Navigating through chaos

We all get overwhelmed sometimes.

Our stories, resources, and energy can be insufficient to accommodate a new reality. We become disorganized, inefficient. Like any complex system, we enter a chaos state. This is an ever-present possibility for even the most enlightened or skilled individual.

In a chaos state, we often find ourselves clinging to old ideas, to losses, to hopes for the future. We try to run the old program, even though the operating system has changed. Sometimes reality will shift back to something more pleasant and familiar. But it doesn’t always.

As St. John of the Cross said: “Swiftly, with nothing spared, I am being completely dismantled.”

It’s helpful to recognize during these times that our losses are always illusionary. We lose our ideas of what should be or should have been. But reality persists independent of our ideas.

When we stop clinging to our imaginary stories, we start the process of re-organizing in a way that’s congruent with reality. We find new resources to keep us stable. Our energy reserves start building up again. We can see alternative stories that might help us make sense of the senseless. Our old attachments die. We become something new. This way we can be okay with great loss, great hardship, and great change.

Our culture values a happy face. Positive interpretations. Continuous success. These can be virtues. But they can’t always nurture us. Life can sometimes be horrible and it changes in a blink.

The deepest wisdom comes not from avoiding or denying chaos but from learning how to move through it skillfully. If you find yourself in a dark place:

  • Remember you are not your thoughts. Do not attach to them.
  • Seek help. When we are overwhelmed, we develop tunnel vision and miss valuable resources all around us.
  • Focus on small steps. You may not be able to control your circumstances, but you can control your attention.
  • Try new things. In order to shift internally, we often must first change something externally.
  • Create a space for grief. Grief is a painful but sure-fire program for dealing with loss.
  • To the extent that you can: connect with your body, feel your emotions, challenge your thinking.

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