly there is something called entropy (the 2nd law of thermodynamics), which says that all things overtime break down and become more disordered, unless energy is added. Systems that can not only stay ordered, but become more ordered and more complex need a way to release entropy. The greater the complexity the more entropy can be dissipated. When entropy cannot be dissipated (through lack of complexity) the system begins to break down into chaos. At this point (Prigogine called a bifurcation point) the system makes a quantum leap, one that can accommodate what the old system could not, this new system will be able to dissipate more entropy and accommodate more input from outside itself.
So in therapy when old wounds come into awareness in new ways or new insights come up, it will be followed by a period of chaos, this is good news, you are not yet able to dissipate the entropy to accommodate this new awareness, so the clever system crumbles and makes itself bigger and better.
There are 2 stories I like that describe this, one is that if an elephant jumps into a puddle, there wont be any water left, but if it jumps into the ocean it hardly makes a splash.
The other is of a Buddhist figure called Avalokitesvara, who has vowed to help save all beings. For years they are saving beings and then they look around to see how many they have saved and finds they have hardly made a dent. In a moment of desperation they lose heart and crumble. What happens next however is that they are re formed with 1000 arms (with eyes in each hand) and 9 heads! This means they can see a lot more and help a lot more. Their system has gone into chaos and reorganised at a higher level.
This may not be at all easy, but I find this exciting, I want to ride the chaos and reorganise at a higher level and I love working with others who do too. The trick is to remember when the overwhelm starts, ah ha, there is a system upgrade about to happen, I am not my system so I am safe, so bring it on!
“The bad news is you’re falling, the good news is there’s no ground” – Trungpa