A Peace Day Lesson on the Benefit of Chaos

Happy International Peace Day! Are you feeling peaceful? Many of us are not. Many of us feel like these times are the most chaotic we have ever tried to live through. The combination of the challenges of the coronavirus, the economic downfall, the ongoing social justice movement, and the political situation makes almost everything in our lives feel uncertain, especially since our intense polarization over almost everything seems to make any attempt at compromise feel doomed.

To help me stay healthy, spiritually and physically, I take a daily meditation walk of two miles every morning. Some days I participate in group meditations by phone as I walk. On a group meditation call this morning, the leader shared this post by the Dalai Lama from his Facebook page:

“We can change our world for the better, not through the use of force, but by developing inner peace. It may feel like a huge task, but peace must be created by humanity, who are a collection of individuals. If one person creates inner peace within themselves and shares it with ten other people and each of them does the same — we can imagine influencing all 7 billion human beings. Let that be our #PeaceDayChallenge” -HHDL

During the meditation call, I found myself falling in and out of the collective feeling of peace this group is committed to producing in the world. I continued my walk after the call, trying to figure out how I could better embody that call to live in inner peace.

It was a brisk fall morning, and leaves and acorns were falling all around me. But then I saw one special leaf. It was a star-shaped sweetgum tree leaf, but it was not plunging directly to the earth like most of the leaves. Instead, it gently twirled in perfect spirals as it made its way to the ground. Its journey was so beautiful and so peaceful that it took my breathe away.

It immediately brought to mind a favorite quote of mine by Friedrich Nietzsche:

One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star.

I began to contemplate that quote. What was Nietzsche trying to say that could help us in these times? Because, to be clear, there are many ideas that Nietzsche advocated that I do not support.

I decided to look up the word chaos and discovered that its current meaning of “utter confusion” is a relatively modern definition. According to Etymology Online, the word originally was “the Greek khaos ‘abyss, that which gapes wide open, that which is vast and empty,’ from *khnwos, from PIE root *ghieh-‘to yawn, gape, be wide open.’ “.  It continues to explain that “The Greek for “disorder” was tarakhe, but the use of chaos here was rooted in Hesiod (“Theogony”), who describes khaos as the primeval emptiness of the Universe”.

Thus, chaos is really supposed to be an opening, a place without form or structure, which means a place where anything is possible. Where better to create something as wondrous as a dancing star?

That realization instantly brought me more peace. I recalled another quote, this one by Pablo Picasso:

“Every act of creation is first of all an act of destruction.”

I once again must laugh at myself. I want to see things in our country that we’ve never had before–things like a good standard of living for all, true justice and equality between everyone, regardless of race or gender or sexual orientation or party, and peace, both inner and outer. Do I think that will just magically happen in a gentle, easy, and orderly way? Instead of being upset by all the conflict, all the polarization, all the negativity, can I just see it all as part of the process of destroying those things in our society that DON’T support that vision? Can I embrace it all as part of the process of creating my most desired “dancing star”–a world that works for everyone?

So that is my Peace Day epiphany. Looking at things from that perspective, I can maintain my inner peace among the swirling activity in the material world that might otherwise move me towards judgement and separation and emotional distress. I can see it as tearing down what isn’t working in order to create a space of possibility for building anew. Creation can be a messy business, as anyone who had participated in a baby’s birth can affirm. Today, I keep my inner peace by accepting the mess and focusing on my vision of what is to emerge from it all.

That’s my Peace Day pledge. What about you?

PS: Here’s the leaf to which I owe my new-found serenity (at least for today):

You can’t tell from this photo, but it was actually perpendicular to the ground, with the bottom two parts on the earth and the other three parts still reaching towards the sky. It, in effect, landed on its “feet”–just as I know we will all end up after this confusing period is over.

2 thoughts on “A Peace Day Lesson on the Benefit of Chaos

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