In Praise of Chaos & Order

Many kinds of things come in polarities: cold/hot, young/old, male/female, feeling/thinking, believing/knowing, extrovert/introvert, and many others. Some of these things are either/or and some of them form a spectrum from one extreme to the other. Chaos and order form such a spectrum. From the white-hot chaos of the beginning of the universe, wherein all was potential, to the ultimate order of the heat death of the universe (assuming that either ever did or ever will happen), we see a spectrum.

I was talking with Nancy the Virgo the other day, and it became evident that her idea of a reasonable amount of order is much more orderly than mine. Mine looks like chaos to her. We are comfortable at different places on the spectrum. Then I was talking with Michael the Aries, saying that I am rather like Pigpen in the Peanuts cartoon strip, except that, instead of attracting dirt like Pigpen, I attract chaos. I can walk by a stack of papers two feet away and they slither down behind the desk. Michael was very sympathetic – he, too, is in a love-hate relationship with chaos.

When the chaos becomes too bad, I become dysfunctional. But when things become too orderly (true, this doesn’t happen often) or when I am in someone else’s super-orderly (by my standards) environment, I feel paralyzed and don’t know what to do until I’ve untidied things a bit. And if I can’t untidy them, I wander around picking things up and putting them down again, doing nothing useful. There has to be a little bit of chaos, maybe quite a large bit, in order for my mind and spirit to move fluidly, creatively, and to find new juxtapositions in old information, new aspects or ways of seeing the pattern. For me, and from what I hear, for many others a certain amount of chaos is an essential ingredient in the creative process.

Yet other people like to have things orderly, and to go on making them even more orderly. They like static patterns, in which there are Answers. Most of us, even we lovers of moderate chaos, are desperate for Answers. Knowing myself, I suspect that if an all-knowing God gave me Answers, I’d probably just argue about them. And I know a lot of other people who would probably do the same.

I suspect that many people were terribly relieved when scientists came up with the Chaos Theory, which, as I understand it, is that there is order in all things but it is much too complex and multidimensional for us ever to understand. This is why your blowing out of your birthday cake candles can be the ultimate prime cause of a storm months or years later in Argentina, which in turn might be in the direct line of causation for the eventual collapse of the (at present nonexistent) federal government of South America. And severe flooding in Alaska.

If things are this complicated, it is hardly surprising that we make mistakes and misjudgments. And we do all make mistakes, which we can regard as a part of our growth process. If we cannot accept this view, we miss an opportunity for creative spiritual growth. We get stuck in a sort of miniature entropic heat-death of our own, wherein we become rigid and deny free-flowing change. Instead of saying, ‘Hot damn!* I wonder where this is taking me?’ we say, ‘Why me, God? Why me?’ We are again demanding Answers – which we would almost surely argue with if we got them.

I suspect that, even when we evolve to several stages higher on the evolutionary scale than humans are, we’ll still make mistakes. This raises an interesting question: does even God/dess (the all-Oneness-that-Is) make mistakes? Or does It just approve of chaos? Because it certainly seems that every once in a while that things just don’t make sense. Is this because God/dess  (in the ultimate sense) has goofed or because It has simply stirred in a little more chaos so that extraordinary things, possibly even miracles can happen?

At just this moment in time, the balance in my home feels absolutely perfect for me. Clearly it isn’t so for the cats and they are working for more chaos. I can handle that. 😉 Do you know your own Right Balance?  Perhaps  that should be #9 in the Eight-fold Path…

* I know ‘hot damn’ is a very old-fashioned expression, but it was the only one I could think of that actually seemed appropriate.

Lineage & Hands


Megan’s Hands On My Altar Stone

Here I am this morning:
reading Mary Oliver,
having fits of ecstasy
at the beauty on the page —

and feeling that
I have wasted my life.
I am 75 and still
cannot write so exquisitely!

It’s all about seeing,
looking past the surface
into the layers of kinship
and deep story.
And yet —

Yesterday,
my granddaughter and I
sat in my garden and compared
our hands, the shapes and lines,
hers, young and smooth,
no more than a tracery of
the dominant pattern —
and mine, old and full of living,
a spider’s crazed web
between the main lines —
yet those deepest ones
forming a pattern
quite like Megan’s.

Once, many years ago,
I did that with my grandmother,
and we, too, found that our hands
were uncannily alike.

When Megan was birthing
and I was rushing
to be there to greet her,
I heard a voice say,
“She has your hands.
You women are like
pearls on a string,
and the lineage endures.”

I told Megan this yesterday. She is ten,
and her eyes grew wide as she listened,
as mine had ten years before
when I saw a line stretching
back and back into the mist
of pearls and hand prints —
healer’s hands.

So, perhaps it was
not wasted after all, this life,
but simply a pearl to be found on a string.

© Copyright 2013 by Jessica Macbeth. All rights reserved.

Buddhism on Wings

or
How I Became Kinda Buddhist

Once upon a time, many ages ago when I was in my thirties, I was walking back to my office in San Diego on a blustery spring day. Stray scraps of paper were leaping and dancing in the gusty wind. It was a game to grab them as they passed by and then tuck them neatly in the next trash can. In the distance, one, about a half of a page, lifted lightly into the air. Something about it caught me—it swooped so low and twirled so high and with such lithesome grace, never quite touching the ground or the buildings. As I continued walking, I watched it, hoping it would come close enough to catch. Its wild gyrations carried it up almost to the roof level of two-story buildings before spiraling down—and rising again. It pirouetted at roof height right across the street before diving down and back the way it had come. With a sudden reverse, it swerved toward me… and gently settled against my chest.

I stood there, stunned, for a moment as it nestled there, held close by the breeze, until I reached slowly up and peeled it carefully from my breast. The first side was blank. The other side had been written on in hard pencil, not easy to read as it flapped gently in my hand. I smoothed it against a handy wall and held it there. It was a simple list of eight concepts, each with a few words of explanation after it. They were Right View, Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration.

I remember that the first was “Right View. To see things as they really are. To see the true nature of all things.” I don’t remember the exact wording of the others, but as I read down through the list, I became quite excited. Here, concise and clear, was a description of the path I’d been trying to follow in my own fumbling way. It was like hearing a huge bell ring, the kind that makes your bones vibrate. For several minutes, I just stood there on the street, reverberating. Carefully, I rolled the paper and carried it to my office where I sat and just looked at it until it was almost time for the next client. I can’t say I was thinking or reading— just there, gently humming like a Tibetan bowl being rung.

My office consisted of three main rooms—the front, public room where I taught classes and met individual clients for counseling, the middle room for healing and massage, and the private back room for paperwork and writing. I took the page to the back room and pinned it to the wall above my desk so I only needed to raise my eyes to see it.

Gradually, it became a habit to look at it whenever there was an important decision to make. The checklist helped me keep on track more easily. Then it seemed obvious to begin applying it more widely. Did what I wrote, the classes I prepared, my actions and reactions concerning clients and students measure up to those standards? One of the first things learned (from a Sufi) was that “right” in this context meant “most appropriate, most loving, most healing.” It was a constant challenge, and I fell by the wayside a lot.

About a half a year or so later, a fellow teacher was in the back room as we checked through some class plans. He saw the half-sheet and said, “Oh, I didn’t know you were into Buddhism.”

I didn’t know that either and told him so. He said, “But that’s the eightfold path, the core of Buddhism.”

I looked at it and shrugged. “I found this list and use it for a checklist for stuff. It’s what I’m trying to do. I didn’t realize it was Buddhist.” Though I loved and trusted the man, I didn’t feel like telling him about the paper whirling through the air and plastering itself to my heart. If that happened now, I’d think that Faery brought it to me, the spirits of the wind and air, perhaps, and would probably say so, but I was more shy about these things back then.

“I’ll bring you a book about Buddhism. You’ll like it.”

He did, and I did, and it was the first of a number of books I’ve read on Buddhism, mostly Zen, but also other branches growing from the root of the Buddha’s teachings. And I’ve also gone to a number of classes and meetings to try to learn more. Buddhism is vast. But I wouldn’t call myself a Buddhist. If asked and if I have to come up with a “religion” I usually say “Zen Pagan” and leave it at that.

As far as my current practice goes, I’m human and often mess up. I’m still not perfect at those eight simple guidelines. What is “perfection” anyway? The word itself may be a kind of a trap. Eight little guidelines for living and loving, for compassion and healthy relationships with self and universe. Just eight. Amazingly difficult. Subtle, too. They sound so straightforward — and they are, but things have a tendency to complicate in human minds. We seem to have to start from simplicity, go through a great deal of complexity until our understanding expands enough to move on to a higher level of simplicity. It seems like all these lessons are quite simple once we truly get them. And it also seems that once we truly get them, a little time passes and they start complicating again… because there is yet another level to reach that we couldn’t see before we got to this one.

Somewhere along my rather vagabond way through life, the original piece of paper disappeared. I’ve read a lot since then, and applied what felt appropriate. I made and still make mistakes; hopefully, I learn from them. Things are still checked by the “right guidelines” when there is doubt. You’d be astonished at how much time I spend on some of my responses on Facebook as I work through these. Some responses take days to get past the immediate reaction and into a space of reasonable clarity and “rightness”—as best I understand it.

There may be an end to developing wisdom, but I don’t know if humans ever find it or if we have to progress far beyond the limits of the human mind before we get there. In fact, it may be that the consciousness of the entire universe isn’t there yet. I wonder what would happen if the One became fully enlightened—reaching some state we can’t even begin to imagine. What would that do to us, the tiny cells in Its being? Or does enlightenment work the other way and we small cells have to each and every one reach that ultimate Beingness before the One can?

Meanwhile, I’m still working on trying to find the heart of simplicity in the seeming tangle of complexity. We learn interesting things that way. And I watch carefully what the wind brings me.

© Copyright 2013 by Jessica Macbeth. All rights reserved.

Things That Bloom

Love grows
like a flower.
All a flower needs
is earth and water,
fire and air.

If you have fire in your heart,
if you know yourself a child of earth
akin to all her children,
if you have water flowing in,
flowing through, flowing out of you,
and if the air you breathe circulates within,
then you must know
that you have all you need
to become
love.

Plant seeds
everywhere you go.
Tend them well
with earth and water,
fire and air —
with all that you are —
and love will grow
like a flower.

© Copyright 2013 by Jessica Macbeth. All rights reserved.