Chaos & Meaning


I have a friend who believes that life has no meaning. She was laughing at me when, during our long discussions, she would always bring out the fact that I have deep in my core an unshaken belief that everything in life has a reason. She couldn’t understand why I always have this reflex to find patterns that have a meaning in some sort of general idea on which our Universe is based. She would sometimes say that, when I encounter deeply absurd things, I would take them as they are, and later create a meaning for them so that they fit into my philosophical system.

She was right: I am a meaning-driven being. It is much more comfortable for me to decide a priori that everything is coherent. She, on the other hand, had the abyss and the meaninglessness in her core, and it was always a challenge to have a conversation with her, as I had to use her values and her philosophical system, which was radically different from mine.

Another significant difference between us was that I am a spiritualist and she is an atheist. It is hard to get to a common ground with an atheist, because they often give you reasons and facts that support their theory, while I function on deep convictions that are all emotional and need no proof.

One of the most valuable things I learned in my psychotherapy training is the fact that “reality is”. This means that what we live is what we live, and we only reflect on our lives. Since that time I lost the concepts of “good” and “bad”. Everything in life can be either good or bad depending on a set of rules used for comparison. From my experience with my patients, I understood that what I thought to be good others believed to be bad and vice-versa. What I didn’t notice until some days ago was the fact that absurdity and meaning follow the same rule; they are sides of the same coin.

If you read Tao Te Ching, you will very often find this idea that principles switch positions. You will also read that there are moments when meaning is prevalent, but there also times when chaos is reigning. What is expected from you is to realize that both aspects are illusions, that life can be chaotic or meaningful depending on your expectations. And this is especially important in one chapter in self-leadership: ambiguity management.

When ambiguity strikes, I have 2 solutions: the first is to remember that nothing is permanent and, at some point, meaning returns (first-level thinking); the second is to remember that famous Matrix line: “there is no spoon” (second-level thinking). Both ideas of chaos and order are essentially wrong, delusional.

Take a look at the image of this article. It’s a chaotic sculpture. But if you project light on it, a perfectly symmetric shape is born on the wall behind it. If you are full of meaning – be it religious in nature or purely scientific – you will see the projection on the wall as the ultimate reality. If you are an unstructured spirit that enjoys meaninglessness, you will see the sculpture as the ultimate reality and the projection on the wall as a puerile attempt to explain the unexplainable, the chaos. Both visions are valid. And both visions are wrong. The fact that the sculpture is chaotic or the projection is symmetric… is irrelevant. You operate with concepts of “chaos” and “order” but in fact “what is” is purely a sculpture casting a shadow on a wall. Period.

Last year I saw a patient several weeks after the death of a loved one. She was grieving. She was trying to find meaning in the sudden death of that loved one. What was I supposed to tell her? Fairy-tales of the afterlife? I heard myself telling her that life is sometimes absurd and she should take it like that… she should take life as it is. “Reality is!” Death “is”. Life events are neither logical, nor absurd. They happen. She is living now the absurd of the situation… perhaps later she will find a meaning… perhaps she will not…

I used to be a meaning-driven being. Then I experienced the chaos and the absurdity. I learned to see them as illusions. And I think that this can’t possibly be unlearned… Even if I still find pleasure in meaning and I am happy to seek and find it in my life, it took me years to learn that this is maya… just another illusory aspect of my existence.

I’d love to meet again my friend and tell her that we were both wrong: I – to be structured – and she – to be not. But for some unknown reason, she does not answer her phone… I accept this particular situation between us… or, put differently, I accept the experience.

Life is.

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