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Monk Notes 18 - On Counterbalancing Chaos and Preserving Peace

“Go with the flow” can sound like good advice when you are enjoying yourself on a gentle river, but it is terrible advice when you have lost your footing and are being pulled under by a current. In the latter case, if we don’t exert serious force we will experience significant damage.

Going with the flow is often only possible if we first establish our own baseline order to counterbalance the chaotic effects of the world around us and our own inner conflicts. This is why monks follow established routines, rituals, and rules. These measures are put into place not as a means to restrict the freedom of its members, but rather to allow their full flourishing. These proactive measures ensure a solid footing, making it possible to engage deeply with life.

There are two reasons why we may want to re-examine our relationship with order from time to time. The first is that the world around us really can be quite chaotic. Cars break down unexpectedly, our careers shift suddenly, and our health or the health of a loved one can quickly deteriorate. Having pre-established order during these times ensures that the waves of life don’t knock us over and pull us away from our sense of purpose and generosity.

The second reason we need order is because as chaotic as the world around us can seem, our internal worlds are often even more off-balance. A simple mood in the morning can radically color our perspective and determine what we find valuable, and then it may shift again by the afternoon. The many voices inside us can bring us to the point of deep confusion and paralysis. We find ourselves swinging in various directions, with little protection from this internal sea of mixed emotion and mixed desires.

This is where order comes in. The routines we set and the habits we establish function as externalized tools that help anchor us in our deepest intentions, assuring that when the storms of life rise up inside us, we can weather that storm and continue on our journey. Establishing order can be difficult and take lots of trial and error. It means taking the time to enact proactive measures to set boundaries and structure that support a purposeful life. But all of this creates a foundation for more of a gentle river experience in the day-to-day.

Chaos is inevitable, both external and internal, and our best defense is establishing order to prepare for it. Order is not just beneficial, but foundational.

All the best,

Steven Lawson

““How we spend our days, of course, is how we spend our lives.”

- Annie Dillard


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Featured Art: Guernsey, Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1882)