We spend a good chunk of our energy trying to avoid chaos. We try to order things, putting them in neat little compartments. We are chasing a nice, quiet life where everything fits and everything makes sense.
With this being a paramount agenda for most humans, it is no small wonder how chaotic life seems. From the grander scales, like governments and popular culture, down to the closest ones, our character and our emotions, things certainly have a feel of chaos. No matter how much we try to avoid it.
But chaos is not always a terrible thing. We strive to control and make sense of our circumstances and the world around us, even ourselves. Our attempts to control are like holding a beach ball underwater. Forces outside our control always prevail just like buoyancy always gets the best of the submerged ball.
As terrifying as chaos is, there is a certain opportunity that comes from it. An opportunity to learn, to reset, to be better. An opportunity to change.
On the doorstep of chaos is our patterned thinking. We develop a System One and repeat it over and over again. We start to develop expectations, a worldview, and even a particular view of ourselves.
With this pattern settled, our lives become a desperate attempt to reinforce it. These patterns become the labels for our compartmentalized life. We try to shuffle everything we face – emotions, relationships, circumstances – into one of these finely labeled compartments.
But the world is more complicated than we can ever imagine. Being a human is hard. And just when it seems we might have that beach ball secure, we are on the precipice of the surface being punctured.
System 1 Strained
There are a lot of reasons our System One becomes strained. We find the patterns aren’t working like we expected. We find ourselves challenged by others with different patterns. Something happens that totally shakes the entire system.
More often than not, our System One becomes strained because of inefficiency. It just isn’t working. We start to suspect there is “more” to life. We start to get frustrated with others, blaming them for the failures of our expectations to produce the fruit we had hoped for.
Chaos, at least one kind of chaos, is what happens when our System One is strained. A tragic event. An unexpected change in relationship. A constant malaise that becomes one straw too many.
The Invitation of System 2
An unchecked strained System One results in the kind of chaos that leads to violence and oppression, suicide and substance abuse. Our deepest fears become self-fulfilling-prophecies. We are angry our system has failed us and so we punish others for it, give up, or lose hope. We start to own chaos, making it a part of who we are rather than a circumstance we endure.
But there is another option. When chaos strains our System One, rather than being destroyed by disappointment, we could be spurred into growth.
In the framework of life, a strained System One is meant to lead us into System Two. This is a system of deliberate thinking, reassessing, learning. It challenges us to think critically, differently, deeper. It is an invitation to change.
As we engage our System Two consistently, it transforms our System One. We get in shape by exercising consistently, our body eventually getting used to what once made it sore. We adopt spiritual disciplines or relationship habits that enhance our communication where once we were filled with frustration and confusion.
We cannot change without a little bit of chaos. It is how we learn, how we become better. Even in the worst of situations, there is a chance to make a decision about what to do next. How to grow. How to change.