Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Edge of Chaos

Once, many years ago, after Marco and I had a huge fight and were attempting to clear things up, he said to me, “Don’t worry. We’re going to be okay. The universe favors chaos.” He then used the example of flight to explain to me that perfectly smooth flow of air over a wing makes the airplane have a much more narrow range of stable flight. In order for it to fly longer, smoother and with more stability, a wing requires a certain amount of turbulence. I’ve been thinking about this for the past few years, especially the last three and a half since our dear children entered our lives. Once again, not long ago, I was weeping, collapsed after a long day with three very wild, unruly, emotional people. And so, once again, I started asking Marco about chaos. He said, “Systems require chaos. Perfect takes too much energy to sustain.”

No wonder I am exhausted. No wonder I am cranky. It turns out that I have zero control and am exerting all of my energy to sustain something that in its very nature cannot be sustained, perfection. I’m sure it started out early, living with horrific dorm parents, unable to communicate with my parents, unable to have any control over my circumstances. I found coping mechanisms. I did what I could to give myself the feeling that I can be in control. I can handle life. But, I think, instead of growing to become more flexible, I became more brittle. I’m strong, yes. I can do a lot of things. But I am not flexible. My mind flashes to Hans and Franz telling Patrick Swayze, “Here’s some flexibility for you!” while they do their pose. I am rigid and have zero tolerance.

And this parenting gig is breaking me down. All of my supposed strength and any strategies I used to maintain stability are completely useless in the face of the utter chaos of children, my children in particular. I completely lose it. I fly off the handle. I yell. I curse. I become a terrible parent and role model. I just snap. And who is in charge then? Not me. More chaos, that’s who. But I’m the parent. I’m the adult. I’m the one who is not only in charge of keeping them physically safe, but in preparing them for life outside these walls. In fact, that is my only freaking job. I’m here to protect and prepare. It’s a lot of pressure. And I’m not easy on myself. I kick myself when I’m down.

Chaos Theory says that there is order in the universe and that outcomes can be determined. We can know them, if we know all the initial data. But, in real life, in real time, there is no way to know. Therefore, it looks like chaos. Another theory called Complexity Theory seeks to understand complex systems and the point at which order and chaos meet. Complexity lies at the “edge of chaos.” Apparently, this is the ideal place to be. The edge of chaos is when a system is at its most adaptable and evolvable. It is not rigid and ordered, yet it has not devolved in to utter chaos. It is ready. It is flexible.

I was walking today in the sunshine. I know why ancient civilizations worshiped the sun. I do. The sun gives me my strength and endurance and fills me with warmth and readiness. It helps melt all that stiffness. I’m just a lot more okay with everything when it’s warm and sunny. And give me a nice breeze and forget about it. I’m a sail. Zoe and I were walking back from the playground. I could have just started crying out of relief that the winter is over. I was looking at the crooked trees, random patches of purple flowers, dandelions. Zoe was shouting out everything she saw, “MAMA! MAMA!” I looked. I paused. I spoke gently. I felt like my best self…just me and Zoe, one on one in the sunshine.

But we came home. And everyone was hungry. Maya got naked and ran around demanding a “beautiful dress” to wear. Someone got hold of a permanent marker and wrote on their faces. We attempted lunch. At one point I found Elliot attempting to cut himself a slice of bread with a knife. Chaos. Well, no, we’re just at the edge of chaos. All of our systems are bombarding one another, swirling around in what appears to be chaos. And because I can’t know everything, I can’t determine ahead what each of them will do…or not do. But just like that wing needs turbulent air to maintain stability, maybe we need all this insanity. Maybe in order for our complex system to remain adaptive, we need a higher level of turbulence. Maybe I do. Maybe I’m being broken down, boiled into a wet noodle. Maybe I don’t have any choice. Maybe the determined outcome is for me to become less rigid. I hope so. I’m tired of trying to fight this chaos.

I’ll leave you with this, a little quote from the Tao Te Ching about flexibility.

A newborn is soft and tender,
A crone, hard and stiff.
Plants and animals, in life, are supple and succulent;
So softness and tenderness are attributes of life,
And hardness and stiffness, attributes of death.

Just as a sapless tree will split and decay
So an inflexible force will meet defeat;
The hard and mighty lie beneath the ground
While the tender and weak dance on the breeze above.

1 comment:

nellewrites said...

Good post, good approach. Without challenges, we won't learn and grow. Our best is our perfection, not perfection itself.

When things seem most unbearable, it is nice to look back at what one has already overcome - and learned from -in life.

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