“Chaos should be regarded as extremely good news.”Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche
I’ve been drafting a blog post over the last week or so, trying to say something about something, trying to get a handle on the bigness and weirdness of life at this moment. At first, I felt inspired by all the time I’ve been spending in the kitchen, so I wrote about how food and culture intersect, how food is a great way to dive into a culture that’s different from yours. Then I changed track completely, and started writing about the comfort of water, oceans and lakes and rivers, and how we’re currently learning about the healing power of nature in deep new ways. Still, none of it felt like an honest reflection of what I’m thinking about right now, because what I’m really thinking about right now is: WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON??
There are times when we can see the threads of life moving elegantly back and forth, making a pattern we can understand. Then, there are times like this month, when the threads are all tied in a giant, gnarly knot with old gum and bits of pet hair in it.
Let’s take a quick inventory of what’s been going on lately. In the month of June, in the year 2020, we had:
-a resurgent pandemic, with 2.69 million cases in the U.S. alone.
-a massive, sustained groundswell of anti-racist and civil rights activism, the exact likes of which we have never seen before.
-a colossal economic downturn caused by the aforementioned pandemic.
-a host of Confederate monuments and symbols being finally being removed from our landscape, thanks to the aforementioned activism.
-a literal plague of locusts in India, the Middle East, and East Africa. A PLAGUE. OF LOCUSTS. Oh, and murder hornets are a thing now also.
-Not one, not two, but three major Supreme Court decisions, protecting immigrant rights, women’s rights, and LGBTQ rights—amid one of the most divisive, openly bigoted Presidential administrations since the Civil War era.
This is all on top of the outrage and corruption that has loomed over us for the last three and a half years. I’m sure I’m forgetting at least one major catastrophe and one or two moments of triumph, but you get the idea. We have the good, the bad, and the ugly firing in multiple directions simultaneously. It’s even weirder than a big knot full of gum and pet hair; it’s a big knot full of gum and pet hair and also diamond rings and gold nuggets. It’s all happening. This counts as chaos, right?
I found the quote at the top of this post, “Chaos should be regarded as extremely good news”, in Pema Chödrön’s When Things Fall Apart (a timely read). We are absolutely DROWNING in good news right now, gang. To be honest, I’m not super clear on how or why chaos is good news, because at the moment, while I’m immersed in it, it just feels like…chaos. But let’s consider the original ancient Greek meaning of that word: something akin to abyss, a vast empty space that existed before the world, a primeval state of nothingness. There does seem to be a lot of nothing present in this moment—nothing is normal (in ways both positive and negative), nothing is certain, nothing feels stable or sturdy or predictable. Surely all that nothing will eventually give birth to something— something different, something unknown, maybe even something good?
In the meantime, I am pooped. Once, during a terrible heat wave, I saw a little gray squirrel lying on its stomach on the top of our fence, at the end of a long, hot day. Its arms and legs were draped on either side, like it was giving the fence a lazy hug, taking a minute to put aside its rodent-y concerns and just rest. That squirrel is me this week.
For now, at least on an emotional level, I’m pretty sure all any of us can do is sit with this strange, funky knot– to try our best to accept that it is here, and make peace with all the good, bad, and ugly it contains. We’re experiencing something like a tectonic shift*, where the old and the no longer useful is being subsumed by something more active, one continental plate gobbling up or smashing into another. Collisions like this create new mountains, whole new worlds. It’s only when the chaos finally gives way, and the mountains are done cooling, that we can climb them and explore the new territory.
Until that happens, I invite you to join me as I take a deep breath, hug the nearest fence, and let nothingness happen.
*I’m from California; everything is about either earthquakes or fire. Or real estate. Or traffic.