“Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that a high tolerance for ambiguity, ambivalence, and a tendency to think in opposites are characteristics researchers have found common among creative people in many different fields. But professional creators… come to understand that in order to be creative, they need to give themselves to sensations of ‘knowing but not knowing,’ inadequacy, uncertainty, awkwardness, awe, joy, horror, being out of control, and appreciating the nonlinear, metamorphosing features of reality and their own thought processes — the many faces of creative chaos.”
– John Briggs and F. David Peat, Seven Life Lessons of Chaos
As someone whose interfaith, nature-based spirituality regularly draws inspiration from science, I experienced my recent read of the book Seven Life Lessons of Chaos as both an affirmation and a challenge. Throughout the book, one theme emerged over and over, each time in a different context: the creative impulse – that which generates nature and space, planets and stars, love and rage – emerges from within the tension of opposites.
Creation doesn’t burst forth from one opposite overtaking another, but rather as the direct outcome of the unending push-pull swirl of outward and inward, boldness and fear, light and dark. Living in creative authenticity regularly leaves me stewing in a mix of often-contradictory feelings, and while it’s easy for me to revel in my confidence when I’m feeling bold or in my wordy wit when I’m feeling brilliant, it’s far more difficult for me to sit with wonder in times when I feel rejected, unlovable, unaccomplished, insecure, or ugly. My inner dialogue frequently finds me alternating between the opposites that pull at my heart, mind, and way of being in the world.
Really, this is where many of us often find ourselves – be smart but not too intelligent, be beautiful but not vain, be sexy but not sexual. Madonna-whore, virgin-slut – choose a side, but know that once you do you will be judged. We are asked to choose between equally restrictive and caricatured forms that have been pre-fabricated for us by years of cultural control and legal oppression – forms that emphasize who we are in relationship to others, to men, and to our religious laws, rather than honoring who we are to ourselves, to our gods, and in our chaotic brilliance.
In those times when I am living fully in that brilliance, I easily see that the whole of me cannot be contained within cages positioned at polar extremes of acceptance and taboo. I am the confidence that boldly proclaims my heart in a voice strong with power, and I am the anxiety that hoards my inmost thoughts, as well, tucking them safely away from those who might hurt me. I am the joy that dances in twilight forests, starlike amidst the firefly sky, and I am the tears that fall until burning cheeks are the only reminder that once there were feelings. I am the “yes” that rolls off breathy lips trembling with waves of ecstasy, and I am rejection’s “no” that cuts and disembowels hearts and hopes and maybes. In acts of authentic creation, I am breasts and curves and teeth and tongue and soft and sharp – a wild-haired, bright-eyed, stretch-marked myth born of rivers and oceans and mountains and stars, and I will not clip my wings for anyone, will not soften my edges to be more palatable, and will not hide the paradoxes within me so that I might make more sense to the tame and disinterested.
My conceptions of deity and of the sacred are no less paradoxical and wild. I fall to my knees in adoration of one who is both Goddess and God, personal and abstract, singular and many and all. Sometimes my prayers rise to meet a transcendent Spirit whose responses come back to me in clear knowing, gentle reassurance, and powerful visions. Other times I join in prayerful ritual with Spirit within and around me, who speaks to me through trees and birds and clouds, healing and replenishing me through a mystical bliss that is as radically transformative within me as it is within the nuclear core of every star in every galaxy. This is what I see as the beauty of the chaotic nature of the universe – “families, societies and ecologies are not machines” (Briggs and Peat 160), and neither are we, neither is the Spirit I honor. We are wildness embodied and swirling potential, living breath and healing love.
“Chaos invites us to adopt new strategies of life, to walk the tightrope between oversimplifying choices by ignoring subtlety and overcomplicating direct action and clear decisions” (Briggs and Peat 97). What does that look like for us as feminists? For us in our spiritual paths? How does it influence our activism, advocacy, and teaching, or our ability to forgive and love our complicated selves? How do we maintain that creative tension from which our power, brilliance, and craft emerge without feeling stretched beyond what our beings can sustain?
For me, it comes back to this: the way I honor and serve my path, my God, is through radical compassion that loves on the contradictions, embraces the tension, and dances within the wild vortex. My imperfection is part of my beauty, my wounds part of my strength, and my obstinacy part of my voice. I am not an Other, I am a Many, and I do not feel compelled to choose.
For Further Reading:
Briggs, John and F. David Peat. Seven Life Lessons of Chaos: Spiritual Wisdom from the Science of Change. New York: Harper Collins eBooks, 2009. Kindle.
Christy Croft is a writer, teacher, and healer whose interfaith, personal spiritual practice is inspired by nature, informed by science, and grounded in compassion. She holds a BA in Religious Studies from The University of South Florida and is currently a graduate student at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She has facilitated safe and sacred space for over twenty years, as a suicide hotline counselor, doula, rape crisis companion, support group facilitator, priestess, mentor, mother, and friend. Her research interests include spirituality, compassion, trauma, gender, sexuality, and intimacy, and she sometimes blogs at The Sacred Loom.