Friday, July 8, 2011

Chaos and entropy, and the Stewed Tomatoes Syndrome

As human beings, we have a bias toward control and order, such that when bad things happen to someone else, we attribute them to personal or character flaws of that individual. This is known in psychology as the "Fundamental Attribution Error." Meanwhile, when bad things happen to us, we attribute it to "bad luck, " or an "act of God(dess)." We like to feel that we are in control of our destinies, to the point that we misinterpret the Law of Karma as meaning that we chose everything that happens to us in this lifetime, without taking into account the interactions and choices of others.  It feels safe to be "in control," and for life to "unfold as it should." But, as the classic phrase says, "Sh*t Happens!"

What appears to us as order lies above a chaotic system of probability and random events. The study of "chaos theory" has begun to help us understand how this manifests in the middle world where we live—between the microscopic and the macroscopic—and that the Buddhist teachings that each of our actions affects the outcomes for all other beings is simply truth. We indeed live in the Middle Earth, and are influenced by events beyond our ken.

The second law of thermodynamics calls the tendency of things to become disordered systems entropy. Things do not restore themselves to order; once you have dropped an egg, it's scrambled. You can never put Humpty Dumpty back together again! But as rational humans, who really, really like things to stay the same, we try very hard to pretend that we can put Humpty Dumpty back together, good as new—or say that he was a fool for sitting on the wall in the first place, and got what he deserved! (The latter is the Fundamental Attribution Error in action.)

I became aware of this phenomenon in my life through the medium of the Stewed Tomatoes. First, let me say that I do not like them—they are not something I would willingly purchase. But for a while when the Goddess was trying to get my attention at the beginning of my training, the Stewed Tomato phenomenon taught me a lot about the dance of Chaos that we live within, and about accepting reality as it is.

I often cook with canned whole tomatoes. I am careful when I am in the store to read labels, and to choose the product that I want. But for several months, I would arrive home, take groceries out of the sack, and find that I now had a can of stewed tomatoes. These are more entropic—you cannot convert them back to plain whole tomatoes, as they've been chopped and seasoned, and converted into something else.

My partner at the time didn't believe me. My partner assumed I was just screwing up when I went shopping, so the next time I went, I insisted my partner accompany me. When we got to the tomatoes, I made my partner look carefully at the can I was holding, and confirm that it was indeed whole tomatoes. You guessed it! When we got home, it was stewed again!

When we think of the Gods and Goddesses of Chaos, entropy, and destruction, we frequently feel a sense of fear, or that they are evil in some way. (Again, projecting the personality onto them of the Fundamental Attribution Error.) But these Beings are necessary to the preservation of order we strive for—all things age, break down, and fall to dust, and from that chaotic waste, we build anew.

Take the Goddess Sekhmet, for example. Her best known myth is when Re sent her to earth to punish those people who had turned away from His laws, and when she raged out of control, He had to send Tehuti to devise a scheme to stop Her. Sekhmet delivers Re's Divine Justice by breaking down the established order, sometimes in the most direct and terrifying ways possible—violent weather, earthquakes, droughts, fevers, epidemics, and other "acts of God(dess)." To that extent, we should surely fear Her!

But the Egyptians were wise—Sekhmet's counterpart is Ptah, the Divine Engineer, who takes all of the broken and shattered pieces and creates from them anew. As Sekhmet destroys, Ptah employs the raw materials left behind, bringing a new order out of the chaotic destruction of the old. This is an essential dynamic that we should not forget; it recurs again and again in other cultures.

Take Kali, the Hindu equivalent of Sekhmet. Her visage is truly terrifying, and meant to be so! Her dance of destruction is much more obviously bloody, and clearly shows the falling away of human order into entropy and chaos. And her consort, Shiva, similarly dances to the destruction of the current order, after contemplating what needs to die away. Then Vishnu dreams it anew, and Brahma rebuilds it. Cycles, spirals, and order—chaos gets balanced by rebirth.

When the Gods and Goddesses of Chaos dance into your lives, you can get angry at the destruction of your carefully built house of cards, and orderly structures. You can weep with frustration that things are not turning out as you would like. Or you can learn to dance with the Deities of Chaos, and allow the Stewed Tomatoes of Entropy to remind you that new order comes out of the old, and that laughter heals many ills.

I was reminded of this in listening to the budget debates over Medicare and Social Security. These programs have helped people in this country at their worst times, when the Dance of Chaos has truly trampled them under the Deities' feet, and given them a means to survive and recreate themselves. However, even before they were enacted, conservatives argued against them based on the Fundamental Attribution Error—"Why should I part with my hard-earned cash to support a bunch of indigent, lazy folk who will not get up and work like the rest of us?"

Well, I would surely *like* to, you know. <sigh> I am a workaholic, and have never been able to just sit and do nothing—mindfulness meditation is extremely challenging for me! When I wasn't working 50-60 hours a week, I was going to school at night working on extra degrees and training, or teaching undergraduate classes. But entropy caught up with me, and little problems I had ignored for some time became bigger and bigger issues, until by 1992 I was completely and totally disabled. The Order of my life was shattered into a million shards of rubble, and I had no idea what to do with myself.

That's when the Goddesses began making themselves known to me more clearly, and demanding that I give my service to them. I started on that path in college, but had put it aside because it scared my spouse too much. Now, I had little choice—Deity had taken over my life and was moving through me in as clear a manner as you are reading this. I joined the FOI to complete priesthood training because it was the only organization of its sort I could find, and it has turned out to be a fine home for me over the years.

But Sekhmet, Kali, Shiva, Loki, Odin, Hecate, Eris, and all the others were not done with me—oh, no. I lost my marriage of 15 years—or you could say I escaped with my life from 15 years of torture—and had to try and reinvent myself. I went to massage school hoping to learn a new craft of healing, and became a Reiki master. But most of the healing work, which I had dedicated to Isis in my ordination, turned out to be work on myself, revising and revisiting old heartbreaks and other distressful things in my life that I had tried to tune out. I learned meditation and hypnotherapy, wrote booklets and taught classes, tried to work as I thought a priest should, and tried to go back to work again because of fear—fear that my disability insurance would eventually kick me off! Fear of being broke and having nothing, terror of being all alone and unable to help myself. Beware what you fear most—it becomes one of the learning tools with which Deity confronts you!

I spent most of my life as an out-of-body experience. My physicality had little meaning to me, and in the abusive situations in which I found myself, not "being there" was the best means of escape from overwhelming fear and pain. Some of the disabilities I struggle with are old injuries from this time, when I was not paying close enough attention to the world around me because the pain was too intense. The seeds of other disability problems were inculcated at the hands of others in my life, for which *I* am not responsible. Those actions are their karma; I did not choose them. But I must deal with the results, and the entropic problems they have generated.

At my last job, the company did not have long-term disability insurance. When my world caved in completely after going to a pagan festival in the high Rockies and contracting severe altitude sickness, the disabilities I had been holding off by main force came crashing back and I ended up on Social Security Disability (SSDI). For those of you who know anything about the incredibly red-tape bound process of approval for Social Security benefits, I got through in the first round—I was that disabled.

My income dropped to about 1/8th of what it had been, and I've had to adjust and readjust my life to deal with the consequences since. I am not living in luxury, or in laziness, as the conservatives would imply. I'm barely surviving with a roof over my head, and struggling to get through a degree program on line in hopes that it will give me a cushion of a new career where I can be somewhat gainfully employed. (All right, I'm really in it to figure out what's broken in my mind-body, and find ways to fix it. So sue me. What I learn will help others, and it is still part of Isis' plan for me to be a healer—first fix myself!)

Entropy bites, though, and once I had regained a bit of my balance, I made the mistake of being lonely and seeking a companion to share life with me. I sought out "whole tomatoes," but ended up with the "stewed tomatoes" chaos/entropy version again. The three years of my relationship with my ex-domestic partner had their happy moments, but they were paid for in horrific financial and physical pain, of which I'm seeing the ending at present. I hope.

I have lost so much, in the long struggle to stay afloat. I've learned a great deal about dealing with people with bipolar disorder, especially in their manic state—chaos personified! I had thought I had found the final place I would live until I died when I moved here to Dunsmuir, up near Mt. Shasta, and a place where I remember being happy as a child. But thanks to the machinations of the chaos Deities, that is coming to an end. I sit here in the destruction of my hopes and dreams of order and peace, and see that once again I am called on to pick up the pieces and attempt to create myself anew.

One thing I have done to redress the stewed tomatoes syndrome in my life has been to take to heart my dissociation from my body and really look hard at the reasons why I lived that way. Much of my pain and horror at being in body was being forced into the kinds of roles that were reserved for women, especially in the South, before Women's Liberation caught on in the 70s. I spent most of my life fighting the good fight, trying to win a sense of respect and acceptance for women in whatever endeavors they sought to pursue, and for myself in the field of computer science and engineering. I have always been very good at math and science, and the kinds of work I did should have been considered "gender neutral," but you would never have known that from the behavior of my male peers and coworkers!

I know what it is like to be judged and dismissed simply on superficial qualities, such as looks, or ways of speech, or presumed sexual orientation—I wish I could get people who rage about prejudice against *their* group to realize that prejudice of any kind hurts just the same! It isn't a competition about who has been hurt the most; it is a challenge to heal us all from the pain we've experienced, through tolerance and love.

I realized that I was not comfortable in my body as a woman, and I debated for over a decade as to whether I was really male or not. Finally, in my early 50s, I accepted the fact that living as a man could begin my psychic healing in this lifetime—because people now saw me as male, and took what I said seriously and thoughtfully, rather than just wondering how a woman could come up with such stuff! Very little has really changed—my thoughts are still the same, my sense of "Self" is the same, but people react to me in a very different manner. It is a dance with chaos that I quietly accepted and acted upon to gain a greater sense of peace and order in my life, whether I can ever fully explain my decision to another or not.

However, I've encountered the flip side of the prejudice machine since my transition—many in the feminist and Goddess community view me with disdain and suspicion because I'm now the Enemy, a "man." Although I'm still the same person, whose work does not involve gender in any particular, I am something of an outcast because I chose to become "male." It's funny how these things work, isn't it?

Chaos, entropy, and the eternal Dance of the Deities into order and destruction. It is a hard dance to learn the steps to—we so want to cling to control—but when riding the Wheel of Fortune, it is best to move to the hub and let the wheel spin around you, rather than trying to push it one way or another. Being able to find comfort with Sekhmet, Shiva, Hecate, Eris, Loki, Kali, and the other chaos generators in our lives teaches us more about ourselves, our strengths, and the true nature of the Universe than we will ever learn trying to force it all into a little orderly box we control.

And, I suspect, that sometimes those control freaks who try the hardest to define the tightest little orderly box of life and thought are actually generating massive chaos elsewhere. Energy is always conserved, if you compress it one place, you generate stewed tomatoes elsewhere. This is the fundamental flaw with the Fundamental Attribution Error. We are, indeed, responsible for our own actions, but we cannot forget that all of our actions are connected to one another. When you are out of charity for one, you ultimately impoverish your own soul.

Meditate on stewed tomatoes, and how your actions affect your friends, your families, and even those far away. Learn to see the connectedness of all beings, and see how the bright fires of chaos weave themselves into the web of life to bring renewal. And, sometimes, justice. Then laugh, for it is with bright joy that entropy breaks things down and we struggle to reinvent them anew.

The Rt. Rev. Michael A. Starsheen, Archpr. H.

1 comment:

  1. Very thoughtful and painfully self-revelatory. At the risk of being thought shallow, sometimes I think that the difference between chaos and order is perspective. As close as we become to our deities we are in many ways different from each other and that would include viewpoint. As an example, Sekhment might say, "Yes, this plan for Michael is coming along nicely." Meanwhile, Micheal is saying, "Where did this shit come from"? In addition, I do not think that Karma is "once size fits all". meaning, many of us in a particular life may not be saddled with a contract. Do-de-do, do-de-do "I'm just living my life". Where as there are some of us that have signed on the dotted line and have not read the fine print, but know that we have to hit A, B, C, etc. to fulfill our obligations. I think entropy is in the details for these folks. I know that I have not responded to many of the points that you have brought up, but I have to take a shower and there are so many really interesting suggestions here. So many suggestions, so little time.