Swans moving gracefully across the water, what is hidden, is they are paddling furiously underneath the water.

Make chaos legible

From the day we are born, we are told how we should live. The world tells us what we need to do and avoid in order to be deemed “successful” and to ensure happiness. We may find ourselves with a niggling feeling that this isn’t right.  We might snap at our partners, our children, find ourselves holding a grudge against a colleague for no apparent reason. But then we think that everyone is in the same boat, this is life and chaos is something to be endured by everyone.

How do we make the feeling of chaos legible?

How can we learn to read chaos and find calm?

The incessant well-being buzz plays into this. The supplements with the Sunday Papers seem to have a “how to improve your life” essay every week. And I suppose, this could be deemed as a well-being essay, I can see the irony. This heightened focus on well-being can lead us to be on a treadmill of seeking constant improvement and perpetual forward motion. This, in turn, leads us to strive for ideals that can exacerbate the sense of chaos deep within us. We are living at the very start of the digital age, and as we still fondly remember the pre-smartphone era, we are still finding our way to cope adequately with this constant onslaught of mass media. As soon as we look at our phones, there is a bombardment of hidden and overt messages that play on our self-worth. Shame creeps in and shame is one of the seediest emotions we feel.

Shame keeps us silent. Shame takes away our freedom.

You have a desire to learn how to dance. Shame tells you “Who do you think you are?”

You answer, silently, “Who do I think I am? I am not a dancer, what a stupid thing to want”.

Shame holds us back in so many ways and with the rise of “fix yourself” culture it has a tendency to hook us in even more. Shame forces us to deny desire. Desire, wanting certain things in our lives for ourselves, is normal. Yet, shame causes internal chaotic havoc and unfortunately, we pay this too much attention. Shame creates doubt and fear. More so, when we hold back, others can see this. They see this because we have a tendency to judge others outwardly, this reflects the inner dialogue of judgment going on inside our heads.

Last week, while out walking, I passed a lake and saw three swans gliding along effortlessly. They look serene and calm but under the water, they are paddling very hard. Their appearance reflects one thing and what literally goes on below the surface reflects the inner workings of our heads a lot of the time.

In 1980, Alvin Toffler published his book The Third Wave. He wrote,

“…..most people surveying the world around them today see only chaos. They suffer a sense of personal powerlessness and pointlessness”.

Forty years later, this is as applicable as ever.

His solution?

“Individuals need life structure. A life lacking in comprehensive structure is an aimless wreck. The absence of structure breeds breakdown. Structure provides the relatively fixed points of reference we need”.

Structure, in this case, is bringing a routine into your day. Routine takes out complicated details. An example of a daily routine is to have the same breakfast. Plan your meals and buy accordingly. Get up and go to bed at the same time. While keeping a routine, we don’t want to slip into Automatic Pilot, we want to be aware of what we are doing at the exact time we are doing this.

Tara Brach, a clinical psychologist, and renowned meditation teacher suggests that when learning to meditate, people need to have anchors, places they can come back over and over again. In mindfulness practice, this is the breath. Feeling the breath entering and exiting your body over and over again provides a structure. Coming back to the breath while doing the routine parts of your day avoids the pitfall of Automatic Pilot.

When we have a routine, a structure and a way to anchor ourselves we find space to examine our most powerful delusions. We have the space to step off the treadmill and develop self-awareness. We are fed contradictory messages from the moment we are born. Only be recognising the assumptions we have made about life can we live a more fulfilled experience.

When we recognise our assumptions and opinions are just that, they are only one person’s point of view and are not facts, we can see that a lot of the seemingly heartfelt messages fed to us from self-made gurus and motivational “experts” teach us to communicate a certain powerful version outwardly and leave us feeling inwardly inadequate.

What can we do?

Develop Compassion

People are talking about their feelings, people are developing emotional literacy.  The old-regime, focussing on external achievements (good income, desirable partner, academic achievement etc), encourages striving, and with the striving, comes stress, judgement and a disjointed relationship with who you are.  The old-regime that we are evolving out of didn’t allow for personal compassion.

Compassion is a radical act of self-love and self-acceptance. It is putting your hand on your heart and telling yourself that you’re doing the best you can. Compassion is nurturing yourself and listening to yourself. As you develop compassion, shame will be there alongside it. Shame will test you and with more compassionate practice, you will begin to welcome the shame in, face it and tell it where to go. Compassion towards oneself is a HUGE undertaking if it has been dormant for many years. Yet, as with everything, small steps do lead to long distances being covered.

Start with what you have. The clothes on your back, the food on your plate. Keep yourself warm and fed. When you find your mind wandering to that place of not being enough or judging/gossiping about others take a step back.

Our focus of attention is waning. Distraction leads us to crave, judge, feel less-than. This is your life. Not the shiny future you think you’ll have when you crave and get your hands on x,y, and z. This right now is your life. To move away from the chaos, we must accept this, embrace it and reject the “perfect life” that is given to us by the media we consume.

We don’t need much to survive.  But we want more and more, striving to change this and that about ourselves to fit into some unattainable mould. Thinking that this next thing will satisfy us. We are human, we will never be wholly satisfied. However, we can use this sense of dissatisfaction as a drive to fully acknowledge and appreciate what we already have.

Taking a moment to figure out how we really feel, instead of letting old patterns decide for us, is one of the most authentic things we can do.  Life is not about victory and defeat. Life is living in the murky middle, showing up every day and taking small steps within a structure and routine that enables us to look back every so often and see how far we have come.


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While you are here

Gratitude practice:
Using your ten fingers, count and say out loud ten things that you are grateful for TODAY.

What small, seemingly inconsequential things put a smile on your face?


Photo by Robert Ruggiero on Unsplash

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